Monday, December 7, 2015

Kunnandarkoil Cave Temple, Pudukottai

Kunnandarkoil Cave Temple, Pudukottai
Kunnandarkoil Cave Temple in Kunnandarkoil, a village in Pudukottai district in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Constructed in Rock-cut architecture, the temple is believed to have been built during the 8th century by Muttaraiyar kings, the cardinals of Pallavas, with later expansion from the Vijayanagar Empire. The rock-cut architecture in the temple is a specimen of the late Pallava Art and an early example of Chola Art.

The temple has various inscriptions from Cholas, ChalukyasPandyas and Vijayanagar Empire. The temple is considered one of the oldest stone temples in South India. The temple is maintained and administered by Department of Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument.
Kunnandarkoil, referred to in inscriptions as Thiruk-kunrak-kudi, has a rock cut temple, which may be assigned to the time of Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (C. 710-775 AD). In the course of the centuries, it developed, with structural additions, into a big complex. In plan it is similar to the Gokarnesvara temple at Thirugokarnam.

It is a fascinating monument to study. Its main artistic gifts are a hundred and one pillared 'ratha' (chariot) mandapam, and two splendid portrait sculptures doing duty as Dwarapalakas before the main shrine. The temple has some fine bronzes also.
Kunnandarkoil derives its name from Kundru-Andan-Koil meaning the Lord of the hill in the temple. Kunnandarkoil and the region around it was ruled by the Muttaraiyars during the 7th to 9th centuries, where were lieutenants under the Pallavas. The region was later captured by Medieval Cholas. The cave temple was originally built by Muttaraiyar king who was the lieutenant of the Pallava king Nandivarman II (710-775 CE), who was also called Nandivarman Pallava Malla.

The earliest inscription is from the period of Nandivarman and his son Dantivarman indicating generous contribution to Vedic people (learned) during the Tiruvadirai festival. Soundara Rajan identifies the temple to an addition during the early half of the 8th century. There are later inscriptions from Cholas, ChalukyasPandyas and Vijayanagar Empire. During the 14th century, the village had two divisions for the Kallar community. Some of the epigraphic studies reveal that there were strict punishments levied to people robbing in remote villages like Kunnandarkoil.

In modern times, the temple is maintained and administered by Department of Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument.
Temple Architecture
The temple is located in Kunnandarkoil, a rocky hill in Pudukottai district in southern Tamil Nadu. The cave houses three life size sculptures of various forms of Shiva. The main shrine faces east and the sanctum houses the image of Lingam, an iconic representation of Shiva. Shiva is worshipped as Parvathagiriswarar. The walls of the sanctum are plain, unlike later Chola temples that have niches to house different images. The sanctum is approached through an Ardhamandapa, a hall supported by pillars.

The sanctum is guarded by Dvarapalas on either side. The inscriptions are made on the base of the Dvarapalas. There are two portrait images, one of which is identified as the Muttaraiyar chief who built the temple and other being his assistant.
The rock has been excavated in two sections. In the bigger is the shrine of the principal deity, Parvathagiriswarar. To the left, separated by wall, is a smaller section in which there are three shrines dedicated to Thandavar, Subrahmanya and Ayyanar. Facing them, on the side, is a fourth small excavation containing an image of Chandrasekhara. These images of sub-deities are later additions.

In the main shrine, on the rock face, to the south of the cave is a figure of Ganesa with his trunk curled to the right, and to the north is a Somaskanda group in which Subrahmanya, who is generally placed between Siva and Uma, is placed to the left of Uma. The Dwarapalakas are portrait sculptures. The figure to the south is that of a chief, probably the Pallava king himself, or a Muttaraiyar vassal of his.

A small oblong ardhamandapam fronts the shrine. The facade has not been worked upon. Nor there is a prakaram around the shrine. The structural Mahamandapam, of later construction, contains a number of portrait sculptures. The image of a Pattavan here represents a man who lost his life fighting some robbers, while watching the temple property, and offerings are occasionally made to him. 
Beyond the gopuram stand several structures. The shrine of the Goddess Umayambigai is here. Opposite to it, and facing the shrine of the Lord, is a nandi mandapam. Adjacent to it is a small mandapam with four pillars.

