The ancient Siva Temple in Koonthalur is reckoned to be 1,600 years old as it has been sanctified by ancient Thevaram hymns. Lord Siva of Koonthalur is known as Jambukaranyeswarar and His consort’s appellation is Ananda Valli. The legend has it that a strand of Sita Devi’s hair fell here while she was bathing in the tank and hence this place is called Koonthalur. This is the place where a fox worshipped Lord Siva and hence Lord Siva is known as Jambukaranyeswarar.
The three lingams of Pallava period bear testimony to the fact that Koonthalur Temple was a renowned temple in the sixth century. The word ‘Jambu’ means jamun and Aranyam is forest in Sanskrit. As this place abounded with jamun trees, it was known as Jambukaranyam in ancient times. Initially people worshipped a Naduthari Lingam (Lingam with an axe- cut on it) under a jamun tree and later on, a temple was built there. Jambukaranyeswarar represents the element, water. On entering the temple, we find Lord Ganesha’s shrine to our left and Murugan’s shrine to our right and a short corridor in between leads us to Lord Siva’s shrine. Devi Anandhavalli’s shrine lies to the left of Lord Shiva’s shrine, facing the south and Devi graces her devotees with four arms. There is an idol of Romarishi and a three feet tall statue of Chola King Kulonthunga III. In the circumambulatory path, there is a shrine for Lord Balasubramaniar. Next to this shrine, there is a Thara Lingam having 16 stripes on it,
which is assigned to the reign of Pallavas. There are niches for Lord Dakshinamurthy, Lingothpavar, Brahma and Durgai in the circumambulatory path. The temple built by Pallavas, was renovated during Chola dynasty and then in Krishnadeva’s reign.
Although the presiding deity of this temple is Lord Siva, Koonthalur is more popular as a Murugan Temple. The holy tank Kumara Teertham was created by Lord Kumaraguruparan. Lord Murugan’s shrine in this temple is in the eastern corner which is unique. In this temple Murugan's shrine is also on the highest platform. Another special feature of this temple is the Saneeswaran’s shrine opposite Lord Murugan. Lord Murugan graces His devotees with His consorts Valli and Devasena and His peacock facing the left.
Lord Murugan assumes the role of Gnanaskandamurthy at this temple where His idol dates from the Pallava period. His hair is woven into a circular form atop His head resembling a crown (Jatamakudam). He is wearing Makara Kuzhai (fish shaped ornaments) on His ears. Ornaments adorn His neck and sannaveeram runs across His chest. He holds the weapon sakthi in His upper right hand and rudraksha mala in His upper left hand. His lower left (front) hand rests on His thigh and He holds palm leaf manuscripts in His lower right hand. Since He enlightens us with wisdom as Gnanaskanda Murthy, He holds palm leaf manuscripts and rudraksha mala in his hands.
Arunagirinathar, in one of his Kandar Alankaram verses, proclaims that adverse planetary effects cannot harm us so long as Lord Murugan’s grace is upon us. Propitiation of Koonthalur Kumaraguruparan relieves us of the malefic influence of Saneeswaran (Saturn) caused by our past karma. Lord Murugan is enshrined in the eastern side of the temple casting a sideward glance towards Lord Saneeswara enshrined in the north eastern corner of the temple.
Sage Roma Rishi worshipped Jambukaranyeswarar and did penance here for several years. He could transform the hair strands of his beard into gold and used this mystic power to help the poverty stricken people of that area. Lord Siva decided to play a divine sport on His devotee, so one day Roma Rishi found he was unable to bring out gold from his beard. Upset at this, he shaved off his beard and went straight to the temple without taking a bath.
Since it was imperative for the body to be unblemished by dirt before entering the temple, Lord Murugan and Lord Ganesha, stopped him at the threshold. But Lord Siva Himself came out of His abode to give darshan to His devotee and proved mental purity is more important than physical cleanliness.
Saint Arunagirinathar has extolled Koonthalur Kumaragurubaran in one of his Thiruppugazh hymns beginning with ‘Tharaiyinil vegu vazi sarndha mudanai.’
The first part of the song is full of self-condemnation. Arunagirinathar, taking upon himself all the vices, misdeeds and short comings of others, rues his indulgence in carnal pleasures and earthly delights. He pleads with Lord Murugan to bless him with His devout worship.
In the second part the saint elucidates Lord Murugan’s valour and praises His benevolence.
“You are the nephew of Lord Rama whose single arrow pulverized the powerful sword held by the twenty shoulders of ten-headed Ravana. You direct the scholars who deliberate on the sagas of your devotees, celestials, sages and philanthropists towards the path of liberation. You obliterated the demons who did not supplicate at your feet bedecked with jingling anklets, and the demons who violated the rules of
"Oh! Lord of Koonthalur! You are the master of Lord Siva, who happily consumed the deadly poison and retained it in His throat."
The temple is located in natural surroundings abounding with coconut trees. As we proceed towards the temple, we are welcomed by rustling leaves, whistling wind, buzzing bees and chirping birds, dipping and diving in the lotus tank to our right. The temple is at a distance of 20 kilometers from Kumbakonam city en route to Poonthottam in Tamil Nadu.
Now listen to the Thiruppugazh song dedicated to Koonthalur Kumaraguruparan by Arunagirinadhar rendered by Guruji Shri A. S. Ragavan and Anbargal.