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....

Seramadevi, or Seraman-Mahadevi as it is referred to in inscriptions, is located in an attractive stretch of the right bank of the river Tamraparni and is 16 kms from Tirunelveli town. It has a number of ancient temples dedicated to Vishnu and Siva and is in fact a city of temples like Kanchipuram. Of them, as many as eight are of importance. Of these, we are concerned only with three which belong to the period of Chola hegemony over Pandi Nadu.

Before going into the details of these temples, a word may be said about the place itself, as culled from the epigraphical material available from the walls of these temples. From an inscription of the twenty-fourth year of Rajaraja I found in the Ramasvamin temple, we gather that the village of Seramadevi was still called Seraman Mahadevi chaturvedimangalam and that the Ramasvamin temple was called Nigarilisola Vinnagar (ARE 180 of 1895); in a third year inscription of Rajendra I found in the same temple, the place is described as Nigarilisola charuppedi-mangalam, a brahmadeyam in Mulli nadu (ARE 181 of 1895).

Similarly from another inscription (ARE 192 of 1895) found in the Ambalanathesvara temple (now called Ammanathasvamin temple) also in Seramadevi, we get the following passage:

“Sri kovirajarajakesari-panmarana sri Rajaraja devarkku yandu 28-avadu Mulli nattu brahmadeyam Nigarilisola-saruppedimangalattu Solendra-singa isvarattu...”

We may thus presume that the name of the village was changed from Seraman Mahadevi chaturvedimangalam to Nigarilisola chaturvedimangalam just before the twenty-eighth year of Rajaraja I. From a twelfth year record of Ko-Sadaiyavarman alias Udaiyar Sri Sundara Chola-Pandya deva (ARE 193 of 1895), found in the Ammanathasvamin temple, we get the name of the deity as “Kailayamudaiyar” (Kailasam Udaiyar) and the name of the temple as “Cholendra-simhesvaram” of Nigarilisola chaturvedimangalam in Mulli nadu, in Uttamasola valanadu in Rajaraja Pandi Nadu. We learn from later Pandyan records in these temples that the name of the village was changed back to Seraman Mahadevi chaturvedimangalam, evidently after the Chola rule over this territory weakened and in course of time ceased to be.

1. Ramasvamin temple (Nigarilisola Vinnagaram)

Among the eight temples of this place, three are located on the banks of the river Tamraparni, viz-, the Vaidyanathasvamin temple, which is in the extreme west end of the area, followed by the Bhaktavatsalar temple which is about 0.80 km (half a mile) down-stream from the Vaidyanathasvamin temple, and finally the Ammanathasvamin temple which is at the northeastern end of what should have been the old Seraman Mahadevi chaturvedimangalam.

Ramasvamin temple is about 0.80 km (four furlongs) to the south of the river and is in the heart of the town; it is an imposing complex of buildings built over the centuries with accretions made from time to time by the Cholas, the Pandyas and later the Vijayanagara and the Nayak rulers.

On the main wall of the central shrine, we have an inscription of Rajaraja I dated in the twenty-fourth year; it is in vat-teluttu and mentions a gift by Divakaran Vasudevan of 75 cows for three lamps to be burnt in the temple of Nigarilisola Vinnagar Alvar. Rajaraja I bore the title of Nigarilisola among others and so we may conclude that this village was renamed Nigarilisola chaturvedimangalam in the later years of Rajaraja I, and the temple of Vishnu built in this village was also named after him.

It must have come into existence before his twenty-fourth regnal year. The Chola viceroy, Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya provided for offerings (tiruchchennadai) in the shrine of Uyyak-kondan within the temple of Nigarilisola Vinnagar, as found in a record of his fourteenth year, 320th day. Similarly, in the fifteenth year, a gift is made of land for in this temple, to a certain Parantakan Niranjan, a member of the Tisai Ayirattu Annurruvar Guild. A brahmana lady deposited an amount of six kasus in the hands of the Vaikhanasas for burning half a lamp in the temple of Nigarilisola Vinnagar Alvar in Nigarilisola chaturvedimangalam according to a fourth year record of Rajendra Chola deva I (ARE 708 of 1916).

The temple consists of a squar of side 2.44 ms (8') externally, an antarala and an ardhamandapa; beyond them is an enlarged antarala with two openings at the sides; at the entrance from this second and outer antarala to the ardhamandapa, there are two dvarapalas. The mula-vigraha is Adinarayana-svamin measuring 1.83 ms (6') from toe to kiritam standing on a pitham. The upper hands hold the sankha and the chakra and the other two are in the abhaya and the ahuya poses. Abreast of the Lord are Sridevi and Bhudevi, each with a flower in one hand, the other arm being in the kati-avalambita pose. Bhrigu and Markan-deya flank these images and face each other.

In front of the mulasthana images are the utsava-vigrahas of Adinarayana accompanied by Sridevi and Bhudevi.

In the ardhamandapa, we have a fine set of bronzes, grand by any standard, comprising Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, all in one row, and Hanuman (to their left). Local tradition has it that these fine bronzes were discovered from a well in the temple campus while it was being excavated. In the north-western comer of the ardhamandapa, we have a fine set of metal sculptures of Alarmel-mangai, Sridevi, Venkatachalasvamin, Bhudevi, Andal, Rukmini, Rajagopala (or Rajamannar) and Satya-bhama. Alarmel-mangai is in a seated posture, with lotuses held in the two upper arms, the two lower ones being in the abhaya and the varada poses. The metals of Venkatachalasvamin and His Consorts have been brought from the Appar (or Appan) Venkatachalasvamin temple and kept here for purposes of security. The Vishnu image (with Sridevi and Bhudevi brought from the Appar temple) is a gorgeous piece, with channavira, upavita, udarabandha and kaustubha; the upper arms of the image bear the sankha and the chakra,the other two being in the varada and the ahuya poses. Sridevi to His right has disc-shaped earrings and Bhudevi on His left holds the nilotpalam; Andal does not have her hair tied to one side as usual, but the entire bun at the rear is merely shifted slightly to her left.

