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....

Sri Ranganathasvamin temple

(I) Early history

The famous temple of Srirangam is very ancient and, like the temple of Nataraja at Chidambaram, its origin is lost in the mist of time. Again like the Nataraja temple, it is called the Koyil or the Periyakoyil, the temple par excellence. The praise of the Lord has been sung by Vaishnava Alvars (with the exception of Madhurakavi). A number of them lived here and worshipped at the feet of the Lord; among them are Kulasekhara Alvar, Tiru-mangai Mannan or Alinadan, and Andal. Other, lesser, Alvars associated with this temple are Tondaradippodi and Tiruppanalvar (who was born in close-by Uraiyur). Ramanuja himself, the apostle of Visishtadvaita Srivaishnavism, was the spiritual and administrative head of this temple for a number of years. Alagiya-manavala or Manavala mahamuni, the of the ten-kalai Vaishnava sect, spent a number of years here, the Pallavarayan-matham in the South Uttira street being associated with his stay. In fact, there is an image of this acharya which is in worship even now. The name of Kamban, the Tamil poet, is closely associated with this temple; the imprimatur of his Ramayana is said to have been made here before the literary elite.

The Government Epigraphist writes:

“Architecturally, the Srirangam temple offers many interesting points to the student of Indian Art. It belongs to the uttamottama class of temples, as it has its full complement of seven prakaras running around the garbhagriha, and in addition has separate subsidiary shrines for all the minor parivaradevalas, as prescribed in the” (ARE 1936-37, p. 61).

(II) The temple campus

The garbhagriha is in mortar and is circular in shape; it is surmounted by the ‘Sriranga Viman 5 with the representation of Para-Vasudeva, which is gold-plated. It has been recently renovated. The earliest inscriptional material we have here is found on the jambs of the entrance to the garbhagriha and has been dealt with in our earlier volumes on Chola Temples—Chola Art, Part I (pp. 59 and 60) and Middle Chola Temples (pp. 355-357). There have been numerous contributions to the growth of this temple from the days of Parantaka I down almost to the end of the 18th century, with the result that one could trace a continuous history of Srirangam and its environs over a thousand years. What a wonder! This has also added to our difficulty in formulating the chronological growth of the temple, as there have often been haphazard additions and alterations, confusing the original design. The introduction of the iconic representation of the Vaishnava an innovation of the days of Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika, has added to our difficulties as well as to the charm of the original design of the temple. A unique feature is a shrine' for the great physician, Dhanvantri, who has been deified, located in the north side of the fourth prakara of the temple. A shrine has been improvised for Eduttakai Alagar (Narasimha in the act of destroying Hiranya-kasipu) in stucco; the icon originally served as an embellishment on the north gopuram of the fourth prakara. Other examples of such enshrining are to be found in the Subrahmanya and Ganapati shrines on the inner side of the west gopuram of the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram.

(III) Under the early and middle cholas

Inscriptions of the days of Parantaka I, on the jambs of the central shrine, were uncovered when some brass panelling was removed for replacement. The central shrine and the first two prakaras obviously came up between his days and the middle of the 11th century. We have very little information about the growth of the temple during this period. The third, fourth and fifth prakaras, the numerous mandapas, prakara walls and gopurams that came up at different stages in the growth of this temple-city, do not, however, exhibit any great workmanship.

(IV) Under the later cholas

However, when we come to the period of Kulottunga I and his son, we begin to get a wealth of epigraphical material on their contribution to this temple; and, in fact, during the Later Chola period and subsequently both under the Hoysalas and under the Pandyas, there is almost a surfeit of records from which we gather that the temple underwent major expansion; and in the hands of the Vijayanagara rulers, the temple "continued to receive great attention.

The third prakara wall is a veritable record-room containing a number of inscriptions covering the Chola, Pandya, Hoysala and later dynasties; but the earliest inscription on this wall, on its eastern wing, relates to the 5th year of Kulottunga I (Rajakesari-varman alias Chakravartin Kulottunga Choladeva, beginning with the introduction ‘pugal madu vilangd’).

Similarly, on the north wall of the fourth prakara, left of the svargavasal (the Gate of Heaven), is a 11th year inscription of Kulottunga I (Rajakesarivarman alias Chakravartin Kulottunga Choladeva) beginning with the same introduction and referring to the affairs of another temple. It mentions that as the temple of Mummudichola Vinnagaralvar at Rajamahendra-chaturvedi-mangalam, a brahmadeya in Randara nadu, a subdivision of Nitta-vinoda valanadu, comprising the modern taluks of Nannilam and Papanasam, was unable to safeguard its properties owing to a burglary of its treasury during a conflict between the left and right hand classes (Idangais and Valangais) in the second year of the king’s reign, the Assembly of Rajamahendra chaturvediman-galam received 70 kalanjus of gold from the temple of Mummadi-sola Vinnagaralvar of that village and exempted certain lands belonging to it from payment of taxes (ARE 31 of 1936-37).

