Renowned for its superb architecture and outstanding carvings, the Kallapiran temple at Srivaikuntam (Toothukudi dst., Tamil Nadu) is one of the Nava Tirupati – a group of nine sacred Vaishnava shrines on the banks of the Tamraparni River.
Although the core of the temple probably dates from the Pandya period (6th– 9th centuries), it was redeveloped and greatly expanded in the 16th and 17th centuries by a local Nayaka. It survived the ravages of the war between Virapandya Katta Bomman and the British at the close of the 18th century. The latter used the temple as a fortress and signs of the battle are still seen on the doors of the temple.
The presiding deity is popularly known as Lord Vaikuntanatha. He is also known as Kallapiran, Lord of Robbers, which refers to the following story. Once upon a time a band of robbers lived in the forest near Srivaikuntam. Their head, Kaladutaka, was known for his piety and devotion to Vishnu. He robbed only the affluent, he used to worship to Vaikuntanatha before setting of on a plundering expedition, and always offered half of his booty to the god.
Once, while his gang was looting the palace, they were caught, Kaladutaka, however, escaped. He meditated on Vishnu and the deity, in the form of an old Brahmin, promised to help him. Vishnu then assumed the form of the robber and went toward the palace. The soldiers, who were looking for him, caught him and took him before the king. Kaladutaka told the king that stealing was his livelihood, at which the king asked him if this was not sinful. Eventually, after a philosophical debate on the nature of wealth, the king realised that the person before him could not be a thief. Vishnu then revealed himself to the king. The king mended his ways and became a benevolent ruler. Hence the deity is called Kallapiran because of his assistance to the robber Kaladutaka.
Inside the innermost corridor skirting the main sanctuary are traces of Nayaka paintings. On the ceiling there were probably scenes drawn from the Bhagavata Purana. Laid out on two rows the 108 Srivaishnava divyadeshams adorn its walls. All the divyadeshams are identified by captions in Tamil and Telugu. Both these sets of paintings, which judging from the surviving fragments must have been exquisite, are now in parlous conditions. This part of the temple is now generally locked to the public.