Thiruvarangulam

Thiruvarangulam (திருவரங்குளம்) – A big temple, which has been expanded down the ages, dedicated to Hara-tirthesvara (ஹரதீர்த்தேஸ்வரர்) and Brahadambal (பிரஹதம்பாள்). The main shrine dates back to 12th century. A Nataraja bronze of superlative quality from this temple is now on display at the National Museum, New Delhi. This temple of Hara-tirthesvara and is held in high veneration by devotees far and near. There are a number of inscriptions here. There are a few mythological stories associated with this temple.

Approach

Thiruvarangulam is about 15 kilometers from Pudukkottai, which is well connected with Pudukkottai, Alangudi (ஆலங்குடி), Pattukkottai (பட்டுக்கோட்டை), Peravurani (பேராவூரணி) and Karambakkudi (கறம்பக்குடி) by frequent bus services. Taxi facilities is available from Pudukkottai, Pattukkottai and Peravurani.

The monument: Hara-tirthesvara temple

Thiruvarangulam is noted for its fine ancient temple dedicated to Hara-tirthesvara (ஹரதீர்தேஸ்வரர்) and Brahadambal (பிரகதம்பாள்). A Nataraja bronze of superlative quality from this temple is now on display at the National Museum, New Delhi.

The place was once a centre of iron-ore mining and contained in outcrop of ochre on the bunds of one of the temple tanks, called the Brahma-kundam (பிரம்ம குண்டம்).

The main shrine of the temple, which has been expanded down the ages, was built in the 12th century Chozha epoch. The earliest inscription in the central shrine is dated in the fortieth year of Kulottunga Chozha III (மூன்றாம் குலோத்துங்க சோழன்) (1218-19). The temple may have been built either in the reign of Raja Raja II (இரண்டாம் இராஜராஜன்) or early in the reign of Kulottunga III – the reign of Raja Raja II is considered to be more probable judging from the architectural features.

The Temple Architecture

Sundaresvara temple, Thiruvarangulam

Sundaresvara temple, Thiruvarangulam

The garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்) of Hara-tirthesvara is having the Chozha style of architectural features. The pilasters over the plinth have simple idhazh-s (இதழ்) without petals, large palagai-s (பலகை) with two vyali-s (யாளி) over each palagai-s as if supporting the architrave above. Above the pilasters a line of bhutha-gana (பூதகணம்) supporting a convex moulded cornice. The kudus (கூடு) are formed of foliage scrolls with figures of human heads within. There are niches on the wall, that on the south has a very finely carved figure of Vina-dhara Dakshina-moorthi (வீணாதார தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி), that on the west one of Lingod-bhava and that on the north one of Brahma. The niches are surmounted by makara-torana-s (மகரத் தோரணங்கள்).

The ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and maha-mandapam (மஹா மண்டபம்), which are in front of the shrine, are also of the Chozha style.

The main shrine, ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and maha-mandapam (மகாமண்டபம்) are surrounded by a hundred-pillared mandapam, the construction of which the Statistical Account of Pudukkottai attributes to Gopulingam, a Chozha minister. Along the walls of the southern cloister are large figures of the 63 Saiva saints. In this mandapam are sub-shrines of Ganesa, Lakshmi, Subrahmanya, Bhairava, etc. In the front part of this mandapam are the processional (உத்சவ மூர்த்தி, utsava-moorthi) images, which are fine specimens of late Chozha or early Pandya bronze.

From this mandapam one passes out through the second gopuram erected by a Gangaiyaraya (காங்கேய ராயன்) chief. It is in the Pandya style. Between the second gopuram and the first or main gopuram is a large corridor with massive monolithic pillars (anivetti-k-kal, அணிவெட்டிக்கால்) with carved lions on top supporting the roof. The pillars are elaborately sculptured with figures of donors, like, the Vallanad Chettiyar-s (வள்ளநாட்டுச் செட்டியார்), local chieftains, etc. In the middle part of the ceiling are sculptured the signs of zodiac. To the north of the mandapam are the sabha-mandapam (சபா மண்டபம், hall of dance) and a separate enclosure for the Amman shrine, which is much simpler than that of the God.

Architectural features of the Amman shrine mark the transition from the Chozha to the Pandya epoch. The vyali-s (யாளி) and bhutha-gana (பூதகணம்) found in the central shrine are absent here. The earliest inscription on this shrine says that the structure was built by Kannudaya-perumal (கண்ணுடைய பெருமாள்), queen of the Nishada-raja (நிசதராஜா) chief of Piranmalai (பிரான்மலை) and daughter of the Nishada-raja chief of Ponnamaravathi (பொன்னமராவதி).

The main gopuram may be assigned to the late Pandya epoch and has the decorative pilasters motif.

Mythological stories:

There are a number of myths and legends associated with this temple.

About the origin of the temple

The following account of the legendary origin of the temple is taken from an old Tamil prose manuscript.

A Rishi who was doing penance in the forest near Thiruvarangulam happened one day to restore to a hunter his wife whom he had lost in the woods. Out of gratitude, the hunter brought him everyday some tubers and fruit to eat. The hunter was in turn amply rewarded for his service, for a Palmyra tree sprang up miraculously in the jungle, and dropped a fruit of pure gold every day at the hunters feet as he brought food to the hermit. But unaware of the value of the fruit he sold them all to a Chettiyar of Vallanad for some rice, salt, chilly, and tobacco. A dozen years passed, and the Chettiyar had amassed thousands of these gold fruits.

At this time the Chozha king who held sway over these parts had built a fort near Thiruvarangulam. The hunter finally discovering his stupidity one day demanded additional payment for his fruit from Chettiyar, and when this was refused he appealed to the king who made inquiries. The king examined the miraculous fruits and found them to be pure gold. They then sought for the hermitage of the sage, but both he and the Palmyra tree had vanished, and in their place stood a lingam.

It also happened that a shepherd who carried milk for the king’s use from Kadayakkudi (கடையக்குடி) stumbled every day at this hallowed spot and broke his milk pot over the lingam, thus unintentionally performing the daily ablution of the God with cow’s milk. When the shepherd one day examined the spot with pickaxe and spade, he inadvertently cut the top of the lingam and the cut may have seen to this day – and was horrified to see blood issuing from the cut. The king decided that a temple must be built to the God, and he was pleased to find that the Chettiyar of the golden fruit was himself willing to build one at his own expense in six months. After completing the temple in this manner and providing it with a car and some jewels, 3000 of the gold fruits were still left and they were locked up in the temple cellars.

Other stories

The temple is interesting for the small temple, which contains a male and a female figure.

The story is that an untouchable, who had disguised himself, was appointed as peshkar (பேஷ்கார், manager) of the temple and having been detected, was done to death. A deva-dasi lover of his, out of grief, committed suicide. The couple is now worshipped by the Isai-vellala community (மேளக்காரர்க, Melakarar-s) of the village, at this temple.

The main temple has another association with the once ‘untouchable’ community. According to an old Tamil prose manuscript, the temple car on an occasion broke down. When an attempt was made to move it, legend has it that the Lord appeared and decreed that the car ‘should not be moved unless a paraiyan (பறையன்)’ had broken the first coconut on the wheels of the car and touched the car ropes. The practice is observed to this day.

Thirumayam

Thirumayam (‘thi-ru-ma-yam’) (திருமயம்) is a place of historical importance. Miles before reaching the town one can see a fort atop a large hill. There are two famous rock-cut shrines, one for Siva and the other for Vishnu, adjacent to each other. The Siva cave temple is older among the two. The Vishnu temple is very venerated and considered second only to the temple at Srirangam (ஸ்ரீரங்கம்). Closer to the rock-cut shrine of Siva is a large area dressed to take one of the largest inscriptions. The famous freedom fighter S. Sathyamoorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி) was born in Thirumayam in 1887.

Approach

Thirumayam, a town panchayat and the headquarters of the taluk, is 20 km south of Pudukkottai, on the Karaikkudi (காரைக்குடி) road (Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) – Ramesvaram (இராமேஸ்வரம்) National Highway, NH-210). It is the first main junction on this road from where the Madurai road takes its diversion.

The fort on the hillock is a prominent landmark for miles. Approaching the town, one can catch sight of the fort walls. There is a small Bhairavar-koil (பைரவர் கோயில்), on the outermost wall, facing the road, a favourite deity for vehicle-owners.

Immediately after this, there is a diversion to the left from the highway leading to the celebrated Vishnu and Siva rock-cut temples. They are at the foot of the hillock, on the south side. The Vishnu temple is closer to the road and one can see the temple and the octagonal tank called ‘Satya-pushkarani’ (சத்திய புஷ்கரணி) from the road itself. The Siva temple is west of the Vishnu temple.

