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Airavatesvara Temple

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Overview

View of Airavateswarar temple - Airavatesvara Temple
View of Airavateswarar temple

Airavatesvara Temple is a Hindu temple of Dravidian architecture located in the town of Darasuram, near Kumbakonam in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This temple, built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century CE is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur, the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram that are referred to as the Great Living Chola Temples.[1]

A Dravidian architecture Pillar in Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram @ Thanjavur district. - Airavatesvara Temple
A Dravidian architecture Pillar in Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram @ Thanjavur district.
Bull and Elephant statue at Thanjavur Airavatesvara Temple. - Airavatesvara Temple
Bull and Elephant statue at Thanjavur Airavatesvara Temple.
Airavateswara Temple,Darasuram in Thanjavur District is built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century CE, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. - Airavatesvara Temple
Airavateswara Temple,Darasuram in Thanjavur District is built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century CE, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Legend

Mandapam and Pillars at Thanjavur Airavatesvara Temple. - Airavatesvara Temple
Mandapam and Pillars at Thanjavur Airavatesvara Temple.
The sanctum is in the form of a chariot drawn by Horses - Airavatesvara Temple
The sanctum is in the form of a chariot drawn by Horses


The Airavatesvara temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Shiva is here known as Airavateshvara, because he was worshipped at this temple by Airavata, the white elephant of the king of the gods, Indra. Legend has it that Airavata, while suffering from a change of colour curse from Sage Durvasa, had its colours restored by bathing in the sacred waters of this temple. This legend is commemorated by an image of Airavata with Indra seated in an inner shrine.[2] The temple and the presiding deity derive its name from this incident.

Thanjavur Airavatesvara Temple Pillars - Airavatesvara Temple
Thanjavur Airavatesvara Temple Pillars

It is said that the King of Death, Yama also worshipped Shiva here. Tradition has it Yama, who was suffering under a Rishi's curse from a burning sensation all over the body, was cured by the presiding deity Airavatesvarar. Yama took bath in the sacred tank and got rid of the burning sensation. Since then the tank has been known as Yamateertham.

Deities

Thanjavur Airavatesvara Temple horse chariot architecture. - Airavatesvara Temple
Thanjavur Airavatesvara Temple horse chariot architecture.

The main deity's consort Periya Nayaki Amman temple is a detached temple situated to the north of the Airavateshvarar temple. This might have been a part of the main temple when the outer courts were complete. At present, it stands alone as a detached temple with the shrine of the Goddess standing in a single large court.[3]

Architecture

Horse-drawn chariot carved onto the mandapam of Airavatesvarar temple, Darasuram (left). The chariot and its wheel (right)are so finely sculpted that they include even the faintest details - Airavatesvara Temple
Horse-drawn chariot carved onto the mandapam of Airavatesvarar temple, Darasuram (left). The chariot and its wheel (right)are so finely sculpted that they include even the faintest details
The Pillars depicts Socio- economic conditions of the period - Airavatesvara Temple
The Pillars depicts Socio- economic conditions of the period

This temple is a storehouse of art and architecture and has some exquisite stone carvings. Although this temple is much smaller than the Brihadeesvara Temple or the Gangaikondacholapuram Temple, it is more exquisite in detail. This is because this temple is said to have been built with nitya-vinoda, "perpetual entertainment", in mind.

The vimana (tower) is 24 m (80 ft) high.[1] The south side of the front mandapam is in the form of a huge chariot with large stone wheels drawn by horses.[4]

To the east of the inner court lies a group of well-carved buildings, one of which is the Balipita ('seat for sacrifice'). The pedestal of the Balipita adjoins a small shrine which contains an image of Ganesha. The pedestal has a set of 3 finely carved set of steps on the south side. Striking the steps produce different musical sounds.[3]

In the south-west corner of the court is a mandapam having 4 shrines. One of these has an image of Yama. Adjoining this shrine are large stone slabs sculptured with images of the sapthamathas (seven celestial nymphs).[3]

Inscriptions in the Temple

There are various inscriptions in the temple. One of these records the renovation of the shrines by Kulottunga Chola III.[5]

The north wall of the verandah consists of 108 sections of inscriptions, each containing the name and description and image of the Saivacharya (Saivite saints) listing the principal events in their life.[5][6][7]

Another inscription close to the gopura, records that an image was brought from Kalyani, then known as Kalyanapura by emperor Rajadhiraja Chola I after his defeat of the Western Chalukya king Someshwara I, his sons Vikramaditya VI and Someshwara II his capture of the Chalukyan capital.[5][8]

UNESCO World Heritage Site

This temple was added to the list of Great Living Chola Temples in the year 2004. The Great Living Chola Temples includes the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. All of these temples were built by the Cholas between the 10th and 12th centuries CE and have a lot of similarities.[9]



Notes

  1. ^ a b Great Living Chola Temples - UNESCO World Heritage Centre
  2. ^ See P.V. Jagadisa Ayyar, pp 350-351
  3. ^ a b c See P.V. Jagadisa Ayyar, p 351
  4. ^ See Chaitanya, K, p 42
  5. ^ a b c See P.V. Jagadisa Ayyar, p 353
  6. ^ See Chaitanya, K, p 40
  7. ^ See Geeta Vasudevan, p 55
  8. ^ See Richard Davis, p 51
  9. ^ See P.V.Jagadisa Ayyar, p 316

References

  • Geeta Vasudevan (2003). The Royal Temple of Rajaraja: An Instrument of Imperial Chola Power. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 81-7017-383-3. 
  • P.V. Jagadisa Ayyar (1993). South Indian Shrines. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0151-3. 
  • Krishna Chaitanya (1987). Arts of India. Abhinav Publications. 
  • Richard Davis (1997). Lives of Indian images. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00520-6. 
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