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....

Konerirajapuram is about 13 miles (20.92 km.) on the road from Kumbakonam to Karaikkal. We have to take a branch road at Pudur, 11 miles (7.8 km.) from Kumbakonam. The existence of an ancient Siva temple at Konerirajapuram can be inferred from the Devaram hymns of Appar of the 7th century a.d. Appar calls this place Tirunallam and the Lord here Umaikku-nallavan, “He who is dear to Uma”. The present temple is a foundation of Sembiyan Mahadevi in memory, and in the name, of her deceased husband built during the reign of her son Uttama Chola.

Umamahesvara temple

Local legends say that the temple was called svaram, as it was believed to have been originally built by Bhumidevi under instructions from Mahavishnu. It is said that a king called had his leprosy cured, and so, as an act of thanksgiving, he gilded the vimana of the temple with gold. He also instituted a festival on the fullmoon day of Vaikasi (April-May).

On the south wall of the central shrine, there is an inscription below some sculptures representing Gandar-aditya worshipping the Linga. The text reads as follows:

1. Svasti Sri Gandaraditta devar deviyar Madeva-digalar Sri Sembiyan Ma deviya

2. r tammudaiya tirumaganar Sri Madhurantaka devarana Sri Uttama Solan tiru rajyam Seyaada

3. rula nirka t-tammudaiyar Sri Gandaraditta devar tirunamattal tiru nallam udaiyarkku

4. t tirukkarrali elundarulivittu ittiruk karraliyileye tirunallam udaiyarait-tiruvadit-to-

5. lu kinraraha elundaruli vitta Sri Gandaraditta devar ivar”.

“Hail! Prosperity! Madevadigalar the glorious Sembiyan Madeviyar, queen of Gandaraditya devar, constructed, in the sacred name of her husband, viz. the glorious Gandaraditya devar a stone temple to the Lord (i.e. the God) of Tirunallam (at the time) when her illustrious son i.e. the glorious Madhurantaka deva alias the glorious Uttama Chola, was graciously ruling. This is the image of the glorious Gandaraditya deva, which was caused to be made in this sacred stone temple in the posture of worshipping the sacred feet of the Lord (the God) of Tirunallam” (Pis. 167—168).

This stone temple should have come into existence sometime before the 3rd year of Uttama Chola and been named Gandaradittam as a local inscription refers to a grant of land for a flower garden in that year (635 of 1909). An inscription of the 6th year mentions a grant of land for a perpetual lamp to the shrine of Adityesvaram udaiyar in this temple (638 of 1909). There is an important inscription of the 8th year (151st day) of Uttama Chola (635 of 1909) which merits full consideration. It records the deliberations of the Assembly of Tirimallam, It mentions that Sem-biyan Mahadevi had built the stone temple at Tirunal-lam, and that she made, in the 3rd year of Uttama Chola, a gift of two veli of land with an income of 224 kalams of paddy, bought from the Assembly of Tiru-nallam, for a flower garden called Gandaradittam and other gardens (nandavanappuram).

In the 7th year (240th day), the king Uttama Chola was camping in the palace at Pichchankoyil on the northern side of Kadambur. And it was then represented to him by Parakesari Mu who was in charge of the affairs of the State that his mother Sem-biyan Mahadevi desired to increase the scale of expenses of the God and to provide a feeding house (sala) to feed 25 brahmans for the merit of her husband.

Accordingly, the king issued an order that, with effect from his sixth year, the panchavara paddy of 600 kalams derived from 12 veil of land in Pungudi (an old devadana village of this God, but given to the king) and the panchavara paddy of 200 kalams derived from 4 veli of land in Musittaikkudi (formerly deducted from the income of the God and given over to the king) were to be gifted to the temple.

It was further represented that these additions to the temple-income were still found insufficient, and an additional grant of 12 veli of land yielding an income of 1590 kalams of paddy in the village of Ilanalam in Vennadu, was ordered to be granted as a devadana (gift of land to the temple) and salabhoga (land-gift to a feeding house). A royal order to this effect was issued to the nadu.