Note: We also learn from this record that in the second year of the king (Kulottunga I), there was a clash between the right and left hand communities, in which the village was burnt down, the sacred places destroyed and the images of deities and the treasuries in the temple looted. So, the village had to be rehabilitated, the temple renovated and the deities reconsecrated, and new walls had to be built for the; the took a loan of 50 kaianju of gold (which was half a carat less in fineness than the Rajendra solan madai) from the temple; the interest on this for a year came to 25 and out of the capital-cum-interest of 75 kaianju, 5 kaianju was spent on the renovation of the temple in the 3 rd year and the balance of 70 kaianju was utilised for purchasing and making tax-free some specified lands for the up-keep of the temple.

On the basis of these epigraphs, we can conclude that the third wall of enclosure was in existence even in the first decade of the reign of Kulottunga I and the fourth wall of enclosure also should have come into existence in about the same period. We know in the case of the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram that Kulottunga I built the first and second walls of enclosure there though perhaps the work was completed by his son; we could hazard the conjecture that the third and fourth walls of enclosure here were also constructed in the (early years of the) reign of Kulottunga I. We incidentally come to know of the existence of a Vishnu temple (Mummudisola vinnagar) at a village named after the ill-fated crown prince Raja Mahendra, the son of Rajendradeva II, who predeceased the father; this temple must have been erected in the days of Rajaraja I who, in the earlier years of his reign, was known as Mummudi Chola. From an inscription found in the village of Nellittoppu in Papanasam taluk, we gather that this village was close to it (ARE 539 of 1921).

Though there is no inscriptional evidence from Srirangam itself to confirm the fact, we know from the Srirangam Koyilolugu that the fifth wall of enclosure was the contribution of Vikrama Chola, who, like the father, embarked upon massive expansions of the temples of the earlier period by adding more prakaras and ! subsidiary shrines in them. Strangely, we have epigraphical \ confirmation of this from an entirely unexpected place. There is 1 an 18th year inscription of Tribhuvanachakravartin Kulottunga Choladeva II found engraved on the western slope of the rock known as Panchanamparai in Sandaipettai, a suburb of Tiruk-koyilur (the headquarters of a taluk of the same name in the South Arcot district), which states that the adjoining tank and its sluice were constructed for the irrigation of the tiruvidaiyattam lands of Tiruvidaikali Emperuman of Tirukkovalur, by Ulagamunda Perumal alias Akalankan Brahmamarayan, who constructed the Periya tirumaligai at Tiruvarangam (Srirangam) Periyakoyil (ARE 225 of 1936-37). Reading Koyilolugu and this inscription together, we can conclude that the fifth wall of enclosure and the four gopurams thereon (and some other structures as well) came into existence during Vikrama Chola’s days. Akalankan Brahmamarayan might have been the officer in charge of the construction of the' wall of enclosure. A record of Vikrama Chola’s days found in this temple (ARE 33 of 1936-37 beginning with pu malai midaindu) provides for feeding ten Apurvi Sri Vaishnavas in the temple on Amavasya days and ten Malayana (Malayala) Sri Vaishnava Brahmanas on the festival days i'n the Panguni month by a certain Tirunadudaiyan. This charity was placed under the protection of Manrumandalattu-abhimanya-bhushanar (cf. padinen-vishayattu-Sri-Vaishnavar)—perhaps a high level body drawn from the Pandi, Chola and Tondai mandalams.

Of Rajakesarivarman alias Tribhuvanachakravartin Kulottunga II’s days, there are only two records, relating to the 7th and 11th years (ARE 56 and 55 of 1936-37). The former is an order for and on behalf of the deity, leasing the temple lands to the Kovanavars for growing coconut and areca palms; the latter is an endowment of land after purchase for a flower-garden to the temple by three private individuals (introduction: pu mannu padumam).

The only record assignable to the days of Rajaraja II is of his 11th year (pu maruviya tirumadum). It mentions a gift of a gold lamp-stand set with one ruby and an endowment of money for maintaining the lamp and for the supply of camphor by Kodai Ravivarman ofVen nadu in Malai nadu (ARE 68 of 1936-37).

