Panchavan Madevi Pallippadai Temple, Ramanathan Koil, Pazhayarai
Panchavan Madevi Iswaram or Panchavan Madevi Pallippadai Temple is a unique temple built in memory of one of the greatest Chola Emperor Rajendra Chola I’s Step Mother Panchavan Madevi. This temple shows Rajendra Chola’s unconditional affection and love towards his step mother.
It is located at Ramanathan Koil near Pazhayarai. This temple is forerunner to Taj Mahal. Several hundred years before the Taj Mahal was built, a Tamil king had thought of such an idea and built a similar structure in memory of his stepmother. But now it is a monument of neglect.
The Temple is located very near to Patteeswaram. Patteeswaram is well connected to nearby Kumbakonam, Thanjavur & Darasuram. The hamlet of Pazhayarai near Kumbakonam was once the capital of the ancient Chola dynasty. The hamlets of Patteeswaram, Thirusakthimutram, Darasuram and Ramanathan Koil once formed the single great Pazhayarai.
Before Vijayalaya Chola could set up his capital in Thanjavur (850 B.C.) and lay the foundation for the powerful Chola Empire that followed, the Chola kings were the chieftains in Pazhayarai. It was in this metropolis that Raja Rajan (985 – 1014) spent his childhood and where his sister Kundavai lived with her husband. King Rajendran I (1012 – 1044) lived here before shifting his capital to Gangai Konda Chola Puram. A remnant of its past is a temple of art in Ramanatha Koil, built by Rajendran I.
Many types of temples exist in Tamil Nadu. One kind is known as the Pallippadai temple. `Pallipaduthuthal'' in Tamil means ``burying the dead'' and the temples that are built over the burial (``pallipaduthiya'') site are known as Pallippadai temples. These temples were built by Parantakan I for his father Aditya, and Raja Rajan I for his grandfather Arinjaya (Arnjijikai Iswaram). But the only edifice built as a Pallippadai koil where a queen (Panchavan Maha Devi) was buried is the temple in Ramanathan Koil, a forerunner to the Taj Mahal.
Raja Rajan the great's second queen was Vanavan Maha Devi, who bore him Rajendran I. Like his illustrious father, he was to rank among the noblest rulers of India. This king built or renovated 25 temples during his life-time, including the Siva temple he constructed in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, in honour of his mother, and named Vanavan Mahadevi Iswaram.
Rajendran seems to have been attached to his stepmother, Panchavan Maha Devi, the third queen of Raja Rajan. This lady was a daughter of Avani Kantharpa Purathu Devan, a chieftain of the Pazhuvettarayar clan that ruled Pazhuvur. From several temple inscriptions it is observed that this queen had been a very generous patron of various temples, and her gifts of a variety of icons in gold and other metals exhibit her dedication to religion.
It is assumed she had treated Rajendran like a son. On her demise, the monarch planned unique memorial, and he built a ``Pallippadai Koil'', as a house of art, and called it the Panchavan Maha Devi Iswaram. This temple of great love is in a state of decay.
When the kings of yore built a temple they ensured it had sufficient funds in the form of land gifts. In this temple, too, Rajendran had granted liberal endowments. In the basement of the central shrine of Panchavan Maha Devi Iswaram are several inscriptions engraved in characteristic calligraphy of the Chola era, enumerating the details of his gifts to this Temple.
An inscription of the seventh year of Rajendran calls this hamlet as Pazhayarai, the Mudikonda Chola Puram in Narayur Nadu of Sathyasigamani Valanadu, and names the temple as Panchavan Madevi Iswaram, a pallippadai koil and the lord of the temple as Panchavan Madevi Iswarathu Maha Devar.
In the phrase that reads ``pallippadai Panchavan Madevi Iswarathu Mahadevar'', a vandal has tried to deface the word Pallippadai that is of much historical importance. Fortunately, the words carved on stone are still legible. This same inscription lists five Oduvar, a pidaran, a Siva Brahmin, an accountant, a treasurer, six drummers and a watchman as employees of the temple; defines their duties and details their remuneration.
The inscription records the provision made for three offerings a day to the Lord of the temple and one for each of the other three deities. Details of the constituents of the meals such as curry- rice, curd-rice, and betel-nut are given.
The arrangements made for illuminating the temple during the day, nights and festivals were perfect. Eight lamps were to be lit at dawn, eight at noon, 16 at twilight hour and eight hand lamps and two torches for the night, with calculated quantities of ghee to be provided for each of these lamps.
Another inscription details the gifts made in the form of paddy to be made to the temple for special poojas, on the days of Thiruvathirai, the natal star of Rajendran and his wife. Administrators of these endowments were appointed and their names engraved in the basement. One such name is Madathipathy Lakulisvara Pandithar, who supervised the affairs of the temple with a Vennkaatan Kovandai of Maruthur.
The temple built with so much of care and love and the arrangements made for its maintenance planned so elaborately and with forethought now stands neglected among the wild growth. The locals have now encroached on the temple area. The imposing compound wall stands dwarfed by a sugar cane plantation that eats into the foundation.
The entrance pathway has been violated by brinjal plants. Thick foliage has covered the wall of protection, the gopuram and the inner circumbulatory passage. The dressed - stone paving in this passage has long since disappeared and this part of the temple has now become turned into a grazing field.
The gopuram is of three tiers. Made of bricks its deterioration has been quicker than the other parts of the stone temple. The central shrine faces eastward. Entwined in vines, yet in good shape, are the two guards of the mandapam belonging to the Rajendran era. A portion of the front wall of this mandapam has come down. It is only a matter of time before the rest follows.
Perhaps the thicket holding the wall is preventing it from collapsing. The original carved granite flooring is missing. Next to the mandapam is the maha-mandapam. At its entrance are two of wonderfully carved images of the Chandrasekaran forms of Lord Siva.
In the southern section of the maha-mandapam is the shrine for the lady of the house. It is an irony that the lady, Mangala Nayaki has been made to repose among the debris. The other deities in this maha-mandapam are Surya, Murugan, and Pillaiyar suffer the same fate. Between the mahamandapam and the inner mandapam is an ante-chamber.
Found here are two guards and a Nandhi, as specimens of Chola artistic quality and innovativeness. In the sanctum is Lord Shiva in the form of a lingam, called Panchavan Mahadevi Iswarathu Mahadevar by the founder, but today known as Ramanatha Swamy. This sanctum sanctorum is now home to a bat colony and a storeroom for wood and ladders.
On the outer walls are sculptures of Pitchadanar, Pillaiyar, Gangadhara, Dakshinamoorthy, Brahma, Durga and Lingodbhavar. All are placed in the appropriate niches. They are in perfect shape. Built in stone upto the cornice and further on in bricks, the vimanam of this temple, even after a 1,000 years, stands in flawless grace. Topping this structure is the cupola-shaped sikhara sans the stupi, a testimony to the superb engineering skills of a by-gone era.
Anyone who comes this way is sure to feel sad on seeing the dilapidated condition of the finest edifice of a splendid period of Tamilian history. It is understood that the Government on an appeal from the Rajamanickanar Centre for Historical Research, Trichy, has promised renovation. If architectural structures, statutory and wall paintings disappear, much of what might yet be learned about the epochs that produced them might disappear as well.