While the king was in his camp at Panaiyur in his 8th year (143rd day), he was pleased to issue an order foregoing an income of 3 kalanju and odd of gold, and 39 kalams of panchavara paddy due to him from Tirunallam.

The excess income of paddy from the village of Ilanalam was to be used to feed 15 additional brahmans (making the total 40) and to maintain a camphor-lamp and a perpetual lamp.

And finally, in the 8th year (151st day), the king ordered that 2\ veli of land out of the 70 of Tiru nallam be made tax free and given over to the enjoyment of the God.

Then the royal officer, in consultation with the Sabha (Assembly), made detailed allocations for different items of expenditure according to the revised increased scales and new ones, which were as follows:

Various food offerings to the Gods, sandal paste, incense, lamps, details of expenses in connection with the Sri-bali ceremony held on the day of Jyeshtha, the natal star of Sembiyan Mahadevi, feeding brahmans and of worshippers during the festivals of Tiruvadirai and Vaigasi-Visakam; the wages of persons who prepared the sandal paste, of the servants who held the canopy over the images, of gatherers of flowers and makers of garlands, of servants who swept, and kept clean the sacred precincts of the temple by washing them with cow-dung, of musicians, trumpeters, conch-blowers, watchmen of idols, reciters of Tirup-padiyam, the brahmans who attended to the general management of the temple (KKariyam), the temple-accountant (of the potter caste), the potter who supplied pots, the dyer who dyed the sacred cloth of the idols, the brahman who carried the water from the Kaveri to the temple for the sacred bath of the God, and the official auditor who checked the temple accounts under the orders of the king, temple-repairs, the monthly sacred baths, and ceremonies on eclipses, the removal of screens and canopies, the purificatory ceremony called Jalapavitra, the annual renewal of sacred cloths, the astrologer who prepared the calendar (nalolai) and declared the astronomical features of every day, the maintenance of gardens and their assistants (including the cost of their clothing) the temple-architect, the carpenter and the blacksmith, special worship for the images of Tripura Vijayam (Tripurantakar), Vrishabha-Vahanar, and Ganapatiyar installed in the temple, their sacred bath with five articles (in milk, curds, butter, sugar and honey), the provision of houses for the temple servants, hymners, priests, musicians, the temple-managers and others.

These items are elaborately described in this inscription. This gives us a glimpse of the part played by temples in the day-to-day life of the people and how they promoted the material and spiritual welfare of the people. What a noble service the temple had played in the past!

As in the case of copper plate grants, this document is attested by the king’s councillors (arai-kinra adhikarigal), other royal officers and represent atives of local bodies; the person who executed the grant (anatti), the revenue officers (vari), the royal secretaries (vaykkelvi) the accountants (pottagam), the engraver of the king’s orders (mugavetti) etc.

An inscription of the 11th year of Parakesari (Uttama Chola) mentions a gift of land for a lamp and another of the 14th year for offerings to the shrine of Ganapati in the temple of Tirunallam.

On the south wall of the central shrine, there is a stone figure of one Sattan Gunabhattan alias Hara-charana Sekharan of Alattur who caused this stone temple to be built under the orders of Udaiya Pirattiyar (i.e. Sembiyan Mahadevi). In appreciation of his services, the title of Rajakesori Muvendavelan was conferred on him.

From an inscription on a pillar in the covered verandah round the central shrine, called maligai in the inscription, we learn that it was built by Arumolidevan alias Vayanattaraiyan of Adanur.

The gopuram is said to be a gift of Mudalippillai of Vengipuram.

An inscription of the 12th year of Rajaraja I mentions a gift of a silver image of the God (Umamahesvara) and a copper image of Chandesva by Nakkan tadigal, a servant of the Velam (palace-harem) and a member of the Rajaraja-terinja-kaikkolar. A record of his 15th year mentions a gift of 7 kasu for a lamp to the shrine of Adityesvaram Udaiya Mahadevar. Perhaps this refers to the deity of the Sun God set up here.

