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....

Tiruvorriyur, which is about 18 kms from Madras, is an ancient town, whose annals can be gleaned from the large number of inscriptions found on the walls of the temple here dedicated to Adipurisvara. It dates back to the days of Sambandar and Sundarar. The former saint has sung the praises of the Lord of Orriyur in eleven verses. The latter has sung a in anguish when he discovered that he was losing his eyesight—the punishment he received for forgetting his promise to his wife Sangiliyar that he would never leave her. Tradition has it that when he was engrossed in the pleasures of married life, he was suddenly put in mind of the fact that he had not had the darsana of Vithi-Vitanka Peruman of Tiruvarur for a long time; forgetting his promise to his wife, he set off from Tiruvorriyur for Tiruvarur; he had hardly left the outskirts of the town when he began to lose his sight.

Adipurisvara temple

This temple has grown in size over the centuries; by the end of the fourteenth century, there were as many as five shrines, five mathas and five mandapams in the campus, namely, the Adipurisvara (the main), Nataraja, Chamunda, Gaulisar and Subrahmanyar shrines;

Rajendrasolan, Kulottungasolan, Tirujnana Sambandar, Nan-dikesvara and Angarayan mathas; and

Rajarajan, Rajendrasolan, Vyakarana-dana, Mannaikonda solan, and Vakkanikkum mandapams.

The early history of the temple has been traced in my Early Chola Temples (pp. 97—99).

There are as many as 149 inscriptions recorded on the walls of the central shrine, on the mandapa in front of it, on the pillars of the tiruch-churru-maligai, and on the walls of the sub-shrines, the prakara and the gopuram.

As noted in Early Chola Temples, the central shrine was built in the days of Rajendra I at the bidding of the Saivite religious leader Chaturanana Pandita by the architect Ravi alias Virasola Takshan, “of black granite without the least flaw, in three tiers decorated with char anas, tor anas, kutas, nidhas (big and small), simhamukhas and makaras” (ARE 126 of 1912: SII, IV, 553). This record is in Grantha, undated, and is found on the southern side of the central shrine. The king appears to have held in great respect this guru Chaturanana Pandita, who was his contemporary in the line of succession of Niranjana Guravar (who flourished in about the ninth century a.d.).

In the records of the temple, there is reference to the following (twelve) deities in the temple campus:

  1. Karanai Vitanka devar,
  2. Padampakka devar,
  3. Vattapirai Amman (Pidariyar),
  4. Kshetrapala devar,
  5. Pillai Subrahmanyar (Kumarasvami devar),
  6. Surya,
  7. Arinjisvaram Udaiyar,
  8. Kampisvaram Udaiyar,
  9. Videlvidugu Isvara,
  10. Durgaiyar,
  11. Anukka Pillaiyar,
  12. and Vira Narasimhesvaram Udaiya Nayanar.

