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....

Kilappaluvur lies about three miles east of Kilaiyur and thirty-three miles from Tiruchy on the road to Ariyalur and Gangai-konda-cholapuram. According to the local inscriptions, Kilappaluvur was known in the past as the brahmadeya of Sirupaluvur, as distinct from Mannu-Perum-Paluvur or Melappaluvur which then comprised both the modern villages of Kilaiyur and Melappaluvur. Palu, vata and al mean the banyan tree and the place should have once been a forest of banyan trees; hence it came to be known as Paluvur or Alandurai.

This place was included in the administrative division known as Kunrakkurram, which in the days of Rajaraja I came to be called Uttunga valanadu and later in the days of Kulottunga I as Nitta Vinoda Valanadu.

There are two Siva temples here, close to each other: Pasupatisvaram alias Maravanisvaram and Tiru Alandurai Mahadevar temple.

1. Pasupatisvaram (Maravanisvaram)

This ancient Siva temple is now a mere historical relic, with only the four (inscribed) walls of its garbha-griha standing intact. A loose dvarapala sculpture found in the compound near the eastern gopuram of the Tiru-Alandurai Mahadevar temple might have belonged to this temple (PI. 17). In inscriptions of this temple relating to a Parakesarivarman (4th to 10th years 216,217,219 and 222 of 1926), it is called Maravanisvaram. The inscription of his 9th year mentions a gift of land by purchase for a lamp to the temple of Maravanisvarattu Mahadevar by the uncle (mamadi) of one Adigal Paluvettaraiyar Marvan Kandanar. According to a Parakesari inscription of the same (ninth) year in the neighbouring temple of Tiru Alan-durai Mahadevar (249 of 1926), the same chief, Palu-vettaraiyan Maravan Kandanar, purchased some lands and assigned them to several persons for services to, and for a lamp to be burnt before, Maravanisvarattu Devar. It is difficult to decide whether these early records should be assigned to Parantaka I or to Uttama Chola. We also find one Maravan Kandanar figuring in a number of Rajakesari inscriptions which should be taken as relating to Sundara Chola.

This temple contains three inscriptions of Parantaka I, of the 29th, 33rd and 36th years (221, 220 and 218 of 1926). The last-mentioned refers to a gift of land for putting up a water-lift (e) for baling out water for the use of cattle, and another water-lift for watering the flower-garden of the temple from the well intended for the sacred bath of the Lord.

Anyhow, this temple of Maravanisvaram had been in existence at least from the days of Parantaka I. Perhaps it was built by Paluvettaraiyan Maravan Kandanar, who figures in inscriptions of the place as a benefactor of this temple, for the merit of, and named after, his father Maravanar. The Government Epigra-phist, in an obvious attempt to interpret the name ‘Maravanisvaram’, has changed the name of the above chief into Kandan Maravan when he writes: “The temple now called Pasupatisvaram originally bore the name of Maravanisvaram, erected as it must have been by a local chief who bore the name of Paluvettaraiyan Kandan Maravan.” (See also the foot-note for a discussion on the part played by the Paluvettariyar chiefs).

2. Tiru Alandurai Mahadevar temple

Sambandar (7th century AD) has sung a hymn on the Lord of this place, and he mentions that the worship of this temple was in his days in charge of the priests of Malaiyalars (of Kerala). The inscriptions of Parantaka I found on the walls of this temple range from his 10th to his 37th year.[1] The most important of them is the one of his 12th year, which relates to a gift of 90 sheep for a lamp in the temple of Tiru Alandu-rai Mahadevar at Sirupaluvur in Kunrak-Kurram in celebration of the great Chola victory at the battle of Velur over the combined forces of the Pandyas and the Ceylonese. This inscription is significant as a contemporary record of victory inscribed soon after the great event. Another inscription of his time and of the same date from Tirupparkkadal (North Arcot dist.) referring to the same event mentions an endowment of 120 kalanju of gold, from the interest whereof four brahmans well-versed in the Vedas were to be fed every day in the salai-mandapa built by the donor, for the merit of four warriors who fell in a frontal attack in the battle of Velur. This second Pandyan war in the days of Parantaka I was a turning point in the history of South India. The existence of the present structure of this temple thus dates back to the time of Parantaka I, though we have no evidence as to the exact date of its conversion into a stone-temple. (For a discussion on this and on the Paluvet-taraiyars, see pp. 11-12 of Early Cola Bronzes by Douglas Barrett, Bhulabhai Memorial Institute, Bombay, 1965).

