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....

Within the limits of the township of Tirunelveli, the headquarters of the district bearing the same name, is a temple dedicated to Nelliyappar. As mentioned in the sthalapuranam of the Kailasapati temple at Gangaikondan, this is held to be one of the three early temples founded by Agastya and to have been established in a venu (bamboo) forest. In token of this origin, we still have a clump of bamboo bushes in the outer prakara; bamboo is also the sthala-vriksha of the Nelliyappar temple.

Nelliyappar temple (Pallikondar shrine)

The temple, which dates possibly earlier than Rajaraja I, consists of a garbhagriha, an antarala and an ardhamandapa, and underwent considerable modification during the reign of Rajaraja I. The garbhagriha and the mahamandapa have been lop-sidedly widened to enable the erection of a sanctum for housing the stone sculpture of the reclining Vishnu (Pallikondar) of massive dimensions, to the north of the main sanctum and the antarala. Correspondingly, the ardhamandapa is asymmetrical with reference to the main shrine of Nelliyappar; the sanctum and the antarala of the latter and the sanctum of the Pallikondar shrine together share a common ardhamandapa, which has three rows of three pillars; the bathing platform in the ardhamandapa, however, being along the same axis as the Nelliyappar sanctum.

We are here concerned with the Pallikondar shrine only, it being an addition made by Rajaraja I to the Nelliyappar temple. The ardhamandapa also is attributable to his age.

To the north of the Nelliyappar sanctum is the chamber housing the image of Pallikondar (Vishnu in the anantasayanam pose) with his head to the west; the entrance to the chamber is on its eastern wall. The divine serpent (with its five-headed hood) is protecting the head of the Vishnu image; in front of this recumbent figure is an excellent metal image of Vishnu with four arms; the two upper arms carry the sankha and the chakra and what is peculiar to this sculpture (and a rare feature) is that the other two arms hold the amrita-kalasam, the pot of nectar. It can easily be assigned to the period of Rajaraja I as is the case with the Pallikondar image and the shrine.

The garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa are enclosed in a surrounding peristyle with a circumambulatory passage, and, by the style of the pillars and other sculptural characteristics, both the prakara and the peristyle could be attributed to the age of Rajaraja I. The pillars of the peristyle are round, and the corbel is scalloped at the ends, while in the middle is a band with decorative designs; Ganapati and Subrahmanyar are housed in two shrines in the south-western and north-western corners (in the tiruch-churru-maligai). In the northern close to the ardhamandapa, are images of Valampuri-Ganapati and a dvarapala to the south of the entrance, and the other dvarapala and the icons of Subrahmanyar and His Consorts, to the north of it. Besides these icons, which are all in stone, there is a fine bronze of Kankalamurti to the west of the garbhagriha in the peristyle of the first prakara. This is a noble specimen of Rajaraja bronze. In the second prakara, on the north-eastern corner, are some more bronzes; the most striking of them is a set of Nataraja and Sivakami, housed in a cella in the peristyle; there is also a stone sculpture of Mahishasuramardini, of fine workmanship; in the north-eastern corner is a cella containing a stone sculpture of Bhairavar. The second prakara contains a maha-mandapa leading to the gopuram. On its front wall, close to the manimandapa, is a fine panel showing Cheraman Perumal and Sundaramurti. In this prakara, on the southern side, there is a good set of bronze icons of the sixty-three Nayanmars and a panel of the Saptarishis in stone, followed further west by a set of the sixty-three Nayanmars in stone. A treasured possession of this temple is a fine set of the four Saiva saints in bronze.

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