Shiva Paadal Petra Sthalam Stories - Tirukkonamalai - Where Shiva was worshipped by Indra

Prelude - The 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams are Shiva temples of the Subcontinent, listed, mentioned and revered in the devotional verses of Saiva Nayanars during the 6th to 9th Century AD.

Shri Koneswarar Temple, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Entrance to the temple.
Photograph by Dschen Reinecke at Wikipedia Commons under GFDL
Copyright and credit to the photographer. 

Located at Triconamalee or Trincomalee, near Talai Mannar and Jaffna on the East Coast of Sri Lanka, is the temple to Lord Shiva as Shri Koneswarar. This sacred place is one of the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams and is one of the two in Sri Lanka, the other being Shri Tirukketheeswaram. The main deity, or Moolavar, is Shri Koneswarar, and the goddess, or Ambal (= the aspect of Parvati, as the spouse of Lord Shiva) is Shree Maadulaiyaalammai. The sacred pond at the temple is known as Kona Theertham.

The Shri Koneswarar temple to Lord Shiva as Kona + Eswara, has also been known, historically, as Dakshina Kailasam, as are many temple to Lord Shiva in South India and Sri Lanka. There is some confusion about the recognition of the place as the Dakshina Kailasam, since Kataragama is also recognised by the legends of Murugan as Kadiragamar. The temple is supposed to have also been mentioned in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Yalpana Vaipava Malai.

It is said that Indra, the King of the Gods, worshipped Shiva here at Koneswaram.

The temple is amazingly located, off on a rocky peak on the coastal spur almost going away from Trincomalee. The prayers and other rituals are conducted on this isolated rocky peak, on the coast, and the setting is nothing but amazingly spectacular. One of the great nayanars, Sambandar, has recited the glory of Shri Koneswarar, while at Rameswaram, across the ocean, in India.

The Koneswaram Temple of Trincomalee is one of the five Pancha Ishwara Temples of Sri Lanka. Trincomalee is also known as Thirukonamalai, as one would understand - Thiru + Kona + Malai. The word "Kona" in Andhra Pradesh or other Dravidian regions is usually meant to depict a steep high rock face with a waterfall or a narrow valley surrounded by very sharp rocky crags. The Koneswaram temple, also known as Konesar Temple, is also recognised as the temple of the thousand pillars, and as Dakshina Kailasam. It is a very ancient temple, possibly pre-ancient, prior to the Ramayana and to Ravana, since it is said that he had improved or repaired the structure. One of the kings of Sri Lanka, Singai Jagaraajasekharar, composed and recited the Dakshina Kailasa Puranam in praise of Shri Koneswarar. 

The temple was known to the Dravidian world, and is a popular religious pilgrimage centre, also frequented by Indians from South India. The early Pallava, Chola and Pandyan Kingdoms were frequently involved in the construction, repairs and maintenance of the temple. The location, on top of a rocky seafront crag, known as Konesar Malai overlooks the Trincomalee district, the Gokarna bay and the Indian Ocean. The Mahavilli Ganga River flows out at Konesar, and moves alongside the "footprint of Shiva" at Sivan Oli Padam Malai at the river's source.

The known history of the temple stretches back to 205 BC, and includes the thousand pillared hall. The basic temple was later expanded by a Chola King, Elara Manuneedhi. Even at that time, and since then, it is known as one the greatest buildings of its times. The temple was destroyed during Portuguese rule during 1622 to 1624, as were the other Pancha Ishwara temples in Sri Lanka, including Muneeswaram and Tondeeswaram. A fort was built on the site of the Koneswaram temple.

The local devotees later built a temple in 1632 and placed the original deities within the premises for prayers and worship. Arthur C. Clarke and other explorers who made Sri Lanka as their home, went out in search for artifacts near Koneswaram and made startling discoveries. They found underwater structures, sculptures and bronzes of the Chola period in this region. This brought back international interest and strengthened the premise of the temple. Hopefully, all communities will come within the blessings of Sri Koneshwara and strengthen the social strength of Trincomalee and the region will see peace in the future. Worship of Lord Shiva on the highest rock face of a coast could also be one of the earliest forms of his worship, and could be a reason for unifying the local people.

