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....

All early Chola temples have only one prakara enclosed by a madil, wall of enclosure, with a gopura to serve as a gateway. Inside this madil and close to its wall—except in the case of Chandesvara’s, which is located close to the main shrine—there are eight subsidiary shrines called the Ashta parivara-koyil (alayam) housing eight deities. These shrines are different from the attached or limb shrines (anga-alayam) round the garbhagriha of the Pallava Kailasanathar Temple at Kanchipuram.

The inscription of the 28th year of Parantaka I found on the south wall of the Kadambavanesvara temple at Erumbur is unique as it is the only one, so far known, that mentions that eight sub-shrines for the Ashta parivara devatas were built along with the main shrine. The names of the deities are not mentioned, nor do the eight sub-shrines exist here today.

In the Vijayalaya Cholisvaram at Narttamalai, there are six sub-shrines round the main shrine; each is an ekatala structure with an ardhamandapa in front. There are no deities in them now.

The Sundaresvara temple at Tirukkattalai has seven sub-shrines, intact and with deities housed in them. They are those of Surya, Saptamatrikas, Ganapati, Subrahmanyar, Jyeshtha, Chandra and Chandesvara.

At Kilaiyur there are sub-shrines for Ganapati, Saptamatrikas, Subrahmanyar and Chandesvara round the temple of Avani Kandarpa Isvara Griham.

There is an inscription of the 24th year of Rajakesari-varman (alias Aditya I) on the wall of the Airavatesvara temple at Niyamam which mentions a gift by Adigal Kandan Marambavai, the queen of Nandivarman III for the supply of ghee, milk and curds for the worship of the main deity and the Parivara devatas.

An inscription of the 27th year of Aditya I (258 of 1903) at Tirupparaitturai mentions a gift of land for offerings to Saptamatrukkal (Saptamatrikas), Ganapati, Subrahmanyar, 77rw-Kettaik-kilatti (Jyeshtha devi) and Aditta Pidarar (Surya).

The Virattanesvara temple at Kilur has sub-shrines for Ganapati, Subrahmanyar, Chandra, Surya and the Saptamatrikas.

In the Muchukundesvara temple at Kodumbalur there now exist four out of the eight sub-shrines. One of the sub-shrines has no deity. The other three have Subrahmanyar, Chandesvara and Bhairavar.

In the Sundaresvara temple at Nangavaram there are four shrines. Two shrines with round sikharas house Subrahmanya and (a later) Mahalakshmi. One is for the Saptamatrikas which is rectangular in shape and has a wagon-roof. Another for Ganapati is apsidal in shape.

An inscription of the 10th regnal year of Rajaraja I mentions that Yanavan Muvendavelar set up images of the Ashta Parivaram in the temple of Tiruppuram-biyam and made provision for twilight lamps and offerings to these deities.

Now the question arises as to what the eight deities of the Ashta-parivara-Alayam are.

The Kasyapa Silpam gives the names of the eight deities. They are Vrshabha-devar (Nandi), Agni devar or Agni, Durgai, Saptamatas, Yirabhadra, Vinayaka (Ganapati), Shanmuga (Subrahmanya), Jyeshtha, Vishnu, or Katyayani, Surya (46th).

On the other hand, the Mayamatam prescribes the following eight parivara devatas: Vrshabha, Ganatipan, Brahma, Matrikas, Guhan, Aryan, Achyutan and Chandesan.

In the temples of the early Chola age, there is neither Vishnu nor Brahma among the Parivara devatas. There are eight subshrines in addition to Nandi in a mandapa in front of the main shrine. There is no doubt or uncertainty about seven of them as we find seven subshrines with the original deities at Tirukkat-talai. They are those of Surya, Saptamatrikas, Ganapati, Subrahmanyar, Jyeshtha, Chandra and Chandesvara.

Nilakanta Sastri holds that the eighth subshrine is that of Nandi (The Colas—pp. 700 & 705). We have pointed out that the Muchukundesvara temple at Kodumbalur has a subshrine of Bhairavar in the north-east corner of the prakara. That this should be the eighth deity of the Pari Alaya is reinforced by the existence of a Bhairavar sub-shrine in the northeast of the prakara of the temple of Agastyesvaram at Kiliyanur. Thus in addition to Nandi in the mandapa, we had in early Chola temples eight subshrines—Bhairavar being the eighth deity.

The excavations at Kodumbalur indicated that there were 15(16?) subshrines round the Muvarkoyil of which only the basement could be traced now. We are not in a position to know what deities were housed in them. The Mayamatam describes temples which may have 16, 24 or 32 subshrines. We are at a loss to know which deities were housed in these subshrines.

The worship of the Saptamatrikas and Jyeshtha devi fell into disuse as a result of the influence of the Nayan-mars and Alvars; Tondaradipodi Alvar denounces Jyeshtha worship.

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