Pallava period (Social and Cultural History)

by S. Krishnamurthy | 2017 | 143,765 words

This study examines the Social and Cultural History of the Pallava period (as gleaned through the Sculptural Art). The Pallavas (6th-9th century A.D.) mainly ruled over the Tondaimandalam (Tondai Nadu) region in the Northern part of Tamil Nadu (South-India). The Pallava dynasty ensured a golden age of architecture, arts, and spirituality and while ...

Temple servants (koyil-parivaram)

[Full title: Socio-Religious Life of the Pallava Period: Temple servants (koyil-parivaram)]

From the Dharmaraja ratha at Mamallapuram, we get to know not only the sculptural representation of the priest, but also other employees in a temple known from inscriptions as koyil-parivaram or talipparivaram[1]. The Dharmaraja-ratha at Mamallapuram offers a clear picture regarding the depiction of temple servants for the first time in Pallava art[2]. On its second tier, eastern face can be seen portrayal of a Saivite priest (Saivacharya) along with other persons related to temple, like -a bard (Panan) carrying a yal (fig. 5) <;, a temple servant carrying a basket over his right shoulder (fig. 6) and the priest's assistant (i.e. paricharaka) carrying a bell in his hand (fig.7). On the western face of the same tier is noticed a figure of a woman carrying a pot of water or some offering and perhaps she also represents a temple servant. Thus the Dharmaraja ratha at Mamallapuram provide unique glimpse into the physical attributes of all the basic members in a temple establishment of the period under study.

The apsidal shrine known as Tirumulasthanattup-perumanadigal[3], within the Bhaktavatsala temple complex at Tirukkalukunram throw light of a Saivaite priest and his paricharika (assistant) (fig. 8), which was first identified by Gift Siromoney[4]. The twin sculptures are carved on the vallabhi portion, below the cornice alongside the series of ganas and forms part of a narrative story of the Kannappa-nayanar. They are shown standing next to a Siva-linga and the one near the linga carries a basket of probably flowers or food offerings hung from his proper right shoulder. He placed his right hand in vismaya and holds a lotus bud in the other. However, except for the flower and basket, there is nothing definite to identify him as a priest. The other person to his left also bears the same feature, however, without the basket. Both of them are portrayed in the same physical feature of that of a gana, having pot-belly, round body parts and wearing a loin cloth. The yajnopavita is conspicuously absent and the hair-do also do not suggest anything of their occupation as a priest.

The earliest epigraphical reference of this period pertaining to temple servants is from the Kapotesvara temple at Chezarla (circa 610 A.D.), in Guntur district (Andhra Pradesh) of the reign of Mahendravarman I[5], which speaks of twelve men appointed as adhyaksha (supervisors) to look after the services in the temple. A list of temple employees can be had from an inscription of the time of Nandivarman II Pallavamalla in the Muktesvara temple at Kanchipuram (circa 759 A.D.)[6]. According to it, the queen Dharmamahadeviyar appointed on hereditary basis three brahmanas for conducting daily worship, two men called as tattalikottuvan for beating drums during the time of offerings, forty-four dancing girls (kuttikal), five brahmanas as mantracharyar for reciting the Vedic hymn, twelve men called as vilakkuntavasikal for keeping the temple clean, helping in the daily chores and for feeding the dancing girls. Thus, a total number of fifty-four talipparivaram (temple employees) were assigned to the small yet important royal temple of Manikkadevar alias Dharmamahadevisvara-griham at Kanchipuram. Thus, these inscriptions and sculptural depictions show the emergence of new occupational groups, which is one of the outcomes of temple building activities in this period. This also shows that a temple in the Pallava period caters not only to the religious and aesthetic thirst of the people, but also provided the local inhabitants a source of livelihood.

Footnotes and references:


South Indian Inscriptions, vol. IV, no. 827


K.R. Srinivasan, op.cit., pp. 25, 29–30 and 67.


Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy, 1894, no. 167


Gift Siromoney and Michael Lockwood, “The Earliest sculpture of Kannappan”, in The Indian Express, Thursday, March 3 1977.


South Indian Inscriptions, vol. VI, no. 595.


Ibid., vol. IV, no. 827

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