The Airavateswarar Temple is the 3rd and the smallest of the great Chola temples. It is located at Darasuram in the town of Kumbakonam (Tanjavur district) in Tamilnadu. It was constructed by Rajaraja Chola II( son of Kulothunga Chola II), who was the Grandson of Rajendra Chola (of the Gangaikondacholapuram fame). Raja Raja Chola II ascended the Chola empire throne in 1150 AD. This temple was built during his reign. Although the size of this temple is not as imposing as the temples at Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram, it surpasses them in having really exquisite carvings.
At the entrance of the temple gate there is a small shrine for lord Ganesh. The small stairs that lead to this deity are musical stairs called the Saptaswaras. These steps produce the seven musical notes when tapped by a stone. The main temple is resplendent with granite carvings. The main stairs that lead to the pillared hall is in the shape of a giant elephant driven Rath ( chariot). Different animals are depicted around this Rath. Each step has carvings on it. The Sanctum Sanctorum is topped by an 85 feet high Vimana. The Temple stairs lead to a hall with hundreds of pillars. All the pillars have majestic carvings on them. The carvings depict stories from the Ramayan, Puranas, along with other mythological characters. The pillars stand in perfect parallel alignment with each other. The beauty and timeless quality has to be seen to be believed. The most fascinating part about these pillars is that there are micro miniaturised carvings which displays complicated body postures within a circle of approximately two inches diameter. The carvings have well detailed body parts and postures, even at this tiny scale. To see this level of dexterity in carving on monolithic stone pillars is mind boggling. Even the roof of the pillared hall is full of magnificent carved images. Some glimpses of the roof carvings. The statue of a woman devotee standing outside the sanctum sanctorum will keep you mesmerised for long. The smoothness of the surface, the sheen on the delicate contours, the lower body sheer drape and her posture leaves one totally baffled by her Beauty. The subtle smile on her face enhanced by her lips and the smile in her eyes surpasses that of Da Vinci’s Monalisa. And mind you, this is not a painting but chiseled on granite. The nails of this almost life size sculpture are polished to such an extent that if you touch it with your eyes closed it feels just like human nails.There is a statue of a devotee with footwear in full detail that resembles a modern day sandal design. Each strap of the footwear is perfectly placed. Each pillar has multiple stories to tell. There are some Gymnastic postures also displayed. There is one of a lady with a common head for three bodies, in different acrobatic postures. Another depicts two people doing a cart wheel. There is a carving with a common head for an image which looks like a cow from one end and an Elephant from the other end. To achieve such complex effects on a stone carving shows great mastery in stone carving.The outer wall that surrounds the temple complex is also full of intricate carvings. There are layers of miniature carvings too. These miniature carvings depict incidents and stories of daily Life. For example in this small carving below we see the result of a Ram fight. The loosing Ram is shown with a broken head ( reversed). The winner ram’s owner is giving a victory wave and the loosing ram’s owner is beating his head. All this detail is depicted within a space of 3-4 inches. This temple is very near Kumbhakonam- a highly revered temple area of the Tanjore region where devotees throng regularly. This temple somehow has not got the fame and reverence that it deserves.
The temple priest was our guide, who gave us extensive information about the various pillar carvings. Half a day was just not enough to be able to soak in the extent of its magnificence. I had to bow my head in reverence to Lord Shiv, and to the workmen and creators of this temple. Location: It is in Kumbakonam, Tanjavur District of Tamil Nadu, India.
PS: I can only pray and wish that The Brihadeswara Temple, Gangaikondacholapuram and the Darasuram Temple withstand the ravages of time.
RUCHI PRITAM. (In association with Kumar Jayant).