Seeyamangalam is a small village in Tiruvannamalai district in Tamilnadu. The village is famous for its rock-cut shrines, one dedicated to Shiva and another a Jain temple. The rock-cut shrine now serves as the garbha-grha of an extended temple named Stambhesvara or Tunandar (in Tamil, ‘the lord of pillars’). The name Tunandar probably is derived from the two pillars in front of this cave temple. Stambheshvara name was perhaps given due to a tall pillar-like boulder standing on the floor of a dry tank near this temple. As per a legend, when the tank was full of water, only the tip of this free standing boulder was visible which is revered as a Shiva lingam in the water, hence the name Stambheshvara.
The present name of the village was probably derived from Simhavishnu-chaturvedi-mangalam, after the Pallava king Simhavishnu (575-600 CE), the father of Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE) as suggested by Dubreuil1. As Mahendravarman I constructed a rock-cut temple in the village, therefore suggestion from K R Srinivasan2 that the present name of the village is a corruption of Simhamangalanam, named after Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE), son and successor of Mahendravarman I appears incorrect as the village was in existence before his time. In an inscription of the Rashtrakuta period of tenth century CE, the village is referred as Siyamangalam. The later inscriptions of the Chola and Pandya period follow the same name for the village. In the Chola and Pandya inscriptions, the village Siyamangalam is said to be situated in Tennarru-nadu, a subdivision of Palakunra-kottam in Jayagondachola-mandalam.
The first modern reference of the rock-cut temple is found in 1881 North Arcot district gazetteer3, mentioning that once Seeyamangalam was a very large place, built by one Chembu Rajah, of whose history nothing definite can be learned. The temple was much in ruins, its material being utilized to build the Desur fort. Robert Sewell4 listed this temple in his list commenting that this place should be carefully examined as the description differ from that of the other rock-cut examples in the neighborhood. He also insisted on decipherment of the inscriptions present inside the temple. In 1901, E Hultzsch5 publishes the Pallava period inscriptions of this cave temple, establishing that the temple was constructed by the Pallava king Mahendravarman I. In 1918, this cave temple was featured among the Pallava antiquities by Dubreuil6 however, he was not able to cover it is details as the main rock-cut temple was hidden behind many modern mandapas and it was very dark inside to clearly see its Pallava features. A better description and interpretation was made available by K R Srinivasan7 in 1958. He was successful in differentiating the Mahendra style with the rest of the later Pallava styles by utilizing the form and shape of the pillars. His landmark study, which is in use till date, paved the path for all the future scholars.
Avanibhajana-Pallaveshvara Cave Temple – Due to later extensions, this rock-cut shrine is presently hidden behind a couple of mandapas. The shrine is excavated on the western face of the boulder. Similar to many other cave-temples of Mahendravarman, this temple is also designed with a mukha-mandapa, ardha-mandapa and a garbha-grha. The front facade is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. Beyond these pilasters, on the same rock face, are provided two niches, with their terminal pilasters. Over these pilasters is mounted a makara-torana. Makaras placed over the abacus of the pilasters is shown with a gana rider. This makara-torana forms double arch with a trough at the center of the niche. Over this trough is placed a gana figure. This kind of makara-torana was earlier seen in the Dalavanur cave temple which it is placed over the central entrance.
In the above niches are provide two warrior figures. Both represents different posture however their dress and ornamentations are very similar. Both the figures are shown holding a shield and a sticke, the figure in the north appears to be ready for strike while the figure on the south appears to be in defensive mode. Pillars and pilasters have cubical base and top section (saduram) and an intervening octagonal section (kattu). The bottom saduram is decorated with circular lotus medallions on its three faces leaving hind face undecorated. The upper saduram is decorated with different patterns. On its lateral faces are shown various foliage and flower designs. On its front face is a relief of a lion. Dubreuil suggests that the lion carved on the pillar may be the symbol of king Simhavishnu while K R Srinivasan8 is of opinion that this might be lion continued to be the emblem of the early Pallava kings till the time of Narasimhavarman I. As he suggests that the name of the village was after this Pallava king therefore the lion over pillars should be an emblem of that king. Over these pillars is supported a corbel with curved-profile carrying taranga (wave) decoration with a median patta (band) similar to what we see in the Tiruchirappalli cave temple.
