Airavatesvara temple Darasuram 12th century Chola temple, TN - a treasure trove of sculptural wonders

Airavatesvara Temple,TN.

Above image: 12th Century Airavatesvara  temple Darasuram town near Kumbakonam, TN. The chariot-shaped agra-mandapam, with pillars and Nandi on top....................

The rulers Chola dynasty  apart from being great administrators and warriors were builders of great temples. They carefully planned and constructed  hundreds of Hindu temples across their empire. Among them  four were large  complexes made of hard rocks with tall vimanas, big bulls, lingas and sculptures of exceptional beauty  both in the halls, mandapas and on the towers.  Their knowledge of foundation and structural engineering  and execution of various load bearing structures was remarkable. So was their workmanship and creation of countless sculptures of deities and sub-gods in the pillared halls and on the vimanas. Of these four were vast complexes with all stone vimanas. The Airavatesvara temple is one among them  The other three are the temples  in Thanjavur built by Rajaraja I, in Gangaikonda Cholapuram built by Rajendra I, and in Tribuvanam by the later era Chola king Kulottunga.

 The 12th Century Airavatesvara  temple Darasuram town near Kumbakonam a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Living Chola temples was  built by Rajaraja Chola II ( reign:1146 and 1172) CE. It is dedicated to God Shiva who goes by the name of  Airavatesvara who, according to the legend, cured the skin coloration of white elephant (Airavata) of Devas' head Indira by removing the curse cast on him by sage Durvasa. The temple was completed in 1166 CE.

Ornate hall and pillars Airavatesvara Temple,TN.

Mahamantapam. Airavatesvara Temple,TN.

Above image: Airavatesvara  temple Darasuram, TN. The chariot wheel, the horse's head and body are damaged by hooligans......

carvings on the ceiling & pillars Airavatesvara Temple,TN.
 Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram TN.

This temple along with those at Gangaikonda cholapuram and at Thanjavur are an epitome of artistic and mind-boggling architecture of the Chola dynasty whose rulers were  ardent devotees of God Shiva. They also patronized Vishnu temples by making additions. The display of Vaishnavism and also Shaktism traditions of Hinduism is quite evident here. The temple may be a small one, but it is replete with amazing stone sculptures and intricate designs. This temple,  a treasure trove of artistic excellence is designed as a chariot encased in a lotus floating on a waterbody. 

What is interesting is the incorporation of countless major Vedic and Puranic deities on the chariot structure. Mention may be made of Indra, Agni, Varuna, Vayu, Brahma, Surya, trinity gods, river goddesses, Saptamtrikas, Durga and others.  The chariot shaped  maha-mandapa  (also agra-mandapa) with stone horses and wheels resembles the Nritta-sabha (community dance hall) of the Chidambaram temple, TN  and the Konark Sun Temple near Puri, Odisha.  Like the latter the wheels of the chariots are sundials namely morning and evening sundials. Like the big temple over the 39 ft sided square sanctum rises the vimana to a height of 79 ft. No pradakshina path around the sanctum and it is outside the courtyard. The nandi mandapa and the flag stampa are outside the temple. 

Airavatesvara Temple,TN.

Above image: Richly sculpted small gopura (tower)............
facade Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram TN

Above image: Airavatesvara  temple Darasuram, TN. Entrance to the temple. Take note of the stone carved  slanting sunshade, protecting the stone pillars and entrance. This kind of work is time-consuming and needs lots of skill. The angle of slanting and gentle curve need to be consistent, so is the thickness and width of the sunshade........ 

Besides stone carving of deities there are carved images that highlight the daily life and some chores of past era. There is no dearth of depiction of various postures of Bharatanatyam  as presented in Brihadishvara temple, Thanjavur built by great Rajaraja. One interesting aspect is the shrine of Shiva's consort 
Periya Nayaki Amman is a detached one and is to the north of the Airavateswarar temple. 

On its east, outside the main podium, close to the bali-pitham.
there is a flight of  seven steps with narrow width and simple side walls, each step when struck produces a unique musical note of a particular scale and all seven steps produce 7 different notes creating swaras in ascending and descending scale. The width of the step is so narrow at one time one person can go up and down. Often referred to as "singing steps"  when one walks or steps on them, they produce a musical note of particular key.

facade Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram TN

caged Singing stone steps 12th CE Airavatesvara Temple,TN

Singing ston e steps 12th CE Airavatesvara Temple,TN

 In the past several years many Hindu temples of exceptional beauty have been facing the menace of vandals  who overwrite over  the paintings or murals on the walls of the temple. Some lousy people tamper with nice sculptures and disfigure  them by damaging the legs, hands, face, etc. The same thing had happened to the musical seven steps of  Airavatesvara temple here. The ASI that manages the heritage temple had a grill cage with mesh  set in place  all around to retard vandalism. 

The visitors need several hours to enjoy the details of the ornate pillars in  the hall,++ sculptures and the carved images of deities. It is close to the famous temple city of Kumbakonam.