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....

This is one of the four gigantic all-stone-vimana temples built by the Imperial Cholas, the others being the Rajarajesvaram at Tanjavur built by Rajaraja I, Gangaikondasolisvaram at Gangai-kondacholapuram, built by his son, Rajendra I, and Tribhuvana-isvaram built at Tribhuvanam by a Later Choia ruler, Kulot-tunga III. In grandeur and sheer beauty of sculpturing, each vies with the others and each is great in its own way and unique. The tradition of building big cathedral-like temples, of the Middle Choia period, was continued by the Later Cholas.

Airavatesvara temple (Rajarajesvaram at Rajarajapuram)

The temple-complex, enclosed within a massive compound wall measuring 107.50 metres east-west and 69.40 metres north-south, faces the east, the dhvajastambha and the nandi-mandapa both being outside this enclosure.

The main temple consists of the the garbhagriha, the ardkamandapa, the mukka- (or maha-) mandapa, and the hall (tiru-mandapam) of Rajagambhira (i.e., Rajaraja II), which is the This entire structure built all at the same time rises from a high plinth (upapitka) and covers an area approximately 23 metres by 63 metres. The garbhagriha is an unencumbered cell of 12 metres square externally, having thick massive walls on which the vitnana tower rises gracefully. There is no circum-ambulatory passage immediately round the garbhagriha. The ardhamandapa linking the garbhagriha to the mukhamandapa is in two parts. The first chamber, which is close to the sanctum is a closed one with an entrance from the eastern side only; it is supported by four pillars and has almost all the features of an antarala. The other half of the ardhamandapa is really a continuation of the mukhamandapa and has two side entrances, resting on four pillars. The entire ardhamandapa measures 12 metres by 7 metres. On the outer face of the wall separating the two elements of the ardhamandapa are two massive and impressive dvarapalas flanking the entrance. The next constituent element in the building is the maha-mandapa, measuring 23.60 metres by 17.43 metres externally. It is supported by six rows (north-south) of eight pillars each and is enclosed b.y walls on the south, east and north; the eastern wall, which is thicker than the other two, has an entrance in the middle connecting this mandapa with the bigger one, viz. the agramandapa (also called the

The next constituent in this structure is the, called the Rajagambhiran-tiru-mandapam after the builder. It deserves special attention on account of the fact that it is conceived as a chariot, with artistically and realistically carved out wheels with hubs and spokes, and drawn by caparisoned and straining horses, reminiscent of the Melakkadambur Amritaghatesvara temple built in or before the 41st year of Kulottunga I (a.d. 1111), the Nritta-Sabha (the chariot-mandapa)housing the Urdhva Tandava Nataraja at Chidambaram, which can be presumed to be contemporaneous with the Melakkadambur temple, as mentioned earlier and the Vikramasolisvara temple at Tukkachchi. Darasuram thus anticipates the giant-wheeled temple of Konarak in Orissa (a.d. 1235-53) by more than a hundred years and Melakkadambur in turn anticipates Darasuram by half a century. This mandapa, which measures 23.60 metres by 21.20 metres externally is supported by nine north-south rows of ten pillars each, the perimeter pillars being panelled up to make the hall a closed one excepting for the porch on the southern side and a gap in the eastern side to permit a direct view of the sanctum from the main dvara. The porch in the south is a composite-part of the agramandapa, and measures 7 metres by 7 metres. It is reached by a set of ornately carved flights of steps from the east and the west. Facing this mandapa on the eastern side is the, outside the main podium, and is approached by an ornately carved balu-straded flight of steps, which produce musical notes of varying frequencies. These steps are, therefore, known as the ‘singing steps’.

The main temple rests on a high podium and the faces of the upapitham (sub-basement) carry named panels depicting scenes from the lives of the Saiva saints (Nayanmar) as given in the Tirut-tondattogai of Sundarar. Rajaraja II seems to have tried to depict in stone what his father’s courtpoet Sekkizhar so admirably succeeded in depicting in verse in the Puranam or Periya Puranam (see Appendix 1 to this section).

The sri-vimana has a total height of 83 feet (25.2 m.), the superstructure over the garbhagriha being of height 63.5 feet (19.35 m.) and in five talas, crowned by a circular griva and a sikhara. The stupi (finial) is damaged, only the central stem being in position. The first two talas and the superstructure over the ardhamandapa are adorned with pancharas in front. The steep, graceful profile of the vimana makes it a close parallel to the Rajarajesvaram temple at Tanjavur, with this difference that in the last tala below the griva, there are kamakutas here instead of the nandis at Tanjavur.

