Sri Ulagalanda is one of the significant Vishnu temples stationed in Kanchipuram. The Ulagalanda Perumal temple, is venerated as a sacrosanct and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in His form as a fifth incarnation as Vamana-Trivikrama. The consecrated shrine of Vishnu avatara is located in the heart of the ancient and holy city of Kanchipuram or Periya Kanchi. Sri Ulagalanda Perumal Temple in comparison to the other temples enjoys the unique distinction of housing many sanctums in a single shrine, namely Peragam or Oxragam, Neeragam, Kaaragam and Kaaragam which are all considered as Divya Desams as they have been praised in the hymns of Tirumazhisai Azhvar and Tirumangai Azhvar. Thus the unique structure of Sri Ulagalanda Perumal Temple complex constitutes the significant interest about the temple.
The ancient Vishnu temple is an antique temple and the legendary stories associated with it have enhanced the traditional importance of this temple. A number of legendary stories are connected with Ulagalanda Temple. The story of Vishnu`s incarnation as Vamana-Trivikrama is considered important among those. Mahabali, the grandson of Prahlada was a great devotee of Vishnu. However, he was overwhelmed by a desire to conquer heaven, displacing Indra, the king of the Gods and heaven too. Being concerned of this upcoming danger Devraj Indra appealed to Vishnu for help but He could not kill him directly as Mahabali was righteous by nature. Therefore, Lord Vishnu decided to displace him and subsequently incarnated as Vamana and requested him for a gift of land, which he could cover with his three steps. Mahabali was warned by his preceptor, Shukracharya that Vamana was in reality Lord Vishnu. But, Mahabali, the grandson of Prahlada generous by nature, could not refuse Vamana this gift and also felt that he would be honored if he could grant the Lord`s wishes. Vamana then assumed the shape mighty Trivikrama. He covered the whole earth with one step, the heavens with another and asked Mahabali where He should keep the third. Mahabali requested Him to place it on his own head. Vishnu did so and sent Mahabali to the nether-world (paatala) where he was made the ruler with Lord Vishnu`s blessings. With the tradition of this legendary story, the Vamana incarnation of lord Vishnu is worshipped here as the presiding deity. The presiding deity also is popular with the name of Trivikrama. This very name is owed from that legendry episode, which depicts the significance of the Trivikrama form of Vamana Avatar. Hence the Vamana Avatar, in this temple is venerated as Lord Trivikrama.
The striking feature of Ulagalanda temple is the image of the presiding deity along with the other deities enshrined in the temple. The principal sanctum in this temple enshrines the huge and awe-inspiring image of Trivikrama. The image is highly fascinating and is about 35 feet in height who is known here in a different posture and is known here as Peragathan. This grand image is in a standing posture facing west. His two hands are spread sideways and surrounded by the images of Aaranavalli Thayar and Ulagalanda Perumal, Kanchipuram Ulagalanda Perumal, Kanchipuram fingers of His left hand and one finger of His right hand pointing upwards. His left leg is lifted high while His right foot rests on the head of Mahabali. The processional-deity (utsava-murti) of this shrine is a four-armed Vishnu standing with the sacred deities Sri Devi and Bhu Devi beside Him. The posture of the deity is the significant aspect of the legendary temple of Ulagalanda.
The main deity is called moolavar, according to the legendary tradition. The icon of sacred moolavar is made of stucco (known as sudhai in Tamil). The main image or moolavar housed in this temple is quite similar to the main images in the temples of Pandava Doota Perumal and Yathoktakari Perumal, in this same town, which are also huge. The main sanctum in which the presiding deity is placed is a large rectangular chamber with a very high roof to accommodate the big image inside. The main sanctum is also crowned by the Srikara Vimana which has seven kalasas at its top. The main deity and the chamber housing it bear out the specimen of excellent architectural craftsmanship of the contemporary period.
The main sanctum of Ulagalanda temple houses several small shrines enshrining the captivating images of the other principal deities. The Tiru Ooragam Shrine, Tiru Niragathan shrine, Tiru Kaaragam shrine, Tiru Kaarvanam Shrine etc are the significant ones.
