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....

Marakkanam is now a small village on the eastern sea-coast about 37 kms (23 miles) east of Tindivanam, the taluk headquarters and a railway station in South Arcot district. Some other important centres close by are Alattur, Olagapuram and Perumukkal.

Around the beginning of the Christian era, it was one of the important sea-ports of the Indian peninsula. The Siru-panarruppadai, one of the ten Sangam anthologies, together called the Pattuppattu, mentions Eyirppattinam as one of the three important fortified cities in Oyma nadu, the region between modem Tindivanam and Marakkanam, ruled by the hero of the idyll, Nalli-yakodan, whose honour and glory was sung by the poet Nallur Nattattanar. In his The Periplus of the Erytkrean Sea, a guide-book by an anonymous Alexandrian (Greek) merchant written about the first century a.d., the author mentions that on the east coast of South India, there were three market towns and harbours—Camara, Produca and Sopatna. It has been accepted that Camara can be identified with Kaberis of Ptolemy, i.e., Kaverippattinam (or Pumpuhar) the ancient Chola capital of the Tamil Sangam period and that Produca or Poduka of Ptolemy may be identified with Puducherry. Next we have Sopatma or Sopatna, which may be equated with Eyirp-patnam (pattinam), the modern Marakkanam (see my article in the Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society, XXI, 4, 1931).

Bhumisvara Temple

There is a fine temple in this village, dedicated to Bhumisvara; it is in a state of good repair and is of considerable interest to the student of art. We do not have any foundation inscription in this temple nor is it among those sung by the Nayanmars. There are, however, inscriptions of Rajaraja I and Rajendra I which throw considerable light on the temple. A record of the sixteenth year of Rajaraja I refers to a gift of a lamp to Bhum-isvara-nathar at Rajaraja-Peralam in Manakkanam, in Pattina nadu, a subdivision of Oyma nadu (ARE 23 of 1919). A seventeenth year inscription mentions that an officer of Arasur, while stationed at Pattinam, regulated the expenditure of the temple of Bhumisvaradevar (ARE 28 of 1919).

In the fourth year of Parakesarivarman Rajendra I (a. d. 1016) a gift was made of taxes due on a salt pan, for two lamps to be burnt in the Bhumisvaram Udaiyar temple at Manakkanam alias Rajaraja-Peralam (ARE 24 of 1919). In a record of the eighth year of this ruler (a.d. 1020), a gift was made of sheep and money for a lamp and offerings to Bhumisvaram Udaiya Mahadevar at Pattinam (ARE 29 of 1919).

There is one record of Rajakesari Sri Vijaya Rajendra (Raja-dhiraja I) dated in his thirty-fifth year (a.d. 1053) referring to a sale of land for a flower garden to this temple by the sabha of Eyirppattinam in Pattina nadu, in Tambittunai-Chola valanadu in Jayangondasola mandalam (ARE 30 of 1919). A gift of land to this temple at Eyirppattinam alias Vikramasola chaturvedimangalam is mentioned in a fourth year inscription of Rajakesarivarman Kulottunga II (a.d. 1137). Evidently the village was renamed after the king in the days of his father Vikrama Chola (ARE 26 of 1919). A record of the sixteenth year of Kulottunga III is also found in this temple (ARE 33 of 1919).

There are inscriptions of the days of the Vijayanagara rulers also. In Saka 1421 (a.d. 1499), Marakkanam bore the alternate name of Gandaraditta-nallur in Pattina nadu, a sub-division of Oyma nadu alias Vijaya-Rajendrasola valanadu in Jayangonda-sola mandalam.

From these inscriptions, we get a variety of names for this sea-port in ancient days.

(i) Rajaraja-Peralam alias Manakkanam, in Pattina nadu, a subdivision of Oyma nadu.

(it) Pattinam in Pattina nadu, a part of Oyma nadu,

(iii) Eyirppattinam in Pattina nadu, in Tambittunai-chola valanadu, a sub-division of Jayangondasola mandalam.

(iv) Eyirppattinam alias Vikramasola-chaturvedimangalam,

and (v) Marakkanam alias Gandaraditta-nallur in Pattina nadu in Oyma nadu alias Vijaya-Rajendrasola valanadu, a sub-division of Jayangondasola mandalam.

