• Prathik Murali

Kalakkattoor – Agnishvara temple - A remote Cholan beauty !

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Location and Approach:

Located at around 85 Kms from Chennai and 8.5 Kms from Kanchipuram, Kalakkattoor is a quaint village on the banks a huge lake. The village as such is not of much interest for a historian but for a small Early Chola temple on the banks of the lake which is approachable through a walk of around a kilometer’s distance on the bund of the waterbody. The walkway on the bund descends into the plains, where the temple is located. Locally, the temple is known as ‘Eri Karai Ishvaran Kovil’ which translated to the ‘Shiva shrine on the banks of lake’. The temple can be dated to early 10th century CE and hence is one of the earliest Chola temples in Kanchipuram.


Structure and Architecture:

The structure of the temple is simple. The temple does not have any superstructure (Vimana). The construction stops with the base (Adhishtana) and wall (Padavarga). It consists of two distinguishable components being the Garbhagriha (Main Shrine) and Antarala (vestibule) as a single component and the Ardhamantapa (Front Hall) the other. Valabhi of the outerportion of the Garbhagriha has Ganas playing instruments, dancing etc., while the exterior of the Ardhamantapa is plain and without a Valabhi or Ganas.


The Adhishtana portion has the following components – upAna, Jagati, Kumuda, Kanta and Pattika. The Kumudam is of the Tripatta variety. The inner sanctum faces east, while entry to the portico in front of the shrine is from the south. The sanctum is small with a Linga. A small vestibule connects the shrine to the front portico. In the outside area to the front of the shrine (east) is a newly constructed Nandi mantapa and another shrine for Ganesha. The whole structure is fenced and has many flowering plants that are used for the conduct of worship in the shrine.

Iconography:

Dvarapalakas (Gate Keepers):

The entrance to the vestibule (Dvara) is flanked by two stout door keepers of the Early Chola type in granite. The icon of the door keeper to the right is broken while the one at the left is intact. The icon to the right has his leg placed on the mace and holds a Tarjani Mudra (A warning sign) in his right hand. He wears Patra Kundalas in both his ears and has matted hair. The other door keeper stands in samabhanga (both feet on the floor). He holds a mace in one hand a Tarjani Mudra in the other. He wears a Kirita Makuta. His two ears have different ear rings, one sports a Patra Kundala while the other sports a Makara Kundala.

Koshta Icons:

The Koshta icons are a set of ‘Pancha Koshta Moorthies’ which comprise of Ganesha, Dakshinamoorthi, Ardhanarishwara, Brahma and Durga. Usually, at the rear side of the shrine Vishnu or Lingodhbhava are found, but here Ardhanarishvara is featured. The concept of a standard set of Pancha Koshta moorthies in Chola temples can be found from the period of Thakkolam temple (late 10th Century), prior to which random Shiva forms adorned the Koshtas.



Koshtas are framed with two Brahma Kanta (4 sided) type Kudya Sthambhas to the either side of the projection. While the other images in the Koshtas are in line with the style of the period of the temple, Dakshinamoorthi alone needs to be date as a later addition. Ganesha is two armed and is seen seated. He holds a sweetmeat in one hand and a broken tusk in the other.


The Ardhanari sculpture deserves a separate discussion as it is of much elegance. Ardhanari stands in samabhanga and the male side rests their lower hand on the head of the bull. The upper hand holds an axe. The feminine side holds a lotus. The artist has not left room for the mind to perceive the non symmetrical aspect of the feminine side lacking a hand. Shiva has a dhoti upto his thighs only, while the shakti side is draped with detailed clothing and drapery. A sacred thread runs across the body of the form, above the breast of the feminine side. Two differences in the Bhujakirtis, ear rings are prominent and captivating.


Brahma stands in samabhanga and holds a pot of water and rosary beads. One of his hands is in Varada position while the other is in kati avalambita. His three faces are seen, while the fourth is hidden.

Durga is draped in a saree and is in worship. All her features cannot be identified. Her nose and mouth have been added with cement to repair some damage, which make for a very ugly appearance today.

Details of inscriptions:

From the inscriptions in the temple, it is inferred that the location of the temple was at Jayamkonda Chola mandalam – Eyil Kottam – Erikkizh nAdu – Kalakkattur. The administrative divisions and their hierarchy are inferred from such inscriptions.

While the temple itself can be stylistically dated to the period of Patantaka, inscriptions from the reign of Rajaraja-I are available. Two inscriptions of Rajaraja belonging to the 14th and 17th reignal years and two inscriptions of Rajendra-I of his 3rd and 13th reignal years are found.

Two men feature twice in the inscriptions of the Rajaraja period. They are ‘Vennaiputhur udaiyAn’ and ‘Kaadan Maindan’. They have given donations to the temple to light eternal lamps for the King’s welfare and for the general welfare of the world.

Rajaraja is referred to as ‘Korajaraja Kesari’ and his birth name of ‘Arumozhidevar’ is also found in the inscriptions. The Shiva is called ‘UrunyazhvAr’, wherein Uruni means a lake. However, today the deity is called Agnishvara.

The nearby Lake is referred to as ‘Chandramegha tatakam’ in an inscription of Parthivendradivarman found in a nearby temple of ‘Pidari’. This inscription also refers to a shrine of Subrahmanya Bhatarar, which cannot be traced today. The author can be contacted at prathik.murali93@gmail.com or sahagamana@gmail.com

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