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....

The temple of Tiruvalisvaram, not far from the taluk headquarters of Ambasamudram in Tirunelveli district, is set in the midst of green paddy fields, away from all habitation, on the banks of the river Ghatana, at the point where the river changes from a south-easterly to an easterly course. This river is said to take its name after the pot (ghatam in Sanskrit) of Agastyar who is said to reside in the hills to the west of the temple. The temple is at a distance of about three kms from Mannarkoyil and about two kms from Brahmadesam and is reached only by a tortuous country track.

Tiruvalisvara (Tiru-iramisvaram) temple

A structure entirely in stone from the adhishthanam to the stupi, and in a fine state of preservation, this temple is a beautiful specimen of Chola art of the middle period in the Pandyan region. There are a number of Chola, Cliola-Pandya and Pandya inscriptions on the walls of the temple. On the north wall of the central shrine is a record of Rajaraja I dated in his eleventh year relating to a gift of land (ARE 116 of 1905). On the same wall, there is a Vatteluttu inscription dated in the eighteenth year of a king whose name is not mentioned, from which we learn of an agreement among the villagers of Rajaraja-chaturvedi-mangalam (ARE 117 of 1901). In another eleventh year inscription of Rajarajakesarivarman of Kandalur salai fame, i.e. Raja-raja I, the village is referred to as Rajaraja-chaturvedimangalam, a brahmadeyam in Mulli nadu, a sub-division of Rajaraja valanadu (ARE 119 of 1901). On a pillar near the, there is another inscription registering the victories gained by a corps of the Chola army called Munru-kai-mahasenai, which further mentions that the temple of Tiruvalisvaram, its treasury and the temple servants were placed under the protection of this unit of the army stationed in the neighbouring military station of the Cholas.

The temple faces east. It consists of a garbhagriha, an antarala and an ardhamandapa. Externally, the garbhagriha measures 4.72 ms (15' 6") square, the antarala projects 2.72 ms (8' 11") forward and the ardhamandapa takes the building further forward by another 7.75 ms (29' 5"), the width of this portion being 7.34 ms (24'). The adhishthanam measures 0.98 m (3' 2½") in height. It consists of the jagati, the octagonal kumudam, followed by a lively frieze, running the full round of the garbhagriha, showing animated figures of lions, yalis and elephants. A vari tops the adhishthanam mouldings. The outer walls of the garbhagriha are plain without devakoshtas as is common in temples of the Pandya country. The prastara has a bhutagana frieze, a cornice and a yali frieze above it. The temple is dvi-tala with a hara over the garbhagriha. The hara comprises a central sala flanked by a kuta on each side, with a nidha in between the sala and the kuta. The griva rests on an octagonal slab whose side measures 1.14 ms (3' 8"). At each of the corners of this platform, is a recumbent nandi. From the base of the griva to the top of the simhamukha over the grivakoshta, the height is 2.35 ms (7' 8").

The ardhamandapa is supported by eight pillars and eight pilasters. Outside the entrance to the ardhamandapa and on either side of it, there are two fine dvarapala images with two arms, typical of the period of Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. The tiruch-churru-maligai is intact in the south and west, the northern portion having collapsed. In the peristyle, there are stone sculptures of Jvaraharesvara, the Saptamatrikas, a standing Ganapati in the south-western corner in a separate structure, and Karttikeya similarly housed in the north-western corner. The Ganapati sculpture is a grand one, measuring 1.32 ms (4' 4") in height; Karttikeya, with six pairs of hands, is in a standing posture and the mount, the peacock, is to the rear.

The most noteworthy feature of this temple, apart from the subdued beauty of its proportions, is the set of exquisite sculptures adorning the outer surfaces of the kutas, salas and the nidhas on all the three sides of the srivimana. Some of these sculptures are somewhat rare, and the others, though depicting oft-repeated themes are so delightfully carved that they deserve close description. There are no sculptures on the eastern wing of the hara. We have five sculptures on each of the three sides, one in each corner on the kuta, one on the sal in the middle and two in the nidhas between the central sala and the kutas on the sides.

Taking the sculptures from the south-eastern corner and going round the hara in a clockwise order, they are:

(i) South-kuta-eastern

This is a sculpture of Gangadharar, Siva in the act of receiving the Ganga in his matted locks and simultaneously appeasing Parvati, who is annoyed at Siva’s diverted attention; also called Uma-prasadana, for this reason.

(ii) South-nidha

This is a sculpture of Vrishabhantikar, depicting Siva and Uma standing in a posture of embrace (alingina) while leaning against the Vrishabha.

(iii) South-sala

This is the niche which is usually earmarked for Dakshina-murti; there is a fine figure of Nataraja in the ananda tandava pose with one foot planted on the prostrate Apasmara.

(iv) South-nidha

This is a rare sculptural representation of Siva. He stands in a posture of offering blessings; Parvati, as Sati, is standing in the background and below her is Daksha with a ram’s head (being fitted on to him by a gana). This is a sculpture of Daksha.

