Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram

As one enters the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram (pi. XI), one finds a large gopura, the upper por¬ tion ofwhich is completely lost but the form ofwhich may be imagined from the complete second (inner) gopura. The larger prakara-wall all around the temple, decorated with couchant bulls at intervals, is in continuation ofthe second gopura

By: Diksha Sharma

Posted on: 30/10/2020 View : 140

Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram

As one enters the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram (pi. XI), one finds a large gopura, the upper por¬ tion ofwhich is completely lost but the form ofwhich may be imagined from the complete second (inner) gopura. The larger prakara-wall all around the temple, decorated with couchant bulls at intervals, is in continuation ofthe second gopura. Supporting the gopura are pillars in a row, which have some fine carvings of lovely apsarases, Sivaganas and other motifs. Beyond the gopura is a large balipitha with beautiful lotus-petal decorations. Towards one side of it, just behind the large Nandi, is a quaint standing dwarf Siva-gana blowing a conch, which, to¬ gether with the bull, is a fine artistic product. Long nar¬ row strips of frieze, with a whole series of miniature figures dancing in lovely poses with musical accompani¬ ment, provide, even as one enters, the key-note of the decoration in this temple nitya-vinoda, perpetual enter¬ tainment. On either side at the entrance are small balustrades, intended to flank steps (now missing), with beautiful makara-decoration on their outer side. The makara with a floriated tail, short legs and curled-up snout and a pair of dwarf gana-riders on it forms a lovely decoration. At the entrance the visitor is greeted by a beautiful mandapa with a number of pillars, to be approached through an extension of it towards the south, with flights ofsteps on the east and west. The balustrades for these steps are nicely decorated on the outer side with a long curling


trunk issuing out a lion-head; a similar second one runs parallel to the trunk of an elephant, lost in the open jaws of a makara whose floriated tail is curled up, to balance the complete design. The elephant is beautifully decorated and has on its back dwarfgams viz., the sarikhaand padmanidhis. The eight outer pillars of the mandapa are supported by squattingyatis with their trunks curled up and with pronounced abaci. The lotus-petal decora¬ tion below has prominent petal-tips. The capital, as in the other pillars in the mandapa, has the beginning ofthe Wfofoz-decoration, which, in the late Chola and Vijayanagara periods, develops into the lotus-decoration. Each of the four inner pillars is divided into sections, three oblong and two polygonal. The decoration which later develops into the naga-bandha is just present, and, as in other early Chola structures, is only a decorative pattern of the double-geese. The rectangular portions of the pil¬ lars are decorated with small panels illustrating mytho¬ logical stories, such as the attack of Manmatha, the penance of Parvatl, the prayer ofthe gods for a son of Siva, the birth of Kumara, Siva’s marriage, his fight with the asuras, etc.

On four pillars which lead on to the extension ofthe mandapa, short inscriptions are repeated, describing it as svasti sri-Raja-gambhiram tiru-mandapam. If the ele¬ phants on the sides of the balustrades of the steps men¬ tioned above are lovely specimens, there are equally lovely galloping horses, one on either side ofthe mandapaextension immediately beside the flight of steps, with a huge wheel carved behind it, which gives the mandapa the semblance of a chariot. The front of the base of this mandapa-extension is decorated at the bottom with panels  showing: Siva fighting the Tripuras from the chariot and as Kalantaka repelling Yama for protecting the son of Mrikandu whom he had blessed with a long life; Siva burning Kama who dared attack him with his flowery bow and arrow even while his lovely queens, including Rati, and other gods pray for his being spared; and the destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice by Virabhadra. Above this, in five niches at intervals, are Agni, Indra, Brahma, Vishnu and Vayu, all standing with hands in the attitude of reverence to Siva. It may be noted that the original plan of the flight of steps east of the mandapa has been completely spoilt by later renovations, and the symmetry, which no doubt originally existed, is now lost.

