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....

Ptolemy, the ancient Greek geographer, mentions Nikama as a great emporium in the east coast of South India, an important seaport, strategically situated, connecting the great cities of the west—and later the Arab cities—on the one side, with the Krishna (Amaravati) region and the Gangetic valley skirting the Bay of Bengal, the Nicobar group of islands (Manakkavaram), Burma, Kedah (Kadaram), Sri Vijaya (in Sumatra) and other Indonesian islands, the Philippines and China in the east, on the other.

One of the 127 temples in the Tanjavur district south of the Kaveri celebrated in the Devaram hymns is at Nagapattinam (hymn no. 82). The temple called “Tiru-Nagai-Karonam” is situated less than a kilometre north of the railway station, which lies on the Tanjavur-Nagore branch line [of the Southern Railway.

Nagai is described as having lagoons and being washed by the waves of the sea. It was a city of the learned, with long streets, adorned with mansions; and the port was full of ships.

Various traditions have grown round this ancient coastal town. Adiseshan, the king of the Nagas who was issueless, worshipped the Lord of this temple and was blessed with a daughter. The Naga chief gave his daughter in marriage to Salisukan of the Surya dynasty and crowned him king. Hence the name of Nagai, which, being a coastal town, came to be called Nagai-pattinam.

Karonasvamin (Kaya-arohanar) Temple

Legends mention that there lived in Vedapuram on the banks of the Yamunai a rishi called Karuttamar by name. He had a spiritual bent of mind. On the advice of sages, he went on a pilgrimage in the course of which he reached Nagai (Nagapattinam) and worshipped the Lord of the local temple. As a reward for his supreme devotion, the Lord absorbed the devotee into himself. Hence the name of the Lord “Kaya-arohanar”, which became in popular parlance “Karonar”. This is the legendary account of the origin of this name. A stone sculpture of this rishi is found on a pillar of the mahamandapa of this temple; there is a tradition that there was here a settlement of the Pasupata sect from Karohana in Gujarat. We have similar temples at Kanchi and Kumbakonam.

The Tamil epic, Manimekhalai,mentions that the Chola king Killi-Valavan married a Naga princess and their offspring was Tondaiman Ilandiraiyan of the Pallava race.

Agastya was another devotee of this Lord. King Dasaratha of Ayodhya is said to have consecrated here an icon of Sani (Saturn) to rid him of his sins.

The temple of Nagaikaronam should be one of the earliest temples of Tamil land. Its Lord is sung by the Tamil hvmnists Appar and Sambandar (seventh century a.d.) and Sundarar (early ninth century). Kayarohanesvara (now called Karona-svamin) is extolled by the hvmnists in the various aspects of Siva, such as Ardhanarisvara, Lingodbhavar, Tripurantakar, Gaja-sura-Samharar (who wore the elephant’s hide), Kalari, Kamadahanamurti, the subduer of the proud Ravana of ten heads and twenty arms, one who cut off the fifth head of Brahma, the swallower of halahala poison, one who dances in the cremation ground, the wearer of the garland of skulls, and polemically as the chastiser of the heretical Buddhists and Jains. The place is one of the Saptavitankar shrines; the local vitankar is called Sundara Vitankar; it is famous for the Taranga form of dance. Sundarar prays before the Lord here, as usual for gold, precious stones, ornaments, pearls, silk, scents, unguents and even a horse for his wives Paravai and Sangili.

Nagapattinam was also the home of one of the 63 Tamil saints, Aripatta Nayanar. He was a fisherman and the head of their clan. He used to fish in the sea and give away the first catch to the Lord of Karonam. The Lord tested the depth of his devotion one day, when he caught only one fish; even that was offered to the Lord and he submitted himself to a life of self-denial. Another day his only catch was a gold fish, and even this was thrown into the sea as an offering to Siva. At once he attained salvation.

Nagapattinam grew in importance as a sea-port and commercial centre in the days of the Cholas. There was close contact between the Sri Vijaya kingdom in the Indonesian archipelago and the Chola empire. A vihara was built at Nagapattinam for the Buddhists, named after the king of Kataha (Kadaram) and supported by extensive grants in the shape of land revenue from the village of Anaimangalam close by. There would appear to have been stationed high-level emissaries of the king of Kataha at Nagapattinam. We have seen, while dealing with Rajarajes-varam at Tanjavur, that among the more important temples which contributed temple-women (talip-pendir) to the metropolitan temple was that of Tirukkaronam or Karonam at Nagai (SII, II, p. 260).

