Early Chola Temples
Temples in Sittur (Sirraiyur)
Sittur is a village in the Tiruchy district (and in the (Sirraiyur) old Pudukkottai State) about 9 miles (14.48 km.) from the town of Pudukkottai, on the Perumanadu-Konnaiyur road. According to the local inscriptions, the place was called Sirraiyur, a brahmadeya in Kudalur nadu, and the deity of the temple was called Tiru Agnisvarattup-Paramesvarar.
Tiru Agnisvarar temple
The earliest inscription of this temple is one of the 4th year of a Rajakesarivarman; it records a gift of three veli of land for food-offerings and the maintenance of drummers during the sri-bali ceremony, by a Kodumbalur chief called Mahimalaya Irukkuvel alias Parantakan Virasolan.
Now, in the 5th year of a Rajakesarivarman, and on the day of a lunar eclipse in the month of Kanya, this chief made grants to the temples at Allur (366 of 1903) and at Palur (346 and 348 of 1918). Again, on the day of a lunar eclipse which occurred in the Uttirattadi nakshatra in the month of Kanya in the reign of a Rajakesarivarman, he made a grant to the temple of Nirppalani, while on a visit to the temple at Tirupparait-turai; the date of this inscription has been stated by the Editor of the “Inscriptions (Texts) of the Pudukkottai State” (no.30) to be the tenth year of Rajakesarivarman. On the strength of the astronomical data furnished by the inscriptions regarding the lunar eclipse mentioned in connection with the Allur and Palur grants, the late A. S. Ramanatha Ayyar held that the 5th year of Rajakesari would correspond to a. d. 954, September 15, and therefore he identified the Rajakesari of the inscriptions with Gandaraditya, fixing his accession in the year a. d. 949-50. He further argued: “A record from Nirppalani in the Pudukkottai State said to be dated in the 10th year of a Rajakesarivarman states that Mahimalaya Irukkuvel alias Parantaka Virasolan, who is identical with the chief figuring in the Palur inscriptions noted above, made a gift to the temple at Nirppalani, while he visited the temple at Tiruppalatturai (Tirupparaitturai) during a lunar eclipse which occurred in the Uttirattadi nakshatra in the month of Kanya. As the other details are identical, the regnal year read 10 appears to be a mistake for 5, and the Uttirattadi nakshatra must have also been the star quoted in the portion also in the Allur inscription (366 of 1903). It is quite possible also that the king (mistake for ‘chief’) had bestowed gifts to the four temples at Allur, Palur, Nirppalani and Tiruppalatturai (Tirupparaitturai), all situated near to each other, on the same religious occasion of a lunar eclipse, while staying at the last-mentioned temple, a. d. 954, September 19, Friday, with Uttirattadi nakshatra may therefore be selected as the date of these three records. As this day fell in the 5th year of the king Rajakesarivarman, the date of his accession would lie between a.d. 949, September 16 and a.d. 950, September 15.”
The ‘10th year of Rajakesarivarman’ would not suit Gandaraditya, for he does not seem to have ruled for more than eight years. The other alternative is to assign the Nirppalani record to Sundara Chola; but it has been computed that no lunar eclipse answering to the given description could have occurred in the 10th year of Sundara Chola.
On the premise that the date of the Nirppalani record is conjectural and wrong, K. R. Srinivasan suggested that the lunar eclipse would better suit the date a.d. 955, September 4, and held that the 6th year is preferable to the 5th year for assigning to the Nirppalani record. K. R. Venkatarama Ayyar follows this lead and adopts the 6th year in his account in “The Manual of the Pudukkottai State”. But this date will conflict with the records of Allur and Palur which record the eclipse in the 5th regnal year and whose dates are unimpeachable; further, to rely on any one criterion in the matter of identification is hazardous.
The only satisfactory solution therefore seems to be to accept the 5th year for the Nirppalani record as well, and to identify the Rajakesari of all the inscriptions with Gandaraditya. This temple perhaps came into existence in the latter part of the reign of Parantaka I, but surely prior to the 4th year of Gandaraditya. It may thus be assigned to the period of either Parantaka I or Gandaraditya.
