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....

Temples in Tiruchchengattangudi (Sri Uttarapatisvarar Temple)

i) Ganapatisvara shrine
ii) Uttarapatisvara shrine
iii) Vatapi-Ganapati shrine
iv) Chulikambal (Amman) shrine

Tiruchchengattangudi lies to the south of the Mudikondan river, a branch of the Kaveri, and about 8 kms (5 miles) south-east of the Nannilam railway station. Close to it are the Saivite centre of Tiruppugalur[1], where Appar attained beatitude, and the Vaishnavite centre of Tirukkannapuram.

According to legends, this was the place where Ganapati destroyed the demon Gajamukhasuran; as a result, the place became covered with the blood of the asura. Hence it came to be called Sengadu, the red-forest. As expiation for having killed the asura, Ganapati is said to have done penance. So the central shrine was named Ganapatisvaram.

Appar and Sambandar have glorified the presiding deity of this temple. In his hymn, Sambandar calls the temple Sirutton-dar-Ganapatisvaram, i.e., the abode of Isvara worshipped by Ganapati, who gave grace to Siruttondar. The story of Siruttondar is found in detail in Sekkilar’s Periyapuranam. His original name was Paranjoti.He served as a general of Narasimhavarman I, the Pallava king of Kanchi, and took part in the destruction of Vatapi (modern Badami now in the Karnataka state), the then capital of the Western Chalukya king Pulakesin II. With the king’s permission, he retired from military service and devoted himself to a spiritual life.

As an ardent and humble devotee—as the name implies—of the Lord of Ganapatisvaram, Siruttondar interested himself in feeding pilgrims. One day, Siva appeared before him in the guise of Bhairavar; and in order to test the steadfastness of his devotion to the Lord, he demanded human flesh for his meal. The cooked flesh of Siruttondar’s son Siralar was offered to the guest. When the Lord witnessed this supreme sacrifice, He revealed Himself before Siruttondar, and gave him, his wife Tiruvenkattu nangai and their son Siralar divine grace. On the northern wall of Ganapatisvaram, there is a sculpture-panel of this scene, depicting their journey to Kailasa, preceded by Siva and Uma riding the Bull-mount, followed by Siruttondar, Tiruvenkattu nangai, Siralar and the maid servant Santana Nangai, constituting the group.

Siruttondar and Sambandar were contemporaries. During the course of his pilgrimage, Sambandar worshipped the Lord of Nagaik-karonam at Nagapattinam and then reached Kil-velur. Siruttondar met Sambandar there and invited him to Tiruchchengattangudi. Sambandar stayed for a few days as Siruttondar’s guest. After worshipping the Lord of Ganapatisvaram, he sang two hymns on Him. It was at this time that Sambandar also visited Tirumarugal and performed the miracle of restoring to life a newly married merchant, bitten by a snake. After this visit, Sambandar has given us a hymn linking the two temples of Tirumarugal and Tiruchchengattangudi. Thereafter Sambandar went to Tiruppugalur.

The main deity of Ganapatisvara is also called by various other names, such as Mandarapurisvara, Saktipurisar, Brahma-purisar, Indrapurisar, Atti-vananathar (the Lord of the tree, the sthalavriksha), Bhaskarapurisar and Samudrapurisar.

There are two places with historical associations outside the temple premises. In the south-west corner of the south street, there is a tank called Surya-pushkarani. To the west, there is the Siruttondar -tiru-matham, the place traditionally associated with the original home of Siruttondar. It is here that the annual Sittirai-Bharani festival is celebrated.

Next to it is the Siruttonda-Nayanar-hr«ff 2 who hailed from the north with those of Siruttondar and his wife Tiruvengattu-nangai on one side and Ayyadigal Kadavar-kon on the other. The existence of the latter sculpture indicates the association of this Tamil saint with the local Siva temple, and its existence even as early as the latter half of the sixth century a.d. Kadavarkon belongs to the pre-Sambandar period.

Ganapatisvaram (Ganapatisvara) shrine

The main shrine—which is also the oldest in the temple complex at Tiruchchengattangudi—is Ganapatisvaram. It is sanctified by the hymns of Sambandar and Appar (seventh century a.d.) It should have been a structure of brick (in their days), rebuilt of stone in the days of Aditya I (ninth century a.d.). The sculptures of Brahma and especially of Ardhanarisvara now lodged in the southern verandah of the tiruch-churru-maligai might have belonged to the structure of Aditya I’s age.