A large number of gifts and donations were made to the temple and its adjuncts during the reign of Rajendra I. Chaturana Pandita himself made a gift of 150 kasus for conducting the ceremonial bathing of Mahadevar with ghee on the festival day coinciding with the birthday of the king—the nakshatra (star) of Tiruvadirai in the month of Margali (ARE 104 of 1912). A gift of 90 sheep for a lamp was made by Gangaikondasolan alias Uttamasola-marayan of Tiruvarur for the merit of one Ganavadi Idumban, who stabbed himself to death in order to relieve the distress of the donor (ARE 138 of 1912): this record also covers another gift of 90 sheep for a lamp, by one Nimbala devi, wife of Indala deva of Talaigrama in Virata desa (country round Hangal, itself called Viratanagari or Viratankote in inscriptions). One Nakkan Kodai alias Kanchipura Nangai, a magal (maid-servant?) of Tiruvegambam Udaiya Mahadevar of the nagaram of Kanchi-puram, deposited a gift of money with the inhabitants of Iganai-yur on interest to be paid as paddy for providing offerings every year at the festival of pudiyidu (the first crop?: ARE 139 of 1912). A twenty-ninth year inscription relates to a gift: of money deposited with the nagarattar (merchant-guild) of Tiruvorriyur and others, on interest to be given as paddy, for celebrating the festival of Margali Tiruvadirai and for feeding three men learned in the Vedas. The money was in units of tulai nirai port and Madhurantaka devan madai (ARE 140 of 1912). A gift of one Rajarajan kasu was deposited with the same nagarattar on interest payable in paddy, for feeding a brahmana, by one Kuttan Ganavadi alias Uttamasola Marayan, a military officer of Gangaikondan (ARE 141 of 1912); the same record also makes reference to a money gift by one Ariyammai. A record of the twenty-sixth year mentions that a royal officer, Rajendrasinga Muvendavelan, made enquiries into the temple affairs in the hall called Vakkanik-kum mandapam, and fixed the details of the services to be maintained out of the kurra-dandam (fines) and “excess paddy” collected from the temple servants and the tenants of the devadanam village: the items of expenditure covered included ghee, camphor, food and clothes for the garland-makers, food and clothes for the brahmanas who recited the Vedas, rice, sugar, dal, vegetables, curds, pepper, betel leaves and nuts. Such of these items as were not locally available were imported and paid dor in gold, and the local items in paddy (ARE 146 of 1912). Another inscription of the twenty-sixth year, found in one of the pillars of the verandah round the central shrine, mentions that twelve devaradiyars (women-servants of the temple) were dedicated for the service of the Goddess Gauri, and the proceeds of the sale of some lands by the villagers of the devadanam village of Iganaiyur to one Sattan Ramadeviyar, described as an anukkiyar of the king, were earmarked for their maintenance (ARE 153 of 1912).

The inscriptions of the days of Rajadhiraja I are equally numerous. On the south side of the base of the central shrine, we have his earliest record, dated in his third year (ARE 127 of 1912). It refers to a sale of land by the residents of Veshasharu-padiyur to a brahmana lady called Ariyavammai, wife of Prabhakara Bhatta of Megalapura in Arya desa, for the purpose of feeding the mahesvaras at the Rajendrasolan, evidently a, built by her in the temple premises. An inscription of his sixth year, found on the south wall of the central shrine, relates to a gift of 32 cows for a lamp by a devotee called Periyanayan alias Manikkavasagan (ARE 107 of 1912). There is a twenty-second year inscription on a pillar of the prakara; It records a gift of money for providing daily a bundle of grass to a cow and for other services (ARE 151 of 1912). A record of his twenty-sixth year, found on the south wall of the central shrine, registers an enquiry into the temple affairs by the adhikaris (officers), Valavan Muvendavelan and Vik(ki)ramasinga Muvendavelan, in the Mannai-kondasolan mandapa, obviously so named in commemoration of a Chola victory over the Western Chalukyas in a.d. 1044 (Mannai = Manyakheta: ARE 103 of 1912). There are two inscriptions of the 27th year; one of them is incomplete and contains merely a part of the prasasti beginning with tingaler taru; the other relates to a gift of money by the members of the assembly of Manali alias Singavishnu chaturvedimangalam, for the conduct of the Masi-maham festival (ARE 142 and 144 of 1912). On the north side of the base of the central shrine is a twenty-eighth year inscription recording a gift of money for special offerings on the day following the Panguni Uttiram festival. The Assembly of Kavanur alias Kamala-narayana chaturvedi-mangalam received 30 kasus and agreed to contribute 75 kalams of paddy as interest every year for the expenses on that day (ARE 137 of 1912): this record also mentions pattarkal-tirumeni (images of the nayanmar). A record of his twenty-eight year, 134th day is of interest in that it gives details of the administrative units of the Tondaimandalam region (ARE 102 of 1912): It registers a sale of land by certain members of the assembly of Manali alias Singavishnu chaturvedimangalam, a devadana village of the temple of Tiruvorriyur Udaiyar, to a military officer. A thirty-first year record, found on one of the prakara pillars, deals with a gift of 95 sheep for a perpetual lamp to the temple by Chatural Chaturi, wife (agamudaiyal) of Nagan Perungadan, and a woman-servant of the temple (devaradiyal), showing in cidentally that a devaradiyal could lead a normal married life (ARE 147 of 1912). Another record of his thirty-first year registers a sale of land by the Assembly of Sundarasola chaturvedimangalam, a brahmadeya village to Nagalavaichchani alias Ariya-vammai, wife of Prabhakara Bhatta, a resident of Megalapuram in Arya desa, and a devotee of this temple: we have already met with this lady in the third year record. This land was also given to the Rajendrasolan matha founded by her. This record also mentions other land-sales, one by the nagaram of Tiruvorriyur in the twenty-seventh year of the king (ARE 132 of 1912). A record of the thirty-third year refers to the king as Rajakesari Vijaya-rajendra, and relates to a gift of 92 sheep for a lamp by one Sundara Chola-Pandya Villuparaiyan, a panimagan (servant) of the temple and resident of Kanchipuram (ARE 149 of 1912). Finally, we have a record of the thirty-eighth year referring to a sale of land by the assembly of Kurattur in Ambattur nadu, a sub-division of Pular kottam, for conducting the daily services in the temple of Tiruvorriyur udaiyar Karanai Vitanka devar (ARE 129 of 1912). This name evidently applied to a processional image (of Siva): we revert to this subject in our discussion of the Nataraja shrine below.