There is an inscription (245 of 1926) of the 15th year of a Parakesarivarman (unidentified), which mentions that a chief called Paluvettaraiyan Maravan Kandan built this temple. If this is taken to refer to a Parakesari later than Parantaka I, then it should be assigned to Uttama Chola, and, in that case, it should be understood that he was responsible for the completion of this temple-complex built during the time of Parantaka I, possibly by adding the mukhci-mandapa, a wall of enclosure and a gopura and perhaps even the

Based on his study of the style of the devakoshta sculptures of this temple, Douglas Barrett in his Early Cola Bronzes (pp. 11-12) holds that this temple should be assigned to the 15th regnal year of Uttama Chola. This temple has only five devakoshta figures, as was common in the days of Aditya 1 and Parantaka I; whereas in the Sembiyan age (i.e. the period of Uttama Chola) there were not less than nine devakoshta figures (e.g.Konerirajapuram, Anangur etc., see under Temples of Uttama Chola age). If the above inscription of the 15th regnal year of Parakesarivarman were to refer to Uttama Chola, then the date of the foundation of this temple would be a.d. 984. This would mean that this temple was built just a year before the accession of Rajaraja I (i.e. a.d. 985). It must be remembered that by that time the Sembiyan style was in full swing and a temple with only five original devakoshta figures would be an anachronism in that age. Further, I am unable to agree to the theory put forward by Barrett that all the inscriptions of Parantaka I are merely later copies of the original inscriptions of Parantaka I, re-engraved on the walls of the newly built structure in the days of Uttama Chola. I firmly hold that these are original contemporary inscriptions of the days of Parantaka I and therefore the foundation of this temple should be assigned only to the age of Parantaka I.

The temple faces the east. This is an eka-tala temple and has a spherical sikhara (PI. 12). The garbhagriha is a square 14 ft. (4.27 m.) side. The ardhamandapa projects 6 ft. (1.83 m.) forward east to west. Further up, there is the mukhamandapa extending further east by 29 ft. (8.84 m.).

The devakoshtas have Dakshinamurti in the south, Lingodbhavar in the west and Brahma in the north. Images of Ganesa and Durga adorn the niches in the ardhamandapa. There are two old dvarapalas in front of the ardhamandapa. On the lintel over the gateway of this mandapa, there is a sculpture of the Ananta Sayana pose of Vishnu (i.e., reclining on the serpent-couch), though it is popularly believed that it represents Parasu-rama engaged in penance in expiation of the sin of having killed his mother (at his father’s bidding). The kudus on the cornice have, in the centre, figures of Tripurantaka and linga with worshippers (Pis. 13 to 18).

Over the devakoshta containing Dakshinamurti, there is a makara-torana with the figure of Nataraja in its centre. The toranas over the other devakoshtas contain sculptures of Yoga Nrsimha, Gajasamhara-murti, Parthasarathi and Arjuna, Vishnu in a reclining posture and the worship of a linga by two persons.

In the mukhamandapa, there are figures of Kalasam-haramurti, Ardhanarisvara, Kalyanasundaramurti, Kankalamurti and Bhairavar.

In the roofed verandahs surrounding the temple (tiruchchurrumaligai), we have stone-images of Durga, Chandesvara, Sambandar, Appar, Dakshinamurti, the Saptarishis, and a set of Saptamatrikas flanked by Ganesa and Virabhadra; some of them should have originally been the images of the sub-shrines.

In addition to many similarities, the existence of bracket figures in this temple, corresponding to those found in Gramam and Tirunamanallur of the same age will dispel the theory that different styles prevailed in the heart-land of the Chola country and its borders.

There are a few metals of good workmanship, and among them Rishabhavahanar, Tripurantakar, Dancing Balasubrahmanya and Sundaramurti deserve mention. (For a more detailed account, see my Four Chola Temples, Bhulabhai Memorial Institute, Bombay, 1963).

The Paluvettaraiyar chiefs have played a significant role in the early Chola period. They have made a great mark in the political activities and military campaigns of their overlords; they have built many temples and made great endowments for their maintenance.

The earliest epigraphical reference to the Paluvet-taraiyars is to one of their chiefs by the name of Paluvettaraiyar Kumaran Kandan in an inscription of the 10th regnal year of a Rajakesarivarman identical with Aditya I, found at Tiruvaiyaru (a.d.881).

The latest Paluvettaraiyar inscription is one of the fifteenth year of a Rajakesarivarman identical with Rajaraja I (a.d. 1000). Over this long period of a century and a quarter, we can identify at least eleven members of this family (ten male and one female), who could among themselves easily cover four generations.