In this temple there are a number of inscriptions of Raja-raja I, Rajendra I, Rajaraja II and Kulottunga III. The earliest of them, found on the west wall of the central shrine below the Lingodbhavar image, is dated in the twenty-fifth year of Rajaraja I and records a gift of 20 kasus for supplying paddy for food offerings to the deity (ARE 165 of 1956 - 57). A twenty-ninth year record of Rajaraja I mentions a gift of land in Palaiyur for worship and offerings to the Mahadevar of Tirukkaronam by the urar (the residents) of Nagapattinam in the Pattinak-kurram (ARE 167 of 1956 - 57).

Two inscriptions belong to the third year of Rajendra I; one records a gift of a jewel set with precious stones such as pachchai, maragadam, manikkam and others in various parts like Virappattam, makaram, vattappu, paruttikural and others, weighing altogether 14¾ kalanjus and one manjadi, to the silver image of Nagaiyalagar set up in the temple called Tirukkaronam in Nagapattinam in Kshatriyasikhamani valanadu by the agent of the king of Sri Vijaya (srivijayattaraiyar) whose name is lost, belonging to Menronri-pattinam in Kil-sembi nadu in Rajaraja mandalam. The record mentions the name of the engraver, who was one Eran Sadaiyan (ARE 164 of 1956-57). The other record mentions a gift of land by Mahilatti Sendan alias Keralantaka... a merchant of Nagapattinam, and the gift is mentioned as having been made tax-free by the urar (ARE 162 of 1956-57).

Evidently it is the same Eran Sadaiyan alias Devarakanda Acharyan who fashioned several types of lamps like pavai-vilakku, kurakku-vilakku and matta-vilakku, which were given as gifts to the temple by Nimalan Agastisvaran, the “agent of the king of Sri-Vishayam” (ARE 161 of 1956 - 57). It is likely that the agent in both these cases was the same person. In the second year (presumably of Rajendra I), several silver utensils for use in the temple were gifted by several persons including some merchants and Sivabrahmanas (ARE 163 of 1956 - 57). In the seventh year of Rajendra I, it is mentioned that two gifts were made each of 87¾ kalanjus of chinakkanakam, and one of 60¾ of kalanjus of undigaip-pon, for (a) jewels to god Tirukkaronamudaivar, (b) worship and food offerings (avi-bali) to Ardhanarigal, and (c) feeding two brahmanas at the temple, by Kurttan Kesuvan alias Agralekai, the agent of Kidarattaraiyan. The donor is stated to have set up and consecrated the image of Ardhanari(gal) (ARE 166 of I956-57).

These precious gifts were made possibly at the behest of the king of Sri Vijaya and Kadaram, Chulamanivarman, or his successor Maravijayottungan, and in token of appreciation of the extensive grants made by Rajaraja I in his twenty-first year to the Chulamani Vihara alias Rajarajap-perumballi erected by him at Nagapattinam. An interesting fact is the mention of chinak-kanakam (gold from China), indicative of close political and maritime contact among the three kingdoms of China, the Cholas and Sri Vijaya and Kadaram.

During the days of Rajadhiraja I, an image of Adavallan was consecrated by Cholap-Pallavadaraiyan in the temple of Tirukkaronam udaiyar (ARE 159 of 1956 - 57). There is only one record of Rajendra II’s period, which registers some grant made for food offerings on every Sunday. The donor of the Adavallan image during the days of Rajadhiraja I is mentioned in this connection and we gather that he bore the alternate name of Madhurakaran; another chief mentioned is Rajendrasolap-Pallavaraiyan (ARE 160 of 1956-57). There are no records of the other Middle and Later Cholas till we come to the reign of Rajaraja II. Found on the tiers of the mahamandapa is an inscription dated in his tenth year which records a gift of 83 kasus for a perpetual lamp to god Tirukkaronamudaiyar at Nagapattinam (alias Solakulavalli-pattinam in Pattinak-kurram in Geyamanikka valandau) by members of agambadi niyayangal such as vettikkarar, agambadi, anukkavil and others (ARE 154 of 1956-57). His successor has two inscriptions dated in his fifth and tenth years respectively; the fifth year record registers an agreement between the Sivabrahmanas of the temple and Ponnam-balakkuttan Nadudaiyan, headman of Vallam in Palaiya Vallam in Tiruvarur kurram, in respect of a perpetual lamp for which the latter deposited 85 kasus with the former (ARE 153 of 1956 - 57). The next record, of Rajadhiraja II, is about the gift of 30 kasus for burning a lamp before god Dakshinamurti Devar “who was pleased to be seated in the stone temple” of Tiruch-chirrambalam Udaiyan, by a merchant at Kollapuram (modern Kolhapur?) (ARE 155 of 1956-57).

