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, Tirunaamnallur and Gramam

Barrett quotes inscriptions on the walls of these temples, some of them earlier than those of their foundation, which he considers later copies. Erumbur was built in the 28th year of Parantaka I (a.d. 935) and there are earlier inscriptions of the 5th, 9th, 10th and 16th years of a Parakesarivarman, and of the 20th and 26th years of Madiraikonda ko-Parakesarivarman. Similarly for Gramam which is said to have been built in the 36th year of Parantaka I (a.d. 943) though there are earlier grants from the 23rd to the 29th year. So also is Tirunamanallur built about the 28th regnal year of Parantaka I. He also admits that the Tiru-Alandurai Mahadevar temple at Kilappaluvur contains inscriptions of Parantaka I from his 10th to his 37th year but because of the difficulty in the definitive assignment of one of the inscriptions of the 15th year of Parakesarivarman (no. 245 of 1926) to Parantaka I, he feels inclined to attribute this temple and the devakoshta sculptures in it to the age of Uttama Chola. He seems to imply that these inscriptions were later copies.

He argues

“There are many temples where it would have to be argued on grounds of architectural or sculptural style that inscriptions from an earlier temple or from loose stones had been inserted into or copied on to a later fabric” (p. 5).

Again (on page 13) he adds: “We may conclude that the present fabric (of Tiru-Alandurai-Mahadevar temple) belongs to the reign of Uttama Chola, and the earlier inscriptions were copied on to it from the original early Parantaka I shrine to which the loose dvarapala may well have belonged”.

I have to state at once that all the seven inscriptions of Parantaka I listed in my book Four Chola Temples (pp. 28 - 33) are original and contemporary ones and one of them of his 12th year is in commemoration of a great contemporary Chola victory over the combined armies of the Pandyas and the Ceylonese won by Paluvettarayan Kandan Amudanar in the battle of Velur. Erumbur, Gramam and Tirunamanallur—and Tiruvaduturai also—have original contemporary inscriptions.

Therefore the suggestion that

“we should have to accept that a temple built perhaps of brick on a stone base was later rebuilt of stone (in respect of Tiruvaduturai) from the kumuda upwards, important inscriptions being re-recorded on the new fabric” (p.7)

is not acceptable.

I have also to admit that I have failed to mention that the loose dvarapala sculpture (PI. 21 and p. 31 of my Four Chola Temples) lying loose in the eastern outer prakara near the main eastern gopuram might have belonged to the neighbouring temple of Pasupati Isvaram, also of Parantaka I’s age but now in ruins; the garbhagriha portion alone of this temple has survived. The broken image of the other dvarapala was found in front of this temple in ruins (PI. 17).

The instance of Tiruvidaimarudur quoted on page 5 of “Early Cola Bronzes” is not relevant to this context. It was a case of a brick temple later rebuilt of stone. In the absence of stone wall surface, the gifts and endowments could not be engraved on the brick walls of the temple. Two inscriptions of the days of Uttama Chola (Sembiyan Mahadevi) describe two different practices as to how the gifts made to temples built of brick were preserved and were engraved on the stone walls after they had been built of stone.

(i) One method is described in an inscription at Tiruvidaimarudur (no. 199 of 1907, SII, III, 124).

This inscription of the 4th year 325th day of a Parake-sarivarman who is to be identified with Uttama Chola mentions that all the inscribed stones of earlier endowments were kept in underground cellars prior to renovation and that the local sabha of Tiraimur, the nagaram of Tiruvidaimarudur, the temple servants and the royal officers met in the temple hall and ordered that they should be taken out of the cellars and engraved on the stone walls of the newly built temple (see E.C.A. I, p. 175). On further examination, the Assembly noticed an omission of an old endowment of 60 kalanju of gold made by the Pallava ruler Kaduvettigal Nandipotharai-yar and this too was ordered to be re-engraved.

(ii) The other method is mentioned in an inscription at Tirukkodikkaval (A.R. no. 36 of 1931).

An inscription of the 11th year of Ko-Parakesari-varman assignable to Uttama Chola contains the interesting information that before the erection of the temple of Tirukkotisvara of stone, the inscribed stone slabs of the earlier endowments were found scattered over the place (munbu dharmatthukkuvaithu karkallil vettik-kidanda avai veveru kallal pala vidati-laik kidanda avai ellam inda sri-vimanattil munera vettikkolha) and Sembiyan Mahadevi the mother of Uttama Chola who rebuilt the temple of stone ordered that those endowments should be re-engraved on the walls of the newly built stone temple.

One such record was of an old endowment of the 4th plus 9th year (13th year) of thePandya king Ko-Maran Sadaiyan. After the reengraving of the endowments, the old inscribed stones were found useless and therefore were discarded and thrown away (inda sri-vimanattile era vettinamayil mun nivandakam vettik kidanda tanik kallal ubhaiyogam illamayil atu tavimdadu).

There is epigraphical reference to the conversion of a brick temple into one of stone. An inscription of the 40th regnal year of Parakesarivarman (a mistake for Rajakesarivarman) Kulottunga Chola deva (a.d. 1110) on the south wall of the mandapa of the Bilvana-thesvara temple at Tiruvaigavur, 10 miles northwest of Kumbakonam (no. 51 of 1914) states that one Pundi-Udaiyar Suriyan Pavalak-Kunranar alias Vannadudaiyan petitioned to the king in his 32nd regnal year and built of stone the central shrine and the mandapa of Tiruvaigavur Adigal Mahadevar after removing the old brick structure which had become dilapidated.

This will make it clear that the construction of temples or rebuilding new ones on old foundations and the engraving of inscriptions on temple walls required the sanction of the king or the local bodies whose eternal vigilance was very much in evidence during the whole period of Chola rule.

So all these temples with contemporary inscriptions should be assigned to the period of Parantaka I. And the devakoshta sculptures too unless they are replacements, should belong to the same age. There is evidence of an instance of a temple built in the days of Parantaka I having its dvcircipala added at a later date. It is the temple at Somur. There is another instance at Karandai (Karuntattangudi near Tanjavur).

Stylistic features should be derived from a study of a sufficient number of dated monuments and sculptures, but it is unsound to go through the process in the reverse order. To do so is to put the cart before the horse.

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