Vettuvan Koil, Kalugumalai, Thoothukudi – Architecture
The temple is located in Kalugumalai, a rocky hill in Thoothukudi district in southern Tamilnadu. The temple is carved out from a single rock in a rectangular portion measuring 7.5 m (25 ft.) in depth. The carvings in the temple show the top portion of the temple, with an unfinished bottom. The sculptures and the carvings are indicative of Pandyan art during the period. The granite rock looks like a blooming lotus, with hills surrounding it on three sides. The vimana (ceiling over the sanctum) has niches of Parsava devatas, the attendant deities of Shiva, like ganas, Dakshinamurthy depicted playing a mridanga, Siva with his consort Uma, dancers, various niches of Nandi (the sacred bull of Shiva) and animals like monkeys and lions.
Historian Sivaramamurti believes that this is the only place where Dakshinamurthy is depicted playing the Mridanga (a percussion instrument), while in all other places, he is depicted playing Veena. Epigrapher like V. Vedachalam believes that there is spontaneity in the sculptures indicating of natural human movements like in the Shiva and Uma sculpture where they seem to be talking like common folks. The other portions of Kalugumalai houses the 8th century Jaina Abode and Kalugasalamoorthy Temple, an unfinished Shiva temple.
Historians have equated the temple with similar temples across India based on the monolithic classification. Historian K.V. Soundara Rajan believes that the temple is similar in architecture to that of Virupaksha Temple at Karnataka by Vikramaditya II during 734-44, Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple built by Narasimhavarman II during 685-705 AD and Kailasa temple, Ellora by Krishna I during 756-77. Some historians believe that the similarities in the architecture are indicative of the political relations between the Pallavas, Rashtrakutas and Chalukyas, which is highly debatable.
This east facing monolithic rock cut temple is the main attraction of Kalugumalai site and it receives the significant place in monolithic rock cut architecture and often draw comparison with monolithic Kailasanath temple in Ellora, monolithic temples of Pallava at Mamallapuram such as Arjuna ratha, Dharmaraja ratha and Pidari ratha and structural temples such as Shore temple and Mukunda Nayanar temple in Mamallapuram, Vijayalaya Cholisvaram in Narthamalai and Pattadakal in Bijapur, Karnataka.
For the first time full-fledged stone monolithic vimana with all its basic six parts, the basement, wall, roof, griva, sikhara, and the stupi was attempted in Arjuna ratha, Dharmaraja ratha in Mamallapuram. It was at Arjuna ratha, two-tiered monolith, Karna kuta (square shrine placed on corners) and Salas (oblong shrine placed on sides) as well as octagonal shaped Shikara (head) and Griva (neck) have been introduced. The Karnakutas and the Salas above the roof are together called a 'Hara'.
In Dharmaraja ratha a novel element called 'Panjara' was brought in between the Karnakutas and the Salas in the Hara structure. The Pallava sculptors treated the hara, shikharas and griva with skill and concern to represent miscellanea. The Pallava sculptors also chiseled the sculptural masterpieces on all the tiers of these monoliths including different themes from Hindu Puranas representing Shiva, Somaskanda, Vishnu, Krishna, Varaha, Brahma, Mahishasuramardhini and other deities.
The architecture and sculptures in Vettuvankoil reverberate the style of early Pandya era mandapa (hall) without any pillar and sanctum (garbha-griha). Adhishtana (plinth or base), pada (pillars - wall) and prastara (roof) have not taken shape. The Pandya sculptors have only completed roof, two tiers, octagonal griva and octagonal shikara. The adhishtana and pada portions are incomplete. The walls, floors and roof of the mother rock including interiors and exteriors sanctum and mandapa appear rough and unfinished.
At a later date a Pillaiyar aka Vinayakar idol was installed and worshiped. The incomplete rock cut monolith temple appears plain and simple look. The typical kapota or cornice is roughly sculpted between the prastara and the first tier of the vimana and it is common for all South Indian temple structures. The horseshoe-shaped kudus are carved on kapota without any refinement with a row of hara over it.
In Vettuvankoil the aditala or the first tier has the regular arrangement of the hara above the edge of the roof (harmya). Hara includes the string of miniature shrines known as Karnakutas and salas. The shikhara of Karnakutas and salas have nasika (kudu like structure) on all four sides. Kudus are carved on these shrines with an image placed below the kudu. The image is large enough to cover the niche formed by pilasters of this storey.
The Karnakutas and sala are decorated with annavasal-karukku design and maiyappalaikarukku design with a kodimangai (nymph) appears in reclining posture. The typical kapota or cornice is sculpted with refinement in the first tier of the vimana. The kudu ('Nest') an arched or horse-shaped opening are carved on kapota. The kudus are adorned with interesting feminine figure in the middle. Canonical pilasters below the kudu encloses beautiful feminine figurine.