The pillars of the Rajagambhira hall rise from the heads of sitting lions and are crowned and decorated by broad palagais and podigais. The peripheral pillars support beams which in turn support the parapet wall: this wall is relieved by well-spaced sculptures of nandis located all round.

There is only one prakara, which is encompassed by the outer compound wall and the adjoining tiruch-churru-maligai—a colonnaded raised platform running the full length of the compound wall (part of which has collapsed) and having a width of 5.32 metres in the north and south and 5.18 and 5.46 metres on the west and east respectively. Along the western half of the southern compound wall are sculptures of 108 hymnists who were perhaps engaged in reciting the devaram.

A uniqufe feature of the eastern gopuram is the series of labelled sculptures which must have once adorned all four faces of its first tier and of which only the labels now remain mostly. The labels on the various faces are:

North: 1. Adi Chandesvara, 2. Gangadevi, 3. Tumburu Nara-dar, 4. Vaisravana, 5. Chandra, 6. Maha Sasta, 7. Nagaraja, and 8. Vayu.

West: 1. Devi, 2. Rudrani, 3. Vaishnavj, 4. Brahmi, 5. Varunan, 6. Nandidevar, 7. Periyadevar, 8. Santyatita Sakti, 9. Santa devi, 10. Vidya Sakti, 11. Pratishta Sakti, and 12. Nivarti Sakti.

South: 1. Daksha Prajapati, 2. Yamuna devi, 3. Rati and 4. Kamadevan

East: 1. Agni devar, 2. Agastya devar, 3. Sri devi, 4. Durga devi, 5. Devendran, 6. Padma Nidhi, 7. Surya devar, 8. Subrah-manya devar, 9. Kshetrapalar, 10. Sarasvati, II. Visvakarma, and 12. Isana devar.

Some sculptures listed here, but not to be found in the west gopuram of the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram (which also carries labelled sculptures), are: Maha Sasta, Padma Nidhi, Daksha Prajapati, Vaishnavi, Rudrani and Brahmi of the Saptamatrika group, and some Kalasakti cult figures, namely, Santyatita Sakti, Santa devi, Pratishta Sakti and Nivarti Sakti. The inclusion here of these Sakti images is particularly noteworthy.

It is indeed a pity that almost none of the sculptures is extant. They were perhaps casualties of the wars between the Pandyas and the Cholas marked by a victory celebration of Maravarman Sundara Pandya I in a.d. 1228 at Ayirattali near Darasuram or of later invasions or even of vandalism.

A small cella has been improvised in the northern portion of the agramandapd to serve as a shrine for the Amman called Deiva-nayaki. It is supposed to be a later addition, made in the days of Kulottunga III, whose exact contribution to the temple complex is not known. But we cannot rule out the possibility that the cella is of even date with the main shrine, since separate Amman shrines had been ushered into vogue as early as in the days of Kulottunga I, It has been held that this temple at Darasuram is distinctive in style and bears an unequivocal imprint of Chalukyan influence.

In the Report of the Archaeological Survey, it is said:

“The statuary on the walls include some unique syncretisation of divinities, like an eight-handed, three-faced Ardhanarisva-rar, Hari-pitamaha, etc., consistent with the impact of Deccani concepts on the local cults... some of the niche sculptures of the temple evince an influence of the art idiom, of the Later Chalukyas of Kalyani—a fact also attested to by the inscribed dvarapala figure, which was brought to this temple by the royal builder from Kalyani as a war-trophy.”

Goetz in his book India dwells at length on South Indian Art. After dealing with the main temples built by the Imperial Cholas, he turns to Darasuram and says as follows:

“To a certain extent, Darasuram should be considered an exception to the rule (regarding Chola art). After the grand victory that Rajadhiraja I, the Chola ruler, had won over Ahavamalla Somesvara I of the Western Chalukyas, the Crown Prince Vijayarajendran brought home unmeasurable booty and with those sculptures built this temple and understandably the temple has taken on Western Chalukyan features; the Chola king enshrined the dvarapala sculptures plundered from Kalyani and reared this temple.”

All these views are unsound. For one, this temple is solidly Chola in all its features; it was not any ‘Crown-Prince Vijaya Rajendra’ who built this temple at Darasuram; this temple is a foundation of a much later date and belongs to the days of Rajaraja II, who was a great-grand-nephew of Rajadhiraja I, the son of Rajendra I, who took Kalyanapuram and brought this Dvarapala as a trophy to his capital. Incidentally, ‘Vijayarajendra’ was none other than Rajadhiraja I, who after his victory over the Western Chalukyas and the sack of Kalyani called himself (as averred by inscriptions) Vijaya Rajendra. This was almost exactly a hundred years before the erection of the Rajarajesvaram at Rajarajapuri (i.e., later Darasuram). Presumably the trophy-sculpture found a respected place in the subsidiary capital of Ayirattali even in the days of Rajadhiraja I (a.d. 1018-1054).