(v) South-kuta-western

This depicts Siva as Ardhanarisvara, standing against a bull, with the Siva-half two-armed and the Parvati-half singlearmed.

(vi) West-kuta-southern

This would appear to be a representation of Tripurantakar, as the central figure (Siva) is armed with bow and arrow in one pair of arms, the mriga and the parasu being held in the other pair. The figure has also been interpreted, with less justification, as Kirata.

(vii) West-nidha

This is a sculpture of Kalantakar or Kalari, i.e., Siva (with eight arms) trampling on Kala (Yama).

(viii) West-sala

Lingodbhavar with Brahma as hamsa on the top and Vishnu as Varaha at the base of the linga; flanking the image are again Brahma on the left and Vishnu with hands in the pose on the right of the niche housing the Lingodbhavar image.

(ix) West-nidha

Siva is shown here as Kamantaka. Siva is seated in the sukhasana pose, with a yoga-patta holding the left uplifted knee on to the body. In the recess to the right of Siva is the figure of Kama encircled by flames caused by the anger of Siva disturbed in His meditation. To the left is shown Rati, the wife of Manmatha, in a pose of supplication seeking forgiveness from Siva for the misdemeanour of her husband.

(x) West-kuta-northern

This is a beautiful figure of Kankalamurti, with two hands engaged in beating the drum with a piece of bone, while the upper left hand holds the trident flung over the nape. A gana is carrying the begging bowl on his head and stands beside the main figure while the riski-patni to his right offers him alms.

(xi) North-kuta-western

There is a standing female figure with the head tilted upwards in a posture of looking up to heaven in prayer and the two arms held in the anjali pose. She is standing on one leg and the other is lifted up and bent in the posture of urdhavajanu. There would appear to be the five fires (panchagni) surrounding her; she may be identified as Parvati engaged in her austere penace before her marriage to Siva.

(xii) North-nidha

As if in continuation and culmination of the penance scene above, this panel depicts Parvati being led and offered by her father Himavan in marriage to Siva who is shown seated in the sukhasana pose. The affectionate holding by the father of the shoulders of Parvati, the down-turned face of Parvati indicative of coyness, along with the anjali pose denoting her acceptance of the protection of Siva, present an altogether well-articulated scene of Parvati’s marriage and the theme of Kalyanasundarar.

(xiii) North-sala

This depicts Siva as Gajasamharamurti; the verve of action and the ease with which the annihilation is effected are brought out in this representation of the oft-repeated theme; the head of the elephant is shown to the left of the base with Siva’s left foot stamping on it, the skin of the animal being shown as the canvas for the entire panel, held aloft between a pair of Siva’s eight arms. The vigour of the action is shown by the wide spread of the matted locks and the stance and the flexion of the body. The other arms carry the usual weapons and assume the usual poses.

(xiv) North-nidha

This represents one of the finest themes in South Indian art; and under the section on Gangaikondacholisvaram we shall deal with an exquisite sculpture on this theme found in that temple. Siva and Uma are here shown as seated on the recumbent Nandi, and Siva is shown in the process of tying the nirmalya (garland) round the head of the supplicant Chandesa, who is seen accepting the blessings and grace (anugraha) of the Lord. This figure is known as Chandesa-anugraha-murti.

(xv) North-kuta-eastern

This icon is not easily identifiable; however one can see the figure of Siva seated in the sukhasana posture and a devotee performing abhisheka.

In addition to this array of sculptures in the hara, there are four equally exquisite figures in the grivakoshtas. They are:

  1. Indra seated on the divine elephant (Airavata) in the eastern niche;
  2. Dakshinamurti in the southern niche—the usual place;
  3. Yoga-Narasimha (Narasimha in his yoga posture, with the yoga-patta tied round his upturned knees and the waist) in the western niche; and
  4. Brahma, seated on a lotus, in the northern niche.

Outside the temple and close to the gopuram, in the northeastern direction, is a shrine of Bhairavar, one of the devatas. On grounds of structural characteristics, it would appear to be of the same period as the main temple.

The name Tiruvalisvaram is found mentioned, among others, in an inscription in this temple of a Chola-Pandya viceroy, Sundara Chola-Pandya deva of the post-Rajaraja I period (vide ARE 327 of 1916), which refers to a gift of five velis of land to the temple of Tiruvalisvaram Udaiya Mahadevar in Rajaraja-chaturvedimangalam, a brahmadeyam in Mulli nadu in Mudi-gondasola valanadu, a district of Rajaraja Pandi Nadu, for conducting festivals, feeding brahmanas, and reading the Siva-dharma; the inscription mentions that the gift was made by the king from his palace at Rajendrasolapuram, at the request of the king’s maternal uncle (ammanar). Presumably the deity of this temple was known by the name of Tiruviramesvara in the earlier days and later on came to be known by the name of Tiruvalisvara, though unconnected with Vali in any manner. The inscriptions reveal that the name of Tiruvalisvaram applies both to the place and to the temple.

