Much of the historical glimpses are Established in an area of six square acres with gigantic, sprawling seven circumambulatory paths with sixteen majestic towers and the typical grandeur of the stately Rajagopuram towering higher up the ethereal regions up 154 feet; the captivating marvel of a temples abides as a rare symbol of excellence.
Some of the circumambulatory path like Tiruvunnazhi Prakaram, Garuda prakaram, Champaka prakaram, Kasi prakaram, Nacchiyar prakaram are enormously spacious and extensive and unique in their appearance. The seven vast splendid halls like Vallala Maharaja Mandapam, Thousand-pillared mandapam, Garuda Vahana mandapam, Yanai vahana mandapam, Lattice-window mandapa (Palakani mandapa) Butter and pot mandapa-(Vennai thazhi mandapa) Mast – Wood vehicle mandapa (Punnai vahana mandap) add the to the captivating pervasive expance of the temple prakaras.
Sri Rajagopalaswamy with Sri Rukmini, Satyabhama, and Senkamalvalli
There are twenty-four shrines including Perumal and Thayar shrines in the temple. The mast – wood tree Punnai is the sacred tree of the temple adored with special devotion as it is dedicated especially to the Lord. It is located in the Champaka Prakaram. This kshetra glorified as Champakaranayam, in yonder days, abounded in Champaka plants.
Sri Rajagopalaswamy’s temple at Mannargudi
The temple is established facing east. There is conjective among experts that the temple must have been originally facing west, for the mound of mansions over the western entrance was perhaps the remnants of the palaces used by the members of the royal family for stay and rest during their visit to the temple for worship. Also the Sangu Tirtham and Chakra Tirtham are seen interchanged in their left and right positions; that is obviously due to the fact that the temple once faced west. The temple is said to possess seven circumambulatory paths; if so which is the seventh Prakara? It was customary in those days to recognize the car streets called Pralaya Kala Veedhi circumscribing the present four Gopala Samudram Car Streets. Due to ravages of time those streets had disappeared. They were, perhaps, the seventh circumambulatory path. The four car streets of Gopala Samudram are the sixth circumambulatory path.These grand streets should have been once the locations of protective and fortified moats filled with water. That is perhaps why the nomenclature-Samudram-is still sticking to this location. It is also possible to determine from the erstwhile Revenue Settlement Records that excepting the pathway leading to the main shrine all the other surrounding areas of the temple are measured and compiled as the mote.
Along the Gopala Samudram car street just opposite to the temple there is erected a magnificent granite monolithic Garuda pillar which extends a happy welcome to the devotees. At the crest of the column there is a small shrine dedicated to Garuda who stands facing west with folded hands. It is indeed the grace of the deity that sustains this column unimpaired and unimpeded unrestrained and unassailded from the ravages of nature for several centuries now. By using a mountain of cotton bales Tirumangai Alwar contrived to sustain the vertically of this immense magic column of granite. But it is strange and disconcerting that we have to reconcile to the fact that the pasurams of such a magnificent and benevolent Tirumangai Alwar is not available to us yet. On the northern side of this pillar there is a mandapa which houses the big chariot of this temple, which is next only to the chariot of Tiruvarur in its display of pomp and majesty. This is the East Gopalasamudram car street that beckons un on to Rajagopuram of the temple. There is the shrine of Sri Anjeneya at the northwest end of the car street. At the east car street there is an Agama school.
Advancing past the Garuda column we arrive at the sixteen-pillared mandapa abiding at the alluringly magnificent main entrance of the temple and extending an illustrious welcome to the vataries. During the festivities the Lord would be stationed here and numerous avowed ceremonial worships would be performed. On the southern side of the Sannidhi Street there abides the Ahobhila Mutt buildings where in we shall have the darsan of Sri Narasimha and Sri Adivan Sadagopa Yatinadra Mahadesikan. On the northern row of the Sannidhi street there is the Vanamamalai Mutt. When we move past the sixteen-pillared mandap the towering Rajagopura extending higher up the pervasive ethereal regions seems to behold us and swiftly sweeps down, as it were, to welcome us with an added vigour of joy and excitement. Just at the entrance in the southern side there abides Vira Anjeneya who is said to be proficient in extending merits to devotees.