After taking the diversion off the main road, to the right side are the steps leading to the entrance to the fort. There is a ticket counter set-up by Archaeology Department.

About one kilometer south of the fort is the old fort-entrance. It has a courtyard with pillared corridors and shrines of local deities. The sculptures on the pillars are beautiful.

Bus facility is available from Pudukkottai, Karaikkudi, Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) and Madurai (மதுரை).

The origin of the name (etymology)

The word ‘Thirumayam’ is derived from the word ‘Thiru-meyyam’ (திருமெய்யம்) which means the ‘place of truth’ in Tamil. It is from ‘satya-kshetra’ (சத்யக்ஷேத்திரம்) do the two deities of the place, namely, Siva and Vishnu, get their name, Sathya-girisvara (சத்தியகிரீஸ்வரர்) and Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி), respectively.

Historical background

The earliest monument, the Siva cave temple is assigned to first half of 7th century AD on epigraphical evidences and its architectural style. The Vishnu cave temple may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century.

Thirumayam later formed part of the territories of the imperial Chozhas.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Hoysala-s ruled this place, first as the allies of the Chozhas and later of the Pandya-s. Two inscriptions here refer to Appanna, a Danda-nayaka (தண்டநாயகர், General) of the Hoysala army, who, while returning from his victorious march to Rameswaram, presided over an important tribunal, held at Thirumayam to settle a longstanding dispute between the trustees of the Vishnu and Siva temples.

In the 13th century, Thirumayam passed under Pandya rule, and there are inscriptions dated in the reigns of Mara-varman Sundara Pandya II (இரண்டாம் மாரவர்மன் சுந்தர பாண்டியன்), Jatavarman Veera Pandya III (மூன்றாம் ஜடாவர்மன் வீர பாண்டியன்), Jatavarman Parakrama Pandya (ஜடாவர்மன் பராக்கிரம பாண்டியன்), and an unidentified Veera Pandya (வீரபாண்டியன்).

The Vijayanagara inscriptions are dated in the reigns of Virupaksha I (முதலாம் விருப்பக்ஷன்) and Krishnadeva-raya (கிருஷ்ண தேவராயர்) (15th and 16th century AD).

In the 16th century, the chiefs of Chooraikkudi (சூரைக்குடி) administered Thirumayam.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the town was a northern outpost of the territories of the Sethupathi (சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்), but was directly administered by the Pallava-rayar-s (பல்லவராயர்).

About the year 1686, Vijaya Raghunatha (விஜய ரகுநாதர்), popularly known as Kizhavan Sethupathi (கிழவன் சேதுபதி), of Ramanathapuram, brother-in-law of Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (இரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) made over to the latter the area of Thirumayam. Sethupathi Thanda-thevan (தண்டத்தேவன்) confirmed this cession in 1723 in return for military help that he received from the Tondaiman against Bhavani Sankar (பவானி சங்கர்), a rival claimant to the chief ship of Ramanathapuram.

In 1733, Thirumayam was the only place of refuge left to the Tondaiman when the Thanjavur general Ananda Rao overran the whole of the Pudukkottai country. Here Vijaya Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (விஜய ரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) lay besieged for about a year until Ananda Rao raised the siege and retired. In 1755, The Raja of Thanjavur (தஞ்ஞாவூர்) submitted to the East India Company a claim for Thirumayam, but did not seriously maintain the claim.

There is an unauthenticated tradition that, at the time of the ‘Poligar War’ of 1799, the famous Katta-bomman (கட்டபொம்மன்) of Panchalankurichchi (பாஞ்சாலங்குறிச்சி) and his dumb brother had taken refuge in the jungles of Tondaiman territory near Thirukkalambur (திருக்களம்பூர்). They were captured by the Tondaiman and imprisoned for a time in the Thirumayam fort. He then handed over them to the English.

During the second ‘Poligar War’, Thirumayam was a depot for Lieutenant Colonel Agnew’s army.

The Monuments

Thirumayam is a place of historical importance and contains three celebrated monuments. They are the Thirumayam Fort and the famous rock-cut shrines of Siva and Vishnu, hewn out of the same rock. The old fort-entrance is also a noteworthy structure.

The Vishnu temple is closer to the diversion road and the Siva temple is to west of this. The Siva temple is in the eastern side of the Vishnu shrine.

The Vishnu temple

The Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி, lord-of-truth) temple is a highly venerated shrine and is regarded by local Vaishnavites to be second in sanctity only to the temple at Srirangam. It is called Adhi-rangam (‘original-Rangam’) and is claimed to be older than the temple at Srirangam.

Actually there are two Vishnu shrines. One is the cave temple and contains one of the most complete and the largest Anantha-sayi groups in India, conforming, almost to the detail, to agamic specifications of Anantha-sayi (அனந்தசாயி). The other is a structural temple in which Vishnu is worshipped in the form of Sathya-moorthi.

The rock-cut shrine is a natural cavern modified and enlarged into a cave temple with the tall facade pillars inserted. It may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century.

The fact that the celebrated Vaishnava saint, Thiru-mangai-azhvar (திருமங்கை ஆழ்வார்), sang hymns in praise of the deity at Thirumayam Vishnu temple has enhanced its sanctity. The following are the stanzas sung by the azhvar:

1095: peNNaagi

1206: maNavaaLaa

1524: kattERu

1660: aruvisOr

1760: vEyirunjOlai

1852: sudalaiyil

2015: piNdiyaar

2016: mayyaar kadalum

CLICK HERE to read those stanzas (available in Tamil-Unicode and English Transliteration formats).

The temple architecture

A view of the Vishnu Temple and the of pushkarani with the fort in the background, Thirumayam

A view of the Vishnu Temple and the of pushkarani with the fort in the background, Thirumayam

The south facing temple has a main gopuram, which has many of the features of the late Pandya (13th – 14th AD) style.

The first mandapam, as one enters the temple, has tall pillars containing sculptures. It belongs to the Nayak period (16th century). The fine, life-size sculptures are in amazing details which only Nayak-s could master. The sculptures of Madurai-veeran (மதுரை வீரன்) kidnapping Bommi (பொம்மி), Manmatha (மன்மதன்), Kuravan (குறவன்), Kuraththi (குறத்தி), a Nayak chieftain, ladies in dancing poses, etc are a few to name.

In this mandapam, to the left are three shrines facing east, containing Chakrathaazhvar (சக்கரத்தாழ்வார், the ‘discuss’ of the presiding deity, Vishnu), Andal (ஆண்டாள்) and Krishna. On the right side are the shrine of Lakshmi-Nara-simha (லக்ஷ்மி நரசிம்மர்) and the room where the vahana-s (processional vehicles) are kept.

Entering the second mandapam, the visitor turns to the Amman shrine to the left.

Uyya-vandha-thaayar (உய்ய வந்த தாயார்) or Ujjivanith-thayar (உஜ்ஜிவனித் தாயார்), the Amman, is believed to be very propitious. To the right is a long narrow shrine containing sculptures of the Vaishnava Acharya-s, Ramanuja (இராமானுஜர்), Madhura-kavi (மதுரகவி) and others and the azhvar-s. The pillars in front of this contain the Dasavatharam (தசாவதாரம்) of Vishnu carved in bas-relief. There is a dhvaja-sthambham (கொடிமரம்) in front of the entrance, in this mandapam. Behind this is the maha-mandapam of the Sathya-moorthi shrine, of which the south and west side have walls.

Palli-konda-perumal (பள்ளி கொண்ட பெருமாள்) of Thirumayam

Thiru-meyyar, Palli-konda-perumal, Thirumayam

Thiru-meyyar, Palli-konda-perumal, Thirumayam

Taking the pradakshina path from the Amman shrine, through the corridors of this mandapam, one reaches the sannidhi of the Yoga-sayana-moorthi (யோகசயன மூர்த்தி, ‘God-in-a-recumbent-posture’) or ‘Palli-konda Perumal’ (paL-Li-koN-da-pe-ru-maaL) in Tamil.

There is a sort of maha-mandapam (மகா மண்டபம்) in front of the shrine. It has two dvara-palaka-s (துவார பாலகர்). Beyond this mandapam is the rock-cut shrine, which may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century. It consists of an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and the garbha-griham (கர்ப கிரகம்). The floor of the garbha-griham is about 3 feet above that of the ardha-mandapam. It has got two pillars and two pilasters.