The main mandapa is in continuation of the mukhamandapa of the main shrine and is covered completely on the northern side at the extreme ends of the eastern and southern sides, providing on the outer face of the wall as in other portions ofthe temple, the usual pattern of niches with pilasters in between. The same pattern of alternating niche and pilaster with a main niche for every pair ofsubsidiary niches is found on the outer walls ofthe second mandapa, which is a completely closed one, all the pillars being inside. The main mandapa is deco¬ rated with a pair of dwarfyakshas guarding padma-and fankha-nidhis in niches on either side on the east. These figures, like all the other special forms of deities in the niches, are of fine-grained black basalt, distinguished from the granite used in the entire structure. The pillars of the first (main) mandapa contain beautiful patterns of decorative creepers so arranged that in the circular medallions created therein are figures dancing in diverse poses, musicians and sometimes forms of deities such as Gangadhara and Tripurantaka. These figures adorn panels arranged in tiers of niches and solas on the sides of other pillars. Even where the pillars have purely decorative patterns, there are figures, mostly in dance-poses or playing musical instruments, introduced very deftly into them.

The ceiling shows square and rectangular patterns, bands of which are all filled with decorative designs. Almost all the central medallions contain similar dance and musical groups. The pillar-capitals here have the precursor of the bodhika-type, the ornamental precursor of the naga-bandha being also present. As we enter the next mandapa, which leads on to the ardha-mandapa and the main shrine, there are in niches Devi with lotus, and ratna-kalafa (pot filled with gems) and Nandikesvara standing with hands in adora¬ tion on one side and saint Kannappa and seated Sarasvati on the other. It should be noted that the openings of the main mandapa have been bricked up here and there in modern times for converting portions into rooms and the centre of the northern side has been improvised into a cell for Devi; the chauri-holding dvara-palikas (pi. XIII A), fixed on either side ofthe doorway, also improvised, are lovely and belong to the same period as the other fine sculptures arranged in the niches of the main temple itself. The pillars in the mandapa adjoining the main one, which leads on to the main shrine, are somewhat simpler, notwithstanding their being polygonal and with flowerpetal decoration at intervals and corbels, which recall the Chalukya type. 

The mukha-mandapa, approached by long flights of steps from the north and south, marks the end of the mandapas and the beginning of the main shrine. Here there is a couchant Nandi smaller than the one at the start of the main mandapa. The dvara-palas of the main shrine are depicted as furious and with huge clubs; they have four hands in the threatening attitude (tarjani), bear tusks and carry trisula on their bound-up hair decorated with the lion-head design. The garlanddecoration of their yajnopavlta again recalls Chalukya influence. A six-headed Kumara standing to the left of the entrance of the main cell is a fine sculpture. The walls of the mandapa and the main shrine con¬ tain niches, some of which still possess exquisite speci¬ mens of early Chola sculpture; the other niches either have no image or have poor modern substitutes in brickand-plaster. Of the noteworthy Chola specimens are: a fine Ardhanarisvara, unique of its kind, with three faces and eight arms; a four-armed Nagaraja having snake-hoods over his head and hands joined in adora¬ tion; Agastya, the dwarf sage, seated with one of his hands in the teaching attitude and the other carrying a water-vessel; another seated sage carrying the rosary and manuscript; dancing Martanda-Bhairava or Aghora-Virabhadra with four hands, three heads and a terrible countenance; Siva as Sarabha destroying Narasimha (in a niche to which a small mandapa, reached by a flight of steps, is provided); standing Ganesa; Dakshina-murti attended by sages seated under a banyantree and expounding the highest truth; Lingodbhava Siva, issuing from a flaming pillar, Brahma and Vishnu unable to reach the top and bottom, adoring the lifiga; Brahma; eight-armed Durga on the severed head of buffalo; seated Devi as BhuvaneSvari carrying pasa and axikusa, in two of her hands, the other two being in abhaya and varada; Siva as Tripurantaka, carrying the axe, deer, bow and arrow; multi-armed Gajantaka destroying a demon in the guise of an elephant and dancing against the spread-out hide ofthe animal in the bhujangatrasita pose, Devi shrinking away from him in fear; Bhairava with six arms standing with his dog behind him; a sage carrying a water-vessel and teaching two disciples; and Mahesa-murti seated with three heads and four arms carrying the spear, axe, rosary and watervessel.

All these sculptures, made ofpolished black basalt, are of exquisite workmanship. In describing the sides of the main shrine, it should be mentioned that the lower half of the base is of the same type all over including the mandapas. The lowest series of panels above the lotus-petal decoration is di¬ vided by decorative bands and in them are ydlis, couchant or rearing, in pairs or single, women dancing to the accompaniment ofmusic, dwarfganas in queer poses, dancing, playing a drum, blowing a conch, carrying the chauri or holding their hands in wonder, often in the company of a bull. Above this is a longjfl/f-frieze, which is again repeated a little below the niches.There are miniature decorative carvings a little below the second row of'yaiisy above it and immediately below the niches. In the main shrine the carving below the niche depicts scenes illustrating stories of Saivite saints, some of which have labels in Tamil.1 Separating these scenes there are miniature carvings of dancing figures and Siva or Devi in different attitudes. On the outer walls, on either side of the niches, are also carved fine figures corresponding to those en¬ shrined in the niches, simulating the tradition of the earlier temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. Thus, Gariesa’s niche is flanked by bhutaganas, dwarf attendants, carrying offerings with the deity’s vehicle, the mouse; the niche of Dakshina-murti is flank¬ ed by exquisitely-carved figures of rishis, which are, however, hidden by a later brick structure. The niches ofthe main temple are three in number. The central one, larger than the flanking ones, has a double-pillar decora¬ tion on its either side. It has a top fashioned as a said, while the tops of the niches on either side illustrate the A;0jA/&z-pattern.

The double-pillar decorations between these have the lion-headed kudu for their top. Between the niches and the double-pillar decorations, all ofwhich project forward, there are kumbha-panjara decorations against the main wall itself. Above the niches, near the caves, there is a whole row ofdwarfganas, dancing, play¬ ing musical instruments or otherwise merry. Against the roof here and there are kudus. Gaping bhuta-heads serve as gargoyles for discharging water from the roof. The kudu-) pavillion- and said-patterns are repeated in the different tiers of the vimana. All around the main shrine is a broad strip, 3*66 m wide, paved with granite slabs, and a low wail, 25*40 cm 1See Appendix, p. 40.  high, of the same material, the latter beautifully carved with the lotus-pattern and Nandis seated in between. This beautiful row of Nandis is unfortunately mutilated everywhere. The existence ofoutlets for water at intervals shows that it was intended to be a sort of a pleasant water-receptacle to give the idea of a pool surrounding the temple in spring and keep the atmosphere cool in summer. A number of circular rings with low rims, carv¬ ed out ofstone, appear to have been lamps. The gargoyle for discharging water from the main cell is on the north. It is long, has a dip and double course, is decorated with two lion-head motifs, one at the source and the other where it starts the lower course at the point ofthe dip, and discharges water into a large well-carved water-reservoir with the figures of dancing ganas on the sides.

The gomukha is supported at the base by a caryatid dwarfgana, as in the gargoyle in the temple at Thanjavur (though the figure here is standing), by a rearingyali and again by triple ganas at the end. In the vicinity of the main temple near this gar¬ goyle is the shrine of Chandikesvara, similar to the one at Thanjavur. The inner side of the entire prakdra, surrounding the large paved coutryard, has a beautiful series of mtfn(/0jta-decoration, which, in the main, is one long row of pillar-cloister with cells at intervals for deities, some of which have disappeared. At the four corners the cloister has been enlarged and embellished into mandapas, approached by steps decorated with balustrades, showing interesting motifs as a ferocious lion pouncing on an elephant with curled-up trunk lost in the mouth of a makara and with its sides covered up at the points where a niche or trellis-window is added as decoration (pi. XII). The base, as usual, has fine panels showing scenes of dance, jugglery tricks, themes of sculptural pun and so forth. All these points are best observed in the mandapa towards the north-west. Towards the north-west there is a similar mandapa, but lacking the trellis-work. Here the pillars are well-decorated with dance-figures; the ceiling also is profusely covered with beautiful panels and medal¬ lions filed with danseuses and musical figures.