An inscription of the 5th year of Rajendra I refers to the third year of the king’s reign and to a gift by Alvar Parantakan Kundavai Pirattiyar who is said to have been then living in the palace at Palaiyaru (near Kum-bakonam- 639 of 1909). She is another member of the family of the early Chola rulers who was equally devoted to temple-building activities and to the fostering of charitable endowments. In the 6th year of Rajendra I there is provision made for the singing of Tiruppa-diyam in the temple; and an inscription of his 7th year provides for the beating of drums, and the blowing of horns and conches during the early morning service; Queen Arindavan Mahadevi set up an image of Kshetra-pala in his 17th year (632 of 1909).

The existence in this place of a Vishnu temple named after Uttama Chola, Uttama Chola Vinnagar Alvar, can be inferred from two inscriptions of the 33rd and 35th years of Rajadhiraja I (655 and 656 of 1909).

An inscription of the 36th year of Rajadhiraja I (640 of 1909) mentions that the Sabha of the village met at the foot of a tree called Rajendran on the bank of a canal. The meeting of village assemblies under a tree was an ancient practice of the Tamils and the ascription of a name to the tree is peculiar and interesting. On inauspicious occasions, the assembly met under a local tamarind tree.

In an inscription of the 7th year of Rajendra II this temple is called Madhurantaki Isvaram Udaiyar (634 of 1909 and 633 also), perhaps named after the daughter of Rajendra I; and in an inscription of his 11th year, the deity is called Umaikkunallar (He who is dear to Uma) in consonace with the original name in the Devaram hymns. According to an inscription of the 47th year of Kulottunga I, the deity is called Kailasam Udaiya Mahadevar at Tirunallam.

In the 16th year of Kulottunga III, a gift of land is made to the shrine of Vinayaka Pillaiyar set up on the south side of the Pugalabharana mandapa in the temple of Tirunallam Udaiyar. A gift of jewels is made to the Goddess in his 17th year.

There is a gift of land for the supply of garlands in the 25th year of Rajaraja III.

Thus, we have a continuous account of the varied activities of the people and gifts by the ruler and the common man for about two centuries and a half.

The temple faces the west. The garbhagriha is 20 feet (6.1 m.) square. There is an antarala with a grille between the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa. The latter projects 20 feet (6.1 m.) forward.

The basement has plain mouldings. The central devakoshta in the east has two short and two tall pilasters surmounted by a makara-torana. It has a figure of Gaja Lakshmi in the centre.

In the outer walls of the garbhagriha, there are devakoshtas of Brahma in the north, Lingodbhavar in the east, and Dakshinamurti in the south.

In the area covered by the we have sculptures of Natesa (with Kali and Rishabharudha with Nandi, Vishnu and Brahma), Ganesa and Agastya on the south side; and Bhikshatanamurti, Durga and Ardhanarisvara on the north side (Pis. 162-173).

The present sikhara is a later structure. It is eightsided and curvilinear.

There is a mukhamandapa measuring 38 feet 8 inches (10.3 m.) by 33 feet 8 inches (11.9 m.). Perhaps this is the Pugalabharana mandapa referred to in an inscription of Kulottunga III.

There is a covered verandah standing on pillars and running all round the garbhagriha, the antarala and the ardhamandapa. This is called in the local inscription Tiru-nadai-maligai.

This is a fully developed early Chola temple and one of the most well preserved of those that belong to the age of Uttama Chola. It is a temple built by Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi in the name of her husband Gandaraditya. It also contains the portraits of the king, the queen and the builder of the temple with their names.

Apart from the Madras Government Museum and the Tanjore Art gallery, the richest and the largest number of bronzes of South India, and among the finest of them all, are found in the temples at Tiruven-kadu and Konerirajapuram. The Bhogesvari at Koneri-rajapuram is perhaps the earliest Sembiyan bronze (PI. 173). In the 8th regnal year of Uttama Chola, provision was made for the special worship of Tri-puravijayam (Tripurantaka), Rishabhavahanadevar and Ganapati images set up in this temple. In addition, there are two small sized Natarajas (Pis. 169-170) and a Kali. The large size Nataraja and his consort, unique for their size and execution should be assigned to the middle Chola period.

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