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Hindu Temples of Tamilnadu -I (Main Temples of Chennai)

Information Courtesy: Several websites on India, Tamilnadu and major cities of Tamilnadu.

Patonised by different ruling dynasties, the temple art touched its zenith in Tamil Nadu. Monuments of great artistic value, these temples speak of the greatness of the bygone era. Most of the ancient temples were built of mortar and brick and were scooped out of rocks. Rameshwaram, Thanjavur, Mahabalipuram, Kanchipuram, Chidambaram, Meenakshi Temple, and Ekambareswarar Temple are some of the famous temples of Tamil Nadu. Here we cover some of the main temples located in the Capital City of Taminadu, Chennai (formerly known as Madras). There are real delights for those visiting Tamilnadu.

Temples in Chennai

Parthasarathy Temple
Located in the Triplicane area of Chennai city, Parthasarathy Temple is one of the three major south-indian temples for Vaishnavaites. The other two are Sri Ranganathar Temple of Srirangam and Sri Venkataachapathi (Balaji) Temple of Tripathi. This temple devoted to Lord Krishna was built in the 8th Century by Pallava King and has been renovated since then. It has many visible contributions of Cholas and later of the Vijayanagar rulers of 16th Century. Legend says that Krishna after fighting the Great Kurukshetra War came to rest here at the pond full of "alli" flowers, reason why the place is called TiruvallikENi. Later the British shotrtened it to Triplicane.
This place is a divya sthalam since all the azhwars had come here and sung songs in praise of the Lord. The Main Deity is Sri Venkata Krishnar with consort Sri Rukmani on his right and his brother Sri Balaramar on his left. Sri Parthasarathy himself is the utsavar and is on the left of Sri Venkata Krishnar and in front of Sri Balaramar and with consorts Sridevi and Bhoodevi on either side. Sri Parthasarathy's face is full of scars created by the arrows of the Great Bhiishma in the Kurukshetra war. Krishna (Sri Parthasarathy) said he would not take part in the war but would only be a charioter for Arjuna, one of the Pandavas. But the Great Bhishma wanted Krishna to break this vow, so he started firing arrows at his face. That is why he got the marks on his face and it stays up to this day. No amount of polishing the face would cause them to disappear since they reappear. Krishna was called Parthasarathy because he was the sarathy (charoiteer) for Partha(Arjuna), who was one of the Pandavas and also his greatest devotee.

Kapaleeswarar Temple

This 8th century Pallava temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is situated in the traditional part of Madras at Mylapore. Legend has it this the name Mylapore was derived from Mayur Puri. It is believed that Parvati in the from of peacock worshipped Lord Shiva at this spot. As many as 63 Saivite saints or nayanmars sculpted in bronze adorn the outer courtyard. The Nayanmars glorified the Lord Shiva with enchanting hymns. In March - April during the Arubathimoovar festival all the Nayanmars are taken in a procession around the temple. The temple exquisitely depicts Dravidian architecture with its massive and intricately carved gopuram towering into the sky.
This ancient Siva temple is a delightful introduction to Dravidian temple sculpture and artitecture. Fragmentary inscriptions date back to 1250 AD, but the present structure is the renovated one which was rebuilt by the Vijayanagara kings in the 16th century. The magnificent 37 m tall gopuram is profusely carved. The crowded cosmogeny of stucco gods, goddesses and saints depict important Puranic legends. The Punnai tree in the temple courtyard is one of oldest trees in Chennai and shades a small shrine depicting the legend that gave Mylapore its name.

