According to the Puranas, both the Gopurams were built by Muluthukanda Rama Pandiyan and the other important parts of the temple were constructed by Nindraseer Nedumaran who reigned in the 7th century A.D. The Mani mandapam with its famous musical pillar was built by Nindaraseer Nedumaran in the 7th century A.D. Originally the Nellaiappar and Kanthimathi temples were two independent structures with spaces in between. It was in 1647 A.D. that Thiru Vadamalaiappa Pillaiyan, a great devotee of Siva linked the two temples by building the “Chain mandapam”. To the western portion of the chain, mandapam is the flower garden that was set up in 1756 A.D. by Thiruvengadakrishna Mudaliar. In the centre of the Flower Garden is a square Vasantha mandapam with 100 pillars. The Nandi mandapam is said to have been built by Sivanthiappa Nayak in 1654 A.D. The flag stands near the Nandi was set up in 1155 A.D. There are a number of stone inscriptions in the temple. The most important of them are those Veerapandiyan who regained about 950 A.D. and those of Rajendran I and Kulothunga Chola I. The inscriptions of Maravarma Sundara Pandiyan refer to the Lord as “Woodayar” and “Wodeyanayanar” and the Goddess as “Nachiar”. From the inscriptions of Kulasekara Pandiyan, we learn that he defeated the Chera, Chola and Hoysala kings and built the outer walls of the temple with the war booty. Siva is said to have been worshipped by Agastya in a bamboo grove and by Rama after having killed Mareecha some nine miles away at Manoor. There is also a shrine to Vishnu near the sanctum, signifying the belief that Nellai Govindan (Vishnu) visited Tirunelveli to officiate the divine marriage of Shiva and Kantimathi. A little to the south of Swami Nellaiappar Gopuram stands the Gopuram of Arultharum Kanthimathi Ambal temple. It was here, where composer Sri Muthuswami Dikshithar composed the Carnatic song ‘Sri Kanthimatheem’ in Hemavathi Ragam.
Kanthimathi Nellaiyappar Temple is the well-known twin temple dedicated to Goddess Parvathi (Kanthimathi Ammai) and Lord Shiva (Nellaiyappar – the Protector of Paddy). Covering an area of 14 acres, it is the biggest temple in Tamil Nadu situated in the heart of the city on the banks of river Taamiraparni at a distance of 2kms from the railway station. The temple, believed to be built by the Pandyas in the 13C was entirely remodelled and extended in 17C – 18C. Some of the inscriptions in the temple dates back to 950A.D. The temple is also known as one of the 5 Pancha Sabhas (dance halls) of Nataraja (lord Shiva); the others being at Chidambaram, Madurai, Tiruvalankadu and Kutralam.
Thirunelveli also is one of the five places where Lord Shiva is said to have displayed his dance and all these places have stages/ Ambalams. While Tirunelveli has the Thaamirai (Copper) Ambalam, the others are the Rathina Ambalam at Thiruvaalangadu (Rathinam – ruby/red), the Chitra Ambalam at Courtallam (Chitra – painting), the Velli Ambalam at Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple (Velli – silver) and the Pon (Gold) Ambalam at Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram. The Copper Hall of Dance is a brilliant work of art and is housed within the inner precincts of the temple. On the occasion of Arudra Darisanam (occurring in the Tamil month of Margazhi – Dec 15 – Jan 15), the images of Nataraja and Sivakami are housed here, and elaborate worship protocols are observed during the enactment of the Cosmic Dance of Shiva. A shrine to Santana Sabhapati (adorned with sandal paste) is located right behind the Thaamira Sabha and to a visitor walking towards the Thaamira Sabha, the combination of these, i.e. the vision of Santana Sabhapati seen through the Thaamira Sabha presents a brilliant spectacle. There is yet another shrine to Nataraja here, the Periya Sabhapati shrine. Religious services are carried out here on special occasions, and this festival idol is never moved from this shrine. A copper dance hall, known as Tamra sabha which is made of the wonderful woodwork is located within the temple. Lord Nataraja and Sivakami are worshipped here during the Arudra Darisanam festival, celebrated in the Tamil month of Margazhi (Dec 15 – Jan 15). Behind the dance hall, there are shrines of Santana Sabhapati (Nataraja adorned with sandal paste) and Periya Sabhapati where religious services are done only on special occasions. Within the temple premises near the sanctum sanctorium, there is a shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu (Nellai Govindan) where his idol can seem in a lying posture. It was built on a belief that Lord Vishnu had visited Thirunelveli to solemnise the divine marriage of Shiva and Parvathi. The temple is one of the five sacred places in Saiva religion, worth seeing for its beautiful sculptures, musical pillars, valuable jewels, a golden lily tank and a thousand pillared mandapa.