Douglas Barrett in his Early Cola Bronzes deals with this rather complex issue by an over-simplified presentation of the problem. He has disposed of the Paluvettaraiyars compressing them into two generations comprising a Mara van Kandan and a Kandan Maravan. At page 12 of his book, he writes: “I understand the difficulties surrounding the Paluvettaraiyar chiefs, but let us consider the following scheme:

Maravan Kandan


5 (118 of 1895)
8 (121 of 1895)
12 (229 of 1926)

(Agastyesvaram shrine)

10(365 of 1924)
13 (270? (370) of 1924)
1(6) (367 of 1924)


9 (249 of 1926)
9(219 of 1926),
Pasupatisvaram temple
15 (245 of 1926)


Kandan Maravan


7 (226 of 1926)


16 (395 of 1924)
4 (394 of 1924)

(Agastyesvaram shrine)
15 (356 of 1924)

A comprehensive list of inscriptions relating to the various Paluvettaraiyar chiefs indicative of the part that they have played in the social and political life of this period is contained in the following footnote (see “The Paluvettaraiyars”).

For various reasons set forth above, I have stated that the main temple of Tiru Alandurai Mahadevar should be assigned to the period of Parantaka I. In addition, I have stated in my book Four Chola Temples (pp. 28-33) that the installation of the sculpture of Lingodbhavar is an additional evidence therefor, as Lingodbhavar images come to be more favoured in the rear niches during this (Parantaka I’s) and the subsequent period. But Douglas Barrett states categorically that my statement is incorrect (vide p. 12 of his Early Cola Bronzes). He holds the view that the appearance of hamsa in the place of Brahma at the top of the linga in the Lingodbhavar images is another post-phase I iconographic feature. I do not accept his theory of three phases in the Early Chola style nor his generalisation that a particular form of representation of Brahma (in the Lingodbhavar image) is confined to a particular period. We do not have sufficient examples of this sculpture to establish such a generalisation. It appears that Brahma is represented in Lingodbhavar images in different forms in different periods without any set pattern relatable to an age; the particular form (of Brahma) in any sculpture seems to be a matter of the artists’ fancy, the atelier to which he belonged or the predilection of the patron. The following note will clarify the position (see “Lingodbhavar in the Early Chola period”).

The Paluvettaraiyars

1. Paluvettaraiyan Kumaran Kandan
Period of Aditya I.

(i) Kilaiyur, Avani Kandarpa Isvaragriham, Agastyesvaram shrine, south wall inscription 357 of 1924 : provision made for burning a perpetual lamp in each of the two shrines of the temple: 13th year of Rajakesari (a.d. 884).

(ii) Tiruvaiyaru, Panchanadisvara temple (224 of 1894) : 10th year of Rajakesari (a.d. 881).

(iii) Tiruvaiyaru, Panchanadisvara temple (238 of 1894), 19th year of Rajakesari (a.d. 890).

2. Paluvettaraiyan Kumaran Maravan
Period of Aditya I and of Parantaka I.

(i) Kilaiyur, Avani-Kandarpa-Isvaragriham, Agastyesvaram shrine, south wall inscription (360 of 1924): provision made for burning a perpetual lamp in each of the two shrines of the temple : 22nd year of Rajakesari (a.d. 893).

(ii) Lalgudy (117 of 1928-29) :5thyear of Parakesari( = Parantaka I)(a.d.912).

It is likely that nos. 1 and 2 are brothers—Kandan and Maravan, sons of Kumaran.

3. Paluvettaraiyan Kandan Amudanar

(i) Kilappaluvur, Tiru Alandurai Mahadevar temple (693 of 1904) : celebrates the Chief's great victory at the battle of Velurin the SecondPandyan war : 12th year of Parantaka I (a.d. 919).

(ii) Tiruvaiyaru (252 of 1894): 14th year of Parakesari (= Parantaka I) (a.d. 921).

(iii) Tirupparkkadal (693 of 1904): 14th year of Parakesari (—Parantaka I) (a.d. 921)

4. Paluvettaraiyan Vikramadityan.

237 of 1926: 8th year of Parakesari (Parantaka I or Uttama Chola?) (a.d. 915 or 977)

5. Nampircittiyar Arulmoli Nangaiyar, daughter of the Paluvettaraiyars.

299 of 1901: 17th year of Parantaka I: Tiruchchennampundi inscription (a.d. 924)