The Darasuram temple is, like the grand campuses at Tanja-vur and Gangaikonda-solapuram, the concept of a single mind, the product of one master-plan, and luckily for us, has acquired none of the bizarre later accretions under Pandya, Vijayanagara or Nayak rulers. There is nothing Chalukyan about it; if it does show any marked change from its compeers, it is towards greater stylisation and surface elaboration; the stark grandeur of height, mass and volume is tempered by detailed ornamentation and stylisation. It is in full keeping with Chola traditions, and its sculptures are exquisite. Some of the sculptures, like the complete Bhikshatana group and incidentally the war-trophy sculpture of a dvarapala, have been shifted to the Thanjavur Art Gallery where they now stand in mute grandeur, though torn out of context.

Percy Brown in his Indian Architecture (Vol. 1) indulges in a similar speculation of Pandyan impact on this temple, selectively. He, following many early writers to whom the treasure-house of inscriptional material was either not available, or who, if it was available, did not make use of it, propounded (or, more appropriately, repeated following others, the postulate of) a Pandyan phase of Art after a.d. 1100 and gave Darasuram a place in the Pandyan phase sometime in the early years of the fourteenth century. This view too is incorrect.

This temple called Rajarajesvaram was built between a.d. 1146 and 1173, perhaps in the latter half of his reign, by Rajaraja II, at a time when the Chola Empire was at the height of its glory, peace prevailed all over the empire and the rumblings of its fall were still five decades away. This was a continuation of the golden age of the Cholas begun by Rajaraja I. (For inscriptional material from this temple see Appendix 2 at the end of the section.)

The two temples of Rajarajesvaram at Tanjavur completed towards the end of Rajaraja I's reign (a.d. 1014) and of Gangai-konda-solisvaram at Gangaikonda-sola-puram built around a.d. 1020 to a.d. 1040 were simple in design and grand in stature. A two-tiered garbhagriha with a srivimana of breathtaking slope upwards to the crowning piece has a small ardhamandapa integrated into the srivimpm structure; in fact, with all the other appendages removed, the two constitute a perfect structural design; the mukkamandapa in both Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram does mot contribute either to the balancing of the structural complex, as the bhog-mandir does in the case of the Kalinga temples whether at Puri (Jagannath) or at Bhubaneswar (Lingaraj) or at Konarak (the Surya Deul), or add to the sculptural wealth that is found in the three outer faces of the garbhagriha. They would appear to be there to satisfy the agama requirements and the practical needs of managing the temple and state affairs conducted in the royal temple; the Melakkadambur temple of a century later is designed purely as a chariot and the great stride that the Darasuram temple makes over its illustrious predecessors is to integrate the two plans into a happy blend by adding the chariot-characteristic only to the agramandapa, which gives the much-needed balance to the structures of both the Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram temples, which is achieved by an increase in the width of the temple and pulling the front out over a greater distance to give the srivimana a depth of view commensurate with its height.

Narasimha I of the Eastern Gangas (a.d. 1238-1269) was to add a further element of stability to the structural concept of a chariot-temple in his version built at Konarak by putting the garbhagraha, the ardhamandapa (an incipient one) and the mukha-mandapa (bhog mandapa) all on wheels, leaving the Nat-mandir out of the complex, to avoid structural unwieldiness.

Ottakkuttan, the court-poet of three successive Chola rulers, Vikrama Chola, Kulottunga II and Rajaraja II, has sung an ula on each of his patrons; besides, he has also sung a heroic poem called Takkayagapparani. This work depicts the story of the destruction of Daksha and his associates (who performed an unorthodox Yaga) for which purpose Siva created Virabhadra. While, in a parani, the victor’s story is sung, as in Jayangondar’s Kalingat-tupparani, there seems to be, as R. Nagaswamy has pointed out, a slight variation in the theme here. Itseemsasif the poet has conceived the Lord of this temple of Rajarajesvaram built by Rajaraja II as Himself the hero of this poem. There is a suggestion in this poem that Daksha slighted the Lord Siva of this temple and began his unholy sacrifice.

The following lines are quoted to provf this contention:

‘Ellai Neyakam Rajarajapuresar
Isar Idark-kenum
Tollai Nan-marai nirkka
Kelvi velvi todangiye

The Lord is portrayed to have taken his Devi round the battlefield and described this heroic deed and the final victory. This is a bold departure from the traditional approach of such works and deserves consideration. One of the magnificent sculptures for which Rajaraja II’s age is deservedly famous is the spirited stone-sculpture of Virabhadra in truly ferocious form.