Now we reach the fifth circumambulatory path.This is also called Nachiyar Prakaram. This is also the thoroughfare for the chariot procession of Sri Sengamala Thayar. For Sri Thayar, the Sumangali noted for refinement and moderation and gentleness of style would seldom betake herself beyond the gates of Her abode and this kind of festival of chariot procession is unique in the history of temple administration. Nowhere else is seen such a kind of festival to the deity. On the Southeastern part of the circumambulatory path there is an entrance and a tower but the gateway has been shut now. In former days it was customary to fetch water from the Gopralaya Tirtha for the anointing of the deities. At the centre of the southern Prakara there is a huge gateway and tower. Just opposite to the enclosure wall there is also a tower. It is said that there was a Thyagaraja mandapa where in the Lord Thyagesa of Tiruvarur used to visit this mandapa and participate in festivals once every year. At the western Prakara there is a granite tower and western gopuram. There are numerous delicate works of arts and sculpture belonging to the Nayak period. The kings of Thanjavur used to visit this temple through this gopuram and perform ceremonial worship to the deities. At the northwest and there is a tank for the use of Sri Thayar.At the northern Prakara there is the northern gateway, the granite gopura and gopura built of bricks. In the north eastern portion there is the elephant mandapa and the cowshed. The gate of Tirumanjanam street and a small gopuram are established in the Prakaram. Near the elephant mandapa at the eastern Prakara the mandapa for Sri Thayar chariot is located. Westward to this mandapa abides the sixteen-pillared mandapa and western to this, the shrine of Yoga Narasimha. At this sixteen pillared mandapa the Tiruvandikkappu of Sri Thayar is performed. At this entrance there is a new mandapa from where we can have the sight of the Krishna gopura.
Now we have arrived at the fourth circumambulatory path, which is also famous as Kasi Prakara. The path leading to the main shrine from Krishna gopura is famous as sabha. In the upper reaches of the Sabha mandapa we can witness beautiful sketches and drawings depicting skilled artistic acumen. Southern to the Sabha abides the thousand-pillared mandapam.Wes wards to thousand – pillared mandapa there abides the Administrative Office of the temple.At the south Eastern end there is mandapa from where the devotees enjoy the darsan of the Lord for Pakal Pattu and Era Pattu festival. At the Southern Prakara there is the sacred flower garden. From out of the jackfruit procured from the garden during the month of Vaikasi and coupled with Visakam constellation, the luscious delicacy of a delightful cuisine called Sahakara is prepared for the ceremonial offerings to the Lord. There is a sixteen-pillared mandapa at the northern Prakara famous as Tirumamani mandapa. During the Vaikuntha Ekadasi festivals the Lord would have prolonged, avowed ceremonial worships by the devotees throughout the day. Just opposite to this there is four-pillared mandapa where religious discourses would be held by the learned. At the eastern end of this prakara there are shrines for Kurattalwar, Udayavar and Vahana mandapa. The well abiding just opposite to the shrine of Karuttalwar is allowed open for the use of the general public for drinking purpose.Just opposite to the well by the Southern side there is the shrine for Sri Nigamata Maha Desikan.
Now we reach the third circumambulatory path, which is also famous as Champaka Prakara. There is Mohini Gopuram at the entrance of this Prakara through the Sabha.At the fore part of this Prakara in the southern side, Perialwar and Kulasekhara Alwar are seen on a pedestal. Just opposite there are Flag Mast and Sacrificial Altar.Then there are the Primary Alwars shrines.At the south there is the kitchen where in there abides the Madaipalli Nachiyar. The kitchen is also called Nachiyar Parigraham.At the southern Prakara there is the Store Room-Ugrana and near by there are Andal, Nammalwar, Manavaala maa munigal shrines. Nearby Tirumangai Mannan and Kumudavalli icons are displayed. Adjacent to tit are Anjaneya and Tondaradipodi Alwar propitiating Sri Rama padukas. Just opposite to Sri Thayar Shrine in this Prakaram there is a four-pillared mandapa in the open space and the Lord has the special ceremonial worships conducted here during Vasantha Utsava and Panguni Utsava. The shrine of Sri Sengamala Thayar abides at the southern Prakara.Entering the shrine we see the Flag Mast and the Sacrificial Altar attended by Garuda along with his consort Suparni.
When we reach the Thayar shrines and the adjacent South Prakara there is the niche for the sacred Basil Plant and opposite to it there is the glass mandapa. At the northeastern end there is the Vaikunda sabha also called Rohini mandapa at the projected stairs. Rohini Utsavam of Sri Perumal is performed in this mandapam. In the Nrithya Mandapa opposite to Sri Thayar shrine the grand Adhyayan Utsava and Ekasimhana Utsava for ten days for Sri Thayar are celebrated. In the Mattaiyadi Utsava when the Lord and Sri Thayar are seated at the same seat is called Ekasimhasanam. It is just like Sri Rangam Panguni Uttara consecrated worship. Here the famous Gadya Traya (Vaikuntha Gadyam Sri Ranga Gadyam-Saranaagata Gadyam) Chorus-cum-group recitals will be done by the learned. During Fridays in the month of Thai Thiruvolakkam for Sri Thayar will be done in this mandapa. The top of the mandapa has been fixed with brass plates.