6. Paluvettaraiyar Mara van Kandan

118 of 1895: 5th year of Rajakesari Sundara Chola (Parantaka II) (a.d. 961)
121 of 1895: 8th year of Rajakesari Sundara Chola (Parantaka II) (a.d. 964)
365 of 1924: 10th year of Rajakesari Sundara Chola (Parantaka II) (a.d. 966)
229 of 1926: 12th year of Rajakesari Sundara Chola (Parantaka II) (a.d. 968)
370 of 1924: 13th year of Rajakesari Sundara Chola (Parantaka II) (a.d. 969)
367 of 1924: 16th year of Rajakesari Sundara Chola (Parantaka II) (a.d. 972)
219 of 1926: 9th year of Parakesari Uttama Chola (Parantaka II) (a.d. 978)
249 of 1926: 9th year of Parakesari Uttama Chola (Parantaka II) (a.d. 978)
245 of 1926: 15th year of Parakesari Uttama Chola (a.d. 984). claims to be the builder of the Tiru Alandurai Mahadevar temple at Kilappaluvur.
173 of 1928-29: 10th year of Parakesari (Uttama Chola): Govindaputtur (a.d. 979)

7. Paluvettaraiyan Kodandan Tappilli Dharman

609 of 1920: 2nd year of Parakesari Uttama Chola : Kattu Mannar Koyil (Udaiyargudi) (a.d. 971)

8. (Adigal) Paluvettaraiyan Kandan Sundara Cholan

120 of 1895: 12th year of Parakesari Uttama Chola (a.d. 981)
592 of 1920: 12th year of Parakesari Uttama Chola (a.d. 981)
381 of 1924: 13th year of Parakesari Uttama Chola (a.d. 982)
592 of 1920: 12th year of Parakesari: Kattu Mannar Koyil: gift for the merit of his brother Kandan Satru-bhayankaranar (a.d. 981)
115 of 1895: 4th year of Rajakesari Mummadi Chola (=Rajaraja I) (a.d.989)
116 of 1895: 12th year of Rajaraja I (“Salai kalam aruttaruliya ...”) (a.d. 997)

9. Paluvettaraiyan Kandan Maravan

356 of 1924: 15th year of Parakesari Uttama Chola (a.d. 984)
395 of 1924: 16th year of Parakesari Uttama Melappaluvur (a.d. 985)
110 of 1895: 3rd year of Rajakesari (a.d. 988?)
111 of 1895: 3rd year of Rajakesari (a.d. 988?)
394 of 1924: 4th year, 204th day of Rajakesari
226 of 1926: 7th year of Rajakesari (a.d. 992)
109 of 1895: 8th year of Rajakesari (a.d. 993)
382 of 1924: 9th year of Rajakesari (a.d. 994)
107 of 1895: 10th year of Rajakesari Rajaraja I (a.d. 995)
363 of 1924: 15th year of Rajakesari Rajaraja (a.d. 1000)

Lingodbhavar in the Early Chola period

(i) Brahma in human form flying

Aditya I (a.d. 871-907)
Nalur-mayanam; Brahma not clear? (a.d. 873)

Parantaka I (a.d. 907-955)
(i) Pullamangai (Brahmapurisvara temple)
(ii) Tiruvaduturai (Gomuktesvara temple)
(iii) Tiruvandarkoyil (Panchanadisvara temple)

Aditya II (a.d. 964-969)
Punjai (Naltunai Isvara temple)

Uttama Chola (a.d. 969-985)
Tiruk-kuruhavur (Vellidai Isvara temple)

(ii) Brahma as Hamsa

Parantaka I (a.d. 907-955)
(i) Karandai (Vasishtesvara temple)
(ii) Kilappaluvur (Tira-Alandurai-Mahadevar temple)
(iii) Tiru-velvik-kudi (Manavalesvara temple)

Sundara Chola (a.d. 956-973)
(i) Kamarasavalli (Karkotakesvara temple)
(the image has in addition a ketaka flower)
(ii) Velaccheri (Dondisvara temple)

Uttama Chola (a.d. 969-985)
(i) Tirumiyachchur (Muyarchinadesvara temple)
(ii) Aduturai (Apatsahayesvara temple)
(iii) Tiruvalur (Achalesvara temple)

(iii) Brahma in human form riding a Hamsa

Parantaka I (a.d. 907-955)
Kilur (Tirukkoyilur) (Sri Virattanesvara temple)

Uttama Chola (a.d. 969-985)
(i) Konerirajapuram (Umamahesvara temple)
(ii) Anangur (Agastyesvara temple)

Footnotes and references:


Inscriptions of Parantaka I, all bearing the title ‘Madiraikonda Parakesari’, on the walls of the central shrine:

North wall; 19th year; 225 of 1926
West wall; 10th year; 223 of 1926
West wall; 12th year; 231 of 1926
West  wall; 37th year; 230 of 1926
South wall; 19th year; 236 of 1926
South wall; 22th year; 241 of 1926
South wall; 26th year; 239 of 1926

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