Youngsters like Shashwath make us believe that the message of heritage and conservation will be taken to the Gen neXt and beyond. Today he takes us on a tour to Esalam via his guest post.
On a late January morning, a small group of us started on a trip down one of the most historical roads in the south, to find one of the most important places in Chola history.
When we met that morning, Arvind told us about this cluster of four temples within about 5 km of each other, and within a day’s journey from the city. When I got to know that one of the places on the list was Esalam, it was too much to resist. I didn’t know what to expect, except that it is a full stone temple, including the vimanam (which is rare enough), and that there was the “most beautiful Veenadhara Dakshinamurthy” ever. More on the temple itself shortly, but first, I must try to why I was so excited to see Esalam.
Often, it’s not the primary temple endowed by a ruler that tells us the most about them. In Gangaikondacholapuram, there is hardly anything that tells us anything about his builder, Rajendra I. Unlike his father, the “Chola who captured the Ganga” is something of an enigma, since the first available inscription at the temple he built is from the reign of his second son, Virarajendra. Who was he? What were his motivations? Who influenced him? Tough questions…
As Dr. Nagaswamy (who translated the plate) describes the find, “On the 11th of August 1987, the inhabitants of Eslam a village near Villupuram, in South Arcot district, Tamilnadu, stuck upon a group of bronzes, temple utensils and a copper plate charter, within the temple premises of Tiru Ramanathesvara temple of the village, while carrying out renovation work to the temple.” The content of this copper plate is interesting and important, and Dr. Nagaswamy details it in the link above. Just some highlights before we go on: this grant details the creation of a new Devadana to support the temple, dedicated to Shiva in the form of Ramisvara, or Ramaanathesvara. What is most important about this place, and this record, is that this is no ordinary temple. It was built and endowed by Rajendra for his own Guru, the high priest of the Tanjore temple (and quite possibly, the temple at Cholapuram also), Sarvasiva Panditar. Hence, this is a royal temple – built by the strongest of the Cholas, as a gift to his preceptor. As such, some of the best craftsmen in the land would have been called on to work on it, and it shows!
Approaching the temple from the front, it doesn’t really look like much – a miniature modern gopuram greets you in all its garish oil-painted glory.
It’s when you go in, that you see a beautiful Chola temple.
The first thing we notice is this huge, bulbous dome of the Vimanam, almost Mid-Eastern in proportions, and the wonderful Balipeedam, with miniatures on all sides.
A stone-work window, with designs and dancing girls on the “bars” covers the front of the temple
and the entrance is off to the left side
The walls of the temple are covered in inscriptions
Around the temple are the Goshtas: Vinayaka, Dakshinamurthy, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga.
More in part 2 of this post