Varadaraja Perumal temple is known as Hastigiri;it was originally known as Attiyuran. Bhutattaalwar,one of the earliest of the Alwars,has sung of this temple. The name Hastigiri is applied in the connotation of Gajendra moksham and from the legend that Indras elephant Airavatam - in the form of a hill bears the image of Vishnu. The name Attiyurar emerges from the tradition,that the original image of Varadaraja Perumaal here was made from Attimaram. This ancient wooden image is worshipped for 10 days,once in 40 years.
Legend has it that Bhrama worshipped Vishnu in Krita yugam,Gajendran in Treta Yugam,Bhrihaspati in Dwapara Yugam and Adiseshan in Kaliyugam. The legend of Vishnu lying across the river in spate,to prevent a deluge from wiping out Bhrama's sacrifice also holds in this temple as in another Divyadesam Tiruvegkaa in Kanchi.
Deities: The Moolavar here is Varadaraja Perumal in a standing posture facing west. Perundevi Taayaar is housed in a separate temple within the complex. Other shrines here include those to Kannan, the Alwars, and the Acharyas, Ramar, Kariamanikka Perumaal, ,Andal, Varaaha Perumaal.
The temple: The first prakaram is on the Hastigiri hill. It houses the sanctum, and the two co-axial walled mandapams. The sanctum houses the imposing image of Varadaraja Perumaal. The vimanam here is known as the Punyakoti vimanam. The sanctum is the womb of the fire, that is believed to hold the manifest universe whithin which the standing Vishnu appeared.
History: In 1053, the Cholas rebuilt the base of the hill, on the east west axis, to signifiy a cave in the hill, within which the icon of Narasimha sits as a yogi facing west. Several inscriptions are seen in this shrine.They circled the hill with a double storeyed cloistered veranda with colonnades of uniform pillars creating an opern courtyrard with a chola style gateway on the east.
This temple was expanded vastly during the reign of Kulottunga Chola I, and his son Vikrama Chola (1075 - 1135). It was during the same period that expansion work at the temples at Chidambaram, Tiruvanaikka, Sirkazhi, Tiruvarur and Srirangam were carried out. Other shrines built during the Chola period were those of Karimanikkapperumaal, Anantalwar, Abhisheka Mandapam, and the Perundevi Taayar shrine. A separate shrine for Perundevi was built on the south west, facing the sanctum, (rebuilt in 15th ent). By 14th century,the Cholas built another encircling wall including a tank etc with a gateway and a 7 tiered tower.
There are now 5 courtyards. After the long period of Chola patronage, and the political confusion following their decline, the Varadaraja Perumaal temple, came under the patronage of the devout Vijayanagar rulers, who added the towering Eastern Gopuram, and the beautiful Kalyana Mandapam, the Oonjal mandapam etc. Vijayanagar rulers embellished this shrine in the 16th century with minute carvings, pillared verandahs for circumambulation, a shrine for Andal, large hall for Navaratri, Unjal Mandapam, Kalyana Mandapam, (575 sq meters in 2 meter high plinth with 96 monolithic pillars, geometric designs, yalis, rampant horsemen, european soldiers). The east gopuram is 9 tiered rising to a height of 180 feet while the western gopuram is 160 feet high. The temple occupies an area of 20 acres. Stone chains adorn the hundred pillared halls.