Early Chola Temples

by S. R. Balasubrahmanyam | 1960 | 105,501 words

This volume of Chola Temples covers Parantaka I to Rajaraja I in the timeframe A.D. 907-985. The Cholas of Southern India left a remarkable stamp in the history of Indian architecture and sculpture. Besides that, the Chola dynasty was a successful ruling dynasty even conquering overseas regions....

Kodumbalur lies 25 miles (40.23 km.) from the town of Pudukkottai on the road to Kudumiyamalai and Manapparai.

From time immemorial, Kodumbalur, also known as Kodumbai and Irukkuvelur, had been a city of renown. It was situated in the division of Konadu, and occupied a strategic position on the great highway between the Chola and the Pandya countries. The Tamil classic, Silappadikaram, describes in detail this grand city, its big lake and the junction of the Grand Trunk roads linking the capitals of the South Indian kingdoms.

The Irukkuvels of Kodumbalur, like the Muttaraiyars of Niyamam (Nemam), distinguished themselves as generals and statesmen and played no inconsiderable part in the constant struggle for supremacy among the southern powers, Pallava, Pandya and Chola. Kodumbalur had been the scene of many a battle where the fates of many rulers and dynasties were decided.

1. Tiruppudisvaram

From the evidence available, the most ancient temple in this place is the Tiruppudisvaram of the days of Aditya I. An inscription, of the 5th year of a king whose name is lost, engraved on a pillar in the mandapa in front of the Muchukundesvara temple, mentions the Rishabha Perumanadigal of the Tiruppudisvaram temple (138 of 1907). Another inscription, again on a pillar in the same mandapa, mentions a gift for a lamp to the deity of Tiruppudisvarattu Mahadevar in the 21st year of a Rajakesarivarman. From its high regnal year and its paleographical features, this inscription should be assigned to Aditya I. The Epigraphical Report for 1908 (paras 90 and 91) states: “The inscriptions, one from Tirupparaitturai (253 of 1903) and the other from Tiruchchendurai (293 of 1903) in the Tiru-ehirappalli district, refer to the temple of Tiruppudis-varam at Kodumbalur. Tiruppudisvaram (138 of 1907) might have been the ancient name of Muvarkoyil built by Pudi Vikrama Kesari.”

As will be seen from a later discussion (in the section on the Muvarkoyil, under “Sundara Chola”), the Muvarkoyil was built by Bhuti Vikrama Kesari in the latter half of the 10th century a.d. during the period of Sundara Chola Parantaka II, and therefore cannot be identified with the monument referred to in the pillar inscription of the 21st year of (Rajakesari who is identical with) Aditya I, which pre-dates the building of the Muvarkoyil by nearly seven decades.

Next, as this Rajakesari inscription is found in the mandapa of the Muchukundesvara temple, the natural presumption could be that it should refer to this temple itself. But it has to be remembered that the mandapa on whose pillar this inscription is engraved is a later structure, not organically connected with the original parts of the Muchukundesvara temple. The pillars of this mandapa should have belonged to another temple, and been assembled and utilised at a later date for the construction of this mandapa. Further, all the inscriptions genuinely connected with the original temple of what is now called the Muchukundesvaram call the deity of that temple Tiru Mudukunram Udai-yar: this name is also reinforced by a new inscription recently discovered. The Editor of The Manual of the Pudukkottai State (Vol. II, Part II. p. 1035, Note) furnishes the following information: “One of the inscriptions recently discovered mentions that Mahima-laya Irukkuvel appointed the priests of the Tiruppudis-varam temple to conduct worship in the new temple of Mudukundamudaiyar (Mudukunram Udaiyar?). Thus, it is clear that the temple of Tiruppudisvaram is an earlier temple and different from the Muchukundes-varam”. Moreover, there is an inscription of the 17th year of Jatavarman Vira Pandya (a.d. 1270) which mentions the sale of some lands by the local Kaikkola-mudalis to the Chandesvara Nayanar of ram Udaiya Nayanar temple: in the body of the text, while describing the boundary of those lands, it mentions the devadana lands of Tiruppudisvaram Udaiyar temple.

Thus we are led to conclude that the Tiruppudisvaram temple is neither the Muvarkoyil nor the so-called Muchukundesvara temple, but some other ancient temple in this locality which has since disappeared. It should have been the earliest Chola temple of the place, belonging to the days of Aditya I.

There are two inscriptions from Tirupparaitturai which have to be considered in this connection. One, of the 27th year of a Rajakesarivarman (258 of 1903), has to be assigned to Aditya I (a.d. 898), and therefore the chief, Pudi Parantakan, who figures in that inscription cannot be equated with Bhuti Vikramakesari, the builder of the Muvarkoyil at Kodumbalur in the middle of the 10th century a.d. The date of the other Rajakesari record (273 of 1903) also mentioning Pudi Parantakan is lost. And one would like to have further proof before agreeing with the conclusion thatTennavan Ilangovelan alias MaravanPudiyar is identical with Bhuti Vikramakesari of Kodumbalur; no valid deduction can be drawn merely on the basis of the fact that each of the chiefs had a consort named Karralip-Piratti.

