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....

Thyagarajasvamin temple

In my Early Chola Temples (a.d. 907 - 985), I have dealt with the importance of Tiruvarur as a cultural and religious centre of South India during the period of the early Cholas (pp. 192-7). In particular we have dealt with the Achalesvara shrine (otherwise called Tiru-Ara-Neri-Alvar temple) in detail. Briefly, this shrine was a foundation of Sembiyan Mahadevi, the generous royal benefactress, who built numerous temples during her long and dedicated life of piety.

The heart of the township is occupied by the expansive campus of the Thyagarajasvamin temple and the sacred tank of Kamalalaya to its west. A brief description is given of the temple complex which occupies an area of about twenty acres. The core of the temple consists of the twin shrines of Valmiki-nathar and Thyagaraja. There are three prakaras and including the area of habitation of the temple servants and the local residents, five prakaras. The Valmikinathar shrine is the hub of the entire complex and the gateways on the inner, middle and outer prakaras on the eastern side are along the axis of this shrine. Besides, it is also the most ancient shrine. The Thyagaraja shrine lies parallel to the former and to its south. These two shrines, independent of each other otherwise, share a common mahamandapa. Obviously as a result of the addition of this shrine at a later date, the symmetry of the temple has been lost and so the circumambulatory passage round the two shrines is narrow in the south and wide (as originally intended) in the north. There is a double-storyed tiruch-churru-maligai running all round the twin shrines hugging the wall of enclosure. The passage between the shrines and the peristyle is now covered excepting round the portions adjoining the srivimanas of the two shrines. The gopuram over the inner gateway is three-storeyed with a griva and a sala- type sikhara with five kalasas on top.

In the second prakara lies the Achalesvara shrine, in the south-eastern side. While both the (twin) shrines face east, the Achalesvara shrine faces west; it is one of the four important shrines in this complex, dedicated to Siva leaving out the twin shrines, the other three being the Atakesvara shrine, the Anandes-varar shrine and the Siddhisvara shrine which are located respectively in the south-west, north-west and north-east corners of the second prakara; these are, however, very small shrines constructed during later periods, the Anandesvara being an all-brick structure. Another structure of note in this prakara is the big hall known as the Rajanarayanan Tirumandapam (named after a surname of Kulottunga I) which lies between the eastern gopurams of the first and the second prakaras. It spreads longitudinally in the east-west direction, measuring 47.24 ms (155') by 17.37 ms (57'), and is symmetrical about the axis of the Valmikinathar shrine and of the two gopurams. This mandapa has a low basement of 0.91 m (three feet) height. The Amman shrine dedicated to Nilotpalambal is situated in the northern prakara facing south, its axis running between the inner gopuram and the Rajanarayana tirumandapam. It consists of a rectangular garbhagriha with an ardhamandapa and a mukhaman-dapa. All these edifices he in the space within the second wall of enclosure. The gopuram in the east on this wall of enclosure is stocky and short with three storeys, with the grim and the sala- type sikhara crowned with nine kalasas.

In the third prakara, there are two noteworthy monuments, both mandapas; one of them, the Devasrayan mandapam, is a hundred-pillared hall (though erroneously generahy described as a thousand-pillared hall), covering an area of 64.01 ms (210') by 42.67 ms (140'). It has a low plinth, the height being only o. 76 m (two feet and a half). This hall has original association with Sundarar’s Tiruttondat-togai. A modest structure, this was rebuilt in stone in the Later Chola period. The other is another big known as Nataraja mandapam at the rear of the temple-complex close to the outer western gopuram;it stands on a high and massive basement of 1.83 ms (six feet) over the ground level. Close to the north-east corner of the third wall of enclosure is the chariot-temple depicting the Manu-niti Chola episode. It is a modern structure except for the basement, wheels and some of the pillars.

The third wall of enclosure is dominated by four tall gopurams over the four openings (tiru-vasal) in it in the east, south, west and north. The gopuram in the east in the tallest and the largest of them all and measures 33.52 ms (no') by 18.29 ms (6 o') at the base and is 36.58 ms (120 ') tall. It is an elu-nilai (sevenstoreyed) gopuram and has eleven kalasas over its type sikhara. Like the Chidambaram gopurams, its gateway portion comprises two tiers. This gopuram is attributable to Kulottunga III.

Of all these buildings which accrued over nearly six hundred years, the earliest is the Valmikinathar shrine, followed by the Thyagaraja shrine which, however, was re-built during the days of Rajendra I. Then comes the Achalesvara shrine built during the days of Sembiyan Mahadevi and Rajaraja I. The two man-dapas of Devasrayan and Rajanarayanan also are noteworthy structures.

We are here concerned only with the Thyagaraja shrine.

