Temples abound in legends, there is hardly any temple in India that does not have a fascinating story associated with it. Even a small colony temple, like the one in our neighbourhood in Chennai way back in the 1990s, had a story about how the Goddess’ idol simply rose out of the ground at the priest’s home, one fine morning and he would distribute a blue powder as kumkum ! Almost all these stories are just that, stories but they make the temples all the more interesting.
During our Navaratri vacation, while lazing in our hometown after the Kongu nadu leg of our trip, we made a short trip to Sri Subramanyeswara Swamy temple at Mallam, near Nellore, an ancient temple with some such unbelievable stories !
Once upon a time in Mallam…
Mallam is a small village, 46 kms from Gudur and home to the Subramanyeswara Swamy temple belonging to the 7th Century A.D. We had been wanting to visit this temple since a long time, especially when we heard that the idol of Muruga is devoid of limbs, we wanted to know the legend behind the temple.
We were driving to Gudur for a family get-together and decided it was the best time to visit the temple. Starting early morning from Nellore, we stopped for breakfast at Amaravathi Highway Restaurant, a must visit if you are travelling anywhere closeby on NH5. After a breakfast heavily laden with Pongal, Vada and Dosa, we took a deviation from NH5 and drove through the country side with surprisingly good roads till we reached Mallam village.
The temple is located in the outskirts of the village, quiet and unassuming, its ancient history hidden behind renovations and re-paintings.
As you reach the Garbhalaya, the history slowly unfolds. There was nobody else at the temple except us and we had all the time to read the temple’s history painted on the ceiling. The paintings are a recent addition. The Sthala Purana says, Lord Muruga killed a demon by name Mallasura at this very place and the demon prayed to the Lord asking to be forgiven and have the place named after him and so the place came to be known Mallam.
Another story does the rounds that the village was actually called “Thirugu Mallam” owing to the unique natural phenomenon where the water from nearby lakes would fill up the nearby fields whenever there were rains and return back to the lake, “thirugu mallam” in the local dialect of Telugu means “turn back”. How far this phenomenon is true, we do not know. For now, most of these regions would be grateful if the lakes had water in the first place !
Next comes the story of a Pandya king ruling this region around 635 CE, who while returning from war wanted to take a break near this village and asked his people to clear the outgrowth. While the clearing work was in progress, the workers suddenly found blood oozing out of the outgrowth, following which the king lost his vision. He then had a dream where Lord Subramanya told him about his idol beneath the ground. When the workers dug up the place, they found an idol of Lord Muruga with his hands chopped from the clearing work. The king immediately had a temple built around the idol and his eye-sight was restored !
Even to this day, you can see the small idol of Subramanyeswara Swamy half above the ground, devoid of arms. This idol was worshipped for several centuries until a proper idol was installed in recent years. The new idol is now worshipped regularly while the ancient idol can be seen in a corner of the Sanctum. Except for this story of the Pandya king and some inscriptions dating back to 635 A.D, there is no historical record of the how the idol came to be found.
One can go very close to the Garbhalaya to offer prayers. The priest did a quick puja for us and after spending a short time inside the shrine, we stepped out to the courtyard.
The antiquity of the temple is evident as you walk around the main shrine. The walls and ceiling are ageing, here and there pillars have been erected to protect them. The outer walls have been painted with the usual white and red colours of temples but you cannot miss the wear and tear, check out how the stones of this wall are out of place and bulging:
The temple structure has features of Chola and Vijayanagar architecture, probably, the structure as it stands today belongs to those eras, though its history goes back to the 7th Century CE.
Sculpture that came alive !
To the right of the temple courtyard, is the 100 pillared mandapa, again, must have been a Vijayanagar addition, even the sculpture looks similar to the ones that you find in most of the temples belonging to that reign.
The mandapa is designed to look like a chariot being drawn by horses and yet another story has been weaved around it and a very “kolaveri” story at that.
It seems when the mandapa was near completion, the chief sculptor’s son wanted to show the beautiful structure to his lover and one night, gave life to the sculpted horse so that it could ride to his beloved. When the chief sculptor heard of this, he was furious at the great sin committed by his son and broke off the horse’s legs. He killed his son and then committed suicide !
The mandapa that was supposed to have faced East, now faces the South, since the stone horse that came to life turned the chariot mandapa towards the South as it tried to ride away ! That was one of the most incredible temple legends that we ever heard, whoever came up with that idea must have had great imagination skills !
Here is the poor horse with its legs broken:
The horse on the other side of the chariot seems to have escaped the murderous rage of the chief sculptor !
The gory tale aside, the entire mandapa is decked up with sculpture.
The pillars have rich sculpture with images of Gods, Goddesses and complex designs.
Meanwhile, there is a war scene at the base of the mandapa.
Horses gallop, elephants charge while mythical beings stand guard above and below.
You see the same pattern in every temple but you never cease to wonder at the craftsmanship. The moulding of solid stone into a piece of art with nothing but a chisel and hammer is, probably, one of man’s greatest achievements !
The little known temple at Mallam is one of the countless architectural gems scattered across our country, these are riches we would love to accumulate.
Our family get-together time was nearing and so we drove back to Gudur from Mallam. Later in the day, we made a short visit to Kanupuru Muthyalamma temple, a village Goddess whose annual festivity or jathara is very popular in this region.
We had visited 3 Murugan temples in 9 days, two of them unplanned, some Kandan Karunai (Lord Muruga’s Mercy) that !
After a week of wedding celebrations, feasting, travelling, family functions and chilling from the Kongu region to the Chola domain, we were back in the land of Nizams. Once again during this trip, Indian Railways scored as our train Padmavathi Express marched into Secunderabad on dot !
- Mallam is 46 kms from Gudur and 27 kms from Nayudupeta, if travelling from Chennai, one has to break off from NH5 at the Nayudupeta junction. Simple, follow Google Maps !
- The temple is usually open from 6 AM to about 11 AM and 4 PM to around 8 PM.
- There may not be too many buses towards Mallam, so taking your own vehicle or hiring one would be a good idea.
- Finding food options nearby Mallam is difficult, head to Nayudupeta or check out Amaravathi Highway Restaurant near Gudur on NH5.
- Chennai folks could make it a day trip visiting the temple along with a visit to Pulicat Lake and Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary. It could be part of one of those “we-have-to-go-somewhere-today” kind of trips.
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