The Nattukottai Chettiar community has always held the belief that all the wealth
that they earn should eventually be used in the obeisance of God. They consider
the service to religion and their mother tongue, Tamil, as two most important aspects
of their lives.
The Tamil poet Avvaiyar had said “Go traverse the oceans to earn wealth”. In line
with that advice the Nattukottai Chettiars travelled in the ancient days on ships
that sailed with the wind, to reach the far reaches of the earth, namely Ceylon,
Burma, Malaya, Vietnam and Indonesia, to earn their living by becoming traders and
People well steeped in religion, they conducted their business in accordance with
the ethics prescribed by their religious gurus, and established temples of their
favorite deity, Lord Sri Thandayuthapani, usually in the form of a boy ascetic wearing
only a loin cloth and holding a staff.
It is known that by 1824, the Chettiars’ were already present in Penang and were
involved in business activities. Once established, they chose a site at the luscious
green jungle at the waterfall hills to form their main temple. The original waterfall
Thandayuthapani temple was completed in 1857. It was built according to rules prescribed
in the agamas.
It is believed that the Nattukottai Chettiars Sivan temple, known originally as
“Markandeswarar” temple, is the first Sivan temple to be established in Malaysia.
It is also said that this temple was formed about 150 years ago by a Nepalese (Gurkha)
Hindu devotee on lot number 432, with small area owned by him. He is said to have
placed as the main deity, a “Pana Lingam” brought from the Ganges basin in North
India. The “Markandeswarar” refers to a story in the Puranas in which Lord Sivan
provides refuge to one of his devotees, from the grips of death and provides him
with an eternal life at an age of 16.
In Hindu tradition, the Lingam has seven forms: Swayambu, Devikam, Divyam, Manusam,
Ratchasam, Arsam and the Pana Lingam. Of these the last is said to be the most potent.
The Pana Lingam is said to have the combination of the colors of the jambul fruit
known as Naval in Tamil, honey, blue and green. It is said to bear the shape of
the nipple of a cow, or an egg shape, and is smooth to touch, The Lingam in this
Penang Sivan temple is partly light yellow and partly light blue.
The Gurkha, in his old age, is said to have offered the temple, to the elders of
the Chettiar community for proper upkeep and maintenance. Although the property
was offered free-of-charge, the Chettiar elders had insisted that it be sold to
them and a proper transfer of the property registered. Accordingly a grant dated
3rd July 1871 was prepared and handed over to them. From that date the temple has
been vested with the Chettiar community.
A few years later the temple property was expanded the land and a proper sanctum
sanctorum and its dome, an entrance hall, a general hall an ambience hall, an entrance
tower and a wall were built.
Idols of Mangalambikai, Lord Ganapathy, Murugan, the Navagrahas (the Lords of the
nine planets), Vairavar, Nandi (the cow, Siva’s Vehicle), the sacrificial altar,
and the figures of the four Saivite saints of Thirugnana Sambanthar, Thurnavukkarasasr,
Suntharar and Manickavasagar were installed and ordained. A priest, several assistant
priests, a Nadhaswaram (temple music party) group, and other temple functionaries
were brought from India.
The chief priest, trained in the agamas, conducts poojas four times a day namely,
7:30 am, noon, 6:00pm and 8:30pm. Besides these there are several festivals connected
with the temple. In the Tamil months of Sithirai and Aani, there are the festivities
of witnessing of the appearance of Nadarajah; In Puratasi month the Navarathri (nine-nights
in celebration of Devi, Lord Siva’s Consort); in Aaipasi month, the rice anointment
of Markandeswarar; in Karthigai month there are four soma varams during which Lord
Siva is anointed with the waters from 108 conch shells and 1008 flowers; in the
same month occurs the Thirukarthigai, the light festival, which culminates in the
burning of the “sokkappanai” to symbolize the appearance of Lord Siva in the form
of pure light; in the whole month of Margazhi the Thiruvembavai festival; in Masi
month the Maha Sivarathri is celebrated.
The temple trustees also bought up a land area adjacent to the temple on 9th June
1984 and endowed it to the temple. Similarly they bought on August 1910 and a further
land area on 25ht May 1920.
Both the Waterfall temple and the Sivan temple are managed by Registered Trustees
Nattukottai Chettiars temples, Penang, Malaysia. Decisions are taken unanimously
after lengthy discussions by the registered trustees and the members of the trust.
