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....

Temples in Tiru-nallar (Tiru-nallaru)

Tirunallaru is a railway station situated on the Peralam-Karaikkal branch line of the Southern Railway. It was formerly a French settlement, now included in the Union Territory of Pondicherry. It is situated on the southern bank of the Kaveri and the river Arisil flows close by. Its other names are Adipuri, Natesvaram and Nagavitankapuram (as one of the Sapta-Vitanka temples); it is a celebrated centre of Saivism.

Darbharanyesvara temple

In modern times, Tirunallaru is famous as the home of Sani-Bhagavan (Lord Saturn) and it attracts a large number of pilgrims from all over the Tamil Nadu. It is sanctified by its legendary association with Nala and its glorification by Sam-bandar in his historical encounters with Jainism at Madurai in the court of Kun Pandyan who became Ninra Seer Nedumaran. The three Tamil saints have sung the glory of this Lord.


This Saiva saint has four hymns on the Lord of Tiru-Nallaru. There are two hymns which seem to have been sung during his visit to this place from Dharmapuram accompanied by Tiru Nilakantha Yalpanar, the first hymn beginning with Bhogamartha. In a disputation over the merit of his hymns with the Jainas, held in the court of the Pandyan king, the palm leaf containing this hymn was thrown into the fire, in the test by fire-ordeal; and since it remained unconsumed, it acquired the name of Pachchaip-padigam (the hymn that was unburnt). In this hymn, the Lord of Tirunallaru is described as Ardhanaris-varar, the master of the Rishabha mount, with the attributes of the deer, the axe, the snake, the trident, the the crescent, the Ganga and the Rishabha flag, the dancer in the cremation ground, the overthrower of the Tripura asuras, the poison-throated, the one inaccessible to Brahma and Vishnu, the wandering mendicant with a skull for his bowl and the suppressor of the heretical Buddhists and Jainas. After this victorious contest with the Jainas, Sambandar has sung another hymn in which he glorifies together (both) the Lord of Tirunallaru and Sun-daresvara, the Lord of Kudal Tiruvalavay, i.e. Madurai. This will prove the celebrity obtained by Tirunallaru in Saivite hagiology in the Tamil land.

In another hymn, there is a vivid description of the natural beauty of the temple campus, as full of trees, flowering plants and rice fields, where the Lord was worshipped by the Nagas, Vidyadharas, Devas and the brahmanas well-versed in the Vedas and the Vedangas and in the practice of sacrifices, and whose Lord was the saviour of Markandeya from Yama.

Special mention is made of the devotion and salvation of the Puranic Nala maharaja who is said to have got rid of his mortal ailments after he worshipped and gained the grace of Saturn and Darbharanyesvara in this temple (stanza 3—Nalan keluvi nalum valipadu-sey Nallarey).


Appar has sung two hymns concerning Tirunallaru. In one hymn he proclaims that one who utters once the name of the Lord of Tirunallaru will have all his sins washed away. In addition to Siva’s usual attributes, He is described as the destroyer of Gajasura, the Lord worshipped by Vishnu (Naranan) perhaps for the gift of the chakra, the destroyer of the Tripura asuras and of Yama, the one who assumed the role of the hunter (kirata) to help Arjuna, the one who asserted and established his supremacy over Vishnu and Brahma (Lingodbhavar) and the one who humbled the pride of Ravana.

Appar’s other hymn is in the Tiruttandagam, in which he describes Siva as the one who cut off the fifth head of Brahma, the one who gave the Pasupata-artra to Arjuna, the destroyer of Manmatha, the bearer of khadvanga and the wearer of the garland of skulls, the Lord of the Rishabha mount, Kankaladevar carrying the bones of Brahma and Vishnu, the bestower of grace on the devotee spider (Jambunatha temple) and the Lord of the hill of Tiruchy, the remover of the evil influences of the planets and the destroyer of Daksha.

Incidentally, other important Saiva temples mentioned in these hymns are those of Tiruppainjili, Tiruppurambiyam, Tirup-pugalur, Tiruvalisvaram and Vedaranyam (Tirumaraikkadu).