The pilasters are also differentiated in saduram and kattu components. The lower saduram is decorated with lotus medallions. The upper saduram has bas-reliefs, the unique feature of this rock-cut temple. On the north pilaster we have Shiva-Vrishbhantika, Shiva and Parvati with Nandi. Shiva and Parvati are shown standing with Nandi in the middle. Shiva is shown with four hands and standing leaning over Nandi. He is holding a deer and akshamala (rosary) in his upper hands. Behind him, on his left, is a trishula-dhwaj (trident-pole). Parvati is shown with two hands, holding a flower in his one hand. She is shown standing under a tree.
On the south pilaster is an important motif of Shiva as Natesha. Shiva’s dancing posture has his left leg uplifted and crossed across his body while his right leg is firmly placed over the ground. In his four hands, he holds a parasu (axe) and a bowl of fire in his upper hands. His lower right hand is in abhaya-mudra while the left lower hand is stretched beyond his body further towards left in dola-hasta-mudra. Below his uplifted left leg is shown a snake. A drummer is shown on Shiva’s left and a devotee is shown on his right. In his jata-makuta is shown the crescent moon and on his forehead is his third-eye.
K R Srinivasan9 identifies this dance posture as ananda-tandava or bhujanga-trasita. C Sivaramamurti10 has used the term bhujangancita to describe the posture of the uplifted leg. Padma Kaimal11 has used term bhujanga-trasita for this posture. Ananda-tandava is the dance form identified by Coomaraswamy when which Shiva as Nataraja dances in the golden hall of the Chidambaram temple. Zvelebil12 mentions three different terms used for dance postures with uplifted legs which later used more or less indiscriminately: bhujanga-trasita (the 24th pose of Bharata’s Natyasastra), bhujanga-lalita (the 25th pose of Bharata’s Natyasastra) and bhujangancita (the 40th among the 108 postures of Bharata’s Natyasastra). He mentions that particularly the terms bhujangatrasita and bhujangancita simply came to refer to that karna in which the dancer lifts one of his legs while the other is firmly planted on the ground, as though he had discovered a snake very near and appears to be of unsteady gait. These terms began to refer the dance which represents Shiva as dancing under a banyan tree while the snake Karka alias Karkotaka darts at Shiva’s leg and Shiva’s dance assumes a posture provoked by this attack.
While K R Srinivasan was the first to suggest that this icon is perhaps the earliest extant representation of such a form in the south, it was Aschwin Lippe13 who suggested that it could perhaps be interpreted as a proto ananda-tandava mode, although it is differently classified (urdhva-janu or bhujangatrasa).If we restrict ourselves to the South Indian region, we find many precursors to this earliest Pallava icon. Among these few notable icons are: a Nataraja image from the Moghalrajpuram caves in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh), a Nataraja image in Aihole (Karnataka), the famous Nataraja in the Badami cave (Karnataka) and an eight-armed Nataraja image from Bhairavakona (also Bhairavakonda) (Andhra Pradesh). Zvelebil mentions that bhujantrasita-cum-bhujangancita dance variety became rigidly codified and formalized into a complete and complex iconography of Shiva as Nataraja. Therefore, he seems very confident when he asserts that the image at Seeyamangalam is so important because in it we have a true predecessor of all later ananda-tandava themes. He tells that the most important and characteristic mark of ananda-tandava, i.e. the left leg, lifted and bent (kunchita) with the simultaneous twist of the left hip to the front, is absolutely and clearly present in this carving, and what more, the snake which is responsible for the technical term under which this mode goes is also quite forcefully present, with its hood raised.
A very detailed and authoritative study on this icon and this cave temple was carried out by R Nagaswamy14. He refers to the invocatory verse of Mattavilasa-prahasana, a work credited to the Pallava king Mahendravarman I, where mention of avani bhajana and dance forms employed by Shiva is made. The verse goes as below:
भाषा वेश वपुःक्रिया गुनक्रितान अस्रित्य भेद: (Bhāṣhā veṣha vapuhkriyā guṇakritān āśritya bhedān)
भावावेश वसत अनेक रसतं त्रैलोक्य-यात्रा-मयं (Bhāvāvesa vaśāt aneka rasatam trailokya-yātrā-mayam)
नृत्तं निष्प्रतिभद्ध बोध महिमा यः प्रेक्षकस्य स्वयं (Nrittam nishpratibaddha bodha mahimā yah prekṣhakasya svayam)
स व्याप्त अवनि भजनं दिसतु वो दिव्यः कपाली यशः (Sa vyāpta avani bhājanam diśatu vo divyah kapāli yaśah)
Translation: Shiva employs all the four kinds of abhinaya (plays), bhasha (verbal), vesha (clothes/makeup), vapukriya (body movements) and gunakritan (emotion). Shiva is full of emotions and he enters into various rasas during his dance, this spectacle is known as trailokya-yatra-mayam (procession of the three worlds). This spectacle is a great enjoyment for the spectators, and Shiva himself is the spectator in his cosmic dance. And through this he pervades the whole universe (sa vyapta avani bhajanam). And hence that dancing Kaplieshvara may grant us fame.
