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....

The village of Solapuram which is in the Kumbakonam taluk of the Tanjavur district lies at a distance of 9 km. in a northerly direction from Kumbakonam on the Kumbakonam-Lower Anicut route which is now part of the State Highway from Kumbakonam to Madras. On the same road about a km further north of Sola-puram is another village of importance called Manambadi. In the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, these two villages were part of a common mercantile village known as Viranarayanapuram. In the days of the Middle Cholas (i.e., from a.d. 850 to 1070) this village bore the earlier name of Ilaichchikkudi as we find this village being referred to in the inscriptions of Rajendra 1 by this name, alias Viranarayanapuram. Today, however, there are two distinct villages known as Manambadi and Solapuram, separated by a km distance between them. There are five main temples in these two villages and four of them are in Solapuram and one in Manambadi.

In Solapuram, as the State highway from Kumbakonam to the Lower Anicut (which runs through the village) meanders through the town, it takes an easterly turn for a distance of a hundred metres or so before continuing in a northerly direction; and as one proceeds from the local bazaar in the direction of Manambadi, there is a totally abandoned temple lying to the north (left) of the road. This temple is locally called Kasi Visvanathar temple. In addition, on the right hand side (i.e., east of the town bazaar which is on the State highway), there are two more temples adjoining each other, having a common sacred tank in front of them. They both face east; the one on the southern side is a less damaged, tolerably well-preserved temple known as the Kailasa-nathar temple; worship is still conducted here; the northern temple is totally abandoned, and except the garbhagriha portion, is in ruins. Locally called the Bhairavar temple[1] it is now completely surrounded by encroachments and has to be approached through forcibly occupied cultivated land. All these three temples are of stone and belong to the Chola period.

Besides these, there is a fourth temple which is dedicated to Vishnu and is called the temple of Venkatachalapati Perumal. It lies to the west of the town (and the main bazaar street). The temple is in a state of disuse and decay. There is a sacred tank at the rear of the temple. The mulavar (the main deity) is a standing figure of Vishnu.

We may take up these temples for detailed study.

1. Kasi Visvanathar temple (Kulottungasolisvaram)

The temple faces east. It is in a state of utter.disrepair. It consists; of the garbhagriha, the ardhamandapa and the The garbhagriha is a square of 3.42 metres to a side. The srivimana is an eka-tala structure. The main cella is of stone. But the griva and sikhara are of brick. Both are round in cross section. The bhadrasala is 1.22 metres broad and projects forward; the karna faces are 1.10 metres wide. The niche on the south wall of the garbhagriha which must have housed a Dakshinamurti icon is now empty. The image has fallen from the niche and is now half-buried at the foot of the niche. In the grivakoshta there is a figure of Dakshinamurti in brick and stucco. In the western niche on the garbhagriha wall there should have been a figure of Vishnu; but it is now missing; in the corresponding (western) however, there is a diminutive figure of Vishnu. The garbhagriha devakoshta figure of Brahma in the west is, however, intact; but the griva-koshta Brahma is somewhat displaced from its rightful niche and finds a place to the east of it.

The false antarala between the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa is adorned with a beautiful koshta-panchara. On the walls of the ardhamandapa both the niche figures, namely Ganapati in the south and Durga in the north, are intact and are good specimens of stone sculpture of the period.

The mahamandapa has partially collapsed and the roof is missing. There is a stray panel of Jyeshta devi on the northern wall of the mahamandapa.

The adhishthanam, common to both the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa, consists of the upanam, padmam, kandam, kumudam, varimanam and vari mouldings.

The only inscription found in this temple is engraved on the west and south faces of the adhishthanam over the jagati and padma mouldings and is partially buried in earth.

Of the parivara-devata shrines, only the Chandesvara shrine is in existence, in a bad shape though. It is a brick structure. The stone image inside faces west and has thus been interfered with at some unknown point of time. The temple is surrounded by a thick madil and at its south-western corner is an image of Ganapati. A stray loose headless Bhairava image is found close to it. In the north-western corner is an image of Gajalakshmi. It is buried neck deep in debris. The gopuram in the east is without a superstructure.

The inscription referred to earlier (ARE 99 of 1931-32) is dated in the 38th year of Rajakesarivarman Kulottunga deva (I), whose prasasti begins with pugal punari. It mentions the remission, by the Nagarattars of Viranarayanapuram, of taxes on certain lands purchased by some persons for the temple of Kulottungasolisvaram. The inscription refers to this town of Viranarayanapuram as being located in Milalai nadu in Vadagarai Virudaraja-bhayankara valanadu (Virudaraja-bhayankara is a biruda or title or surname of Kulottunga I). The valanadu (district) was situated north of the Kaveri and hence was called Vadagarai Virudaraja-bhayankara valanadu (Vada— north, karai bank). In the days of Rajendra I, this valanadu (or district) was known as that of Rajendrasimha (a surname of Rajaraja I).

