travel diaries

Ardhaneersvarar Temple – Elavanasurkottai

In the remote town of Elavanasurkottai in Villuppuram District of Tamilnadu is one of the long forgotten temple built by Raja Raja Chozha which houses Lord Shiva who is called Ardhanarisvarar here with his consort Brahan Nayagi. The Temple might have been long forgotten, but it is significant and bears the years of wear and tear with a charm on its own.


There used to be a grand and massive fort in this area, thus giving the town the name. This Shiva temple is believed to be on top of once a small hill, but now the place is all flat and plain. To whom or which dynasty the fort belong to is unclear, though speculations are made on this regard. The fort itself is non existence in the area, but the temple still stands high and proud. This temple is also a house of many unique features apart from the obvious Chozha features which includes Yaazhi, a separate and big shrine for Chandikeshvarar, highly ornamented gopurams and the many inscription in almost every inch of the walls.


It is believed by the locals here that, once when Raja Raja Chozha came this way for hunting and found this Linga in the middle of the forest. He was immediately drawn to the shiva that seemed to be “suyambu” or that has been formed naturally, meaning it was not carved out or made by anyone. He immediately felt devoted to the Linga that he decided to build a temple around it.

This temple is built in Dravidian style, with the entrance gopuram is smaller than that of the main gopuram where the inner sanctum is situated. One of the peculiar thing about this temple is that the sanctum of the Lord Ardhanarisvarar is located on the first floor of the temple. Devotees who visit the temple has to go up a flight of stairs to reach the sanctum. The reason behind this is even more interesting: The Linga here is believed to be growing and the base of the Linga is at the ground level and the actual linga is at the first floor of the temple. There are also two praharas for the temple and unlike other temples where the praharas will be in concentric sequence, here it is in two levels: one in the ground floor and one in the first floor.


This temple also has another unique feature: a “suyambu” sculpture of Aadhi Shakthi, who by Hindu belief is the first power to have formed along side Aadhi Shiva who is the supreme and first power. This is a rare sight in any of the Shiva temple.


In this temple, Vishnu and Brahma are worshipped alongside which is almost non-existence in any other temple.


Unlike any other Shiva temple, the Nandi on the entrance and the Nandi in the sanctum faces away from Shiva, i.e., the Nandi is seen sitting having his back to the Lord Shiva, while in all other temple Nandi sits facing the Lord. The reason for this is either haven’t been found or have been lost in the lore. Either way the locals here seem to know little about the reason behind it.

There is also a shrine for an incarnation of Lord Shiva Baadhala Lingeshvarar who is believed to have appeared in front of a Malaiyaman Chief, Deivigan when he prayed the to the Lord before starting for a battle. The town in itself is said to have been donated by Sembianmadevi, grandmother of Raja Raja Chozhan and she donated this town and nearby lands to this temple.


This once majestic temple, even though maintained by the Government has still took the bad side of wear and tear through the centuries it has stood there.





travel diaries

Dharasuram- The epitome of Chola Architcture


Dharasuram, a small town near Kumbakonam (a town in South India) holds one of the treasures of the Chola Dynasty(one of the greatest ancient kingdoms of South India): Airavateshwara Temple. The temple stands high and mighty holding the stories of not just the gods and kings but also the common men in its walls, quite literally too. The temple built by Raja Raja Chola-II in 12th century, is now being maintained by Central Government as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Great Living Chola temple.
The Nandi Mandapa (the outer hall) with its iconic musical steps greets us at the entrance, showing a glimpse of the marvel that we are about to witness and experience inside those centuries old walls. The musical steps in the entrance is one of the architectural marvel of the great Cholas. The seven steps are designed in such a way that, if a stone is rolled from the top, it plays the musical notations of the saptaswaras (7 musical notations) when the stone falls in each step.

Once we enter the temple complex, we are met with massive stone structures with every inch of the structure sculpted out, telling stories from myths and legends. Most of the sculptures here are built with rocks but some of the parts on the top are built with bricks by the Nayakas on the later period. There are also some structures made of Basalt, a Volcanic rock that is believed to be imported from the Deccan Plateau region for the construction.

The entire circumference of the Vimana (the roof of the tower) holds the stories of the sixty-four nayanmars (disciples of Lord Shiva) from the Periyapurana (an ancient Tamil literary work), with intricate details.
The panels in the praharas (pathway around the temple) shows stories of the common men, their lifestyle, their theater arts and their day to day life. The one that is very interesting is a sculpture of a woman pulling her husband’s hair in a family feud. The agony is very delicately shown in this sculpture. It is very illustrative that one wonders if the sculptor was being plain funny or documenting his domestic life, for all eternity.
The Muha mandapam, which is the outer mandapa is designed to depict a Chariot pulled by horse on the east side and the elephant on the west side. The significance of this steps is that, unlike the Tanjore temple, these structures are not sculpted out of a single rock, instead, they are sculpted out of different rocks and then assembled together. They are also identical on both the sides with Chandran on one side and Suryan on the other, with only a difference of the flower they hold: Chandhran hold a flower bud, while Suryan holds a fully bloomed flower. The muha mandapa is enclosed by pillars bearing Yalis, which are a signature of the Chola architecture.
The mandapa itself houses the most ornate pillars and sculptures that fill the mandapa from ceiling to the floor, which are intricately carved into few inces long figurines and tell many stories.
There are two very significant pillars made of Basalt rock. They are significant because basalt is a hard rock and the figurines in the pillars are not more than a few inches tall but are intricately sculpted that it shows the facial expressions, accessories worn by the woman and the hairlines, even the tiny flowers in the pillars has sharp and delicate edges, making them inches long marvels.
The stories in the pillars, eventhough being random, the above mentioned pillars show some specific stories: one showing stories from kandha purana and other showing wedding story of Shiva and Parvathi after Shiva cast Parvati to earth for disobeying him.
There is also some scultures on the the entrance of the main mandapa which are significant for their uniqueness. There is a sculpture of Kannapanayanar, which is significant for the details in the baslt rock structure. The sculpture is portrayed wearing slipper of some kind which is illustrous on its own way. This also has a sculpture of Nandi in the form of Adhikara Nadhi (Nandhi as amalgamation of Shiva) which is a very rare occurrence in Shiva temples (usually Nandhi will be in the form of reclining bull).
The inner mandapa or the main mandapa towards the sanctum sanctorum which is a contrast to the muha mandapa which lacks all the architectural marvels, but gains points on its charm and the divine vibe that the main deity Airavatheswara is giving out. The linga with all its magnificance is believed to be worshipped by Indra’s elephant Airavadhan, thus giving the main deity his name.
Outside the Mandapa, the main mandapa is built in the form of Lotus and a small moat is built around it to fill it water to resemble a lotus pond. There are even small circles to light il lamps which is said to reflect in the water and make the mandapa looking glorious.
There are also signs of painting from the Nayakas that still sticks around after all the erosion from the sun exposure and rain.
There is also a life size statue of Lingothbavar, Vishnu Durga and a Buddha sculpture to subtly mention the co-existence of Buddhism during the period.
With all its overwhelming beauty and attention to details, the temple makes one forget reality and takes them centuries back with all the stories it has to tell and talents of its sculptors it has to flaunt. The temple has exceeded its role of just a place of worship to be an exceptional story teller as it tells stories from books of the ancient Tamils, one of them being the Periyapuranam. When one leaves this temple, they leave with more than the Lord’s grace, but also with stories of the once upon a time.