Temples in Kancheepuram

Kamakshi Amman temple
Built during Pallava supremacy and modified in the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Kamakshi Amman temple, northwest of the bus stand, combines several styles, with an ancient central shrine, gates from the Vijayanagar period, and high gopuras set above the gateways much later.The gopuras and the vimanas are a dazzling sight, painted a riot of gold, pink and blue. To the right of the central shrine, a raised mandapa is an art gallery, housing many pictures of the recent Acharyas.
This is one of India's three holiest shrines to Shakti, Shiva's cosmic energy depicted in female form, usually as his consort. The goddess Kamakshi, a local form of Parvati, shown with a sugar cane bow and arrows of flowers, is honoured as having lured Shiva to Kanchipuram, where they were married, and thus having forged the connection between the local community and the god. In February or March, deities are wheeled to the temple in huge wooden "cars", decked with robed statues and swaying plantain leaves. For the rest of the year the bulky but delicately carved temple cars, balanced on colossal wheels, are kept on Gandhi Road.

Ekambareshvara temple

Kanchipuram's largest temple and most important Shiva shrine, the Ekambareshvara temple - also known as Ekambaranatha - is easily identified by its colossal white-washed gopuras, which rise almost to 60m north of town. The main temple contains some Pallava work, but was mostly constructed between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and stands within a vast walled enclosure beside some smaller shrines and a large fish-filled water tank.
Entrance, through a high arched passage-way beneath an elaborate gopura in the south wall, leads to an open courtyard and a majestic "thousand-pillared hall", kalyan mandapa, whose slightly decaying grey stone columns are modelled as nubile maidens, animals and deities. This hall faces the tank in the north and the sanctuary in the west that protects the emblem of Shiva (here in his form as Kameshvara, Lord of Desire), an "earth" lingam that is one of five linga in Tamil Nadu that represent the elements. Legend connects it with the goddess Kamakshi (Shiva's consort, "having eyes of desire"), who angered Shiva by playfully covering his eyes and plunging the world into darkness. Shiva reprimanded her by sending her to fashion a lingam from the earth in his honour; once it was completed, Kamakshi found she could not move it. Local myths tell of a great flood that swept over Kanchipuram and destroyed the temples, but did not move the lingam, to which Kamakshi clung so fiercely that marks of her breasts and bangles were imprinted upon it.
Behind the sanctum, accessible from the covered hallway around it, an eerie bare hall lies beneath another profusely carved gopura, and in the courtyard a venerable mango tree represents the tree under which Shiva and Kamakshi were married. This union is celebrated during a festival each April, when many couples are married in the kalyan mandapa.
The somewhat neglected twelfth-century Jvaraheshvari temple, in leafy gardens to the south, is the only Chola (tenth-twelfth centuries) structure in Kanchipuram not to have been modified and overshadowed by later buildings. Unlike the Pallava constructions, it is built of hard grey stone; its sculpted pyramidal roof is an early form of the gopuras used extensively by the Pandyas.

Kailasanatha temple

The Kailasanatha temple, the oldest structure in Kanchipuram and the finest example of Pallava architecture in south India, is situated among several low-roofed houses just over 1 km west of the town centre. Built by the Pallava king Rajasimha early in the eighth century, its intimate size and simple carving distinguish it from the own's later temples. Usually quieter than its neighbours, it becomes the focus of vigorous celebrations during the Mahashivratri festival each March. Like the contemporaneous Shore temple at Mamallapuram, it is built of soft sandstone, but its sheltered position has spared it from wind and sand erosion, and it remains remarkably intact.The main shrine is surrouded by 58 smaller shrines.
Topped with a modest pyramidal spire, the small temple stands within a rectangular courtyard, enclosed by a wall inlaid with tiny meditation chambers and sculpted with images of Shiva, Parvati and their sons, as well as rearing mythical lions (yalis). On the south side of the spire Shiva is depicted as a begging ascetic (Bhikshatana); on the north he's in the pose of the dance of destruction (Samhara-Tandava). Walls in the dim interior bear traces of frescoes, and the ceilings are etched with religious verses written in Pali. The sanctum (inaccessible to non-Hindus) shelters a sturdy sixteen-sided black lingam, guarded by elephant-headed Ganesh and Shiva's other son, Skanda, the god of war, with whom the king Rajasimha was closely associated. Double walls were built round the sanctuary to support the weighty tower above; the passage between them is used as a circumambulatory path as part of the ritual worship of Shiva.