This temple is thus a definitely dated temple and must have come into being before the 38th year of Kulottunga I (a.d. 1108).

The local villagers have shown considerable enthusiasm for the renovation of the temple and I have requested the Director of Archaeology of Tamil Nadu Government to take up the conservation of this important temple on a priority basis.

2. Kailasanathar temple

This temple, and the Bhairavar temple to be taken up next, adjoin each other and have many common and many totally different features. The former consists of a garbhagriha, a false antarala, an ardhamandapa and a second, constituting the original composition; a ma with a manitnandapa in front ot it has been added subsequently; these two separate components have been dovetailed into each other without any attempt to integrate the mouldings of the adhishthantims or upa-pithams of the two. In the antarala of the original composition, we notice the side entrances, that have since been closed, possibly after the mahamandapa was added, and access to the temple has been provided by similar side entrances to the foremost' hall, viz., the manimandapa. We concern ourselves here only with the original composition.

The srivimana is an all-stone structure and consists of a high upapitkam with plain mouldings supporting an ornate thanam consisting of a token upcatam, a padmam, a curvilinear ku-mudarn, a yali frieze and a vari. The garbhagriha walls are segmented by octagonal pilasters and cantons mounted with a kumudam, padmam arid palagai (in two layers, octagonal below and square above) followed by the tenoned corbel and the uttiram. In the prastara portion, there are the usual elements, the bhutagana frieze, the cornice with massive kudus mounted with simha-mukhas and then the yali frieze above. The srivimana is eka-tala with kutas in the comers and salas in the centre on each side of the hara over the garbhagriha.walls. The griva and the sikhara are octagonal, nandis adorning the comers of the platform over which the griva rises. The stupi is missing. The garbhagriha walls are divided into three bays and in the recesses between them are kumbha-pancharas; the niche deities are: Dakshinamurti in the south, Vishnu in the west (rear) and Brahma in the north. Ganapati and Durga are housed in the south and north niches of the ardhamandapa. The flanking bays of this hall are bare and bereft of any icons, unlike the Kasi Visvanathar temple, dealt with earlier. The mouldings of the adhishthanam and the upapitham of the ardhamandapa are the same as, and a continuation of, those of the garbhagriha, establishing the unity of composition.

There is an improvised mandapa in front of the Dakshinamurti icon on the garbhagriha wall; and the gargoyle in the north wall is supported by a conch-blowing bhutagana, as found in the Kasi Visvanathar temple and also in the Bhairavar temple which we shall discuss shortly, indicating coevality.

There is an Amman shrine to the north of the Siva temple. It belongs to another age.

Both the shrines are encompassed in a common compound wall. They are under worship and are in a good state of repair.

There are no inscriptions in this temple; we have to take recourse,to iconic and art and architectural characteristics to deduce the age. Taking all aspects together like the mouldings of the adhishthanam, the prastara features as well as the general iconic features, we could assign this temple to the age of Kulot-tunga I.

3. Bhairavar Temple

As mentioned earlier, this (Siva) temple is an excellent specimen of the Kulottungan style of temple architecture; at the time of our first visit, the temple was overwhelmed by vegetation (as may be seen from the photographs) and encroached on all sides by paddy fields. The Tamilnadu Director of Archaeology has since taken up its conservation, which is in progress as this book goes to the press. Our gratitude to him.

The temple consists of a srivimana, all-stone from pitham to stupi, reminiscent of Gangaikondasolisvaram at Kulambandal (Rajendra I’s temple) with an antarala (nominal), an ardhamandapa, a mukhamandapa and a manimandapa or a second antarala with gateways on its south and north flanks. There is an in ruins further east of the manimandapa, and this is shared between the Amman shrine and the central ‘Bhairavar’ shrine.

The srivimana of the main temple is the garbhagriha rests on an adhishthanam which consists of the upanam, the semicircular kumudam, and vyala-vari mouldings that are simple, high and majestic. The garbhagriha is square. The entablature consists of a bhutagana frieze, the cornice adorned with kudus and a yali frieze on top. Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhavar and Brahma adorn the garbhagriha niches; the pilasters are square, with massive palagais, over which rest the bevelled corbels. Over the garbhagriha walls there runs a hara containing kutas in the corners and bhadrasalas in the middle of each side. The superstructure, consisting of the griva and the sikhara crowned by a stupi, is octagonal add all-stone. On the walls of the ardhamandapa are some beautiful sculp-tures—Ganapati, Nataraja and Kankalamurti on the south face, and Ganga-Jathadharar, Durga and Ardhanari on the north wall (in both cases from east to west). A special feature noticed in this temple, not found elsewhere, is the existence of two niche figures on the antarala walls, Bhikshatanar in the south recess and an eight-armed Urdhva-kesa Bhairavar in the north recess constituting the walls of the antarala.

