CHENNAI: The Sthalasayana Perumal temple in Mamallapuram, the ancient port-city of the Pallava dynasty, is one of the 108 divya desams or important Vishnu temples eulogised in the Tamil verses (pasuram) of Bhudattazhvar and Thirumangai Azhvar, two of the twelve Azhvars or great devotees of Vishnu. According to tradition, this temple is connected with Pundarika Maharishi who was a devotee of Vishnu.
The central sanctum enshrines Sthalasayana Perumal in a reclining posture, not on the serpent Adisesha but on the ground, and hence the name Sthalasayana (meaning ‘one who reclines on the ground’). At his feet stands Pundarika Maharshi. The processional image (utsava vigraha) is called Ulaguyyaninran, a name which continues from more than eight hundred years ago. The deities are enshrined under the Ananta vimanam also known as the Gaganakriti vimanam. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped here as Nilamangai Nachiyar, also called Nilamangai Thayar. This temple has a separate sanctum for Bhudattazhvar whose birthplace was Mamallapuram. This east-facing temple has a 5-tiered gopuram of the Vijayanagra times.
There are many Chola inscriptions here, the earliest dating to the 12th century AD. An epigraph of the reign of Kulottunga Chola II dated 1147 AD mentions an endowment for the recitation of Thiruppali Eluchi (a famous literary work of Thondaradippodi Azhvar) and food offerings to the deity.
A Pandyan epigraph dated 1288 AD records the grant of a village for the maintanence of a ‘feeding house’ run by the Bhattas or priests of the temple. There are some inscriptions of the Vijayanagara emperors.
(The writer is a historian who focuses on templearchitecture)