Rajagopalaswamy Temple in Mannargudi, Tamilnadu is one of the finest Vaishnava temples with great architecture. The presiding deity here is Rajagopalaswamy, a form of Lord Krishna. The temple is known by the name Dakshina Dwarka (Southern Dwarka). Guruvayoor Temple in Kerala is also credited with this name.
The grandiose temple complex sprawls an area of 23 acres. The temple features 16 tower gateways, 7 outer courtyards, 24 shrines, hall of 1000 pillars, seven halls and nine sacred tanks. The temple tank known as ‘Haridra Nadhi’ is unique for being the largest temple tank in India (and may be in the world). The tank located outside the temple complex also covers an area of 23 acres. The idol of the presiding deity of the temple is 156 ft. tall, and the rajagopuram is 192 ft. tall. The deity is presented as a shepherd boy with a whip in one hand and wearing a turban and dhoti. A cow and two calves are also featured by his side.
The mast–wood tree (Punnai) at the complex is considered sacred, as it is dedicated especially to one of the leelas (the anecdotes and narratives of Krishna) of the Lord Krishna. Milk is offered as offering to the deity in the temple.
Kulothunga Chola I (1070-1125 A.D.) is believed to have constructed the original temple structure. The temple received subsequent renovations and expansions at the hands of successive kings of the Chola Empire, Rajaraja Chola III, Rajendra Chola III and kings of Thanjavur Nayaks, Achyuta Deva Raya etc. The current 16th century structure can be attributed to the Thanjavur Nayaks, who had made significant additions to it. It was the primary shrine of the Nayaks.
Legend behind the Temple
As per the legend, the site of the temple was the place where two sages performed penance for the darshan of Lord. Two sages from the south named Gopilar and Gopralayar set out to see Lord Krishna in Dwaraka. They heard a lot about his ‘leelas’ and wanted to see the lord and stay blessed.
On their way to Dwaraka, Maharishi Narada met them and told them that Krishnavatara had ended, and Lord Krishna had returned to his heavenly abode. On hearing the news, the heart-broken sages fainted. Narada woke them up and tried to console them. He advised them to perform a penance to gain vision of the lord. They did severe penance at the place, and at last lord appeared before them as Krishna in all his 32 leelas. The sages requested the lord to stay in the place. This led to the creation of this beautiful temple at the site.
The major festivals celebrated in the temple are 18-day Panguni Brahmotsavam, the Chariot Festival, Vaikunta Ekadashi (during December–January), Navarathri (during September–October)and butter pot breaking ceremony.