There arc two records of the days of Rajadhiraja II (with the introduction Kadal sulnda), both of his 9th year; one refers to an endowment in money for a lamp, by Perumal alias Rajaraja Uttama Setti of Kurattippattinam in Kaivara nadu, a sub-division of Poysala nadu (ARE 63 of 1936-37). The other is about an endowment of 1,000 kasu by Tirukkuraivalatta Akalanka Nadalvan of Tiruttavatturai (Lalgudi) for special festivals in the temple (ARE 73 of 1936-37). Incidentally, it was this Chief who led an expedition against Kollimalai on behalf of the king.

The earliest of Kulottunga Ill’s inscriptions is one of the 3 rd year commencing with the introduction ‘Puyal vaiyttu’ which seems to record an endowment for the sacred bath and offerings to the deity on special festival days in the months of Aippasi and Panguni (ARE 75 of 1936-37). In a 6th year record where he is called Parakesarivarman Virarajendradeva, commencing with the same introduction ‘Puyal vaiyttu’, a gift is registered of the village of Tiruvayppadinallur, made tax-free, for special worship and offerings to the god on the day of the Daivattarayan festival, by the gopalas (shepherds) who had proprietory rights over Valluva-padi nadu in Karikalakanna valanadu (ARE 61 of 1936—37). By this deed, they agreed to pay the tax on 250 velis of tiruvidaiyattam lands for worship and offerings to god Alagiya manavala Perumal and the goddess; the document is signed by ninety-eight representatives (urkkuchchamainda) from sixty-seven villages who should have constituted the Assembly of Valluvappadi nadu (which comprised a portion of the present Musiri taluk in Tiruchy district). A 7th year record of this ruler registers an endowment of 2,000 kasu by a lady and her daughter for the merit of the husband of the former. The beneficiary is Alagiya manavala Perumal (ARE 76 of 1936—37). A record of the 19th year is interesting; beginning with the common introduction ‘who was pleased to take Madurai and the crowned head of the Pandya’, it records a gift of 12 Bhujabala-madai (coins) for a lamp in the temple by Nunkama Mahadevi, wife of Madhurantaka Pottappichcholan alias Siddharaisan—the Telugu-Choda Chief Naljasiddharasa, who was a subordinate of Kulottunga III (ARE 67 of 1936-37). A 34th year inscription registers an order of Gangeyarayar, fixing the proportions of the produce from several classes of temple lands between the temple and its tenants (ARE 32 of 1936-37); and a 35th year record beginning with the introduction of ‘puyal records that certain lands were purchased and given as tukkani for worship and offerings to the god Alagiya manavala Perumal by Ambalavan Koyilalvar, a lady who was under the support (mudugan) of Ambalavan Periya Peruman alias Jagad-ekavira Acharya of Rajarajapuram (ARE 1 of 1936-37). One of the last records of this period is dated in the 37th year and refers to a gift of land by a brahmana lady of Rajakesari chaturvedimangalam, a brahmadeya in Nallur nadu, a subdivision of Nittavinoda valanadu, as tiruvidaiyattam to god Alagiya manavala Perumal (ARE 34 of 1936-37). An undated record of Kulottunga Ill’s period mentions that the worship of the god, who was the tutelary deity of the king, and the repairs to the prakara wall called Magadesan alias Adaiya-valaindan tirumaligai were left in the charge of Tayilum-nallan alias Kulottungasola Vanakkovaraiyar (ARE 89 of 1936-37). We saw under Urrattur in Middle Chola Temples that, according to an inscription found on a gopuram of the Siddharatnesvara temple, the village of Venmanippadi in Kilvalluvappadi nadu was converted into a mercantile town called Tayilunallanpuram in honour of Kulottungasola Vanakkovaraiyar, who must be the same as the Chief referred to here and who bore the alternate name of Tayilum Nallan. This was done by the nagaram and nadu of Urrattur nadu jointly (ARE 521 of 1912).

In the 21st year of Rajaraja III, an endowment of 1,000 kasu was made for burning a lamp in the temple and for supplying flower-garlands to the deity, the donatrix being Deviyar Somala-deviyar, who, it seems reasonable to guess, must be one of the queens of Rajaraja III mentioned in a record from Jambukesvaram (ARE 22 of 1931).

Between the 10th and the 24th regnal years of Rajaraja III, we find the Hoysalas spreading themselves out all over the Chola country and the inscriptions of their rulers and their generals and local officers are found at Kanchipuram, Tiruvadatturai (Vriddhachalam taluk in South Arcot district), Tirumalavadi, Srirangam and Tirugokarnam (in Pudukkottai district).