From the above, it becomes evident that Mahendravarman carved an icon which was familiar to him and to the theme of the cave-temple. The term avani bhajana has two meanings, first it refers to “pervading the universe” and second it refers to Mahendravarman himself as it was one of his biruda. And to commemorate the same, the king named the temple as Avanibhajan-Palleshavaram. Nagaswamy concludes that it is certainly one of the earliest representation of the Bhujaṅga trāsita sculpture from Tamilnadu that led to the full fledged portrayal of Naṭarāja, often seen in bronzes.
Similar to other cave-temples of Mahendravarman, this complex is also compartmentalized using mukha-mandapa and ardha-mandapa separated with a row of pillars. The inner row pillars does not have any lotus medallion on the cubical faces and the corbels are in regular curved profile, without taranga (waves) ornamentation. A shrine is provided at the center of the back wall, protruding slightly from it. The adhisthana (base) of the shrine contains regular mouldings, jagati, vrtta-kumuda, kantha and pattika. Four pilasters in the front provide for an entrance and two side niches. The niches have dvarapalas, and these figures are very important and significant. The northern dvarapala clear depicts the trishula prongs on his sides and above his head, suggesting that the dvarapala is depicted as the ayudha-purusha of Shiva’s trishula (trident). This has been discussed in detail in Kuranganilmuttam cave-temple article. Inside the cave is a Shiva linga, which might be a later installation.
Inscriptions: – There are many inscriptions providing details from the foundations till the various extensions carried out in the temple.
- On the southern pillar of the rock-cut temple15 – “By king Lalitankura was caused to be made this (temple) named Avanibhajana-Pallaveshvara – a casket, as it were, (worked at) his will (and enclosing) jewels, (viz.) good deeds.” – King Lalitankura can be safely identified with the Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE)
- On the extreme right pillar of the rock-cut temple16 – dated in the fourth regnal year of the Pallava king Dantivarman (795-846 CE), corresponding 800 CE – Records the construction of sluice called Kumaravay by Adavi Sri Gangaraiyar Nerkutti Perumanar, the headman of Tiruppalaiyur in Perumpalaiyur in Urrukkattukottam with the approval of the king.
- On the northern pillar of rock-cut temple17 – dated in the third regnal year of the Pallava king Nandivarman III (846-869 CE), corresponding 849 CE – “Hail! Prosperity! In the third year (of the reign) of king Vijaya-Nandivikramavarman, – Adavi, the headman of Tiruppalaiyur (near) Perumbalaiyur in Urrukkattu-kottam, having made a request to (i.e. having obtained a sanction of) the glorious Ganga king Nergutti Peruman, – (this) Adavi made the mandapa in front (of the shrine) for (the merit of) his mother Nanga[n]I Nangai. The feet of him who protects this (gift) without destroying (it), (shall be) on my head.”
- On a pillar in the empty shrine in the outer prakara of the Stambhesvara temple18 – date lost, can be dated in 9th century CE – states that the pillar was caused to be made by Jallavai, wife of ….Porimaiyan
- On a rock in the south-east corner of the Stambhesvara temple19 – dated in the twenty-second regnal year of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna III, corresponding 961 CE – Registers a gift of land at Siyamangalam to the temple to provide for alukkavi offerings by Akkaiyadevi who was the daughter of the king and who was governing the village at that time.
- On a rock in the north-east corner of the Stambhesvara temple20 – refers to the third regnal year of the Chola king Aditya II, corresponding 967-8 CE – records the gift of a cheruvu of land and a well to the temple of Tirukkarrali-Mahadeva at Siyamangalam as devadana to provide for alukkavi offerings. The donor seems to be Sri-Gangaraiyar Ganga-Chulamani alias Mummudichola-Sembiyan Sri Gangaraiyar of Nedunguram in Kunra-nadu, a subdivision of Palakunra-kottam, Venkunrak-kottam and Singapura-nadu. The ur of the village remitted all kinds of taxes on the granted land including irai, echchoru, vetti and amanji. It is stated that on default, the ur as a whole were liable to a daily find of 108 kanam at the dharmasana and daily fine of 24 1/2 (kanam) from the kudikkadu; and for obstruction of irrigation channels or water they were liable to another fine of 1/4 pon daily to the ruler of the day.
