The Big Temple inspires one with a sense of awe, at its scale, grandeur and magnificence. But if you are looking for understated elegance, head for the Twin temples (Irattai Koil) of Kizhaiyur. These are two early Chola temples of stone, miniscule in comparison with the Big Temple, but enchanting, nevertheless. From inscriptions we learn that the temple complex was called Avani Kandarpa Iswara Griham. It was built by a Pazhuvettaraiyar chief, who was a contemporary of Aditya Chola I, and who bore the titles of Avani Gandharvan, Gangamarthandan, Kaliyuganirmoolan, Maravan Maladhalan and Araiyagal Araivuli. The Dwajasthambam was built by yet another Pazhuvettaraiyar- Ranamukharaman.

Early inscriptions

According to S.R. Balasubrahmanyam, the earliest inscription in the temple complex, is of the 13th regnal year of Aditya Chola. But there are those who believe that this inscription is of a later period. This inscription records a gift for burning a perpetual lamp in the two shrines, under the orders of Nakkan Pazhuvettaraiyan Kumaran Kandan. Many other Pazhuvettaraiyars are mentioned in inscriptions in the two temples, and are also referred to as Maravar, Vadugar and Kaikkolar.

(For admirers of writer Kalki, the name Pazhuvettaraiyar would have a special connotation. ‘Ponniyin Selvan' bristles with intrigue and vengeance, the Pazhuvettaraiyar Brothers behind all the trechery.)

Inscriptions in the villages of Kizhapazhuvur and Melapazhuvur, which are just a few miles from Kizhaiyur, also talk of the Pazhuvettaraiyars. An inscription of the 12th regnal year of Parantaka I, seen in the Alandurai Mahadeva temple in Kizhappazhuvur, talks of the victory won by Pazhuvettaraiyar Kandan Amudanar, over the Pandyas, and their Ceylonese ally, at the battle of Vellin, in which the Pandya king lost his life. To commemorate this victory, the commander Nakkan Sathan made a gift for a perpetual lamp in the Alandurai Mahadeva temple.

But who were the Pazhuvettaraiyars? Their origin seems somewhat of a mystery. The Anbil plates of Sundara Chola mention one of Parantaka I's queens as the daughter of “the Kerala King, who was called Pazhuvettaraiyar.” So were the Pazhuvettaraiyars from the Chera kingdom?

The deity in the Kizhapazhuvur temple, has been sung of by Gnanasambandar, in the second Thirumurai, 34th padhigam. Verses four and eleven explicitly state that Malayali Brahmins were the priests in the Vadamulanatha (Alandurai Mahadeva) temple. Thevaram scholar Dr. R. Narayanan says, “In the Dharmapuram adheenam publication, the word ‘maraiyaalar' in verse five, meaning Vedic scholars, is also interpreted as ‘Malayali Brahmins.'” Thus although there was a Malayali presence in the Pazhuvur region, there is no conclusive proof that the Pazhuvettaraiyars were of Chera origin.

The twin temples of Kizhaiyur, however, have not been sung of in the Thevaram. The Southern shrine in the Kizhaiyur temple complex is referred to in inscriptions as Thenvayil Sri Koil. An inscription of the time of Rajendra Chola says that two persons guilty of homicide had to surrender their land to the Kizhaiyur temple. Another inscription also of Rajendra I's time shows that provision was made for paying a ‘nattuvakkani'- dance master.

The twin temples are West facing, and Umapathy sthapati says that it can be inferred from this that the temples were built for a special purpose. If there was a threat from an enemy, or if there were internecine quarrels in a community, or if there had been a famine, then a West facing temple would be built. This is true of both Vaishnava and Siva temples.

Another early Chola temple complex is the one at Moovar Koil, but the difference is that in Moovar Koil, both the temples have the same type of sikhara. But in Kizhaiyur, the Southern shrine has a square sikhara, while the smaller northern shrine of Choleeswaram (now called Arunchaleswaram), has a round sikhara.

Umapathy explains that whether it is a Siva temple, or a Vishnu temple, the sikhara and pattern of the temple will depend on the type of idol to be installed. If it is a Vishnu temple, then construction will be according to whether the idol is to be sayana, asana,or sthanaka. If it is a representation of a vibhava avatara like Trivikrama, then the rules of iconometry will be different, and the temple pattern will also be different.

In the case of a Siva temple, one could have Nagara (square), Dravida (octagonal) or Vesara (circular) sikhara depending upon the Linga chosen. Usually, the sikhara will have to be in the same category as the Linga. Thus if a Nagara linga is decided upon, then the sikhara will also be Nagara.

The idol of the Nandi facing the garba griha in the Southern shrine, looks reposeful. The folds of the skin at the neck make it look so lifelike, that one is almost tempted to touch it to make sure it is indeed a stone sculpture and not a real bull!

Brimming with energy

In the mukhamantapa, we find lion pillars. The lions seem to brim with energy, ready to spring on you. In the Vedas, the lion represents energy and the elephant beauty, explains Veezhinathan sthapati. Only animals and birds mentioned in the Vedas such as peacocks, swans, elephants etc. would find a place in temples, he says.

Outside the sanctum sanctorum are four pillars, the tops of which can be made to rotate, according to a villager. He rues the fact that while until a few years ago, the tops of all four would rotate, now only one does. It was common for sculptors to display their skills by sculpting such pillars or by making a sphere in a yazhi's mouth rotate.

In the mukhamantapa, is a beautiful sculpture of Siva and Parvati, which, unfortunately, is covered with oil, soot and grime. How can devotees be allowed to light lamps so close to the sculptures? There is yet another Nandi in a corner of the mukhamantapa. It is not clear where this came from.

The northern shrine is also a two-tiered one, like the southern shrine. An inscription here shows that one of Raja Raja I's queens belonged to the Pazhuvettaraiyar clan. The inscription, of the 27th regnal year of Raja Raja, says that upon the request of his queen Nakkan Panchavan Mahadevi, the daughter of Avani Kandarpa Purattu Devanar of Pazhuvur, the king granted income from newly surveyed lands to the temple. The outer walls of both shrines have sculptures of Dakshinamurthy, Subrahmanya, and Brahma. Devotees have fixed huge bindis of vermilion and sandal on these sculptures.

The vermilion powder might contain corrosive substances, which could damage the sculptures. But who is to make sure that devotees don't deface sculptures, in a temple that is unattended? Should a monument of this kind not have a guard?

The brick and mortar gopuram of the complex is in a bad state, with plants growing on it. The yard is ill lit, and presents an unswept look, with bushes here and there. A board put up by the State Archaeology department lies uncared for on the ground. There is a ‘volunteer' priest, who doesn't seem to know much about conservation. It is a sad commentary on the regard we have for our treasures, when even a protected monument is in such a state of neglect.