(V) Under the hoysalas

The contribution of the Hoysalas to the development of the temples of Ranganathar and Jambukesvara (in Tiru Anaikka, close to Srirangam) is noteworthy indeed. The earliest Hoysala record seems to be one that is dated not in regnal years but in Saka 1 154 (a.d. 1232),in which a gift of land is made for offerings to god Ranganathar during the early morning service by one Bharadvaja-kulatilakan Srirama Bhattan of the temple of Tirukku-laludina Pillai (He who played the sacred flute: Krishna or Venugopala) consecrated by Umadevi, the queen of Vira Vallala-deva at Dorasamudram. The inscription, which is in Grantha and Tamil, mentions in a Sanskrit verse at the beginning that this Srirama Bhattan was the son of a great teacher of Kuruhapura, an ardent Vaishnava and one well-versed in mantric lore. He was a contemporary of Narahari-bhupala (i.e., Narasimha), who bore the title of Cholendra-pratishtha guru, in recognition of his services to the Chola ruler in restoring him to power and the throne in a.d. 1232.

Singularly conspicuous by their absence at Srirangam are inscriptions of Vira Somesvara, in contrast to their profusion in the adjoining Jambukesavarar temple, explained by the plaint of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I that Somesvara had ‘reduced to a pitiable state the lotus-pond of Srirangam’ (Ind., Ill, p. 14).

In the 3rd year of Pratapachakravartin Vira Ramanatha deva (a.d. 1255-95), a salai was founded on the west side of the gopuram in the fourth prakara, enshrining the god Eduttakai-alagiya Nayinar in the Ranganathar temple, and an endowment of land was made for its upkeep by Changadeva Singanna Dandanayaka, a pradhani of the king. The salai was entrusted to the care of Garudavahana Pandita, who is designated the rakshaka of the donor (ARE 80 of 1936-37).

This third-year record is engraved on a slab of stone set up in front of the Dhanvantri shrine in the fourth prakara of the temple, and makes interesting reading. Changadeva makes this gift toi Garudavahana Bhatta (who was his Royal Physician) for maintaining the salai (hospital) in the tirunadaimaligai to the west of the north gopuram in the fourth prakara of the temple. The gifted land was in Mummudisola chaturvedimangalam in Vila nadu, a subdivision of Pandikulasani valanadu. Evidently this hospital was in existence even earlier and the Bhatta was appointed as Royal Physician afterwards; the hospital seems to have been of considerable importance, for, a reference to it is made almost two hundred and forty years later, in another inscription dated in Saka 1415 (= a.d. 1493), found engraved on another slab nearby, according to which a descendant of Garudavahana Bhatta, by name Srinivasa Bhatta (also bearing the surname of Garudavahana), repaired the hospital (arogya-salai) which had suffered damage during the vanam (Muhammadan raid) and installed an image of Dhanvantri Emperumal in it. Fortunately for us, this rare image of Dhanvantri is still intact in a shrine in the fourth prakara. We have another image of Dhanvantri in the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram (panel) (Ep. Rep., 1935-36, p. 94; see also B. Natarajan’s The City of the Comic Dance). The hereditary physicians were scholars too and the senior Garudavahana, the contemporary of Vira Ramanatha, is said to have composed a called Rangaghoshanai, which is no longer available, while his descendant has been identified with the author of the a kavya in Sanskrit on the lives of the Vaishnava Alvars and Acharyas.

Sarvabhauma Vira Ramanatha’s 7th year record mentions a gift of land for a flower-garden by a member of the Mint establishment community (Kambattattu Anikkarar). In the 8th year of this ruler, a gift of land at Tirukkuraiparru is made for a flower-garden to a certain Vaikunthadasar who had to supply flowers and garlands to the temple, for the merit of queen Kamaladevi, the daughter of Ariyappillai Dandanayaka, a pradhani of the king, and her two daughters (ARE 62 of 1936-37). Adjoining the above plot was another piece of land which was purchased and gifted to the same donee by Somaladeviyar, another daughter of the same pradhani, for the merit of her daughter Sirutangi. A similar gift is made again by queen Kamaladevi for her own merit {vide two undated inscriptions, ARE 64 and 65 of 1936-37).