The present structure of Ganapatisvaram seems assignable to the period of Rajaraja I. On the walls of this temple, there are seven inscriptions all of which belong to the Middle Chola period. Of these, three are of the reign of Rajaraja I. While Sambandar calls the deity Siruttondan Ganapatisvarattan of Tiruchchengattangudi, inscriptions of Rajaraja I call the Lord Siraladevar of Tiruchchengattangudi.

An inscription of Rajaraja I’s third year (ARE 56 of 1913) mentions a gift of land for two lamps to Siraladevar by Vellalan Ulangan Sirriyan alias Tappilla Muvendavelan. There are two inscriptions of his nineteenth year (ARE 57 and 59 of 1913). One refers to a gift of land for feeding the devotees attending the festival of Sittirai-Tiruvadirai when Siraladevar was taken in procession to the mandapa of Siruttonda-nambi. (Does “mandapa” here refer to the Siruttondar-tirumaligai in the south street?).

The other inscription also mentions a gift of land by two residents of Marugal for the celebration of the festival of Siruttondar-nambi. Incidentally, mention is made of the revenue survey carried out in the seventeenth year of Rajaraja I.

There are three inscriptions of Parakesarivarman which do not contain sufficient details to enable us to assign them definitely to Rajendra I. Though the Government Epigraphist assigns the inscription of the third year of Parakesarivarman to Rajendra I (ARE 58 of 1913), the identification cannot be sustained, as the prefix Tribhuvana-chakravartin applies only to Later Chola kings. In this inscription, the presiding deity is called Ganapatis-varam-udaiyar; while in the other two of the fifth and eleventh years (ARE 60 and 62 of 1913), the Lord is called Param-esvara of Tiruchchengattangudi.

On the west wall of the central shrine, there is an inscription of the 32 nd year of Rajadhiraja I (ARE 58 of 1913) which mentions a gift of land, made tax-free, to Ganapatisvaram Udaiya Mahadevar by the sabha of Tirukkannapuram, a brahmadeya in Marugal nadu; and the sabha is said to have met in the temple of Piramisvaram-udaiya-Mahadevar in the village.

The devakoshta sculptures on the walls of this shrine are Gana-pati, Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhavar and Brahma.

Vatapi-Ganapati shrine:

Among the parivara shrines may be mentioned those of Vatapi-Ganapati in the south-west corner of the first prakara, of Subrah-manyar and Lakshmi (displacing Jyeshta) both of them in the western varandah, of Bhairavar in the eastern verandah and of Chandesvara north of the main shrine.

The present Ganapatisvaram could be assigned to the age of Rajaraja I.

Uttarapatisvaram (Uttarapatisvara) shrine

This shrine is parallel to, and south of, Ganapatisvaram. It is dedicated to Uttarapati—the mendicant Siva in the form of Bhairavar who appeared before Siruttondar to put his devotion to test. The earliest epigraphical reference to this deity is found in an inscription of the forty-fifth year of Tribhuvana-chakravartin Kulottunga Chola Deva (ARE 64 of 1913) found on the walls of the mandapa in front of these two shrines. The Government Epigraphist assigns this inscription wrongly, in my opinion, to

Kulottunga III. The high regnal year and the absence of any of the historical introductions of the inscriptions of Kulottunga III lead us to assign this inscription to Kulottunga I (a.d. 1115). So, it seems to us that the Uttarapatisavaram shrine and the mandapa in front of both the shrines should be assigned to the period of Kulottunga I. It may be added that the walls of this mandapa contain inscriptions only of the Later Cholas.

On the walls of the Uttarapatisvaram, there are only two Vijayanagara inscriptions, of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (ARE 51 and 52 of 1913). The first belongs to the reign of Vira Viruppanna Udaiyar, son of Ariyarava (Harihara II) and is dated Saka 1306 (a.d. 1384). It records a gift of land to both the shrines of Ganapatisvaram Udaiyar and Uttarapati Navaka at Tiruchchengattangudi by one Somaya Dannayakar (Danda-nayakar). The other belongs to the reign of Vira Bhupatiraya Udaiyar dated Saka 1332 (a.d. 1410). It records the gift of a lamp to the temple of Uttarapati Nayaka by a native of Palaiya-nur in Tondaimandalam.

The earliest epigraphical evidence regarding the Uttara-patisvaram is found in an inscription of the forty-fifth year of Kulottunga I (a.d. 1115) and we do not know how much earlier it existed. And the present shrine bears only inscriptions of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as we have just seen.

The sthala-vriksha is the Atti tree and this is found within the mandapa in front of the Uttarapati shrine.

The shrine of Siruttondar is located in the south-east corner within this enclosure.