References to gifts to temples in the Chola domain by donors from outside it are rather uncommon. Tiruvorriyur seems to have attracted the attention of people of the north country, as the references to Nimbala devi from Viratadesa and Ariyavammai from Aryadesa show; the latter also made a gift of 4,000 kulis of land, from the produce of which a flower garden was to be maintained and four garlands supplied daily to the temple; the land so purchased included house sites for the cultivating tenants, who were also exempted from payment of taxes of any kind (ARE 155 of 1912).

There are some interesting inscriptions of the short reign of Vira Rajendra (a.d. 1063 - 69). Two of them are on the walls of the Gaulisa shrine, one in the Nataraja shrine, and two others in the central shrine. From one of the last-mentioned, we learn that 60 velis of waste land in Simhavishnu chaturvedimangalam (Manali) were brought under cultivation, and designated Virarajendra vilagam. Its income in paddy, gold and kasus was allotted under various items of expenditure “for the health of the Chakravartin Virarajendradeva, for the increase of his race, for the prosperity of the tirumangalyam (ornament worn by women as a symbol of their married state) of the queen and for the growing health of their children”. The items included: the pay of two priests engaged in the duties of worship of the Lord and of the musician who performed at the ceremonial occasion of “waking up the Lord from sleep”; the conduct of the Tiruvadirai tirunal, when the image of Karana Vitanka devar was taken in procession and the Tiruvembavai of Manikka-vasagar was recited before it; and the maintenance of 22 who danced and sang, their dancing master, four cooks, and 16 devaradiyar (women temple-servants) who recited the Tirup-padiyam [Devaram) in a low pitch called ahamargam (ARE 128 of 1912). From the other inscription in the central shrine (of this reign), we learn that the weavers of the Jayasinga-kulakala perunteru made a gift of 120 kasus towards the celebration each month of the. Aslesha asterism, the king’s natal star. This record also refers to two officers who held an enquiry into the temple affairs at the Vakkanikkum mandapa (ARE 128 of 1912). We deal with the inscription on the Nataraja shrine in our discussion of this shrine.

There are a number of inscriptions of the Later Cholas and subsequent ruling dynasties.

The Central Shrine

The central shrine, dedicated to Adipurisvara, is apsidal in shape (from the upanam to the stupi) and is tri-tala. It faces east, and consists of a garbhagriha and an antarala. It is built of black granite, fine-grained and of excellent quality. The five devakoshtas of the shrine contain images of Ganesa and Dakshi-namurti in the south, Vishnu in the west, and Brahma and Durga in the north. There is a colonnaded verandah with a low platform surrounding the shrine (tiruch-churru-maligai); its pillars are in two rows, and most of them bear inscriptions of the days of Parantaka I.

There are a number of subsidiary shrines in the temple.