The main idol lying on a serpent couch is an imposing sculpture. It is about 15 feet long. The five hoods of the serpent, which covers the God’s head as a canopy, are half drawn backward. The God has two arms, one stretched behind him over the serpent Adisesha (ஆதி சேஷா), and the other folded at the elbow and held above his breast. All around the main idol, there is a wealth of sculptures, including Garuda (கருடன்), Chitragupta (சித்திரகுப்தன்), Markandeya (மார்கண்டேயன்), Brahma, the Deva-s, the Vasu-s, and the Kinnara-s (கிண்ணரர்கள்). Near the eastern wall are two demons, and, sheltered near the God’s feet, is the figure of Bhumi-Devi (பூமி தேவி), the Earth Goddess.

The legend that is associated with this group of sculptures is that when the demons Madhu (மது) and Kaithabha (கைடபர்) approached in an aggressive attitude, Brahma, Lakshmi and Bhumi-Devi were frightened. Adisesha, in his sudden wrath, spat poison, which consumed the demons, but was immediately stung with remorse at his hasty action without so much as asking his Lord’s permission. However the God comforted him with an assurance of his approval of the act.

Garudaazhvar, Thirumayam

Garudaazhvar, Thirumayam

To the right of the corridor leading to the rock-cut shrine, is the maha-mandapam of the Sathya-moorthi shrine. It contains a shrine for Garuda, on the southern side. This mandapam is a structure of the late Pandya (13th-14th century AD) period. The recess to the north is called Sundara-Pandya Kuradu (சுந்தர பாண்டியன் கூராடு) (Kuradu = annexe), and leads to the main shrine of Sathya-moorthi.

The shrine consists of a garbha-griham and an ardha-mandapam in front. They are surrounded by another covered hall. The garbha-griham, which adjoins an overhanging cliff, belongs to the late Pandya (13th-14th AD) period. In the shrine, Lord Sathya-moorthi stands between the life-size images of Garuda and a king with Sathya-rishi (சத்யரிஷி) and his wife kneeling in front. There is a narrow path between the rock cliff and the covered hall of the shrine, behind the shrine.

To the east of the Sathya-moorthi shrine are those of Vishwak-senar (விஷ்வக்சேனர்) (also called Sena-mudhali, சேனா முதலி) and Rama. Both these sub-shrines have ardha-mandapam and a small maha-mandapam in front. In the maha-mandapam of the Rama shrine is a portrait sculpture of a chief, probably a Nayak. Behind these shrines, close to the rock, are varieties of Naga images.

Further east is svarga-vaasal (ஸ்வர்க வாசல், ‘gate-of-heaven’) the holy gate through which the principal processional idol is taken out on the Ekadasi (வைகுண்ட ஏகாதசி) day in Margazhi (மார்கழி) (December-January).

The Sathya-pushkarani is a fine octagonal temple tank in the east side of the temple. It is in a reasonably good state of preservation with granite steps and walls.

The utsava-moorthi, (உத்சவ மூர்த்தி, processional bronze idol) of Lord Sathya-moorthi is a fine example of Pallava-style sculpture, and one of the Amman statues is an early Chozha bronze.

Another interesting point to note is that all the celebrations in this temple are for the Sathya-moorthi, even though it is much later than the ‘Palli-konda Perumal’.

At the southern end of the street leading to this temple is a shrine to Vedanta Desika, the famous Vaishnava saint and founder of the Vadakalai sect of Ayyangar-s.

The Siva temple

The Siva rock-cut temple, dedicated to Sathya-girisvara (சத்திய கிரீஸ்வரர்) is the earliest monument in Thirumayam. It is to the west of the Vishnu temple. This cave temple, from its architectural style and epigraphs, is attributable to the 7th century AD, in the same way as the cave temples of Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை), and Thirugokarnam (திருக்கோகர்ணம்).

The temple architecture

Raja-gopuram of Siva Temple with the fort in the background, Thirumayam

Raja-gopuram of Siva Temple with the fort in the background, Thirumayam

The front gopuram is modern, but it is a fairly good imitation of a late Pandya (13th century) structure. Immediately after the gopuram, to the left is the shrine of Lord Ganesa. It has an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) in front. Behind this is the way to the temple tank.

The first pillared mandapam, as one enters the temple, contains the shrines of Bhanu-uma-pathisvara (பானு உமாபதீஸ்வரர்) facing east. It has an ardha-mandapam in front. The sub-shrines of Vinayaka, Durga, Gaja-lakshmi, and Murugan are at the western side of the mandapam, behind the Bhanu-uma-pathisvara shrine. In the eastern half of the mandapam are the shrines of the Goddess Raja-Rajeswari (ராஜராஜேஸ்வரி), and Bhairava (பைரவர்), facing south. Both of them have ardha-mandapam in front. There is one Nava-graha (நவக்கிரகங்கள்) shrine also. Apart from this there are one recumbent nandi (நந்தி), Surya and Chandra, and a dhvaja-sthambham (கொடிமரம்). This group of shrines is known as the Keezha-koil (கீழக்கோயில், ‘lower-temple’) and probably belongs to the Vijayanagara period (15th century). There are a number of inscriptions on the floor of this mandapam.

Further up is another mandapam which can be reached by a flight of steps. Here is the shrine of the principal Goddess, Venu-vanesvari (வேணுவனேஸ்வரி, ‘Goddess-of-bamboo-forest’). The east facing shrine has an ardha-mandapam and two lady dvara-palaka-s (துவாரபாலகர்). It is a late Pandya (13th century) structure, recently renovated. The two pillars in front of the shrine have sculptures of vilakku naachchiyaar (விளக்கு நாச்சியார், ‘lady-with-lamp’). A number of bronze idols are kept at the southern side of the mandapam.

The Nandi carved out of living rock, Thirumayam

The Nandi carved out of living rock, Thirumayam

The northern wall of this mandapam is the living rock. It is on this wall, are the obliterated musical inscription (இசைக் கல்வெட்டு) and the Appanna Danda-nayaka (அப்பண்ணா தண்டநாயகர்) tribunal verdict inscribed. This is one of the largest inscriptions in South India. It records a settlement of a long-standing dispute between the trustees of Siva and Vishnu temples for the share of the produce of the temple lands. The special tribunal was presided over by the Hoysala general Appanna Danda-nayaka.

Above this mandapam is the rock-cut shrine of Sathya-girisvara. It consists of a rectangular ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்), cut with its long axis east to west. There are two massive, short cubical pillars and two pilasters on the southern facade of this ardha-mandapam and four other corresponding pilasters on the north.

The garbha-griham (கர்ப்பகிரகம்) faces east. It is a cubical chamber cut into the western wall of this mandapam. Its floor is reached by short flight of steps. The lingam and the yoni-pitham (யோனி பீடம்) inside the garbha-griham, as well as the recumbent nandi on the floor of the ardha-mandapam, are carved out of the living rock.

Dvara-palaka of Bhanu-uma-pathisvara shrine, Thirumayam

Dvara-palaka of Bhanu-uma-pathisvara shrine, Thirumayam

In the eastern wall of the ardha-mandapam and opposite the shrine is a colossal Lingod-bhava (லிங்கோத்பவர்) cut in relief. This is one of the earliest Lingod-bhava sculptures, reaching from floor to ceiling.

The niches flanking the entrance of the garbha-griham contain relief sculptures of dvara-palaka-s. They appear to be portrait sculptures. They are unconventional for each one is different from the other in pose, ornaments and dress. The one on the north has its cloth reaching down to the ankles, wears a yagnopavita of rudraksha beads and a peculiar hairstyle, and holds up his right hand in adoration. The other dvara-palaka rests one of his hands on a club.

A dvara-palaka in the rockcut shrine, Thirumayam

A dvara-palaka in the rockcut shrine, Thirumayam

The northern wall of the ardha-mandapam contains a short inscription in the Grantha script that reads ‘parivadhinidhaa’ and a mutilated Tamil inscription, which are ascribed to 7th century AD.

The Manual of Pudukkottai says ‘the walls and the ceiling (of the ardha-mandapam) were once covered with stucco on which were paintings. All that is left of them is a small patch on the ceiling with conventional carpet design. This patch of painting covered with the dirt and soot of centuries was recently cleaned”. Presently it is almost lost.

The fort

The Thirumayam fort is situated on and around a rock hillock. On the Pudukkottai-Karaikkudi (புதுக்கோட்டை-காரைக்குடி) Highway, it is a land mark for miles. Approaching the town, one can catch sight of the fort walls. Presently there are three concentric walls and the one adjacent to the road is the outermost one. There is a small Bhairavar-koil (பைரவர் கோயில்), on this wall, facing the Pudukkottai road.