Sri Thayar is anointed every Friday in this mandapam. Next to this there is the Ardha mandapa and the shrine of Sri Thayar. Sri Sengamala Thayar and Hemabja Nayaki as the Utasvar and the Mulavar extend immense grace and benediction to the devotees. From the western Prakara and Sri Thayar Shrine junctin a diversion branches as Champaka Prakaram of Sri Perumal. Northwest to this Prakara there is Sri Rams's shrine with the Nrityamandapa, Mahamandapa and Arthamandap. The sixteen – pillared mandapa otherwise called Sri Paduka mandapa abides there in the Prakara. Nearby there is Praamapada entrance and Pancha Parva Utsava mandapa. At the eastern prakara the sacred tree –the Punnai tree (the mast wood tree) and the yagasala are there.
May I contemplate on Sri Sengamala Thayar, the incarnation of Sri Mahalakhmi with four arms and two efflorescent eyes like Neelotpala, adorned with Kundalas at the ears, decked with Keyura haras and golden necklaces, decorated with white floral garland, with a countenance dazzling with the lightning of a smile amidst the coral-like red lips, with the bright tilaka on the fore head, with the locks of curling hair dense dark in hue, with the lustrous complexion flawless white in hue like pearls originated from bamboos, with form akin to Mahalakshmi abiding on the lotus and the face charming and attractive.
May I meditate on Sri Sengamala Thayar the manifesting Viralakshmi, effulgent like the golden lotus, worshipped by all the celestials, resplendent with an ornament studded with gems at the tip of the nose, skilled in fulfilling all the aspirations on the votaries, the able and efficient consort of the manifestation of Vishnu, as Sri Vidya Rajagopala, the most indescribable and unparalleled in beauty and charm, the beloved daughter of Samudra Raja and the defender and protector of all the worlds.
Just in front of Sri Perumal Sannidhi there is a grand Vadya mandapa and norther to it the Uttaramandapa of Vallala Maharaja and the shrine of Perarulalan. In this Mahamandapa Sri Perumal extends darsan during Pakal Pathru and so does Sri Thayar during Brahmotsava. Western to the shrine of Sri Perumal there is the chamber of rest and respite. On the pillars of Vadya mandapam, Achyutappa Nayak, Vijaya Raghava Nayak Rani Champakalakshmi is seen with folded hands. Southern to this mandapa there are steps to pass by. Higher above the saligrama Anjaneya as consecrated at Haridranadi is also to be seen here.
We have arrived at the Garuda Prakara at the entrance of the second circumambulatory path. The bronze sentinels, Jaya and Vijaya are seen to be absorbed in vigilance. Nritya mandapa of Sri Perumal abides at the Garuda Prakara and Garuda along with Ulsavamurthy has the shrines here. It is said there is a subterranean path here. From the southern part of the western prakara there are shrines for Venugopala, Lakshmi Narasimha, Ananta Padmanabha, Lakshmi Narayana and Gajendra Varada. At the northeastern end there is the shrine for Vishvaksena and Sutravati Devi. Northern to this there is the mandapa for the silver, gold vehicles to be deposited in safe custody.
Now we reach the first circumambulatory path, Thiruvunnazhi. Just in front of the Perumal shrine there is the Mahamandapa, the Sabha. All the pillars there in are set with brass plates. Right to the Thiruvunnazhi Prakara and under the ceiling of the sanctum sanctorum there is Vinayaka shrines and in the northern Prakara the shrine of Durga, just as we have in Sri Rangam. Then we reach the Arthamandapa of Sri Perumal shrine. Inside the sanctum sanctorum the Supreme Deva Deva along with Sri Devi and Bhudevi, surcharged with the form of Mulavar Paravasudeva and Utsavar Sri Vidya Rajagopala consorted by Sri Rukmini and Sri Satyabhama endows the perennial wavelength of beauty and grace and at the same time dispelling all our taints and blemishes and conferring captivatingly ceremonial and fascinating darsan to the votaries.
“May I ake refuge in Sri Rajagopala decorated with the feathers of peacock at the locks of hair dressed as a coil, with the lustrous tilaka of musk illumining at the forehead, with single ear-ring in one ear and a kundala at the other, dazzling with the moon light of a smile amidst the bud like pink lips embellished with numerous ornamentsw, adorned with fragrant sandal paste, holding the golden rod of the whip, enjoying the beloved company of Gopis, holding the lotus in the left hand, seated on the throne studded with Navaratna gems and having Champakaranya as the permanent abode.”