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....

Ponnamaravati is an important town in the Pudukkottai district (formerly Pudukkottai state) and is 37 km. south-west of the district headquarters of Pudukkottai. Situated on the traditional northern borders of the Pandya country, this town was politically and strategically important and many a war between the Pandyas and the Cholas was fought in the region in and around this town. For more than three centuries, this region was under Chola rule (say a.d. 910 to a.d. 1216). After Maduraikonda Parakesari (Parantaka I) took Madurai and integrated the Pandyan kingdom with the Chola empire, Ponnamaravati became and remained a part of the empire till the end of the Middle Chola period. When Kulottunga I, the first Later Chola ruler, was engaged in wars in the north-east borders of the empire, Pandyan resurgence began to raise its head and the Pandyas became a thorn on the side of the Cholas, particularly after the days of Kulottunga II. Foreseeing the difficult situation developing, Kulottunga I established military colonies, not unlike what was done by Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. Ponnamaravati was one such colony. During the days of Rajaraja II and his successors, the control over this region vested in a family of vassal chiefs known $6 the Nishadarajans. They ruled over the adjoining areas of ‘Piranmalai or Kodungunram and hence bore the title of Tiruk-kodungunram Udaiyar. These Nishadarajas continued to rule from Ponnamaravati till the 13th century when they were replaced by the Banas or Banadirajas, who ruled over this region as feudatories till the beginning of the 16th century.

Ponnamaravati played an important role during the Pandya revival in the latter half of the 12th century. The Nishadarajas played therefore a vital part in the wars of the two giants and the city suffered often in the process. The Sri Lanka chronicle vamsa describes Ponnamaravati, the provincial capital, as having a royal palace of three storeys, which was destroyed in the first major clash between the Cholas and the Pandyas. This capital city was the scene of the surrender of Kulottunga III before Mara-varman Sundara Pandya I which is described in eloquent terms in prasastis of the latter’s inscriptions.

In a ceremony, already referred to, Sundara Pandya returned the capital city and restored the title of Solapati (the Chola lord) to Kulottunga III

“.. .Pandilanda Solapati ennum namamum tonnaga-rum mila valangi vidaikoduttu vittaruli...”

The same meykkirti describes Ponnamaravati in the following words:

Kolamalar mel ayanum kulimdulai malum aliya malar sevadi vanangi vangu silai yannam tuyiloliya vandeluppum pungamala valvisul ponna-marapatiyil[1]...”

There are two temples in this town, viz., the Cholisvara temple and the Alagiya-perumal (Sundararaja) temple. The former belongs to the Later Chola period while the latter came into being during Later Pandyan rule.

Cholisvara (Rajendrasolisvaram Udaiyar) Temple

There are four Chola records here, two belonging to the time of Kulottunga III and two others (ARE 4 & 9 of 1909) to the time of Tribhuvanachakravartin Rajarajadeva. The rest Of the inscriptions in this temple are Pandyan, the earliest belonging’ to the time of Jatavarman Kulasekhara (a.d. 1190-1217).

The Chola records refer to the building of the srivimam and the consecration of a Siva -linga named Rajendra Solisvaram Udaiya mahadevar by the local Chief Vinam Rajendra Solan Keralan alias Nishadarajan:

“Svasti Sri Tribhuvanachakravartigal Sri Rajarajadevarkku yandu ettavadu Rajaraja Pandi nattu Rajendrasola valanattu Puramalai nattu Po... Nishadarajanar Sivalinga-pratish-taikkum vimanap-pratishtaikkum...”

Ponnamaravati is said to be located in Puramalai nadu, in Rajendrasola valanadu, a district of Rajaraja Pandi nadn, by which name the entire Pandi mandalam (the traditional region of the Pandyan kingdom) was known after Rajaraja I’s reconquest of that kingdom.

In the 12th year of Tribhuvanachakravartin Kulottunga deva (presumably III), there is a grant jointly made by the Nishadarajan and Udaiyar Tiruppuvanam Udaiyar Tachchacharyan Udaiyar alias Adi Acharyan [Inscriptions of the Pudukkottah State, 147). Evidently the latter was the temple architect.

From an undated inscription (ARE 13 of 1909), we find that the steps and the verandah around the shrine (tirunadai-maligai) were built by one Nilaimai Alagiyan; from an 18th year record (a.d. 1196) of Tribhuvana-chakravartin Kulottunga Chola deva (III) (ARE 5 of 1909), we find that a gift of land was made by one Tiruk-kodungunram udaiyan Alagiya Devan alias Nishadarajan in favour of a matha called Nilamai Alagiya tiru-madam, evidently a matha built within the temple by, or on behalf of, Nilaimai Alagiyan. Hence we can presume that this matha and also the verandah and the steps were constructed in the days of Rajaraja II.

The Editor of the Pudukkottai State Gazetteer has contended that the temple of Cholisvaram (its modern name) would appear to have been built by Rajaraja II in memory of his great-grandfather Kulottunga I (who was earlier known as Rajendra Chola II). This seems rather far-fetched, though it is not impossible, because, in spite of the apparent gap of generations, Rajaraja II ascended the throne within 26 years of the death of Kulottunga I. It is however reasonable to conclude that the temple was built in the name of the local chief Nishadarajan, who, as we saw, bore the name of Rajendra Solakeralan.

As to when the Amman shrine inside this temple was consecrated we have no direct evidence: but it must.have come into existence certainly within two or three decades of the main shrine, as we find that one Tirukkodungunram udaiyan Keralan alias Nishadarajan (perhaps the successor of Rajendra Solakeralan) makes certain presents to the shrine of Tirukkamakkottam-udaiya-Aludaiya-nachchiyarin the temple of Rajendrasolisvaram Udaiyar, in the 23rd year of Jatavarman Tribhuvanachakravartin Kula-sekharadeva (a.d. 1213; ARE 10 of 1909), which would show that this border area was wrested from Chola control in the last days of Kulottunga III (a.d. 1178-1218).

The garbhagriha, the ardhamandapa and the mahamandapa form a single architectural unit. The sanctum rises over a moulded adhishthanam, having an octagonal kumudam. The pilasters are square with thick palagais and bevelled corbels. The cornice is thin, and the kudus are plain. The niches on the projecting posts of the three sides have square pilasters with arched tops, while those in the recesses are surmounted by pancharams. The southern niche contains a sculpture of Jnana Dakshinamurti and the northern one of Brahma, while the western is empty. Pieces of the original vyalavari, which were evidently removed when the brick vimanam was renovated, have now been built into the prakara wall. At the junction of the ardhamandapa with the sanctum, and in the middle along its length, there are empty niches, each of which is surmounted by an arch; on either side of the central niche are two shallow niches surmounted by pancharams. Between the ardhamandapa and mahamandapa there is a porch, with doorways on the south and north which are now closed. There is a niche surmounted by pancharams on either side of the entrance to the sanctum. The pillars inside the mahamandapa are cylindrical and carry tenoned corbels. To the north of the mahamandapa is the Amman shrine which is a crude imitation of the main shrine. Among the bronzes in this temple is a Somaskanda group belonging to the Later Chola period. (Pis. 257-60).

Vishnu Temple

The Vishnu temple to the west of the village must have come into existence in the days of Maravarman Sundara Pandya I, two of whose dated inscriptions are found in the temple. There are also six inscriptions found on it belonging to Saka years 1367 to 1375 (a.d. 1445-53), which refer to the temple of Alagiyaperumal Vinnagara Emperuman at Ponnamarapadi situated to the west of the village. There is a reference to a servant of the temple, who sang the hymns of Sadagopan (i.e., Nammalvar). This is a much later foundation, of the period of Maravarman Sundara Pandya of the Later Pandyas.

Footnotes and references:


See p. 76, Kopperunjingan (Tamil), by S.R. Balasubrahmanyam; alio see Chapter 11 (on Kulottunga III) of the present work.

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