The presence of a gargoyle in the, below the niche housing Durga on the north wall (this is in addition to the one on the north wall of the garbhagriha) would point to the dual role served by this chamber, i.e., also as a snapana mandapa. In the entrance chamber (second antarala or manimandapa) of the temple which provides access to the shrine through the ardhamandapa and the first antarala, here are two giant man-size dvarapalas (highly damaged and covered by dust and earth), reminiscent of the grandeur of such sculptures of the Middle Chola period.

There are unfortunately no inscriptions in the temple to give us a clue to dating it precisely; therefore, we have to fall back exclusively on architectural and iconographic characteristics and iconic disposition to assess the date.

In this context, it would be worthwhile to examine a few temples which share many characteristics with this temple; Ramanathankoyil near Palayarai, for instance, has a similar temple named in ancient days ‘Panchavan Madevisvaram’, where the ardhamandapa images are Bhikshatanar and Ganapati (in the south) and Gangadharar, Durga and Ardhanari (in the north). There are no sculptures in the recesses between the ardhamandapa and the garbhagriha. A similar disposition of niche sculptures is found in the Isvara temple (Kulottungasolisvaram) at Chintamani-Agaram near Villupuram (dealt with in Sec. 47 of Ch. 2). They are: Bhikshatanar, Ganapati and Urdhvatandava-murti (in the south, east to west) and Alinginamurti, Durga and Bhairavar in the north (both sets on the ardhamandapa walls). A third temple falling in this group is one at Manambadi, a kilometre ar so from Solapuram. We deal with it in the supplement to this book (Sec. 2). This temple is attributable to the days of Rajendra I, as Is the Panchavan Madevisvaram mentioned above.

We find the following ardhamandapa icons here:

  South wall North-wall  
E Bhikshatanar. Ganga-Jathadharar E
to Nataraja Durga to
W Ganapati Ardhanari W

Here again the ardhamandapa-garbhagriha recess does not have any niche or icon, thus resembling Panchavan Madevisvaram. A comparative chart of the iconic disposition in these four temples is given below for convenience of study:

Niche-figures on the ardhamandapa walls:

South: Bhikshatanar, Nataraja, Ganapati;
North: Gangajathadharar, Durga, Ardhanari;

South: Bhikshatanar, ?, Ganapati;
North: Gangajathadharar, Durga, Ardhanari;

Chintamani Agaram:
South: Bhikshatanar, Ganapati, Urdhva-Tandavamurti;
North: Uma-Alinginamurti, Durga, Bhairavar;

Bhairavar temple, Solapuram:
South: Ganapati, Nataraja, Kankalamurti;
North: Gangajathadharar, Durga, Ardhanari;

Besides the special feature of having Kankalamurti on the ardhamandapa wall, the additional ones of recess-niche images of Urdhva-kesa Bhairavar and Bhikshatanar here suggests an evolution in iconic disposition that would bring this temple to the days of Kulottunga I; had there been no recess icons, it would be attributable to the days of Rajendra I or his immediate successors. The latter possibility gets support from the presence of two massive dvarapalas on the eastern entrance to the ardhamandapa from the outer (second) antarala (which as mentioned earlier functions as a manimandapa) providing access from the flanks (cf. the Rajarajesvaram at Tanjavur) to the ardhamandapa and the sanctum. There is yet another feature that one notices on close study, viz., the absence of formal niches with pilasters in the flanks and makara-toram on top in respect of icons other than the main five, viz., Nataraja, Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhavar, Brahma and Durga.

Sharing the features of the style of temples that Sembiyan Mahadevi handed over, to her grand-nephew and which the Middle Cholas further evolved, the Bhairavar temple at Solapuram could, on balance of features, be reasonably attributed to the Kulottungan period.

The temple derives its present name, wrongly, from the Bhairavar image on the wall of the temple; it is in fact a Siva temple with a fine linga in the sanctum. We have lost its original name.

The all-stone Amman temple, not coeval with the central; shrine, has many features in common with the Amman shrine in the campus of the Rajarajesvaram temple at Tanjavur and would appear to be a Pandyan addition.

Footnotes and references:


We have requested the Tamilnadu Archaeological Department to take up the conservation of this temple.

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