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....

Gangaikondan is now a small, a very insignificant village on the trunk road from Madurai to Tirunelveli, 16 kilometres short of Tirunelveli. There are two temples in this village, one dedicated to Kailasanathar or Kailasapati (Siva), and the other a Vishnu temple to the west of the village, dedicated to Venka-tachalapati. We are here concerned with the Siva temple which is on the southern bank of the river Chirraru, whose ancient name was “Ghitranadi”. The earliest name of this place is Sri Vallabha-chaturvedimangalam, a brahmadeyam in Kilkalar kurram. Even during the reign of Rajaraja I and the first few years of Rajendra I, the place continued to retain this name as seen from a twenty-sixth year inscription of the former and an eighth year inscription of the latter (ARE 160 and 165 of 1895). After Rajendra I’s conquest of the Gangetic delta region, this place was renamed Gangaikondasola-chaturvedimangalam as evidenced by an inscription of Ko-Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya (ARE 162 of 1895).

Kailasapati temple

The local legends incorporated in the sthalapuranam say that in the southern part of the Pandyan country, there were three temples consecrated by the sage Agastya, viz.,

(i) the Nelliyappar temple in the venu (bamboo) forest (the modem town of Tirunel-veli), worshipped by Surya and considered to be the right eye of Siva,

(ii) the Tiru-kuta-achalesvara temple in the champaka forest (the present-day Kuttalam), worshipped by Chandra and considered to be the left eye of Siva,

and (iii) the temple of Kailasapati in the tintrini (tamarind) forest (Gangaikondan), worshipped by Agni and considered to be the third eye of Siva. (The tamarind tree is also called the Kalpaka tree.)

After consecrating these three temples, Agastya is said to have proceeded on to Malayachalam and lived with his wife Yogamudra on the banks of the river Tamraparni whose ancient name was “Tanporundam” or “Tan Porunai” (SII, V, 724). According to the sthalapuranam, the temple at Gangaikondan was at a distance of a yojana from the venu vanam (Tirunelveli) and three yojanas from the champaka vanam (Kuttalam). The sthalapuranam goes on to mention the details of the deities in the temple.

From an inscription of the twenty-sixth year of Rajaraja I found on the north wall of the temple, we could conclude that this temple, in some form, was possibly in existence even in the days of Parantaka I, who bore the title of Madirai-kondan; there is mention of the existence of a lake in the neighbourhood of the temple called Viranarayana-eri, named after another surname of Parantaka I (ARE 160 of 1895; SII, V, 724). However, the present temple, on the basis of its structural characteristics, would appear to be the result of extensive renovations and modifications in the days of Rajaraja I and the viceroyalty of Rajendra I in Pandi Nadu. This record further mentions that provision was made for the worship of and offerings to the deities of Kshetrapalar and Durga in the temple of Sri Kailayam in Sri Vallabha-mangalam, a brahmadeyam in Kilkalar kurram in Rajaraja mandalam and mention is also made of the gift by the sabha of the village, of a flower-garden for the use of the temple. Among the boundaries of the temple is mentioned a big lake named Paramewarap-pereri, perhaps, the lake mentioned earlier.

The main temple consists of a garbhagriha, an antarala and an ardhamandapa; other structures and prakaras have been added later. These three are surrounded by a circumambulatory passage with a tiruch-churru-maligai. In the ardhamandapa, there are two beautiful, two-armed dvarapalas, one on either side of the entrance to the antarala, in the true Rajaraja-Rajendra style.

Close to the north wall of the ardhamandapa and inside it, there are some fine metals of the days of Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. One of them is of Nataraja; from the base to the top of the aureola, it measures 137 cms (4' 6"). The Sivakami icon by its side is also of the same height, the pedestal being smaller. The ardha-chandra, the crescent and the Ganga Bhattari are there on the crown, while the jata is spread out in strands, three to to the right, three to the left and three let loose over the nape. The figure of the Amman is graceful, with the right hand holding a nilotpala flower. Close to this is a beautiful figure of Soma-skandar which has been brought from Pannikulam temple (near Kayattaru not far from here) and kept here for the sake of safety. In this, the image of Skanda is missing though the pedestal thereof is there. In the south-western corner of the mandapa are images of a Tani Amman and Siva as Pradoshamurti. The former holds a nilotpala flower in one hand while the other is in the varada pose. The latter is depicted with the abhaya and the ahuya poses (Pis 156 to 160).

In the tiruch-churru-maligai, there are stone figures of Jvara-hara-devar, the 63 Tamil saints, a standing Ganapati on a lotus pitham (in the south-west comer), Subrahmanyar (in the northwest corner) and Bhairavar (in the north-east corner). Outside of this wall, on either side of the entrance, are the large dvarapalas we have mentioned earlier. In the verandah of the second prakara there is a cella containing a stone figure of Nataraja and His Consort, with Patanjali and Vyaghrapadar worshipping Nataraja, and there is a dimunitive figure of the fasting Karaikkal Ammaiyar. Inside, on either side of the gateway, are stone images of Surya and Chandra. There is also one of Adhikara Nandi.

The temple of Kailasapati has a venerable old tamarind tree for the sthala-vriksha, 5.48 ms (18') in girth at the root level, representing the kalpaka-vriksha of the local legend.

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