In addition to these bronzes, there are some on the northern side (middle portion) of the ardhamandapa. There are two sets of images of Vishnu with His Consorts, brought from the Nadu-vulappan temple and kept here for safety; one set is old and the other, of a somewhat later period. Then we have Visvaksena, dancing Krishna, Manavala Muni (sitting), a standing image of Tirumangai Alvar and Udaiyavar (Ramanuja).

The entire ardhamandapa has the usual Chola type of pillars of the Rajaraja I-Rajendra I period (Pis 161 and 162.)

The garbhagriha has three chambers, one above the other; the ground floor is the mulasthanam; the first floor contains an image of Vishnu as Virrirunda Perumal; the second floor cella contains an image of Pallikonda Perumal with Sridevi, Bhudevi, Bhrigu-rishi and Markandeya. The roofs of these two upper floors are supported by wooden beams with possibly flat tiles for the roof. The srivimana is of brick and is in three tiers. The sikhara is circular. The garbhagriha is 11.58 ms (38 ') square and is divided into seven segments each having a koshta-panchara\ the adhishthanam is 1.63 ms (5 ' 4 ") in height; the antarala projects 0.53 m (T 9 ") forward while the ardhamandapa takes it forward by another 8.53 ms (28 '); the second antarala is 3.96 ms (13 ') in length. Adjoining this temple and to its south is a temple of the later Pandya period, dedicated to the Consort of Vedanarayana.

2. Ammanathasvamin temple (Cholendrasimha-isvaram, Ambalanathesvara or Kailayamudaiyar)

The next important temple at Seramadevi is the Mahadevar temple, now called Ammanathasvamin temple, whose original name during the days of the Middle Cholas was Cholendra-simha-Isvaram alias Kailayamudaiya Mahadevar temple at Nigarilisola chaturvedimangalam. This too bears a large number of inscriptions belonging to the days of Rajaraja I, from his twenty-fourth year onwards, and of his successors as well as their viceroys in charge of the Pandyan province. From these records, and from the absence of any other records of an earlier date on the walls of this temple one could conclude that this temple also came into existence during the days of Rajaraja I prior to his twenty-fourth year and thus was coeval with the Vishnu temple of Nigarilisola Vinnagar Alvar (ARE 612 of 1916).

At the turn of the last century, this temple had come to be called Ambalanathesvara temple. It lies to the north-east of the town, on the south bank of the river Tamraparni; it faces east and the railway line runs in front of the temple.

It has a five-storeyed gopuram at the main entrance. It consists of the garbhagriha which is 4.57 ms (15') square externally and and has a height of 3.05 ms (10') from the ground level to the cornice. The antarala is 1.70 ms (5' 7") in length and this is followed by the ardhamandapa which projects 8.84 ms (29') forward. The ardhamandapa is also the snapana mandapa. There is the manimandapa in front. In the tiruch-churru-maligai we have in clock-wise order images of Adhikara Nandi, Surya, the four Saiva saints, Jvara-hara-devar, the Saptamatrikas with Virabhadra and Gana-pati flanking them, and Ganapati in the south-western comer. Adjoining the Ganapati image is another chamber containing the metal images of Somaskandar; along the western wall, there are bronzes of Ghandrasekharar with Amman brought from the Deyvisvaram Udaiyar koyil, and a Tani Amman. In the northwest corner is Karttikeya. In the centre of the northern wall and close to it is the image of Sani (Saturn) while Chandra, facing west, is close to the east wall and adjoining the main entrance. Inside the ardha-cum-snapana mandapa are a number of fine bronzes including a set of Nataraja and Sivakami Amman brought and kept here from the Deyvisvarasvamin temple. The other bronzes in the temple are those of: Adhikara Nandi, Chandrasekharar, Seraman Perumal, Sambandar, Appar, Sun-darar, Manikka-vasagar, Agastyar, Chandesvara and Kan-kalamurti (PI 163).

To the south of this temple is an Amman shrine, the presiding deity of which now goes under the name of Avudai Nayaki Amman. This shrine, a foundation of the days of Rajaraja I or his son, was probably a Siva temple in those days. It was later converted into an Amman shrine, perhaps during or after the days of Kulottunga I.

The temple of Ambalanathesvara as a whole is thus a foundation of the days of Rajaraja I built before the twenty-fourth year of the king.

3. Deyvisvaram Udaiyar temple

This temple faces east and consists of a garbhagriha, an ardha-mandapa and a mahamandapa. The srivimana is in three talas; in the shallow niches (koshtas) on the walls of the, there are decorative floral designs; in the insets of these designs, there are miniature sculptures of Dakshinamurti in the south, Narasimha in the west and Brahma in the north. The same deities are found in the koshtas of the first tier, over th frieze, which in turn is above the cornice and runs the entire round of the entablature. In the adhishthanam, we have a frieze of elephants and yalis which bears great similarity to the frieze of the Sapta-rishisvara temple at Lalgudy (Tiruchy district).

Subshrines for all the ashta-parivara-devatas must have existed originally of which, however, only a few remain; the shrines for Bhairavar in the north-east and for Subrahmanyar in the north-west are noteworthy; the Bhairavar shrine appears to be original, and faces south; it consists of a low-roofed cella with a porch in front supported by two pillars which are divided into segments with alternating square and octagonal cross sections, and the corbel intervening between the roof and the pillar is scalloped at the sides with a plain band in the middle. These features are typical of the days of Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. And so this shrine could be assigned to the days of Rajaraja I.

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