Airävateçwara Temple, Däräsuram, Kumbakonam
The Çiva Temple in Däräsuram is dedicated to Airavateswara. Built by Raja Raja Chola II (1145-1173 CE), the Temple is in form of a chariot.
This temple was originally fortified by seven massive walls, and seven prakäras. However, currently (as I saw in 2010), the beautifully carved, but dilapidated Gopuram (main entry gate) at a distance from the Temple, stands unrecognizable. It is completely lost, but the form of which may be imagined from the second Gopuram. (Just as we try to visualise the main Temple of Konark, seeing the mukhasala that exists now). The ASI has virtually rebuilt the Temple in recent years. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Monument as part of the Great Chola Temples. The pyramidal vimänam (tower) is only 26 metres (85 feet) tall, and like the temple itself, smaller than the towers of Båhadéswara and Gaìgaikoëòa Choläpuram.
The Nandi is in a small maëòapa, below the ground level, as well as the main Temple. The Nandi is also small, compared to the colossal Nandi in Båhadéswara and Gaìgaikoëòa. A modest Räjagopuram, embellished with images of gods and goddesses, in the front as well as the rear, greets the visitors. The main entrance is propped up by two pillars on either side. The Temple is a complete Räjagaàbhira-maëòapam housing the sanctum, ardha-maëòapam, and mahä-maëòapam.
The Räjagaàbhira-maëòapam is built in the form of a chariot (other Chariot Temples being Konark in Odisha, and Sarangapani in Kumbakonam), complete with wheels, and galloping horses. There are galloping horses on either side of the mandapa-extension with a huge wheel carved behind it.
On both sides at the entrance steps are small balustrades in the form of elephants (also seen in Sarangapani Temple), with beautiful makara-sculptured on their outside.
The makara with a floriated tail, short legs, and curled up snouts, and a pair of dwarf gana-riders on it form a lovely decoration.
Inside, delicate, intricate, miniature stone- carvings depict various Puranic stories. A particularly spectacular miniature shows Siva on Nandi, flanked by Devas, while the bottom half depicts dancing girls in various poses.
There is an element of peace and tranquility in Darasuram, as opposed to the heroic element, which is the keynote o sculptures at Tanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The keynote of the sculptures in Darasuram Temple is nitya-vinoda - perpetual entertainment.
The pillars of the main maëòapa contain beautiful patterns of decorative creepers, so arranged that in the circular medallions created therein, are figures in diverse poses, musicians. These figures are mostly dance poses, or playing musical instruments, and sometimes some deities.
The profuse occurrence of dance and musical scenes and figures are indeed striking. One has to recollect that Chola period was one of the great patronage and encouragement for dance and music. The Gopurams of Chidambaram subsequently have a number of dance figures illustrating various sthänas and karaëas of Bharata’s Näöyaçästra.
The rectangular portions of the pillars are decorated with small panels illustrating mythological stories (mostly from Çiva Puräëa) , such as attack of Kämadeva being destroyed by Çiva, Siva’s fight with the asuras, penance of Pärvati, prayer of the gods for a son of Çiva, the birth of Kumära. The stories also depict an atmosphere o peace and fulfillment.
The mukha-maëòapa pillars are held by a strange looking animal with features of at least five animals. – horns of a ram, trunk of an elephant, mane and legs of a lion, and tail of a cow etc.
You would not believe this. But the Gaëeça and the next figure above are of one inch in length each.
An unusual depiction of Çiva as Çarabha (Çarabheçwara) destroying Narasiàha is in a niche to which a small maëòapa is provided (reached by a flight of steps).
The outer walls of the maëòapa has some noteworthy Chola specimens such as, a fine Ardhanäriçwara, unique o its kind with three faces and eight arms; a four-armed Nägaraja having snake hoods over his head and hands joined in adoration, Agastya, the dwarf sage, seated with one of his hands in teaching posture and the other hand carrying a kamaëòaÿu, a dancing Märtäëòa-Bhairava or Aghora-Vérabhadra with four hands, three heads and a terrible countenance.
The outer fortification is surrounded on the inside by a running verandah, like in most Çiva temples. Over this fortification are seated Nandis (like in Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram) every ten metres or so.
There is museum that contains some exquisitely carved figures. The one on top shows fine workmanship, where a thin straw can be inserted in the nose of the deity. The pillared hall also can be seen as well as the family tree o the Cholas.
Strangely there is a Radha-Krshna sculpture on the outside wall, although Darasuram is a Siva Temple.
As per rules in Iconography, most temples do depict avatäras in the temples. Here in Darasuram, the Buddha is depicted on the outside temple wall in teaching mudrä.
Such interesting combined sculpture are found in many temples. Speaks a lot about the imagination of the sculptor/s.