Crying for attention
A look at the Somanathaswami Temple at Kulathur, which is in a dilapidated state.
CHENNAI AND its suburbs boast of hundreds of historic temples. While some like the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore and the Parthasarathi Temple in Triplicane are widely known and well preserved, there are many that remain unknown and unsung, hidden behind the concrete jungles. One such little-known temple is the Somanatheshvarar or Somanathaswami Temple at Kulathur.
The temple is located 16 km northeast of Tirumullaivayil and 5 km north of Villivakkam railway station. Situated on the picturesque banks of two large lakes and surrounded by the traditional mada streets, the temple exhibits a unique old-world charm.
There are no proper records about the origin of the temple. It is believed that the temple was built around 500 years ago by a devotee named Sivanesa Selvar, who was in the service of the Nawab of Arcot, in charge of tax collection from 62 villages in the area. When the Nawab came to know about this, he summoned Sivanesa Selvar to the royal court and asked him the reason for building such a massive temple. To this, Sivanesa Selvar requested the Nawab to visit the temple. Eventually, when the Nawab saw the temple, he was so impressed by its beauty and serenity that he lavished gifts on the shrine. These gifts are detailed in a copper plate inscription.
In the early 18th Century, a scholar-devotee named Sivagyana Munivar wrote three books "Kulathur Amudambikai Pillai Tamizh", "Kulathur Paditrupattu Andadi" and "Somesar Mudumozhi Venba" in praise of the temple.
Architecturally, the temple displays several Vijayanagar (14th Century to 17th Century A.D.) features such as intricately carved towers and pillars, numerous sub-shrines and mandapas, including the Vasantha Mandapa. The temple has a very tall dwajasthambam (flagstaff) behind which is the balipeetam or the sacrificial altar. The main sanctum is accessed through a large mahamandapa and a smaller ardhamandapa. The presiding deity is Somanathaswami in the form of a Sivalinga. There is a sub-shrine for Goddess Amudambikai. Many other deities such as Narthana Vinayakar and Mahavishnu are also seen. There is a rare sculpture of Sundaraja Perumal too with Sridevi and Bhudevi. Unmarried women pray to the Vishnu Durga image here for a happy married life.
The sthala vriksha is the bilva or vilva tree. It is said that the neighbouring area of Villivakkam got its name from the numerous vilva trees in the area. Decades ago, the most important event in the temple's annual calendar was the 10-day Panguni Uttiram festival celebrated in the Tamil month of Panguni (March-April).
Unfortunately, at present, portions of the Somanathaswami Temple, including the madapalli, (temple kitchen), are in a dilapidated condition. There is seepage during rainy season as the roofs have developed cracks. Due to poor finances, most of the annual festivals are no longer celebrated.
Under these circumstances, one sincerely hopes that the devotees visiting the temple initiate steps to renovate it and restore it to its former glory.
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