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Temples in Suryanarkoyil

Surynarkoyil is close to the town of Kumbakonam in the Tanjavur district, and the village takes its name after the local temple, dedicated to Surya deva (the Sun god) and the attendant planetary deities. This Surya temple is the only one of its kind in South India; though we have numerous temples with shrines therein dedicated to the Sun god, we have nowhere else an independent temple for this deity.

Surya temple (Kulottunga-sola-marttanda-alayam)

There are two inscriptions of Kulottunga I on the base of the mukhamandapa. According to one of them, this temple is called the Kulottunga-sola-marttanda-alayam, the temple of the Sun god named after Kulottunga I. This inscription, of his 44th regnal year, begins with the historical introduction of Pugal sulnda punari. It records a royal order granting the accountantship of the village of Dammadana-vinoda chaturvedimangalam and the devadana village of Suryadeva to the highest bidder. The other, of his 48th year and 245th day, beginning with the historical introduction Pugal madu vilanga, also records a royal order, granting the accountantship of all the devadana lands of Suryadeva to two private individuals. There is a third inscription, of the days of the Vijaya-nagara ruler Krishnadeva Raya (16th century), which records a gift of land made tax-free by a vassal of the emperor on behalf, and for the merit, of Krishnadeva Raya (ARE 229,' 231 and 230 of 1927; ARE 1908, para 60, p. 78).

Kulottunga I was on friendly terms with the rulers of the Gahadwal dynasty of Kannauj (a.d. 1090-1194) who were fervent devotees of Suryadeva. In the Chola capital of Gangai-konda-cholapuram there is an incomplete inscription of one of these rulers; it may pertain to Madanapala or his son Govinda Chandra and is coupled with the 41st regnal year of Kulottunga 1; though there is no clear indication of the nature of the grant, the association of the Gahadwal rulers of Kannauj with Kulottunga I is well-established. And it is legitimate to infer that the Gahadwals might have been responsible for the propagation of Sun worship in South India during the reign of Kulottunga I. The temple of the Sun God at Suryanarkoyil is a tangible expression of their influence in South India.

It may be mentioned in this connection that the worship of the Sun is as old as the Vedas, and the gayatri, the most sacred prayer of the Hindu, is addressed to the Sun. In the preamble which is recited before the gayatri is performed, Vishnu is described as being seated in the midst of the sun’s disc. In later times the worship merged into that of Vishnu himself as is clear from the fact that the most ancient images of Surya are practically identical with those of Vishnu excepting for a slight variation in symbolism. The name Surya-Narayana given to Vishnu is significant.

The existence of Aditya grihas and Sun shrines from early times is to be traced only in North India, while the South can now claim only one temple exclusively dedicated to the Sun deity, namely Suryanarkoyil. In North India, as early as b.c. 400, Ktesias mentions a place of about 15 days’ journey from Mount Abu where people worshipped the Sun and the Moon (Vaidya’s Medieval Hindu India, Vol. I, p. 255). Bhandarkar (p. 153, Vaishnavism, Saivism and minor religious systems) notices an inscription from Mandasor recording the construction of a temple to the Sun god in a.d. 437 by a guild of weavers. There are several temples dedicated to Surya in the northern, western and eastern parts of the country like Martand in Kashmir, Osia in Rajastan and Konark in Orissa.

While separate and independent shrines for Suryadeva are thus a rarity in the South, there are a number of instances of images of. Surya being set up as a subsidiary deity of worship in the southern temples. An inscription in the Rajarajesvaram temple, dated in the 29th year of Rajaraja I, mentions the setting up of a copper image of this deity by one of his officers. There is a 11th year record of Rajaraja I on the wall of the central shrine of Tirukkodika(val), rebuilt in the days of Uttama Chola, from which we know that, in Rajaraja I’s days, one Ilayan Aditta Pidaran set up an image of Suryadeva in the temple (see my Early Chola Temples, p. 176). References to shrines for Suryadeva in the temples set up during the days of Rajendra I are available, as for example in the temples at Alagadriputtur (ARE 289 of 1908) and Ennayiram (ARE 1909, p. 92 and ARE 1918, para 26).

In the time' of Kulottunga I, two lamps were presented to the shrines of Suryadeva and Kshetrapala in the temple of Tirumanik-kuli in the South Arcot district (ARE 156 of 1902). At Timp-paraitturai in the Tiruchi district, an image of the Sun God was set up in the ninth year of a Parakesarivarman (ARE 177 of 1907). A shrine for Surya deva is referred to in a record 6 f the 10th year of Jatavarman Vira Pandya from Tiruppattur in Ramanatha-puram district (ARE 134 of 1908). In the time of Rajaraja III, a gift of land was made for offerings to the shrine of Surya deva in the temple ofUsattanam Udaiyar at Koyilur (ARE 198 of 1908).

The Suryanar temple faces west. The central shrine is dedicated to Surya deva, and near it on a platform are images of Visvesvara and Visalakshi, deities associated with Varanasi. Brihaspati is installed in a shrine opposite the main shrine; all round are those of the other planets as Parivaradevatas—Rahu, Sukra, Ketu, Chandra, Angaraka, Budha and Sani.

The garbhagriha and the mukhamand of the main temple are built of stone and the shrines of the other grakas are of brick.

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