- At the same place of no 6 above21 – refers to the fourth regnal year of the Chola king Aditya II, corresponding 968-9 CE – seems to register a gift of the Tirukkarrali-Mahadeva temple of Siyamangalam by Sri-Gangaraiyar Ganga-Chulamani alias Mummudichola-Sembiyan Sri Gangaraiyan. Siyamangalam was istuated in Tennarru-nadu, a subdivision of Palakunrak-kottam.
- On the north wall of the veranda (right of entrance) in front of the temple22 – refers to the 5th regnal year of the Chola king Aditya II, corresponding 969-70 CE – records a gift of land to the Tirukkarrali-Mahadeva temple of Siyamangalam in Tennarru-nadu, a subdivision of Palakunrak-kottam in Jayangondachola-mandalam, for a perpetual lamp. The donor, a vellalan Kali Pundi of Pullali in Vadakari-Kilkur-nadu, a subdivision of Vesalippadi, in Sri-Pandi-nadu, bought the land from the ur of Siyamangalam.
- On a rock near the Stambhesvara Temple23 – refers to the 19th regnal year of the Chola king Rajaraja I, corresponding 1004 CE – records a gift of land by Kadamban Venkadan, a vellala of Nakkur-udukkudi in Tiruvilundurnadu situated on the southern bank of Chola-nadu, for two perpetual lamps. The land was sold by the ur of Siyamangalam in Tennarrur-nadu, in Palkunra-kottam.
- On the east wall of the Stambhesvara Temple24 – refers to the sixteenth regnal year of the Chola king Vikrama Chola, corresponding 1134 CE – Registers devadana gift of land in Siyamangalam by Sengeni Nalayiravan Ammaiyappan alias Rajendrachola-Sambuvarayan to the Tunandar temple at Siyamangalam for the ardhajama worship and food-offerings. Siyamangalam was in Tennarrur-nadu in Palkunra-kottam.
- On the same place as above25 – refers to the third regnal year of Kulothunga II, corresponding 1136 CE – Records that a palli resident of Sambupura called Selvan shot an arrow by mistake causing the death of Palli Venattrayan of the same village and that the nattavar and Sambuvarayar met in assembly and imposed a fine of 16 cows on the former for the burning of half-a-lamp in the Stambhesvara temple in expiation of the sin.
- On the south wall of the mandapa in front of the same temple26 – refers to the ninth regnal year of the Chola king Kulothunga II, corresponding 1142 CE – Refers to an accidental killing of Viran (?), son of Kadan of Vayalur during hunting by Nattuvan Vasal Vinkavaraiyan Eluvan of Peravur. In expiation, the latter was diercted by the pannattar to pay 15 pon for burning half-a-lamp in the temple of Tunandavar.
- On the east wall of the mandapa in front of the same temple27 – refers to the twentieth regnal year of the Chola king Kulothunga III, corresponding 1198 CE – Gives a list of gifts of lands to the temple for perpetual lamps. This is the copy of an earlier inscription, which was engraved over a stone and the stone was utilized in the construction of the compound wall on the northern side of the Tunandar temple at Siyamangalam by Kulottunga-Chola Sambuvarayar.
- At the same place as of no 13 above28 – refers to the twenty-fourth regnal year of the Chola king Kulothunga III, corresponding 1202 CE – records a gift of land to the Tunandar temple at the village of Kulothunga-Chola-Sambuvaraya in Siyamangalam.
- On the south wall of the first prakara of the Stambhesvara temple29 – refers to the eleventh regnal year of the Chola king Kulothunga – nothing much left except the date
- On the base of the south wall of the ardha-mandapa of the same temple30 – refers to the fifth regnal year of the Pandya king Maravarman, corresponding 1288 CE – records a grant of land in Siyamangalam alias Kulottungachola-nallur in Vidar-parru alias Vikrama-Pandya-valanadu in Palkunra-kottam made free of all taxes for worship and offerings to god Siva-brahmanya-Pillaiyar at Tunandar-koyil by the residents of Siyamangalam.
