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....

Tiruvarur is a town of great antiquity and celebrity. Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar are closely associated with this place. Appar (7th century a.d.) was lost in wonder about the date of its origin and sang a decad in which he describes the various miraculous deeds of Siva and enquiries if the temple had its origin before or after those deeds (Appar’s Tiruthonda-thogai). So it is believed to be a city-eternal.

It was one of the five secondary capitals of the Chola kings of the Vijayalaya dynasty, and some of the Chola kings are said to have been crowned here.

1. Poongoyil or Tirumulanathar or Valmikinathar or Purtridangondar temple

It is believed to be the home of a legendary Chola king, Manu-Cholan who followed the path of Manu and dealt even-handed justice according to the Code of Manu. There was in his palace a Bell of Justice which was tolled only in case of injustice done to man or beast. It is said that one day a cow came to the palace, and tolled the bell. On enquiry, the king learnt that his own son and heir-apparent had trampled her calf under the wheels of his chariot and killed the calf. Immediately, the king summoned his ministers for advice and to meet the ends of justice he himself drove his chariot over his son and crushed him to death at the very spot where the calf was killed. At once the Lord appeared before him and bestowed His grace on all of them. The echo of this legendary king, whose age or identity cannot now be established, is recorded in a local inscription of the fifth regnal year of the later Chola king Vikramachola. It mentions that a descendant of the minister of Manu-Cholan petitioned to the king that some Saiva devotees should be fed in the house at Tiruvarur traditionally claimed to be owned by that minister’s family; and the request was granted (no. 164 of 1894). On the northeastern side of the outer prakara of the temple, there are stone sculptures, erected perhaps in the later Chola period, of the chariot, the bell of Justice and the aggrieved cow depicting the legendary story. This legend itself is recorded in an inscription of the fifth regnal year of Parakesari Vikrama Chola inscribed on the north wall of the second prakara of this temple (a.r. 164 of 1894; SII, V, no. 456).

2. Thyagarajar (Vidi-Vitankar) temple

Muchukunda Chakravarti is considered to be one of the mythical ancestors of the Chola dynasty. He is said to have helped Indra in his wars against the Asuras, and got, as a reward, the idol of Vidi-Vitankar (Thyagaraja) and it was installed in this temple. The shrine of Thyagaraja is by the side of the Mulasthanam. Tiruvarur is one of the Sapta-Vitanka temples of South India. (see Manu and Muchukunda)

Appar sings a hymn (of ten stanzas) in a rapturous toneonthe celebration of the Tiruvadirai festival. Sundaramurti Nayanar is said to have wrought many miracles in this place. The gift of gold given by the Lord at Vriddhachalam was thrown into the Manimuktar river there and recovered by Sundarar from the sacred tank of Kamalalayam at Tiruvarur. Owing to the breach of his promise to Sangiliyar, he lost his eyesight. He recovered one eye at Kanchipuram and the other at Tiruvarur. Siva played the role of a love-messenger and won over Paravai-nachiyar for Sundarar. It was in the hall called Devasriyan (later converted in the days of the later Cholas into what is generally called the ‘1000 pillared hall’, though it is not one of this class) that he sang under divine inspiration the famous Tirut-tondcit-togcii, which served as the original source for Sekkilar’s Tirut-tondar-Puranam, popularly known as the Periya Puranam.

Tiruvarur is considered as a place where Siva manifested himself as Prithivi, one of the five Bhutas or elements. The temple, the Kamalalaya tank and the lily-pond are each five acres in extent.

Tiruvarur has the unique distinction of possessing the biggest festival car in India, and the special musical instruments the kuda-muzha and the pipe the baarinayanam (the nathasuram).

The temple has three prakaras, and including the area of the habitation of the temple servants and of the local residents five prakaras.

3. Paravai-Un-Mandali temple

This is also an ancient temple. Varuna diverted the waves of the sea to sweep and swallow the city. The Lord of this temple stilled the waves (paravai) and saved the city. As the temple was built of brick, it is called mandali. This temple is situated near the car-stand. Sundarar has sung a hymn on this Lord.

4. Tiru-Araneri Alvar (Achales) temple

This temple is also very ancient. It is now situated in the second prakara of the Thyagaraja temple, and it faces the west. The Lord of this temple is sung by Appar (7th century ad). Naminandi Adigal, one of the sixty-three Nayanmars is said to have kept the temple-lamp burning with water when the supply of oil failed.

