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....

Attur in Tirunelveli district is now a small village located in picturesque surroundings on the banks of the Tamraparni very near where it joins the sea. It is at a distance of about 64 kms from the district headquarters of Tirunelveli, in an easterly direction. The ancient Pandyan capital of Korkai is only five kms from this place. There is an ancient Siva temple in this village dedicated to Somanathar; now, however, the deity goes under the name of Somesvara.

1. Somesvara temple

The temple contains a large number of inscriptions ranging from the days of Rajaraja I to the sixteenth century a.d. Those of the Imperial Cholas and their Chola-Pandya viceroys cover almost half the number of the total of ninety and odd records, the remaining relating mostly to the Pandyas of the post-Chola era.

There are ten inscriptions of the days of Rajaraja I, which are the earliest to be found in this temple. They are all engraved on the walls of the central shrine. A twenty-first year inscription which is the earliest of them, records a gift of sheep for a lamp to the temple by Kandan Sittan of Alangudi in Vandalai-velur in Arumolideva valanadu (ARE 388 of 1929-30). Three others belong to his twenty-second regnal year; one of them stops with the mention of Somanatha devar alias Ten Tiruppuvanam Udaiyar; another incomplete piece in the same characters mentions a merchant Velan Teran alias Purusha-manikka Setti (ARE 392 of 1929-30). The next record seems to state that tiruvunnaligaiyar agreed to provide for offerings to the deity with the income from the land endowed, by purchase, to the temple by the king’s regiment called Arulmolideva terinda parivarattar (ARE 419 of 1929-30). The third one of the same year registers a gift of land as kudiningaa-devadanam for the expenses of the tiruchchennadai of the images of Olakka-Vitankar and Nitya-sundarar in the temple of Somanatha devar alias Ten Tiruppuvanam Udaiyar at Arrur, a brahmadeya in Kuda nadu, in the subdivision of Rajaraja valanadu by Bharadvajan Madhava Udaiya Divakaran of Kalitava-mangalam, with himself as a tenant (ARE 409 of 1929-30). There are two records of the next year, the twenty-third. One of them mentions a sale of land made tax-free by the assembly of Kiranur for worship and offerings to the images of Rajaraja vinnagar Pallikondarulina-devar (Vishnu), Durga-Bhagavati, Saptamatrikas, Kshetra-palar and Ganapati set up in the temple of Somanathadevar alias Ten Tiruppuvanam Udaiyar at Arrur-Sendamangalam (ARE 415 of 1929-30). The other inscription which on the basis of the characters should belong to the time of Rajaraja I refers to a gift of sheep by a person from Parantaka valanadu (ARE 390 of 1929-30). In the twenty-fourth year, a lady makes a gift of sheep for a perpetual lamp (ARE 386 of 1929-30). Another, of the twenty-seventh year also refers to a gift of sheep for a lamp (ARE 397 of 1929-30). A twenty-eighth year record mentions a gift of land after purchase from the uravar of Varandivayal, for the mid-day offerings to the image of puram-balai Pillaiyar Ganapatiyar in the temple of Somanathadevar alias Ten Tiruppuvanam Udaiyar at Arrur-Sendamangalam (ARE 387 of 1929-30).

Surprisingly, there are only five records of the days of Rajendra I, three in his third year and the rest in his fifth year. Of his third year inscriptions, one is incomplete, another refers to a gift of sheep and the third which is on the east wall of the Perumal shrine, registers a sale of land to the temple by the assembly, the karanmai-tenants and Nakkan Tukkadichchan (ARE 391, 399 and 471 of 1929-30). The two records of the fifth year, one of the 200th day and the other of the 254th day, both refer to gifts of sheep for perpetual lamps from persons in Chola mandalam.

Next we have three records of the days of Vira Rajendra; the fourth year inscription mentions the provision made for offerings in the temple of Somanathadevar every Sunday by a certain Narayana Tiruvengadam alias Atula-vichchadira-Muvendave-lan, the headman of Attur- The fifth year record registers a gift of land, after purchase, by Virasir Muvendavelan, the headman of Karuppur and a resident of Vetchiyur, a village in Serrur kurram, a sub-division of Arumolideva valanadu in Chola mandalam, for providing on the day of, the natal star of the king, special worship to the several deities in the temple. A seventh year record deals with a gift of money to the aganaligaiyar for a twilight lamp in the temple by a certain Arangan Sodi, a Vellala of Tidarcheri in Pampur nadu (ARE 401, 389 and 400 of 1929-30).(see Kulottunga I)

