The Airavateshwara temple stands in the village of Darasuram
is accessible through an easy 5-km bus trip (on the Thanjavur route) or
bike ride southwest of Kumbakonam. Lord Shiva is known here as "Airavateshwara",
because he was worshipped at this temple by "Airavata", the
white elephant of the King of the Gods, Indra.
The temple was built by King Rajaraja II (1146-1173 AD) in the late Chola period. In the middle of the 14th century additions were made to the existing temple, and finally the Pandya rulers completed the temple.
About The Temple
The main structure is an elongated rectangle of little height, rising into a pyramidal tower at the western end. Round about are many other buildings, all within the same enclosure - a characteristic of the Dravidian style to follow. The pillars are typical of those of this period with scalloped capitals and bases and brackets with a Cyma Recta curve over the capital. The plastic ornamentation of the tower though good is rather clustered and produces a feeling of confusion. The porch is in the form of a wheeled chariot drawn by elephants.
The Exquisitely Made Figurines
Entrance is through a large Gopura (also spelt as Gopuram) gateway, 1m below ground level, in the main wall, which is topped with small reclining Bull figures. Inside the main building is set in a spacious courtyard. Next to the inner sanctuary, fronted by an open porch, the steps of the closed Mandapam feature elegant curled balustrades decorated with Elephants and 'Makaras' (mythical crocodiles with floriated tails). At the corners, rearing horses and wheels make the whole into a chariot. Elsewhere, clever sculptural puns include the head of an elephant merging with that of a bull.
Fine Chola black basalt images in wall niches in the Mandapam and the inner shrine include Nagaraja, the Snake-King, with a hood of Cobras, and 'Dakshinamurti', the "south-facing" Lord Shiva as teacher, expounding under a banyan tree. One rare image shows Lord Shiva as "Sharabha" (partly man, beast and bird) destroying the man-lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Lord Narasimha - indicative of the animosity between the Shaivite and Vaishnavite cults.
Sharabha, in his own separate small Mandapam, is approached by a flight of steps. Fanged 'Dvarpala' (door guardians) in 'Raudra' (furious) mood flank the shrine entrance. Each possesses a club, their four hands in an attitude denoting threat (tarjani) with Lord Shiva's trident, and the 'Trishula', wound into their hair.
The Series Of Panels
Outside, a unique series of somewhat gruesome panels, hard to see without climbing on to the base, form a band along the top of the basement of the closed Mandapam and the sanctum sanctorum. They illustrate scenes from Sekkilar's Periya Purana, one of the great works of Tamil literature.
The poem tells the stories of the Tamil Shaivite saints, the "Nayanmars", and was commissioned by King Kulottunga II, after the poet criticized him for a preoccupation with erotic, albeit religious, literature. Sekkilar is said to have composed it in the Raja Sabha at Chidambaram and when it was completed the king sat every day for a year to hear him recite it.
Legends Of Ardency
Each panel illustrates the lengths to which the saints were prepared to go to demonstrate devotion to Lord Shiva. For example, the boy Chandesha, whose job was to tend the village cows, discovered one day that they were involuntarily producing milk. He decided to bathe a Linga (also spelt as lingam) with the milk as part of his daily worship. Appalled by this apparent waste, the villagers complained to his father, who went to the field, cursed the boy, and kicked the Linga (also spelt as lingam) over. At this affront to Lord Shiva, Chandesha cut off his father's leg with an axe; he is shown at the feet of Lord Shiva and Parvati, who have garlanded him.
Another panel shows a man who frequently gave food to Lord Shiva's devotees. When his wife was reluctant to welcome and wash the feet of a mendicant who had previously been their servant, he cut off her hands. Elsewhere, a Pallava queen has her nose cut off for inadvertently smelling a flower, rendering it useless as an offering to Lord Shiva. The last panel shows the saint Sundara, who by singing a hymn to Lord Shiva, rescued a child who had been swallowed by a crocodile.
On the lowest portions of the base, rows of 'Yalis' (mythical lions) and Ganas, the dwarf attendants of Lord Shiva, dance and play musical instruments. Surrounding the main shrine, a four-metre-wide channel, created by a very low wall, is decorated with lotus patterns and badly damaged Nandis.
Road: To reach the temple tourists can also hire a
taxi from Kumbakonam, which
is well connected by trains and buses with the different parts of the
Road:The temple is an easy 5-km bus trip (on the Thanjavur route) or bike ride southwest of Kumbakonam, Thanjavur district.
Accommodation is available at the moderate class and small budgeted hotels and lodges in Kumbakonam.