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Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

By Alan J Bright
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March 13, 2023

The southernmost district of India, Kanyakumari, is a land of cultural diversity and religious harmony. One of the lesser-known gems of the district is the Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple. Located near the town of Marthandam, this temple is not only a religious site but also a historical and architectural marvel. In this article, we will delve deeper into the history, significance, and unique features of this ancient cave temple.

History of Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

The Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple dates back to the 8th century AD, during the reign of the Pandya dynasty. It was built by the king of the dynasty, Maravarman Rajasimha, as a tribute to Lord Shiva. The temple is carved out of a single rock, and it is believed that the cave was originally a Jain monastery, which was later converted into a temple by the king.

Significance of Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and it is believed that the lingam in the sanctum sanctorum is a swayambhu (self-manifested) lingam. The temple is also called the "Kailash of the South," as it is believed to be a replica of the Kailash temple in the Himalayas. The temple is also significant for its association with the Shaivite saint, Thirunavukkarasar, who is believed to have visited the temple and composed hymns in praise of Lord Shiva.

Architecture of Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

The Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple is a classic example of Dravidian architecture. The temple is carved out of a single rock, and the entrance is through a narrow cave-like passage. The main sanctum sanctorum is a square chamber, and the lingam is placed on a pedestal in the center. The walls of the sanctum sanctorum are adorned with intricate carvings of various gods and goddesses. The temple also has a mandapam (hall) with pillars carved with images of various deities.

Unique Features of Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

One of the unique features of the temple is the presence of a natural spring inside the sanctum sanctorum. The water from the spring is believed to have medicinal properties and is considered sacred by the devotees. Another unique feature of the temple is the presence of an underground chamber, which is believed to have been used by the Jain monks who originally inhabited the cave.

Festivals and Celebrations at Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

The Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple is a popular pilgrimage site, and several festivals are celebrated here throughout the year. The Maha Shivaratri festival, which falls in the month of February or March, is celebrated with great fervor. The temple also hosts a six-day annual festival in the Tamil month of Aadi (July-August), which is attended by thousands of devotees.

How to Reach Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

The Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple is located near the town of Marthandam in Kanyakumari district. The nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, which is about 60 kilometers away. The nearest railway station is Marthandam, which is well-connected to major cities in India. The temple is easily accessible by road, and several buses and taxis are available from Marthandam.

Best Time to Visit Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

The best time to visit Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple is during the winter months, from November to February, when the weather is cool and pleasant. The temple can also be visited during the monsoon season, from June to September, when the surrounding hills are covered in lush greenery, but be prepared for heavy rainfall.

Importance of Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple in Tamil Literature

The Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple has a significant place in Tamil literature. The temple is mentioned in the works of the famous Tamil poet-saints, Thirugnana Sambandar and Thirunavukkarasar. These saints have composed several hymns in praise of Lord Shiva and the temple.

Conservation Efforts at Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple

The Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The ASI has undertaken several conservation efforts to preserve the temple's unique architecture and artwork. The temple is also maintained by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu.

Conclusion

The Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple is a hidden gem of Kanyakumari district that is steeped in history, culture, and architecture. It is a testament to the rich heritage of Tamil Nadu and is a must-visit for anyone interested in history and spirituality. The temple's unique features, such as the natural spring and underground chamber, make it a one-of-a-kind experience. The conservation efforts undertaken by the ASI and the Tamil Nadu government are ensuring that this ancient temple continues to shine bright for generations to come.

FAQs

1. What is the significance of Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple?

Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple is a historical and architectural marvel, dedicated to Lord Shiva, and it is believed to be a replica of the Kailash temple in the Himalayas.

2. When was Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple built?

The Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple dates back to the 8th century AD, during the reign of the Pandya dynasty.

3. What are the unique features of Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple?

The presence of a natural spring inside the sanctum sanctorum and an underground chamber used by the Jain monks are unique features of the temple.

4. What festivals are celebrated at Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple?

The Maha Shivaratri festival and a six-day annual festival in the Tamil month of Aadi are celebrated at the temple.

5. How can I reach Thirunandhikarai Cave Temple?

The temple is located near the town of Marthandam in Kanyakumari district and is easily accessible by road, rail, and air. The nearest railway station is Marthandam, and the nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport.

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