There are a few inscriptions of Rajaraja I, which mention gifts for lamps and food-offerings to the deity. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that inscriptions could be engraved on the walls of the temple only with the permission of the local sabha (“Kallil vettuvichchom sabhaiyom”).
The temple faces the west, and is situated in the midst of a palmyra grove. The original temple consisted only of the garbhagriha with the tower over it and the ardhamandapa.
The garbhagriha is 18 ft. (5.49 m.) square in the exterior and 8 ft. (2.44 m.) square in the interior. The walls are 5 ft. (1.52 m.) thick. The mouldings of the basement are plain. The pilasters on the walls of the central shrine are octagonal, with well-formed kalasam, kumbham, padmam and palagai. The corbels are decorated on the underside with roll-ornament with a slightly raised median band in the centre.
The pilasters of the ardhamandapa are four-sided, and their corbels are plain and bevelled.
Below the cornice and above the corbels, we have a frieze of bhutaganas interspersed with tigers (the Chola crest), lions, bulls, elephants and swans. The cornice is thick, single-arched and adorned with kudus crowned with trefoiled heads. The lower edges of the cornice are decorated with semi-circles, and, at each corner, there is an elegant piece of scroll-work. There are devakoshtas on the outer walls of both the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa.
Above the jw/i-frieze, there is now a new sikhara. This temple is now undergoing renovation by the Archaeological Department. The grim, sikhara and stupi should have been four-sided as in the case of the Tirukkattalai and Kodumbalur temples.
The devakoshtas have toranas above them. Most of the original sculptures of these niches are not found in their positions. The images of Brahma and Vishnu were found half-buried in the ground; that ofDakshina-murti, too small for the niche, should be a later insertion.
The ardhamandapa measures 12 ft. (3.66 m.) by 9 ft. 3 in. (2.82 m.) inside. It is crossed by a beam supported by two pillars in the centre. Some years back, the ardhamandapa threatened to collapse because of the cross-beam giving way. The then Pudukkottai State Durbar arranged to put up two buttresses on the two sides to keep the building intact. These ugly structures have since been removed, and repairs are being carried out by the Department of Archaeology. How we wish the same care and attention are given to the other Early Chola monuments of South India!
At a later stage, a mukhamandapa, 20 ft. (6.10 m.) square and an Amman (Goddess) temple were added, but they are now only a heap of ruins. A fine Nandi of the 10th century is found on a pedestal in a mandapa of its own in front of the temple. There seems to have been a wall of enclosure, but now only its basement remains.
In addition to the images of Brahma and Vishnu mentioned already, a few others, namely, of Chandes-varar, Jyeshthadevi and Bhairavar, are found lying loose near the entrance.
Footnotes / commentary:
Sri-bali ceremony: The ritual of Sri-bali in temples is a very important one. In this, an image (usually a particular form of Siva or Vishnu) is taken out in procession within the temple-precincts or right round the village. This ceremony is announced by the beating of drums, sounding of trumpets and other musical instruments. An inscription in the Kumbhesvara temple at Kalattur (North Arcot district) mentions that Pasupatamurti was taken round the village on Sundays in performance of the sribali ceremony and a special grant of 37 kasu was made for that purpose (Epi. Rep. no. 157 of 1916, p. 118).
Inscriptions in which Mahimalaya Irukkuvel figures:
Kudumiyamalai; 3rd year of Rajakesari; Puduk. Insc. no. 22.
Sittur 4th year of Rajakesari; Puduk. Insc. no. 24.
Allur 5th year of Rajakesari; 366 of 1903
Palur 5th year of Rajakesari; 346 and 348 of 1918.
Nirppalani 10th year of Rajakesari; Puduk. Insc. no. 30.
The last date is conjectural and has to be amended into 5th year. Vide: E.I., XXVI, no. 8
Inscriptions (texts) of the Pudukkottai State, nos. 22, 24, and 30; Inscriptions in the Pudukkottai State (Translation), Part I, pp. 27-8; and Manual of the Pudukkottai State, Vol. II, Part I, pp. 583-4 on Sittur and Nirppalani.