- On a boulder about two furlong to the north-west of the Stambhesvara Temple31 – Records that tiruppadanam (terrace?) was made by Vajranandiyogisvarar, the disciple of Madalacharyar-Gunaviradevar. Mentions Dravilasangha and Nandisangha.
- On the north wall of the mandapa in front of the Stambhesvar temple32 – records an agreement given by the stanattar, to one Perumal Gangeyar, daughter of Tiyagapperumal, one of the kanis at Nerkuppai alias Tirumudukunram, in Paruvurkurram, in Merkal-nadu, a subdivision of Irungolappandi-nadu and servant of Sirramur-Udaiyar, for maintaining the central shrine, of god Aludaiya-Nayanar-Tunandar at Siyamangalam in Tennarrur-nadu in Palkunra-kottam, a subdivision of Jayagondachola-mandalam. She was given the hereditary right of reciting the hymns and playing on the lute before the god and (to reside) in the Chittirameli-matha located in the Pallavan street.
Jain rock-cut carvings – Attested by an inscription, dated 892-93 CE, it was told that the Jain temples at Seeyamangalam were established during the rule of the Western Ganga king Rachamalla II. Two natural caves were utilized for the same by providing brick partitioning for creation of cells. The east facing boulder on the north was carved with sculptures of Jain tirthankaras.
Images of three Tirthankaras is carved in a horizontal frieze within a niche. First from the left is Mahavira, seated on a lion throne under a triple-umbrella and accompanied with two chamara-dharanis. Next to him is Parshvanatha shown standing over a lotus pedestal. On his right top is shown Kamath carrying a stone in his uplifted hands. Below Kamath is an unidentified figure riding over a chariot-shaped car. Sharma33 suggests that it may be the female attendant Santa riding over a tortoise. Below her is shown an attendant in anjali-mudra. On the left top corner is present Yaksha Dharanendra and below him is Yakshi Padmavati. The last image is that of Bahubali or Adinatha. The two female attendants flanking him are his sisters, Brahmi and Sundari. On his left top corner is Indra riding an elephant. On his right top corner is a couple carrying offerings.
1 Jouveau-Dubreuil, G (1918). Pallava Antiquities vol II. Asian Educational Services. New Delhi. ISBN 8120605713. pp 32-35
2 Srinivasan, K R (1964). Cave Temples of the Pallavas. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
3 Cox, Arthur F (1881). A Manual of the North Arcot District in the Presidency of Madras. Government Press. Madras (now Chennai). p 208
4 Sewell, Robert (1882). List of the Antiquarian Remains in the Presidency of Madras vol I. The Government Press. Madras. p 170
5 Epigraphia Indica vol VI. pp 318-322
6 Jouveau-Dubreuil, G (1918). Pallava Antiquities vol II. Asian Educational Services. New Delhi. ISBN 8120605713. pp 32-35
7 Srinivasan, K R (1958). The Pallava Architecture of South India published in Ancient India Number 14. pp 114-138
8 Srinivasan, K R (1964). Cave Temples of the Pallavas. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 94
9 Srinivasan, K R (1964). Cave Temples of the Pallavas. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 92
10 Sivaramamurti, C (1974). Nataraja in Indian Art: Thought and Literature. Indian Museum. New Delhi. p 182
11 Kaimal, Padma (1999). Shiva Nataraja: Shifting Meanings of an Icon published in The Art Bulletin Vol. 81, No. 3. p 402.
12 Zvelebil, Kamil V (1985). Ananda-Tandava of Siva-Sadanrttamurti. Institute of Asian Studies. Chennai. p 17
13 Lippe, Aschwin (1975). Some South Indian Icons published in Artibus Asiae vol 37 no 3. p 176
14 ROYAL PATRONAGE TO DANCE AND MUSIC – THE PALLAVA MĀRGA, retrieved on 28 September 2020
15 Epigraphia Indica vol VI. p 319
16 NA-1124 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. p 272
17 Epigraphia Indica vol VI. pp 320-322
18 NA-1126 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. p 272
19 NA-1127 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. p 272
20 NA-1128 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 272-273
21 NA-1129 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. p 273
22 NA-1130 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. p 273
23 NA-1131 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 273-74
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29 NA-1137 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. p 275
30 NA-1138 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. p 275
31 NA-1139 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 275-276
32 NA-1140 – Mahalingam, T V (1985). Topographical List of Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. p 276
33 Sharma, I K (1992). Temples of the Gangas of Karnataka. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. pp 198-200