Thyagaraja Shrine

On the walls of this shrine there are seven inscriptions of Rajendra I covering a span of 17 years of his reign (from the third to his twentieth year). In the third year record which begins with the short introduction irattaipadi elarai the details of the quantity of gold which was used for plating and gilding the various parts of a golden pavilion are given (ponnin tiruman-dapam). From an eighth year record, we learn that a gift of a necklace of precious stones was made for the goddess, the consort of Udaiyar Vidi-Vitanka devar by Perumakkalur Udai-yan Veydan Seyyapadam of Gangaikondasolapuram. Two other records of the same year relate to provisions for feeding twelve Sivayogins in the temple and for making two gold ear-ornaments to the god and for providing offerings and oil for the bath of the god and further gifts of gold for supplying clothes to the images and fees to temple singers and servants. Another incomplete record of this king mentions a royal order to Velalakuttan alias Sembiyan Muvendavelan to cover with gold plates certain portions of the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa of the temple (ARE 675 of 1919). The inscription, dated in the twentieth regnal year, gives a list of gifts made by the king and a noble lady Anukkiyar Paravai Nangaiyar for plating and gilding certain portions of the temple. It also includes a number of jewels and lamps given to the god Vidi-Vitanka-devar. There is a reference to a standard unit of weight for measuring gold termed Rajarajan kasu-nirai-kal. What is of significance to us is that it also mentions that the temple of Thyagaraja was built of stone in the eighteenth regnal year of the king by Anukkiyar Paravai Nangaiyar. Besides, the inscription goes on to say that between the thirty-eighth and the 199th days of the eighteenth regnal year, the pious woman also made liberal endowments for gold-plating and gilding parts of the vimana, the entrance and the four sides of the shrine (ARE 680 of 1919—vidivitanka devar koyilil koodattilum vaimadaiyilum nalu nasiyilum ul koottattilum..”). Mention is also made of the donation of copper for plating the doors, and the corbels of the pillars of the mandapa in front of the shrine. It further says that in his (the king’s) twentieth regnal year, the king accompanied by Anukkiyar Paravai Nangaiyar arrived at the temple by chariot and offered worship at the shrine. And it adds that a kuttu-vilakku (a standing lamp) was donated to the shrine for being lighted at the same spot where the two stood and offered worship. In brief, therefore, between the sixteenth and the eighteenth years of Rajendra I the earlier brick structure was converted into a stone structure; and between the thirty-eighth and 199th days of the eighteenth year, the finishing touches were given to the shrine, including gilding and gold plating; and finally in the twentieth regnal year, the shrine was honoured with a visit by the king and Anukkiyar Paravai Nangaiyar. The inscription further says that all these gifts were not taken into the temple books and the temple treasury till the twentieth year of Rajendra I (a.d. 1032).

The same lady raised a mandapa known as devan” and made provision for offerings to the images of Rajendra Chola and Paravai, according to a twenty-seventh year record of Rajadhiraja I (ARE 679 of 1919). Another record of the same king dated in his thirty-first year mentions that in compliance with the orders of the king, Venkatan Tirunila-kanthan alias Adhikari Irumudisola Muvendavelan utilised certain gold and silver vessels in the temple treasury for the erection of a golden pavilion for the god Udaiyar Vidi-Vitanka devar of Tiruvarur. Among the inscriptions of Rajendra II, one is significant; in a royal order, the king directed Velala-kuttan alias Sembiyan Muvendavelan to cover with gold certain portions of the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa of the adjoining Valmiki-nathar shrine. During the days of Kulottunga I there were two significant developments; on the south wall of the second prakara, which should have been built in the early years of Kulottunga I, we have two inscriptions; one (ARE 561 of 1904) mentions for the first time the Devasrayan mandapam (the so called thousand-pillared hall); as this inscription is dated in the forty-ninth year of the king, we may presume that the present structure of this hall was built during his time. From the other inscription (ARE 541 of 1904) dated in his forty-fourth year, we come to know of the existence of a shrine for the Amman called Ulaguyyakonda-Kamakkottam. We may conclude that this Amman shrine was also a foundation of the days of Kulottunga I. Thus by the end of the reign of Kulottunga I, the campus of the temple had expanded considerably, and the buildings within the second wall of enclosure including the wall itself, the gopuram thereon and the Amman shrine had all come into existence. Covering the remaining rulers briefly, we observe that according to the Tribhuvanam inscriptions of Kulottunga III, the sabhapati-mandapa in the rear third prakara and also the massive eastern gopuram (the tallest of all) on the third wall of enclosure were built by him. A later Vijaya-nagara record dated in Saka 1362 (a. d. 1440) mentions that the western gopuram over the second prakara wall was built by Nagara-sar, son of Siddharaja for the merit of the Minister Lakkhana Dannayaka Udaiyar (ARE 566 and 567 of 1904). Finally during the Maratha king Sarfoji’s days certain repairs were made and a kumbhabhishekam performed on a date equivalent to kali 4818 and Saka 1639 (a. d. 1717).

Like the Valmikinathar shrine, its northern neighbour, this shrine faces east; it consists of a garbhagriha which measures 5.47 ms (18') square; the ardhamandapa projects 6.10 ms (20 ') forward; the latter is almost a square; there is a mahamandapa in front which has an entrance in the southern side; this is reached by a flight of steps from the floor level of the prakara. Ahead of this is the mukhamandapa, which, as mentioned already, bestrides both this and the Valmikinathar shrine providing a common front; this hall measures 19.51 ms (64 ') by 18.29 ms (6 o'). The two shrines have a common prakara and there is the iiruch-churru-maligai which runs the entire length of the rectangular wall of enclosure. It is double-storeyed and has a number of cells in the ground floor housing a variety of deities. On the southern side, there are two sets of icons of the 63 Tamil saints—one set in metal and the other in stone. In the south-west and the north-west corners, improvised cells have been provided for housing Gana-pati and Karttikeya respectively. In between are a set of bronzes. Among them are those of Nataraja and Chandrasekharar which are noteworthy. They are housed in a later mandapa merging with the peristyle (Pis 267 to 274).

The garbhagriha has three devakoshtas in its outer faces, housing Dakshinamurti in the south, Vishnu in the west and Brahma in the north. The adhishthanam consists of the usual mouldings of padmam, kumudam, the yali frieze and the varimanam[1].

Footnotes and references:


A good survey of Sri Thyagaraja temple, Tiruvarur by S. Ponnusamy is published by the Department of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu.

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