Therefore, it is clear that the modern town of Marakkanam was originally known as Manakkanam, Pattinam and Eyirppattinam, that it was on the sea-coast, that it was a flourishing salt-producing centre and that the affairs of the town were managed by a sabha. As it is called Eyirppattinam, it should have been a fortified sea-port (Eyil = wall of fortification).

The temple, facing east, consists of a garbhagriha, an antarala, an ardhamandapa and a mukhamandapa. The garbhagriha is square 5.66 ms (18' 7") to the side with rather plain walls on the sides with a single niche in the centre and relieved by six pilasters including the comer ones. The niche figures are Dakshina-murti in the south, Vishnu in the west and Brahma in the north.

The outer walls of the ardhamandapa contain niches in which Bhikshatanar is found in the south and Durga in the north. Among the devakoshta figures, Bhikshatanar, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu and Durga are original sculptures and are of excellent workmanship. Brahma seems to be of a later period. Over each devakoshta in the garbhagriha are found miniature figures of nandi in the south, simha in the west and hamsa in the north—being the mounts of Siva, Vishnu and Brahma respectively.

The srivimana is in two tiers. The cornice in the first tier has a bhutagana frieze below and a yali frieze above it: the entablature in the first tier is decorated with four karna-kutas in the four corners and salas in the centre of each side. We have dik-palas on the kutas: Yama is in the nidha on the south. The second tala is, however, plain, with a cornice framing its top, above which runs a hamsa frieze; the four corners are adorned with nandis. The griva is eight-sided with four niches in the four cardinal directions, the intervening space between the niches being covered with stucco sculptures. In the sala niches in the first tier as well as in the griva niches, the figures on the garbhagriha side-walls are repeated. While in the south wall the three figures are of Dakshinamurti, the figures in the north are: garbhagriha niche: Brahma; sala niche: a Devi (probably Nisumbhasudani); griva niche: seated Brahma. In the west, there is Vishnu in the wall niche, Lakshmi-Narasimha in the sala niche, and Lakshmi in the griva niche. In the eastern, the image is that of Subrahmanyar. The sikhara which also has eight sides is of brick.

There is a low-plinth pillared verandah (running all along the four sides of the central shrine.

On the south-west corner of the verandah, there are beautiful bronzes of Somaskandar and Tani Amman. The former with the padma-pitham measures .70 m ( 27½") in height and .45 m (18") breadthwise. The sculpture of Siva is majestic, broad-chested and benign in expression. The Amman with the pitham measures .56 m (22") in height while Skandar in the middle is .25 m (10") tall. The bhadrasana on which the three icons are seated measures .14 m (5½") in height and .85 m (33½") in width. There is an aureola covering the three icons with 19 tongues of flame on each side with a bigger central flame. The Tani Amman is equally exquisite in workmanship, measuring a graceful .81 m (32") (with the pitham), the Amman icon alone having a height of.67 m (26½"). With the tiruvasi, the total height is 1.02 ms (40½"). There are 12 tongues of flames to each side of the aureola. Both these metals are attributable to the period of Rajaraja I (Pls 106 to 113).

There is a mukhamandapa which is closed on all sides except the south, from which the main shrine is to be approached. Close to this entrance, inside the mukhamandapa, are some more bronzes of which the noteworthy ones are Nataraja, Kali, Chandrase-kharar and Amman. The Nataraja icon whose aureola has 19 tongues of flame measures.79 m (31") in height and.69 m (27") in width, with a.38 m (15") padma and bhadra pithams. The Amman image measures .61 m (24") in height without the pitham which measures .15 m (6"). The aureola of the Amman is missing. The Kali figure standing in the abhanga pose has urdhvakesa (upturned hair), and holds the damaru, pasa, kapala and sula in the four hands. The Chandrasekharar figure is again a beautiful one. The Amman is a neat figure with the flower in the right hand, the other being held in the lola hasta style.

We learn from the inscriptions of his days that salt pans were given as grants to the temple in the time of Rajaraja I. What is noteworthy is that even today, the temple continues to be in enjoyment of the lease of salt pans, deriving an annual income of about Rs. 20,000 from them.

This temple in its present structure would be assignable to the period of Rajaraja I and contains some inscriptions in excellent calligraphy and some bronzes of his period of exquisite workmanship.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: