Tirumazhisai, an ancient village near Poonamallee, about 25 km from Chennai, is important for two reasons. It is the birthplace of Tirumazhisai Azhvar, one among the 12 Azhvars or great devotees of Vishnu, who authored two poems: the Nanmugan-Tiruvandadi and Tiruchanda Viruttam. It is also home to the old Jagannatha Perumal temple visited by numerous devotees.
Vaishnavite literature shows that Tirumazhisai was originally called ‘Mazhisai’ and the prefix ‘Tiru’ was added later indicating it is a sacred place. It was also known as Mahisaram and Mahisarakshetram.
This place was situated in the ancient territorial division of Mangadu Nadu, a sub-division of Puliyur kottam in Jayamkondachola mandalam. In the ancient past, Jagannatha Perumal was called Tirumazhisai Emberuman and the temple was known as Tirumazhisai Vinnagaram.
According to the legend, the seven sages (sapta rishis) including Brighu and Bharghava among others worshipped Vishnu at Tirumazhisai and as per their request he appeared to them as Jagannatha at this place.
The main deity is called Madhya Jagannatha as this shrine is situated in the middle (madhya) between Puri (Orissa) and Tirupullani (Ramnad district) where there are well-known Jagannatha temples. The main idol is in a seated posture flanked by his two consorts, Rukmini and Satyabhama. In front of the deity are the icons of sages: Bhrigu and Markandeya, worshipping the deity. Goddess Lakshmi of this temple is known as Tirumangaivalli Thayar.
The epigraphs of the Chola and Vijayanagara times record donations. The oldest record belongs to the 12th century of the reign of Kulottunga Chola III. There are Vijayanagara epigraphs of the 14-15th Century. There are two more temples here: one for Veettrirunda Perumal and the other is called Othandishwarar temple.
(The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture)