Later Chola Temples

by S. R. Balasubrahmanyam | 1979 | 143,852 words

This volume of Chola Temples covers Kulottunga I to Rajendra III in the timeframe A.D. 1070-1280. 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....

Vast building activities were undertaken at Chidambaram. Lord Nataraja had already become the patron-deity of the Cholas. The original linga shrine, known as the Mulasthana, came to be known as the Edirambalam—‘the shrine opposite’ (to the Nataraja shrine), as Nataraja had become the centre of greater attraction. The Mulasthana shrine was renovated in this period, and the inscriptions of the 46th and 47th years of Kulottunga I, originally engraved on the walls of this shrine, were later re-engraved on the northern wall of the newly-built first wall of enclosure of the Nataraja shrine.

Nataraja temple: expansion of the campus

The structure and architectural features of the existing Nataraja temple took their shape in this period. The (innermost) first wall of enclosure of the Nataraja temple (surrounding the shrines of Nataraja and Govindaraja) was called both Kulottunga Solan Tirumaligai and Vikrama Solan Tirumaligai. (The second wall of enclosure was called Vikrama Solan Tirumaligai). The work started by Kulottunga I must have been continued by his son, Vikrama Chola, and supplemented by their General and Minister, Naralokavira.

Naralokavira was a native of Arumbakkam and the Chieftain of Manavil, south of the Palar in the modern North Aircot district. He had various names: Sabhanartakan, Kalingarayan, Kaliyarkon, Manavataran, Porkkoyil Tondaiman, Ponnambalakkuttan, Arula-karan and Madhurantakan. He figures in a large number of inscriptions ranging from the 28th year of Kulottunga I to the sixth year of Vikrama Chola. From the existence of two inscriptions found at Tiruppattur (Ramanathapuram district), of the 3rd and 12th years of Maravarman Parakrama Pandya-deva, which mention Naralokaviran Sandhi and Naralokaviran mandapa, the Government Epigraphist made the inference that he was a Pandyan chieftain. This is opposed to facts. In fact, Naralokaviran claims victories over the Tennavar (Pandyas), the Malai-mannar (Cheras) and the Vadamannar (the northern kings). So, he must have been a Chola General of distinction associated with these wars, especially the war with the Pandyas. What Karunakara Tondaiman did in the war with Kalinga, Naralokavira must have achieved in the Chola war against the Pandyas; his title of Madhurantakan is significant in this context.

More than for his military exploits, he is best to be remembered for his benefactions to temples, chiefly at Chidambaram and at Tiruvadigai.

His benefactions at Chidambaram, in addition to providing for various services, included the following: the gilding of Ponnambalam and Perambalam; the provision of streetlights and the watering of the main streets on festival days; the raising of flower-gardens and areca-palm groves; the construction of a road to the sea to take the Deity in procession to the bathing ghat (at Killai), of a mandapa to house the Deity there, and of a freshwater tank near it; the construction of a wall of enclosure called after him (Naralokaviran Tirumaligai), with two tail towers, the hall resting on a hundred pillars for Pasupati and His Consort, the shrine of the Goddess, with towers and walls of enclosure; the building of a flight of stone-steps for the Sivaganga (the sacred tank); the installation of an image of Sambandar in a shrine, and the construction of a hall for the recitation of his Devaram hymns, the engraving of the songs of the three Devaram hymnists on copper-plates; and the construction of a sluice to a large irrigation tank in the neighbourhood of Chidambaram. Very probably, this last item is a reference to the Viranam tank (Viranarayanan eri), which was considered then as almost the northern boundary of the taniyur of Perumparrappuliyur (Chidambaram).[1]

This detailed narration of the building activities of Naraloka-vira at Chidambaram must be studied in conjunction with the meykkirtti (or prasasti) of Vikrama Chola, the son and successor of Kulottunga I. Therein, Vikrama Chola claims the utilisation of the vast tribute paid by his vassals in his tenth regnal year to the enriching and embellishment of the temple of Nataraja, his Kulanayakam (patron-Deity), at Chidambaram.

In the Report of the Archaeological Survey of India for 1908-09, the view was held that the (seven-storeyed) gopuram and the hundred- as well as the thousand- pillared mandapas were works of the Vijayanagara period, especially attributable to Krishnadeva Raya of the 16th century. This erroneous view is also followed by some later scholars. We have the evidence of the inscriptions of Naralokavira that the hundred-pillared halls at Tiruvadigai and Chidambaram were built during the reigns of Kulottunga I and Vikrama Chola. In the hundred-pillared mandapa at Chidambaram, there are some pillars containing the label, Svasti-sri-itti-rumandapam akalankan. Akalankan is a surname of both Kulottunga I and Vikrama Chola.

In this age, huge Amman shrines came to be built adjacent to the original shrines. In particular, the shrine of Sivakami Amman at Chidambaram, with walls of enclosure and adorned with a gopuram at the gateway, was built at this time. This enlargement of the temple-court paved the way for the complex temple-cities of the future.

The Nritta Sabha at Chidambaram remained for a long time a great archaeological puzzle. Its age was anybody’s guess. More than half a century ago, when epigraphy and allied branches of archaeology were in their infancy, James Fergusson wrote a descriptive account of a few Dravidian temples in his “History of Indian and Eastern Architecture” (1910). Much valuable data have become available since then to enable us to fix the age of at least a few of them.

Fergusson writes thus about the Nritta at Chidambaram:

“The oldest thing now existing is a little shrine in the inmost enclosure, a porch of fifty-six pillars about eight feet high and most delicately carved, resting on a stylobate ornamented with dancing figures more graceful and more elegantly executed than any others of their class, so far as I know, in Southern India. At the sides are wheels and horses, the whole being intended to represent a car, as is frequently the case in these temples. Whitewash and modern alterations have sadly disfigured this gem, but enough remains to show how exquisite and consequently how ancient it was. It is the Nrittya or Nritta Sabha, the hall of dance.”

The chariot-shaped mandapa (housing the image of the Urdhva-tandava form of Nataraja) is not the oldest part of the Chidambaram temple. Later, adverting to another shrine in the northern portion of the third prakara of this temple, dedicated to the worship of Subrahmanya, which also has chariot features similar to those of the Nritta Sabha, Fergusson adds:

“From its posidon, however, and the character of the ornamentation, there seems little doubt that it belongs to the end of the 17th and the first half of the 18th century. From its style, however, I would be inclined to ascribe it to the earlier date.”

I got a clue to the age of this class of temple architecture from an important temple in the neighbourhood of Chidambaram constructed in the reign of Kulottunga I. It is the chariot-shaped temple of Amritaghatesvara at Melakkadambur, about 32 km. from Chidambaram, and about 10 km. from the Chola capital of Gangaikonda-Solapuram. Appar (7th century a.d.) has sung hymns on the Lord of this place and he mentions it in his Devaram as the Karakkoyil of Tirukkadambur.

Footnotes and references:


Sec the Appendix to this section, entitled “Naralokavira’s Chidambaram inscription.’

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