The pilgrims begin at the Konesar Road and follow through several shrines within comprising those of Bhadrakali, Vishnu, Ganesha, Surya, Raavana, Shakti, Murugan and finally Shiva, at the highest point. The temple was known by many names in legend and in its history, and the most frequent and popular names have been - Kona Malai and Tiru Kona Malai, which led to the name of the region - Trincomalee. It is also understood to recognise it as the location of the "Sacred Hill of the Three Temples". However, in ancient literature, it has been recognised as Gokarna, in the Mahavamsa, and in its shorter version as Kona in Sanskrit, Pali and Tamil, and as Gona in Sinhalese.

The earlier temple, before it was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1624, was a structure of great size, splendor and design, and was known throughout the Indian Subcontinent. Tirujnana Sambandar, the great Nayanar and Saivite Saint of 7th Century AD, referred to the temple in his renditions. Earlier, the Pallavas during the reign of the King of Lanka (or, Ceylon, as at that time), Manavanna, 668-703 AD, provided support to the temple and enabled the construction of its additional structures. The greatest loss must have been the 'thousand pillared mandapam'. There are inscriptions at Tiriyayi, 30 miles north of Trincomalee, about the involvement of the Pallava kings.

The destruction by the Portuguese decimated a great temple structure, including the famed 'thousand pillar hall'. The very reason for the construction of the temple at the outermost crag off Trincomalee, offered the reason for strategic defense for the Portuguese. The Dutch had just taken some territory on Sri Lanka and the Portuguese needed to place some forces where the Koneswaram temple was located. The Dutch and the Emperor of Kandy, Constantine De Sa, in 1622, necessitated different arrangements for attack and defense. The very material that went into the construction of the temple and the thousand pillar hall was an opportunistic possibility of using the best hard rock material for constructing battlements. As a result, the entire structure was destroyed and several parts of it was thrown down into the sea.

Similar to Tondeswaram in the southern coast of Lanka, some of the figurines and sacred icons of deities were saved by the local people during the destruction and moved to a nearby place, the Pagoda of Tamblegam. The walls of the fort built with the rock structures of the temple are witness to the destruction. One can find inscriptions and one can guess as to which part of the temple went into the construction of the fort. All of it, unfortunately now, is part of the history of the Subcontinent's colonial years. The local devotees come together, once in a year, and in a procession, reach the easternmost point of the rock cliff, and conduct their prayers and present their offerings to Lord Shiva and to the ocean.

Colossal statue of Shiva at the Koneswaram Temple, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Photograph by - 'Shamli071' as indicated at Wikipedia Commons under Creative Commons License

The temple is also mentioned in the Vayu Purana, Konesar Kalvettu and the Tevaram hymns by Tirujnana Sambandar. It is said that Koneswaram is also the birth place of Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutra and was thus mentioned by Arunagirinathar, when he visited. Patanjali was one of the eighteen siddhars of the Tamil siddha tradition. He was also the author of the Mahabhashya, that was a commentary on Katyayana's varttikas, which in turn were comments on Panini's Astadhyayi. Patanjali is also credited with comments and treatises on ayurveda.

Since it was the birthplace of Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutra, upon learning it from Shiva himself, it is presumed that the Konesar Malai could be where yoga originated. Patanjali had himself declared that he was born in a place that he described as Gonarda or Thiru Gona Malai. He described his place of birth and indicated the direction as a "country in the east" when he was at the Thillai Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, and as he composed the most famous Charana Shrungarahita Stotram on Shiva as Nataraja.

1. Trincomalee in legend and history. as on 20.5.2013
2. Koneswaram Temple. as on 20.5.2013
3. Patanjali as on 20.5.2013


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