Moreover, the devils (Peygal) do not sing the glory of Siva or of Kali but of the Lord consecrated in this temple as the following lines illustrate:

Oru marungudaiya ulaganayakiyodu
Orrai vellaividai oordi met
Iru marungummarai tola elundaruliya

The poet no doubt sings the glory of the king but it is conceived as his reflected glory derived from that of the Lord of this temple built and consecrated by Rajaraja II at Rajarajapuram (Rajarajapuri), modern Darasuram. This poem of Ottakkuttan should be considered a glorious description of the construction and consecration of this temple by a contemporary eye witness, namely the gifted court poet patronised by the Chola ruler.

Another important stone sculpture in front of the mandapa of this temple is one of Ardhanari with three heads and eight hands (is this a Sakti cult image?). There is also a sculpture of Annapurna Devi.

West of the Rajagambhira m, there is a sculpture of Sarabhamurti carved on the wall of the mandapa, with a shrine enclosing it. This is the second instance of the appearance of this icon in a Chola temple. At Tribhuvanam, there is a separate shrine for Sarabhamurti with a metal image as well. The first instance of occurrence of Sarabhamurti was noticed in the Vikramasolisva-ram temple at Tukkachchi. The Sarabha cult represents a temporary phase of Saivism’s dominance over Vaishnavism. Vishnu’s incarnation as Narasimha resulted in the infliction of violence and ferocity on the devas and men, who appealed to Siva for help. Siva took the form of Sarabhamurti, subdued Vishnu's ferocity and released Him to go back to Vaikuntham and thus relieved the world’s distress.

Rajaraja I had made provision for the singing of the Devaram hymns in his temple at Tanjavur by appointing fortyeight Tirup-padigam- Vinnappam-seyvar. At Darasuram, a similar body comprised one hundred and eight. Their original and diksha (consecration) names are engraved along with their images in the enclosed prakara wall.

The images of Rajaraja II and his queen (as traditionally believed) found in the north pra of the temple are now in the Tanjavur Art Gallery; also those of the Rishi-patnis and the Kalyani dvarapala.

The age of Rajaraja II marks the ascendancy of Saivism, the patronage of architecture and sculpture and the encouragement of religious and secular literature. (Pis. 225-56).


C. Sivaramamurti writes thus about the Darasuram temple (pp. 266-267) in his ‘The Art of’:

‘The most beautiful Chola monument of this period, a sculptor’s dream re-lived in stone, is the temple at Darasuram, which is unequalled in its technical perfection and exuberant ornamentation. The wheel-and-horse motif here transforms the mandapa into a chariot. This Chola device was appreciated and adopted by other craftsmen in the Eastern Chalukya and Kalinga territories, most notably the sculptor of the famous temple at Konark.’

The model for this chariot-temple is the ratha vimana at Melaik-kadambur near Gangaikonda cholapuram, built in the 41st year of Kulottunga I-also the Nritta mandapa in the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. It may be added that Narasimha, the builder of the Konark temple, was a distant descendant of Kulottunga I. A chariot-shaped mandapa is also found close to the Vittala temple at Hampi, Vijayanagar (16th century A.D.).

Sivaramamurti has high praise for the excellent quality of the Darasuram sculptures.

Among them, he mentions (p. 505),

‘there are small reliefs on the pillars illustrating mythological episodes such as the attack of Manmatha on Siva, the penance of Parvati, the birth of Kumara, and Siva’s marriage’.

The front of the base of the mandapa’s extension is decorated with panels showing Tripurantaka, Kamantaka, Kaumari, Virabhadra, Agni, Indra, Brahma, Vishnu and Vayu reverently attending Siva’.

Among the noteworthy sculptures in the main hall may be mentioned a fine Ardhanarisvara with eight arms and three faces (R. Nagaswamy identifies the figure as Tantri Mahamaya), a four-armed Nagaraja, Agastya, dancing Martanda Bhairava, Sarabhamurti, Narasimha, Ganesa and Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava, Bhuvanesvari, Tripurantaka, Gajantaka, six-armed Bhairava, and Mahesamurti (pp. 505-506).

Tantri Mahamaya

The existence of an ancient temple for a Tantri image called of about the 12th century (similar to the Kamalamukhi image of the 7th century in the site-museum at Badami) proves the prevalence of Tantric cults in the region of Darasuram during the period of Rajaraja II) (vide R. Nagaswamy’s article on pp. 134-143 of South Indian Studies published by the Society for Archaeological, Historical and Epigraphical Studies, Madras).