A frieze of 'bhuta ganas' shown under the cornice in the first tier of the Vimana. The dwarf attendants of Lord Siva, super human being, are shown with odd characteristics - strange dwarf figures, some are seen with pot bellies, some with swelled faces, some with projected teeth, some playing the flute, some drumming, some dancing, some clapping etc. A frieze of Ganas is often an Indian temple architectural motif and prescribed in the canonical texts of Hindu temple architecture. Many odd images of the bhuta ganas are shown in various actions mostly of dancing.
The south sala shrine houses the image of Lord Shiva appear seated in Suhasana posture with the left leg hanging down and the right leg placed on the right thigh; the body is slightly slanting towards the left and leaning forward. Of the four hands, the back right hand holds deer and the back left hand holds mazhu (an axe-like weapon), the front left hand resting on the left thigh and the front right hand is showing abhaya hasta mudra (broken).
The west sala shrine houses the image of Vishnu, appear seated in Utkutikasana posture with the left leg hanging below the seat and rests on a pedestal while right leg kept bent upwards. He holds the chanka (conch) in his back left hand and his back right hand holds the characteristic Prayoga Chakra (an early sculptural feature where the Chakra is held straight instead of the later side-on posture).
The north sala shrine houses the image of Brahma appears seated in Utkutikasana posture. Of the four hands, his back right hand holds akshamala; the left hand holds lotus flower; the front right hand is resting on his right thigh and the front left hand rests side wards on the floor. His hair is arranged in jata-bandham. The yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and ornamented with sarapali, udara-bandha, armlets, bracelets and draping the bright yellow garment on his waist.
The square capstone is interspersed between the top of the second storey of the vimana and the base of the octagonal griva. At the top of the square capstone of the second storey four Nandi images are placed one each at four corners at the square base of the griva. These Nandis either face east or west but no north and south. The capstone cornices are embellished with lion (yali) frieze.
Above the second tier is placed the octagonal griva (neck) which is topped with octagonal shikara. The octagonal shaft of the griva is decorated with pilasters adorned with kodikarukku. The octagonal form of shikara put the vimana under Dravida architectural style.
Shiva as Uma Samhita Murthy with consort Uma (Parvathy) appears below the east mahanasika. The Lord is depicted in 'Ardha Padmasana' posture with four hands. The rear right hand holds mazhu (an axe-like weapon) and the left hand holds the maan (deer).
The consort is depicted in 'Maharaja Lilasanam' posture seated with royal ease with right leg bent to rest on the seat and the left leg bent upwards. The goddess wears karanda makutam a head-gear. She also ornamented with rich necklaces, keyyura or tolvalai, bracelets and fine clothing and mekhala in the waist. The excellently modeled images of the divine couple appear seated casually with ease. Graceful smile of Shiva attracts the consort and she looks at him with slight tilt of head. The sculpture exhibits the well-developed craftsmanship of the early Pandyas and strikes the correct balance between dignified masculinity and graceful femininity.
Shiva as Pushkara Dakshinamurthy, the Master of instruments appears below the south mahanasika. The Lord is depicted with four arms and his upper body is slightly turned and slanting towards the right, balancing the mridanga held gracefully upon his right thigh. With the two forehands the Lord is playing on an mridanga (drum with two faces). The Lord appears in virasana posture with left leg is stretched down (lambaka padam) and is stamping upon (samharaka) the dwarf (apasmara – purusha: representing ignorance and delusion).
This suppression (nirodha) of ignorance is described as the tirobhava aspect of Sri Dakshinamurti. And, his right foot bent at the knee is resting on his left knee or thigh (Sayanam padakkam or kunchita-paada). His hair is arranged as jatamandala woven into circular form. His sitting posture is relaxed; his body position and carriage is free from bends and rigidity.
Vishnu as Lord Narasimha (lion-headed avatar of Vishnu), appear below the west mahanasika and keep seated in yogasana or in meditation posture with the two legs crossed each other like the Swastika symbol. He holds the chanka (conch) in his back left hand and his back right hand holds the characteristic Prayoga Chakra (an early sculptural feature where the Chakra is held straight instead of the later side-on posture).
He rests his left hand on the seat and the right hand is broken. The body is slightly slanting towards left. Lord wears Krita makuta, kundala earring, yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and ornamented with sarapali; udarabandha, keyyura / tolvalai and valai. He wears dhoti around the waist. The seat of the Lord is supported by two Simha images.
Brahma appears below the north mahanasika and keeps seated in Ardha Padmasana (cross-legged - in the Half-Lotus posture) posture on a lotus seat. Of the four hands, his back right hand holds akshamala (rosary beads); the left hand holds lotus flower; the front right hand is in abhaya mudra and the front left hand rests on his thighs.
The shikara top shows a small pit by which we can easily guess about the presence of finial or stupa and now it is absent. The octagonal shikara is decorated with a lotus whorl on top. The lavish decoration of the shikara with Kodipalai karukku and the Mahanasikas with Koor karukku.