Apart from these records, there are others given with the regnal years of the Chola Pandya viceroys. Three relate to Jatavarman alias Sundara Chola Pandya deva and are of his sixth, twenty-first and thirtieth years; the first refers to a gift of buffaloes by a Vellala of the village for a perpetual lamp; the second, found in a random stone in the pavement of the Soma-sundari Amman shrine, records the provision made by Bhara-dvajan Lokaditya Kuttan of Arrur for a perpetual lamp; the third records a gift of sheep and a lamp-stand for a perpetual lamp by Pandan Kattangan of the Sundara Sola Pandya terinda palayaval (a unit of the army) (ARE 416, 473 and 395 of 1929-30). Similarly, of another viceroy, Maravarman Vikrama Chola Pandya deva, we have four records; one, whose year is lost, records a gift of buffaloes for a perpetual lamp; another of his twenty-second year, also deals with a gift for a perpetual lamp to the temple, which is here said to be in Arrur in Rajadhiraja chaturvedimangalam, a brahmadeya of Kuda nadu, a subdivision of Uttamasola valanadu in Rajaraja Pandi Nadu, by a native of Kshatriyasikhamani valanadu; a third, of his twenty-fifth year, states that the Sivabrahmanas of the temple agreed to provide for special offerings and worship to the God Somanathadevar on the days of the new moon and to feed pilgrims on those days, with the interest on the endowment made by Udaiya Divakaran Trimurti of Madevimangalam in Panaiyur nadu, a sub-division of Kshatriyasikhamani valanadu in Chola-mandalam. And finally, one, also of his twenty-fifth year, says that the Sivabrahmanas belonging to the of the temple  agreed to provide on every amavasya day special offerings to the deity and to feed 15 Sivabrahmanas in the temple with the produce of the land endowed by a certain Kandan Aiyanar alias Nripa-sikhamani Muvendavelar of Mangalakkal, who purchased it from the assembly of Rajadhiraja chaturvedimangalam; this record mentions a unit of measure for grains called the Somanathan-marakkal (ARE 403, 406, 417 and 393 of 1929-30).

We may conclude that this temple came into existence during the days of Rajaraja I after he had annexed the Pandyan territory and that the Pallikonda Perumal shrine in the temple came into existence before the twenty-third year of Rajaraja I.

The Amman shrine came into existence during the Pandyan days.

The main shrine of Attur, viz., that of Somanatha devar consists of a garbhagriha, an antarala, and an ardhamandapa with a circum-ambulatory passage and a tiruch-churru-maligai. In the front there is a covered hall (mahamandapa) supported by three rows of six pillars each. The garbhagriha and the antarala constitute one unit on a common plinth, while the ardhamandapa is at a lower level, from which the antarala is reached by a flight of three steps. There are four pillars in the ardhamandapa in the traditional Middle Chola style, round and capped by a plain corbel with bevelled edges. On the outer front of the ardhamandapa one on either side of the entrance, are two beautifully carved Rajaraja-style dvarapalas, measuring about 1.22 ms (four feet) in height. There are no niche figures in the three niches of the garbhagriha, which are shallow, very much in the Pandyan style, with little scope for housing any koshta deities. There is a sparsely distributed bhutagana frieze below the cornice. On the southern side, however, where there ought to be a Dakshinamurti niche figure, we have a modern structure to house an old and fine stone sculpture of Yoga-Dakshinamurti. Away from the dvara-palas and in front of the eastern wall of the, there are some fine bronzes.


(i) Stone: From east to west along the southern wall in the tiruch-churru-maligai, there is a fine image of Jvaraharadevar, facing north, followed by the sculptures of the 63 Saiva saints; further west along this wall, we have an excellent set of sculptures in stone of the Saptamatrikas, with Virabhadra (?) and Ganapati bracketing the group, facing each other and at right angles to the row of the seven Matrikas. In the south-western corner of the prakara, facing east, is an image of Ganapati. Correspondingly on the north-western corner, we have a fine set of stone images of Karttikeya and His two Consorts, facing east. In the north-eastern corner, adjoining the northern wall and facing south is an image of Bhairavar. On the inner side of the eastern wall of the mahamandapa are images of Chandra in the north and Surya in the south. Close to Surya and near the doorway of the mahamandapa leading to the later-date agra-mandapa is an image of Adhikara-nandi.

(ii) Bronzes: There are in this temple some of the finest bronzes of Pandi Nadu. The most captivating pieces among them are those of Nataraja, Sivakami, Manikkavasagar and Karaikkal Ammaiyar, all in one group, in a chamber to the north-east of the circumambulatory passage.

The Nataraja image measures 112 cms (3' 8") from the base of the padmapitham to the top of the jatha, which is beautifully shaped and from tip to tip of the fingers of the outstretched arms breadthwise it measures 81 cms (2' 8"). From the top of the aureola (ardhachandra element) to the base of the hhadra-pitham it measures 160 cms (5' 3"); there are 12 tongues of flame on either side of the ardha, which rests on two pillars (kals). Nataraja wears the jathamakuta, on which are the crescent moon and Ganga-Bhattari; He wears the usual malu in the upper right arm and the fire in the upper left arm; the lower right in varada pose has the coiled snake on it while the fourth arm is in the gajahasta posture. He stands with His right foot on Muyalagan who is prostrate on his belly and holds a snake by the neck which lies along the entire length of Muyalagan’s body. He is on a padma pitham placed on a bhadra pitham.

The equally beautiful and majestic image of Sivakami Amman standing on a padma pitham with a nilotpala in the right hand and the other arm falling gracefully and with a fine natural bend down the length of the left thigh, measures 84 cms (2' 9"). Both the Nataraja and Sivakami images rest on a common bhadra pitham.

