Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Remnants of Ancient Pallavas in the Glorious Capital of the Cholas

The main reason that Tamil Nadu is known for its great temples and the marvelous architecture began when Mahendravarma Pallava built a temple carved out from the rock in Mandagapattu. Mahendravarma Pallava was also known as Vichitra-Chittan for him being a unique innovator. The kings after Mahendravarma Pallava innovated more creative ideas and built different types of temples. Temples in rock (Mamallapuram, Mandagapattu, Seeyamangalam and other cave temples), temples in sandstone (Kanchi Kailasanathar, Vaikunda Perumal Temple) etc.

Pallavas can rightly be called as the fathers of temple architecture when it comes to Tamil Nadu. But people of Tamil Nadu almost forgot this dynasty.

Cholas became powerful in the 9th Century winning over the Pallavas who were declining because of constant wars with the Chalukyas from the north and Pandiyas from the South. Before that Pallavas ruled over the large area of present day Tamil Nadu comprising the areas of present day Thanjavur, Trichy and Pudukkottai districts. We can see ancient rock-cut cave temples and other structural temples with the design elements of the Pallava style in the above mentioned areas.

Towards the end of their rule, Pallavas realized the necessity of building and strengthening a capital towards south of their headquarter Kanchi. They chose the fertile lands between the many tributaries of the Cauvery River. Nandivarman II, is credited with the construction of this southern base. This new base for Pallavas was built in and around the present villages of Kandiyur and Veerasingampettai near Thiruvaiyaru. This base of the Pallavas were known as Nandipuram, Aayirathali (Temple of 1000 Lingams). This Nandipuram finds it mention only during and after the period of Nandivarman II. Also some other Chola inscriptions of Parantaka I, Rajaraja I and Rajendra I talks about few other Chola temples that were functioning at that point of time. Such temples are now only found in the inscriptions.

The first literary mention of Thanjavur in the hymn of Thiruvizhimizhalai by Appar (7th Century) gives us the name of a temple called ‘Thanjai Thalikulathu Mahadevar’ and in the hymns of Azhwars sung praising Lord Vishnu of Thanjai Maamani Kovil. All these mentions shows us there were temples that pre-dates the Chola period temples. But today because of the ravages of time and fortunate cultural rejuvenation that happened during the period of Cholas, Nayaks and the Marathas of Thanjavur, these ancient temples reflects only the later historic fabric.

When Rajendra shifted his capital from Thanjavur to Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Thanjavur lost its prominence as an administrative center. After the decline of Cholas, Nayaks were appointed to rule Thanjavur and they brought back the charm to Thanjavur. They reconstructed many temples and also built new temples using the materials and debris from the dilapidated structures. 

Pallava Simha Pillar at the Mahamandapam of Brihadeeshwara Temple

Even though Thanjavur was celebrated by the Cholas, Nayaks and the Marathas, it still shelters the remnants of the Pallavas graciously. Temples that were reconstructed during the Nayak period carry these fragments of glorious past of Thanjavur before the Cholas made it as their capital. Even the Brihadeeshwara temple, pinnacle of Chola temple architecture shelters a Pallava Simha pillar at the Mahamandapam which was repaired and reconstructed by the Nayaks of Thanjavur.

Pallava Simha Pillar at Narasimha Perumal Temple, Palliagraharam

Thanjai Maamani Kovil is a Divyadesam, abode of lord Vishnu sanctified by the Azhwars. Three temples located back to back at the Palliagraharam on the banks of river Vennaru. The first temple in the line is of Narasimha Perumal where a Simha Pillar of Pallava period is put to inappropriate use in the temple’s well here. 

Ganesha Sculpture at Konkaneshwarar Temple

Konkaneshwarar temple in the west main street is a Nayak period temple and later renovated during the Marathas rule. This temple shelters 2 beautiful sculptures of Pallavas style. One is the sculpture of Lord Ganesha and another is of Chandikeshwara.

Chandikeshwara Sculpture at Konkaneshwara Temple

There are temples in and around Thanjavur that still bears the inscriptions of the later Pallava kings. While celebrating the grandeur of the Cholas and others, we often ignore these fragments of history of Pallavas that added more wealth in the form of temple architecture of Tamil Nadu.

Yours East Gaterr