Vaikuntha Perumal temple

Built shortly after the Kailasanatha temple at the end of the eighth century, the smaller Vaikuntha Perumal temple, a few hundred metres west of the railway station, is dedicated to Vishnu. Its lofty carved vimana (towered sanctuary) crowns three shrines containing images of Vishnu, stacked one on top of the other. The temple was built by the Pallava King Nandivarman Pallavalmalla in the 7th Century. Unusual scenes carved in the walls enclosing the temple yard depict events central to Pallava history, among them coronations, court gatherings and battles with the Chalukyas who ruled the regions to the northwest. The temple's pillared entrance hall was added by Vijayanagar rulers five centuries later, and is very different in style, with far more ornate sculpting. Lord Vishnu is depicted in sitting reclining and standing poses.

Varadarajaperumal temple / Devarajaswamy Temple

The Vaishnavite Varadarajaperumal temple stands within a huge walled complex in the far southeast of town, guarded by high gates topped with gopuras. Also known as Devarajaswamy Temple, it is a massive and impressive edifice. The inner sanctuary boasts superb carving and well-preserved paintings and the elaborate sixteenth-century pillared hall close to the western entrance gate. The outer columns of this mandapa are sculpted as lions, and warriors on rearing horses, to celebrate the military vigour of the Vijayanagars, who believed their prowess was inspired by the power of Shakti.
The shrine of Devarajaswamy is located on an elephant-shaped rock called Hastagiri. The temple has two high towers, one in the east and the other in the west. The 1000 pillared hall has interesting and highly detailed sculptures.

Temples in Chidambaram

Nataraja temple
The original temple was built during the 6th-8th centuries. There are four tall gopurams and on the eastern tower, rising to 40.8 metres, are carved the 108 dance poses of Bharatanatyam. The whole temple spreads to around 40 acres. The temple is built based on the strict kundalini chakra orientation and according to the shiva siddhanta philosophy.
The Nataraja Temple has five halls - the Nritta Sabha, Deva Sabha, Kanaka Sabha, Chit Sabha and Raja Sabha. The Nritta Sabha is held aloft by 56 pillars engraved with dancing figures. 6 kaal natana mantapam is in nirithya sabha. The Deva Sabha is reserved for festivals and administrative meetings. The 1000-pillared hall (ayiram-kal-mandapam) of Raja Sabha, measuring 103m long and 58m wide witnessed the victory celebrations of the Chola and Pandya kings. It is a great place for meditation. The most important of these sabhas is the gold-tiled Kanaka Sabha (the glistening roof contains 17,500 solid gold tiles, one for each breath a human takes in a day.), resides the bejewelled, joyous Nataraja image. The icon is a stunning piece of sculpture that evokes a sense of continuous movement. Next to Him, Goddess Shivakamasundari stands majestically in a separate sannithi.
Worshipping the five eternal elements, the temple at Tiruvannamalai has a fire lingam, Kancheepuram has the earth lingam, kalahasthi, the wind lingam, Jambhukeshvar is water and Chidambaram, the aahaya (sky) lingam. So when the priest draws back the curtain from the inner shrine of the presiding deity in the Chit Sabha, there is no lingam or dancing Nataraja to be seen. Only space. This is the charming mystery of Chidambaram - rahasya. The other meanings of this rahasya are passed on from disciple-guru basis, but can be found in books like 'Chidambaram mahatmyam' written in sanskrit. The pujas in the temple are conducted strictly according to the specifications by Patanjali (of the yoga suutras).
The Lord at Chit Sabha is worshipped by Three Shaktis. The Iccha shakti is beside Lord Nataraja as Shivakamasundarii, jnana shakti as shivakamasundarii in Her separate temple and Durga, as described below, is the kriya shakti. Further, outside the shivakamasundari shrine is a tiny shrine to the spouse of Shiva at Jambukeshvara, Akhilandeshvari. There is also a small shrine to Durga adjoining this temple.
The sacred water of the Shivaganga Tank, thronged by bathing pilgrims, has healing powers and has cured a kings leprosy. There are several temples dedicated to the Goddess. In addition to the Chit Sabha, a silver Parvati shines in the Shivakamasundari temple. One gains wisdom just by sitting down and meditating in this temple. Adi Shankara was supposed to learned the secret of shriyantra and shri chakra meditation in this temple from Suka. Even today, you can see students praying to get more marks in this temple. However, the real import is not in knowledge which passes away with the gross body but the wisdom which one gains by gazing at the shivakamasundari.
Though Nataraja temple abounds in spiritual wealth, with certain munis taking mahasamadhi within the temple (e.g. nandanar), the temple also provides ample opportunities for material growth. Pilgrims often pray for progeny in the subramaniam (kartikkeya, muruga) temple within the complex. A very nice description of the temple and its activities can be found in the book 'Dance of Siva,' by Smith

