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....

Vachisvaram (Tirup-pasur Udaiyar) temple

Tiruppasur lies about 48 kms north-west of the city of Madras and about 6.50 kms north of Kadambattur railway station. This centre has an ancient temple dedicated to Siva dating back to the days of Appar and Sambandar. According to local tradition, the Lord of this temple emanated from a clump of bamboos (pasu), and the temple came up later at the site. The tradition goes on to say that a local Kurumba Chief, inimically disposed towards Karikala, the famous Chola king of the Sangam age, sent him a pot with a coiled snake hidden in it, at the prompting of the Jainas. Siva, Lord of Pasur, intercepted the evil pot and rendered the snake innocuous, thus saving his devotee.

Appar has two hymns on the Lord of this temple. In his Tiruppasur Tiruttandagam, the Lord is called the Divine Light of Pasur (Pasur meviya par am sudor), Ardhanarisvara madinan ), the embodiment of the five elements, the Divine Dancer, one who subdued the hooded snake, the poison-throated, one who fought with Arjuna (Vijaya) in a hunter’s disguise (Pasupata astra episode), one who danced with Kali, one versed in the Vedas and the Vedangas, one who helped Kochchenganan (the Chola king reputed to have been a spider-devotee of the Lord of Tiruvanaikka in his previous birth), an adept in the Panduranga dance, one who defied the search high and low of Brahma and Vishnu (Lingodbhavar), one who speared Andha-kasura to death, one who spumed with his feet and destroyed Kala to save His devotee (Markandeya), one who crushed with his toe the ten-headed Ravana who attempted to lift Mount Kailasa and who gained the Lord’s grace only after chanting the Sama Veda. In his Tiruppasur Appar has

described the Lord as one who destroyed the castles of the Tripura asuras, Ardhanarisvara, the destroyer of Kala (Yama), one who danced with the snake in his hand, one who begged for his food with a skull (Brahma’s) in his hand, one who was inaccessible to Brahma and Vishnu (Lingodbhavar), one who sat under the banyan tree and discoursed on dharma (as Dakshi-namurti), and the subduer of Ravana’s pride.[1]

In his hymns, Sambandar calls the deity Pasumathar, and describes the temple as surrounded by groves with ponds and fields, and with cuckoos cooing and honey-bees humming sweet hymns. Pasur is described as full of tall mansions reaching up to the very moon.[2]

In their age (seventh century a.d.), the temple would have been either a structure of brick or a misra temple of brick and stone. Like the Adipurisvara temple at Tiruvorriyur, this is a temple in the Tondaimandalam region which was reconstructed of stone in the days of Rajendra I.

The main shrine has a square garbhagriha and an apsidal sikhara, resembling in this the Pallava temple of Virattanesvara at Tiruttani {Early Chola Temples, pp.343—4 ) and the Tripuranta-kesvaram at Kuvam discussed in a preceding section.

Most of the inscriptions[3] found on the walls of the main shrine belong to the days of Kulottunga I; but some belong to the final days of the Middle Chola period. The earliest inscriptions in the temple are of the days of Rajaraja I. On a broken slab lying near the entrance to the hundred-pillared mandapa in the temple is an inscription of his twelfth year, which refers to the receipt of some money by the sabha of Nallarrur in Kilsengai nadu, a subdivision of Sengattu kottam, from the Tiruppasur temple (ARE 156 of 1929—30). There is another record of his days on a slab built into the floor of the west verandah in the first prakara of the temple, dated in his twenty-ninth year. It registers a sale of land made tax-free by the uravar of Serumani Karanai to a certain... sola sundarar (ARE 151 of 1929 - 30).

Evidently, the earlier structure of the temple, as it existed in the days of Rajaraja I, was replaced after his twenty-ninth regnal year—most probably in the reign of Rajendra I. The earliest Chola record on the main shrine is on its north wall and belongs to the third year of Adhirajendra deva; it states that, while the king was seated in the palace, Gangaikondasolan at

Gangaikondasolapuram, he remitted certain taxes leviable on the village of Selai in Kakkalur nadu, a sub-division of Ikkattu kottam, in Jayangondasola mandalam, as a in favour of the temple of Vey Idangondarulina Mahadevar (the Lord residing amidst bamboo clumps) at Tiruppasur. (In an inscription of Tribhuvanachakravartin Rajendra (III?: ARE 127 of 1929—30), the Lord of the temple is called Purridam-kondar: Resident of an ant-hill). The above remission seems to have been made at the request of an officer called Araiyan Rajarajan alias Pandyan for the conduct of certain services (dharmam) instituted by his mother Rajasekharan Ramadevi in the temple. Mention is also made of the names of several officers including those of the Udan-kuttam (ARE 113 of 1929—30).