There is never the practice of majority rule. Differences of opinions will be resolved
with the help of an elder or a neutral person of the community. This has helped
to maintain unity among the community. The decisions are then implemented by those
appointed as responsible for the day-to-day functions of these temples. At the moment
there are 45 individual firms forming four major “KITTANGIS” (Chettiar business
premises) in Penang, and those within these “kittangis” take turns to become responsible
managers of the temples. They appoint a president and a secretary annually by turn
and the president takes charge of the Sivan temple while the secretary takes charge
of the Waterfall temple. The turns are decided on a rotation basis of the “kittangis”.
In the present temple, there is a flower garden in the adjacent land which provides
the flowers for the daily poojas. There are also residences in another area for
the temple functionaries. The temple hall is usually the venue for religious and
literary talks, including discourses by holy persons and eminent visitors from India.
The Chettiars also built a general purpose hall completed in 1979, adjacent to this
temple. This hall has become a popular venue for religious talks and other gatherings
as well as being used for weddings for which a moderate fee is charged. During Thaipusam,
visitors are served free food in this hall by the Chettiar youth movement.
During the Japanese occupation, the temples carried on with their rituals without
much interruption. Since temple revenue had dwindled, the members are said to have
“loaned” the money for the expenses.
The main deities of the Sivan temple Markandeswarar and Manglambigai, are said to
be deities with healing powers. It is said that children born with physical deformities,
are brought to the temple and laid in front of the deities for a specific period
of time. And in many instances it is claimed that the deformities had been cured.
The members of the management bodies of the temple usually set aside a portion of
their profits, known as “MAGAMAI” and donate this sum to the trust which is responsible
for the day-to-day management. The expenses of the temple are managed with a combination
of these donations, revenue from temple properties and interest earned from fixed
deposits of the temple funds. The temple trustees do not accept individual or government
donations and never solicit funds from the public.
The account keeping of the temple trustees is exemplary. The expenses are usually
kept within the income, and stringent measures are taken to maintain an account
for all incomes and expenditure. These include an appointment of an auditor from
among the community.
Sometime in the middle of eighties the temple had become somewhat run-down. On 28th
January 1988, the trustees decided that the temple should be totally removed and
a new edifice built in the same plot. Accordingly the main deities of Markandeswarar
and Mangalambigai, and other attendant deities were moved in sacrosanct manner as
prescribed in agamas to a small temporary structure near the main temple tower and
worship continued uninterrupted.
Meanwhile the main structure was totally demolished and the building of the new
structure begun on an auspicious day. The superstructures of the wall, halls etc.
were built by local contractors.
To raise the interior temple structures, and the dome, main entrance tower and the
main hall in accordance with the prescribed agamas and to shape and create the sculptures
for the temple, a team of 10 sculptors from India, under the leadership of Devakottai
Nagarajan. This team has toiled for nearly five years to complete the temple with
its beauty and sanctity that can be seen today.
While the old attendant deities have been preserved, new ones, namely that of the
sun god and moon god at the inside of the entrance tower, Annamalaiyar (also known
as Lingothpavar) in the niche at the back of the sanctum, Vishnu and Durga over
the entrance to the sanctum have now been installed. A new statue of Nadarajah,
the dancing Lord Siva, has been built, with the figures of the four saivite saints
arranged in front.
The main door at the entrance tower has been made out of 100 year old teak wood
and has been adorned with numerous carved figures. According to sculptor Mr.Manokaran
Asari who is largely responsible for the design, this door can last for another
few hundred years. Observable on the door are carvings, including the figure of
the sun on a chariot on the right side of the door (symbolizing Lord Siva’s right
eye), similarly the figure of the moon on the left side (symbolizing Lord Siva’s
left eye), and the figures of 36 parrots (symbolizing 36 truths of Siva).
The doors of the sanctum are also made of teak wood. On these can be observed the
form of Lingam, emplaced on a lotus, sheltered by a five-headed snake, in the background
of the trident. These figures represent Lord Siva’s manifestation in form. At the
bottom are the figures of the cow, Siva’s vehicle.
On the door for the sanctum of Ambal, Lord Siva’s consort, are carved 4 lotus, 2
swans and 2 mangara birds.
Where the ceiling parts of the sanctum meet, the figures 12 celestial “RASI” have
been formed. At the door of the entrance tower to Ambal’s sanctum, are carved four
elephants carrying the “poornakumbam” or brass pots of worship. These elephant are
said to symbolize the four Vedas. On the eight pillars in the antechamber are bas-reliefs
of the figures of eight forms of the goddess Letchumi.
On the dome of the shrine of Vinayaga, are four forms of the God, and similarly
four forms of Lord Murgan, on the dome of the Lord Murugan shrine.
It is not known how many times the “Kumbabishegam” (Consecration) ceremony has been
held in this temple. It is said that such grand ceremony was conducted on 18-03-1968