I absolutely loved this talk by Chitra Madhavan. This was conducted as part of the Madras Week celebrations. Being someone who has visited lots of temples in Madras and who loves visiting temples and admiring the sculptures and architectures there, I had decided to attend this talk the day I saw the events lined up for celebrating Madras Week.
For this interesting talk that lasted for about an hour, Chitra had chosen some 20 temples in Chennai. Along with ‘some lesser known temples of Madras’, ‘some lesser known details about some famous temples’ were also a part of this lecture. With relevant photos being shown in the power point presentation, she spoke about the different architectural styles that these temples have, the era to which they belonged to, the inscriptions at these temples and some of the temple sculptures, among other things.
She also stressed on the need to leave the walls, floors and sculptures in the ancient temples as they are, since the inscriptions on the temple walls give a great deal of valuable information about the era in which they were inscribed. All these inscriptions would be permanently lost if the walls/floors are plastered with granite slabs or tiles or painted with acrylic paints and it seems there are now only a few temples in Chennai which have the all the inscriptions intact! That’s really unfortunate!
Since I had forgotten to take my pen along 🙁 , with my SMS typing skills being put to test, here is all the info that I managed to take down on my mobile (If you are one of those who had attended this talk, please do leave a comment adding on whatever that I have missed out. Also please do let me know if there are any mistakes in what I have written. Thanks in advance!):
- Difference between a gopura and a vimana, two terms that were used throughout the talk:
Gopura – the structure at the entrance of the temple
Vimana – the super-structure over the sanctum sanctorum
- Kapaleeswarar temple, Mylapore – When the Kapaleeswarar temple was originally near the shore, the temple was east-facing. But now the temple is west-facing, i.e., the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Kapaleeswarar is west-facing. Seems west-facing Siva temples are a rarity.
- Parthasarathy Swamy temple, Triplicane – This temple having Pallava & Vijayanagar architecture, has two entrances with both having gopurams and dwajastambams as well. While the eastern entrance leading to the sanctum of Lord Parthasarathy Swami is generally considered as the main entrance, it is actually not. The western entrance leading to the sanctum of Lord Narasimha happens to be the original main entrance.
- Marundeeswarar temple, Tiruvanmiyur – Though this is supposed to be a Pallava temple, there are no architectural evidences for it. But there is a literary evidence in the form of the Tamil saint Appar’s writings. This temple has Chola inscriptions, Chola vimana and Vijayanagar pillars.
- Adipureeswarar temple, Tiruvottriyur – This temple has a Pallava structure and a Chola vimana. There is an inscription having two lines in Sanskrit that tells the name of the architect (Ravi?) who built this temple’s vimana during Rajendra Chola’s reign and also describes the vimana saying it is a flawless vimana having lion-faced sculpture made of black stone.
- VeLLiswarar temple, Mylapore – This temple has lots of sculptures. Photos of HErambar and Ekapada Trimurty sculptures were shown. A big sculpture of Ekapada Trimurty is there at the Tiruvottriyur temple.
- KaraNeewswarar temple, Mylapore – This temple had Chola inscriptions. But those are not there now, thanks to the tiles that have been laid over them!
- Virupaksheeswarar temple, Mylapore – This temple too though had inscriptions once, don’t have any now.
- Madhava PerumaL temple, Mylapore – This temple has only less inscriptions. There are many beautiful sculptures here. Photos of Trivikrama and Garuda sculptures were shown.
- Kodandaramar temple, T.Nagar – Built by a descendant of Bhadrachala Ramadas, this temple has no inscriptions. It has only a mottai gopuram.
- Ranganathar temple, Sowcarpet (Muthaiah Street) – This temple having a huge courtyard, has vestiges of Vijayanagar architecture. There is a beautiful sculpture of Ranganathar in the vimana.
- Venkatamudaiyan/Srinivasa temple, Sowcarpet (Mulla Street) – The sanctum sanctorum is in the form of chariot (Chola architecture), similar to how it is at Darasuram and Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam. This temple has a tank too. One specialty of this temple is that unlike how every other PerumAL temple has Lord Vishnu sitting on Garuda, this one has Goddess Lakshmi on Garudi!
- Varadaraja temple, Poonamallee – This 11th century temple built by Ramanuja’s Guru (or was it disciple? 😕 ) is a west-facing one and has many inscriptions.
- Vengeeswarar temple, Kodambakkam – This temple has a Gajaprishta vimana built by the Cholas. There are totally only 6 temples in Chennai that have a Gajaprishta vimana. (I think I must have wrongly heard this because the number is definitely more than that)
The Nakula Sahadeva rath at Mahabalipuram, that is in the shape of Gajaprishta, meaning ‘elephant’s back’, happens to be the one that had given the idea to Cholas for building the Gajaprishta vimana. The sculpture of elephant is right behind the Nakula Sahadeva rath at Mahabalipuram.
Nakula Sahadeva rath:
Interestingly, this type of Vimanas was built by Cholas only in those regions that they had conquered from the Pallavas.
- Koushikeshwarar temple, Kodambakkam – This is a temple built by the Cholas.
