Thiruvalangadu, home to the Vataranyeshwarar temple, was once a huge forest of banyan trees as indicated by the Tamil name Thiruvalangadu (sacred banyan jungle) and by the Sanskrit name of the presiding deity Vataranyeshwarar (god of the banyan forest). This temple is well-known as the ‘Rathna Sabha’ or the hall of gems.
Traditional accounts record it was at Thiruvalangadu that the dance contest between Kali and Nataraja took place. The ear-ring of Shiva fell down during the competition, and he picked it by the toe of his left leg and put it back in his ear during the dance. Shiva won the contest as Kali was unable to imitate this pose. Since Shiva lifted his leg vertically (urdhva in Sanskrit), the Nataraja image here is known as Urdhava Tandavamurti. For eons, people visiting Thiruvalangadu have offered worship first at the Kali shrine in the village and then in the Shiva temple.
This large temple is one of the 275 padal petra sthalams or shrines sung in praise of by the Shaivite saints or Nayanmars. Having prayed at a young age to Shiva to give her an old, emaciated form, Karaikal Ammaiyar visited many sacred places before finally reaching Thiruvalangadu.
The Thiruvalangadu temple existed in the Pallava era and was subsequently enlarged in later times. It has five prakarams, the first enshrining a Shiva Linga worshipped as Vataranyeshwarar and believed to be self-manifest or svayambhu. In the second prakaram is the sanctum for Nataraja with left foot raised.
The inscriptions state the deity’s name as Udaiya Nayanar located in Pazhaiyanur. The earliest inscriptions date back to Nripatunga Pallava of the 9th century AD.
(The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture)