Sankarankovil town is situated in Tirunelveli district of southern part of Tamilnadu. The town gets its name from the Siva temple which is one of important shrines of Lord Siva. The temple is also known as Sankaranayinarkovil and Sankaranarayanakovil.
Once, a deva by the name Manikkireevan took birth as a Paraiyan after being cursed by Goddess Parvathi. He was known as Kavarparaiyan. He demolished a snake pit which was inside the forest garden that he was looking after and found a snake and a Sivalingam inside the pit. Panicked by this sight he rushed to inform King Ukkirama Pandya who was visiting the nearby forest during his usual visit to Madurai for worshippingLord Shiva and Meenakshi. On the same day, the King’s elephant collapsed on the floor after piercing the floor with its tusk and it was at this time when the King was filled with bewilderment Kavarparaiyan brought the news of thesnake and Sivalingam found in the snake pit. Following this the King heard the voice of Lord Shiva ordering him to construct a temple at the spot.
This temple is one of the big temples that can be found in the district of Tirunelveli and this is also one of the important shrines of Lord Siva in south India. The main deities in the temple are of Lord Shiva (southern portion inside the temple) and Goddess Parvathi in the name of Gomathi Amman (northern portion) with separate sanctums. There is another deity in between these two that is of Sankara Narayanar. The legend has it thatLord Siva appeared, on the request of His consort Parvathi, revealing Lord Vishnu in Him on His right side half to prove that Hari (Lord Vishnu) and Hara/Haran (Lord Siva ) are one and same. To commemorate this and to emphasize the oneness of Hari and Haran ideology the deity of Sankara Narayanar (the deity depictsSiva on the rightside and Vishnu on the left side) was installed. The temple therefore is also known as Sankaranarayakovil.
There is another interesting anecdote to this. It is said that during aggressive Vaishnavo movement(during the period of Vijayanagara kings) in the south, a few temples ofSiva were converted to Vishnu temples. To prevent this onslaught and to save this shrine in Sankarankovil it is said that the deity of Sankara Narayanar was installed in thetemple in between Lord Siva and Parvathi. This is further proved by the fact that the Siva and Parvathi deities in their sanctums can be seen even from outside the temple through series of entrance doors but the same facility is not their for the deity Sankara Narayananar.
It is known from the stone inscriptions that the construction of this temple was commenced at 1022 A.D. by Pandya king Ukkiraman. The temple tower raises upto 125 feet with 9 floors. The sacred pot on the top of the tower measures 7 feet and 4 inches. There are various others deities of lower strata installed in the corridors of thetemple. One can also find beautiful paintings and stone carvings adorning the temple walls and ceiling.
The temple is so famous here that the names Sankar and Gomathi are very common in this part of Tamilnadu. For many people Gomathi Amman is the Kula Deivam (protecting deity of the family). It is believed that worshipping Gomathi Amman in thistemple can cure many ailments and childlessness.
There is a snake pit inside the temple and it is believed that applying the sand/mud from the snake pit on one’s body can cure various diseases. Those who come visit this temple also offer miniatures of snake, scorpion and other reptiles to get rid of curses. These miniatures are sold outside and inside the temple premises.
(from temple sources)
The temple is located at a distance of about 53 kms from Tirunelveli and about 38 kms from Kovilpatti. One can reach Sankarankoil by bus either from Tirunelveli or from Kovilpatti. Sankarankovil canalso be accessed by train from Chennai/Tiruchi/Madurai/Virudhunagar.