Nagaraja Temple is an ancient temple in the city of Nagercoil (Nagarkōyil) near the southern tip of Tamil Nadu, Bharat. This Hindu temple is famous for its worshiping of the King of Serpents or Nagaraja – Vasuki. The main sanctum is dedicated to the Nagaraja – the king of serpents. The temple has three shrines. The oldest and the main shrine’s deity remains the original Nagaraja. The second shrine is dedicated to Ananthakrishna (baby Krishna dancing on a coiled snake) with Rukmini and Satyabhama. The third shrine is dedicated to Shiva. It also contains those of Hindu deities such as Subrahmanya Swami, Ganesha and Devi Bhagavati.
Originally called as Kottar, this town became popular by the name Nagercoil (temple of Nagas) the name derived from the Nagaraja Temple. It is believed that Nagadosha [curse by the Nagas], fertility problems and marriage obstacles are cured by visiting this temple.
Fusion of Jain and Hindu architecture
The temple has a 5 feet high thatched sanctum and sand floor with a five headed Nagaraja in seating position. The mandapam of the main and oldest shrine features Jain Tirthankara prominently and close to the sanctum. The mandapam pillar artwork is similar to those found in temples built between the 9th-century and 12th–century temples in Tamil Nadu. There are two images of seated Mahavira, one standing Parsvanatha, one sitting Parsvanatha and a Padmavati Devi. The standing figures of Parsvanatha and Padmavati Devi are shown sheltered with five-hooded cobra, which is a standard Jaina representation. The jain vigrahas are on the simhasana, which is unusual for Jaina iconography since they normally have their regular and distinctive emblems below them. Further, the srivatsa mark near the nipple of Tirthankara iconography typically found in early Jaina temples, is not found in this temple.
The primary and main shrine dedicated to Nagaraja has a mandapa with sixteen pillars, each with four faces. Of the sixty-four pillar faces, six are dedicated images of Jain Tirthankaras and Jain goddess Padmavati Devi. The other fifty eight faces have Hindu gods and goddesses, with some iconography that is found in both Jain and Hindu temples. Both the Jain and Hindu icons continue to be treated with reverence by the local population. These unusual aspects suggest that the temple may have been built before these guidelines for Jaina iconography developed or influenced by the art literature prevalent when this temple’s mandapam was constructed.
The temple has two pre-14th century brass images, one male and another female, both in abhaya mudra. The male has a five head Naga over his head, the female has three headed one. The lower body of both are shown wearing clothes draped in the Tamil style. Both have ear and body jewellery. The female is standing in the tribhanga holding a flower in her left hand. According to some historians such historic brass images are found in both Jaina and Hindu traditions. According to few scholars, Jain iconography is found to co-exist with Hindu iconography in several temples built in the Travancore region of South India. A Kollam 336 (12th-century CE) inscription found in Puravaseri village of Travancore indicated that a land gift to the Jainas was being partly used for another Vishnu temple, which suggests that this overlap between the two traditions is confirmed by this inscription.
The temple has an attached water tank and open prakara (circumambulation path) along which are numerous stone motifs of Naga. The temple’s gopura is also unusual for a Jain or Hindu temples, and it resembles that of Buddhist architecture. Thus, the temple’s architecture is a symbol of fusion of multi cultures.
The sanctum of the main shrine continues to preserve the original structure. It consists of a sandy floor, a mud walled room with a low height thatched roof. The entire mud wall-thatched roof is contained within a more modern stone structure that can be traced from outside. The thatched roof is restored and the sand in the sandy floor is replenished with fresh clean river sand during the annual chariot festival every year.
The devotees are offered a small portion of the scooped sand from the floor of the sanctum as prasad. Devotees also believe that this soil is a good medicine for skin diseases. It is believed that snakes will not bite Humans in this place. Anthill dust is offered as Prasad to the devotees. Darnendra (a male snake) and Padmavathi (a female snake) are the protectors or doorkeepers (dwarapalakas) of this temple.
Bhagwan Kasi Viswanath, Kannimoola Ganapathi and Anantha krishna are found in separate shrines here in this temple. It is unique to note that the ‘Arthajama pooja’ (last puja of the day) is performed to Bhagwan Ananhakrishna and not to the presiding deity of Nagaraja. The kodimaram or dhavajastambha (the holy flag post) is dedicated to Sri anantha krishna only, though Nagaraja is the main deity! The temple also houses a beautiful garden which is full of mesmerizing Nagalinga flowers. There is a sannadhi for Goddess Durga and it is found amidst a holy natural spring and hence the goddess here is referred as ‘Theertha Durga’.