Thillai kaaliamman temple
In the northern end of the town is the Kaliamman Temple, built by a Chola king in the 13th century. Legend says that Kaali moved here after loosing to Siva in the celestial dance contest. The black Goddess Kali has a diamond on Her forehead. On entering the temple, one is captivated by the power in the temple. Goats were sacrificed here till 1950 or so. The real bali we should offer to Kali should be our egos. Let Her accept it.
Legend: The thousand-headed cosmic serpent, Adisesha, upon whose coiled body Vishnu reclines in the primordial ocean, once expressed a wish to see Shiva's famed dance. Having arranged time off from his normal duties with Vishnu, Adisesha prayed to Shiva, who was so impressed by the serpent's entreaties that he promised to dance in the forest of Tillai (the site of Chidambaram). Adisesha was reborn as the human sage Patanjali (represented as half-man, half-snake) and made straight for Tillai. There he met another sage, Vyaghrapada - "Tiger Feet", who had been granted the claws of a tiger to help him climb trees and pluck the best flowers to offer Shiva - who shared his wish to see Shiva dance. Together, they worshipped a svayambhulingam, a shivalingam that had "self-manifested" in the forest, now housed in the Mulasthana shrine of Sabhanayaka temple. However, the guardian of the forest, who turned out to be the goddess Kali, refused to allow Shiva to dance when he arrived. In response, he challenged her to a dance competition for possession of the forest. Kali agreed but, perhaps due to modesty, could not match a pose of Shiva's which involved raising the right foot above the head. Defeated, Kali was forced to move off a little way north, where a temple now stands in her honour.

Temples in Trichirappalli / Trichi

Rock Fort Temple
This temple crowns a massive outcrop of rock, that soars 83 metres upwards, from the surrounding plains. It is reached by a steep flight of 437 steps, cut into the rock. Halfway up is the Sri Thayumanaswamy Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It has a 100-pillared hall, and a Vimana, covered with gold. On the southern face of the rock, are several beautifully carved, rock-cut cave temples, of the Pallava period. Built by the Nayaks, who were the founders of the city, it was one of the main centres, around which, the wars of the Carnatic were fought in the 18th century, during the British - French struggle for supremacy in India.

Shri Jambukeshwara temple at Thiruvanaikaaval (near Trichi)
The Jambukeshwara temple, located in Thiruvanaikaaval (on the north side), is dedicated to Shiva, and it houses five concentric walls, and seven gopurams. The sculptures that adorn the walls in its outer courts, of an extravagance are typical of the seventeenth-century Nayak architects. Legend has it, that an elephant once worshipped the Lord, under the holy Jambu tree, hence the name Jambukeshwara. The principal deity is the Shiva lingam, almost submerged in water, which flows from the subterranean spring, in the sanctum sanctorum. The goddess name is AkilaaNdeswari.

