No sooner did I utter this name, immediate thought of the famous halwa (a sweet made out of wheat and sugar) comes to our mind. Also known by another name Nellai, this is an important, siva sthala, situated on the banks of river Tamiraparani (shuddha tamraparni thadasthitham as pointed out by Muthuswami dikshitar in his kriti Sri Kantimatim in hemavathy). Out of pancha maha sabhai (5 sacred halls), this is thamira sabhai (copper hall). Lord Nataraja's dance was seen by saints in these 5 halls.
1. Kanaka sabhai (Hall of gold) - Tillai (chidambaram)
2. Velli ambalam (Hall of silver) - Aalavai (Madurai)
3. Rathna Sabhai (Hall of gems) - Tiruvalangadu
4. Chitra Sabhai (Hall of paintings) - Tirukuttralam
5. Thamira Sabhai (Hall of copper) - Tirunelveli (Nellai)
In all the 4 places except Madurai, Nataraja's right leg is on the ground and left leg lifted. In Madurai alone, it is reversed (right leg lifted and left leg on the ground).
As soon as we enter the Nellaiappar temple, we could see the kerala type architecture on the ceilings interior to the main entrance. A big nandhi (constructed during recent times) welcomes you. Then we can see the dwajasthambam and a small nandhi (ancient one). Further if you go inside, there is the sannidhi of Nellaiappar. But it is customary to first see Kanthimathi amman sannidhi first. So we circumambulate the prakaram. We enter a sannidhi where Vinayaka, Shiva (in linga form) and Parvati were seated under a roof, with Nandi deva infront of them. Then we further go inside to see a hall full of sculptured pillars with yali. In two of those pillars we could see Hanuman and Sugreeva. Near Hanuman carved pillar, we find the sannidhi of Mahishasura Mardhini. To the left we see the temple tank. On the banks of the tank we see lot of lingas named, Kashi viswanatha. The tank is considered to be as pure as the Ganges.
We further cross the hall, to enter the prakaram of Kanthimathi amman. We see the thousand pillared hall and the oonjal mandapam, where ambal sits on the swing during the month of Aadi (in this month, valaikappu function is celebrated for amman) and Chitirai (during kalyana utsavam). We enter Kanthimathi amman's sannidhi. Oh... one could feel like hugging her.. for she is full of grace. On the day when I saw her, she was wearing a yellow coloured cotton saree, so simple... but I got a feeling that a child will get after seeing her mother after a long time. coming out of Kanthimathi amman temple, we could see Mahalingaswamy sannidhi and few more shiva lingams.
On the other side we were welcomed by the temple elephant (Kanthimathi). She blessed us. For her the authorites have put 3 ceiling fans to enable her to sleep without any disturbance during night. Its a move to be welcomed. We came across the ancient temple of Mahalinga swamy which is located below the ground level. Due to passage of time, it went down, as I could hear from the temple authorities. To its right there is the Nellaiappar sannidhi. The entrance is adorned by pillars holding sculptures of Karnan, Arjunan, Veerabhadran and one more siva gana with garland made of human skulls. All were very realistic. Both Kanthimathi amman temple and nellaiappar temple are famous for the musical pillars. There are few pillars in the amman temple and more in siva temple. One could hear Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa in a set of pillars. One could hear the sound of jalatharangam, tabla in others.
Nellaiappar is swayambu (self created). So the shape of linga is not that perfect. There is a cut that passes from top right to centre. Interesting thing here in the sanctum sanctorum is, there is a sannidhi for Vishnu. Named as Nellai Govindar, vishnu lays on the serpent bed, performing pooja to another siva lingam (just like ananthapadmanabhaswamy). There is also a utsava moorthi for Vishnnu, with a kamandalam in his hands, standing after performing marriage of his sister Kanthimathi with Nellaiappar.
There is also a Shanmukar sannidhi. Unique thing here is, the six faces of muruga were placed symmetrically that from the front we could see three faces and the other three faces could be seen from the back side only. Here Indra himself stands as peacock. Normally asura will be peacock. In that case peacock's beak will be on Muruga's right side. If deva is a peacock, it's beak will be on Muruga's left side. Realistic Sculptures of Manmadhan (with a romantic smile) and Rathi adornes the entrance to Muruga's sannidhi. There is an image of Sri chakram painted before the entrance of murugan's sannidhi.
Another stunning shrine is Sandana nataraja (Nataraja will always be bathed in sandal paste). There is a hall before this sannidhi which is decorated by wood carvings.
This temple is larger than madurai temple. Also well maintained and very clean and tidy.