The top of this mandapa is decorated with laidroof suggesting Nataraja’s sabhd; this is the ndtya-mandapa ofthe temple—a fact clearly borne out by not only the sculptures on the pillars and ceiling but also by a carving on the base of Vishnu playing the drum in front of the mandapa. Though now in a bad state of pre¬ servation, this must have been the place where originally the Nataraja bronze should have been housed. To the east, beyond this, is the yaga-sala, and further on is the representation of a king and queen, in addition to figures of deities. The two portrait-statues are probably intended to represent either Virarajendra or Rajaraja II, either of whom was responsible for this temple, and his queen. In the cloistered hall to the west of the naija-mandapa there is a remarkable group oflarge carvings in the round, representing Siva as Kankala-murti (pi. XIII B), a number ofrishi-patnis, the wives ofsages ofDarukavana who attended on Siva and were astonished at his beauty. The garments of one of the women in a pair (pi. XIV) are slipping off and the other has a finger on 36 DARASURAM her lips indicative of wonder, Gtf/w-dwarfs are playing the drum or sounding a gong in quaint and picturesque attitudes. Kankala-murti himselfis calm and serene and fondles a deer with one of his hands, while a dwarfattendant carries his begging bowl. Ofthe women, some carry ladles for offering food to the divine begger. The composition is one ofthe great masterpieces of Chola art.

There are also carvings of Manmatha and Rati on a chariot and Kannappa-nayanar, the saintly hunter. Beyond this are one hundred and eight Sivacharyas (Saiva saints) in a row fixed in the wall, with their names and short descriptions incised below each. To the south a large portion of the pillared cloister has tumbled down. In the roof of the niches, all along the wall of the mandapa to the north, there are representations of rishis, which, together with similar figures in the niches, point to the element of peace and tranquillity, as opposed to the heroic element which is the key-note ofsculpture in the temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. The long series of stories from the Siva-purana and Siva devotees portrayed here also suggest the same. When we remember that this was the period when the stories ofthe Saiva kings and the sacred Devdram hymns were collected together, we can understand the purpose ofthis. It is not unlikely that the name Darasuram has something to do with Daruka-vana, especially when we consider the magnificent group of sculptures representing Kankala and the rishi-patnis described above. The linga of the temple is known as RajarajeSvaram-tidayar, and the story goes that the temple was erected by Rajaraja himself to satisfy a cowherdess who made a gift of the huge stone used as the sikhara of the large temple at Thanjavur in accordance with her wishes that there should be a temple in her village. Adjacent to this is the shrine of Devi, which is con¬ temporary with the main temple.

The balustradedecoration ofyalis with riders on either side as we enter the shrine are fine works of art. Some lattice-window carvings are also worthy of note. The gargoyle, which presents a dwarfgana in quaint pose both to receive and disgorge the water from the cell, is interesting even in its mutilated state. The niches of the outer walls of the shrine contain forms ofDevi. The tinydance-figuresin the lattice-windows and the rctfgtf-decoration are remarkable. The profuse occurrence of dance and musical scenes and of figures in various dance-poses cannot but attract the attention of the visitor. The Chola period was one of great patronage and encouragement for dance and music, and when we remember that the gopuras at Chi¬ dambaram, of slightly later date, have a number of dance-figures to illustrate the various sthanas and karanas of Bharata’s Natya-sastra, we can understand the reason for this exuberance of natya-figures in the embellishment of the temple. The narration of stories of the Saiva saints, with depictions of temples, ponds or rivers full of fish, shells and other aquatic animals and, in one case, a crocodile, along with the frequent figures of kings with royal para¬ phernalia, such as peacock-feather parasol, sages and Brahmanas with umbrellas in their hands and similar themes strongly recall the corresponding scenes of an earlier date at Borobudur and Prambanan in Indonesia. In fact, even the lions in the lowermost panels ofthe base of the main shrine remind us strongly of their counter¬ parts at Prambanan.