The two shrines with the mandapa in front are surrounded by a prakara with a tiruch-churru-maligai. At the eastern end of the southern wing of the tiruch-churru-maligai we have sculptures of the 63 Nayanmars. West of these are sculptures of Brahma and Ardhanarisvara (probably of the earlier Ganapatisvaram), the four Tamil saints and Sankha and Padma Nidhis.

In a mandapa in the centre of the northern verandah, there are fine stone sculptures of what are locally called the Nava-Tandava-murtis: Bhujanga-Lalita-murti, Gaja-samhara-murti, Urdhva-Tandava-murti, Kala-samhara-murti, Kankala-murti, Bhikshatanamurti, Tripura-Samhara-murti and Bhairava-murti (Pis 51 - 53).

In the north-east corner of this verandah, we have a fine set of bronzes of Nataraja and Sivakami.

Stone sculptures of Bhairavar and Surya adorn the eastern verandah north of the main gateway (gopuram) of the first This gopuram is three-storeyed.

Chulikambal (Amman) shrine

In the second prakara, we have the Alankara mandapa and the Chulikambal (Amman) shrine of the Later Chola age.

It has to be observed that the original gateway in the east in this prakara is closed and a new one built to the north of it (not on the same axis as the main shrine). The temple at Tiruchchen-gattangudi seems to have undergone alterations during every phase—Early, Middle and Later—of the Chola period.

Siruttondar, Tiruvenkattu-Nangai and Sirala have exercised a profound influence and fascination over the minds and hearts of kings, nobles and the common people. Adittan Suryan installed metallic images of these three, in the third year of Rajendra I, in the Rajarajesvaram temple at Tanjavur (SII, II, p. 172).

Tiruchchengattangudi is one of the most celebrated temples of Tamil Nadu (Pis 42 - 53).

Later Chola Inscriptions:

Later Chola inscriptions: All the inscriptions on the walls of the mandapa in front of the two main shrines belong to the Later Chola period. We have already discussed the significance of the inscription of the forty-fifth year of Kulottunga I.

There are three inscriptions of Kulottunga III. One of his tenth year, 123rd day records a gift of land to the temple-architect, Rajendra Chola Achariyan.

Another of his eleventh year, 175th day registers that a document connected with the temple of Tiruvirama-nandisvaram [see the next section on Tiruviramesvaram or (as it is presently called) Ramanandisvaram] at Tirukkannapuram was engraved on the walls of the temple at Tiruchchengattangudi “as the former was evidently not constructed of stone..The record refers to the fifth and tenth years of Periyadevar Kulottunga Chola devar in whose time the Tirukkannapuram temple came into existence (ARE 65 of 1913).

Two errors have crept in about this inscription. The record clearly states that the old stone walls of the Tirukkannapuram temple had become worn out (the text in the inscription is “ivai-palagai jirnittu irakshai arida irukkaiyil”) and could not stand the engraving of the inscription. So it is wrong to hold that the temple had not been built of stone till then. Secondly, the name of the temple is recorded as “Tiruviramanandisvaram”. The deity of this temple was formerly worshipped by Rama. So its name is Tiruviramesvaram (Tiru-Iramesvaram = Tiruviramesvaram). Sambandar’s Devaram hymn calls the place “Tiruramanadichcharam”. But the inscription calls the temple “Tiruviramanandisuaram”. Anyhow, the later name has persisted and the temple has come to be called now “Tiruviramanandisvaram”. This temple was rebuilt of stone in the days of Kulottunga III.

An inscription of his eighteenth year, 330th day mentions a gift of land by purchase for laying out a road to carry in procession Siralappillaiyar from the mandapa of Siruttonda devar (perhaps the one in the south street) at Tiruchchengattangudi to Tiru-Marugal (ARE 66 of 1913).

Another of the same year (ARE 67 of 1913) refers to the remission of certain taxes in favour of the temple for maintaining the worship of Siralapillaiyar.

An inscription of the twenty-fourth year of Rajaraja III (a.d. 1240) provides for offerings to Uttarapati Nayaka during the Sittirai-Bharani festival.

On the walls of the Vatapi Ganapati shrine there is an inscription of the 22nd year, 130th day of Kulottunga III which relates to the acquisition of lands for constructing the third prakara of the temple with a street around it.

Footnotes and references:


Tiruppugalur lies six kms, east of Nannilam railway station on the Nannilam-Nagapattinam high way, where we cross the Mudikondan to reach Tirukkannapuram, 1. 5. kms south of Tiruppugalur. Tiruchchengattangudi is nearly 2 kms east of Tirukkannapuram and is reached by a metal road.

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