A view of Thirumayam Fort, Thirumayam

A view of Thirumayam Fort, Thirumayam

Locally it is known as Oomayan Kottai (ஊமையன் கோட்டை, ‘fort-of-the-dumb’). The dump (Oomayan) refers to the younger brother of Katta-bomman (கட்டபொம்மன்), who fought against the British and was executed by the British. Local stories claim that Oomayan and his brother, Katta-bomman, during their escape from the British, constructed this fort in a night! According to the Statistical Account (1813), it was built in 1687 by Raghunatha Sethupathi (இரகுநாத சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்).

A view of Thirumayam Fort, Thirumayam

The fort is said to have been originally a ‘ring’ fort with seven concentric walls and a broad moat all round. The lines of the old outer defences are now marked by occasional remains of the works and ditch.

The walls above the rock, which enclose the main citadel, are comparatively well preserved. From the remains one may judge that the walls were surmounted by parapets of strong brickwork, serrated by machicolations and pierced by musketry vents.

Inside the fort..., Thirumayam

Inside the fort…, Thirumayam

The rock-cut shrine in the fort, Thirumayam

The rock-cut shrine in the fort, Thirumayam

Nearly half way up to the top, to the right, is chamber that was used as a magazine. Opposite to this, on the western slope of a boulder, a little below the top of the fort, is a rock-cut cell containing a lingam placed on a square yoni-pitham (யோனி பீடம்), cut out of the living rock. To the left of this cell, is a Grantha inscription of the 7th century AD reading ‘Parivadinidaa’ (பரிவாதினிதா). It is held by many that the word ‘Parivadini’ refers to a variety lute. The label ‘Parivadinidaa’ is also inscribed in the Siva cave temple in this town, and also in Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை) temple.

The canon at the top of the hill, Thirumayam

The canon at the top of the hill, Thirumayam

On the top of the citadel is a platform on which a canon is mounted. To the south of the platform is a tarn.

The citadel and the walls of the fort on the hilltop provide an excellent perch for a view of the houses in the town with their tiled roofs, the tank and the surrounding countryside.

The northern main entrance, Thirumayam

The northern main entrance, Thirumayam

Presently there are three entrances, on the north, on the south and on the south-east. Originally the main entrance to the fort was from the south side.

Old fort entrance, Thirumayam

Old fort entrance, Thirumayam

Even today there are some beautiful structural remains of this old fort-entrance, about one kilometer south of the fort. The structure of this fort-entrance is like a courtyard with pillared corridors on all sides and majestic entrances. The entire structure is decorated with a number of beautiful sculptures all along. There are shrines of Hanuman, Sakti-Ganapathi, and Munisvara, all protecting deities of the fort.

History of the fort

The fort was built in 1687 by Raghunatha Sethupathi (இரகுநாத சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்). It was handed over by the Sethupathi to his brother-in-law, Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (இரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) (1686-1730), the first Tondaiman raja, along with the area of Thirumayam. The cession was confirmed in 1728.

The value of the acquisition of the Palayam (பாளையம்) and fort must have been fully realised by the Pudukkottai king, when in 1733 the Tondaiman was left with this bit of territory alone after Ananda Rao, the Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) general, had overrun the whole of the Tondaiman country. Here, Vijaya Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (விஜய ரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) lay besieged until Ananda Rao had retired.

There is an unconfirmed tradition that Katta-bomman and his brother the Oomayan were for a time detained at the fort before the Tondaiman handed them over to the British. (Hemingway in the Gazetteer of the Trichinopoly District mentions only Oomayan as having been lodged at this fort).

Other worshipping places

There are a number of minor shrines, which include one to Ayyanar (அய்யனார்), locally called Kaliya-perumal (கலியபெருமாள்), and another to Pidari (பிடாரி). The site where a Vaduga (Nayak) woman is said to have performed Sati (சதி) is held sacred.

The Muslim places of worship includes a mosque, with a tomb close by. Adjacent to the Pilla-mangalam (பில்லமங்கலம்) road, to the south of the mosque, is the tomb of Hazarat Quadri Ibrahim Alim. On the bank of the Thamaraik-kanmai (தாமரைக் கண்மாய்), just to the west of the fort, is the tomb of another Muslim saint at which offerings are made both by Hindus and Muslims. In the water spread of the Alan-kanmai (ஆலங்கண்மாய்) another saint lies buried.

There is also a Roman Catholic Chapel.

Inscriptions

There are nineteen inscriptions in Thirumayam, five in Siva temple and fourteen in Vishnu temple. Some of them are already mentioned.

Closer to the rock-cut shrine of Siva, on the living rock are the mutilated letters denoting music terms like shadja, Gandhara, dhaivata, etc. in the Pallava grantha script of the 7th century AD. These certainly indicate that once the entire area was inscribed with musical treatise containing notations similar to, or a replica of the famous one in Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை). But it was obliterated in the 13th century, while recording the adjudication of the dispute between the priests of Siva and Vishnu temples for the share of the produce of the temple lands, by the Hoysala general Appanna Danda-nayaka (அப்பண்ணா தண்ட நாயகா) tribunal mentioned above. It is in Tamil script.

Another copy of the same document is inscribed on the rock to the north of the Siva temple tank.

Two more inscriptions in the Siva cave temple belong to reign of Mara-varman Sundara Pandya (மாரவர்மன் சுந்தரபாண்டியன்) (13th century AD). They are regarding grants to the temple.

The earliest inscription in the Vishnu temple is on a slab, which is now placed in the western prakaram of the Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி) shrine. This slab must have once formed part of a parapet to the steps leading to the cave-temple. It may be ascribed to the latter part of the 8th century or the early years of 9th century AD. It mentions a renovation of the cave temple and an endowment by the mother of Sattan Maran (சாத்தன் மாறன்), a Muttaraiyar (முத்தரையர்) chief (contemporary vassal of the Pallava Nandi-varman II and Danti-varman).

There are two Pandya inscriptions belonging to 14th century. Also there are four Vijayanagara inscriptions (15th and 16th century). Other inscriptions are by local chiefs.

Team Pudukkottai @ Thirumayam

Team Pudukkottai @ Thirumayam

Thirukkattalai

Thirukkattalai (திருக்கட்டளை) – The Siva temple is a good specimen of early chozha architecture of the second half of the 9th century. This is a parivara complex type with sub-shrines around the main shrine. The inscriptions in the temple help to understand the history of the temple.

Approach

Thirukkattalai (‘thi-ruk-kat-ta-lai’) is about 15 kilometers from Pudukkottai town. Taxi service and Town bus services is available from Pudukkottai.

The monument: Early Chozha Temple

The Siva-worshiped as Sundaresvara (சுந்தரேஸ்வரர்)-temple seen in the village is a good specimen of early Chozha architecture of the 9th century and is of special interest. The dating of this temple is based on an inscription taken as of in the reign of Adithya Chozha I (முதலாம் ஆதித்த சோழன்) (874 AD) relating land grants for the temple.

This place seems to have been an important pre-historic centre. There are traces of pre-historic burials and stone circles nearby.

The Temple Architecture

Sundaresvara temple, Thirukkattalai

Sundaresvara temple, Thirukkattalai

The Thirukkattalai temple is a typical structural temple of the parivara complex type with sub-shrines for the relevant divinities found abutting against the prakaram wall. The scheme is different from the freestanding scheme, as at Narttamalai (நார்த்தாமலை) that carries the original sculptures of the respective divinities inside them. This is perhaps one of the few extant examples of an early temple unit with ashta-parivara shrines, meaning, a temple around which are eight sub-shrines, standing intact.

The garbha-griham and ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) belong to the second half of the 9th century and are among the earliest structures in the district. The former is built of stone from basement to finial, and has a square vimanam (விமானம்). Below the stupi (ஸ்தூபி) and simha-lalatam (சிம்ம லலாடம்) and in the tier below are two rows of niches, one above other; those on the south contain seated figures of Dakshina-moorthi (தக்ஷிணா மூர்த்தி) and Bhikshatana-moorthi (பிக்ஷாடணமூர்த்தி), those on the west figures Varaha (வராகம்) and Vishnu and those on the north two figures of Brahma. The corbels are fluted and above them is a line of vyali-s (யாளி). The niche in the southern wall contains an idol of Vina-dhara Dakshina-moorthi (வீணாதார தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி), a rare and interesting specimen, that in the western wall a figure of Lingod-bhava (லிங்கோத்பவர்) and that on the northern wall a figure of Brahma. The dvara-palaka-s (துவாரபாலகர்) have only two arms.