This is not at all surprising, as the intercourse between the Eastern Archipelago and India was considerable in the Chola period, most of these islands being under Chola .sway for at least some time. The decorative elements, specially the creeper-patterns providing medallions for dance-figures on the pillars and some of the pillar-capitals recall their Rashtrakuta and Chalukya counterparts. This is easily accounted for by the constant Chola, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya inroads into the territories of one another. A dvara-pala figure, which was originally in the Darasuram temple but has now been removed to the Thafijavur temple, is ofChalukyaworkmanship and contains an inscription on its pedestal in early Chola letters, mentioning that it was brought by the Chola king as a war-trophy after the sack of Kalyanapura, the capital of the Western Chalukyas.

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To understand the architecture of the Chola temples, it is essential to know something of the preand post-Chola architecture. The Pallava temples ofthe seventh to the ninth centuries, the earliest in south India, have certain features which differentiate them from the later ones Know More


To understand the architecture of the Chola temples, it is essential to know something of the preand post-Chola architecture. The Pallava temples ofthe seventh to the ninth centuries, the earliest in south India, have certain features which differentiate them from the later ones Know More


To understand the architecture of the Chola temples, it is essential to know something of the preand post-Chola architecture. The Pallava temples ofthe seventh to the ninth centuries, the earliest in south India, have certain features which differentiate them from the later ones Know More


To understand the architecture of the Chola temples, it is essential to know something of the preand post-Chola architecture. The Pallava temples ofthe seventh to the ninth centuries, the earliest in south India, have certain features which differentiate them from the later ones Know More


GWALIOR, 200 miles south of Delhi, is strategically located on the north- south route. Therefore its possession or hold on it was considered essential by the rulers of Delhi so as to have passage to and control and governance of southern regions. The grandeur and majesty of the Gwalior Fort has to be appreciated even today, but more important than its aesthetic appearance was the defensive objectives it served. Know More


The Cholas ofThafijivur (ninth to twelfth centuries) were great conquerors, who were not only paramount in south India but for some time extended their sway as far as the river Ganga in the north and brought Sri Lanka, a part of Burma, the Malayan peninsula and some islands of south-east Asia under their influence. Know More

The One as Many (Hindu Dharma)

The one and only Paramatman is revealed as so many different deities. If one person develops a great liking for a certain deity, another chooses to have a liking for some other. To make a man a confirmed devotee of the form in which he likes to adore the Lord, the Paramatman on occasion diminishes himself in his other forms. Know More

Why Differences among the Gods?

Each Purana is in the main devoted to a particular devata. In the Siva Purana it is stated: "Siva is the Supreme Being. He is the highest authority for creation, sustenance and dissolution. It is at his behest, and under him, that Visnu funtions as protector. Visnu is a mere bhogin, trapped in Maya. Siva is a yogin and jnana incarnate. Visnu is subject to Siva and worships him. Once when he opposed Siva he suffered humiliation at his hands". Stories are told to illustrate such assertions. Know More

The Epics and their Greatness

If the Puranas are described as constituting an Upanga of the Vedas, the itihasas(the epics) are so highly thought of as to be placed on an equal footing with the Vedas. The Mahabharata is indeed called the fifth Veda pancamo Vedah Of the Ramayana it is said: As the Supreme Being,who is so exalted as to be known by the Vedas, was born the son ofDasaratha. Know More

The Story of Kalidas(Search for Kalidas)

Raja Bhoj and Kalidas were very close to each other. Kalidas often took too much liberty with the King. Once Raja Bhoj was so angry with Kalidas that he banished him from his kingdom. Know More


In the 19th century earlier, scholars such as Andrew Stirling and James Fergusson, who saw a fragment of the main temple, never entertained any doubt regarding the completion of the building. Know More

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