Thirukokarnam – Gokarnesvara Temple

IntroductionGokarnesvara Temple at Thirukonarnam is an exemplary portrayal of continuous tradition and culture of Pudukkottai from ancient time. Originally constructed as a cave temple during seventh century this temple has been patronized and extended by the rulers of later dynasties. As seen with many other old temples of Pudukkottai region, this temple is also a live temple and under worship at present time. The earliest inscription found in the cave temple is written in Grantha character of seventh-eighth century. As this is not a foundation inscription hence the cave temple must be in existence at that time and hence might be constructed in early seventh century. Though the pillar style and other features of the cave temple resemble with the Pallava cave temples however few scholars suggest that this would be a creation of the Pandya-s. Argument given to support this is that the Pallavas were not ruling over this part of land hence their monuments are rare to find. Though this might be true however vassals under Pallava-s were not very far from this land. Muttharaiya-s have constructed marvelous cave temples at Namakkal not very far from Pudukkottai. But as there is no foundation inscription hence it is hard to determine authorship of the cave temple. Where the country is Pandya, the style of construction is Pallava.
Gokarnesvara Temple – Raya-gopuram


Nanacampantar, seventh century Nayanmar, has sung in praise of the Lord of Kokarnam. In Tevaram 3:337:4, Nanacampantar invokes the lord with epithet, Malaittalaivan, referring to the cave temple. Another Nayanmar, Navukkaracar, has compared the hill of Kokarnam with that of Kailasha. Though the hill is not very high however places of Shiva were usually compared to Kailasha as seen in many other temples of contemporary time such as Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchi and Kailasha Cave at Ellora. Later this comparison was done with the Meru mountain as seen in Brihadeeshvara Temple at Thanjavur. In Tevaram 6:263, Navukkaracar gives description of the Lord where he holds a sword and a tanka in his hands. Ganga mounts the crest of the Lord. He is probably referring to Gangadhara bas-relief of the cave temple.
(Above statements about Nayanmar-s and Tevaram are disputed by few scholars hence further study is needed in this direction. Will update the article once I am done with that study.)

As per stahala-purana, Kamadhenu (celestial cow) is supposed to fetch waters of the Ganga in her two ears and showered one earful on the murti (main deity image) and one into the tank. This explains the name Gokarnam, Go for cow and Karnam for ears. Currently the erstwhile princes of Pudukkottai, of Tondaiman lineage, is the trustee of this temple. The temple would have come to Tondaimans after the fall of Vijayanagara and then Nayaka rulers of Tamilnadu. They patronized this temple and the Lord of Kokarnam is Kula-devata (main deity) of Tondaiman kings.

Cave Temple


Monuments – Gokarnesvara Cave Temple is excavated on the southern slope of a low rising hill and faces east. This rectangular mandapa (hall) , 18 x18.5 feet, is supported on two pillars and two pilasters of Mahendra order (Square base and top with octagonal shaft in middle). A sanctum is sunk into the back wall and has a monolithic Shiva linga inside. Lateral side walls are ornamented with bas reliefs. Right side has Ganesha while left is adorned with Shiva as Gangadhara. There are now dvarpalas here which is a subject of curiosity.

Shiva as Gangadhara


Shiva is depicted as Gangadhara on left lateral wall of the cave mandapa. This is probably the only image of Gangadhara icon in whole of Pandya region. Shiva is shown standing in tribhanga posture. Shown with four hands, he holds an akshamala in his upper right hand while his left upper hand holds tresses of his hair. His lower hands are placed near his thighs. Ganga is shown descending down towards the head of the Lord holding her two hands in anjali mudra in upper right corner. Ganga is portrayed on right side of Shiva in Dharmaraja Ratha and Adi-Varaha Perumal temple at Mahabalipuram and Trichy Upper Cave but she is carved on left side of Shiva in Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchi.


Ganesha on lateral wall


Thitukokarnam cave is probably the only cave where we have Ganesha as a stand-alone image and also in Sapta-matrika panel. Stand alone image of Valampuri Ganesha (truck turned to right) is carved on the right lateral wall of the cave mandapa. He is shown with four hands and seated in padmasana posture. He carries his broken tusk in his left upper hand while ankusha (elephant goad) in upper right hand. A modaka (an Indian sweet) is held in his right lower hand and as well as in his trunk. He is shown wearing vastra-yajnopavita and karanda-makuta.

Sapta-matrika panel


On right side of the cave, on slopes of a boulder, are carved Sapta-matrikas accompanied with Veerabhadra and Ganesha.  Order of appearance of these seven mothers is not very strict and they have seen to be arranged in different orders at different shrines. Here these are accompanied with Veerbhadra at start and Ganesha at the end. Veerbhadra is shown with four hands and seated in sukhasana posture. His upper two hands are lifted in posture of invoking something. Lower hands are kept near thighs. There are two chauris (fan) on either side of him however there are no chauri-bearers. He is followed by Brahmi who is also shown with four hands. Next to her is Mahesvari depicted with two hands only. She is followed by Vaishnavi depicted with two hands and a long kirita-makuta. She is followed by Kaumari wearing karanda-makuta. Next is Indrani and then Varahi. The last and seventh matrika is Chamunda who is shown holding a knife in one of her hands. She is also wearing a munda-mala. Ganesha is carved at the last as his regular position in sapta-matrika group.