- PerumaL temple, Kotturpuram – This is again a Chola temple.
- Kodandasrinivasa temple, Manapakkam (near Chennai Trade Centre) – This was built by the Vijayanagar rulers. I remember that she said something about the lands of this temple being donated by the King.
- Lakshminarasimha temple, Nanganallur – This temple was built on the lands of an old Vishnu temple that was built by the Pallavas. When the ground was dug to build the Lakshminarasimha temple, idols of Lord Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi and a Sudarshana chakram were found. The Sudarshana chakra is now being worshipped in the Lakshminarasimhar temple.
- PerumaL temple, Nanmangalam – There is only one scripture left that shows that this temple was built by the Pallavas. King Rajasimha, the same Pallava king who built the Kailasanathar temple at Kanchipuram & Shore temple at Mahabalipuram, is the one who has built it. Among the many titles of King Rajasimha, which you can find inscribed in Kailasanatha temple, one of which happens to be ‘aagamapriya’, meaning ‘lover of sculptures’.
- DanDeeswarar temple, Velachery – The legend goes that after Lord Siva took Yama’s danDa from him when he was about to kill Markandeya, during the process of which the noose landed around Sivalingam itself, it is at this temple that He gave back the danDa to Yama. This temple has a tank. Temple tanks were usually dug before building the temple. This was done to test the soil in the place.
- Dhenupureeswarar temple, Madambakkam (Check out that link for a very informative article on this temple written by Chitra Madhavan herself) – This 15th century temple currently being maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) happens to be the only temple in Chennai that is maintained by the ASI. This has a Gajaprishta vimana. This temple has an unfinished gopura over the main entrance. Vijayanagara rulers were the ones who added the maximum number of gopuras to the temples. Pillars with flower corbels, which are supposed to be a trademark of the Vijayanagar architecture, can be seen in this temple. Each pillar of Vijayanagara architecture is usually monolithic. There are many beautiful sculptures in this temple, including one of Ganesha, Krishna killing Bakasura who is in the form of a bird and a small elephant. This temple has lots of inscriptions too.
- Tirusoolanathar temple, Tirusoolam – This one has a Gajaprishta vimana too. This has 3 Chola pillars. There are sculptures of Ganesha, Durga and a sculpture of Markandeya worshipping Lord Shiva, which happens to be a sculpture that is present in all the Chola temples, here.
- Kodandarama temple, Oonamanjeri (near Vandalur) – This is a Vijayanagar temple. This temple has a deepastamba instead of dwajastamba. Seems lamps were lit in the deepastamba to illuminate the temple. There are no inscriptions here. Sculptures are present in the vimana. A temple tank is also there.
A sculpture of Varaha with Sun, Moon and a dagger can be seen here. This was the royal emblem of the Vijayanagara dynasty. Sculpture of this royal emblem can be seen at Varadaraja and Ekamranathar temple at Kanchipuram too.
Copper plate inscriptions belonging to the Vijayanagaras are still there in this temple. The inscriptions say that King Achutaraya, King Krishnadevaraya’s half-brother and successor, gave lands to the Vedic scholars present in Uhinai (as Oonamanjeri was then known) and also to some other temples (Raghunata temple is the only one that I now remember) near this Kodandarama temple. The copper plates have the royal seal, which has the royal emblem too.
To visit this temple, take the road that is in between the Vandalur Zoo & Crescent Engineering College (the road that connects GST Road to ECR) and turn right at the first junction. The best time to visit this temple is before 7:30 am since the temple priest leaves by that time after performing the pooja!
- Nityakalyana PerumaL, Tiruvidandhai (on ECR) – This is a Pallava temple. More architecture was added to this temple by the Cholas and later by the Vijayanagara rulers. Only literary evidence shows that Pallavas built this temple. Rashtrakoota inscriptions show that fishermen once gave donations to this temple. A green sculpture (?) of Vishnu was recently found.
Among the temples that were covered in the lecture, following are the temples that I have visited:
- Kapaleeswarar, VeLLiswarar, KaraNeeswarar, Virupakesheeswarar, Madhava PerumaL temples at Mylapore
- Parthasarathy Swami temple, Triplicane
- Marundeeswarar temple, Tiruvanmiyur
- Adipureeswarar temple, Tiruvottriyur
- Kodanda Ramar temple, T.Nagar
- Vengeeswarar temple, Kodambakkam
- Tirisoolanathar temple, Tirisoolam
- Nityakalyana PerumaL temple, Tiruvidandhai
I don’t remember much about the Kodanda Rama and Vengeeswara temples. I hope I get to visit these two and also the remaining temples soon!
Though I didn’t know from where the Cholas got the idea to build the Gajaprishta vimana, I already knew what a Gajaprishta vimana was and I have seen it in Vengeeswarar temple, Kovur Sundareswarar temple, Thirumazhisai Othaandeswarar temple, Tiruninravur Hridayaleeswarar temple and Porur Ramanatha temple.
After attending this talk, I seem to have developed an interest in knowing more about the different architectural styles of temples and my interest in observing the sculptures at temples has gone up even more. I have already started Googling and reading about the Vijayanagara architecture. 🙂