This shrine, facing south, is to the north-east of the main shrine, the two having a common mukhamandapa. The devakoshta figures consist of a beautiful and rare image known as Ekapada-murti (in the north), Brahma and Vishnu. On the base of this shrine, there is an inscription of the twenty-eighth year of Raja-dhiraja I (ARE 220 of 1912), which refers to a sale of land for offerings in the temple of Karanai Vitanka devar at Tiruvorriyur by the assemblies of Sundarasola and Vanavan Madevi-chatur-vedimangalams. On the base of the stone pedestal of the Nata-raja image in the shrine, there is an inscription which records that the pedestal, called Vira Rajendra, was set up by one Sivaloka-nathan of Tiruvenkadu (ARE 217 of 1912). An inscription of the third year of Adhirajendra records a sale of land by the assembly of Sundarasola chaturvedimangalam to the temple of Tiruvorriyur Udaiyar (ARE 219 of 1912). On the base of the shrine again, there are two inscriptions of Kulottunga I, one of them referring to the shrine of Kumarasvami devar (Subrah-manyar) in the temple complex (ARE 221 and 222 of 1912).

It thus appears that the present Nataraja shrine is the same as the Karanai Vitankar shrine of the inscriptions, and came into existence in the days of Rajadhiraja I, if not earlier; possibly, it received finishing touches in the days of Vira Rajendra. Was it a Siva shrine converted in later days into a Nataraja shrine?


This is a small, square, stone structure, situated in the second prakara of the main shrine and to the south of it. It faces east, and comprises a garbhagriha and an antarala in front of it. The presiding deity (or image), now called Gaulisa (or Gaulisvara), is in the yoga posture, and is four-armed: the lower right arm is in the chin-mudra pose, the lower left hand is held parallel to the ground and close to the torso, with the palm open upwards, the upper right hand holds a trident (apparently, the upper part is missing), and the upper left hand holds a bowl. The devakoshta in the rear (west) houses a fine Vishnu image, and that in the north, one of Brahma.

The superstructure over the sanctum is modem. Two of the inscriptions in this shrine belong to the fifth year of Vira Rajendra. According to one of them (ARE 232 of 1912), this shrine was built of stone for Padampakka Nayaka deva by one Pasupati Tiruvaranga devan alias Rajendra Muvendavelan of Manakkudi. A sale of land to the shrine of Tiruvorriyur udaiya Padampakka Nayakar by the assemblies of Sundarasola and Vanavan Madevi-chaturvedimangalams is recorded by the other (ARE 226 of 1912). A record of the sixth year of the same ruler is inscribed in continuation of the above, and relates to a sale of land by the assembly of Singavishnu chaturvedimangalam to the builder of the shrine, Pasupati Tiruvaranga devan, for establishing a garden named after Vira Rajendra. There are two inscriptions of Kulottunga I as well, in this shrine.

The Cholas of the Middle and Later periods seem to have been deeply interested in the Saiva cult called the Lakulisa cult; it is likely that Tiruvorriyur was a strong centre of this cult during these periods, and that this shrine was dedicated to to Lakulisa (corrupted in course of time into Gaulisa).

In this connection, we may quote the Government Epigraphist, writing in the ARE for 1913 (p. 103):

“The stone image of Padampakka devar is apparently the same as that of the present Gaulisvara. It cannot be explained why Padampakka came to be called Gaulisvara or what Padampakka actually meant... (The deity/image) does not correspond to any of the forms of Siva known to me so far, and leaves it doubtful whether the image may not be one of Lakulisa of Karohana (Karvan), with whom the temple of Tiruvorriyur may have been intimately connected.”

Rajadhiraja II is said to have attended a festival in the shrine; two gurus, Chaturanana Pandita and Vagisvara Pandita, were also present on the occasion, and the latter expounded the Soma Siddhanta (the philosophy of the Kapalika sect of Saivism) in the royal presence; later, all the three listened to a discourse on the life of Sundarar (Aludaiya Nambi).

The Gaulisa shrine also houses a fine image in black granite of Adi Sankara, shown seated on high pedestal, and his four disciples, shown sitting cross-legged and in the anjali pose, at his feet. We have no indication as to where and by whom this was originally installed.