A little farther off is the striking Ratha (chariot) mandapam. It is of the Vijayanagara style. On an elevation stands a big hall with hundred and one pillars in six rows. To the basement are added stone wheels to simulate a running chariot. 
This cave temple has been carved out from a low rising hill on its eastern fa├žade. This hall type cave would have been carved during the Pallava reign whether by the Pallavas or by their subordinates, the Muttaraiyars. This fact is supported by the earliest inscription from the time of Nandivarman III though there is no foundation inscription. The cave would have been in existence during his time when he inscribed his words on it. This rectangular mandapa is supported in two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are of the Mahendra order, octagonal shaft in between cubical sections. The corbels are of Taranga type as found in his Trichy cave. This hall has only one single bay in contrast to two bay designs of most of the earlier Pallava caves.

A cell or better say shrine has been carved in the middle of the back wall of this cave. This shrine is protruding forward about 2 feet from the back wall. The platform is raised about 2 feet from the ground and two stairs are provided in its middle to reach the cell inside. This platform is consisted of architectural elements like kantha, kampa, jagati and kumuda. The front part of this shrine is made of four pilasters forming two niches and middle entrance door. There is a Shivalinga inside the cell which is carved out of the original rock.
This feature, of original rock linga, is very rare in earlier Pallava cave shrines. However this is an integral part of Muttaraiyar and Pandya creations. This suggests that though this cave would have been carved during the Pallava reign but may be by the Muttaraiyar sculptures. It might be because of Muttaraiyars as they were positioned in between the Pallava and Pandya territory hence their art style was influenced from both these styles.

There are portrait sculptures of two dvarpalas carved in the niches on either side of the entrance of this back wall shrine. Left dvarpalas is carved in familiar attitude as seen in other Pallava cave shrines. He is standing with one leg bent at his knee and placed behind his right feet. He is standing with support of his club which is supporting his left arm. Palm of the right arm is placed above the handle of the club. The club is entwined with a snake which is a characteristic style from the earlier Pallava time. The club here is very slim and refined in comparison of massive clubs of the earlier time.
In totality, he represents a refined graceful figure in contrast to massive crude personification of the earlier Pallava examples. This dvarapala has two protruding prongs behind his head which suggests that he is the representation of trishula (trident). One point of interest would be that this dvarapala is not wearing any yajnopavita. Right side dvarapala is standing in an interesting posture which is rare among the Pallava order. He is standing with his arms held crossed in front of his chest. He is wearing a yajnopavita and his dress goes down till his ankles. There is a protruding axe-blade in his jata-bhara which suggests that he is the representation of parasu (axe).

There are two interesting relief carvings on side walls of this cave hall. On the south wall is a relief sculpture of Ganesha in Valampuri style, truck turned to right. This Valampuri style is very frequent in Pandya region and most of the Ganesha images are in this style. He is seated in padmasana and shown with four hands. One of his lower hands is resting on his thigh and another one is carrying a modaka. In his upper hands are shown ankusha (elephant goad) and a broken tusk.
Tradition of Ganesha worship in Tamilnadu region is a subject of controversy. General Opinion is that this tradition was borrowed from the Chalukyas by the Pallavas. Ganesha did not get proper place in the earlier Pallava cave temples as the only representation is found where he is shown with other ganas in Ramanuja Mandapa at Mahabalipuram. However if Kudumiyamalai is also considered among the Pallava creations then there is a proper relief sculpture of Ganesha outside that cave.

There is another thought about the tradition of Ganesha worship. Pillayarpatti cave has an inscription which has been dated to 5th century CE on basis of its language and alphabet style. This cave shrine is dedicated to Ganesha and has a sculpture where he is shown with two hands only. An icon with two hands is considered of earlier origin then an icon with multiple hands in iconography study. If this all is accepted then Pillayarpatti is probably the earliest cave shrine of Tamilnadu and that Ganesha worship was in practice from ancient times, at least in and after 5th century CE. This breaks down two of the earlier hypotheses, first that Mandagapattu was the first cave shrine created during Mahendravarman Pallava’s reign and that Ganesha worship came down from the Chalukyas to Tamilnadu.
Another relief sculpture is carved on the north side wall. Shiva is shown with Uma (Parvati) which is referred as Umasahitamurthi in agama texts. Both Shiva and Uma are shown seated in maharajalilasana posture where one leg is laid on the platform and another is placed with erect knee. Shiva is shown with four hands holding a parasu (axe) and a snake in his upper hands. Lower right hand is placed near his chest inkataka mudra and lower left hand is placed on his thigh. 

