Vijayalaya Choleeswaram, Narthamalai
Vijayalaya Choleeswaram in Narthamalai, a panchayat town in Pudukottai district in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Constructed in the Nagara style of architecture and rock cut architecture, the temple is believed to have been built during the 9th century by Muttaraiyar kings, the cardinals of Pallavas, with later expansion from the Cholas.
The Vijayalaya Choleeswaram in Narthamalai, though so called under the name of the founder of the Chola dynasty of Thanjavur, is a fine example of Mutharayar style of construction and indeed a forerunner of the magnificent temple at Gangaikondacholapuram built by Rajendra Chola. The first and second tala (base) of the temple vimanam is square in shape while the third is circular (vasara) and the griva and Sikhara also are circular. This is the first time when Nagara and Vasara styles have been incorporated in the construction of the vimanam.
The inner wall enclosing the sanctum sanctorum is circular (omkhara shape), leaving an intervening passage all around. The Aditala hara extended over the top of the mandapam shows a series of dance sculptures. The Dwarapalakas at the entrance of the temple are beautifully decorated. The temple as well as the six shrines and one upto the foundation level around the temple are all built with granite stones. About 15 years ago, the Archaeological survey of India had restored and re-built the dilapidated parts of the temple complex in a brilliant manner keeping to the original style which exhibits the pioneering efforts of the Mutharayars.
Located on the top ledge of the hill, there is a somber magnificence about this Siva temple as it stands in its loneliness. As one approaches the site, the sighting of this temple edifice among the sparse vegetation and shingled rock, is breathtaking. The temple is maintained and administered by Department of Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument.
Narthamalai was originally called Nagarathar malai on account of the business men (called Nagarathar in Tamil) who were active in business in the Trichy - Pudukottai - Madurai regions. The Nagarathars are attributed to the major contributions in terms of the canals, temples and religious establishments in the region. Narthamalai was ruled by the Muttaraiyars during the 7th to 9th centuries, where were under the Pallavas. The region was later captured by Medieval Cholas. Though the temple is called Vijayalaya Choleeswaram, the temple was originally built by Muttaraiyar lieutant, Sattan Paliyili, during the seventh regnal year of Pallava king Nripatungavarman during 862 CE.
As per some accounts, the temple is believed to have been built by the first king of Medieval Cholas, Vijayalaya Chola (848- 891 CE), but the view is highly debated. As per the inscriptions, immediately after the construction, the temple was damaged by rains and lightning. The restoration work was carried out by Tennavan Tamiladiaraiyan.
The temple Vijayalaya Chozhisvaram is a marvellous piece of art built by a Muttaraiyar chief, Ilango Adi Araiyan. This is inferred from an inscription under one of the Dwarapalakas. The inscription says that the temple was originally built by one Sembudi, also called Ilango Adi Araiyan, and that is suffered damage by heavy rains and was repaired by one Mallan viduman also called Tennavan Tamil Adi Araiyan.
The temple obtained its present name after Vijayalaya Chozha, the founder of the imperial Chozha line (second half of 9th century AD). This name was referred to, for the first time, in a 13th century, Maravarman Sundarapandian inscription and it has survived obscuring the fact that the temple was erected by the Muttaraiyars. As far as the dating of the builder Ilango Adi Araiyan is concerned there are two opinions. Some are of the opinion that he belonged to the time of the Pallava king Nandivarman II or even to that his predecessor (8th century AD). Other experts opine that he belonged to the time of Vijayalaya Chozha (second half of 9th century AD).
The shrine is an important one in the history of temples of the Tamil country. According to K.V. Soundararajan (in his book titled Studies in Indian Temple Architecture) this is ‘one of the important temples of the early Muttaraiyars, entirely circular from the ground tala up to the sikharam, constituting a single Vesara example’.
In the opinion of S.R. Balasubrahmanyam (in his book titled Early Chozha Art I) ‘it is unique in many respects. It is four tiered, and is the earliest and grandest of the early Chozha temples. It is built of stone. It has a circular garbhagriham (in Pranava form) and a wonderful vimanam. Above all it is the fore-runner of the glorious monuments of the Chozhas.
