Alagar Koyil, Kallalagar Temple
Situated in the picturesque and densely wooded Alagar Hills, some twenty km to the north-east of Madurai, this temple is dedicated to a form of Vishnu known as Kallalagar (i.e. ‘Beautiful Lord of the Kallars’). Kallalagar is believed to be the brother of the tutelary goddess of Madurai, Minakshi (‘The Fish-eyed One’). He plays an important role in the marriage festival of Minakshi and Sundareshvara (i.e.‘Beautiful Bridegroom’) –a form of Shiva – that takes place at Madurai in April-May every year. This temple, one of the 108 Vaishnava sacred sites, is probably a 12th cent. Pandya foundation but was substantially enlarged and refurbished under Tirumala Nayaka of Madurai (r.1623-1659).
In the southwest corner of the outer courtyard of the temple, is the Vasanta mandapa (Spring mandapa) in which are 18th cent. murals illustrating the Ramayana. The building is open during the ten-days of the Vasantotsava (Spring festival) in the month of Vaikasi (May-June). For the rest of the year the mandapa is used as a store and kept locked. In its interior is a square island surrounded by a deep trench on which is a central pavilion whose roof is supported by four columns. Two further rows of columns skirt the island and the wall of the building. The central pavilion is accessible through small bridges on the east and the west. During the Vasantotsava the metal images of the deity and his consorts are taken each evening for three hours to this mandapa, the trench surrounding the central pavilion is filled with water and the whole structure decorated with flowers.
The paintings are laid out on the ceiling of the central pavilion, of the east corridor and on the upper parts of the walls. The scenes are arranged in narrow strips, with Tamil labels written on black background. There has been a progressive decay in the state of the murals since my first visit there in 1988-89. Water infiltrations have damaged a substantial part of the ceiling of both the central pavilion and east corridor, and spatter of whitewash have defaced some of the scenes on the walls. The paintings adorning the ceiling of the central pavilion depict the events narrated in the Balakanda, beginning with the sacrifice of Dasharatha and the birth of Rama and his three brothers, to the exploits of the youthful Rama culminating in the breaking of Shiva’s bow. The large panel in the middle shows Kallalagar with consorts and attendant deities, as seen in the sanctum of the temple. The rest of the narrative, some sections of which have disappeared, is laid out on the walls of the mandapa and on the ceiling of the east corridor where it ends abruptly with the meeting of Ravana and Kumbhakarna.