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 money lenders.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kumbabishegam (consecration), grand ceremony was conducted on 18-03-1968 , 26-01-1996 and 08-04-2012.