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....

Punjai is about six miles (9.65 km.) from Mayuram in the Tanjavur district and it is said to be a brahmadeya in Akkur nadu.

Naltunai Isvavaram (Tiru-nani-palli Udaiyar temple)

The oldest inscription in this temple is one of the fourth year of Parakesarivarman who took the Pandya head i.e. Aditya II (192 of 1925). It is found on the walls not of the central shrine but of the subshrine of Chandesvara. Either the Chandesvara shrine retains its old character while the central shrine had been rebuilt, or the stones of the old central shrine had been utilised in the construction of this sub-shrine at the time of the renovation of the temple. The oldest inscription on the walls of the central shrine is one of the 22nd year of Rajaraja 1(186 of 1925). It mentions a gift of 10 veli of land (by the king) for the maintenance of a feeding house named Arumolidevan (after Rajaraja I) on condition that the temple and the Assembly of Talachchangadu were each to bear half of the taxes.

Anyhow, this temple can be considered a Pre-Rajaraja I temple whose renovation was completed by him.

The main deity of this temple now called Nal-Tunai-Isvara was known in the past, according to local inscriptions, as Tiru-nani-Palli Udaiyar, and the temple seems to have been within the jurisdiction of the General Assembly (mula-paurshai) of the neighbouring village of Talachchangadu.

The existence of two other temples in this locality is known from local inscriptions. An inscription of Rajendra I mentions the temple of Periya Tali Mahade-var in the southern quarter of the village. The assembly is said to have met in the Mummudisolar Mandapa (named after Rajaraja I) and decided to pay, on receipt of 50 kasu the taxes on two of land purchased in favour of the temple and agreed to meet the expenses of the Vaigasi festival. The Assembly had also received on a promissory note (kai-ehittu a sum of 100 kalanju and, in lieu of the interest thereon, agreed to pay the taxes on two veli of land belonging to the temple. This decision of the Assembly was ordered to be engraved on the walls of the temple of Tiru-nani-palli Udaiyar (187 of 1925).

Inscriptions of the 3rd and 7th years of Parakesari Rajendra II mention another temple called gulam Udaiya Mahadevar in the village (193 and 194 of 1925). These two temples cannot now be traced.

Some lands in Rajarajanallur, a hamlet of this village are said to belong to the neighbouring temple of Kalakala devar (Yama Samhara murti) at vur (modern Tirukkadaiyur near Mayuram) and the executive body of the Mulaparudai remitted the taxes.

An inscription of the 14th year of Rajendra I mentions that the Assembly of Talachchangadu agreed to pay the taxes on some temple lands in order to meet the expenses of the daily worship and offerings and of a special festival once a year to the idol of Rishabhavahanci devar in the temple for securing victory to the king’s arms in his expeditions (to the Gangetic region?).

Six persons are said to have lost their title deeds of certain lands on the death of their relative and they had to pay 80 kasu to obtain a certified copy of the title deed (tiruk-kavanakkal). This is recorded in an inscription of the third year of Vira Rajendra deva.

It is said that 10 veli of land had been gifted as archana bhoga to three Vishnu temples at Talachchangadu under the name of Tiru-jnana Sambandanallur. And in the 12th year of Kulottunga (I?) these were transferred in favour of the shrine of Udaiya Pillaiyar (Sambandar) consecrated in the temple at Tiru-nanipalli.

In the 16th year of Vikrama Chola, at the request of the king’s daughter and the temple authorities of Perumparrappuliyur (Chidambaram) provision was made for growing betel leaves with the help of two gardeners, for the use of the Goddess, and the inscription was ordered to be engraved both in this temple and that at Tiruchchirrambalam.

An inscription of the 2nd year of Rajadhiraja II mentions a gift of money, realised as taxes, on certain shops, for worship and offerings to the idol Mulaparushai Vinciyakapillaiyar set up in the temple.

Another record of his third year mentions the settlement by the temple authorities of the privileges granted to certain members of the Anuloma Rathakara castes including blacksmiths, goldsmiths, carpenters and stone masons.(see The Rathakaras)

The Rathakaras are described as the sons of a Mahishya father by a Karani mother.

The following are the means of livelihood laid down for adoption by the Rathakaras

  1. Architecture
  2. Building coaches and chariots
  3. Erecting gopurams of temples with images on them
  4. Preparation of instruments required by the brahmans in their sacrificial ceremonies such as the ladle (sruk)
  5. Building mandapas, etc.