2. Muchukundesvaram

In all the inscriptions up to the 15th century relating to this temple (Inscriptions (Texts) of the Pudukkottai State, no. 718), this temple is called the temple of Tiru Mudukunram Udaiyar. The present name, Muchukundesvaram, must therefore be taken as a corruption of Tiru Mudukunram. Muchukunda was no doubt a legendary ancestor of the Cholas, but we have no evidence that it was named after him.

The editor of ‘The Manual of the Pudukkottai State’ mentions that four inscriptions engraved on the plinth of the central shrine were newly exposed, and that they furnish the information that the stone-temple (Karrali) of Tiru Mudukunram Udaiyar was built by Mahimalaya Irukkuvel, a contemporary of (the later days of) Parantaka I and Gandaraditya; and that he directed the priests of the Tiruppudisvaram temple to conduct worship also in the new temple of Mudukunram Udaiyar. Hence this temple has to be assigned to the early 10th century (about a.d. 921). In age, it stands between the Tiruppudisvaram and the Muvar-koyil temples.

The temple faces the east. The original temple consisted of the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa. The garbhagriha is a square 13 ft. 6 in. (4.11 m.) side. The ardhamanadapa projects 7 ft. 8 in. (2.34 m.) forward. The basement has plain mouldings. There are two pilasters flanking the central niche, and two at each corner of the garbhagriha. There is a torana over each niche. The corbels have a roll-moulding with a median band. There is a bhutagana frieze below the cornice and a ya/z-frieze above it.

This is a dvi-tala temple (PI. 11). The second tala has the usual partcharas, rectangular wagon-roofed ones in the centre (salai) and square ones with curvilinear roofs at the edges (kutam). These rest over the layer of the cornice and the yah frieze of the garbhagriha (or the first tala). But the main structure of the second tala rests on pillars, four on each side, leaving an open passage all round between these pillars and the cornice of the first tala. The second tala also has a cornice and yali-ineze layers. Then comes the griva, with niche-figures on the four sides, surmounted by kudus whose simha-b.ea.ds project into the sikhara. The sikhara is four-sided and curvilinear. Over the padma and ratna pattika rests the four-sided stupi. Only four out of the original eight sub-shrines are now found intact; one is empty and the other three contain Subrahmanya in the west, Chandesvara in the north, close to the garhhagriha, and Bhairavar in the north-east comer of the court. The existence of the original Bhairavar sub-shrine with its idol (still) in it is of great importance, as it settles beyond a shadow of doubt the eighth figure among the Ashta-parivara-devatas mentioned in the Erumbur inscription of Parantaka I.

In the devakoshtas,there are Vishnu in the western niche and Brahma in the north; the image of Dakshina-murti in the southern niche is not the original one.

3. Aintali (Aivar Koyil) (The temple of the five shrines)

South-east of the Muvarkoyil, there existed another Siva temple, which seems to be quite unlike others found in South India, answering to the description of what is called a ‘Panchayatana temple’.

The sub-shrines (anga-alaya) of the Kailasanathar temple at Kanchi, those of the Talapurisvara temple at Panamalai and the later development of eight subshrines for the ashta-parivara-devatas are different from this type of temple. On a common plinth, there was a central shrine surrounded by a narrow circumam-bulatory prakara, with four subsidiary shrines on the sides. It is a pity that of this monument, the only known specimen of what corresponds to a Panchayatana temple of Central and Eastern India, only the basement and the wreckage remain.

4. Tripurantakar temple

South of the Muvarkoyil, there was another Siva temple, of which only the basement of the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa are traceable. A few sculptures of good workmanship have been unearthed here: those of Tripurantaka and Tripura Sundari, dug up from this area some years back, are now housed in the Madras Government Museum (Pis. 101, 102).

5. Tiru Alankoyil

The existence of yet another Siva temple in this place, called the Tiru Alankoyil, is brought to our notice by its being mentioned in two inscriptions in the Muchukundesvara temple, one of the time of Kulottun-ga III and the other of the time of Jatavarman Vira Pandya (nos. 144 and 379 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State). This temple cannot be traced now.

Local tradition asserts that there were in the past 108 temples in Kodumbalur; likeKanchi,Kumbakonam and Uttaramerur, Kodumbalur also was a city of temples. But, unfortunately, it has suffered irreparable injury from wanton destruction at the hands of vandals totally oblivious to the value of these art-treasures. The few that have survived are of inestimable value for the study of the art and architecture of the Early Chola period.{GL_NOTE::}

Footnotes and references:


Kodumbalur was the home of Idangazhi Nayanar, one of the 63 Tamil Saivite Saints whose glory is sung by Sekkilar in his Periya Puranam. It is said that he was a Velir Chief descended from the Yadavas of Dvaraka belonging to one of the families which followed sage Agastya in his migration to the South. It is further claimed that he was the chief of this city and an ancestor of the Chola king Aditya I “who covered the kanaka sabha of Chidambaram with the gold obtained by him from the conquest of the Kongu country”.

According to one of the stories associated with him, a Saivite devotee in his dominion had helped himself to the grains from the State’s granary, for lack of personal means to give offerings to the Lord. When the case was brought before the chief, the devotee pleaded that he resorted to such a course for lack of resources to propitiate Siva, Thereupon, Idangazhi is said to have ordered the grains in his bams and the gold in his treasury to be distributed to the needy. Naturally, with such antecedents, Kodumbalur was a great centre of piety and the home of high-souled devotees.

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