Temple’s dating is uncertain but likely pre-12th-century. On the pillars of the mandapam; a lithic record of 1521 testifies to the fact that it was used as a Jain temple at that time. The earliest of these is dated in Kollam era 697, i.e., 16th-century CE (Kollam era also known as Malayalam Era or Kollavarsham or Malabar Era or Nasrani Era is a solar and sidereal used in Kerala, India.
The origin of the calendar has been dated as 825 CE at Kollam i.e., Quilon), which states that Travancore king Bhutaalvira Udayamarttandavarman made donations to this temple and names priests who received the donations on behalf of this temple – these names include Gunavira Pandita and Kamalavahana Pandita, which in South Indian tradition are all Jaina names. Further, the land grant mentioned in the Ko 697 inscription calls it a pallichchandams – a term only found in grants made to a Jaina or Buddhist temple in Tamil and Tranvancore regions. From the above it appears that this place was either originally a Jain temple or had a significant Jaina participation in the temple management and worship.
Nine inscriptions have been found in the Nagaraja temple. Eight of these are on slabs within the main temple, while the ninth is from Kollam 764 (c. 1590 CE) on the west wall of the Krishna shrine. Six of the eight inside the main shrine are dated between Ko 681 and 697 (first quarter of the 16th-century), and they all record gifts of offerings to Nagaraja and other deities in the temple through priests with Jaina-type names. Thus the early inscriptions available confirm Jain roots of the temple.
One of these inscriptions dated Ko 694, mention a gift of land of Seravanmadevi village as pallichchandam. It is the inscription of Ko year 764 that lacks any Jaina names, instead mentions that a certain Tirukkurukaipperumal (a Vaishnava name) made an offering to the temple of Tiruvanantalvar (Adisesha) and to an “image he set up there”. This is the first epigraphical indication of temple being expanded with an additional image along with the Krishna shrine, in terms that are associated with Vaishnavism.
It is believed that Bhagwan Siva self-manifested on request of Nagas Hence the deity called by Nageswara Swamy. Serpent worship or ophiolatry is deeply rooted in the tradition of Kerala since time immemorial. The sarppakavus (serpent groves) in many parts of Kerala are maintained and protected by Hindu families. It is believed that Sage Parasuram after creating the land of Kerala, he also consecrated two temples, viz., Mannarasala temple and Vetticode temple that are very important centres of serpent worship.
Aithihyamala, a collection of myths and legends from around Kerala has one story that mentions the origin of the temple. A Nambudiri Brahmin from the Paambummaekkaattu Mana near Mala, Kerala in modern day Thrissur district rediscovered a Naga vigraha on the way back from his visit to a Pandyan King in Tamil Nadu and re-initiated worship. Originally planning to build a temple dedicated to the so found Naga, the decision was later changed, due to a divine vision in the form of a dream, instead to install Vishnu and Shiva as main deities to the temple and left the Naga vigraha in its original place.
The temple’s main festival is the ten days annual Brahmotsavam in the Tamil month of Tai (January–February) that starts with the day of the Revathi and ends on the Ayilyam (Ashlesha). Ayilyam nakshatram in Vedic Astrology represents the serpentine energy linked to spiritual awakening, healing and transformation. During this festival, a white flag is hoisted at the Dhvaja Stambha where there is tortoise found with the Stambha. This tortoise icon is Kurma in Hindu iconography and is a common symbolism found in Hindu Vaishnava temples with stambha and bali pitha. A similar tortoise icon is also found in Jainism. Krishna Jayanthi is celebrated in August-September.
The Ayilyam festival is held during the Malayalam month Thula [October – November]. A 12-day pooja is conducted which include a special Tantric ritual. Navarathri festival celebrated during the months of September-October and Thirukarthigai in November-December are other festivals celebrated in the temple.
How to reach Nagercoil temple?
By Air -The nearest airport is at Trivandrum which is 80 km away.
By Train-The nearest railway station is at Kanyakumari which is 19 km from the temple. Nagercoil railway station is 4 km away.
By Road-The direct bus is available from Kanyakumari to temple.