Thyagaraja Temple, Thiruvarur – Royal Patronage
On Earth, around the 5-7th century, as the Pallava monarchs sponsored research and refined the art of temple architecture as we know it today, they evolved the first traces of Somaskanda in bas relief stone and then in the experimental medium, bronze, for the Utsavam possessions. The Somaskanda is one of the Lilamurthis, a form adopted by Siva for divine sport on Earth. Shiva supposedly performed 364 such Lila’s in and around Thiruvarur. The transition of the tradition between one dynasty and another is apparently seamless as the Chola Kings adopted, refined and popularized the Somaskanda iconography in bronze.
As far back as 6th Century A.D., this Aarur Moolasthanam, the Sacred Primary Site at Aarur, and others such as the Araneri temples were popular, flourishing as bastions of art, culture, and tradition. The Thiruvarur temple complex was obviously extremely well known in the 6th century AD and had well developed, characteristic and esoteric traditions even at that time. A poem of Thirunaavukarasar reveals that the temple traditions of Margazhi Aathirai Vizha, Panguni Uttirai Perunaal, Veedhivitakan in Veedhi Panni, celebrated for Thyagaraja and Nilothpalambal today, existed even before the 6th century A.D.
The antiquity of the temple predates the documented history that begins from the time of Mahendra Pallava. The province of Thiruvarur, prominent because of the energy of the Thyagarajaswami temple, also included temples in Thiru Moolatannam and Araneriyam during this Pallava period. Later, in the 9th century, following Saint Sundaramurthy Nayanar's poems, the temple at Paravayunmandaliyum was also included under Thiruvarur.
These temples were originally bricks and mortar structures with a lot of woodwork. Mahendra Pallava patronized this temple and added many features, notably, the shrine of the Sapta Mathrikas (the seven mothers), Ganesha, Maheshwara, and Durga in the outer prakara (second perimeter around the temple) and the Yama Chandikeswarar in the inner perimeter (first prakara). Later, from the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. the Imperial Cholas undertook a project of immense magnitude wherein they set about revamping all the major South Indian spiritual centers, temples, using the more durable medium, granite.
The Thiruvarur Thyagarajaswami temple was first rebuilt as a granite structure by the Chola king, Aditya I. Aditya Chola I was the son of Vijayalaya Chola who resurrected the Chola line in the 7th-8th Centuries AD. He is credited to have created 64 Shiva shrines along the Cauvery from Madikeri to the Bay of Bengal. Aditya I had developed a unique, signature architectural style well recognized today as that developed under his patronage. At Thiruvarur, the Thyagarajaswami temple has several elements that are evident in this style: The temple’s Peetam, Upa Peetam, Goshtam, and the shape and style of the Vimana.
The two Dwarapalakas (door guards) outside the shrine of the main Linga, Vanmeekanadar or valmikinathar in the inner sanctum appear to be from his time. In the same chamber, Shiva and Parvathi are portrayed as a newly married couple. They stand holding hands and surrounded by the Devas. While we do not know when this sculpture was done, the style of appears to be from these early Chola times. Apart from this and a Dakshinamurthy, an image of Shiva as the Vedic guru, there are also other interesting images such as one of Krishna with his flute from the same time.
The sculptures of Durga and her warriors, Kangalamurthy, Arthanareeswara, Lingodhbava, various kings match the beauty and antiquity of sculptures found in Thirunageswaram (also known as Keezhkottam) and Srinivasa Nallur near Kumbakonam. The well respected and famous Chola Queen-Grandmother Sembian Mahadevi (wife of Gandaraditya Chola) inspired Rajaraja Chola I to revamp all temples built with brick, mortar, and wood into permanent granite structures. She donated generously for the daily pooja and rituals handing silver vessels to the temple.
During the Raja Raja I, a special palanquin was made for the street procession of Lord, for which money was granted from the temple coffers. Grand Celebrations in Aipasi Sathayam and Aadi Thiruvathirai were introduced. There was a temple assembly that met regularly at the mandapa to discuss the activities of the temple. A Rajaraja Chola I inscription states that Queen Sembian Mahadevi personally supervised the conversion of the Karuvurai and Ardhamandapam of the Araneri temple. Such personal interest, involvement and patronage of the Royals in matters of religious and spiritual importance are well documented.
While archeologists say that the Karuvurai is in the Queen Grandmother's style, there is some confusion whether she rebuilt an older structure built by Aditya Chola. The temple complex seems to have acted as the cultural model for the Big Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur of Rajaraja Chola I, wherein he enshrined a Vitankar which shared with the Atavallan of Chidambaram the status of state cult. The Chola king Rajendra I, son of Rajaraja, also known as Madurantaka II after his Grand Uncle, rebuilt the existing Thiruvarur Thyagaraja shrine in stone at the behest of his mistress Paravai. He is also credited with upgrading some of the surrounding Mandapams.
The independent shrine complexes for the two Goddesses of this temple, Neelothbalambal and Kamalambal, were upgraded by many kings and the art in those chambers reflect several periods. The Mugamandapam was constructed later. The last Chola monarch to play an important role in the affairs of the temple was Kulothunga Chola III in the early part of the 13th century A.D. There were 56 grand festivals each year during the rule of Kulothunga I. It attracted Shaivites of all schools and was important centre of Golaki matha in the 13th and 14th century.