Four persons are said to have made a false claim to certain devadana lands. To prove the title of the lands to the temple certain members of the Chula Velaikkarar sacrificed their lives by plunging into fire. Thereupon, the Assembly (of Talachchangadu) decided that the four individuals should not only surrender the lands in dispute to the temple but pay 200 for setting up metallic images of these Saiva servants and that they should make an additional gift of land for worship to these images. Like the Apattudavigal of Pandya kings, who were ever ready to make the supreme sacrifice on behalf of their rulers, the chula Velaikkarar were Saivite devotees to safeguard the interests of temples and their properties even at the sacrifice of their lives.[1]

The last important inscription is one of Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar which mentions that the emperor while he was staying on the banks of the Krishna Veni (Krishna river) ordered the remission of certain taxes to the value of 1000 varahans of gold in favour of certain important Siva and Vishnu temples situated in the Chola country.

The temple faces the east. The garbhagriha is a square 24 feet (7.32 m.) side in the exterior and 11 feet 6 inches (3.5 m.) inside. Next, we have an antarala extending 2 feet 6 inches (0.55 m.) between the central sanctum and the ardhamandapa. The latter measures 17 feet 6 inches (5.32 m.) north to south and 19 ft. (5.8 m.) east to west. This is supported by two central pillars and two pilasters close to the walls on each side of the inner mandapa. There are two dvarapalas in this mandapa.

Another antarala, with two doorways north and south, is found connecting the ardhamandapa with the mukhamandapa. This ardhamandapa measures 16 ft. (4.9 m.) by 10 ft. (3.0 m.) and it is supported by four pillars with bulbous capitals.

Next comes the mukhamandapa which is perhaps the Mummudi Solan Mandapa (187 of 1925) or the Mummudi Solan Perambalam (181 of 1925) built by, or at least named after, Rajaraja I. This measures 35 ft. (10.7 m.) by 35 ft. This hall is supported by sixteen pillars. On the north side, we have the mandapa (or shrine) and in the south there is a gateway.

The devakoshtas of the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa have a central figure niche with two short pilasters close to the niche and two tall ones on which rests the makara torana.

The figures of the devakoshtas are Ganesa, Agastya and Dakshinamurti on the south, Lingodbhavar in the west, and Brahma and Durga in the north.

There are beautiful makara toranas over each of the niches with sculptures in the pediment—Kalyanasundara in the torana over the Ganesa niche, Ardhanarisvara over the Lingodbhavar, Kali (dancing) over the Brahma, and Urdhva Tandava over the Durga niches.

There is a bhutagana frieze below the cornice which is adorned with kudus and with both central and edge scrolls (Pis. 135-141).

Besides these, there are base panels of miniature-sculptures, 64 on the outer sides fixed in the mouldings of the plinth, as in Pullamangai, Nagesvara and Tiruk-kandiyur temples.

The griva and the sikhara once of stone but now of brick and stucco are circular. The temple is now undergoing repairs. During our visit, we impressed upon the trustees the need for preserving the original shape and style of the ancient structure and for avoiding violence to the wonderful sculptures of the temple.

The temple may be said to mark the transition from the temples of Parantaka I to those of Sembiyan Maha-devi (Uttama Chola).

The Rathakaras

There is an inscription dated in the 48th year of Kulottunga I (a.d. 1118) at Uyyakkondan Tirumalai which relates to the decision of a complicated question of caste and lays down the profession to be followed by a certain Anuloma class called Rathakaras. These are described as the sons of Mahishyas by Karani women on the strength of previous authorities such as Yagnavalkya, Gautama, Kautilya, Bodhayana and others.

The bhattas (learned brahmans) of Rajasraya Chaturvedimangalam defined the Mahishya as one born of a Kshatriya father by a Vaisya woman; and Karani as the daughter of a Vaisya father by a Sudra mother.

(See also a similar decision defining the social status, rights and duties of the Rathakaras of Tiruvarur; 12th century a.d., SII, XVII, no. 603, A.R., no. 558 of 1904).

Footnotes and references:


For a similar system in vogue in other areas, see (i) The Munrukai-Tiru-Velaikkarars of the Polonnaruva (Pulanari alias Vijayarajapuram in Ceylon) inscription which mentions that the Datu-bhavana (relic temple) of the Buddha built by Vijayabahu I was placed under the protection (arangaval) of Velaik-karars. Every member of this body was given one veli land for his maintenance (AR 600 of 1912; SII, IV, No. 1396). (ii) The inscription at Tiruvalisvaram fin the Pandya country) mentions that the temple built there, its belongings and its priests and servants were placed under the protection of the Munrukai-Mahasenai (AR 120 of 1905).

It is said that this body was the most permanent and dependable troop ever ready to defend even with their lives the king and the causes dear to him when the occasion arose.

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