A flight of steps lead up an ancient, but artificial hill to the abode of one of the most worshipped gods in South India—Murugan or Lord Subramanya. Swamimalai temple is one of Subramanya’s six famous abodes. Here, he is worshipped as Swaminathan. This is perhaps the only temple where Lord Siva’s shrine is located far below than that of his son’s.
The temple has entrances and three towers — gopurams — and three praharams, the actual spot where the priests conduct the puja where others aren’t allowed to go. Old but exquisite statues of gods and divine beings adorn all five storeys of the southern gopuram.
The three praharams at Swamimalai are unique in nature. The first one is located at the base of the hill, the second in middle and the third is at the top and surrounds the sanctum sanctorum. The base of the hill has many shrines. The shrine to the goddess Shakti is reached after passing the Raja gopuram and the Kalyana mandapam. The well that holds the holy water — Vajra theertham — is also situated at the base. Once you start climbing the steps, half way up the hill you encounter various statues associated with the legend of Swamimalai. The second praharam is after this area. Keep ascending the steps to the temple, where Lord Swaminathan sits in all his glory.
The legend of Swamimalai is an important part of Hindu mythology. One day, Lord Siva’s son Murugan (also known as Karthikeya and Subramanyan) was playing with his friends in Mount Kailasa. The devas happened to pass by and acknowledged the Lord’s son with due respect, with the exception of Brahma who thought, being the creator, he needn’t worship the child. Lord Murugan was angered by Brahma’s behaviour. He summoned Brahma and asked him to recite the Vedas. Brahma started with the pranava mantra—first Vedic syllable—‘Om’. Murugan interrupted Brahma’s recitation and asked him to explain the meaning of ‘Om’. Brahma couldn’t and expressed his ignorance. Murugan is considered the embodiment of the mantra ‘Om’. To punish him, Murugan took away the power of creation from Brahma and imprisoned him. The rest of the devas approached Lord Siva, begging him to release the creator and restore his powers. Siva relented and asked Murugan to release Brahma. But Siva himself wanted to know the meaning of ‘Om’. He asked his son to illuminate him. Murugan smiled and told his father that he would do so only on the condition that Siva accepted him as a guru. Lord Siva agreed to become his son’s sishya (disciple).
By being a guru to his father, Murugan came to be called various names such as Gurunathan, Swaminathan and Thahappansamy (teacher to the Lord). It is thanks to the legend of guru and sishya that the temple of Lord Murugan is in a higher position on the hill than that of Lord Siva.
(Swamimalai is about 2 km from the railway station. Its around 280 km from Chennai and 8 km north of Kumbakonam and is easily accessible by bus