Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Location and approach:
ārpākkam is a small village located at a distance of about 14 Kms from Kanchipuram and around 75 Kms from Chennai. It is approachable by road. The village is populated by around 3000 people and has three major temples - a śaiva, vaiśnava and jaina shrine each. All the three structures belong to the Chola era. This article details the structure, iconography and epigraphs of the śaiva shrine.
Structure and Architecture:
The entrance to the temple’s outer prākāra is through the south facing gate. The śiva shrine faces east and the dēvi shrine faces south respectively. As one enters the outer prākāra a modern mantapa leads to the entrance of the inner circumambulation path. This door faces south and is directly in front of the dēvi shrine. The outer hall of the entrance are paved with brahma kānta (caturaśra) type kudya sthambhās (Inlay Pillars). To either side of the entrance are two caturaśrapōtikās on top of which śankha and padma nidhis are seated on a lotus pedestal as bhūtās holding lotuses (As per the prescribed form from the āgamās – śaṅkha padma nidhidvau ca bhūtākaraumahābalau, āsīnaupadmapīṭhētu padmahastau dvijōttama). On top of the dvārā (gateway), on the lintel we find relief sculptures of a dance party. A lady is standing with both her hands in the dōlā (swing) position and few men on either side who are playing drums or singing music.
The outer prākāra has a shrine dedicated to gaṇeśa, outside which a beautiful colā era śāstā is seated without a canopy. On the other side a kārtikeya shrine with an elephant mount outside is seen. Another shrine, which has a veśara (vrttākāra) type vimana has a very modern dhyāna śiva placed by a local religious figure. The sculpture is neither of any historical nor artistic merit.
The inner portico in front of śiva and dēvi is dotted with rudra kāntā (cylindrical) type pillars having caturaśra pōtikās (square brackets). To the right of the entrance is a circumambulation path around the shrine of śiva. śiva is housed inside a gajapṛṣṭha type vimānā. Two dvārapālakās flank either side of the main shrine. There is no antarāla (vestibule) outside the vimānā set up. A gaṇeśa and kārtikeya are seated on the either side of the dvārapālakās.
The dēvi Shrine has a sanctum and an antarāla (vestibule). A navagraha sannidhi and some scattered sculptures like Snake gods, candikeśvara, sūryā etc. are placed in the corner of the portico adjoining the entrance of the dēvi Shrine.
The circumambulation path to śiva’s vimānā is paved with marble slabs and has rudra kāntā type pillars. The shrine has an adhishṭhāna with an upāna, jagati, tripatta kumuda and a pattikā. The pādavargā portion is inlayed with brahma kāntā pillars with 5 kośṭhā projections.
The śiva lingā is cylindrical and has a yoni (āvudaiyār) base which is square in shape. dēvi holds a flower and an akśamālā in her upper hands and abhaya, varada gestures in her lower hands respectively. The loose sculpture of candikeśvara placed in the front portico appears to be stylistically from an earlier period compared to the other sculptures in the same vicinity. All the bronzes found in the temple bronze room are post vijayanagarā bronzes.
The kośṭhās have the standard pancha kośṭha murti set up being – gaṇeśa, dakshiṇāmūrti, viśṇu, brahmā and durgā in that order as one circumambulates from left to right.
dakshiṇāmūrti, seated under a banyan tree, is flanked by two ṛśis, one on either side. He holds a snake and a trident in his rear hands and has the vyākhyāna Mudra (teaching pose) and a book in his front hands. He is seated with one leg on top of the other. The apasmārapuruśa is seen below his leg playing with a snake.
viśṇu is seen with his usual attributes of śankha and cakra. He has his front hands in abhaya and katyavalambita postures respectively. brahmā also appears with abhaya and katyavalambita hands in the front and akśamālā and kamaṇdalū in the rear hands. The durgā statue is not from the Chola era and is a later replacement.
The śāstā seated outside the gaṇeśa shrine in the outer prākāra is of high stylistic merit. He sports jatā maṇḍalā and is seated in vīrāsanā . He wears a makara kuṇdalā in one ear and a patrakuṇdalā in the other. He has two hands, one of which holds a ceṇdū and the other is seen resting above the leg placed on the seat. He wears a yagyopavīta and a few necklaces. His face appears very serene.
The kārtikeya shrine houses a deity, probably from the vijayanagarā era. He is seen seated on a peacock with his two consorts. He has 6 faces and 12 hands with the prescribed āyudhās for each hand.
