Kuranganilmuttam – Kal-Mandakam Cave Temple

The village of Kuranganilmuttam is situated in Tiruvannamalai district of Tamilnadu, around 7 km from Kanchipuram. The village is famous for its Valisvara temple, the 6th among the Tevaram sites (sthalam) sung by the three most prominent nayanar saints, Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar. The earliest inscription in the village is from reign of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna III (939-967 CE) who conquered Kanchi and Tanjai. The inscription mentions a gift of land for food offerings to the lord of Kalmandagam. Kalmandagam refers to a cave temple attributed to the Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE), however no Pallava inscription has been found in the temple or the village. In the Rashtrakuta inscription, the village is said to be the part of Pallavapuram. As the village is very close to Kanchipuram, the capital town of the Pallavas, it would surely be part of the Pallava territory. However, like Mamandur, Mahendravarman I did not select Kuranganilmuttam to excavate his first specimen though it was very close to the capital town. Mahendravarman I chose Mandagapattu instead.

The first reference of the village as Tirukkurananganimuttam is found in the Chola inscription of king Kulothunga III (1178-1218 CE). All later inscriptions mention the the village with this name. As per the sthala-purana of the Valisvara temple, Vali, the king of Kishkindha and brother of Sugreev, worshiped Shiva to regain his form from monkey (kurangu). When Indra was cursed to become a squirrel (anil), he also worshiped Shiva here in order to regain his form. When Yama was cursed to become a crow (muttam), he also worshiped Shiva in this temple to get his form back. Because of the sanctity of the place, it was named Kuranganilmuttam1. The temple also has images depicting these episodes.

View of the Cave Temple amidst green fields | Wikimedia Commons
Cave Temple | Arvind Venkataraman

Cave Temple (Kal-mandapam) – Located in the middle of the village, this cave temple faces east and is excavated below the ground level. It consists of a mukha-mandapa, ardha-mandapa and three shrines at the rear wall. The front façade is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars have cubical top and base sections (saduram) and middle octagonal section (kattu). Pilasters are tetragonal throughout. Corbel above the pillars is with curved profile. Pillars and pilasters on the next row, separating mukha and ardha mandapa, are of the same form as of the front row. There are two cells excavated on the side walls of the mukha-mandapa and ardha-mandapa. All these cells are empty, however there is a hole sunk in to support images.

Southern shrine | Arvind Venkataraman
Northern Shrine

Ten pilasters at the rear wall results into an arrangement of three shrines with their opening and corresponding set of dvarpalas. All these shrine share the common adhisthana (platform) composed of five regular mouldings, jagati, tripatta-kumuda, kantha sandwiched between two kampa courses and a pattika. Adhisthana is resting above a upana moulding. In absence of images inside and suggestive inscriptions, dvarpalas help us in identifying the dedication of these different shrines. The southern shrine has dvarpalas standing in tribhanga posture with one hand in kataka-mudra in order to hold something, like a flower. Their attitude is very similar to the ones seen in the southern shrine of the Rudravalisvaram Cave Temple at Mamandur, therefore it may be safe to assume that like the southern shrine of the Rudravalisvaram cave, the southern shrine here also was dedicated to Brahma. The dvarpalas of the northern shrine are shown standing facing front in tribhanga posture. There one hand is resting on waist and other hand is raised in abhaya-mudra. The style of the suggests that this cell was dedicated to Vishnu.

Right dvarpala of the central shrine | Arvind Venkataraman
Left dvarpala of the central shrine | Arvind Venkataraman

The dvarpalas of the central shrine have very Shaiva character therefore the shrine was dedicated to Shiva. The southern dvarpala of the central shrine displays some interesting features in his headdress. On his left side is shown a horn-like symbol protruding from his headdress. This feature has been interpreted in different manners. It has been suggested that this representation is kind of mutation of Buddhist nagaraja motif into dvarpala. Another suggestion is that is represents the tribal tradition of wearing horns as headdress. Another suggestion is that the dvarpala represents Nandi, the obedient bull of Shiva. However, the most convincing argument was put forward by Gift Siromoney and Michael Lockwood2 stating that it represents the trishula (trident), thus the dvarpala is to be treated as an ayudha-purusha. The dvarpala at Kuranganilmuttam is of peculiar interest as it has an additional protruding object, a trident prong, above his headdress attesting that this indeed represents trishula of Shiva.  As the dvarpala is shown in a profile mode, therefore we do not see his right side prong.

Inscriptions: There are few inscriptions found in this cave and in the structural temple in the village.

  1.  On a pillar of the rock-cut cave3 – Tamil language – Refers to the twenty-fourth regnal year of the Rashtrakuta king Kannaradeva (Krishna III), corresponding to 963 CE – Kannaradeva is credited to have taken Kanchi and Tanjai. The inscription records a tax-free gift of land by the administrative body (ur) of Pallavapuram in Erikil-nadu, a subdivision in Kaliyur-kottam for food offerings to the deity (Tiruvadigal) in the temple called Kalmandagam.
  2. On a pillar of the rock-cut cave4 – Tamil language – Refers to the twenty-fifth regnal year of the Rashtrakuta king Kannaradeva (Krishna III), corresponding to 964 CE – The inscription records a gift of 90 sheep by someone whose name is lost for maintaining lamp in the said temple.
  3. On the west wall of the mandapa, in front of the central shrine in the Koyymalar-isvara temple5 – Tamil language – refers to the ninth regnal year of the Chola king Kulothunga III, corresponding to 1187 CE – Records gift of money for a lamp by the residents of Pallavapuram.
  4. On the north wall of the Koyymalar-isvara temple6 – Tamil language – refers to the twentieth regnal year of the Chola king Kulotthunga III, corresponding to 1198 CE – Records gift of Sattimangalam alias Annainallur in Erikil-nadu, to the temple Tirukkuranganimuttam-Udaiyar at Tirukkuranganimuttam, in Kaliyur-kottam, as a devadana village, by Niraninjan Sedirayan under orders from Sambuvarayar.
  5. On the south wall of the Koyymalar-isvara temple7 – Tamil language – refers to the tenth regnal year of an identified king, named as Konerimaikonadan, corresponding to 12th-13th century CE on paleographic studies – Registers gift of five veli of land for offerings and repairs to the temple of Tirukkuranganimuttam-Udaiyar. The land was made rent-free on payment of 25 pon. The different items of income are enumerated. The record is signed by Tunialurudaiyan. Dusi is mentioned as one of the boundaries of the land.
  6. On the north wall of the Koyymalar-isvara temple8 – Tamil language – refers to the tenth regnal year of an identified king, named as Konerimaikonadan, corresponding to 12th-13th century CE on paleographic studies – Records gift of land to the temple of Tirukkuranganimuttamudaiya-Nayanar at Pallavapuram, a village in Mavandur-parru which is a sub-division of Erikil-nadu in Kaliyur-kottam. The assessment paid on the land and the taxes realized, are enumerated.
  7. One of the entrances into the maha-mandapa in the Valisvara temple9 – this inscription in Tamil characters of about twelfth century CE, calls the stone temple by the name Vikramsolan.

References:
1 Tiruvannamalai District Portal, retrieved on 6th Sep, 2020
2 Lockwood, Michael & Siromoney, Gift et al (2001). Pallava Art. Tambaram Research Associates. Chennai. p 8
3 Indian Archaeology 1974-75 – A Review. pp 56-57
4 Indian Archaeology 1974-75 – A Review. pp 56-57
5 Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol I. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 83-84
6 Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol I. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 83-84
7 Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol I. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 83-84
8 Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol I. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 83-84
9 Indian Archaeology 1974-75 – A Review. pp 56