The Amman shrine belongs to the late Chozha period. Round the central shrine are seven sub-shrines dedicated to Surya, the Sapta-matrika (சப்த கன்னியர்), Ganesa, Subrahmanya (சுப்பிரமணியர்), Jyesta (ஜ்யேஷ்டா), Chandra and Chandikesvara (சண்டிகேஸ்வரா) a feature peculiar to early Chozha temples.

The Inscriptions

There are number of inscription. In some of the inscriptions the place is mentioned as Thiruk-karrali (திருக்கற்றளி) meaning “the sacred stone temple” and also as Karkurichchi (கார்குறிச்சி).

Malayadippatti

In Malayadippatti (‘ma-la-ya-dip-pat-ti’, village-at-the-foothills-of mountain), there are two cave temples hewn out of same rock, similar to that of Thirumayam (திருமயம்). The bas-relief sculpture of Mahishasura-mardini (மகிஷாசுரமர்தினி ) in the Siva shrine is very impressive. The Sapta-matrika (சப்த கன்னியர்) frieze here will interest iconographers. Practitioners of Kundalini yoga may also find it worth studying this group of sculpture for it is an authentic 1200-year old composition. There are paintings on the walls, ceiling and sculptures in the Vishnu shrine. Also there are some prehistoric burial sites near to Malayadippatti village.

Approach

Malayadippatti is a small village in the northern half of the Pudukkottai (புதுக்கோட்டை) district. In the early inscriptions the place was called Thiru-valattur-malai (திருவாலத்தூர் மலை).

It is 40 km away from Pudukkottai, in the Killukkottai–Kiranur (கிள்ளுக்கோட்டை-கீரனூர்) route, 3 km away from Killukkottai and 20 km from Kiranur.

One can reach this place by taking the diversion either from Adhanakkottai (அதனக்கோட்டை) on the Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்)-Pudukkottai road or from Kiranur (கீரனூர்) on the Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) -Pudukkottai National highway. Town Bus facility is available from Kiranur and Killukkottai.

The Monuments

Malayadippatti is noteworthy for its two rock-cut temples. One is dedicated to Siva and the other to Vishnu. Similarly one can also find twin rock-cut temples, one dedicated to Lord Siva and the other to Lord Vishnu, in Thirumayam in this district.

The two shrines are hewn out of the same rock. These twin temples are ascribable to the later half of the 8th or the early half of the 9th centuries.

The Siva temple is older and contains the sculptures of Mahishasura-mardini (மகிஷாசுர மர்தினி) and the Sapta-matrika (சப்தகன்னியர்) relief sculptures, which are impressive and noteworthy. There are painting on the walls and ceiling of the Vishnu shrine.

Also there are some prehistoric burial sites near to Malayadippatti.

The Vishnu cave temple

This is the shrine, which is nearer to the road. This shrine has a marvelously carved image of Vishnu as Seshasayi (சேஷசாயி, ‘God- lying-on-the-serpent-Sesha’). All the sculptures in the cave temple, including the dvara-palaka-s (துவாரபாலகர்) and main idol are covered with stucco decoration and painted.

Vishnu temple: an outside view, Malayadippatti

Vishnu temple: an outside view, Malayadippatti

The Temple Architecture:

The shrine is surrounded by a compound wall, which seems to be very recently renovated. The entrance gopuram has a flat roof and has friezes of vyali-s (யாளி) and bhutha-gana. Perhaps it belongs to 13th century and was renovated in the 15th century.

On the compound wall, on the right side of the gopuram, is a small sculpture of Ganesa inside a niche, which is under worship by the local people.

As one enters the temple compound, on the right hand side, there is a structural shrine of Goddess. It consists of a sanctum, with a flat roof, measuring about 9 feet long and 8 feet wide and an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த-மண்டபம்) of the same size. According to an undated Tamil inscription, in 17th-18th century characters, one Mangan Tenkondan (மங்கன் தென்கொண்டான்), a devotee, built this shrine.

On the north-east corner is a structure, which might had been the kitchen (மடைப்பள்ளி).

Dhvaja-sthambham, Malayadippatti

Dhvaja-sthambham, Malayadippatti

In front of the main shrine, there is a dhvaja-sthambham (கொடிமரம்) and sculptures of a goddess facing north and a Garuda facing south. The sculptures are loose sculptures and seem to be recent additions.

The north facing rock-cut shrine has a structural addition in front, which forms part of the front mandapam. There are two inscriptions on this structural addition. They may be dated to the 10th century. There are three entrances, of which the middle one is bigger.

The front mandapam is a kind of a hall, running east to west, formed partly by the structural addition and partly by the rock-cut cave. This hall measures 37 feet long and 8 feet wide.

The lion pillar, Malayadippatti

The lion pillar, Malayadippatti

The dvara-palaka-s in this mandapam are carved out of the living rock and seems to be portrait sculptures. They are covered with stucco.

Dvara-palaka, Malayadippatti

Dvara-palaka, Malayadippatti

The rock-cut ardha-mandapam measures about 32 feet long, 6 feet wide and 8 feet high and has two pillars and two pilasters. They are more elegant than the ones found in the Siva temple. The base is carved in the shape of beautiful lion sitting erect and carrying the pillar on its head.

On the side walls of the ardha-mandapam there are large panels in high relief. They depict Nara-simha (நரசிம்மர்), Varaha-moorthi (வராகமூர்த்தி) and Vishnu in the standing pose along with Lakshmi. The image of seated Vishnu with his devi-s on the eastern wall is a sculpture in the round.

 

Nara-simha, Malayadippatti

Nara-simha, Malayadippatti

Maha-vishnu, Malayadippatti

Maha-vishnu, Malayadippatti

 

Varaha-moorthi, Malayadippatti

Varaha-moorthi, Malayadippatti

To the right of the Nara-simha sculpture is a painting of a dancing lady. There are platforms of one to two feet height, in front of these sculptures in the ardha-mandapam. The Dasavatharam (தசாவதாரம்) of Vishnu is beautifully painted on the ceiling.

The Garbha-griham

Above this is the garbha-griham, the floor of which is about 2 feet above that of the ardha-mandapam. It has got two pillars and two pilasters, which are round and ornamented.

The principal idol in the garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்) is a marvelously carved 11-foot long image of Vishnu as Seshasayi. The five hoods of the serpent are spread out like a canopy over the God’s head. From his navel rises a lotus stalk crowned with a lotus flower on which Brahma is seated. The feet of the God rest on another lotus. The theme depicted here is similar to that of Thirumayam (திருமயம்).

The legend that is associated with this group of sculptures is similar to that depicted in the Vishnu temple of Thirumayam. When the demons Madhu (மது) and Kaithabha (கைடபர்) approached in an aggressive attitude, Brahma, Lakshmi and Bhumi-Devi were frightened. Adisesha, in his sudden wrath, spat poison, which consumed the demons. He was immediately stung with remorse at his hasty action of acting without his Lord’s permission. But the passionate God comforted him with an assurance of his approval of the act.

The paintings

There are paintings on the ceiling of the reclining Vishnu idol which are badly damaged.

A piece of painting on the ceiling of ardha-mandapam: Balarama, Malayadippatti

A piece of painting on the ceiling of ardha-mandapam: Balarama, Malayadippatti

A piece of painting on the ceiling of ardha-mandapam: Balarama

The idols in the garbha-griham and the sculptures on the ardha-mandapam are all covered with stucco decoration. The paintings in this cave temple are now considerably defaced. According to the Manual of Pudukkottai State (1944) these paintings belong to 16th century or later. Some point out its resemblance to the Lepakshi paintings of Andhra.

The Siva cave temple

The Siva temple is adjoining to the Vishnu shrine, in the eastern side. It is considered to be older than the Vishnu temple.

It is ascribed to the 8th century on the basis of epigraphical and architectural evidences. An inscription dated in the 16th year of the Pallava King Danti-varman (775 – 826 AD) mentions that Videl-vidugu Muttaraiyar (விடேல் விடுகு முத்தரையர்) also called Kuvavan Sattan (குவாவன் சாத்தன்) cut this temple out of the Thiru-valattur-malai (திருவாலத்தூர்மலை), and installed a lingam.

In the 11th century Veera Rajendra-chozha (வீரராஜேந்திர சோழன்) inscription, the deity is called as Vagisvara (வாகீஸ்வரன்).

There are a number of inscriptions here, which mention about grants and donations by various chiefs.

The Temple Architecture:

There are remains of a ruined compound wall for this temple complex. The temple complex includes a structural sub-shrine of the Goddess Vadivulla-mangai (வடிவுள்ள மங்கை), facing south and another structure, on the north-west corner, which might had been the kitchen.

