Avanibhajana Pallaveshwaram Temple (Stambeswarar Temple), Seeyamangalam, Thiruvannamalai
Avanibhajana Pallaveshwaram temple also called Stambeswarar Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, located in the town of Seeyamangalam, Thiruvannamalai district in Tamilnadu, India. The temple is constructed in Rock-cut architecture by the Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE) during the 7th century. The cave temple had later additions from the Chola and Vijayanagar Empire. One of the pillars has a sculpture of Nataraja, believed to be the earliest representation of the deity in South India.
The temple has a small three-tiered Rajagopuram, the entrance tower. The temple is declared as a heritage monument and administered by the Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument. A few hundred meters north of this temple in the slopes of hillock Jain relief works were carved in the Pallava age. The other side of the hillock houses the Jain beds established in the 9th century during the reign of Ganga King Rajamalla II.
From a Chola inscription of this temple, it is found that Seeyamangalam would be belonging to Tennarrur-nadu (region named after Tennattur), a subdivision of Palagunra-kottam, a district of Jayamkonda-Chola-Mandalam. The temple itself was then called Tirukkarrali, ‘the scared stone temple’. A foundation inscription of Mahendravarman I name this cave as Avanibhajana-Pallaveshwaram.
This rock cut Shiva temple was built by Mahendravarman I in 7th century C.E. The main deity Shiva, is called here as Thoon Andar in Tamil and Stambeshwara in Sanskrit. "Thoon" means pillar and "Andar" refers Lord and hence thoon Andar means Lord of Pillars. This name is because of the presence of two pillars in front of this cave temple.
Stambeshwara name was perhaps given due to a high boulder standing on the floor of 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 Shiva lingam in the water, hence the name Stambeshwara.
Stambeswarar temple was built during the reign of Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE) during the 8th century. It is one of the earliest representations of Rock-cut architecture. The place is called Avanibhajana Pallaveshwaram temple as Avani is one of the titles of King Mahendravarman. Though the image of the lions in the pillars lead to an assumption that the temple might have been possibly been initiated by Simhavishnu, the father of Mahendravarman, the view is not accepted.
The inscriptions, accounted in Epigraphica Indica, are written in Sanskrit with Grantha-Pallava alphabet. The inscriptions indicate that it was dug out by Lalitankura, which is similar to that of cave temple in Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort indicating Mahendravarman. The temple had later additions from the Chola and Vijayanagar Empire. The gopuram, the gateway tower is believed to be an addition by the Vijayanagar kings. The other side of the hillock houses the Jain beds established in the 9th century during the reign of Ganga King Rajamalla II.
The temple has a three-tiered Rajagopuram a set of scattered shrines. The shrine of Stambeswarar is housed in the circular sanctum in a rock cut cave. There is a large pillared hall and narrow pillared Ardhamandapam leading to the cave sanctum. The shrine for Nandi is located outside the pillared hall axial to the central shrine. The main deity Shiva, is called here as Thoon Andar in Tamil (Tamil: தூண் ஆண்டார்) and Stambeshwara in Sanskrit. "Thoon" means pillar and "Andar" refers Lord and hence thoon Andar means Lord of Pillars. This name is because of the presence of two pillars in front of this cave temple.
Two dvarapalas are located on the either side of the entrance of Sanctum sanctorum of the shrine. The interesting feature of these dvarapalas is the presence of trisula prongs in them. Unlike other temples, here the main deity Thun Andar is facing the west direction. Lord Shiva was carved in the temple pillars as Natarajar and Vrishabhantika. This is the first temple in Tamilnadu having the image of Lord Natarajar. Also, the dwarf Muyalaka is missing from the Natarajar image. The sanctum houses the image of Shiva in the form of lingam. In the pillars, lotus is carved on the upper portion, while images of lion are seen in the lower half.
One of the pillars in the temple has one of the earliest representations of Nataraja (the dancing form of Shiva) in Ananda Thandava posture. There are two attendants of Shiva ganas of Nataraja, with one of them playing Miruthangam (a percussion instrument) and other in praying posture. The pillared hall has images of yalis, the mythical creatures representative of Vijayanagar Art. The images of other attendant deities of Shiva are housed in smaller shrines around the sanctum. As the temple, has seen quite a few extensions so the cave is mostly obscured from outside.
Nataraja Dance Posture
Nataraja is the cosmic representation of Shiva's different dance forms. The temple has the earliest representation of Nataraja in sculpture. As per Hindu mythology, Shiva is a violent dancer and while he dances, a snake named Karkodaka winds in his legs, leading to Shiva performing the Bhujamgatrasa, the snake fight posture. The sculpture of Nataraja in the temple depicts the posture. Shiva is sported with four hands, with his one of the left hands showing dola hasta posture, parasu in the second left, Abhaya mudra (protecting posture) in the first right hand and fire in the second right hand.
Archeologist Dr.R.Nagaswamy believes that the hooded snake at the foot of Nataraja is the proof of Bhujamgatrasa. It is believed that all forms of dance are derived from Natya Sastra by sage Bharatha and Mahendravarma's knowledge of delicate postures are exemplified in the sculpture. He also affirms that by the image Mahendra shows the connection between bhujangatrasita and that the dance of Nataraja, the cosmic form of Shiva leads to the Ananda.
Worship and Religious Practises
The temple is declared as a heritage monument and administered by the Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument. Though it is an archaeological monument, the temple is active in worship practises, where the temple priests perform the puja (rituals) during festivals and on a daily basis. The temple rituals are similar to that of other Shiva temples.
There are about 27 inscriptions recorded from Pallava regime to the Pandya rule in this Temple. There is a foundation inscription of Mahendravarman I written in Sanskrit, engraved in Pallava Grantha script and this is engraved on the right pilaster of the front row. Another Inscription is engraved on the left pilaster of the front row.
Seeyamangalam is located about 2 km from Desur. It can be reached via Gingee and Vandavasi. Seeyamangalam is located 25 kilometres (16 mi) southwest of Vandavasi, 21 kilometres (13 mi) southeast of Chettupattu and 63 kilometres (39 mi) northeast of district headquarters Thiruvannamalai.
In the Vandavasi-Chetpet road, you have to travel for about 15 kms and at Mazhaiyur cross road, take a left turn (south) and travel further for around 8 kms via Desur to reach Seeyamangalam.
From Vandavasi, town buses No: 144, to Gingee and No: W2 to Magamaai Thirumeni go through Seeyamangalam. One private bus named V.M. from Desur to Gingee also goes through Seeyamangalam. However, frequency of buses to this village is less. Hiring auto from Desur is a good option to reach.