A spacious maha-mandapa was added with an enclosure around this in the early Chola period. Two Devi shrines, one for Brhadambal and one for Mangalanayaki, were added to the cave temple complex during the later Chola rule. V Latha suggests that this would have been done during the reign of Kuluttonga Chola I who had fascination of adding separate devi shrines to Shiva temples. The temple witnessed many extensions during the rule of Vijayanagara and Nayaka rule. A Nataraja shrine was added to mahamandapa during this Vijayanagara phase. A shrine for Bakulanesvara is also added near to Sapta-matrika frieze. This shrine perhaps came after the sthalavrksha (temple tree) Bakula. As per a legend this Bakula tree blossomed when women sprinkle at it mouthful of wine. This tradition would have come due to the fact that the temple was known to have some powers for granting children to couples. There was another enclosure constructed and the empty space between two enclosure was connected with pillared mandapas. Kili-mandapa and Sukravara-mandapa are two pillared halls which are placed in this empty zone. Kili-mandapa is a twelve pillar hall which serves as a connecting link between Brhadambla, Bakulanesvara and Managalanayaki shrines. Sukravara-mandapa is a hexagonal structure supported on six pillars. This seems that this is a Tondaiman period extension as a portrait sculpture is identified with Sadasiva Brahmendra who was a saint of the time of Vijaya Raghunatha Tondaiman. A gopuram was erected to the east of Brhadambal shrine which is followed by a twenty pillar mandapa called as mangala-tirtha-mandapa. Mangala-tirtha-mandapa was constructed near the temple tank hence its purpose would be for assembly during ablution and bath ceremonies.

Anuppa-mandapa leading into the temple


On south of Brahdambal shrine a raya-gopuram was constructed accompanied with two mandapas, Kalyana-mandapa and Unjal-mandapa. Kalyana-mandapa is a twenty pillar hall having many portrait sculptures like Rati, Rama, Kamadeva and few donord. Unjal-mandapa is a eighteen pillar hall which might be used after the marriage ceremony of Shiva and Parvati in Kalyana-mandapa for couples to sit in a swing. One more mandapa, Anuppa-mandapa, was constructed to the south of raya-gopuram. Anuppa-mandapa is supported on fourteen pillars, seven in two rows. This hall corridor leads into the temple complex from outside. The ceiling is famous for Vijayanagara time painting depicting stories from Ramayana.

All major later extension were centered around the Brhadambal shrine which suggests that the cave temple was overshadowed with the goddess cult. There were five cars associated with the temple, four still surviving. This shows that the temple held an important place in olden days and processions would have been performed on a grand scale.

Inscriptions – Most of the inscriptions found in the temple are from the time of the Cholas. All are donative inscriptions which either talk about certain grant or donation for lamps such as that of Rajakesarivarman Chola, Kopparakesarivarman. Mention of celebrating tiruvuttiram festival in the month of Pankuni during the reign of Kulottunga Chola is found in one inscription. An inscription in the reign of Rajaraja of later Chola period talks about a gift of nontavilakk (eternal lamp) to the brahmanas of the temple.

No 174 of South Indian Inscriptions Vol XIII – On the east face of the 2nd pillar in front of the rock-cut shrine
This Chola inscription is built in at end. It mentions God Sri Gokaranattu-Madeva in Tiruvelppur, a devadana in Kavira-nadu.

Pandya inscriptions also talk about various grants and endowments made to the temple. An inscription from the reign of Maran Sadaiyan talks about nontavilakku gifted by one Nakkancetti of some trading community. Konerimaikondan, Kulasekhara Pandya made endowments for festivals Pallavan-canti, Pallavan-tirunal, Vaikaci-tirunal and for procession in Cittirai. Maravarman Sundara Pandya inscription talks about tax free land donated to the temple.

Inscriptions during Vijayanagara regime are from the time of Viranna Udaiyar and Viruppanna (Kampana) Udaiyar. Kampana donated lands as tirunamakkani. It is stated that the gifts were inscribed and give, kalvettik kutukkaiyil.



How to ReachThirukokarnam is located about 3 km on Pudukkottai outskirts. Pudukkottai is well connected to major cities of Tamilnadu via rail and road links. The nearest airport is at Trichy which is about 50 km from Pudukkottai.

  1. Gopalakrishnan, S (2005). Early Pandyan Iconometry. New Delhi. Sharada Publishing House. ISBN 8188934216
  2. Latha, V (2005). Cave Temples of Pandya Country: Art and Ritual. New Delhi. Sharada Publishing House. ISBN 8188934224
  3. Srinivasan, K R (1996). Temples of South India. New Delhi. National Book Trust of India. ISBN 8123718675