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 southernmost tip of the peninsula received as much attention from the suzerain as the heartland of the Cholas, the Chola mandalam, and their mandate was enforced through military stations set up at Kottaru among other places; it is now a suburb of Nagerkoyil in Kanyakumari district. In this region there are numerous temples built during the Chola period.

1. Bhuvana Nandisvara temple:

One among them is a half-ruined temple close to Kanya Kumari town on the road leading to it from Nagerkoyil. The temple, presently called Bhuvana nandisvaram was known in ancient days as Rajarajesvaram, after Rajaraja I. This should have come into existence even during his life time or within three years of his death, as the earliest inscription found on the walls of this temple dates back to the fifth regnal year of Rajendra I (ARE 103 of 1896). There are a number of subsequent records of Rajendra I mostly relating to gifts of lamps and provision for services, and belonging to his 24th, 25th, 29th and 31 st years. There are also records of Rajadhiraja I; one of his, of the 31 st year, refers to the conquest of the Kupaka kingdom, which extended over the present day district of Kanya Kumari in Tamil Nadu and the southern parts of Kerala state (ARE 96 of 1896). There are inscriptions of the later Chola ruler Vikrama Chola too in this temple.

2. Kanya Kumari temple:

Dominating the southernmost point of the Indian peninsula and scanning the three seas is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Kanya Kumari, one of the few ancient and venerated Amman temples in Tamil Nadu that existed even before the period of the Later Cholas when separate independent Amman shrines and temples as adjuncts to the central shrine came to be built. An inscription of Parantaka I’s dated in his 9th year confirms that the Chola king was well in control of the Pandyan region; it specifies the boundaries of the temple land (ARE 108 of 1896). From an inscription attributable to Rajendra (perhaps II), we learn that this centre also bore the name of Gangaikondasola-puram, derived from a surname of Rajendra I.

3. Sthanunatha temple, Suchindram:

Suchindram lies between Kottaru (Nagerkoyil) and Kanya Kumari, and the temple of Sthanunathar along with the Kailasa-nathar shrine in it is an old and famous temple there. Numerous inscriptions of the Early and Middle Chola rulers and the Chola Pandya viceroys are found there. The two records of “Kop-Parakesarivarman who took Madurai and Ham”, Parantaka I, are dated in his thirty-fourth and fortieth years and relate to gifts for lamps.[1]

4. Cholisvaram temple, Nagerkoyil

The notable contribution of the Cholas in this region is, however, the Gholisvaram temple, whose original name when it was set up in the Chola military station of Kottaru was Gholisvaram Udaiya Nayanar temple; Kottaru has now been swallowed up by the new city of Nagerkoyil and has assumed the modest status of a suburb under the name of Oliginach-cheri, having gone under the name of Cholarajapuram a century back.[2]

This temple must have been set up in the years just before the i ith regnal year of the viceroy of Rajaraja I, viz., Rajendra I himself, who as viceroy bore the title of Ko-jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya deva; for we find that a number of gifts of lamps were made to this temple in his nth year, one of which is made by a certain Sarvalokasraya Sri Vishnuvardhana Maharaja alias Salukki Vijayadittan Vikkiyannan (ARE 30 to 46 of 1896). All these inscriptions are found on the prakara walls. During the days of Kulottunga I, the original Middle Chola temple was reconsecrated as seen from an inscription recording a grant to the temple made by Kulottunga I in the thirtieth year and 180th day from his palace at Kanchipuram. One of the local officers of this Chola king, Mulliyur Udaiyan Araiyan Madhu-rantakan alias Kulottungasola-Kerala-rajan of Manni nadu in Chola mandalam (re-) built the temple under the name of Rajendra-solisvaram which was perhaps its original name, and to this temple, Kulottunga I granted the village of Andayakkudi renamed Rajendrasola-nallur, as a devadana iraiyili (ARE 31 of 1896—See Laddigam by B. Venkataiaman, pp. 34, 35). Even this inscription is on the prakara wall. In the fourteenth century, the temple underwent major remodelling, according to a record dated in Saka 1293 (a.d. 1371), at the hands of a later Pandyan ruler Parakrama Pandya (ARE 30 of 1896).

The temple faces east and consists of the garbhagriha, the antarala and the ardhamandapa;the square garbhagriha measures 17ft. 5½in. (5.23m) side; the antarala projects 4ft. (1.22ms) forward; the ardhamandapa measures 27ft. 6in. (8.38ms) square externally. There are four pilasters in each side wall of the garbhagriha and the token niches in the middle are too shallow to accommodate any icons, in true Ghola-Pandya tradition. In the sala niches in the three directions are Brahma in the north, Narasimha in the west and Dakshinamurti in the south; the icons are repeated in the griva niches above. There is an open courtyard (prakara) round the temple with a wall of enclosure (madil); the entire edifice is on a raised ground and is reached by a high flight of steps from the eastern side.

There is a very-well-turned-out bronze image of Somaskandar kept in the ardhamandapa, belonging to the Later Chola period.

A later Pandya addition, the Amman shrine, lies to the south of the Siva temple, and the Consort goes under the name of Pumkulali.

5. Darisanamkoppu temple:

About 10 miles (16 kms) north of Nagerkoyil is an apsidal, ekatala temple, built during the days of Rajaraja I. It bears an inscription of this ruler.

6. Guhanathasvamin temple

At Kanyakumari, there is another Chola temple, built in the days of Rajaraja I. The original temple, dedicated to Guhanathasvamin consisted of the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa. The front hall is a later addition.

The temple preserves the original devakoshta sculptures of Ganesa and Dakshinamurti in the south, Yoga-Narasimha in the west, and Brahma in the north. There might have been a figure of Durga on the north side of the ardhamandapa (see Arts and Crafts of Kerala, Paico Publishing House, Madras, pp. 47-73; Illustrations II).

Footnotes and references:


Other inscriptions are ARE 67, 75, 71 and 85 of 1896, all relating to Rajaraja I in vatteluttu and ARE 69 and 76 of 1896 of the viceroys.


Some 70 years back, when the Government Epigraphist visited this temple, he described it as being located in the suburb of Nagerkoyil known then as Cholarajapuram, which name has changed today and is remembered only by the older men in the area; he also mentioned it as being located close to the Post-office building, which is now gone; we had trouble tracing the temple during our field study.

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