Chozha's 'Wonder Work on Stone'
This 12th Century AD Airavateswarar Temple in Darasuram (originally called Raja Rajeswaram) was the third in the series of temples built by the great Chozha Kings of that time.
While the 10th Century AD Thanjavur’s Brihadeeswarar temple, built by Raja Raja Chozha 1 is known for its tall tower, covers a huge area and symbolises bigness (hence called the Big Temple/Periya Koil), Darasuram’s Airavateswarar temple,built by Raja Raja Chozhan II,is a marvel and a standing example of the architectural expertise and 'work on stone' of the Chozha kings. The Jagannath Puri temple in Konark is believed to have taken inspiration from Darasuram’s architectural master piece.
The lingam is believed to have been worshipped by Indra’s white elephant (Airavatham) and hence the name ‘Airavateswarar’.
The Lord of Death, Yama, once incurred the wrath of a rishi and was cursed to have burning sensation all over his body. Yama is said to have visited this temple and invoked the blessings of Lord Airavateswarar by bathing in the temple tank. Pleased with his prayers, Airavateswarar is said to have liberated Yama from his curse.
While being smaller in size, Darasuram’s Airavateswarar temple is easily the most artistic piece of construction among the four grand temples constructed by the Chozhas- Thanjavur’s Big Temple, Gangai Konda Cholapuram (North of Kumbakonam on the Sethia Thope-Vadalur-Neyveli Highway) and Thirubhuvanam (East of Kumbakonam enroute to Mayavaram).
Chariot Shaped Main Mandapam
The main Raja Gambira Mandapam is in the form of a chariot driven by Horses(Chariot Mandapam) - Eastern side and Western side. Inside this are 108 pillars, each one with exquisite sculptures depicting a historical event or a dancing moment- Shiva’s marriage attended by Vishnu and Brahmma, the entire sequence of Murugan Kalyanam, Saraswathi in Yoga Posture, Kannappa Nayanar, Annapoorani-with sharp nails that has been crafted beautifully, miniature forms of Pillayar, Shiva, Parvathi, Murugan.
While on the eastern side of the mandapam, one finds Saraswathi with a closed lotus (symbolic of the rising sun) and as one moves on to the western side one finds the depiction of Saraswathi with an open lotus (symbolic of the Sun having moved on to the west). On the upper walls of the Raja Gambira Mandapam, there are some drawings- of demons and birds, a large portion of which has lost its form and one finds only sketches.
Periya Puranam, a poetic account of the lives of the 63 Nayanmars, is depicted in a miniature form through 17th century vegetable colour paintings.
Some of the interesting and distinctive sculptures that stand out are Arthanareeswarar (half Shiva-half Shakthi) at the Eastern Entrance, Arjuna’s Penance, Agastyar and Naga Raja (Snake Lord) and Rathi-Manmatha story on the Southern side.
Chopped off Nandi’s head
On the Southern side of the temple, one finds a line of lamp posts on the ground. Lamps were believed to have been placed on top every evening. Along side the stretch of lamp posts are sculptures of Nandi, whose heads have been knocked off (I will stay away from the details relating to this rather treacherous act but one can guess as to who chopped off the head and during whose assaults at the Airavateswarar temple!!!!)
At the Thirumaligai Mandapam, on the North Western side of the temple, one is welcomed by a beautiful depiction of Yaali, the mythological animal- Single body in 5 forms- Elephant’s tusk, Lion’s body, Goat’s horns, Pig’s ears and the tail of a cow. One can only wonder at the minute detailing of the sculptor and the effort that must have gone into this depiction.
A hiding Rama striking Vali in the Sugreeva-Vali fight is another interesting artistic work seen at the Thiru Maligai Mandapam.
Ball Dance of 12th Century AD
If one thought that ball dance was a recent invention, one would have to go back and look at this 12th Century AD sculpture.
Some of the artistic work that keeps you hooked on to the Northern side of the tower are Durgai, Mahisaasura Mardhini, Raavana on Mount Kailasa, Bairavar, a flute playing Radha Krishna and Dhanvantri. Across the entire stretch, there are also several carvings of ladies exhibiting their gymnastic skills.
On the North Eastern side, there is depiction of Vishnu playing drums in the Nataraja Dance Mandapam.
As one gets inside the Raja Gambira Mandapam and on way to the sanctum of Iravateswarar, one finds the pillars that are very simplistic and without any artistic work, reason being that one should not be distracted while praying to the Lord.
Wild Bull and an Elephant
A distinctive feature-Construction of the temple – Chozhas v Nayaks
While the base of the temple was built by the Chozhas, as can be seen from the granite construction, the top portion/structure was renovated by the Nayak Kings as can be seen from the mixture of the construction materials used- Gun Powder and Red Bricks.
The main Eastern entrance to the temple remains a Mottai Gopuram(no tower). Interestingly and not to be seen elsewhere, the Amman Sannidhi is in a separate temple just next to and North of the Airavateswarar temple.
Not to miss when at Darasuram
Beautiful Silk Sarees on the street opposite the Amman temple
How to reach Darasuram
Darasuram is about 3kms South West of Kumbakonam off the Thanjavur Highway.
Rock Fort Express from Chennai/ Mysore Mayiladuthurai Express from Bangalore to Kumbakonam. State Transport buses every 5 minutes from Trichy/Thanjavur to Kumbakonam.
Auto to Darasuram temple costs about Rs. 75/- from the Railway Station/ Bus Stand
There is a registered guide (Chinnadurai) at the temple to take visitors around the temple(He has been around since 1970).