Thiruvarur district is one of the 32 districts in the Tamil Nadu state of India. The district occupies an area of 2161 km². It lies between Nagapattinam district on the east and Thanjavur District on the west, and is bounded by the Palk Strait on the south. The district headquarters is at Thiruvarur town. As of 2011, the district had a population of 1,264,277 with a sex-ratio of 1,017 females for every 1,000 males.
As per folk legend, Thiruvarur is mentioned as the capital town of a legendary Chola king, Manu Needhi Cholan, who killed his own son to provide justice to a cow. His name is commonly used as a metaphor for fairness and justice in Tamil literature and Tamil culture.
Thiruvarur was one of the five traditional capitals of the Chola empire and the history of town revolves around the Thygarajaswamy temple.Thiruvarur is mentioned in the saiva canonical work, Tevaram by Thirugnana Sambanthar, Tirunavukkarasar and Sundarar, the foremost Saivite saints of 7th–8th century CE and classified as Padal petra stalam.Tirunavukkarasar mentions several traditions of the temple like Marghazhi Aathirai Vizha, Panguni Uttirai Perunaal and Veedhivitakanin Veedhi Panni. The granite structure of the temple was first constructed by Aditya Chola I (871–907 CE) in the 9th century CE and revamped during the reign of Rajaraja Chola I (985–1014 CE).The temple was upgraded and rebuilt with stone by Rajendra Chola I (1012–44 CE). The temple has inscriptions from both the emperors, later Cholas and Pandyas.The temple is believed to be an inspiration for Rajaraja Chola to build the Brihadeeswarar Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inscriptions from the temple indicate Thiruvarur as the capital of Kulothunga Chola I (1070–1120 CE), during which the town emerged a centre of saivism.After the fall of Cholas during the reign of Rajendra Chola II in the 13th century CE, the town was caught under a power struggle between Pandyas and Hoysalas.The royal patronage continued and the town flourished as a cultural centre during the rule of the Nayaks, Vijayanagar kings and Marathas. During the period of Marathas, the town became a temporary home to the Nataraja of Chidambaram temple.The town was briefly captured by French troops led by Lally (1702–66 CE) in 1759 CE.The Thyagarajar temple was ransacked in a failed attempt to discover hidden treasure.During the attempt, six brahmins of the temple, suspected to be spies of the British, were killed in an encounter.The province and Tanjore were annexed by British after the failed attempt of the French to attack the King of Tanjore.After independence, Thiruvaur continued to be a part of the Thanjavur district and Nagapattinam district till 1991 and 1997 respectively.Thiruvarur was made the headquarters of Tiruvarur district when it was carved out of Nagapattinam district in 1997.
The Thyagaraja temple
The ancient Thyagaraja Temple at Thiruvarur is dedicated to the Somaskanda aspect of Shiva. Thygaraja is the iconic form of Somaskanda and is believed to have spread widely from the 10th century CE, the period coinciding the reign of Raja Raja Chola.The temple complex spanning over an area of 20 acres (81,000 m2) has shrines dedicated to Vanmikanathar, Thyagaraja, Kamalaamba and numerous other deities.Vanmikinathar is believed to have arisen from an anthill and from the trumpet flower, Bignonia Chelenoides.The Kamalalayam temple tank covers around 33 acres (130,000 m2), making it one of the largest in the country. The temple chariot is the largest of its kind in Tamil Nadu.Thyagaraja is believed to have performed 364 miracles in Thiruvarur similar to the 64 performed at Madurai Meenakshi Temple.Pilgrims take a holy dip in the tank during Hindu auspicious occasions like equinox and eclipse. The temple is also classified as Saptha Vidangam, meaning the seven temples having unique dance moves by Thyagaraja.The Chola inscriptions refer Thyagaraja as Vidhividangar and the name “Thyagaraja” is believed to have emerged during the 15–16th century CE.
Historically Thiruvarur has been a centre of eminent people in religion, arts and science. Sundarar, an 8th-century Saivite saint, mentions “I am the slave of all those born in Thiruvarur” in his works in Tevaram.Two of the 63 nayanmars of Saivite tradition namely, Kalarsinga Nayanar and Tandiyadigal Nayanar were born in Thiruvarur.The Periyapuranam, a 12th-century Saiva canonical by Sekkizhar, dedicates a chapter to those born in Thiruvarur including these two saints.The town was a traditional centre of music and dance – the inscriptions from Rajaraja Chola associates a large body of dancers associated with the temple.Thiruvarur is home to Trinity of Carnatic music namely Thyagaraja (1767–1847 CE), Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775–1835 CE) and Shyama Shastri (1762–1827 CE).Muthuswami Dikshitar has sung eulogies of the temple deities of the Thyagarajaswami temple.There was large influx of the acumen of South Indian culture to the town during the 17th century CE due to the political unrest in Thanjavur and increased patronage of the Maratha kings to Thiruvarur, resulting in developments in music and dance.A unique musical instrument called Panchamuga Vadyam with each of its five ends ornamented differently is used in the temple. A type of nadaswaram (pipe instrument) called Barinayanam is also a unique instrument found only in Thiruvarur.
Kulothunga Chola II (1133–50 CE) enlarged the temple ritual to have fifty six festivals, some of which are followed in modern times.The annual chariot festival of the Thygarajaswamy temple is celebrated during April – May, correspondong to the Tamil month of Chitrai.The chariot is the largest of its kind in Tamil Nadu weighing 300 tonne with a height of 90 feet.The chariot comes around the four main streets surrounding the temple during the festival. The event is attended by lakhs of people from all over Tamil Nadu.The chariot festival is followed by the “Theppam”, meaning float festival. The Carnatic music festival celebrated every year also garners large audience.The town has 10 parks, with the Somasundaram Park at Panagal Road and Municipal Park at Thendral Nagar being the most prominent of them.