108 Divya-deshams: Thirukadalmallai

BY: SUN STAFF - 29.2 2024

Sthalasayana Perumal Temple, or Thirukadalmallai

A tour of the 108 Divya-desams, the divine abodes of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Sthalasayana Perumal Temple, or Thirukadalmallai, is at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. This Divya Desam is dedicated to the worship of Lord Vishnu as Sthalasayana Perumal with His consort Nilamangai Thayar (Lakshmi). Sthalasayana Perumal appeared to the sage Pundarika at this place. The temple is located close to Arjuna's Penance, the most famous landmark among the monuments at Mahabalipuram.

While Pundarika was performing penance here, worshiping Vishnu, he collected Tamarasa flowers and submitted them to view Vishnu in Ksirabdhi Natha form, his posture in the Ocean of Milk. Pundarika collected 1,008 flowers and in his intensity, he also scooped out water. Vishnu came in disguise, in the form of a sage asking him for food. Pundarika went to acquire food for the old sage, but upon returning he found that Vishnu remained in the place. He is thus called Sthalasayana Perumal. This pastime is sanctified by Bhoothath Alvar in his verses in Naalayira Divya Prabandham.

The sage Agastya once visited this temple, prostrating himself before the presiding deity. By divine intervention, he was advised to remain in Astavasramam in the northern part of Pundreeka Theertham (the temple tank).

Thirukadalmallai Temple

King Harikesarivarman also used to visit the Nithyakalyana Perumal temple at Thiruvidandai everyday from Mahabalipuram, and wanted to settle there. Vishnu was pleased by his devotion and appeared as Sthalasayana Perumal at Mahabalipuram.

Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, the temple is believed to have been built by the Pallavas, with later contributions from the Medieval Cholas, Vijayanagara kings, and Madurai Nayaks. References to modern day Mahabalipuram as a busy port is available in the works of Ptolemy from CE 140. There are many references to the place from Sangam Literature from 3rd Century CE. The temple is referred to in the works of 7th Century works of Bhoothath Alvar and later Alvars. The port city came to prominence during the reign of the Pallava kings Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I, after whom the city is named.

Temple sculptures

During the 14th Century, the Vijayanagara king Parankusa shifted the temple to its current location, away from the shore. He is believed to have built the four Mada streets around the temple. The Shore Temple located on the shoreline is believed to be the original shrine housing two images of Shiva on either side of the image of Vishnu. There are inscriptions of many land grants made during the rule of the Vijayanagara kings.

The temple has a seven tiered rajagopuram built during 15-16th century. The granite base of the entrance is studded with sculptures. There are two precincts inside the temple with the sanctum located axial to the main gate and approached through a dvajasthambam, bali peetam (sacrificial altar), Deepa Stambam (altar for lamps) and Garuda Mandapam.

Panoramic view of the temple

The sanctum houses the presiding deity, Sthalasayana Perumal, in reclining posture. The Lord is sporting Ahvahanahasta, which indicates beckoning devotees to him. The image of Pundarika Maharishi is seen in standing posture. The processional deity, namely Ulaguyyaninran, with four arms, is also housed in the sanctum. There is an east-facing shrine to the right of the sanctum for Lakshmi (Nilamangai Thayar). There are also shrines for Lakshmi Narasimha, Rama, and the Alvars in the first precinct around the sanctum. A shrine for Hanuman is opposite Lord Rama's shrine.

There is a four pillared hall, with sculpted pillars in front of the temple, that was designed for Dolotsavam (the swing festival). The temple tank, Pundarika Pushkarani, is located outside the temple complex. It has a small pillared mandapa in its centre.