The Central Shrine

The main shrine of the temple faces east, and consists of a garbhagriha, an antarala and a mukhamandapa, conceived in a grand fashion as one unitary composition. The garbhagriha measures (9.66 ms) 31' 8" long and (7.92 ms) 26' wide. The antarala projects forward by (3.35 ms) 10' and is (7.54 ms) 24' 9" wide. The mukhamandapa measures (7.77 ms) 25' 6" along the axis of the temple and (8.83 ms) 29' in width; the internal measurements are (6.40 ms) 21' 1" by (7.09 ms) 23' 3". Inside, the garbhagriha is a square. At the entrance from the antarala to the garbhagriha as well as at the entrance from the mukhamandapa to the antarala, there are flanking pilasters, (empty) niches for dvarapalas and a bhutagana frieze above. The mukhamandapa is supported by twelve round pillars, four each in three north-south rows.

The dvi-tala srivimana is massive and tall and in a good state of preservation. The walls of the garbhagriha are high, measuring 4.48 ms (14' 8") from the ground level to the top of the cornice, the adhishthanam itself measuring 1.07 ms (3' 6"). The garbhagriha is one-tiered. The griva and sikhara are in brick and mortar and apsidal-shaped; the sikhara is crowned by five stupis and its front face has the usual kirtimukha motif; the rest of the srivimana is entirely of stone, except for some stucco work in the upper tala. In addition to the fine set of stone sculptures in the niches of the garbhagriha and antarala, there are beautifully carved stone sculptures covered with stucco or figures wholly of stucco in the haras and griva. We list them below (in clockwise order):

Sculptures on the walls of the garbhagriha and antarala are:

South: Ganapati, Dakshinamurti (later)

West: Lingodbhavar

North: Brahma, Durga

The hara over the first tala has two rows of sculptures.

Row I:

South: (1) Ardhanari; (2) Brahma; (3) Dakshinamurti; (4) Vishnu; (5) Sankaranarayana.

West: (1) Vrishabhantikar; (2) Vishnu; (3) Vishnu, seated on a serpent with its five-headed hood over His head (Adinatha).

North: (1) Kalantakar; (2) Sankaranarayana, standing; (3) Brahma, standing; (4) Bhairavar; (5) Chandrasekharar.

East: (1) Bhairavar; (2) Subrahmanyar; (3) A seated figure, unidentified.

Row II:

South: (1) Ganapati; (2) This nidha is vacant, but in a small niche to its left is a Kali figure, and a small niche to it right is empty; (3) Siva, seated, four-armed, with two attendants, one on either side; (4) Vyakhyana Dakshinamurti; (5) Siva, seated flanked by attendants on the left and by a devotee on the right; (6) A standing female figure, not identified, with an attendant rishi; (7) Unidentified.

West: (1) A male figure with uplifted arms (not identified); (2) Two unidentified figures, perhaps images of benefactors; (3) Yoga Narasimha; (4) Govardhanagiri-dhari; (5) Lakshmi-narayana (There is a Bhuvaraha image between the figures of Yoga Narasimha and Govardhanadhari).

North: (1) A saint; (2) A saint, standing; (3) An unidentified deity; (4) Brahma, standing; (5) A saint; (6) Durga, standing; (7) Mahesvari, seated, with a lin to the left. East: (1) Surya (?) with lotuses in both hands; (2) Karttikeya; (3) Indra on elephant, and devotees; (4) Devotees; (5) A two-armed, seated figure, not identified.