The Tiru Ooragam Shrine is the most significant among important shrines stationed within the complex of the main sanctum. This shrine is located at the right of the main shrine in which is housed the Lord in his figure of serpent Adisesha. It is said following the legendary story that since Mahabali was under the foot of the Lord, he could not look up to view the gigantic image of Trivikrama. Hence the God assumed Trivikrama form in miniature to be fitting in this small shrine and gave him darshan. A significant aspect of this shrine can be understood from its very name "Ooragam". The very name "Ooragam" denotes snake or serpent. The two sanctums are always spoken of together as Peragam and Ooragam. A traditional belief in this temple is that childless couples who propitiate this deity by offering their worship will be blessed with offspring. Since the myth of snake is associated with the very idea of having child, this shrine is named so.
The Tiru Niragathan shrine housed in the main sanctum of the Ulagalanda temple speaks of the architectural craftsmanship of the contemporary era. The special feature to be noted about this sub shrine is the delicate architecture and superb artistic carvings on the temple walls. The temple-complex has three enclosures called prakaras. In the second prakara is a shrine for Neeragathan. The deity enshrined in the second prakara is also known as Lord Jagadisvara. This fascinating image of the deity is seen in a standing posture with four arms, under the Jagadisvara Vimana. In this small shrine only the utsava-murti or the processional images is visible. Lord Jagadisvara, the principal deity of the temple is surrounded by his consort named Goddess Nilamangaivalli or Nilamangaivalli Nachiyar. The Lord with his consort and the wonderful art and sculpture happens to be the significant aspect of the Tiru Niragathan shrine.
The structural design of Tiru Kaaragam shrine is the striking aspect of this shrine. In the third and outer prakara of this temple is erected another shrine which is revered as a Divya Desam called Kaaragam. The principal deity enshrined here is called Lord Karunakara. The image of Lord Karunakara enshrined in Tiru Kaaragam Shrine is immensely captivating. He is seen seated on Adisesha under the Ramya Vimana and His consort known as Goddess Padmamani is placed along with Him. The utsava-murti or the processional images in front is a four-armed standing Vishnu surrounded by Sri Devi and Bhu Devi.
In the third prakara of the Tiru Kaaragam shrine is erected another Divya Desam called Kaarvanam is found in the third prakara. However the Tiru Kaarvanam shrine is given the status of a separate shrine. Lord Vishnu is the presiding deity here. Lord here is seen with four-arms and is standing with an awe-inspiring posture under the Pushpaka Vimana. Lord Kaarvanam is also popular as Lord Navaneetha Chora and His consort is called Goddess Komalavalli. The utsava-murti or the processional image, just like in the other shrines houses the image of a four-armed standing Vishnu with His two consorts.
There is also a separate shrine assigned to Goddess Aaranavalli Thayar in this temple. The Ulagalanda temple also speaks of the excellence of architecture of the contemporary period. The main entrance to the Ulagalanda Perumal shrine-complex is through a small Rajagopura of three tiers, with seven kalasas above it. This testifies the masterful artistry of the artists of the period. This structure of the Rajagopura is situated on the western side of the temple and belongs to the 16th century A.D., when the Vijayanagara emperors ruled this area. Hence the architecture of the temple has the flavor of the Vijayanagara art essentially. The sacred tank located immediately in front of this gopura is called Naga Tirtha.
The main festival organized in this temple is the Brahmotsavam in the month of Thai (January-February). Vamana Jayanthi is celebrated in the month of Avani (August-September) during Sravanam asterism. This festival is the most important and a number of devotees gathered in the temple premises to offer their worship to the vamana incarnation, the presiding deity of Sri Ulagalanda temple.
Inscriptions of Sri Ulagalanda Perumal temple
The inscriptions endowed the temple with a historical significance. The inscriptions engraved on the temple walls emphasize the antiquity of the temple of Sri Ulagalanda. As the historical researches relate, there are approximately fifteen historical inscriptions engraved on this temple wall.