Uma is shown with two hands carrying a flower in one of her hands. She is wearing karanda-makuta. There is a lady attendant standing next to Uma and carrying a basket in her hands. There is visible crack in the roof which reached till the sculpture of Uma.
Cave Temple Extensions 
There is a mahamandapa constructed in front of the cave temple. There is a Nandi shrine within this mahamandapa. This mahamandapa is enclosed by a wall encasing the cave. There is a gopuram on eastern side of this entrance which is used as the main entrance in the present time. There is another enclosure encasing this mahamandapa. There are two monuments of interest within this second enclosure. One is an unfinished rock cut shrine carved on the north side of the main cave but outside the mahamandapa complex. This cave has few stray images inside its cell.

On its northern side is an image of Chandishvara which faces south. He is shown seated on a platform and holding a danda (stick) on which an axe blade is fixed. Chandishvara is seen as the guardian of Shiva temple and many of the transaction were carried on his name as supported by many inscriptions. It is believed that Shiva granted him the permission to guard his shrines. Mostly his shrines are located on the north side of the main shrine as seen in this monument complex as well. However though his shrine is located on northern side, his image is carved so as he faces south.
There is a ratha mandapa (chariot-mandapa) as well inside. This is called hundred pillared hall however there are only ninety pillars inside. There are two wheels and two horses driving this mandapa. There are eight ganas placed at the base of this mandapa in front. Seven are male and one is female. There are references of seven horses in the chariot of Surya (Sun) however eight horses is a very unusual occurrence hence the number of ganas might not be for horses. There are twenty-four spokes in both the wheels. The spokes are in form of a shankha (conch) and a deva-gana arranged in alternate fashion. Such hundred pillar mandapas were in fashion during Nayakas and Vijayanagara time.
There is a Murugan (Skanda) shrine on top this hill. This seems to be a recent structure. In the south of mahamandapa, Saptamatrika images are placed. They are shown in company of Veerbhadra and Ganesha. It belongs to 8th-9th century. The arrangement of Ganesha and Veerbhadra is probably interchanged. Usually Veerbhadra lead the gang however here Ganesha is placed first and Veerbhadra in the last. Another thing of interest is that Vaishnavi’s image is repeated twice and Kaumari is absent.
There are nearly forty inscriptions in the temple. 
The two oldest inscriptions in the temple belong to the reigns of Nandivarman and Dantivarman, and refer to the feeding of Brahmins and other persons during the Aardra festival. The other inscriptions belong to the reigns of the Chozha, Pandyas and Vijayanagara kings. One of the Pandya inscriptions is a royal order instituting a daily service in the temple called Rayarayan Sundara Pandyan Sandhi. Another relates to a sale of lands to Vyapaka Siva, a disciple of the spiritual head of the Naduvil-matham at Tiruvanaikovil.
There is a record here, which related to a covenant among Araiyars who agreed not to cause any damage to the villagers, and not to molest wayfarers and tenants whenever they were engaged in internecine feuds. An undated inscription on the unfinished gopuram in modern script relates to a toll of 1/16 panam levied for the benefit of the temple on every package of goods coming from or going to Thanjavur and Tiruchirappalli.
Kunnandarkoil is one of the earlier Karala Vellalar settlements in the state. It is also an important Kallar settlement. It is said that the northern part of the village belongs to the Kallar of the Vadamalai nadu, and the southern to those of the Temmalai nadu. The joint meetings of the Panchayats of the two nadus are held in the Kunnandarkoil temple.
An inscription in the temple dated about 1394 AD tells of a joint meeting of assemblies, artisans and agriculturists to which learned and influential men were invited from Srirangam and Tiruvanaikovil to consider the loss of life and property that the Kallars had caused and to afford protection to the people, who in return were asked to make to the temple an annual payment, and an offering of a ring for every marriage celebrated.
