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....

Narttamalai is a small village in the former princely state of Pudukkottai till recently a division in the Tiruchirappalli district and now reconstituted into a separate district called Pudukkottai. It lies about 4 kms (2½ miles) from the railway station of the same name on the Tiruchi-Manamadurai chord line of the Southern Railway.

The place is of great antiquity. Its modern name, Narttamalai, is a corruption of Nagarattar-malai, the hillside abode of a merchant-guild which was a branch of a larger commercial corporation called the Nanadesis”, which carried on extensive trade not only in different parts of India but also with lands beyond the seas, especially in South-East Asia.

In inscriptions of the eleventh century a.d., the place was called Telunga-kula-kala-puram; and, in the thirteenth century, by the name of Kulottunga Cholap-pattinam (after Kulottunga III).

A chain of eight hillocks encircles the village, and the valley below presents an enchanting view. Today, the place is famous for its Mariyamman temple, which receives the homage of the people over a wide area beyond the limits of the village. But in the past, it was known for a number of other splendid monuments, on one of the eight hillocks, called Melamalai, two of them being rock-cut cave temples. From local inscriptions, we learn that there were also structural stone temples. The earliest of these is the Vijayalaya Cholisvaram, the oldest of the Chola temples in Tamil Nadu (See Early Chola Art, Part I).

Tirumalaik-kadambur Temple

Among other structural temples the most important is the Melaik-Kadambur temple (also known as the Tirumalaik-Kadambur Isvaram) of the days of Rajaraja I.

The temple has a portion of the rock itself for its northern wall. The earliest inscription relating to it dates to the twenty-second year of Rajaraja I (a.d. 1007) and is inscribed on the rock forming the northern wall. In it, the presiding deity is called Malaik-kadambur Devar. Considering the style of the architecture, we can affirm that the date of erection of the temple could not have been far removed from that of this inscription. The inscriptions in this temple range over the entire Chola period. In an inscription of the twenty-eighth year of Rajaraja I found on the rock surface east of the temple, there is mention of a gift of land for five drummers (uvachchar kottu) by the “nagaram of Telungakulakalapuram in Annalvaiyil kurram (i.e., Konadu) in Keralantaka valanadu” [Inscriptions (Text), Pudukkottai State, no. gi]. There are a few inscriptions of the period of Rajendra II; one of his fifth year found on a rock north of the Mangala-tirtha tank in front of the temple, beginning with the introduction tiru-mada puvi-enum refers to an agreement to which the nagaram is a party (no. 112, ibid). Another of the same year, beginning with the introduction tiru-maruviya sengol, mentions a gift for the supply of five pots of water each, for the three services for the sacred bath of the Lord (no. 113, ibid.). After a big gap of a century and more, we get records of Kulottunga III relating to his 27th, 31 st, 37th and 38th years (nos. 158, 170, 173, ibid.). The first of them gives the deity the name of Sri Kailasam Udaiya Nayanar and from the next, we come to know of the existence of the Palliyarai ^ Nachchiyar, mentioned already, for whom a gift of five kalan-jus of gold for food offerings was made; the third record of his thirty-seventh year relates to a gift of land as devadana, which was bought for 8,000 kalanjus. It also refers to a gift to the Kuttadum Devar (Nataraja) in the temple of Tirumalaik-Kadambur Nayanar; the names of Sri Kailasamudaiya Nayanar and Tiru-Anaikka-Udaiya Nayanar occur. The setting up of the image of Dakshinamurti for whom a provision for food offerings is made, is noticed from his 38th year record (a.d. 1216).

From a record of Rajendra III, the last of the Chola rulers, relating to his seventh year, we get to know of a temple artisan (tachcha-acharyan) and his father whose services (to the following shrines are referred to: (i) Nayanar koyil (Tirumalaikkadambur), (ii) Tiru-Anaikka-Udaiya Nayanar temple and (iii) Nachchiyar tirukkoyil.

The central shrine built of stone is simple and imposing. The garbhagriha is a plain structure of well-dressed stones, showing great artistic skill; on the outer walls of the, there are niches for subsidiary deities. The pillars and pilasters have the usual features of temples of the days of Rajaraja I. Above the cornice and below the griva, there is a continuous frieze of yalis.At the four corners of the griva, there are four niches for deities, surmounted by simha-lalatams. The sikhara of the srivimana is bell-shaped; further up, over a base of lotus petals, stands the stone (See my Four Chola Temples).

The temple has an air of simple grandeur, with its background of hills and beautiful natural scenery. It belongs to the age of Rajaraja I.


South of the main shrine, a separate shrine for the Goddess called Tiruk-kamak-kottam-udaiya Nachchiyar was set up and consecrated, along with a wall of enclosure (tirumaligai), in a.d. 1228. By this time the region had passed from the control of the Cholas to that of the Pandyan ruler Maravarman Sundara Pandya I.

About the same time, two other Siva temples, called those of Tiruvanaikka-udaiya-nayanar and Nagarisvaram-udaiya-nayanar came to be built and consecrated.

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