Dr. Major. Syed Shahabuddeen
Professor of History, Islamiah College,
Vaniyambadi, Tamilnadu.

Temples occupy a unique place in the socio-economic life of the ancient Tamils. To begin with, the word kovil was referred to only as the palace of a monarch, as Tamilians used to associate divinity, justness, and benevolence with the kings and went even to the extent of elevating them to the position of God. As a result, kovil referred to the residence of kings as well as places of worship. Nammalvar rightly points out

‘tiruvuṭai maṉṉarai kāṇiṉ

Tirumālai kaṇṭēṉē!’

In course of time, temples emerged in every village and town and became an inevitable part of Tamil society. Therefore, the proverb ‘kōyillillā ūrilē kuṭiyirukka venṭām’ became very popular.

Temples attained the zenith of their influence on the social life of the people during the medieval period. They were not merely places of worship attended by the villagers but a nucleus which gathered round itself all that was best in the arts of civilised existence and regulated them with humaneness born of the spirit of Dharma. Temples assumed social responsibility and played various roles such as land holder, employer, consumer of goods, bank, school, museum and a hospital. While referring to the Chola temples, Prof. Nilakanta Sastri rightly observes that they have few parallels in the annals of mankind.

In consonance with the traditions all over the Tamil country, Ambur town in Vellore District witnessed the emergence of many temples. It is not an exaggeration if we say that Ambur is a aalayam ur (temple town), because every street has a temple. Some of them are centuries old with ancient glory. Among them, Sri Naganadaswamy temple, Varadharaja Perumal temple, Periya Anchaneya temple, etc. are standing monuments of historical and religious importance.


Naganadasamy temple is one of the oldest temples in Vellore District which is situated in Ambur town. There are two legends behind it. It is stated that about 850 years ago, there was a punni forest where Rishi Kanva meditated and got the blessings of Lord Krishna. According to another legend, a milch cow lactated milk at a particular place in the snake pit daily. The people noticed this and, out of curiosity, dug up the place and found a Śwayambulingam. Since the lingam was unearthed from a snake pit, the mōlavar was named ‘Naganadhaswamy’.

There is a stone in the middle of the temple, on which a hero is depicted standing with a sword, bow and arrow. His chest has been shown pierced by several arrows. This showed the bravery of the hero and therefore this town was also named as Āṇmaiūr. However, in the inscriptions of Nirupathunga, a king of the Pallava dynasty, this town was called Ambur.

There are Tamil inscriptions which were found and copied by the Archaeological Survey of India’s epigraphy branch in 1986. These reports revealed the following details: The Chola inscriptions which were found in the temple were engraved by Kulothunga III in 1193 AD. The Hoysala inscription in Tamil and Grantha characters were inscribed by Veer Vallaladeva of the Hoysala dynasty in 1129 AD, who ruled parts of south Karnataka region in the 12th and 13th centuries. This inscription reveals a gift of 1,870 kuli of tax-free land by an individual named Dhandanayaka. The third inscription belongs to the Vijayanagara dynasty engraved by Rajasekara Maharaya, son of Mallikarujuna Deva in 1468 AD. According to this inscription, the name of this place was Aṉbumukūr and was located in the Padaivittu rajyam of Pandavusur kottam in Jeyagondachola mandalam.

From the study of the inscriptions, it is revealed that the presiding deity of the temple was Thiru Nageswaramudiayar and the temple received patronage during the Chola, Hoysala and Vijayanagara dynasties. This temple could be said to belong to the 12th century AD.

The temple is situated about 8 feet below the ground level: The rajagopuram consists of three tiers and the sculptures on the main gopuram are noteworthy. As one enters the temple, just behind the flagstaff, the Sri Naganadhaswamy Swayambulingam is located facing east. The Navagrahas and Vinayaka are on the left side of the entrance. The 63 Nayanmar mandapams and Margabandeswarar are on the southern side. The Dhakshinamurthy and Subramanyaswamy idols are located in the middle.


A new Radha Krishna temple was also built recently by a donor. Kumbabishekam was also performed. Sri Iyyappaswamy and Samayavalli Ambal temples are located on the northern side. Vilva tree (Cataeva religiosa), a sacred tree whose fruits have medicinal value, is the holy tree of the temple. It is found on the southern prakara i.e. surrounding wall. On the eastern side, a mantharai tree is found.

Every month, kirthigai, pradosham, sashti, pournami, somavara puja and guru puja of the Nayanmars are celebrated in a grand manner. This is apart from the main festivals like Panguni Uthram, Brahmotsavam, Vinayakar Chathurthi, Navaratri, Annabishekam and Mahasivaratri. Every Friday, the madhar sangam (women’s association) performs the rahukala puja to Sri Durga. Devotees from all over Vellore district participate in these important festive occasions in large numbers. Thus, the Naganadhasamy temple is a center of social and religious activities of the people of Ambur and North Arcot.


  1. Ambur Nagara Valarchi Malar (Tamil), Malai Murasu Press, Vellore, 1993.
  2. Gnana Malar (Tamil), Ambur, Hindu Bharatiya Educational Trust, 1988.
  3. Interview with S. Sendhuran, Executive Officer, Ambur on 12th December.
  4. Annual Reports on Indian Epigraphy 1887-1907, New Delhi, 1986.
  5. Hultzsch, Epigraphica Indica and Records of the Archaeological Survey of India, Vol. IV, Calcutta, 1896.
  6. Op.cit., Annual Reports.
  7. Ibid.
  8. The Hindu, Madras, dated 15th June, 1995.
  9. Interview with Agaramoorthy, Archakar of Sri Naganadhasamy Temple, Ambur, on 15th December 1995.


  • Journal of Indian History and Culture, September 1997, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research, Chennai
  • Photos courtesy –
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