This temple, also known as Tirupperunturai temple, is intimately connected with the life of Manikkavachakar, the 9th century Shaiva saint who, according to the local tradition, was responsible for building it. It is said that the saint, then known as Tiruvadavurar, was at the service of the Pandya king, Varagunavarman II, also known as Arimarttana Pandya, and had been given substantial funds to purchase some horses which were due to arrive at a nearby coastal town. Once Tiruvadavurar arrived at Tirupperunturai, he met Shiva, in the guise of a guru, preaching to some disciples. He was so struck by the guru’s personality that he requested to be initiated. His name was from then on Manikkavachakar (‘He whose utterances are jewels/rubies’). He then spent the king’s money in building the temple at Tirupperunturai, and in other benefactions.
Predictably, this was reported to the king who was impatiently waiting for the horses to arrive. Manikkavachakar was imprisoned and tortured. Shiva, however, came to his rescue. The miraculous interventions of the deity on more than one occasion deeply moved the King. He begged forgiveness of Manikkavachakar and tried to persuade him to resume his post as minister. The saint refused, and embraced the life of a wandering ascetic. He had an eventful life, composed a sizeable number of hymns in praise of Shiva and, eventually, he settled in Chidambaram where, it is said, he merged into the god.
In the course of the centuries, the temple has been restructured. The inscriptions engraved on its walls do not pre-date the period of the Arantangi Tondaimans who ruled in this area from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The large detached mandapa opposite the entrance gopura dates probably of the late 17th or early 18th century, and the paintings decorating its ceiling date of the 19th centuries. Particularly noteworthy is the 18th century set illustrating the 275 Shaiva holy sites, probably the only one surviving. It is laid out on the ceiling of the pillared hall in front of the Nandishvara Manikkavachakar shrine. The murals on the walls of the corridor around the above mentioned shrine, although in a parlous condition, may date of the late 17th or early 18th century. Their present dilapidated state makes it very difficult to establish an approximate date. A further set of paintings, probably of the same period, is adorns the ceiling of the Panchatchara mandapa, in the outermost enclosure of the temple.
The murals on the walls of the Sivananda Manikkavachakar shrine illustrate in great detail the life of Manikkavachakar. Those on the walls of the prakara surrounding it depict the most important aspects of Shiva as well as the lives of the Shaiva saints as related in the Periya Puranam. Both series date probably of the late 19th or early 20th century and are particularly interesting as they clearly reveal the growing influence of Western painting.