Between 501 to 1000 CE, Cholas, Tamilnadu

Thirukkattalai – Ashta-Parivara Shrine

Introduction – History of Thirukkattalai region goes way back to pre-historic times as few burial sites are found around this village. It was under the Chola rulers during the medieval period of Indian history who probably built a Shiva temple here. The earliest inscription found in the temple is from the Chola ruler Adithya I (871-907 CE) and it talks about a grant made to temple. This suggests that the temple would have been constructed in early ninth century CE. The village was known as Kalkurichchi in its inscriptions and the lord is referred as Karrali-perumanadigal, Vignesvaradeva, Tirukkarrali-Alvar or just Mahadevar. The present name of the village, Thirukkattalai, seems to have been derived from Tirukkarrali. The village would have held importance as there are inscriptions from the Chola kings of the ninth century to twelfth century. However after their collapse by the Pandya-s, the temple went into oblivion as none Pandya inscription is found here. At present it has been reduced to a small village. There is great scope for studying the explanations of such transformations from large towns of the past to small villages of the present.Monuments – The only monument of antiquity is Sundaresvara Temple which was built during the early Chola rule.

Sundaresvara Temple

 

Sundaresvara Temple – This east facing Shiva temple is an important example of early Chola architecture. This is constructed in parivara style where eight sub-shrines are placed surrounding a main central shrine. Various deities related to Shiva family are placed in these sub-shrines hence the term ‘parivara’ style. This style was very much in fashion during the Chola rule. This parivara arrangement is also seen at Virattanesvara temple at Tiruttani. One important feature of this temple is that all the sub-shrines have deities images inside which is a rare occurrence among the extant temples of that time.

 

Temple Vimana

 

The temple is constructed with dressed granite blocks. It consists a garbha-griha (sanctum sanctorum), antarala (vestibule), mukha-mandapa (main hall). There is a later period Nandi-mandapa and bali-pitha constructed in front of the temple. Garbha-griha is an eight feet square room. The temple has a square vimana with two tiers falling under dvi-tala category. Cornice have kudu-s (horse-shoe shaped windows) with a human heads inside. Below the cornice is bhuta-vali/gana-vali (dwarf frieze). A vyala row separates the first tier with cornice. Vyala row is extended with elephant frieze to go around mandapa. Kuta-s (square shrine) and sala-s (oblong shrines) are arranged in regular manner on the first tier. Kuta-s are placed at corners while sala-s in middle. Shikhara of these have nasika (kudu like structure) on all sides. Sala-s have gable ends which are also constructed in kudu fashion. Niches are provided below these nasika-s. Above this is second tier consisting of rising walls with pilasters. Above that is placed square griva (neck) which is topped with square shikhara. This square form of shikhara puts the temple under Nagara architectural style. Nandi-s are placed at four corners at the base of griva. Square shikhara has maha-nasika-s in middle of each side. Below these are provided niches housing images. Nandi-s face all the four directions in contrast to the arrangement at Muvar Koil where they faces only east or west.

 

Tripuranataka on south wall niche
Veenadhara Dakshinamurti

 

South side of the temple has three niches, two on vimana tiers and one on the wall. Niche in the wall has Shiva as Tripurantaka. He is standing with a bow in his left hand and an ankusha (elephant goad) in his right hand. Usually Tripurantaka icon is not shown in static posture but rather in movement of destroying Tripura. Also as there is no arrow in his hands hence it is not very certain whether this is Tripurantaka icon. Uppermost vimana niche houses Shiva as Dakshinamurti where he is seated holding a veena. This Veenadhara-Dakshinamurti is a rare icon as not many such instances are found. Middle niche has Shiva as Bhikshatanamurti. He is portrayed without clothes and accompanied by a deer.

Vishnu on west wall niche

 

West side has Vishnu (?) in wall niche however this icon is not very clear. One article suggests that this could be Lingodbhava however I am not convinced with that statement. As a chakra (discus) like thing is visible in his right hand so this could be Vishnu. As per Chola architectural style, both Vishnu and Lingodbhava can be placed at west side. Uppermost niche has Vishnu as Varaha shown seated with his consort. However his consort is not Varahi. This is also a rare icon as not many such seated Varaha instances are found. Middle niche has Vishnu in seated posture.