The front mandapam, as one enters the main temple, has slender pillars in characteristic 15th century Vijayanagara style. There are a few Chozha inscriptions on the outer side of the northern wall. In side the mandapam, on the western wall, near to the cave facade is one Adithya-Chozha I (ஆதித்ய சோழன், about 871-907 AD) inscription. Perhaps, the original 9th-10th century Chozha construction was renovated during the Vijayanagara period (15th century AD).

There are a few loose idols, which have been kept very recently and are under worship by local people. There is an arch in front of these sculptures, which is also a recent one.

The rock-cut shrine

Siva cave temple, Malayadippatti

Siva cave temple, Malayadippatti

Beyond this mandapam, to the right is the rock-cut shrine of Siva. It measures 22.5 feet long, 15.5 feet wide and 8 feet high and in typical Pallava style. There are two massive short pillars and two pilasters of same type on the northern facade of the cave. The upper and lower parts of the pillars are cubical, while the middle is octagonal.The front part of the cave is a narrow hall running east to west. The rear part has the garbha-griham (கர்ப கிரகம்) with an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) in front.

The west facing garbha-griham is in the form of a cubical cell measuring 7 feet long, 7 feet wide and 7 feet high and its floor reached from the ardha-mandapam by a short flight of steps. Unlike in the Thirumayam (திருமயம்) Siva cave temple, the lingam inside the garbha-griham is not carved out of the living rock.

The Dvara-palaka-s (துவார பாலகர்) are two-armed. The one on the south side bears a bull’s horn, on his head. It seems to be portrait sculpture, probably of the chief who built this temple.

The nandi carved out of living rock, Malayadippatti

The nandi carved out of living rock, Malayadippatti

The ardha-mandapam measures 12.5 feet long and 13.5 feet wide and has a nandi placed on a pedestal. The nandi is carved out of the living rock.On the walls of the ardha-mandapam are some interesting panels with figures in bas-relief. On the southern wall is the Sapta-matrika (சப்தகன்னியர்) frieze with Ganesa and Veerabhadra (வீரபத்திரர்) at each end.

The frieze of Sapta-matrika, Malayadippatti

The frieze of Sapta-matrika, Malayadippatti

The Sapta-matrika sculpture here will interest iconographers and those interested in it from religious and tantric aspects, because it is at least 1200 years old.

On the western wall are much-defaced figures, probably of Gangadhara (கங்காதரர்), Vishnu, eight-armed Durga in standing pose and Mahishasura-mardini (மகிஷாசுர மர்தினி).

The Mahishasura-mardini panel is of particular interest. The goddess here, as at Mahabalipuram (மகாபலிபுரம்), is represented with a benign countenance, eight-armed, astride on her lion, and aiming a spear at the asura (அசுரன்). This is, unfortunately, much disfigured.

Defaced Mahishasura-mardini panel, Malayadippatti

Defaced Mahishasura-mardini panel, Malayadippatti

There is another bas-relief figure of Chandikesvara (சண்டிகேஸ்வரா) on the north-east corner, facing south.

Chandikesvara (சண்டிகேஸ்வரா), Malayadippatti

Chandikesvara (சண்டிகேஸ்வரா), Malayadippatti

Kodumbalur

Kodumbalur (கொடும்பாளுர்) is the site of some structural temples of great beauty. Their merit marks them out as among the most outstanding monuments in India. Two monuments alone are survived. They are the celebrated Muvar-koil (மூவர் கோயில்) and Muchu-kundesvara-koil (முசுகுந்தேஸ்வரர் கோயில்). There are survivals of an Aivar-koil (ஐவர் கோயில்) and of another Siva temple. It is Muvar-koil, which is the centre of attraction. These temples are considered to be the forerunners of the great Imperial chozha temples. Some important inscriptions are also found here.

Approach

Kodumbalur is located on Pudukkottai-Kudumiyamalai-Manapparai (புதுக்கோட்டை-குடுமியாமலை-மணப்பாறை) main road about 35 kilometres from Pudukkottai. And it lies 5 kilometres away from Tiruchi – Madurai highway. Bus facility is available from Viralimalai (விராலிமலை) and Manapparai (மணப்பாறை).

Historical background

Kodumbalur (கொடும்பாளூர்) is one of the most ancient places in Pudukkottai  and perhaps the oldest historically recorded site. The Silappadikaram (சிலப்பதிகாரம்), the earliest Tamil epic, mentions Kodumbai (கொடும்பை)  as lying on the highway between Uraiyur (உறையூர்), the Chozha  capital and Madurai (மதுரை), the Pandya  capital. It is through this road did Kovalan (கோவலன்), the hero of Silappadikaram  (சிலப்பதிகாரம்) and his wife Kannagi (கண்ணகி), along with a Jaina acetic, travelled from Uraiyur  to Madurai. The Periya-puranam  (பெரியபுராணம்) also mentions about this place and calls it the Konattu-k-kodi-nagaram  (கோநாட்டுக் கொடிநகரம், ‘apex-town-of-Konadu’).

The Kodumbalur  tract was mostly under Irukkuvel  (இருக்குவேள்) chiefs (a short note on the Irukkuvel-s is given below) from the middle of the 6th century AD to the middle of the 9th century AD. During the same period the Muttaraiyar (முத்தரையர்)-s had been ruling the adjoining areas falling in Pudukkottai (புதுக்கோட்டை), Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) and Thanjavur  (தஞ்சாவூர்) tracts. Both these ruling chiefs constantly changed their allegiance with one or the other of the greater powers, the Pallava-s and the Pandya-s. The monuments and inscriptions of this period (6th-9th centuries AD) relate to the Muttaraiyar-s, the Irukkuvel-s, the Pandya-s and the Pallava-s.

Kodumbalur  is mentioned as the scene of a few wars in the 8th century. In one of them, the Pandya  King Mara-varman Raja-simha (மாரவர்மன் இராஜசிம்மன்) (740 – 765 AD) defeated the Pallava  King Nandi-varman Pallava-malla (நந்திவர்மன் பல்லவமல்லன்). The Sendalai  (செந்தலை) records attribute a victory at Kodumbalur  to Perumbidugu Suvaran-Maran  (பெரும்பிடுகு சுவாரன்மாரன்) (first half of 8th century), a Muttaraiyar  chief, who is mentioned as having defeated the Pandya-s and the Chera-s. It is not known whether these were two different battles or only two different but contradictory versions of the same war.

After the famous battle of Thirup-purambiyam (திருப்புரம்பியம்) (880 AD), wherein the Chozha-s inflicted a crushing defeat on the Pallava-s and the Pandya-s, the territories of the Muttaraiyar-s and the Irukkuvel-s came under the Chozha-s.

The inscriptions in these areas often indicate matrimonial relations among the various kings – the Pandya-s, the Muttaraiyar-s, the Irukkuvel-s, the Pallava-s and the Chozha-s – in addition to political relations.

For a long spell between 9th and 14th centuries, Kodumbalur was under the Chozha-s and the later Pandya-s. The town must have been finally destroyed during the Muslim invasions in 14th century.

During the Chozha times Kodumbalur  was a flourishing town and had at least two nagaram-s (assembles of merchants). It had a mani-gramam  (மணிகிராமம்) (corporation of merchants or trade guild). These institutions were either associated or affiliated to the great guild or corporation known as the Ainurruvar  (ஐநூற்றுவர், ‘assembly-of-five-hundred’).

The Irukkuvel dynasty of Kodumbalur

Kodumbalur  was the seat of a flourishing state, ruled by a dynasty of Velir (வேளிர்)-s called Irukkuvel-s, who were connected by blood with the Chozha-s, but politically were subordinate to them. They have played a very important part in the moulding of South Indian history and politics.

The Velir-s claimed to be Yadava (யாதவர்)-s from Dvara-samudram (துவாரசமுத்திரம்) in Karnataka, and one of the chiefs assumed the title of Yadu-vamsa (யதுவம்சம்). Idangazhi-nayanar (இடங்கழி நாயனார்), who is revered as one of the 63 Saiva saints and mentioned in the Thiruth-thandakam  (திருத்தாண்டகம்) by Sundara-moorthi Nayanar  (சுந்தரமூர்த்தி நாயனார்) (6th – 7th centuries), was a king of this dynasty. The Chozha  king, Vijayalaya  (about 830 – 850 AD), the founder of the Imperial Chozha  line, and his son Adithya (ஆதித்தியன்), were connected with this dynasty.

