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....

Kumbakonam is the headquarters of a taluk of the same name in the district of Tanjavur and is on the main line of the Southern Railway. It is a celebrated city of temples, both Siva and Vishnu. This city has a very long and eventful history. It was known in the past as Tiruk-kudamukku or Tiruk-kudandai.

According to local legends there was a deluge after the Dvapara yuga: the Almighty placed in charge of Brahma a pot of nectar (amrita) and the seeds of creation, and left it adrift in the deluge. The drifting sacred pot finally got stranded at this place. Siva, as Kiratamurti, appeared on the scene; and with his arrow pierced the pot and spilt the nectar, which flowed all over. The greater part of it flowed into a tank, now called the Mahamakha tank, where even today a great bathing festival is celebrated once in twelve years. It is believed that all the river goddesses dwell in this tank. Govinda Dikshitar has built on its banks several mandapas few die reception of deities on various festival days. The legend goes that the remnants of the amrita were mixed with sand and the Lord of Adi-Kumbhesvara was created out of it. The deity of the Adi-Kumbhesvara temple is sung by all the three early Nayanmars.

On the north bank of this tank is the Kasi Visvanathar temple (called later on the Karohana temple). This temple is celebrated by Sambandar in a hymn. One of the important temples of Kumbakonam is the Nagesvara temple. It is an Early Chola temple and a gem of art. We have dealt with it in detail in our Early Chola Art, Part I (pp. 133-5).

Sarangapani temple

Besides, there are two Vishnu temples in this city, the Rama-swami temple and the Sarangapani temple. The former which is full of rich and elaborate sculptures is of more recent origin, having been erected in the seventeenth century a.d. The earlier and more celebrated temple is that of Sarangapani. Its importance in South India is next only to that of the Srirangam temple. It is believed that the Vaidika vimana of the Sarangapani temple is the offshoot of the Srirangam Pranava vimana and a replica of the vimana presented to Vibhishana of Lanka by the Ikshvakus of Ayodhya at the time of Rama’s coronation.

The vaidika vimana is conceived of as a chariot with wheels drawn by horses and elephants, on a grander scale than that of the Melakkadambur temple built in the period of Kulottunga I (early 12th century a.d.). As in Vaikuntham, the srivimana has two gateways, the uttarayana vasal (the northern gate, opened on the Makara Sankranti day) and the dakshinayana vasal (opened on the 18th of the month of Adi in the Tamil calendar).

This temple has had a long past, from the early centuries of the Christian era, as Bhutattalvar and Peyalvar (2nd century a.d.) have sung hymns on the Lord of this temple ('aiyarum vaip~ panpasaich-chemdu kudamukkil koyilakkondu’—Bhutattalvar; Pada-mukkinayiravaip-pambanai mel semdaikudamukkil koyilakkondu’—Peyalvar). Periyalvar and Andal have sung hymns on the Lord of Kudandai; also Tirumangai alvar (eighth century a.d.). Tirumalisai alvar seems to have spent his last years and attained salvation here. Nammalvar also is associated with this temple. (see Nathamuni)

Though the temple existed in the Pallava and Chola periods, the present structure—a stone temple, in the shape of a chariot—seems to be attributable to the period of the Later Cholas, most likely the reign of Vikrama Chola (modelled after the Melakkadam-bur temple of Kulottunga I’s time). The gateway portion of the gopuram of this temple is also attributable to the time of the Later Cholas, but the super-structure of eleven nilais (storeys), about 46 metres high, may belong to the Vijayanagara period. (It may also be a later renovation).

The main deity of the central shrine (mulavar) is Pallikondar (Vishnu reclining on the snake Adisesha). The processional deity (Utsava murti) is Sarngapani. His Consort is Komalavalli. There is a legend associated with these two deities.

Bhrigu muni once entered the chamber of Lord Vishnu and Mahalakshmi; he was not recognised; and the muni kicked the Lord on His chest and departed. Lakshmi got vexed that Her Lord did not punish the offender. So in a fit of anger She left Her Lord and went to the Earth and settled on the banks of the lotus tank at Kudamukku and did penance to win back the Lord.

In the next aeon, Bhrigu was reborn as Hema Rishi. He repented for his past offence to Vishnu and did severe penance. The Lord was pleased with his devotion and appeared before him and asked him what his desire was. Hema Rishi prayed that Lakshmi be born as his daughter and he be given the privilege of offering her to the Lord as his spouse. The prayer was granted. One day when the muni went to the lotus tank, he found a girl on a lotus in the pond. The muni took her home and brought her up as his own daughter. When the auspicious time came, Komalavalli, the girl, was offered in marriage to Lord Sarngapani.

Thus Sarngapani and Komalavalli constitute the processional deities of the temple. Samgapani (as the name indicates, Sarnga being Vishnu’s bow) bears a bow in his hand.

The Consort’s shrine, dedicated to Komalavalli (tayar sannidhi), is to the right of the Dakshinayana gateway of the temple.

An interesting feature of this temple is that there are labelled sculptures depicting the karanas of Bharata’s Natya Sastra, found on the first tier of the gopuram—in contrast to the arrangement in the generality of other temples containing the karana sculptures, where they are found on the wall surface of the entrance portion itself, or on the kantham of the tiru (as in the case of the Tiruk-kamak-kottam Udaiya Nachchiyar temple and also the thousand-pillared hall, both at Chidambaram.) (Pls. 193-202).


Nathamuni is said to have heard the recitation of one of the hymns of the Nalayira Prabandam—the four thousand hymns of Nammalvar (Sadagopan)—and was eager to unearth the rest of the hymns, And credit is given to Nathamuni for the recovery of the Vaishnavite Prabandam. What Nambi Andar Nambi did for the recovery of the Devaram hymns of the Saivite Nayanmars, Nathamuni is said to have done for the Vaishnavite hymns. Nathamuni spent his last years in the Chola capital of Gangaikondasolapuram and died there. We saw in our Middle Chola Temples (p. 253) that his grandson Alavandar built a temple for Vishnu at the capital as a memorial temple to honour the great acharya.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: