Middle Chola Temples

by S. R. Balasubrahmanyam | 1975 | 141,178 words

This volume of Chola Temples covers Rajaraja I to Kulottunga I in the timeframe A.D. 985-1070. 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....

Mahamandapa and Mukhamandapa

Further ahead of the ardhamandapa is the mahamandapa with rows of six pillars both east to west and north to south. Bronzes of Vitankar and the king Rajaraja I (both later substitutions) are housed in this hall. Two giant dvarapalas guard the entrance to this hall. The mukhamandapa is in front of the mahamandapa and is approached by a sweeping flight of broad steps leading up to the hall.


In all there are 18 dvarapalas in the temple, all massive and grandly conceived in the Rajaraja style. Two are on the front face of the first tier of the Rajarajan two flank the entrance

to the mukhamandapa, two adorn the entrance to the ardhamandapa, two are there, one on either side of each of the two entrances to the ardhamandapa from the flanks; two are there on either side of the entrance from the ardhamandapa to the garbhagriha and two on either side of each of the openings in the south, west and north walls of the garbhagriha.

Nandi Mandapa

In the same axis as the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa is the Nandi mandapa housing an enormous monolithic sculpture of Nandi, worthy of the magnitude and grandeur of the temple and the founder’s conception of it. It is 3.65 ms high, 5.94 ms long and 2.59 ms broad and is estimated to weigh 25 tons.

Krishnan Raman Tiruch-churru-maligai

Reverting to the wall of enclosure surrounding this shrine and its adjuncts, we learn from the inscriptions that at the behest of the Lord Sri Rajaraja deva, his able minister and general, by name Narakkan Krishnan Raman alias Mummadisola Brah-mamarayan built this wall of enclosure (SII, II, 31, 33 and 45).

For convenience of reference, we may call it the Krishnan Raman wall. It may be noted that the same general finds mention twice in the Larger Leyden Grant. He was also the Chief Secretary (Olai-Nayakan) during the days of Rajaraja I and was called Mummadisola Brahmamarayan after a surname of the king. He evidently outlived Rajaraja I and served under his son and successor Rajendra I, and during the latter’s days he went by the name of Rajendrasola Brahmamarayan, in keeping with the tradition in vogue then of adopting the ruler’s name.

In fact, the wall is part of a multi-pillared raised platform running all along the four sides of the temple; it rises to a height of nearly 6.10 ms from the prakara floor level and is decorated with stone Nandis mounted on the top of the wall at intervals; this tiruch-churru-maligai has a large number of cellas interspersing the open pillared verandah, most of them housing Lingas the remaining being vacant; these cellas are not evenly spaced, nor are they all of the same size; in fact they are in two sizes; one group of them having a front wall relieved by four pilasters corresponding to the pillars of the verandah while others (which are fewer in number) have walls with six pilasters.


The cellas in the four corners and the middle of the walls on the south, west and north, are crowned with vimanas, consisting of a griva, a sikhara and a stupi; thus we have seven such shrines. In the cella in the north-eastern corner, Isanadeva is housed; Nirutti is housed in the cella in the middle of the north wall, Kubera in the north-western corner cella, while Varuna is in the western cella; the rest of the cellas are without any sculptures at present but must have housed the remaining this, as mentioned elsewhere, is confirmed by the references in inscriptions on the eastern part of the wall of enclosure to the shrines of Agni deva and Isana deva, which are said to be located to the south and north of the Rajarajan tiru-vasal.

We have further confirmation of an unequivocal nature about the setting up of eight shrines for the eight dikpalas from a record of the third year of Rajendra I (SII, II, 20). This record lists the gifts of kalasams (pinnacles) for the various shrines in the temple, made by Guru Isana Siva Pandita, the Chief Priest of the Raja-rajesvaram temple till the twenty-ninth year of Rajaraja I, for being placed on the shrines (alayangalil).

Even though the inscription is much damaged and we are not able to get the names of all the eight, the mention of a few of them confirms the installation of all the eight guardian deities—viz., Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirutti, Varuna, Vavu, Soma and Isana. The shrine of Indra, who is the regent of the cast, seems to have been located in the second (inner) itself,

for which five kalasams had apparently been provided by the king himself. So only seven pots (pinnacles) are provided for the remaining seven deities.


Besides these eight shrines for the eight dikpalas, there were shrines for the eight parivara-devatas[1] (ashta-parivara-devatas, viz., Surya, Saptamatrikas, Ganapati, Subrahmanyar, Jyeshtha Devi, Chandra, Chandesvara and Bhairavar), of which, however, we have only vestiges left. In the cella on the west wall, to the immediate north of the corner shrine, is a massive Ganesa sculpture, which the inscription describes as the ParivaralayattuPillaiyar to distinguish it from the Pillaiyar of the main temple Pillaiyar) and the numerous other icons of Pillaiyar in metal, dedicated to the temple by pious personages of the royal household and nobles. The original image of Ganapati set up in the days of Rajaraja I in the parivara-alaya would appear to have been replaced at some later point of time and the one we see now in the cella is a substitute; the orginal, which is majestic and beautiful and is of the same quality of stone as is used for the sculptures of the original temple, is now found kept by the Archaeological Survey in the southern verandah (tiruch-churru-maligai) of the temple, where temporarily they have located their field office and spot-museum. Of the Saptamatrika group of images, nothing is left or seen, excepting the broken upper half of Varahi which is now housed in a small modern brick and cement cubicle in an inconspicuous portion of the courtyard near the well in the southern prakara. The Bhairavar image, now placed loosely in the mukhamandapa ol the temple, might be the original ashta-parivara-devata. The Subrahmanyar idol is again not in its proper place, nor does it appear to be the original one; it is in the north-western section of the prakara and is housed in a structure of florid style built by one of the Nayak kings in the seventeenth century a.d. The only shrine standing as originally built is that of Chandesvara, which is north of and close to the srivimana; it contains some valuable inscriptions of Rajaraja I. None of the other shrines can be traced now.

Footnotes and references:


Ashtra-Parivara Devatas: K. V. Soundararajan (Indian Temple Styles, p.33) gives the names of the following deities: Subrahmanya, Surya, Chandra, Chandesa, Saptamatrikas, Jyeshtha, Durga and Ganesa.

Durga is not an ashta-parivaradevata. At a later stage Lakshmi replaces Jyeshtha. For a discussion see my Early Chola Temples (pp.327-329).

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: