Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Moovar Kovil||Ambal / Thayar:||–|
|Agamam:||Age (years):||Timing:||8 to 12 & 4 to 8||Parikaram:|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Kodumbalur||District:||Tiruchirappalli|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Tiruchirappalli (41 km)||Pudukkottai (45 km)|
|Karaikudi (73 km)||Dindigul (78 km)|
Sthala puranam and temple information
Much like Kumbakonam or Kanchipuram, Kodumbalur is believed to have been a temple city at one time in history, with a total of 108 temples. This ancient complex of three Siva temples from the ninth-century is a classic, living example of early and medieval Chola architecture, and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving temple structure from the that period.
This temple is not in active worship today. Some part of it is in ruins but being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. Nonetheless, it is still much visited as a tourist spot, specifically for its history and its architecture.
The temple was built by Bhooti Vikrama Kesari of the Irukkuvel clan, an ally of the Cholas and a contemporary of Aditya Chola. Bhooti Vikrama Kesari himself is believed to be the son of a Chola princess named Anupama Devi, and Irukkuvel chieftain Sambarabriman.
Silappadikaram, the Tamil Sangam classic, describes this place as a grand city, central to Tamilakam and linking the road routes of the kingdoms in the region. During Chola times, Kodumbalur was an important part of the empire, and marked the border between Chola and Pandya kingdoms, and therefore a strategic location for security. Bhooti Vikrama Kesari and his predecessors are said to have defended this territory and the borders extremely well, leading to matrimonial alliances between the clan and the Cholas.
Moovar koil is the name of the place today, but based on inscriptions at the nearby Muchukundeswarar temple, this place used to be called Vikrama Kesareeswaram, after the Irukkuvel chieftain.
There are different interpretations of how and why this place is called Moovar Koil. One derives from the inscriptions here which state that the three shrines were built by Bhooti Vikrama Kesari for himself and his two wives Kattrali Devi and Nangai Varguna Perumanar. Another view is that the shrines were built to honour each of the Tevaram moovar – Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar. There is also a third, lesser known, view that the moovar referred to are the three clans that ruled in and around this region – the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. It is also regarded that some aspects of the temple follow Pallava approaches to temple architecture, since the Mutharariyars were initially vassals of the Pallavas.
The three shrines
Originally there were three separate shrines here, though only two of them remain today. The three shrines are referred to as the northern, central and southern shrine. All are built of stone, face west, and are shrines for Siva. Even today, one can see beautifully sculpted Siva Lingams inside the two remaining shrines.
The northern shrine does not exist today, though its pedestal / adishtanam remains. The central and southern shrine are almost intact today, though there are clear signs of deterioration and possibly intentional destruction of some aspects of the architecture here. Each shrine was structured as a proper Siva temple by itself, with individual garbhagrihams, Nandis, dwarapalakas, vimanams, ardha-mandapams, etc. From the remains of the complex, it appears that they may have had a common maha mandapam.
Art and architecture
The shrines are dvi-tala structures, ie, the vimanams each have two stories or levels. On the koshta walls are beautiful carvings in the niches, and these only get better as one looks further up towards the vimanam. The sculptures are considered to be among the finest specimens of Chola art, some of which are no longer in the complex, but at the Government Museums at Chennai and Pudukottai.
Carvings on the koshtam and the levels of the vimanam include representations of Siva as Ardhanareeswarar, Uma-Sahita murti (Parvati seated on Siva’s lap), Gangadhara, Kalari murti, Andhakasura, Veenadhara Dakshinamurti, Bhikshatanar, Gajasamharamurti, Tripurantakar, and Sankaranarayanar. There are also other deities such as Indra amongst the sculptures. These koshta sculptures are perhaps the finest remaining specimens of early Chola art.
On the very top of one of the shrines is a niche, in which is carved the model of the temple shrine! (Zoom into the above picture to see.)
This temple is also often regarded as the prototype for many temples in the early medieval Chola period and after, and some say this is was also one of the inspirations for Raja Raja Chola I when he built the Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar temple.
Siva as Lingadhara or Lingin
There is also a very interesting sculpture of Siva with a Lingam emerging from behind him, on which one of the Lord’s hands is placed, and Nandi is also depicted here. This representation is known as Lingadhara or Lingin. The origin of this are traced to the Siva Puranam, where Lord Krishna asks Upamanyu about who is Siva and what is a Lingam. Upamanyu’s response is that the unmanifest form of the supreme is the Lingam, and Siva is Lingin – the one who commands the Lingam. This concept is also dealt with in the Linga puranam. The concept of Lingin is also found in an inscription from the time of Mahendravarman I, the Pallava king, at the Trichy rock fort upper cave temple.
There are several inscriptions on the walls of the temple. Some of these are:
- the construction of the temple;
- genealogy of 9 generations of Irukkuvel chiefs on the south wall of the central shrine;
- description to Bhooti Vikrama Kesari’s life and reign, including mention of his adversary Veera Pandyan (if this is the same Pandya who fought Aditya Karikala II, then Bhooti Vikrama Kesari’s region would need to be dated to the later than the early medieval Cholas);
- reference to each of the wives of Bhooti Vikrama Kesari; and
- reference to another temple at a place called Tiruppudeeswaram (which has been concluded by experts, including Kudavasal SR Balasubramanian sir) as being different from the Muchukundeswarar temple, and grant of land to that temple (in all likelihood, the Tiruppudeeswaram temple no longer exists).
A more detailed expert study of the history of this place is available online, here.
This temple is reckoned as one of only four early temples of its time and age, the others being the Koranganatha temple near Trichy, Nageswarar temple at Kumbakonam, and the Alanthurainathar / Brahmapureeswarar temple at Tirupullamangai.
The antiquity of the temple is traced back to the very beginning of the medieval Cholas, as evidenced by the Vritta-sphutikas (circular pilasters with circular shafts on all sides) on the vimanams. This feature is seen in only a handful of temples today, such as the Thillaisthanam Neiyyadiappar temple, Tiruppatur Tiruthalinathar temple, Tribhuvanam Kampahareswarar temple, and some of the temples in the Narthamalai temple complex in Pudukottai.
Readers of Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan will immediately recall Kodumbalur as the birthplace of Vanathi, daughter of the Kodumbalur Velir (local king / chieftain), who later became the first wife of Raja Raja Chola I. Vanathi is mentioned in the story, as the niece of Bhooti Vikrama Kesari.
Other information for your visit
A very short distance to the east, is the Muchukundeswarar temple for Siva, which is as old as the Moovar Koil temple complex. However, this is a full-fledged, if small, Siva temple, from the early Chola period. There is also believed to have existed an Aivar Koil (temple for five), in honour of the Pandavas in the Mahabharatam, who are believed to have lived here for some time during their exile period.