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....

In the earlier chapters, we traced the breath-taking expansion that many temples like those at Srirangam and Kanchipuram underwent, besides the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. The latter held the Cholas under a spell, with the result that successive Later Chola rulers devoted more and more attention and State resources to the expansion and embellishment of this temple of their kula-nayakam or Ishta devata. We shall briefly survey the expansion of this temple during the reign of Kulottunga II.

The Kulottunga-solan-ula sung by his court poet Ottakkuttan attributes to him the gilding of the Perambalam, the creation of seven-storeyed gopurams and of walls of enclosure provided with inner covered pavilions, the building of the shrine of the Goddess of Tiruk-kamak-kottam Udaiya Periya Nachchiyar and the laying of the four main streets. The Rajarajasolan sung by the same poet on Rajaraja II, the son and successor of Kulottunga II, mentions additions to the Chirrambalam, Perambalam, of cloistered halls with towers, streets, gateways and the shrine of the Goddess (Sivakami) and its front enclosure. The, Takkayagapparani, a poem by the same poet, credits Anapaya with the installation of a sri-pitham resembling Mount Meru.

From these references, we can assume that Kulottunga II carried out the gilding of the Per and the construction of a portion of the third wall of enclosure which was probably completed during the time of Kulottunga III and named the Rajakkal-tambiran Tirumaligai after one of his surnames. The building of at least the stone gateway portion of the eastern and northern gopurams, and the completion of the shrine of the Goddess Sivakami and its front enclosure can be attributed to him.

Nataraja temple

The greatest achievement of his reign from the point of view of literature and art was the composition of the Periyapuranam and its exposition in the Thousand Pillared Mandapa by its author Sekkilar, the king’s scholar-statesman. I am not able to agree with the view of T.V. Sadasiva Pandarathar who ascribes its composition to the period of Kulottunga III and with his identification of Edirambalam with Perambalam. In my view Edirambalam is to be identified with the Mulasthanam shrine north of the Nataraja shrine and Perambalam is the Deva sabha, east of the Nataraja shrine.

It is said that Anapaya had Jaina leanings and his minister weaned him away from Jainism by singing the glory of Saivism. After listening to the stories of Saivite Saints as described by Sundaramurti Nayanar and Nambi Andar Nambi, Anapaya wanted Sekkilar to compose a full and detailed account of the lives of the Tamil Nayanmars. A large sum of money was provided and Sekkilar was sent on this sacred errand to Chidambaram. He went there and prayed to Lord Nataraja for divine grace. The Lord blessed and hinted to him to begin his work with the word Ulakelam. Thus the Tiruttondar-puranam consisting of 4263 stanzas on the lives of the Saiva Saints of Tamil land came to be composed. The king came to Chidambaram and again there was heard a divine voice that the work should be expounded by the author himself in the Thousand-Pillared Hall. The exposition took a year to complete. The king conducted a festival. The Puranam was wrapped in silk and placed in a gold-box. The ‘Tillai Three Thousand* paid great adoration to it and declared it as the fifth veda. Sekkilar was honoured with the title of Pondar-Seer-Paramwar—one who glorifies the Lord’s devotees. This greatly enhanced the already growing glory of Chidambaram. Kulottunga is said to have celebrated his coronation here—most probably in the Thousand-Pillared Hall.

In later times this Hall or Sabha came to be called Raja Sabha. An inscription from Tirumanikkuli states:

“Kulottunga who crowned himself so as to shed lustre on Tillaina-gar (Tillainagar Sirappudaitaga-Tirumudi Sri Kulottungasola devar devar)”.

No wonder that Tillai became ‘Kailasa on earth’. A Sanskrit inscription at Tiruvarur calls him “a bee-at the lotus-feet of Natesa of the golden hall at Vyaghra-agrahara” (Chidambaram).

The Thousand Pillared Mandapa

Fergusson assigned the age of the Thousand Pillared mandapa to the sixteenth century a.d. The Archaeological Department (H. Krishna Sastri) held that the hundred- and thousand-pillared mandapas were the work of Vijayanagara rulers, especially Krishna-deva raya.

We shall consider the age of the Thousand Pillared Mandapa at Chidambaram. Kulottunga I, his son Vikrama Chola and their soldier-statesman-philanthropist, Naralokaviran, enlarged the Nataraja temple-complex six-fold. The two inner walls of enclosure with at least the west gopuram gateway in the third wall of enclosure, the Hundred Pillared mandapa and the main sanctum of the Amman shrine were built during their period. The Amman shrine should have been completed during the time of Kulottunga II. Kulottunga III claims the construction of a mukha-mandapa and a The Later Pallava Kopperunjingan also made a contribution to the gopurams— we do not know the exact nature of his additions, apart from the south gopuram.

Kulottunga II is credited with the help rendered to Sekkilar for composing and expounding his Periyapuranam in this Thousand-Pillared Hall. This great classic recorded its imprimatur in this hall. It may be stated that this hall lies east of the Sivaganga tank for which stone steps were provided by Naralokaviran. It is in the third prakara of the enlarged Nataraja temple enclosed by the third wall of enclosure called Rajakkal Tambiran Tirumaligai after Kulottunga Ill’s surname and adorned in the centre on all four sides by seven-storeyed gopurams. The western gopuram had been completed and the foundation laid for the eastern and the northern gopuram by the time of Vikrama Chola; so the Thousand Pillared Hall must have received the attention of the Chola kings before Kulottunga Ill’s time. The southern gopuram was built by the Pallava Kopperunjingan in the middle of the thirteenth century a.d.

Umapati Sivachariyar (a.d. 1244-1320), one of the gurus of the Saiva Siddhanta school, has written a poem on the life of Sekkilar. He mentions the existence of the Thousand Pillared mandapa (Aiyiru-nuru-kal-mani-mandapam) where the Periyapuranam was expounded.

Anapaya’s full attention and the huge material resources of a rich and prosperous empire were devoted to embellishing and enriching the noblest of temples of the Tamil land from the point of view of the Saivites. And so it is not unlikely—though we would wish for more positive evidence—that the Thousand Pillared mandapa was completed, or at least nearly, during the reign of Kulottunga II. Chidambaram was his Bhuloka Kailasam (Heaven on Earth). It may be added that the dance-pose sculptures on the basement of the Amman (Sivakami) temple and the Thousand Pillared mandapa, have dose affinity.[1]

Footnotes and references:


For a full account of the growth and expansion of the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram under the Later Cholas, see The City of the Comic Dance, by B. Natarajan, pp. 22-42.

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