Suryanar Temple, also known as the Suryanar Kovil, is a Hindu temple dedicated to the worship of Lord Surya, the Sun God. The temple located in Suryanar Kovil, a village near the town of Kumbakonam, Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu, India. The temple is considered to be one of the nine Navagraha temples in Tamil Nadu, which are dedicated to the nine planets of the Hindu astrology.
The temple’s architecture is inspired by Dravidian style, and it has several shrines dedicated to various deities, including Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesh, and Goddess Parvati. The main shrine is dedicated to Lord Surya and features a 5-foot-tall idol of the Sun God riding his chariot pulled by seven horses.
According to Hindu mythology, Sage Kalava was afflicted with serious ailments, including leprosy, and sought a cure from the Navagrahas, the nine planetary deities. Pleased with his devotion, the planets offered to heal him. However, Brahma, the god of creation, became angry and cursed the planets, causing them to suffer from leprosy and be sent to Vellurukku Vanam, a jungle of white wildflowers on earth.
The planets then prayed to Lord Shiva to lift the curse. Shiva appeared before them and informed them that the place where they were now living belonged to them and they would have to bless devotees who worshiped them there. This led to the creation of separate shrines for each of the planetary deities at the Suryanar Kovil temple.
Interestingly, Suryanar Kovil is the only temple among the nine planetary temples in Tamil Nadu where Shiva is not the presiding deity. This unique feature adds to the significance of the temple and attracts devotees from far and wide.
The Suryanar Kovil temple has a rich history dating back to the 11th century CE. An inscription found at the temple states that it was constructed during the reign of Kulottunga Choladeva (1060-1118 CE) and was originally known as Kulottungachola-Marttandalaya.
Over the centuries, the temple has undergone several renovations and additions, including during the Vijayanagar period. Today, the temple is maintained and managed by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
The temple’s historical significance is reflected in the works of famous composers, such as Muthuswami Dikshitar, who composed a song in Saurashatra ragam that mentions the Suryanar Kovil temple. Its rich history and unique features make the temple a popular destination for pilgrims and visitors alike.
The temple is built with a rectangular plan and has compound walls that are pierced by a five-tiered entrance tower known as the raja gopuram. The central shrine, which is built on an elevated structure, is dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, and houses the images of Surya and his consorts Usha and Chhaya.
The hall leading to the central shrine contains images of Viswanathar, Visalakshi, Nataraja, Sivakami, Vinayagar, and Murugan. On the axial line in front of the central shrine, there is an image of Guru (Jupiter), one of the planetary deities. The temple also has separate shrines for all the other seven planetary deities, namely Budha (Mercury), Shani (Saturn), Sukran (Venus), Soma (Moon), Angaragan (Mars), Rahu, and Ketu. All of the other eight shrines of the Navagrahas are arranged facing the shrine of Suryanar, with Guru depicted performing pooja to Shiva.
One of the major festivals celebrated at the temple is the Ratha Saptami Festival, which lasts for ten days and takes place during the Tamil month of Thai (January-February). This festival marks the beginning of the Uttarayana Period, during which the Chariot of Surya (Sun God) turns northwards. In addition to this festival, the temple also hosts weekly, fortnightly, and monthly rituals for the worship of the Navagrahas. There are weekly rituals like somavaram and sukravaram, fortnightly rituals like pradosham, and monthly festivals like amavasai (new moon day), kiruthigai, pournami (full moon day), and sathurthi.
The temple timings are from 6:00 am to 11:00 am in the morning and from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm in the evening.
The daily and festival poojas (rituals) at Suriyanar Temple are performed by temple priests belonging to the Shaivaite community, a Brahmin sub-caste. The temple rituals are performed six times a day, starting with Ushathkalam at 5:30 a.m. and ending with Ardha Jamam at 10:00 p.m. Each ritual consists of four steps: abhisheka (sacred bath), alangaram (decoration), neivethanam (food offering), and deepa aradanai (waving of lamps) for Surya, Usha, and Chhaya. The poojas are accompanied by music from nadaswaram (pipe instrument) and tavil (percussion instrument), religious instructions from the Vedas read by priests, and prostration by worshippers in front of the temple mast.
How To Reach Suryanar Temple
The nearest airport is the Tiruchirapalli International Airport, which is about 75 km away from the Suryanar temple. From the airport, you can hire a taxi or take a bus to reach the temple.
The nearest railway station is Kumbakonam Railway Station, which is about 20 km away from the temple. From there, you can hire a taxi or take a bus to reach the temple.
There are regular bus services from major cities in Tamil Nadu to Kumbakonam, from where you can take a taxi or bus to reach the temple.
You can drive to the Suryanar temple from nearby cities like Kumbakonam or Thanjavur. The Suriyanar Temple is situated 15 kilometers west of Kumbakonam, 2 kilometers from Aduthurai, 8 kilometers from Thiruppanandal, and 58 kilometers from Thanjavur. The temple can be reached by road through Aduthurai on the Kumbakonam-Mayiladuthurai road and Thiruppanandal on the Kumbakonam-Chennai road.