This small stone shrine for the Saptamatrika group, complete with the guardian deities of Ganesa and Virabhadra, is located in the first prakara of the main shrine, immediately to the north of the apsidal (rear) portion of the garbhagriha. The image of Cha-munda here is considerably bigger than that of any of the others of the group, the latter being all of one size. Presumably, the name “Vattapirai Amman” refers to Chamunda here.


This lies east of the mukhamandapa of the central shrine (and of the Nataraja shrine), and also faces east. It is of no great artistic merit. The only inscription in this shrine is on the south side of the base and relates to the ninth year of Rajaraja III (ARE 227 of 1912): it is not a foundation inscription. We do not know what, if any, the connection is between the present Subrahmanyar shrine and the shrine of Kumarasvami devar mentioned in the inscriptions of the temple.

These five shrines constitute the hard core of the temple. Of the adjuncts, the shrine for Bhairavar is noteworthy: the Bhairavar image bears a sula in the upper right hand and a bowl in the upper left—features similar to the Gaulisa image. (See my Four Chola Temples, p. 31). The shrine is in the second prakara, to the north-east of the main shrine.

The kalyana-mandapa to the east of the sacred tank, and the five-storeyed gopuram on the outer wall of enclosure are later structures.

There are some fine Pallava and Chola sculptures ly ing loose in the temple. One of them is a half-buried or broken image of Kali, now kept in a small, low-roofed modern chamber abutting on the south wall of the second prakara. It is a fine specimen of the Middle Chola period, delicately chiselled in black stone. It has a skull on top of the head, flanked by two snakes rearing their hoods. A skull-garland draped over the head falls down to the ears on either side; there is an outsized preta-kundala (corpse-shaped ear-ornament) on the right ear. The upper left arm carries a kapala in its palm, and the upper right hand carries a trident. The lower right hand is in the abhaya pose, and the lower left hangs down, almost unbent, in what is perhaps the kati-avalambita pose. There is a skull-garland across the torso in th eyajnopavita style, and a kucha-bandha.

Also of the same period are the image of Chandesvara found in the front mandapa of the central shrine, the two massive and magnificent dvarapalas at the entrance from the mukhamandapa to the first prakara of the main shrine and the Kshetrapalar image lying loose, all of excellent workmanship.

The temple of Adipurisvara should be considered one of the finest specimens built in the days of Rajendra I in Tondai-mandalam with the distinguishing feature of an apsidal, tri-tala vimana (Pis 300 to 314).

Some Later Chola Inscriptions:

One, of the reign of Kulottunga I, refers to Tiruvorriyur as Adipura. Another, of the same reign, refers to a revenue division called Kalyanapurangonda-sola valanadu. Yet another refers to a matha named after Kulottunga, in the temple campus. An inscription of the days of Kulottunga III refers to a breed of cows called asangada-gandan-surabhi. Yet another reveals the practice of donating lamp-stands shaped like and named after the donor. A third refers to the god Vyakarana-dana Perumal, the king himself being referred to as Ulaguyya Nayanar. Finally, we learn that the Vyakarana-dana-vyakhyana mandapa was built around the thirty-fifth year of this king, by one Durgaiyandi Nayakan.

Panini’s Vyakarana (Sanskrit grammar) seems to have received considerable attention in this place. According to tradition, the first i4 aphorisms of that grammar were produced by Siva from His damaru (kettle-drum), and made a gift of to Panini. Hence the name of Vyakaranadana Perumal, applied to Siva. The name of a local temple-priest is given as Vyakaranandana Bhatta. The above hall was presumably set up for the purpose of expounding this grammar.

An inscription of Rajaraja III mentions the “gift” of five women and their descendants for husking paddy in the temple, by one Vayalurk-kilavan Tiruvegambam udaiyan Sentama-raikkannan. According to another, the king had occasion to listen to the singing in a low, deep voice (a style called ahamargam) by one Uravakkina Talaik-koli, one of the padiyilar (women-singers in a temple), in the Rajarajan tirvmandapam, on the night of the eighth day of the Avanit-tinmal festival. He was so enchanted with it that he passed orders that 60 velis of land be detached from Manali and be renamed Uravakkina-nallur, as suggested by the temple trustees (ARE 2n to 1912).

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