In modern times, the temple is maintained and administered by Department of Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument.
The temple faces west and has the unusual arrangement of a circular cella (the omkhara garbhagriha) within a square prakara. Above the cella and the prakara rises the vimana in four diminishing storeys (talas) of which the three lower ones are square and the uppermost circular, the whole surmounted by a dome shaped sikhara with a round kalasa on top. There is an enclosed mantapa in front with Pallava style pillars. Two dvarapalas, five feet tall, guard the entrance.
Round the main temple in the open yard are seven small sub-shrines built of stone and all facing inwards in a typical early Chola style. Beautiful sculptures of Uma Sahithar and Vina Dhara Dakshinamurthy belonging to the deva koshta on the griva of the main temple are now the Pudukkottai Museum. The entire complex is now an archaeological monument.
This is an interesting Muttaraiyar temple constructed in Vesara style and with ashtaparivaras. The west facing main shrine would have been at the centre of a large courtyard and surrounded by the eight sub-shrines within the courtyard. These sub-shrines are in various stages of ruin. The complex is surrounded by a prakaram.
Presently, only six out of the original eight sub shrines remains around the main shrine. Each of them has a small square garbhagriham and a closed rectangular ardhamandapam in front. They are all one storied (eka tala).
The arrangement of these eight sub shrines is as follows: Chandra in east, Surya in south - east, Sapta - matrika in south, Ganesha in south - west, Subramanya in west, Jyestha in north-west, Chandesha in north and Bhairava in north-east. Shrine for Sapta-matrika is usually constructed in oblong shape to accommodate seven or nine images of this group. The arrangement of the shrines is little peculiar as Sapta-matrika shrine is placed on south-east corner instead of south side. Hence while assigning the shrines to respective deities; we need to accommodate this diversion from regular arrangement. Other early Chola period parivara shrines can be seen at Thirukkattalai and Kodumbalur.
The central shrine holds an important position for temple architecture studies. The temple is consisted of amandapa (hall), antarala (vestibule) and garbhagriha (sanctum). The adhisthana (platform) is simple in nature. It has upapitham, upanam, kumudam, kandam and agrapattiyal, from bottom to top. There is no vyala row on the agrapattiyal block as seen on platforms of the cave mandapas. Pilasters rise above agrapattiyal forming deep niches on vimana and shallow niches on mandapa. However all niches are empty. Corbels are placed on square protruding abacus. Bhuta/gana row is seen under cornice which is mounted above the corbels. Kudus in single and pair are carved on the cornice.
The door to the shrine is on the west, has a pleasing floral design, and is guarded by a pair of two-armed Dwarapalakas, one arm resting on a club and the other held out in the vismaya pose, and with legs crossed. Two life size dvarpalas greet you at the entrance. They are shown with two hands with one hand resting on a club and another one raised in air. Both are depicted with protruding tusks however their calmness on face cover up their ferocious nature.
Dvarpalas on proper right is much better preserved in comparison with the left one. It has protruding Trisula (trident) from his head suggesting that it represents Trisula of Shiva. There is an important inscription on its base which gives information about the construction of this temple by a Muttaraiyar chief. Present dvarpalas statues are well mortared in niches. Excepting these doorkeepers, figures and portraits adorn only the upper terraces.
The main temple stands on a double lotus base with walls running round the sanctum and ardha-mandapam. These are embedded with elegant pilasters topped by palagais (‘stone planks’).
The covered ardha-mandapam stands on six pillars that are square at the top and bottom but octagonal in the middle. These monolithic pillars are crowned with bracket capitals. Over the pilasters and palagais and the corbels, is the curved roll cornice with its chaitya arches and decorated with kudus, containing figures of human heads and animals and surmounted by trifoliate finials. There are usual rows of bhutha gana.
The garbhagriham (sanctum) is circular and is enclosed within a square hall. Around the circular inner wall and the outer square wall there is a narrow pradakshina (circumbulatory) passage.
