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 Tiruvanaikkaval (Jambukesvaram)

In the island formed by the Kaveri and the Kollidam which, after separating from each other rejoin for a short distance, only to separate again, there are two famous temples, one dedicated to Siva at Tiruvanaikka or Jambukesvaram and the other dedicated to Vishnu at Srirangam. The temple at Jambukesvaram is one of the most celebrated Siva temples in the Tamil land. The term Tiru-Anaikka would mean “the forest (wood-land) of the elephant”.

Jambukesvara temple

The Linga was a svayambhu, under the white naval tree (nia Jambolana) and the Lord came to be named Jambukesvara; this Linga is believed to represent the element of water (Appu Linga). In fact, there is a water spring under the Linga. It is said that a saint Jambumuni ate a jambu fruit and its seed burst forth into a jambu tree. And the Lord answered his prayers and blessed him and there stood the Svayambhu Linga before him.

The temple is sung by the three Nayanmars, Appar, Sam-bandar and Sundarar.

Tradition has it that a four-tusked white elephant lived near the Chandra-tirtha under the shade of a naval (jambu) tree and adored the Linga and gained salvation. The tradition goes on to say that the elephant bathed the Linga with water carried in its trunk, and adorned it with flowers and offered worship to it. At the same time, a spider, a fellow devotee, practised its own mode of worship of the Lord by weaving a web over the Linga to prevent dry leaves from falling on the deity. The elephant smelling some outside interference with his worship destroyed the web. The spider felt offended with this outrage on its freedom of worship, entered into the trunk of the elephant and stung it so as to cause it mortal pain. Unable to bear the pain, the elephant dashed itself to death and with it the spider also died. The devotion of the spider was rewarded in its next birth by its being raised to be a member of the Chola royal family. He was the famous Koch-chenganan or Kochengat-Gholan, a king of the Cholas of the later Sangam age.

Sekkilar in his Tiruttondar Puranam (Periya Puranam) devotes a chapter to him and after describing this legend mentions that in the ancient Chola line of the Sangam age, there was a scion of the house called Subadeva; he and his queen KamaJavati were issueless; they worshipped the Lord of Tillai{GL_NOTE: 83514 :} (Chidambaram) and prayed for a child to perpetuate the royal line of the solar race, whose eminent ancestor Sibi cut off and gave away his own flesh of equal weight to save a dove who sought his refuge. According to legends, the birth of the child was unnaturally delayed to await the auspicious hour, with the result that the child had blood-shot eyes; hence his name Sengannan (the red-eyed). The mother is said to have collapsed soon after the birth of the child. The child rose to be a great king and a matchless warrior. After he was crowned king, he won many victories. The then Chera king with a number of allies fought against his feudatory called Palaiyan and killed him. Then Kochchenganan waged war against the Chera king Kanaikkal Irumporai and gained a great victory at Kalumalam; the Chera king was taken prisoner but he was released at the intervention of the Tamil poet called Poygaiyar who sang the victor’s glory in his collection of songs, Kalavali Forty. This eulogy is found mentioned in the later Tamil works, the Kalingattuparani of Jayangondar and the Vikrama Cholan Ula of Ottakkuttar. Senganan won other victories at Venni (Koil-Venni) and Alundai (Tiruvalundur) in the present-day Tanjavur district in Tamil Nadu.

Senganan was not only a matchless warrior, but also a devoted follower of Saivism; According to Sekkilar, he is said to have built many Siva temples all over the Tamil land and many mansions to the Tillai Three Thousand. The Vaishnavite saint Tirumangcd of the eighth century states in his hymns that he built seventy madakkoyil for Siva.

Senganan is said to have had a vision of his devotion to the Lord of Tiruvanaikka in his previous birth and he is credited with being the first builder of this temple of the Lord under the shade the Jambu tree. It should have been a small temple with a gateway inaccessible to an elephant—a rival devotee in his previous birth.

There is another legend that a Chola king of Uraiyur lost his necklace while having his bath in the Kaveri. On the spot he prayed that the Lord of Tiruvanaikka accept it as his gift. The necklace got into the pot of the Kaveri water meant for the bath of the Lord and the jewel fell on the Lord during his bath the next day. The miracle is mentioned both by Sundarar in his Devaran and by Sekkilar in his Periya Puranam.

There are more than 131 inscriptions connected with this temple; almost all of them belong to the Later Cholas (Kulot-tunga III, Rajaraja III and Rajendra III), the Pandyas of the Second Empire, the Hoysalas and the Vijayanagara emperors and their viceroys.

A fragment of an inscription of Parantaka I (Madirai-konda Parakesari) is found embedded in the pavement of the inner prakara of the temple.

The earliest temple of Kochchenganan’s time should have been rebuilt in the days of Aditya I whose temple building activities are extolled in the Anbil Plates of Sundara Chola.

There are no records available about the Cholas of the Middle period. Most of the early records should have been unwittingly destroyed during the course of the renovation of the central shrine in the nineteenth century a.d.

From an inscription in the Ujjivanathasvamin temple at Uyyakkondan-Tirumalai, we come to know that Rajakesaii-varman Vira Rajendra had a palace here and issued certain gifts while seated on the throne called Abhimanaraman (ARE 462 of 1908).

We are fortunate enough to have a few of the most ancient sculptures of Aditya I’s age still preserved for us here. Among them may be mentioned Kshetrapalar (south devakoshta), Brahma (north devakoshta) and Ardhanarisvara (east-rear-devakoshta). The installation of Ardhanarisvara seems to me to clinch the dating of this earlier main shrine to the age of Aditya I. Mention may also be made of some sculptures of the old griva—Subrah-manyar, Uma-Mahesvara and Dakshinamurti, now kept in the thousand pillared mandapa of the temple (Pis 383 to 389).

Kali and Nisumbasundani stone sculptures and the bronze images of Bhikshatanar, Kankalamurti, Sambandar, Manik-kavasagar and Virabhadrar may belong to the Early and Middle Chola period. The exquisite architectural beauty of this temple is eulogised by Fergusson (Early Chola Temples, p. xiv of Introduction).

The Sastras prescribe only five prakaras for a temple and this temple is an eminent instance to exemplify thi feature. The Ranganathasvamin temple in Srirangam is, however, an exception with seven prakaras. The fifth madil (wall of enclosure of Tiruvanaikka), called the Tirunir-ittar madil, built with the sacred ashes (tiru-niru) as wages was perhaps built by Sundara Pandya of Madurai in the thirteenth-fourteenth century a.d.; but there is no evidence of its existence in the days of Appar as claimed by a scholar[2] (see ARE 77 of 1937-38: vibhuti-prakara—the gift of Tirunirru Sundara Pandyan). This madil is being renovated now.

Akhilandesvari Shrine

In the campus of the Siva temple, there is a shrine for the consort, Akhilandesvari; this should be ascribed to the Later Chola age. It is presently an enlarged structure in stone. This deity was originally a form of Kali to whom perhaps even human sacrifices were offered. Sankara (eighth century a.d.), as in the Kamakshi temple at Kanchi, checked Kali’s ferocity by installing a Sri-chakra in the temple and adorning her ear ornaments with the tatanka (with an inset of Sri-chakra). Thus she became a beneficent goddess bestowing blessings and prosperity on her devotees.

Footnotes and references:


Apart from Sekkilar’s reference, it is doubtful if Tillai was an important Saivite centre in the Sangam age.


Tiruvanaikka Mahakumbhabhishekam Number, dated 5-7-1970, p. 233, and the classified list of inscriptions relating to this temple by R. Nagaswamy.

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