The original brick temple was reconstructed of stone by Sembiyan Mahadevi and it consists of the griha and the ardhamandapa enclosed by walls.

On the south wall of this temple, there are two inscriptions of Rajaraja I. The first of the second regnal year (no. 570 of 1904) mentions a gift of silver vessels by Udaiyapirattiyar Sembiyan Mahadeviyar for the merit of her son Uttama Chola (evidently after his death). The other of his seventh regnal year (no. 571 of 1904) mentions that the temple of was built of stone by Udaiya Pirattiyar Sembiyan Mahadeviyar, and that she set up here two idols Amara-sundara devar and his consort and presented 234 kasu, for daily requirements, structural additions to the temple and for repairs.

Here is an extract:—

“Tiru-Ara-neri Alvar Koyil Tiruk-Karrali elun-darulivitta Udaiya Pirattiyar Sembiyan Mahadeviyar ikkoyilil tan elundarulivichcha Amara Sundara Devark-kum Uma Bhattariyarkkum tiruamudukkum tiru vilak-kennaikkum tiruk-karralikkum surru-maligaikkum tiruppalli-kattil mandapattukkum Pudukkup-puram agavum palisaikkittuk kolga enru arulichcheydu vara kattina kasu 234 (200 kalanju) konda parisavadu.” (no. 571 of 1904).

On the south wall of this temple there are two mutilated inscriptions of the 23rd regnal year of Rajaraja I and the 8th year of Parakesarivarman Rajendra (I). On the west wall of the mandapa in front of this temple there are three inscriptions. One of them mentions a gift of gold for a lamp in the 32nd year of Madurai Konda Parakesarivarman (Parantaka I). But its characters are of a later age. It should be a copy of an early inscription engraved later on this wall.

The temple faces the west. It consists of the griha, the ardhamandapa and the mukha-mandapa (enclosed by walls). It has now neither a compound wall nor a gopuram.

The garbhagriha has central projections. The adhish-thana is high and has padmam, kandam, and round kumudam mouldings. The vimana is tri-tala.

The devakoshta figures (clockwise) are: Ardhanaris-varar, Durga, Bhikshatanar; Brahma, Lingodbhavar (east); Dakshinamurti (sculpture covered up), Agastyar and Natarajar (mutilated). In between the devakoshta- sculptures, there are life-size attendant deities (rishis?) whose identity remains to be established (Pis. 262-276).

Tiru-Ara-neri-alvar temple is an early brick temple rebuilt of stone by Sembiyan Mahadevi.[1]

Manu and Muchukunda

The Tiruvalangadu Copper Plate grant of Rajendra Chola I (a.d.1012- 1044) gives an elaborate mythological list of his ancestors who are said to belong to all the four yugas beginning with the Sun, Manu and Ikshvaku. Muchukunda is included in the list of Kings of the Krita yuga; and he is said to be the son of Mandhatri who ruled, for a long time, the earth as far as the Lokaloka mountain supposed to lie beyond the ocean of fresh water. Muchukunda is said to have protected the army of the Devas against the forces of powerful demons. Armed with a boon from Indra, he is credited with having consumed to ashes the crafty demon Kalyavana; and thereby he pleased Vishnu.

Dushvanta, his son Bharata and the latter's son Chola the euponymous name of the founder of this dynasty are assigned to the Treta yuga. Another descendant of this dynasty is Chitradavan who is credited with having brought the Kaveri river to his dominions.

Vasu alias Uparichara of the Dvapara yuga is said to have got a celestial car from Indra.

In the Kali yuga, the charter mentions Perunarkilli, Karikala, Kochchenganan (all of the Sangam period) and Vijayalaya who took Tanjapuri (Tanjavur) as beautiful as Alakapuri of Kubera and who, soon after this victory, consecrated the deity of Nisumbhasudani w'ith whose divine grace,hebore,as easily as a garland, the burden of the earth surrounded by the four oceans (SII,III, part III,no. 205).

Footnotes and references:


The Tiruvarur temple-complex had, in the beginning, a good plan, but it has undergone modifications by a fortuitous aggregation of new structures at the hands of later devotees who, in view of its rich associations and hoary antiquity, and yearning for themselves a niche of spiritual merit, erected, indiscriminately and even regardless of any aesthetic taste, various types of new shrines and mandapas in all the prakaras of the temple.

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