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....

Dravidian art had many regional centres and its manifestations could be studied in the region south of the Krishna. The Manasara in its section on Silpa-lakshana describes the four kinds of artists (silpins) and their mythical origin. Brahma the creator, by the grace of Siva, is the Mahavisvakarma and he has four faces, and from his southern face called Visvavid was born Maya. It is this school of Mayamata that seems to have been in practice in the Tamil Nadu.

The Brihat Samhita attributed to the sixth century a.d. (Chapter 57, J.N. Banerjea, The Development of Hindu Iconography, Chapter 57, App. B. pp. 579-589) states

“The face of an image should be twelve angulas wide and long according to its own angula, but Nagnajit says that the face length is fourteen (angulas) and it is the Dravida type of measurement”.

This clearly proves the existence of a distinctive Southern Dravidian school of art even before the date of the Brihat Samhita (6th century A.D.). This only confirms the conclusions about the images of gods and goddesses and their temples described in the Tamil Sangam works (vide Chapter 2 of ECA I.).

Kochchenganan one among the kings of the later Sangam period is said to have built 70 madakkovils for Siva. The Silappadikaram describes the building of a temple for Kannaki at the Chera capital and similar ones at the capitals of the neighbouring states.

Ayyadigal Kadavarkon was a Pallava king. Later in his life, he is said to have renounced his throne, worshipped at many temples and sung a song on every one he visited. The collection of his songs is known as Kshetra Venba. As many as 22 temples are thus glorified. He should have flourished before Appar and Sambandar (7th century a.d.).

No art can flourish without antecedents. The temples of the Sangam age should have been made of perishable materials and when the Pallavas turned to the stone medium, the Rathas and other monuments built by them at Mamallapuram should be considered as the prototypes of certain monuments in perishable materials found earlier in the Tamil country.

The existence of a distinct and vigorous Dravidian school of art is reinforced by another source, the prose romance in Sanskrit called Avanti Sundari Katha Sara by Acharya Dandin who lived in the 8th century a.d. at Kanchi enjoying royal patronage. His great grandfather was Damodara, an associate of the poet Bharavi, the author of Kiratarjuniya, patronised by Vishnuvardhana, Ganga Durvinita and Pallava Simha-vishnu. Dandin suffered a life of wanderings during the Chalukyan invasions and when peace returned, he settled down at Kanchi. At this time, it is said that an architect named Lalitalaya, son of Mandhata called on Dandin. He is said to have been an expert in constructing 96 kinds of prasadas (temples) and six kinds of yantras (mechanical contrivances) and possessed all the 36 qualifications prescribed for an architect (acharya). He is said to have mentioned to Dandin and his audience that he had mended and refitted one of the arms of the image of Vishnu reclining on his serpent couch on the sea shore of Mamallapuram, and requested them to verify and say if the refitting was worthy of the image, a work of art of the great ancient architects. Then Dandin and his friends, along with Lalitalaya, went to Mamallapuram. The party saw the Vishnu image, washed by the waves of the sea.

They examined the image closely and could not discover any trace of mending in the arms. The party asked the architect which of the arms he had mended. The architect was greatly pleased and felt that his labours had been amply rewarded. Such is the literary tradition and evidence of the prevalence of a great flourishing school of Dravidian Art at Kanchipuram.

After the decline of the Satavahanas, the art schools of Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Vengi, Badami, Kanchipuram {cum Mamallapuram) and Madurai (though almost all the earliest vestiges here have been destroyed during the various political convulsions) became important centres of Dravidian art. The sixth century saw the decline of Buddhism and the revival of Hinduism. Hence the large number of Hindu monuments from the sixth century onwards. And we have also evidence of mutual borrowings among these various art-centres. At Badami and its associated cities of Mahakuta, Aihole, and Pattadakkal, we have different styles of architecture struggling for fuller expression, which came to be later designated the northern (Aryan or Nagara), the southern {Dravidian) and the central type {Vesara - Kadamba - Chalukya -Hoysala).

There is a stone inscription in the Isvara temple at Peddavaduguru, Gooty taluk, Anantapur district, which mentions the name of the engraver of the grant Mahendra Pallavachari, during the rule of Chalukya Satyasraya alias Ereyiti-yadigal. The latter is a surname of Pulikesin II, and therefore this record belongs to the period of Pulikesan II, the contemporary of the Pallava king Mahendravarman (of the 7th century a.d.), not to the reign of Vikramaditya II or of his father Vijayaditya (of the 8th century) as the authors of the Madras Museum Bulletin (Vol. Ill Pt. I) have assigned it (p. 19). And the very name of the engraver suggests his connection with the Pallava country and its ruler Mahendravarman I (SII, IX Pt. I No. 46; Ins. no. 343 of 1920).

An inscription on the back of a dvarapala records the name of Gundaya Venginattu Velanadu (PI. VI, and PI. Va, Early Eastern Chalukyan Sculpture by C. Sivaramamurti - Bulletin Madras Government Museum Vol. VII - No. 2). Sivaramamurti comments on it thus:—

“The striking resemblance of the Early Chalukya carvings to those of Pattadakkal and Ellora group, and the occurrence of the name of Gundaya as the sculptor of the Vengi Court, several decades earlier than the Gunda of the Pattadakkal inscription has something to suggest about the peregrinations of the sculptors’ families from one country to another in quest of royal favour and patronage, and it is not unlikely that the master Gunda of the Pattadakkal temples is in some manner a descendant of the earlier Gundaya of the Eastern Chalukyan Court.”

Here are a few names of foreign architects employed in constructing the temples at Pattadakkal.

The Papanatha temple (in the northern style) was built by Chattara Revadi Ovajja of the Sarva Siddhi Acharyas, an architect of the southern country (ten-kana-dise-madidor) and one acquainted with the secrets of Silemmudra marman (stone cutting and carving) and a member of the Guild of Sarva Siddhi Acharyas.

The inscriptions in the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakkal mention (a) Sri Gunda, the Sutradhari who made the temple of the queen of Vikramaditya II who was given the fillet called Mume Perjjerepu and the title of Tirubhuvanachari in recognition of his great merit and (b) Sarva Siddhi Acharya,

“the abode of all virtues, the maker of many cities, houses, palaces, vehicles, seats and couches (mani, makuta, ratna, chudamani, Temkana diseya sutradhari) who made the temple of Lokesvara of Sri Loka-Mahadevi of Sri Vikramaditya who thrice conquered Kanchi.”

These are great names of architects of the Dravida country (tem-kana-diseya)who gave of their best to the construction of the temples at Pattadakkal. We are not in a position to decide which their original home was—Kanchi, Vengi or the Kadamba region. These foreign experts possessed great technical skill, and enjoyed royal patronage and honours. They seem to have adapted themselves to the local conditions and traditions and raised monuments with a happy blend of different kinds of style. The hand of these great architects is seen in the monuments of Pattadakkal and its surroundings.

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