Brahma on north wall niche

 

North side wall niche has Brahma standing on a pedestal. Uppermost niche and middle niche also houses Brahma in seated posture. Niche in sala-s have two guardians on either side rising slightly from the base above. This kind of feature became an integral part of gopuram architecture during Pandya-s and Nayaka-s. There are other attendants in side niches of kuta-s and sala-s however as the images are blackened and not very clear so no inference can be drawn. However these images would be of some demi-gods or ganas as major deities are not expected there.

There is an important feature seen in some pilasters of this temple. Potikas (abacus) of these have rearing lions whose heads reach the bhuta-vali level below cornice. As already seen that with the Cholas, rearing lion pillar base style was not any more used. Would it be ok to say that though the lion base was done away with however this motif still retained its place above abacus. I am not sure as it’s just an inference and we should always remember that not every work found in architecture of that time was copy of something done earlier somewhere else. There must have been ingenious ideas in that time as well, why we forget this simple thing and try to always draw an influence from earlier works.

Sapta-matrika sub-shrine

 

Starting from east, the first sub-shrine has Surya (Sun) image inside. Though he is shown in his regular characteristic of holding two lotuses in his two hands or riding on a chariot drawn by seven horses but a prabhavali (aura) behind his head suggests that this could be Surya. Another supports comes from Chola parivara arrangement which states that this direction, south-east, belongs to Surya. Next sub-shrine in line, in south, is for Sapta-matrikas (seven mothers). This oblong shrine shape is appropriate to house seven or nine (if accompanied with Veerbhadra and Ganesha) statues. Next sub-shrine in south-west is dedicated to Ganesha. Next shrine in west is dedicated to Subramanya. Shrine in north-west is dedicated to Jyestha. She is shown accompanied with Gomukha and a lady attendant. There is a crow, her mount, also seen on her right side. Next shrine on north is little out of place. The deity inside is probably Chandra (Moon). This place is usually for a shrine of Chandeshvara. In this temple, shrine for Chandeshvara is placed next to previous shrine. This shrine is placed at north-east axis, slightly towards north. The last shrine is not exactly a sub-shrine as its dimensions are quite large in comparison to other shrines. This large shrine is dedicated to Bhairava who is shown with four hands carrying trisula (trident) and snake. His mount, dog, is shown behind him. Usually the place of Bhairava shrine should be on north-east axis as per regular Chola parivara arrangement. I feel that as the temple has seven sub-shrines of comparable dimensions hence it is very probably that it confines to the regular arrangement of Chola style. It might be that Bhairava image was taken from that sub-shrine and placed in new bigger shrine. But if this is true then they did replacements in three shrines, sub-shrine number seven and six with bigger shrine as Chandeshvara is also not in its correct place. This makes is little difficult and less probable. Image of Bhairava is not very small to get accommodated in a smaller shrine and this makes it more less probable for suggested rearrangement at a later stage.

Inscriptions – There are few inscriptions found in this temple however no foundation inscription. The earliest one is from the Chola ruler Aditya I (871-907 CE) who allowed certain grants to the temple. This place is referred as Thiruk-karrali meaning ‘the sacred stone temple’ and as Karkurichchi in inscriptions. Inscriptions in detail are given below:

1. No 21 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – North wall of the central shrine – Written in Tamil in 10 lines – damaged and incomplete – dated in the third regnal year of the Chola king Rajakesarivarman (Aditya I) approximately 874 CE – Seems to record some gift of land made by Mudichcholataraiyan of Kavirpal in Valla-nadu.
2. No 38 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – On South wall of the central shrine – Written in Tamil in 30 lines – badly damaged – dated in the second regnal year of the Chola king Parakesarivarman (Parantaka I) approximately in 909 CE – Records a gift of land by the nadu of Kallappal and Kavirpal in Valla-nadu as tiruvilappuram to the temple of Tirukkarrali-Alvar of Karkurichchi in Valla-nadu. Among the boundaries of the gifted land are mentioned Ilavachcheru and Andarattali-Punjey, the latter of which might have been a site of urn-burial in the past.
3. No 51 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – On South wall of the central shrine – Written in Tamil in 19 lines – dated in the ninth regnal year of the Chola king Parakesarivarman (Parantaka I) approximately to 916 CE – Records a gift of 10 kasu and a lamp with stand (nilai-vilakku) for maintaining a perpetual lamp in the temple of Karralipperumanadigal at Karkurichchi by Kandangorran and his younger brothers, on behalf of Singangorran. Karkurichchi was situated in the Kavirpal of Valla-nadu.
4. No 81 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – On South wall of the central shrine – Written in Tamil in 16 lines – dated in the thirty-fifth regnal year of the Chola king Madiraikonda Parakesarivarman (Parantaka I) approximately to 942 CE – Records a gift of land in Terrallur by the ur of Karkurichchi as taruvilappuram to the temple of Perumanadigal in the same village. The record is dated thirty-fifth year of the king at the end also.
5. No 118 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – On South wall of the central shrine – Written in Tamil in 18 lines – dated in the ninth regnal year of the Chola king Kulottunga-Choladeva (Kulottunga I) approximately to 1079 CE – Begins with historical introduction Pugalmadu virumba, etc, of the inscription of the king. Refers to the death of Bogendrasingapperaraiyan of Karkurichchi in the fight (pusal) at Milattur. Palamandala-Peraiyan of Milattur and his brother Anukkan made a gift of 25 sheep for supplying half the amount of ghee to set up a lamp in the local temple with the wish that the feuds may stop (pagai-orunga).
6. No 119 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – On South wall of the central shrine – Written in Tamil in 6 lines – dated in the tenth regnal year of the Chola king Kulottunga-Choladeva, approximately to 1080 CE – Begins with the historical introduction of the inscription of the king. Registers a gift of land to the god Vignesvaradeva of Tirukkarrali at Karkurichchi by Rajendracholamangala-nadalvan alisa Araiyan Chendan of Karkurichchi, situated in the Kallapal of Tenkavir-nadu, a sub division of Jayasingakulakala-valanadu.
7. No 232 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – On North wall of the central shrine – Written in Tamil in 44 lines – slightly damaged – dated in the forty-eighth regnal year of the Chola king Kulottunga-Choladeva (Kulottunga I), approximately in 1118 CE – Records a gift of land for maintaining one half of a perpetual lamp in the Mahadevar temple at Karkurichchi, by a Kallan of the village, Pappan Chendan alias Kulottungachola-mangala-nadalvan, in memory of another Kallan Amarpeti Kuppai. The upasakars received the gift and undertook to burn the lamp. Kalkurichchi was situated in the Kallapal of Tenkavir-nadu, a sub division of Rajaraja-valanadu.
8. No 145 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – On East wall of the central shrine – Written in Tamil in 7 lines – incomplete – dated in the second regnal year of the Chola king Kulottunga-Choladeva (Kulottunga III), approximately in 1180 CE- Seems to record that the members of Korakurichchi made a gift of the padikaval rights of Sedikulamanikkapuram alias Kalayamangalam to the god of the local temple. There is also a reference in the latter portion of the record to the fourteenth year of Periyanayanar Kulottungacholadevar.

 

How to Reach – This village is about 15 km from Pudukkottai. I am not sure which particular road it was as I was traveling in a taxi and forgot to write down directions, however I am very sure that this place was not very far from Pudukkottai and local enquiry at the town will help in finding appropriate directions.

References:

  1. Mahalingam, T V (1991). A Topographical List of Inscriptions in the Tamilnadu and Kerala States Vol VI. New Delhi. S Chand & Company Ltd.
  2. Srinivasan, K R (1996). Temples of South India. New Delhi. National Book Trust of India. ISBN 8123718675
  • Nice work!

    That's definitely _not_ a Lingothbhava; for one thing, there's no pillar of fire for him to be coming out of. I think you're right – it's Vishnu…

    Thanks!

  • Anu

    very interesting!

  • wonderful, Saurabh, nice and old! Gentle, appealing murthis, too.
    Erase this after reading: who was it who'd stolen someone else' text on this temple? I thought you were writing to me! got worried.

  • Hi Kathie,
    Always delighted to see your comments, however I did not get the context of your last line about someone stealing something. I remember commenting on few blog articles where I felt that they did copy text without giving proper credit to the original author, however you were not among them :).

  • v.raman .sthapathy

    very nice article