Ariyappillai Dandanayaka
Queen Kamaladevi
d. Periyatangi d. Vichchannan
Queen Somaladevi (Chikka Somaladevi of ARE 26 of 1891)
d. Sirutangi

Similarly, in the 8th year, one Sahala Bhatta, son of Ahala Bhatta of Sakala gotra (belonging to the community of Paradesi Savasi—merchants from Kashmiradesa), makes a gift of gold for offerings during one service in the temple and for supplying garlands to the god, for the merit of the donor and his son.

In the fifth prakara of the temple there is a beautiful ornate shrine dedicated to Venugopala Krishna, whose sculptures and general texture bear the imprint of the Hoysala style. Though there is no inscriptional confirmation, this shrine should be attributed to the period from a.d. 1230 to 1275 and could be treated as representative of Hoysala art in Chola mainland.

(VI) In the post-chola period

There is a later structure called the Seshagirirayan-manda/ta on the east side of the fifth prakara, which is a noteworthy Vijaya-nagara contribution, with its sculptural wealth and macro-carving. The unfinished gopuram in the outermost prakara is a piece of ornate construction.

There is a wealth of metals, of various deities, Alvars and Acharyas, many of which date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. There is a group of ten icons, taken out in procession on important occasions, called the Dasamurtis. Annamurti is another special image (two-armed, with a bowl of curd-rice in one hand and a kalasa of payasa in the other).

Srirangam continued to attract the piety and attention of the; successor-dynasties as well, namely the Pandyas, the Vijayanagara \ rulers and later the Nayaks, whose contribution to the wealth, maintenance and expansion of this grand temple continued well ' into the late 18th century. It is still a living institution of great celebrity.

(VII) Alleged persecution of Ramanuja by Kulottunga I

We have discussed such allegations in a previous volume, Middle Chola Temples, pp. 355-357, and refuted the identification of Krimikanthan with Kulottunga I and the belief popular among Vaishnavites that Ramanuja fled to Melkote in the Karnataka country as a result of his being persecuted by the Chola king, living in exile there from a.d. 1098 to 1122. It is a fact that Ramanuja was away in Karnataka over this extended period, during which he even succeeded in converting the Hoysala king Bittideva from Jainism to Vaishnavism; the king was re-christened Vishnuvardhana, and his help and zeal enabled Vaishnavism to strike deep roots in that land. But it has also to be observed that Kulottunga 1 had Vaishnavite sympathies as well and that he, the members of his family and his subjects all made various gifts to Vishnu temples (see Note 3, pp. 356-357 of my Middle Chola Temples). We have seen how, according to an inscription at Srirangam itself of his 11th year, a Vishnu temple was helped out of its financial problems by the local Assembly (ARE 31 of 1936-37). Two inscriptions at Srirangam, of his 15th and 18th years, register gifts respectively for the singing of the Tirup eluchchi and the recitation of the Tiruvoymoli, and for the singing of the second decad of Kulasekhara Alvar’s hymns (ARE 61 and 62 of 1892). (Ramanuja’s flight to Karnataka, incidentally, occurred in the 28th year of the reign of Kulottunga I.) Coming to his successors, even during the rule of the most bigoted Chola ruler Anapaya (Kulottunga II), there is mention in an inscription (dated in his 18th regnal year) from Tirukkoyilur that a Chola chieftain constructed the periya tirumaligai (the fifth prakara) of the Srirangam temple (ARE 225 of 1936-37). In this connection we may briefly consider the supposed destruction of the Govindaraja shrine in the campus of the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram, and the submersion of the idol of the ‘Little God’ into the sea, ‘the original abode of Vishnu’, as described in the Ula on Kulottunga II by the court poet Ottakkuttan. It seems undeniable that from the time of the foundation of the Nataraja cult at Chidambaram, the shrine of Govindaraja in the Terri-ambalam (‘Platform shrine’) stood opposite to the Chirrambalam (of Nataraja). This Vishnu shrine was closed and worship remained suspended from the days of Kulottunga II to the days of the Vijayanagara emperor Achyutappa Raya (16th century a.d.). We are not sure if the Govindaraja idol was actually thrown into the sea. Could it not be a poetic flight of fancy of a loyal and devoted poet to his bigoted Saivite royal patron? Such acts of vandalism are unknown to Hindu tradition in ancient South India. Even foreign Hindu conquerors respected the temples in the conquered land, and in fact, even made gifts and endowments of their own to the temples in the conquered territory as evidenced by the gifts of Chalukya Vikramaditya II to the Kaila-sanatha temple at Kanchipuram. Govindaraja worship should have been in a state of suspended animation for about four centuries, till its revival under the patronage of Achyuta, with his strong Vaishnavite leanings.

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