The Sanskrit inscription (PSI 14) in grantha characters in the Muvar-koil gives the genealogy of the Irukkuvel-s from a king whose name is, unfortunately, illegible, to Bhuthi-vikrama-kesari (பூதி விக்கிரமகேசரி) (last quarter of 9th century), perhaps the greatest of them all.

The Irukkuvel-s would appear to have surfaced as a power at a time that is coeval with Pandya  King Mara-varman Raja-simha-I (மாரவர்மன் இராஜசிம்மன்) (730 – 765 AD) and to have continued up to the rise of the Chozha  of the Vijayalaya  line (middle of 9th century AD). They continued their independent status thus far. Later, they appear to get closely affiliated in a subservient capacity to the Imperial Chozha-s. The arrangement continued through the reigns of Bhuthi-Vikrama-kesari’s sons Parantaka  (பராந்தகன்) and Adithya  (ஆதித்தியன்) and ending with Siriya-velar (சிறிய வேளார்), a son of Parantaka  serving Sundara-chozha (சுந்தர சோழன்)  (957 – 973 AD) as general in the army. The Irukkuvel-s, as the staunch allies and vassals of the Chozha-s, helped them in all their battles. We do not hear much of the Irukkuvel-s after the reign of Rajendra-chozha-I (இராஜேந்திர சோழன்) (1012-1044 AD).

The monuments

Once a flourishing town under the Chozha-s and the Pandya-s, it was a city of temples like Kanchi  and Kumbakonam. According to tradition, this place once contained 108 Siva temples. It is supported by the discovery of a large number of lingam-s  , nandi-s and other sculptures in the area. But nothing remains now of the past glory of Kodumbalur except the beautiful Muvar-koil  (மூவர்கோயில்) and Muchu-kundesvara-koil (முச்சுகுந்தேஸ்வரர் கோயில்). These temples hold an honoured place in the evolution of both south Indian temple architecture and sculpture.

There are remnants of an Aivar-koil (ஐவர்கோயில்) which was perhaps the only one of its kind in Tamilnadu or even South-India. There is also a large stone nandi  in the village near to the road.

Monuments in Kodumbalur  :

1. The Muvar-koil

2. The Muchu-kundesvara-koil

3. The remnants of the Aivar-koil

4. A large stone-nandi

Presently, the first three monuments, that is the Muvar-koil, the Muchu-kundesvara-koil  and the remnants of the Aivar-koil, are protected monuments and under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Also they are no more under worship.

There is an ASI counter at the Muvar-koil  and a staff will be there on duty. The monuments will be open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. There are no holidays. There is an entry fee of Rs. 5 for Indian citizens and Rs. 100 (US$ 2) for foreigners for the Muvar-koil.

Entry to all other monuments is free.

The Muvar-koil (மூவர்கோயில்)

The Muvar-koil  (‘temple-of-three’) is a beautiful temple of early-Chozha  period, built by the Irukkuvel (இருக்குவேள்) chief Bhuthi-vikrama-kesari (பூதி விக்கிரமகேசரி). According to his inscription he built these three Siva shrines, one on his own behalf and, the other two on behalf of his wives, Karrali (கற்றளி) and Varaguna (வரகுணா).

As far as the dating of Bhuthi-vikrama-kesari  and his Muvar-koil is concerned, there is more than one opinion. Some experts date them to the second half of the 10th century and some others to the last quarter of 9th century. In any case, one can say they belong to the early Chozha  period (9th – 11th centuries AD).

In spite of inscriptional evidences, fanciful interpretations have been given to explain the term Muvar. Some claim that the Saiva saints Appar (அப்பர்), Sundarar  (சுந்தரர்) and Manikka-vachakar (மாணிக்கவாசகர்) constructed one shrine each. Others claim that the Muvarasar  (மூவரசர்) or the three kings – the Chera, the Chozha  and the Pandya  – built one each. Yet another ingenious interpretation is that the shrines were intended to house the Trimurthi-s – Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, one in each.

The first impression about Muvar-koil  is one of enchanting beauty, perfect composition in stone. The poise of the vimanam, the beauty of the supple figures that have been modelled with loving care and the refined contours of the domical terrace edgings, all indicate the Pallava  style for delicacy of structure and form. The Pallava  influence, it is believed, is due to the marital relationship of the Irukkuvel-s with the Muttaraiyar (முத்தரையர்)-s, who were the vassals of the Pallava-s.

The Temple Complex

This is an interesting parivara  type temple which had three main shrines and many (fifteen or sixteen) sub-shrines, in the same compound.

The three main shrines stand side by side in a row, along the north-south direction, facing west. Out of these three, only two, the central and southern vimanam-s are now extant. Of the third or the northern shrine, the basement alone remains. Each of the shrines had a closed ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்). Now only the basement of the ardha-mandapam-s survives.

There stood once a common maha-mandapam (மகாமண்டபம்), in front of the main shrines. Only basement of these structures remains now. It measures 91 feet by 41 feet. Remains of the basement of a nandi-mandapam (நந்தி மண்டபம்) and a bali-pitham (பலி பீடம்) or a dhvaja-sthambham  (கொடிமரம்) could also be seen, in front.

Surrounding this group are remnants of the original 15 or 16 symmetrically arranged sub-shrines, or parivara  shrines. Each of these sub-shrines had a garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்)  and an ardha-mandapam.

The main shrines and the sub-shrines were encircled by a madhil  (மதில், compound wall). This massive stone wall had perhaps two gates, one in the west and another near the north-eastern corner.

The north-eastern gate leads to a well, approachable by a flight of stone steps. Outside the temple complex, near the road on the northern side, is a shed which is a gallery of fine sculptures.

The Temple

Makara-head

Makara-head

The plinth of the three shrines rests on a lotus base. Above it runs a frieze of vyali-s (யாளி) with makara-head-s, with human figures inside the mouths. The pilasters on the walls are tetragonal, giving the whole temple a slender effect. The niches on the walls are surmounted by makara-torana-s (மகரத்தோரணம்), while friezes of bhutha-gana (பூதகணம்) playing on different kinds of musical instruments run on the top of the walls. These impish figures, in their abandon, show the uninhibited frolics of the Siva-gana (சிவகணம்). Over the cornice are the vyali-s with projecting makara heads at the corners.

Bhutha-gana frieze

Bhutha-gana frieze

Vyali-frieze

Vyali-frieze

The vimanam of the temples

The vimanam of the temples

The vimanam is of three tiers, diminishing in size. The edging of the lower tier has a line of domical cells with an ornamental railing. The lowest has niches surmounted by ‘wagon-shaped’ tops, reaching up almost to the top of the tier above. The second tier contains pilasters on either side of the wagon tops. On the top tier is the square grivam (கிரீவம்). It has niches topped with a chaitya arch. The arch itself is embellished with scrolls and bas-relief sculpture. Four beautifully moulded nandi-s (நந்தி) adorn the four corners of the grivam. The terraces culminate in a square curvilinear sikharam (சிகரம்).

Relief Sculptures in the Niches

Decorating the niches in the walls are some of the finest sculpture of our country. The sculptor’s devotion and intensity of religious fervour are reflected in the depiction of these gods.

Ardha-nareesvara

Ardha-nareesvara

The beautiful Ardha-nareesvara (அர்த்தநாரீஸ்வரர், ‘half-woman’) is eloquent in its declaration that the male and the female principles are inseparable and found together in cosmic evolution.

Vina-dhara Dakshina-moorthi

Vina-dhara Dakshina-moorthi

The youthful Siva with an enigmatic smile depicted as Vina-dhara Dakshina-moorthi (வீணாதாரதக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி, ‘Veenai holding south facing deity’) is an arresting figure.

Rishabha-rudha

Rishabha-rudha

It is with dignity of pose and careless elegance we have Siva as the rider of the bull, Rishabha-rudha (ரிஷபாரூடர்), with his bent arm attempting to rest on His vahana.

 

Siva in sitting pose

Siva in sitting pose

A sculpture of Siva in sitting pose. He is depicted with four hands and along with his vehicle, Nandi

Gaja-samhara-moorthi

Gaja-samhara-moorthi

A figure of Siva as Gaja-samhara-moorthi (கஜசம்ஹாரமூர்த்தி), A destructive mood of Siva. The fierce ecstasy portrayed on the face of Gaja-samhara-moorthi is awe-inspiring.

Kalari

Kalari

The lord Kalari (காலாரி) is arrested in a movement of the chatura pose of dancing. One feels that at any moment he may renew the dance. There is so much suppressed action in the soft moulding of the thighs and legs. The look of sublime compassion on Siva’s face while dancing over Kala is superb.

