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....

Tirunaraiyur is situated about six miles (9.66 km.) south east of Kumbakonam. The place is so called because of the sweet fragrance of flowers growing here in abundance (Narai=sweet smell).

1. Siddhanathasvamin temple (Siddhisvaram Udaiyar)

The Siva temple here is called the temple of Siddhisvaram Udaiyar or Siddhinathasvamin at Tirunaraiyur. Sambandar, the Tamil saint (7th century) has devoted a decad to the Lord of Siddhisvaram; also Sundara-murthi of the 9th century. The local legends say that this deity was worshipped by Kubera, the Devas and the Gandharvas, the Yedas, the Sun, Ghora-siddhar, Nara-Narayana and Brahma.

The earliest inscription in this temple is an incomplete one whose beginning is built in; but from the contents, it can be assigned to Uttama Chola. It mentions a gift of 6 veli of land by Sembiyan Mahadeviyar to the Siddhisvaram Udaiya Mahadevar; and it gives details of several items of expenditure to be met from the income of the land: rice for sacred offerings, vegetables, ghee, areca nuts, plantains, sugar, the maintenance of the priest, sacred lamp, the supply of milk, curds, fried paddy, requirements of Jalapavitra and Punyaha ceremonies (purificatory ceremonies) on the twelve Sankranti days, and the feeding expenses on festival days (159 of 1908).

The same royal lady makes a gift of silver vessels and a chauri (fly whisk) with gold handle to the God in the 2nd year of a Rajakesarivarman, who is to be identified with Rajaraja I (156 of 1908).

An inscription of the 26th year of Rajaraja I makes provision for offerings to Kankaladevar, perhaps a metal image set up in the temple. A gift of a lamp to this idol is made in the 3rd year of Rajendra I.

The Siddhisvara temple is an early Chola temple, reconstructed in the days of Uttama Chola.

The temple faces the west. It is an ekatala structure with an octagonal sikhara.

The original temple consisted of the garbhagriha 16 ft. 2 in. (4.90 m.) square, the antarala 2 ft. 7 in. (0.80 m.) wide and an ardhamandapa projecting 15 ft. (4.6 m.) forward. There are two dvarapalas at the entrance to the ardhamandapa. Further up, there is a mukhamandapa.

The plinth has padma and kumudam mouldings and a yali frieze.

The pilasters are 6 ft. (1.8 m.) high. They have cushion capitals and the brackets have roll-ornaments. There is a bhutagana frieze below the cornice.

The devakoshta figures are Durga, Ardhanarisvara, and Bhikshatanar on the north side of the ardhamandapa, Brahma, Lingodbhavar and Dakshinamurti (on the wall of the garbhagriha) and Agastya, Nataraja and Ganapati (on the south side of the ardhamandapa.)

This temple has a Nataraja bronze of the Sembiyan age (PI. 185).

2. Nathankoyil (Vishnu)

This is an ancient Vishnu temple situated about three miles (4.8 km.) south of Kumbakonam. The Vaishnavite saint Tirumangai Alvar called the place, " Nandi pani seyda nagar Nandipura Vinnagaram";. It means the Vishnu temple of Nandipuram worshipped by Nandidevar, the head of the Siva ganas. Local legends say that Nandidevar worshipped Vishnu here and gained salvation. It also suggests that this Lord was worshipped by the Pallava king Nandivarman II alias Pallava Malla, the contemporary of Tirumangai Alvar.

3. Nachiyarkoyil (Vishnu)

Another Vishnu temple (at Nachiyarkoyil) lies a few furlongs away from the Siddhisvarasvamin temple. This place is also called Tirunaraiyur alias Siddhi-kshetram, Sugandavanam-(kshetram or-giri) and Srinivasa-kshetram. It is considered as one of the twelve important sacred places of the Vaishnavites.

Legends say that Kochchenganan, the Chola king of the Sangam age, worshipped this lord and obtained divine grace and the sword before he started on his campaigns against the Cheras and the Pandyas.

In answer to the prayers of Madava Munivar, Vishnu’s consort was born as his daughter named Vanchulavalli (born at the foot of the Vanchula tree) and in due course, Vishnu Himself descended from Vaikuntham to the earth to win her hand. It is in this aspect that Lord Srinivasa, Naraiyur-Ninra Nambi, is honoured and worshipped here.

Vishnu is said to have manifested Himself in the Pancha-Vyuha forms—Sankarshana in the east, Prad-yumna in the south, Aniruadha in the west, Samban alias Purushottama in the north, and Vasudeva in the centre. The sculptures of all these deities are found in the garbhagriha. There is no separate shrine for the goddess. Her sculpture is also found in the garbhagriha called ‘Sri Srinivasa Vimanam’. It is believed that even before the incarnation of Vishnu and His consort, there was here a shrine of Sri Bhuvarahamurti.

It seems probable that the Vaikhanasa form of worship prevailed here and it was replaced by the Pancharatra after the days of the reformer Ramanuja.

Tirumangai Alvar (8th century) is closely associated with this place which he calls madam, and he mentions its ancient association with Kochchenganan (Kochcholan), who is credited with the construction of seventy madakkoyil to Siva (entol-Isar).

The earliest inscription found here is of the 13th century, and from the present structure of the temple it is not possible to recall the original architectural features before its reconstruction.

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