Sculptures in the niches of the second tala are:

South: (1) Siva, with sula and damaru in two hands, the other two arms being in the ab and kati-avalambita poses; (2) Siva, seated, with parasu and mriga in two hands, the other two being broken; (3) Dakshinamurti, standing; (4) A standing four-armed figure, unidentified: weapons in and postures of arms not discernible; (5) Siva, standing, with parasu and mriga in two hands, the other two arms being in the abhaya and varada poses.

West: (1) Dikpala (?); (2) Vishnu, standing; (3) Kaliya Krishna.

North: (1) Dikpala; (2) Chandrasekharar (Siva, standing); (3) Brahma, standing; (4) Siva (Bhairavar?) standing, with sula and damaru in two hands, the other two being in the abhaya and katihasta (?) poses; (5) Isana.

East: (1) Surya, two-armed, holding lotuses; (2) Subrah-manyar, standing, holding akshamala and; (3) Chandra.

Sculptures in the grivakoshtas: There are three niches each in the northern, western (rear, apsidal) and southern faces of the griva and one in the front face. The sculptures in them are as follows (listed as usual in the clockwise sense):

South: (1) Vrishabhantikar, standing, with Parvati to the right and a sage to the left; (2) Vyakhyana Dakshinamurti; (3) Alingina Chandrasekharar. Between Nos. (2) and (3) there is a seated, two-armed figure of Siva (?).

West: (1) A seated saint, with a ‘pand type of turban; (2) Vishnu, seated, with two dev (3) A standing figure of a saint.

North: (1) Bhikshatanar (arms broken) with the rishipatnis; (2) Brahma, beardless, seated in padmasana, with akshamala and kundika in two hands, the other arms being in the and varada poses, and flanked by his consorts, Savitri and Saras-vati: we recall a similar sculpture in the great temple at Gan-gaikondasolapuram; (3) An excellent figure of Mahishasura-mardini, eight-armed, the lion shown tearing into the flesh of the buffalo-demon. Between Nos. (2) and (3), there is a beautiful female figure, unidentified.

East: In the only niche here, there is a fine seated figure of Uma Mahesvara, flanked by dvarapalas. Mahesvara holds the parasu and the mriga in two hands, while the other two are in the abhaya and varada poses. Uma holds a lotus in one hand and the other rests on the pedestal; the left leg hangs down, while the right leg is folded and tucked underneath the left leg over the pedestal.

The garbhagriha and the two tiers above it are certainly original, and even the griva and the sikhara would appear to be original, excepting that the surface of the sikhara might have been plastered over later (Colour PI 17, and Pis 283 to 299).

In front of the mukhamandapa, there are two fine specimens of dvarapalas in the Rajaraja I style, one on either side of the entrance; they are massive, powerful of limb, almost fierce of mein and well-proportioned.

Amman Shrine:

To the south of the Siva temple and almost identical with it in size is the Amman shrine, of a later date and dedicated to Svayam Mohanambika. From the architectural and sculptural features we could attribute this temple to the period of Kulottunga I.

Both the Siva and Amman temples are encompassed within a common wall of enclosure, on the southern wing of which is the main gopuram providing access to both the temples.

A common hall put up later links the front portions of the Siva and Amman temples; there is a mandapa at the northern end of this hall in which are housed some good and some indifferent bronzes; of them, the Somaskandar and Tani Amman images are worthy of note, the former having probably been the utsava murti.

Embedded in the floor of the sopana mandapa in front of the main shrine is a stray stone containing a royal edict with the Chola royal crest, similar to what we find in their copper plate grants.

The present structure is a temple of the days of Rajendra I and is a fine specimen of this period in the Tondaimandalam idiom. The hundred-pillared hall in the temple maybe attributed to NaraJokaviran (the General under Kulottunga I and Vikrama Chola), who also constructed similar halls at Chidambaram and Tiruvadigai (near Cuddalore). The Amman shrine may be attributed to the period of Kulottunga I. The wall of enclosure in the outermost prakara along with the gopuram was built in the days of Kulottunga III.

Footnotes and references:


Vide p.471 and p.203 of Tirunavukkarasu Devaram, Saiva Siddhanta Samajara edition.


Vide p.649 of Sambandar Devaram, same edition.


Inscriptions, ARE 107 to 133 of 1929-30, are found on the walls of the main shrine, and 134 to 150 on the walls of the mandapa in front of it.

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