The Saint Sundaramurti in his hymn mentions how the Lord of Tiruvennainallur won him over to a new life of divine service even in the course of the celebration of his wedding. He also mentions how Siva, his Friend, saved him as his love messenger.

The central shrine at Tirunallaru is dedicated to Darbharan-yesvara. The antiquity of the temple itself is brought out by its association with the Puranic king Nala who, long pestered by Saturn, found his radical cure by his devotion to the deity of Saturn in this temple, which is situated in a cella on the right of the inner gateway without a spire. There is also a tank in front named after Nala, and held sacred by devotees. As all the three Tamil Nayanmars have celebrated the Lord of this temple in their hymns, its existence as early as the seventh century a.d. is definite; but the present stone structure has to be ascribed to the Middle Chola period. Tirunallaru is said to have been a brahmadeyam situated in Mulaiyur nadu in Uyyakkondan vala-nadu, and in the days of Rajaraja I came to be renamed Cholen-drasimha chaturvedimangalam, after a title of his. The earliest inscription is of Rajadhiraja I, which incidentally refers to gifts by his illustrious father Rajendra I. By the 34th regnal year of Rajadhiraja I, Uyyakkondan valanadu was renamed Jayangondasola valanadu after a surname of the ruler (ARE 437 of 1965 - 66) and in an inscription of Rajendra deva II it is called Adhirajendra valanadu (ARE 440 of 1965-66).[1]

In the Later Chola period, in the days of Kulottunga I and Vikrama Chola, Tirunallaru is described as Virudarajabhayan-kara chaturvedimangalam, a brahmadeyam in Mulaiyur nadu, situated in Rajanarayana valanadu, perhaps named after a title of Kulottunga I (ARE 459 and 442 of 1965-66). The latest inscriptions belong to two Pandyan rulers of the first quarter of the fourteenth century (Pis 251 and 252).

Thyagaraja shrine:

The temple of Tirunallaru has three prakaras; the outermost has a gopuram of five storeys. North-west of the middle wall of enclosure, there is a shrine of Thyagaraja; it seems to be a Later Chola structure, as we find on its walls inscriptions only of the later Pallava king Kopperunjinga and of Rajendra III, the last member of the Chola line.

Nala-Narayanap-Perumal Koyil:

North-west of the Siva temple is the shrine now called that of Nala-Narayanap-Perumal. From a third year inscription assigned by the Government Epigraphist to Rajendra II, we learn of the existence of a temple called the Rajendrasola Vinnagar where a meeting of the mahasabha of Arumolideva chaturvedimangalam took place, in the course of which the sabha received 80 kasus from the temple of Mahadevar of Tirunallaru (ARE 440 of 1965 66). Similarly, in a record dated in a.d. 1126, there is a reference to a temple by the name of Kulottungasola Vinnagar, in whose premises the sabhaiyar of Virudarajabhayan-kara chaturvedimangalam met and sold land for mid-day offerings (ARE 448 of 1965-66, found on the south wall of the mandapa). Is the present Vishnu temple the same as the Rajendrasola Vinnagar (ARE 440 of 1965-66) and the Kulottungasola vinnagar (Vikrama Chola, ARE 448 of 1965-66)?

Footnotes and references:


In the 34th year of the reign of Rajadhiraja I, an interesting reference is made to the arrangements for enacting a drama (aryakkuttu) in five acts (angams) during certain festivals in the temple. Certain actors headed by Srikanthan Kamban (alias Abhimanameru Natakap-Peraraiyan), among whom were the sons of Srikanthan Arangan, who were already in the enjoyment of the right of ariyakkuttu in the temple, were given tax-free land as gift for enacting the five-act drama on the occasions of Masi-Makham and Vaikasi Visakham festivals in the temple of Tirunallar Udaiyar of Tirunallaru; the gift included a provision of 20 kalams of paddy as tiruvilakkorru to the same donees and their troupe for their make-up at the rate of one nali of oil for the face and one nali of rice for the face-power for each anga (act). Cf. the provision made to a Santi-Kuttan for enacting the drama of Rajarajesvara-JVatakam in the Tanjavur temple (SII, II, pp. 306-7).

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