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....

Temples in Erumbur (Urumur)

Erumbur, known in the early Chola period as Urumur, is now an insignificant village in the South Arcot district of Tamil nadu, situated 14 miles (22.53 km.) from Chidambaram on the main road to Yriddhachalam and about 3 miles (4.83 m.) from Settiyatoppu, which is on the trunk road from Madras to the Lower Anicut. It has an ancient Chola temple, known as the Siru Tirukkoyil.

Kadambavanesvara temple (Urumur Siru Tirukkoyil)

There is an inscription on the southern wall of the main shrine, on the proper left of the Dakshinamurti image. It is dated in the 28th year of Madurai-konda Parakesari (=a.d. 935). It mentions that the vimana (the sanctum with its superstructure) together with the sub-shrines for the ashta-parivara-devatas (the eight subsidiary deities) round the main shrine, was constructed of stone by one Irungolan Gunavan Aparajitan. In the inscription, this village is called Urumur and described as a devadana village situated in the Kurram (a territorial division equivalent to a taluk) of Navalur on the northern bank of the Kaveri. In the days of Vikrama Chola (a.d. 1118-1135), it was renamed Vikrama Chola Chaturvedimangalam. The presiding deity of the temple is called Perumanadigal of Urumur Siru Tirukkoyil and in later times as Kadambavanes-varam. The temple is said to have been constructed with the permission of the king, ‘Cholap-Perumanadigal Sri Parantaka-devar’ at the request of the donor.

It should be mentioned that this inscription relating to the date of construction of the temple of stone is not the earliest inscription found on its walls. There are a few belonging to a certain Parakesarivarman, presumably Parantaka I himself, from his 5th to his 16th regnal years, and three of Madurai-konda Parakesari. These refer to a period earlier than the recorded date of the construction of this stone temple, and they may relate to endowments made earlier. South Indian Epigraphy records many instances of such re-copying and re-inscribing of earlier grants after the completion of the construction or renovation of temples.

The temple faces the east. As in the case of most Early Chola temples, the central shrine of the original stone-temple of the days of Parantaka I was made up of only two parts, the sanctum and the ardhamandapa in front. The garbhagriha measures 15 ft. 2 in. square in the exterior and 8 ft. 4 in. square in the interior (respectively 4.62 m. and 2.54 m.), and the ardhamandapa measures 11 ft. by 7 ft. (3.35 m. by 2.13 m.) outside. The basement has plain mouldings. The present dome-shaped sikhara over the sanctum is a later structure of brick. Perhaps the old sikhara had collapsed and a new partial brick structure was built in its place. The walls of the garbhagriha have niches on the three sides of the exterior, and there are stone images of exquisite beauty in them: Dakshinamurti in the south, Arunachalesvara (or Siva as Mahayogi) in the west and Brahma in the north. These are good specimens of Early Chola sculptures of the days of Parantaka I (10th century) which could be definitely dated (Pls. 71 to 76).

There are around the main shrine one or two empty sub-shrines built of brick, but there are now no traces of the ashta-parivara devatas. The icons of Nandi and Bhairavar are now found deposited in the mukha-mandapa. This is a later structure, 29 ft. by 24½ ft. (8.84 m. by 7.47 m.), with an arch roof in brick and mortar. In the northern projection of this there is a shrine of the Goddess (Amman); the only inscription which refers to this Goddess is that of a Pandyan ruler Maravarman Yira Pandya (a.d. 1267), by whose time the Chola power had eclipsed and their country had passed under Pandyan hegemony. It is very probable that the Amman shrine and the mukhamandapa of brick belong to the 13th century a.d.

There are traces of a brick wall of enclosure with a gate-way in the east, enclosing the main shrine and the subsidiary shrines; and in the foundation, we find large-sized bricks (measuring 1 ft. 2 in. by 7½ in. by 2¾ in. =35.6 cm. by 19.1 cm. by 7 cm.), which may well be of Early Chola days.

The Erumbur temple is an Early Chola temple of the time of Parantaka I which can be definitely dated (a.d. 935). The main shrine of the original temple was a karrali consisting only of the garbhagriha with its superstructure and the ardhamandapa in front of it. It had eight subsidiary shrines round the main shrine and we have here unimpeachable contemporary evidence thereof in an inscription on the very walls of the main shrine. Based on the evidence provided by some other Early Chola temples, we learn that the eight parivara-devatas are: Surya, the Saptamatrikas, Ganesa, Subrahmanyar, Jyeshtha-devi, Chandra, Chandesvara and Bhairavar. (The adverse preachings of the Tamil saints, the Alvars and the Nayanmars, led to the neglect of the worship of the Saptamatrikas and of Jyeshtha Devi). We find this feature of subsidiary shrines also in the Vijayalaya Cholisvaram atNarttamalai and in many other Early Chola temples, but only here do we have inscriptional evidence to prove conclusively that the building of eight shrines round the main Siva shrine to house the subsidiary deities was a concomitant feature of the Early Chola temples. This direct testimony is of inestimable value to students interested in the evolution of South Indian temple architecture. The practice of building eight sub-shrines for the ashta-parivara-devatas continued even into the days of Rajaraja I. This is proved by an inscription of his 10th year found at Tiruppurambiyam (72 of 1897 and no. 21 of SII, VI: see my article on this temple in the Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, June-Dee. 1939 and in Lalit Kala no. 13).[1]

Footnotes and references:


The dates given in the captions of the sculptures (plates) are misprinted as 12th century instead of 10th century.

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