ARULMIGU SREE NAGARAJA THIRUKOIL
Nagercoil owes its name to its historical existence of Nagarajar Temple. It is the place where breeze embraces and beauty dances in the hands of nature. It has a pious historical background. One day when a girl was cutting grass, she noticed the spurt of blood on the ground and she realized that her sickle has cut the head of a five headed Cobra. Being scared, the girl went to the nearby village and explained the people what she had seen. She came back with the nearby village people to the spot and they witnessed the five headed Nagaraja amidst the bush. They were amazed to see, bells hanging on the heads of that Cobra.
The people who have gathered there built a hut around the five headed cobra with bells hanging on its five heads and started to worship that Cobra as Nagaraja. Hearing the miracle, people from various villages started to come with their family to worship Nagaraja.
Once Marthanda Varma [the king of Kalakkad] who was suffering from leprosy, heard about the miracle of Lord Nagaraja Shrine and visited the Shrine every Sunday and performed poojas. At the mercy of Lord Nagaraja, the king was miraculously cured of his disease leprosy. As he was happy at the grace of Lord Nagaraja, he built a grand temple for Lord Nagaraja in the same place, which exists at present.
The shrine became popular and people from various parts of the country started to come to this shrine. With the unique effort of the people of the nearby villages the place where Nagaraja shrine exists was called as “Nagarcoil” [நாகர்கோயில்] [Nagar(நாகர்) = Cobra + Co(கோ)=King + il(இல்)=resides] and till the date it is called as Nagarcoil, the capital of Kanyakumari District. Nagarcoil has its origin from the shrine Nagaraja and thus it has become the symbol to sing the legend of Lord Nagaraja.
Layout of the Shrine or Shrine Layout
Eventhough the shrine faces the east, the southern entrance which is called as “Maha Meru Maligai” becomes the Special Entrance [Sirappu Thiru Vaasal]. Karuvarai [Sanctum Sanctorum], Utpragaram [Inner Sanctum], Velipragaram [Outer Sanctum], Velipura Valaagam [Outer Premise] are situated and in the utpragaram and the Velipragaram the main deities and the Parivara Moorthies are installed.
‘Thirukkulam’ which secretes ‘Naga Theertham’, Lod Vinayaga surrounded by Nagas reside on the stage under the Peepal tree (அரச மரம்) [Ficus Religiosa], and Nandhavanam are found in the Northern side of the outer premise. Infront of Maha Meru Maligai Entrance “Teppakulam” was there. But now it is a high ground (hillock).
The leaves of the sacred tree “Odavalli” have marvelous medicinal value and that cures leprosy and violent skin diseases. As it has not been maintained proper, this creeper has been destroyed.
The Nagalinga Maram [Couroupita guianensis] blossoms Nagalinga Flower, and the flower symbolizes the image of Nagaraja. Nagalinga maram is seen in the pragaras.
Deities inside the Shrine
The prime deity Sree Nagarajar with hanging bells on five heads is visible in the sanctum sanctorum (Karuvarai) which is roofed with coconut fronds and the surface of the floor is of sand wet with water. The roof of sanctum sanctorum will be renewed every year and the Namboothries who perform poojas to Sree Nagaraja are incharge to rethatch the roof every year. There is no Vimanam or Peedam in the sanctum sanctorum. The sand in the sanctum sanctorum becomes white during the Uthrayana Kaala (தை-ஆனி / Jan.- June) and the sand turns to black during the Dhakshinayana Kaalam (ஆடி-மார்கழி / July-Dec.). The sand taken from the sanctum sanctorum is the main Prasadham. It is a wonder that, even though the sand is taken from there every day for years; the quantity of the sand remains the same. This auspicious sand is given as the main Prasadham to devotees.
The mother and father nature of Lord Nagaraja is visible in the entrance of the inner sanctum. At the both sides of the entrance six feet long five headed Cobras with its expanded hoods are seen. North side Goddess Padmavathi (Sree Nagaramman) and south side God Dharnendrar (Sree Nagarajar) are seated to shower grace to the devotees.
The shrine is guarded by snakes and so around the shrine snakes can be seen. Eventhough the snakes are seen around the temple, no any snake bite death was reported till the date. The devotees can get the grace of Lord Kasi Vishwanathar and Anandha Krishna with Rukmani Devi at the right side of the shrine. At the southern-west direction (kanni moolai) the son of Rudhra, Vinayaka is in the form of kannimoolai Ganapathy and guards the devotees.
The sculptures of the respected figures in Jainism: Mahaveera, Parsuva Nadhar, Padmavathi and the images of Hindu Gods such as Muruga, Krishna, Padmanaba swami, Dhakshina Moorthi, Rama, Lakshmana, Aanjaneya, Narashimha are carved on the walls and pillars at the Artha Mandapam.
Deities outside the Shrine
In the southern side of the outer sanctum Nagamani Boothathan resides in the temple and gaurds the shrine of Sree Nagaraja, where his grace falls in the form of Nagamani. “Dharma Sastha”, the son of Mohini and “Devi Krishna Durga,” the feature of Lord Krishna, with four hands and holding Sangu, Chakkaram dwell in the northern side. Next to that Lord Muruga Temple and then the Millitant Commander of Muruga ‘Idumban Temple’ are constructed. The idol of karmega vannan Kannan playing flute is found in an open space.
Though Nagaraja is the prime deity of the temple, the Brahmmotsavam in the month of Thai is dedicated to Lord Ananda Krishna. Just opposite to the temple of Lord Anandha Krishna, the kodimaram (Flag Post) for Lord Anandha Krishna is located. Usually in the Perumal Shrines the kodimaram carries ‘Garuda’ in its flag, but in this Shrine, a Tortoise occupies the place of Garuda in the kodimaram. When Devas churned the Milk Ocean (Paarkadal), Lord Maha Vishnu has taken the form of Koorma (Tortoise) to keep back the Meru Mountain in its place. Moreover, Tortoise has the special tendency to control its five senses. To remind the importance of controlling power of five senses, the tortoise is placed at the top of Kodimaram.
Poojas are performed according to the Kerala Tradition. Saiva and Vainava procedures of Pooja according to Agamam Rules are performed. Every day after performing pooja to Nagaraja, there will be pooja for Kasi Vishwanathar and Anandha Krishnar. The last pooja of the day “Arthajama Pooja” will be first dedicated to Lord Anandha Krishna.
The sand of the sanctum sanctorum and sandal are given as Prasadham. Moreover, milk used for anoint (abishekam), paal Payasam and Appam devoted to god will be given to devotees as Prasadhams.