To the proper right of Nataraja, we have an image of Manik-kavasagar with the chevudi in the left arm and the right arm is in the chin-mudra pose. We have a small icon of Karaikkal Ammaiyar with sagging breasts and shrunken belly and holding cymbals in both hands. This entire group constitutes a fine set of bronzes in the true Chola tradition, installed in a Chola temple built in the Pandya country. The style of these sculptures may be termed Chola-Pandya. There are also two beautiful Soma-skandar metal images and a Tani-Amman. Besides, there are the icons of Appar, Tirunavukkarasar, Sundarar, Astradevar and Chandesvara. Flanking the stone dvarapalas referred to earlier, there are, on the south, metal images of Bhikshatanar and of Kevala-Chandrasekharar. North of the dvarapala are images of Subrahmanyar and His two Consorts. All these are exquisite specimens of Chola-Pandya bronzes of the period (Pis 143 to 155).

Inscriptions refer to the gift of a number of icons to the temple of Somanathar. Mentioned among them are images of Uloga Vitankar and Nityasundarar. While the former could be identified with the Somaskandarintherear verandah adjoining the Ganapati icon, the identification of the latter presents some difficulty. Could it be the other Somaskandar image, on the northern side of the rear verandah?

Inscriptions again refer to the gift in the days of Rajaraja I of two villages, viz-, Varandiyal and Kiranur for various services of the temple; they could be identified with Varandivel, a suburb of Attur, which is less than a kilometre from the temple and with another suburb which goes by its old name of Kiranur. These places are at present hamlets of Attur.

2. Pallikonda-perumal shrine

What is of special importance about this temple is the existence of a shrine on the northern verandah of the dedicated to Pallikonda-Perumal, similar to the one at the Nelliyappar temple at Tirunelveli (see below). The shrine is outside the wall of the tiruch-churru-maligai, the entrance to it being on its wall and the garbhagriha being in a cella built outside, with a wagonshaped vimana. This shrine was built by Rajaraja I. The recumbent Vishnu has His head to the west and the feet to the east and lies on a serpent whose coils however, are not to be seen above the floor level; the hood (with five heads) is a modern replacement. Sridevi and Bhudevi are seated. There is no Brahma. In the same chamber, on the western side, there are four bronze images of exquisite quality and finish, of Rama, Vishnu, Sridevi and dancing Krishna. The image of Rama is fascinating. His two arms are in the posture of holding the bow and arrow, which however, are not there now. He wears patra-kundalas. These icons measure 89 cms (2' 11"), 69 cms (2' 3"), 58 cms (1' 11"), and 61 cms (2') respectively.

Kulottunga I

Among the Later Chola inscriptions, almost all relate to Kulottunga I, beginning with his twelfth regnal year. The earliest, records a gift of sheep and of stands for two perpetual lamps to the temple of Somanathadevar alias Ten Tiruppuvanam Udaiyar by a certain Siraman Aditta Pidaran alias Nulambadirajan (ARE 407 of 1929-30). The next record relates to his twentieth year; it gives the details of certain lands sold to the temple by the assembly and the karanmai tenants of Arrur-Sendamangalam, the latter agreeing to pay the taxes on the land (ARE 448 of 1929-30). From a record of his twenty-fourth year, we get to know that Amir in Kuda nadu becomes a part of Uttamasola valanadu. A thirty-sixth year record gives the information that one Kuditangi Mummudi solan alias Jayangondasola Vesalipadi of Arasur in Arumolideva valanadu of Chola mandalam bought land from two residents of Tirukkadavur, a brahmadeyam in Talaippanai in Kuda nadu, and gifted it to the temple for the sacred bath of the deity with water from the Tanporundam (Tamraparni) (ARE 402 of 1929-30). A thirty-eighth year inscription is found on a pillar in the antarala of the central shrine, and registers the sale of land made tax-free to the temple by seven persons of Korkai alias Madhurantakanallur in Kuda nadu (ARE 422 of 1929-30). This inscription is preceded by an incomplete inscription of Vira Rajendra. On another pillar in the same place is a forty-eighth year inscription of the same ruler; it registers a gift of land tax-free to the temple by two residents of the village for lamps and for offerings to the deity on the day of Kartigai (ARE 422 of 1929-30). An undated record in Sanskrit verse (in Grantha) gives the surname of Jayadhara for Kulottunga I and records a gift of a gold aureola and money for two lamps to the temple by the minister Mana-vatara (Naralokavira).

There are a large number of Pandyan records; briefly covering them, we learn that in Arrur-Sendamangalam there was a Vishnu temple called Tirunarayana Vinnagar, that in the days of Maravarman Sundara Pandya “who was pleased to hand back to the Cholas the Chola country”, the place bore the alternate name of Avanipasekhara chaturvedimangalam, that Korkai was called Madhurodayanallur, that in the days of Maravarman Kulasekhara, a mandapa was built in, and a flower-garden endowed to, this temple by one Kesavan Idaiyarru Isvaramudaiyan, and that Arrur was called Venru-mudisudiya-Sundara-Pandiyapattinam in Parantaka valanadu (ARE of 454, 1929-30).

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