The temple has many inscriptions which greatly help in tracing back its history. The earliest ones are from the Pallava period of Nandipottavarman (Nandivarman III). There are three Pallava inscriptions of Nandivarman III. The inscription talks about donation of 200 rice nali to accommodate the cost of feeding 100 brahmanas on the day of Tiruvadirai. This suggests that the village was big enough to accommodate residences of hundred brahmanas at least. Another suggestion could be that the donation for hundred people does not suggests that there were hundred people at that time but the donation was probably made keeping a foresight for later times. It also mentioned that Tiruvadirai is a famous festival celebrated at the temple of Tiruvarur. It seems that tiruvadirai was similarly auspicious during that time as well. Another record of Nandivarman records digging of a tank near the temple.
Inscription of the early Chola period are mainly donations for temple lamps. In one such inscription of the Chola king Rajakesarivarman Rajaraja, the lord of this temple is referred as Tirukkunrakkuti Matevar. The god is referred as Tirukkunrakkuti Nayanar in one inscription of Kulottunga Chola. This inscription talks about a land donated to the temple. There was a treasury in existence at the temple as supported by the inscriptions of Rajakesarivarman Tribhuvana and Rajaraja. Former records a gift of gold coins deposited to the treasury while the latter records a land transaction in the name of Tantecurapperuvilai whose cost was deposited in the treasury which is referred as Sri Pantaram.
There are few endowments recorded in Pandya inscriptions. Inscription of Parakrama Pandya records an endowment of a land piece. In the time of Sundara Pandya endowment of 100 gold coins was created for food offerings. Endowment of land gift was also given in the reign of Kulasekharadeva Pandya. His two inscriptions details about the type of land gifted and the kind of interests to be earned from those gifted land. There is an interesting inscription of Sundara Pandya which talks about fines in case of communal riots. It states that if an individual is involved in any kind of communal clash then he or she will be fined with 100panam (used for money) as a punishment. If the whole village succumbed to any communal riot then the village will be fined with 500 panam. It seems that few instances of such communal violence might have occurred in past that’s why the king put such an order in place.
There is another interesting inscription of a Muttaraiyar chief. It states that he donated his land to the Lord as he has no son and hence after him all his assets be given to the temple. Devdasis or temple dancers of that time used to possess many assets and were counted among the riches. One such instance is found in this temple where an inscription states a gift provided by a devdasi. This inscription is dated in the reign of Kumara Viruppanna Udaiyar. He is the Kumara Kampana of Madhura Vijayam fame who recovered the Tamil country from the Sultans of Madurai in 1371 CE.
Gifts from Devdasis seems to be in practice during those times as another such instance is found in the temple of Kudumiyamalaiwhere devdasi gifted money to repair and maintain the temple. In other inscriptions of Kampana this country has been referred as Pandivalanadu, the fertile country of the Pandyas. There are few inscriptions of Vijayanagara king, Krishnadevaraya Raya, as well. The Telugu influences in inscriptions could be found after the advent of Vijayanagara dynasty as words like Somavara and Shukravara for Monday and Friday respectively were used in the inscriptions.
There are few Nayaka inscriptions as well. One Nayaka chief, Kunnai Nayakkar, granted money from his land to the temple. Probably it meant that the land was granted and the money earned by the usage of the land should be kept with the temple. The temple sees extensions during Nayaka period as mention of construction of mahamandapa and nrittamandapa is mentioned in the inscriptions.
There is an inscription of a washer man and his wife about some donation from their side. This provides a very different outlook on the social behavior at that time. Putting an inscription of a washer man, who is considered to be from a lower cast, in the temple compound suggests that there was no differentiation between ranks once you are within the precinct of a temple. Everyone is same irrespective of his cast and creed.
The temple in rock-cut architecture is an early example of Cholan Art, continuing the tradition of the Pallavas. The individual images retrieved from the place are maintained in the Pudukottai Government Museum. The hundred pillared Nrita Mandapa has sculpted pillars, a typical of Vijayanagar art. The bronze images in temple are earliest specimen of exquisite sculpted images in South Indian art. The Somaskanda bronze with Shiva and Parvathi, with their child Skanda is the most prominent among the bronzes in the temple.

Kunnandarkoil is located on Pudukkottai – Killukottai road about 35km from Pudukkottai. It can be reached from Kiranur as well from where it is 13 km. It can also be reached from Adhanakkottai.