In the centre of the Madurai city, in Tamil Nadu, is the Koodal Azhagar temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This ancient temple is located very near to the Meenakshi Amman Temple, and is also considered as one among the 108 divyadesamsthere, the holy abode of Lord Vishnu.
The temple is believed to be built in the earliest era of Sangam period. The temple is mentioned in some of the Tamil literature like Paripadal and Silappadikaram written in the Sangam period. Many of the Tamil poets who lived in the Sangam period praised and considered the deity in the temple as the president and the guardian of Sangam. The deity is known in many names like Koodal Alagar, and Thuvarikoman; meaning the King of Dwaraka.
In the ancient days, the Pandya rulers used to celebrate a festival called Avani Onam, in regards with Koodal Alagar, and the celebrations lasted for about 7 days. The describtions of the festival is clearly given in Madurai Kanchi, in the form of a poem named Pathupattu. In Ilangovadigal, the deity is called Needu Neer Vaiga Nedumal; which means that the god who created the universe, by taking three strides in now sitting on the banks of Vaigai, in the form of Archa.
The temple is beautifully explained in the Brahmanda Purana, covering seven chapters. The main deity is placed in the Ashtanga vimana, surrounded by the consorts of the Lord. It is believed that, great kings like Malayidoaja, and Prithu, were the followers of the Koodal Algar, and it is also said that, Lord provided them with moksha and prosperity.
There is a legend related to the temple which is connected with the Alwars. Alwars are the mystical saints, who are the devotees of Lord Vishnu, and are well known for their hymns which praises Lord Narayana. One among these alwars, Vishnu Chittha, is connected with the Koodal Azhagar Temple, it is said that, once Vishnu Chittha was invited to the Pandhya Court at Madurai, to participate in a dispute conducted between various religious sects. By quoting the vedic texts, Vishnu Chittah argued that, Sriman Narayana holds the supreme power of all. When the argument was nearing its end a miracle occurred; a purse which contained gold coins was suspended on top of one of the poles, and this purse landed on the head of Vishnu Chittah. This was considered as a divine acceptance, and King announced Vishnu Chittah, as the winner of the argument. He was seated on a throne and carried in the back of the royal elephant through the streets of Madurai, led by the King himself. It is believed that, Lord Koodal Algar, sitting on the shoulder of his divine vehicle, the Garuda, came down to witness the parade, and blesses Vishnu Chittah. He was mesmerised in the beauty of the Lord and when he regained his consciousness he recited is wishes to the Lord, in the form of twelve Tamil verses, called the Thirupallandu. It was recited in the tone of ringing elephant bells. Vishnuchittha is said to have offered the Mangalasasanam at the feet of Koodal Alagar. Even today the Thirupallandu is recited to the deity of Koodal Algar, as starting invocation. The King of Pandya, praised Vishuchittha for his intelligence and named him ‘Pattar Piran’, and the Lord gave him the name, ‘Periyalwar’. He is considered as the foremost and the most important alwar among the twelve of them.
The temple I built in such a way that, each shrine is situated one above the other, and stairs are provided for the visitors to reach the floor above. Like the Peria Kovil Tower, located in Tanjore, the Astanganga vimanam’s shadow doesn’t show on the floor of the temple. The sunlight reach inside the temple through the seven windows built in the wall. The beautiful sculptors in the wall of vimanam is made with lime mortar. In the third floor, the walls around the shrine is decorated with the scenes of Desavathram using lime mortar. An idol of Goddess Thayar Maragarhavalli carved in granite stone can be seen in this floor. In the same floor a swinging mandapam, decorated with beautiful wooden works, called the Unjal Mandapam can be seen.
The Andaal shrine is located in the northern part of the Perumal shrine. The attanga Vimanam, is considered as the most important one among the other 94 vimanas found around the temple. The temple is considered as one of the 108 divya desams among the Vaishnavaite. It is considered to be very special as it is believed that, the Alwars had conducted Mangalsasanam, in regard for the Koodal Azhagar temple.
Another one of the main attraction in temple is the Attanga viman, which is one among the other 94 vimanas in the temple. The speciality of attingal Vimana is that, it is very rare to see one of these in temples, which makes the Koodal Azhagar temple unique from the other temples. It is believed that, if a person walks around the Attinga Vimana for 45 times, continuously for 12 days then their wishes will come true.
The nearest railway station to the temple is Madurai railway station, and the nearest airport is Madurai Airport. The roads of the temple is well connected and regular city buses are available from Madurai to Periyar bus stand, which is a short walk away from the temple.