To the south of this temple is the Amman temple of Soundara-nayaki. This must have been a Siva temple coeval with the main temple and later on converted into an Amman shrine, as has happened in the case of a number of temples built in the days of Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. On the west and north sides of the base of this temple, there are later Pandyan records.

Surrounding the main Siva temple and the Amman temple is a second wall of enclosure which is of a later date.

This temple is one of the finest structural stone temples built in the Pandya country. Its date is not easy to decide. It is clear that it should have been built by the Cholas during their imperial sway. There is no foundation inscription. The earliest inscriptions in this temple are two of the eleventh regnal year of Rajaraja I (a.d. 996). They are in vatteluttu characters. Herein, we find the village renamed Rajaraja chaturvedimangalam; but there is no indication that Rajaraja I was the builder of this temple.

N.R. Banerjee of the Archaeological Survey of India has contributed a learned article to the Journal of the Asiatic Society (Vol. IV, 3 and 4 of 1962). In this he writes:

“Stylistically, circumstantially, and on the basis of the indirect evidence of inscriptions, it is ascribed to the period of Parantaka, sometime before the accession of Rajaraja I” (p. 169),

and again after examining epigraphical evidence, he adds:

“It is most likely that the temple would have come into existence in the time of Parantaka, if not a little earlier.”

He concedes that it is of early Chola style built early in the tenth century (pp. 169 and 177).

K.A. Nilakanta Sastri writes:

“The Siva temple at Tiruvalisvaram (Tirunelveli district) is a valuable museum of superb early Chola iconography of the time before Rajaraja I.” (Colas, second edition, p. 728).

There is no possibility of this temple having come into existence earlier than the period of Parantaka I. He had conquered the whole of the Pandya country after defeating Rajasimha, the last Pandya ruler of the First Pandyan Empire. His consolidation of the Pandya country is brought out by three inscriptions between a.d. 940 and 947.[1] It has to be added that Sundara Chola had to put down the revolt of Vira Pandya at the battle of Sevuru in about a.d. 963 (vide pp. 105 and 133 of my Early Chola Temples). But still a sort of political confusion bordering on anarchy would have prevailed in the Pandya country till the final consolidation of Chola rule under Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I.

So, a definite date for the construction of the Tiruvalisvaram temple is hard to fix. Without a full survey of all the Pandyan monuments no safe deduction as to style is possible. It is incredible but a fact that a complete survey of Pandyan temples has not been done even after a century of work by the Archaeological Survey.

Parantaka I must have been in possession of this strategic area on the well-established military route to Kottaru on the west coast.[2] In India, Art follows the flag. This temple might have been started during the last phase of Parantaka I’s rule in the middle of the tenth century (about a.d. 947) and completed just after Rajaraja I’s conquest of the Pandya country (between a.d. 988 and 996). His eleventh year inscription might indicate this stage.

An observation may be ventured. Some features of this temple resemble those of the Muvarkoyil at Kodumbalur, to be assigned to the days of Sundara Chola who also claims to be a conqueror of Madurai and an invader of Sri Lanka. The arrangement of the salas and the karnakutas and the installation of vimana-devatas are similar, though the shape of the sikharas is different.

Another feature that strikes us, on a careful study of this temple, is that the superb vimana-devatas in their numbers and variety are not fitted correctly and elegantly into the niches. The heads of the central figures in the koshtas of the second tala are not on the same axis as the apex of the simha-lalatas over the koshtas (see figures of Kalari and Gajasamhara). It seems to be a case of later insertion (Pis 172 to 176).

With such an uncertain background and lack of clear epi-graphical evidence, it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion on the date of this temple. It seems to me to be safe to ascribe this temple to the latter half of the tenth century and deem it a monument started in the days of Parantaka I near his military station of Brahmadesam and completed by Rajaraja I during his early days after the conquest of Pandi Nadu and maintained for the benefit of his own men stationed there and of the local population.

The deep interest, nay even concern, Rajaraja I had evinced in this temple and its affairs is reflected in an undated inscription of this period which mentions that the temple of Tiruvalisvaram, all its belongings, its priests and servants were placed in charge of the Munru-kai-mahasenai (a regiment of the imperial army).

Footnotes and references:


Thirty-third year at Anaimalai (ARE 63 of 1905; SII,III,io6), thirty-sixth year at Kuttalam (ARE 448 of 1917) and fortieth year at Suchindram (ARE 82 of 1896).


Parakesari inscriptions which could be attributed to Parantaka I are found in southern Pandya country at Kuttalam, Kanya Kumari and Suchindram:

21st year; Kuttalam; ARE 439 of 1917;
22nd year; Kuttalam; ARE 441 of 1917;
24th year; Kuttalam; ARE 442 of 1917;
25th year; Kuttalam; ARE 443 of 1917;
27th year; Kuttalam; ARE 438 of 1917;
31st year; Kanya Kumari; T.A.S., I., p 237;
34th year; Suchindram; ARE 81 of 1896;
35th year; Suchindram; ARE 447 of 1917.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: