Sunday, May 30, 2021

Kunnandar Kovil and its Lost Glory

Kunnandar/Kundraandar Kovil is a small village in the outskirts of Pudukottai. It is easily approachable from Thanjavur. Since it is remotely located village, it is recommended to travel by private vehicle, yet there are rarely buses operated towards this route. 

The Entrance of the Temple

Kunnandar Kovil made me realize of the obsession I have for rock-cut cave temples. Earlier I used to explore more of structural temple that are of historic and spiritual significance. When I visited the rock-cut cave shrines at the Rockfort, Trichy, it seems I started falling in love with these type of temples. Rock-cut cave temples were the precursor to the structural temple, a style that evolved with the innovative ideas of Pallava Kings. Mahendravarman Pallavan was the first king to construct a temple without perishable materials like wood, iron, plaster etc. which is inscribed in his first ever rock-cut cave temple at Mandagapattu. 

The Two-tier incomplete Rajagopuram

Kunnandar Kovil was in my list since a long time and every time when the plans failed, it just kindled my curiosity. Finally, I got the call from Parvatagirishwarar and explored this beautiful temple with my mom. I was just seeing images from google map and thought this was just another structural temple. To my surprise, I got to know that it is a rock-cut cave shrine only when I reached there. Otherwise I was just thinking that this temple was famous because of the Nritya Mandapam that is within the temple complex. This Nritya Mandapam is a typical Vijayanagara/Nayak style structure. This Mandapam resembles like a chariot being pulled by two horses on each side. The chariot like Mandapam is a famous style yet found in very few places like Kumbakonam, Darasuram, and Melakadambur etc. Building of such Mandapam, shrine that resembles like a chariot developed during the period of later Cholas. 

The front Side of Natya Mandapa Resembling a Chariot

The main rock-cut shrine shelters a Shiva Lingam carved out of the mother rock itself. The deity is named as ‘Parvatagirishwarar’ (the lord of hills). This rock-cut temple reflects the blend of Pallavas-Muttaraiyars style that was prevalent in this region. Also this temple complex is the one among such temples which reflects the stages of evolution in temple architecture. The main shrine is the oldest example of rock-cut cave, then the Ardhamandapa, Mahamandapa, Mukhamandapa, Ambal shrine and the chariot like Nritya Mandapam stands as the example of later structural development of the temple during different period of time carrying artworks of different styles of different rulers.

View of the Sanctum from the Mukha Mandapam

The earliest inscription in this temple is dated back to 8th century CE. Although it is not about the foundation of the temple, but from then the temple has received patronage from every king and almost from every dynasty. There are about 37 inscriptions in this temple that states the various donation and other kind of information from different periods. There are inscriptions of Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and Vijayanagara kings found in this temple.

Ganapati in the Southern Niche

The Dwarapalas of the main shrine are in the super-human forms of weapons of lord Shiva. The southern being the Soolathevar (super-human form of the trident) and the northern being the Mazhuthevar (super-human form of the axle). In the southern niche, there is a beautiful Ganesha sculpted. It is the most celebrated form of Ganesha, Valampuri Vinayaka. It looks similar to that of the Ganesha in the Pillayarpatti temple, which is the earliest sculpture dated back to the 3rd Century CE. In the northern niche, we see Umasahitamurty sculpted which is one of its kind. Lord Shiva is seen seated with his consort Umadevi and to the left of her we see a female attendant.

Umasahita Murty in Northern Niche

In the outer Prakara, there is an unfinished cave shrine. To the immediate north of it, is a Chandikeshwara sculpted. Other than these antiquities, we see that the temple has structurally developed over the period of time. The development of the whole temple complex includes the work of Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and Vijayanagara/Nayaks contribution. 

Soolathevar and Mazhuthevar - Dwarapalakas

The Nritya Mandapam in this temple complex is another notable structure. This Nritya Mandapam proves the importance that this temple would’ve received until that point of time. This Mandapam, once would’ve witnessed many dance and cultural programs. Now it seems only the people from nearby village would be visiting the temple occasionally.

Northern Rock-cut Shrine

On a small hillock behind the temple, there is a shrine dedicated to Lord Kartikeya. Generally, devotees celebrate and worship such shrines located over hillocks, stating such shrines are more powerful. 

Chandikeshwara in the Outer Rock-cut Shrine

The vibes around the whole temple complex now just expresses the lost glory of the cultural, religious and societal significance of the temple.

Yours East Gaterr