CHENNAI: Nanmangalam, about 20 km from the heart of Chennai, roughly located between Velachery and Tambaram, is well-known for its reserve forest. Not many know that this place is home to an ancient temple for Vishnu. The principal stone deity enshrined in the main sanctum is Neelavarna Perumal, in a standing posture with four arms and his two consorts Sri Devi and Bhu Devi on either side.
Goddess Lakshmi is known as Vedavalli Thayar. There is an idol of Nammazhvar, the foremost of the 12 Azhvars, facing the goddess. The rituals at this shrine are conducted according to the principles of the Vaikhanasa Agama.
You can enter the temple through a mandapa called Dasavatara Sopana Mandapa where you can see a flag-post (dhvaja-sthambha) and an ancient lamp post (deepa-stambha). New sculptures of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu and the idols of Goddess Gajalakshmi and Andal are also seen here. A small shrine for Garuda faces the main sanctum, while inside two niches on either side of the doorway leading to another mandapa are ancient sculptures of Hanuman.
In another mandapa, is an exquisite idol of Sudarsana, the personification of the discus of Vishnu with the idol of Yoga Narasimha on the other side. This mandapa has been modernised but vestiges of its antiquity are still seen in the upper portions of the pillars supporting the roof and the sculptures on the ceiling. An inscription of the eighth century states that the temple was constructed during the reign of the Pallava kings who ruled over this area from their capital-city Kancheepuram.
In ancient times, the terms — mangalam, chaturvedimangalam, agraharam and nallur were added to the names of villages inhabited by Vedic scholars and thus the name ‘Nanmangalam’ indicated that this place too was once the hub of religious and educational activity.
(The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture)