Darasuram: architectural marvel from Chola period

grandeur: A view of Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram near Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district. – Photo: M.Srinath  

Three all stone temples, built by the Chola Kings, which are architectural marvels, exist at Thanjavur, Darasuram near Kumbakonam and Gangaikondacholapuram in Perambalur district. The uniqueness of all these three temples is that they are similar in architecture, style and are replete with sculptures and epigraphs.

The Big temple at Thanjavur was built by Raja Raja Cholan. It is big in all aspects with a 212 feet vimana, a big nandhi at the entrance, big linga, and a big Goddess Periyanayagi statue.

The temple is full of rare sculptures, chola period paintings, epigraphs that give details about the history of Raja Raja Cholan. His son Rajendra Cholan built the Big temple at Gangaikondacholapuram. The Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram near Kumbakonam was built by Raja Raja II (1150 A.D.).

Out of the three, Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram stands out for its intricate, beautiful sculptures. The temple in the form of a chariot being pulled by an elephant and horse with a fleet of steps is no doubt a repository of our art and culture.

According to Kudavayila Balasubramanian, an epigraphist and temple expert, there are many unique sculptures in the temple. They include a 73 panel of sculptures depicting the life history of 63 Nayanmars. "Nowhere one can see in such details the life history of Nayanmars.

There are sculptures depicting the life history of Nayanmars at Melakadambur and Thirupanandal. But not in such detail," Mr.Balasubramanian said. The temple starts with a mahadwara, main entrance on the eastern side.

The Mahadwara, which was in ruins, was reassembled by Archaeological Survey of India. The Palipeeda and Nandhi come next. Fleet of steps made of stone in the palipeeda are said to produce musical notes.

It is followed by the second Rajagopuram. This is followed by the Rajagambirqan Thirumandapam. Then comes the Mukha madapa which is like a chariot pulled by horses and elephants. Mahamandapa and Artha mandapa follows this and finally ends with the sanctum sanctorum. Upon the sanctum sanctorum is the 47 feet vimana.

Other important sculptures of the temple are the 108 Devara Othuvars who sung in the temple during the time of Raja Raja II. There are sculptures for river goddesses like Cauvery, Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari and Narmada. "While the sculptures of rivers like Cauvery, Yamuna, Godavari are with human form till hip level and depicted in the form of water circles below, sculpture of Ganges is in full human form with a vessel of water in one hand and lotus flower in the other hand," Mr.Balasubramanian said.

Two sculptures found in Darasuram have been brought to the Art gallery at Thanjavur . One is Gajamharamurthy in which Lord Siva slains the elephant demon and another is Dwarabalaga brought by Raja Raja I from Kalyan in Maharashtra as a war trophy.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has declared the temple as a world heritage monument.

The Archaeological Survey of India is maintaining the temple well. With lush green lawns in front and illumination, the temple has become a tourist spot.