Evidently, the shrine for Thyagaraja came into existence in the years following the accession of Kulottuna III to the Chola throne; we find a fourth year record of Tribhuvanachakravartigal Virarajendra (Kulottunga III) which makes interesting reading in this context. The transaction is recorded of a sale of land at Nelvayal alais Kulottungasolanallur in Ala nadu belonging to Mankondan Devandan of Alattur in lieu of 510 kalanjus of gold which he owed to the tannattar. Mankondan Devandan was a resident of the tirumadaivilagam of Kapalavani-Nayanar of Nagapattinam and originally owed 255 kalanjus to the tannattar of the place. The debt was not repaid for a long time and when they pressed him for the re-payment, Devandan delayed it further as evidently lie was not in a position to return the money. He would appear to have come by a sizeable property on the death of his elder brother, Mankondan Nayanar, out of which he paid back the dues as settled by the tannattar at twice the original sum (510 kalanjus), which he did by parting with a big chunk of the inherited land, valued at 4,79,400 kasus. The deed of this transaction was called “iranakraya-pramana-isaivu-tittu”. We get an idea of the ratio of kasu to kalanjus, viz., 4, 79,400 being equivalent to 510 kalanjus (i.e. 910 kasu to a kalanju) in this period. Another inscription records the sale deed relating to another piece of land belonging to Mankondan Devandan, who, on the death of his elder brother, inherited this and the piece of land mentioned above (ARE 168 and 169 of 1956-57). In the fourteenth regnal year of Kulottunga III, jewels made of gold and silver were given as gift to the deities of Tirukkaronam Udaiyar and Alaga-vitanka-Perumal by Malai-mel-amarndinar alias Vanavan Vilupparaiyan of Marudamangalam (ARE 150 of 1956-57).

We have every reason to conclude that this temple at Naga-pattinam was re-built in the early years of Rajaraja I and that it received considerable attention from the representatives of the king of Sri Vijaya and Kadaram in the years following the issue of the Larger Leyden Grant, which placed the village of Anaiman-galam at the disposal of the Buddhist vihara named after that king. Evidently Nagapattinam was an important port of call for the tradesmen from that kingdom and the vihara would have catered to their religious needs. In view of its commercial and military importance we get such names as Senamukham (cantonment) and Madigai Ariyachchalai, and terms like agamhadi niyayangal, comprising several constituents such as vettaikkaravar, terinda-vil, agambadi-anukka-vil, Rajarajan-velaikkarar, Senapatigal and Danda-nayakam, all military terms describing various units, regiments and commanders.

The temple faces east. The inner gopuram has three storeys and the outer, five. Behind the Linga of Karohanar, there is a sculpture of Somaskandar surrounded by rishis as we find at Vijayalaya Cholisvaram at Vikkanampundi and Tiruvilimilalai. The sculptures of the devakoshtas are Dakshinamurti in the south, Lingodbhavar in the west and Brahma, Ardhanarisvara, Durgai and Bhikshatanar in the north. There should have been an icon of Ganapati in a southern niche. The Ghandesvara shrine is situated in the north prakara close to the main shrine.

The Vitankar shrine lies to the south of the main shrine. The Amman shrine should belong to the Later Chola period. The present structure of the main shrine indicates renovation in the days of Sembiyan Mahadevi. Among the bronzes, we may mention the five-faced Herambha Ganapati riding a lion, a Subrahmanyar figure with bow and arrow and a Nataraja a dated bronze of the period of Rajadhiraja I (Pls 61 to 70).

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: