Saved from demolition, Chola-era Manambadi temple set for revival

Built by Rajendra Chola I, the temple, situated about 15 km from Kumbakonam, is a protected monument, known for its exquisite stone sculptures and important inscriptions. It was dismantled in a botched renovation exercise some years ago. The temple had earlier survived a demolition bid to make way for a highway

September 29, 2023 01:08 am | Updated 06:48 am IST

Incomplete work: The Naganathaswamy Temple at Manambadi in 2013.

Incomplete work: The Naganathaswamy Temple at Manambadi in 2013. | Photo Credit: B. VELANKANNI RAJ

The temple stands dismantled in a botched renovation that started in 2014.

The temple stands dismantled in a botched renovation that started in 2014. | Photo Credit: B. VELANKANNI RAJ

The Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology is set to take up restoration of the 1,000-year-old Naganathaswamy Temple at Manambadi in Thanjavur district in what would be a revival of the Chola-era temple that was dismantled in a botched renovation exercise some years ago. The temple had earlier survived a demolition bid to make way for a highway.

Built by Rajendra Chola I (1012-1044 CE), the temple, situated about 15 km from Kumbakonam, is a protected monument, known for its exquisite stone sculptures and important inscriptions.

A common mercantile village

Manambadi and the neighbouring village Cholapuram were part of a common mercantile village known as Ilaichikkudi alias Viranarayanapuram.

“The temple, referred to as Kailasamudaiyar temple in inscriptions, consists of an ekatala vimana and a mukha mandapa. The walls of both structures are divided into three bays. The central bays of the vimana have niches to accommodate Dakshinamurthi in the south, Lingodhbava in the west and Brahma in the north. The mukha mandapa is provided with three niches on the south and the north. Excellent sculptures of Bikshatana, Adavallan and Ganapathi decorate the south, whereas Gangadarara, Durga and Ammaiappar are in the north. All the niches have well carved and distinctive makara thoranas (ceremonial arches) with relief sculptures in the centre,” said R. Kalaikkovan, director of the Dr. M. Rajamanikkanar Centre for Historical Research, Tiruchi.

The temple is known for its important inscriptions belonging to the periods of Rajendra Chola I and Kulothunga I (regnal years 1070-1120 CE). Nine interesting and informative inscriptions have been recorded from this temple. According to Dr. Kalaikkovan, the earliest among them belongs to the fourth regnal year of Rajendra Chola I. It refers to a grant of land free of taxes by the nagaratthar of Ilaichikkudi for raising a flower garden named after the king for the use of the temple.

Grant of land for Tamizh Koothu

“But the most distinctive is the one that refers to Tamizh Koothu. It belongs to the 18th regnal year of Kulotthunga I and refers to a grant of land as koothu kaani to a certain Vikramathitthan Thirumudukunran alias Virudharaja Bhayakara Acharyan for enacting Tamizh Koothu five times during the Chithirai festival of the temple,” he added.

Though there are inscriptions referring to other forms of koothu at various temples, this is the only one referring to a koothu named after Tamil and its performance at temples in Tamil Nadu, says a publication on the temple brought out by the Department of Archaeology.

Yet, the once majestic temple fell into ruin over time. In 2013, the temple faced the threat of demolition by the National Highways Authority of India for executing the Kumbakonam-Vikravandi Road widening project. Public pressure and protests saved the day for the temple.

Inspection by UNESCO team

A renovation exercise taken up by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department later ended in a controversy. The balalayam (a ritual held before temple renovation) was performed in 2014 and the deities were shifted to a temporary shed. “But the contractor did not have the required expertise and the temple was virtually demolished. The dismantled stones were left scattered and strewn around,” recalled Thiruvadikudil Swamigal, founder, Jothimalai Iraipani Thirukoottam, a forum of devotees, which has been lobbying for the early renovation of the temple. The work was halted after a UNESCO team, which inspected the temple, expressed its dissatisfaction with the work and suggested that the renovation be carried out under the guidance of experts.

Eventually, HR&CE Department officials in Kumbakonam suggested that the renovation be taken up through the Department of Archaeology. Accepting this recommendation, the Principal Commissioner of HR&CE Department, K. Manivasan, in an order dated July 12, said the remaining work on the renovation would be executed by the Department of Archaeology.

Finance Minister Thangam Thennarasu, who also handles the Department of Archaeology, visited the temple to discuss the renovation with officials soon after the order was issued. The renovation would begin once the estimates and funds were sanctioned, sources in the department indicated.

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