The other shrine to the northwest of the temple has a modern dhyāna śiva whose icon is not of artistic merit and is a modern addition to an older shrine whose original deity is not traceable.
Some scattered, broken sculptures are found in the prākāra. A kārtikeya of the Chola type, the older durgā deity who is half broken and a brahmaśāśtā from the later pallavā period with two patrakuṇdalās and a channavīrā with a half-broken torso are found.
The inscriptions found on the walls refer to the temple as bhuvīśvaramudaiyār, however today the temple is known as tiruvālīśvaram. A kulottungā period inscription in the entrance to the main shrine near the dvārapālakā reads – “jayamkoṇda sozha maṇdalattu eyil kottattu māgaral nāttu ārppākkattu śri bhuvīśvaramudaiyār”, thus revealing the administrative zones under which the temple was located during the Chola times – the temple of bhuvīśvara belonged to the village of ārppākkam falling under the māgaral country, which in turn falls under the eyil kottam zone which is administered by the mandalam named jayamkoṇda sozha maṇdalam . The most important inscription, involving a major historical event is written in the pādavarga portion between viśṇu and dakshiṇāmūrti. It starts with the usual auspicious word of śvasti śrī: and a salutation to gaṇeśa (gaṇapatayE nama:) after which it elaborates the praśasti of rājādhirāja Chola (1166 CE to 1178 CE) and mentions the name of the Queen as ‘ulagudai mukkokilānadigal’. It salutes the king as tribhuvanachakravarti (lord of three worlds) kopparakesari varma, who is rājādhirāja and is dated to his 5th reginal year.
It is inferred that a military troop from Srilanka banished a King who ruled the pāṇdyā kingdom by name kulaśekhara pāṇdyā. After this incident animosity developed between the sāmantās (generals) of the Lankan army and the colā forces. The Lankan troops were advancing to colā territory from the pāṇdyān land which caused panic among the public. The news was communicated to the King and to the rājaguru who is referred to as ‘svāmidevar’ by the epigraph. It was informed to him that if the Lankan forces were let inside the colā country, there will be a heavy loss to the temples including those of mahādevā, to the Brahmins and to the country in general as they are known to be doers of sinful acts.
To remove the ill effects of war and to make them backtrack, the rājaguru was asked to perform rituals like japā (Chanting of spells), homā (Fire sacrifices) and such other means required to achieve victory. These methods are referred to as apoushtra matam in the inscription, whose actual meaning cannot be deciphered.
It is further inferred that the Lankan forces had occupied the famous temple of Shiva at tiruvirāmeśvaram (Rameshvaram), locked up the temple and had stopped all worship to the gods. The inscription also informs us that all the wealth in the store houses of the area were looted by them. They are hence referred to as enemies of śiva (śivadrohis).
Angered by these reports, the rājaguru (svāmidevar) did an ‘ābhicārika’ worship that lasted for 28 days, at the end of which Lankan forces retreated for reasons unknown. It is was perceived by the king that this was an effect of the rituals performed by svāmidevar.
The King submitted all victories to the feet of his teacher and asked with humility “śri pāda pūjaiyāga nān en taruven?” (What can I offer as worship to your divine feet?), to which the guru replied by saying that he had never been short of facilities and offerings by the colā kings. If the king insists on gifting something, he would prefer to have the village of ‘ālpākkam’ written in his favour and that this grant must be inscribed with due process of administration in copper plates and in stone walls respectively.
This was instantly agreed to by the king. To the svāmidevar, who goes by the name ‘umāpatidevarāna gyānaśivadevar' was granted the village by ceremonially pouring water and offering the grant to his hands.
The inscription ends with a verse cursing those who do not uphold the grant and cause inconvenience to the grantees by declaring that those who do so will attain the hells that is attained by people who misbehave with their own parents and those who have done śivadroha in their life.
The temple’s epigraph offers us a unique insight into the ritualistic beliefs of the imperial colās and that apart from the Vedic/ āgamic temple ritual traditions, even ābhicārika rituals were followed and patronized by the royalty.
1. No. 456. (1986). In 1115782959 842897248 D. K.V.Subrahmanya iyer (Ed.), South Indian Inscriptions (Vol. VI, pp. 188-190). Mysore, Karnataka: Archaeological Survey of India.
2. Balasubrahmanyam, S. (1960). Later Chola Temples. Chennai, Tamilnadu: Mudgala Trust.
3. Observations from personal visit on 22/12/2019 and discussions with Dr.Sankaranarayanan, Professor at National Sanskrit University, Tirupati.