The vimanam is a hollow superstructure made up of four tiers, each separated from the next by a cornice. The lowest is rectangular and built over the ardhamandapam and the garbhagriham, the rest are over the garbhagriham only.
On every tier under and over the roll cornice are rows of frolicking gana, vyalis, Apsaras and gods. The first two tiers have broad parapet walls running over the edge. These are topped by domical cell like roofs.
The parapets contain recesses and adorned with Apsara-s in dancing poses. Here one can see some of the most graceful poses of Indian Classical dance. The circular top tier is topped by a round sikharam. At the base of the sikharam on four coordinal directions are four beautifully moulded Nandis with broad shoulders and with rippling muscles.
In between the bulls are four elaborate chaitya arches with the niches containing superb portraits. One is Vinadhara Dakshinamoorthy. He wears a look of supreme serenity. Another is a portrait of Siva seen with Parvathi in a tender mood caressingly tilting her chin with his right hand.
Main entrance is provided at west which takes a visitor into a pillared mandapa. Pillars are in characteristics Mahendra-order with cubical top and base and octagonal shaft in between. Taranga band is used for corbels. There is a Shiva linga inside circular sanctum. Traces of paintings can be seen on mandapa walls. Paintings of Vishnu and Bhairava are little clear however other paintings are not. It is suggested that these paintings were not put during the construction of the temple but of very late origin not earlier than the 17th century, according to the Manual of the Pudukkottai State (1944). Except for these paintings temple from inside is very simple.
Though badly battered by weather over more than a thousand years, the entire effect of Vijayalaya Chozhisvaram from its base to its terraced top is one of breath taking beauty. Modeled with loving care, graceful figures and rollicking elephants and ganas emerge continuously from the granite surface. The Apsaras of the recesses have an alluring charm about them, their graceful pose offering unending delight.
In front of the main shrine there is a nandi mandapam with four pillars and without a roof. There is a stone Nandi inside.
The temple in a combined rock cut and Nagara architecture is an early example of Cholan Art, continuing the tradition of the Pallavas. It is believed that the temple was the inspiration for the Gangaikonda Cholisvaram Temple built by Rajendra Chola I (1014-44 CE). The sanctum (garbhagriha) has four storeys in Omgara, shape of Hindu symbol Om. There were originally eight subsidiary shrines around the temple, out of which six still exist. Each of them is identical with a semi-spherical top and a four pillared Mandapa in the front.
The Vimana, the shrine over the sanctum has sculptures of Uma, Shiva, Dakshinamurthy and Saptamatrikas. The individual images retrieved from the place are maintained in the Pudukottai Government Museum. The temple is the foremost structural of the Chola kings, who would later on go on to make Great Living Chola Temples in the next 300 years, declared as UNESCO as a World Heritage Sites. The temple is first among South Indian temples to incorporate Nagara and Vasara styles to be incorporated in the vimana.
No 11 – A of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State – On the base of the north dvarapala at the entrance – Written in Tamil in 4 lines – dated to ninth century CE – Records that the stone temple erected by Chembudi alias Ilangodi-araiyar was damaged by rain and that it was renovated by Mallan Viduman alias Tennavan Tamiladiaraiyan.
No 216 of the Annual Report on Epigraphy 1940-41 – On the east wall of the mandapa in front of the central shrine – Written in Tamil – dated to ninth century CE – Records that this temple which had been destroyed by heavy rains was renovated by Mallan Viduman alias Tennavan Tamiladiaraiyan. It is said that the temple was originally built by Chattampudi alias Ilango-Adiyaraiyar.
Small Pond – There is small pond near this temple on north side which is supposed to be a Jain cave probably.
No 366 of the Annual Report on Epigraphy 1914/No 11 of the Inscriptions of the Pudukkottai State/No 396 of the South Indian Inscriptions vol XVII – On the rock to the north of the pond called Arunmaikkulam – Written in Tamil in 10 lines – dated to ninth century CE – Records that Tamiladiaraiyan alias Mallan Vidaman got a sluice made to the tank called Animadayeri. He also gave some land to the mason named Chonanaraiyan who made the sluice.