“Lesser Known Temples of Chennai – Some More” – A lecture by Dr. Chithra Madhavan on 23rd August, 2011 at Gallery Sri Parvati held as part of Madras Day celebrations.
It was a nostalgic-me who attended this lecture since it was during the Madras Day celebrations in 2008 that I first attended Dr. Chithra Madhavan’s lecture little knowing that after that lecture, my visits to old temples would never be the same anymore and that I would go on to attend many more lectures of hers in the coming years. The topic of that lecture was ‘Lesser Known Temples of Chennai’ and this year’s too was again ‘Lesser Known Temples of Chennai – Some More’.
As usual, this lecture too was filled with a wealth of information. The photos of almost all the sculptures, vimanams and gopurams that were mentioned about were shown.
Sri Masilamaniswarar Temple, Thirumullaivoyil
Sundarar, the Nayanar, has visited this temple and sung on the deity here. So it can be dated to the Pallava period in 8th century AD. Later Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagaras and Nayaks have all contributed to this temple.
The gopuram as well as the mandapam outside the temple belongs to Vijayanagara. The gopuram is south-facing which in itself is rare. It has some beautiful sculptures including that of hEramba Ganapati, Nataraja, Sarabeswarar, Dakshinamurty with His consort.
The vimana, a gajaprishta vimana, belongs to the Chola period. Cholas were the ones who built gajaprshta vimana. They were generally built only for Shiva. The vimana has a granite base and a brick super structure above it. The sculptures on it are made of stucco or sodhai.
The walls on the base of the gajaprshta vimana are full of inscriptions. Some earliest inscriptions here belong to the time of Sembiyan Maadevi, the grand aunt of Raja Raja Chola and the mother of Uttama Chozha. Sembiyan Maadevi, who was widowed early, has donated generously to temples and renovated/re-built many brick temples. The inscription belonging to her time in this temple says that she re-built this temple. Rajendra Chola’s inscription is also present here.
There are two Nandis in this temple, one in front of the sanctum of Shiva & one in the outer prAkAram facing away from Shiva.
Outside the main sanctum, there are 2 wooden pillars. Each pillar is made of a single piece of erukka maram.
The Vijayanagara mandapam outside the temple has monolithic pillars. The pushpa pOdhigai (flower corbels) on the pillars indicate that they belong to the Vijayanagara period. The pusha podhigai here don’t have the banana flower hanging from them. That was how it was in the initial Vijayanagara times. It was only later that the flowers too started being prominently shown. All the pillars have sculptures on their base. The sculptures include that of:
• Shiva on Nandi (Generally one of the two aspects of Shiva are shown: samhara/killing and anugraha/blessing)
• 2 parrots
• Govardhana giri dhAri Krishna
• matsyAvatAra (It was only from the time of Vijayanagara that matsyAvatAra and kUrmAvatAra of Vishnu were seen in sculptures)
• Veera Anjaneya
• bhikshATanA (Shiva as a mendicant) having mrga/antelope in His hand
• Nandi with parashu and mrga in his hands
• Indra on airAvata – airAvatA, the elephant of Indra, who is one of ashTadikpAlAs, has 4 tusks. Two tusks on one side is seen on this bas-relief sculpture thereby indicating that the elephant shown is airAvatA
• Surya having lotus on both hands & prabhA/halo
• Parvati worshipping Shiva linga
• Some people, maybe the donors of the mandapam
• Clowns with their head tilted.
Thiruvalidayam Valeeswarar Temple, Padi
Thirugnanasammandar (belonging to 7th century) and Arunagirinathar (belonging to 15th century) have visited this temple.
This temple too has a Gajaprishta vimana and the base of the vimana has lots of inscriptions including that from Raja Raja Chola’s time.
Gangadeeshwarar Temple, Purasawalkam
The main gopuram of this temple having beautiful sculptures is recent one. The vimana belongs to the Chola period.
This temple had lots of Chola inscriptions. They were present till 1960 or so, after which, unfortunately, all evidences of the presence of Cholas were wiped out clean during renovation.
The utsava vigraham of the temple belongs to the Vijayanagar period.
This temple has a tank and a neatly maintained park.
A huge doll of Shiva with Bhageerata next to Him is present outside. This is a very recent one. Bhageerata is present next to Shiva in the main sanctum too.
Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Vellalar Street, Purasawalkam
This is a very small temple. Srinivasa Perumal and Alamelumanga are the presiding deities.
According to historians, building temples for Srinivasa Perumal started only at the end of the Vijayanagara Empire and then the Nayak reign.
The deity worshipped by Vijayanagara Empire was initially Virupaksha at Hampi. The first three dynasties of Vijayanagara, namely Sangama, Saluva, and Tuluva, were based at Hampi. The ruler of Aravidu dynasty, the last of the Vijayanagara dynasties, had shifted to Chandragiri after the Sultans took over Hampi. It was then that the Vijayanagaras started worshipping the perumAL at Tirupati and the building of temples of Srinivasa Perumal started.
Photos of the entrance to the temple, the main vimana, the main deities and the Sudarshana chakra were shown.
Kudungaleeswarar Temple, Koyambedu
This temple, now known as Kurungaleeswarar temple, is also a temple belonging to the Chola period. Chola inscriptions call it Kudungaleeswarar. The original name however was Kusalavapuriswarar.
This temple has no gopuram. A gopuram is currently being built.
There is a 16-pillar mandapam belonging to the Vijayanagara period. The pillars that are all monolithic have sculptures on them. Some of them are:
• Rama worshipping the Shiva lingam at Rameswaram
• Muruga having trishul & vEl – The vEl is not like the one that is generally seen. It looks something like a long rectangle which is how it is at Swamimalai.
• Dasabhuja Kali – It was from the time of late Vijayanagara that Kali sculptures were carved.
• yaazhpaNar – His hair style needs to be noticed
• Anantasayi Vishnu
• Gajasamhara murty
• panchAksharar – Shiva having 5 faces (generally seen only on chariot bases)
• Ekapada Trimurty (There is an Ekapada Trimurty belonging to the Chola period at Tiruvottriyur temple)
• Veerabhadra having 4 arms, bow & arrow with Nandi near him
• Arjuna with a boar nearby (Depicts Arjuna being disturbed by the boar when he was performing penance to get pAshupatAstrA)
• Rama and Sita
• Veera Anajaneya
• Rati (There is a name plate near the sculpture which incorrectly calls it Rambha instead of Rati)
• Brahma with rudraksha in His right hand
• Dancer showing one of the 108 karaNas
• Two-headed bird (anRil paravai/ganDaberunda) – This bird was used by Vijayanagaras in their seal. It later became the emblem of the Wodeyars
There are carvings on the ceiling as well. Carvings include that of lizard, creature resembling araNai, tortoise, etc. These symbolically signify that a temple encompasses the entire cosmos.
This temple has a tank.
Talking about sculptures, Chithra mentioned how there was a profusion of sculptures in temples starting from the Vijayanagara period and how simply visiting a Vijayanagara temple will get one acquainted with Hindu mythology.
Vaikunta Vasa Perumal, Koyambedu
This is also an old temple, but it has been completely modernized now.
It is said that this temple is where the Ashram of Valmiki was and it was here that Sita stayed and gave birth to Lava and Kusa.
Narasimha Temple, Velachery
This temple of Yoga Narasimhar and Amritabalavalli thayar is older than Dandeeswarar temple at Velachery, which is an 8th century Chola temple.
The bronze utsava vigraham of Vedanarayana Perumal has chakra as a prayOga chakra, that is, with the rim of the chakra facing us and not the chakra itself. It was only during the Pallava times that prayOga chakra was generally shown.
The gopuram is a recent one.
Two Chola inscriptions belonging to the 10th and 12th century were recently excavated here.
Rajagopalaswamy temple, Manimangalam near Tambaram
This Pallava temple is now in a dilapidated state. There are huge rose bushes growing everywhere. Seems the priest once found a cobra on Lakshmi’s lap!
This temple has lots of inscriptions on the walls.
The main deity is unique since the perumAL has the Shanka and the Chakra on His left and right hands respectively.
There are some old paintings in the temple.
The temple has a mottai gopuram.
Chelliamman Temple, Velachery (Mentioned during the Q&A session at the end of the lecture)
This Amman temple, which has idols of the saptakannikais as well, belongs to the Pallava period.