Temples in Srirangam (near Trichi)

Ranganathaswamy temple
The Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam, 6km north of Trichy, is among the most revered shrines to Vishnu in south India, and also one of the largest and liveliest, engulfing within its outer walls homes, shops and markets. Enclosed by seven rectangular walled courtyards and covering more than sixty hectares, it stands on an island defined by a tributary of the River Kaveri. This location symbolizes the transcendence of Vishnu, housed in the sanctuary reclining on the coils of the snake Adisesha, who in legend formed an island for the god, resting on the primordial Ocean of Chaos.
The temple is approached from the south. A gateway topped with an immense and heavily carved gopura, plastered and painted in bright pinks, blues and yellows, and completed as recently as 1987, leads to the outermost courtyard, the latest of seven built between the fifth and seventeenth centuries. Most of the present structure dates from the late fourteenth century, when the temple was renovated and enlarged after a disastrous sacking by the Delhi armies in 1313. The outer three courtyards, or prakaras, form the hub of the temple community, housing ascetics, priests, and musicians, and the streets are lined with food stalls and shops selling souvenirs, ritual offerings and plump fresh flower garlands to be presented to Vishnu in the inner sanctuary.
At the fourth wall, the entrance to the temple proper, visitors pass through a high gateway, topped by a magnificent gopura and lined with small shrines to teachers, hymn-singers and sages. In earlier days, this fourth prakara would have formed the outermost limit of the temple, and was the closest members of the lowest castes could get to the sanctuary. It contains some of the finest and oldest buildings of the complex, including a temple to the goddess Ranganayaki in the northwest corner where devotees worship before approaching Vishnu's shrine. On the east side of the prakara, the heavily carved "thousand pillared" kalyan mandapa, or hall, was constructed in the late Chola period. During the month of Margazhi (Dec/Jan) Tamil hymns are recited from its southern steps as part of theVaikuntha Ekadasi festival.
The pillars of the outstanding Sheshagiriraya Mandapa, south of the kalyan mandapa, are decorated with rearing steeds and hunters armed with spears. These are splendid examples of Vijayanagar style, which depicts chivalry defending their temple against Muslim invaders, and represents the triumph of good over evil. On the southern side of the prakara, the Venugopala shrine, dedicated to Krishna, probably dates from the Nayak period (late sixteenth century). Its pillars are carved with beautiful maidens leaning on trees, playing musical instruments and gazing into mirrors. Inside the porch, paintings show Krishna playfully courting his gopis (cowgirls). The western side of the courtyard is taken up by a large pond, which blossoms with lotus flowers in spring, when Vishnu is laid upon its waters in a barge at the height of a three-day festival. To the right of the gateway into the fourth courtyard, a small museum contains a modest collection of stone and bronze sculptures, and some delicate ivory plaques. One can climb to the roof of the fourth wall and have the view over the temple rooftops and gopuras, which increase in size from the centre outwards. The central tower, crowning the holy sanctuary, is coated in gold and carved with images of Vishnu's avatars, or incarnations, on each of its four sides.
Inside the gate to the third courtyard - the final section of the temple is another pillared hall, the Garuda Mandapa, carved throughout in typical Nayak style. Maidens, courtly donors and Nayak rulers feature on the pillars that surround the central shrine to Garuda, the man-eagle vehicle of Vishnu. Other buildings in the third courtyard include the vast kitchens, which emanate delicious smells as dosas and vadas are prepared for the deity, while devotees ritually bathe in the tanks of the moon and the sun in the northeast and southeast corners.
Chola structures and more recent shrines added by Vijayanagar and Nayak donors fill the second courtyard, while the dimly lit innermost courtyard, the most sacred part of the temple, shelters the image of Vishnu in his aspect of Ranganatha, reclining on the serpent Adisesha. The shrine is usually entered from the south, but for one day each year, during the Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival, the north portal is opened; those who pass through this "doorway to heaven" can anticipate great merit. Most of the temple's daily festivals take place in the courtyard, beginning each morning with vina-playing and hymn-singing as Vishnu is awakened in the presence of a cow and an elephant, and ending just after 9pm with similar ceremonies.

Temples in Tanjore / Thanjavur

Brahadeeswara temple
There are numerous temples in Thanjavur and among them is the most famous Brahadeeswara temple, built by Rajaraja Chola in 10th C. The temple Vimana (top) is a monolithic stone was brought from a distance of about 55 km using slopes. This temple remains as one of the existing marvels of the ancient South Indian Temple Architecture. Temple paintings similar to that of Ajantha Palace - built by Nayak kings around 1550.

Temples in Kumbakonam

Sarangapani temple
The principal and largest of the Vishnu temples in Kumbakonam is the thirteenth-century Sarangapani temple. Entry, into a hundred-pillar hallway from the seventeenth century (Nayak period), is through a ten-storey pyramidal gopura gate, more than 40m high. Passing through a smaller gopura leads into a second courtyard, containing another columned mandapa and to the right, a shrine to Lakshmi. The central shrine dates from the late Chola period with many later accretions. Its entrance, within the innermost court, is guarded by huge dvarpalas, identical to Vishnu whom they protect. Between them are carved stone jali screens, each different, and in front of them stands the sacred, square homam fireplace. During the day, pinpoints of light from ceiling windows penetrate the darkness around the sanctum, designed to resemble a chariot with reliefs of horses, elephants and wheels. A painted cupboard contains a mirror for Vishnu to see himself when he leaves the sanctum sanctorum.

KumbEswara temple
According to legend, Kumbakonam's seventeenth-century Kumbareshwara temple centres on a lingam fashioned by Shiva himself. Apparently, a pot (kumba) of amrita, the beverage of immortality, was washed by a great deluge from atop sacred Mt Meru in the Himalaya, and carried all the way here. Shiva, who happened to be passing in the guise of a wild forest-dwelling hunter, for some reason fired an arrow at the pot, causing it to break. From the broken pieces, he made this very lingam.

The temple's east entrance is approached via a covered market. Beyond the flagstaff, a mandapa hallway, whose columns feature painted yali (mythical beast) brackets, leads to the principal gopura entranceway. A figure of Shiva's bull-vehicle, Nandi, faces the main sanctuary. There's also a fine collection of silver vahanas, vehicles of the deities, used in festivals, and pancha loham (compound of silver, gold, brass, iron and tin) figures of the 63 Nayanmar poet-saints.

NagEswara temple

Possibly the oldest in Kumbakonam, the small Nageshwara Swami Shiva temple, one of the finest early Chola temples, noted for the quality of its sculpture, is thought to have been completed a few years into the reign of Parantaka I (907-c.940). Standing in a courtyard, the principal shrine to Shiva is connected to a columned mandapa. Both share a base carved with scenes from the epics and lotus petals. The main niches on the sanctum wall contain sculptures; on the north, Dakshinamurti ("south-facing" Shiva as teacher), on the west Ardhanarishvara (male Shiva and female Shakti in one figure) and Brahma on the south. Joining them are high-relief near-life-size sculptures of unidentified figures, perhaps worshippers, donors or royalty. Within the courtyard, a shrine to Nataraja features rearing horses and wheels, with tiny figures as spokes.


The most famous and revered of many sacred water tanks in Kumbakonam, the Mahamakham in the southeast of town, is said to have filled with ambrosia collected from the pot broken by Shiva. Every twelve years, when Jupiter passes the constellation of Leo, it is believed that water from the Ganges and eight other holy rivers flows into the tank, thus according it the status of tirtha, or sacred river crossing. At this auspicious time as many as two million pilgrims come here to take an absolving bathe; in 1992, sixty people died in an accident variously ascribed to a collapsing wall or to general mayhem. During a lesser annual festival (Feb/March) the deity from the Kumbareshwara temple is taken to Mahamakham in procession.

Airavateshwara temple at Darasuram (near Kumbakonam)

The Airavateshwara temple, built by King Rajaraja II (c.1146-73), stands in the village of darasuram, an easy five-kilometre bus trip (on the Thanjavur route) or bike ride southwest of Kumbakonam. This superb if little-visited Chola monument ranks alongside those at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram; but while they are grandiose, emphasizing heroism and conquest, it is far smaller, exquisite in proportion and detail and said to have been decorated with nitya-vinoda, "perpetual entertainment", in mind. Shiva is here known as Airavateshwara, because he was worshipped at this temple by Airavata, the white elephant of the king of the gods, Indra.
Entrance is through a large gopura gateway, 1m below ground level, in the main wall, which is topped with small reclining bull figures. Inside, the main building is set in a spacious courtyard. Next to the inner sanctuary, fronted by an open porch, the steps of the closed mandapa feature elegant curled balustrades decorated with elephants and makaras (mythical crocodiles with floriate tails). At the corners, rearing horses and wheels make the whole into a chariot. Elsewhere, clever sculptural puns include the head of an elephant merging with that of a bull.
Fine Chola black basalt images in wall niches in the mandapa and the inner shrine include Nagaraja, the snake-king, with a hood of cobras, and Dakshinamurti, the "south-facing" Shiva as teacher, expounding under a banyan tree. One rare image shows Shiva as Sharabha, part man, beast and bird, destroying the man-lion incarnation of Vishnu, Narasimha - indicative of the animosity between the Shaivite and Vaishnavite cults. Sharabha, in his own separate small mandapa, is approached by a flight of steps. Fanged dvarpala door guardians in raudra (furious) mood flank the shrine entrance. Each possesses a club, their four hands in an attitude denoting threat (tarjani) with Shiva's trident, the trishula, wound into their hair.
Outside, a unique series of somewhat gruesome panels, hard to see without climbing on to the base, form a band along the top of the basement of the closed mandapa and the sanctum sanctorum. They illustrate scenes from Sekkilar's Periya Purana, one of the great works of Tamil literature. The poem tells the stories of the Tamil Shaivite saints, the Nayanmars, and was commissioned by King Kulottunga II, after the poet criticized him for a preoccupation with erotic, albeit religious, literature. Sekkilar is said to have composed it in the Raja Sabha at Chidambaram; when it was completed the king sat every day for a year to hear him recite it.
Each panel illustrates the lengths to which the saints were prepared to go to demonstrate devotion to Shiva. The boy Chandesha, for example, whose job it was to tend the village cows, discovered one day that they were involuntarily producing milk. He decided to bathe a lingam with the milk as part of his daily worship. Appalled by this apparent waste, the villagers complained to his father, who went to the field, cursed the boy, and kicked the lingam over. At this affront to Shiva, Chandesha cut off his father's leg with an axe; he is shown at the feet of Shiva and Parvati, who have garlanded him. Another panel shows a man who frequently gave food to Shiva devotees. When his wife was reluctant to welcome and wash the feet of a mendicant who had previously been their servant, he cut off her hands. Elsewhere, a Pallava queen has her nose cut off for inadvertently smelling a flower, rendering it useless as an offering to Shiva. The last panel shows the saint Sundara who, by singing a hymn to Shiva, rescued a child who had been swallowed by a crocodile.
On the lowest portions of the base, rows of yalis (mythical lions) and ganas, the dwarf attendants of Shiva, dance and play musical instruments. Surrounding the main shrine, a four-metre-wide channel, created by a very low wall, is decorated with lotus patterns and badly damaged Nandis. At one time, this was filled with water, so the temple appeared to float in a pool.

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