The play and the sequel; Shiva-Parvathi on the north side of south temple

The play and the sequel - 1

The play and the sequel – 1

On the walls of the southern temple is a play in stone enacted the Pallava way. In the top niche is Siva as Gangadhara in a sportive mood and lower down its sequel. In the top we find His face is sufficed with a tender, but mischievous, smile while Parvathi has moved away in mock anger. The whole composition of the Goddess trying to edge away by squeezing Herself into the narrow space of the niche shows great aesthetic sensibility.

The play and the sequel - 2

The play and the sequel – 2

Below in the next niche, in its sequel, the Devine Couple is now reconciled and Parvathi’s face is lighted up with happiness as she is encircled by the arm of Her Lord. The touch itself is light and the gesture almost casual.

chawri-bearer

chawri-bearer

A chawri-bearer (‘flywhisk-bearer’) stands a little further away discreetly fanning the couple from behind a ledge. Her slender elongated limbs remind once again of the Pallava sculpture at Mahabalipuram. The artist has shown an exquisite sense of restraint.

Indra

Indra

The Art gallery

Outside the temple complex, near the road on the northern side, is a shed which is a small museum of fine sculptures.

Sapta-matrika frieze, Kodumbalur

Sapta-matrika frieze, Kodumbalur

 

Some loose sculptures, Kodumbalur

Some loose sculptures, Kodumbalur

 

An inside view of the gallery, Kodumbalur

An inside view of the gallery, Kodumbalur

The Muchukundesvara Koil (முச்சுகுந்தேஸ்வரர் கோயில்)

Muchu-kundesvara Temple surrounded by its parivara temples, Kodumbalur

Muchu-kundesvara Temple surrounded by its parivara temples, Kodumbalur

This is another early chozha shrine built about 921 AD by Mahimalaya Irukkuvel (மகிமாலய இருக்குவேள்). It is certain that this king belong to the Irukkuvel clan. However whether he was related to the Bhuti Vikrama-kesari (பூதி விக்ரம கேசரி) the builder of Muvar-koil (மூவர்கோயில்) is not known.

A deity from one of the parivara temples, Kodumbalur

A deity from one of the parivara temples, Kodumbalur

The temple is a parivara-temple, like the Muvar-koil and the Vijayalaya Chozhisvaram (விஜயாலய சோழீஸ்வரம்) in Narttamalai. There is no idol in the garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்) at present.

The main shrine consists of a garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்) and an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) facing east. The closed maha-mandapam (மகா மண்டபம்) and the Amman shrine are later structures. Only four of the seven sub-shrines characteristic of early chozha temples, now stand. The walls of the main shrine are adorned with four-cornered pilasters. The arches above the figure niches are surmounted by makara-torana (மகரத் தோரணம்). Above the cornice are friezes of bhutha-gana (பூதகணம்) and vyali-s (யாளி), from the corners of the latter of which makara-heads just out. The stone dome resembles that of the Thirukkattalai (திருக்கட்டளை) Sundaresvara (சுந்தரேஸ்வரர்) temple.

The front view, Muchu-kundesvara Temple, Kodumbalur

The front view, Muchu-kundesvara Temple, Kodumbalur

The temple seems to have been repaired in the 13th century when the maha-mandapam was built. Of the stone-wall enclosing the temple only some parts now remain. There is an ancient circular stone-well to the south of the main temple.

 

The well inside the temple campus, Muchu-kundesvara Temple, Kodumbalur

The well inside the temple campus, Muchu-kundesvara Temple, Kodumbalur

There is an ancient stone well close to the pillared-mandapam of the main shrine, on the southern side. It is said to have a tunnel about 3 feet in width below, probably an in-let for water from the tank in front of the temple.

The mandapam infront of the temple complex,Muchu-kundesvara Temple, Kodumbalur

The mandapam infront of the temple complex,Muchu-kundesvara Temple, Kodumbalur

Before entering the temple complex, one approaches a stone structure which looks like a mandapam. It is situated in the south-eastern corner of the complex, by the side of the madhil (மதில்). It has walls on all the four sides and a flat roof. It consists of a large pillared hall in front and a small cell on the back-side. The entrance to this is from the east, outside the temple complex. The entrance is flanked by two hexagonal pilasters. The base of the pilaster is carved in the shape of a lion sitting erect and carrying the pillar on its back.

The Aivar-koil  (ஐவர்கோயில் The Five Temples)

The remains of Aivar-koil, Kodumbalur

The remains of Aivar-koil, Kodumbalur

A temple complex was excavated in a mound a little to the southeast of Muvar-koil (மூவர்கோயில்). The name Aivar-koil (ஐவர்கோயில்) is due to the fact there are five temples on a common plinth. The temple is also known as Ainthali (ஐந்தளி), as may be seen from an inscription found in the complex. The plan of this Siva temple is unique and interesting. It is a panchayatana (பஞ்சாயதனம்), temple that is, a temple with four shrines at the corners of a common plinth with a central shrine in the midst.

Perhaps this is the only one of its kind in Tamilnadu or even in South India. This resembles in many respects the Siva temple at Panamalai (பனமலை) and the Kailasa-natha temple (கைலாசநாதர் கோயில்) of Kanchi, both built early in the 8th century in the Pallava period.

The main shrine may be assigned to 8th-9th century AD, and the ardha-mandapam (அர்த்தமண்டபம்) and the maha-mandapam (மகாமண்டபம்) to the early Chozha period 9th-10th century.

Temple Architecture

A rear view of the complex, Aivar koil, Kodumbalur

A rear view of the complex, Aivar koil, Kodumbalur

The garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்) contains an inner sanctum enclosed by a narrow circular prakaram (திருச்சுற்று மாளிகை), against the square outer walls of which are four attendant shrines. All the five shrines have a common base or plinth, and now contain only the broken pedestals of lingam-s. The lingam in the central shrine is larger than those in the sub-shrines.

The remains of garbha-griham with the broken avudai, Aivar koil, Kodumbalur

The remains of garbha-griham with the broken avudai, Aivar koil, Kodumbalur

In front were a pillared ardha-mandapam and maha-mandapam of which the plinth alone now remains. The plinth is lower than that of the main shrine. The ardha-mandapam was a closed structure; the maha-mandapam which was supported by sixteen pillars had a veranda all round. Two flights of steps, one on the north and the other on the south, lead up to the ardha-mandapam, and two others to the circumambulatory passage of the central shrine.

The nandi, Kodumbalur

The nandi, Kodumbalur

The smaller sanctums at the four corners have also flights of steps leading up to them. On the railings of the steps are carved stone figures of dwarfs blowing conch shells. In the extreme west was a pillared nandi-mandapam (நந்தி மண்டபம்).

Except fragments of walls over the plinth of the central shrine, there is nothing definite to indicate what the superstructure of the garbha-griham was like. The important finds include friezes of dwarfs and of elephant, bulbous tops of polygonal pillars, corbels and corner pieces of the cornice, a nandi, an idol of Durga with four arms, one of Vishnu, also with four arms, and six of dvara-palaka-s (துவாரபாலகர்). The corbels are of the bevelled type without roll-ornaments. The kudu-s (கூடு) have scrolls of foliage inside which are two human heads – male and female – wearing a peculiar headdress.

The dwarfs, Aivar koil, Kodumbalur

The dwarfs, Aivar koil, Kodumbalur

The temple seems to have been repaired in the 13th century when the maha-mandapam was built. Of the stone-wall enclosing the temple only some parts now remain. There is an ancient circular stone-well to the south of the main temple.

The Tripurantaka koil

Tripura-sundari, Kodumbalur

Tripura-sundari, Kodumbalur

Tripurantaka, Kodumbalur

Tripurantaka, Kodumbalur

Excavations conducted in a field a few hundred meters to the south of the Aivar-koil have brought to light the basements of the garbha-griham and ardha-mandapam of another Siva temple, and a number of idols, among which is a lingam with broken parts of its pedestal. The most interesting of these finds is a group of Tripurantaka-moorthi (திரிபுராந்தக மூர்த்தி), Tripura-sundari (திரிபுரசுந்தரி) and Tripura demons.

These images are now housed in the Government Museum at Chennai. These are perhaps the finest sculpture of the region.

The Nandi

The nandi, Kodumbalur

The nandi, Kodumbalur

The large stone nandi, measuring 6 œ feet high, about 9 feet long and 10 feet round the body, is comparable for artistic skill and majesty of appearance with the nandi in the Thanjavur temple, but the latter is larger. Attempts to remove it to Pudukkottai proved futile, and it stands now near the Vattam-katcheri (வட்டம் கச்சேரி) not far from the road.

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