Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Vijayalaya Chozheeswarar||Ambal / Thayar:||–|
|Timing:||to & to||Parikaram:|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Narthamalai||District:||Pudukkottai|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Pudukkottai (19 km)||Tiruchirappalli (41 km)|
|Karaikudi (59 km)||Thanjavur (64 km)|
Sthala puranam and temple information
Vijayalaya Chozheeswaram is the name given to the temple for Siva as Chozheeswarar, and is also used to refer to the cluster of temples in this part of Pudukkottai, called Narthamalai. This spectacular temple complex comprises the main west-facing Vijayalaya Chozheeswaram, the east-facing Pazhiyili Easwaram that lies opposite (a rock-cut temple featuring 12 murtis of Vishnu, also called Pathinenbhoomi Vinnagaram), and the Jurahareswarar temple that is located inside the waterbody on the hillock. There are also some Jaina temples and Jain beds on this hill, as well as two rock-cut temples featuring 12 murtis of Vishnu (Pathinenbhoomi Vinnagaram). However, in this post we’ll focus on Vijayalaya Chozheeswaram.
This temple is famous almost exclusively as an architectural masterpiece and so has no sthala puranam as such. But the history of this temple and its several architectural aspects are absolutely fascinating.
Narthamalai is a corruption of an earlier name – Nagarathar Malai – due to the place being inhabited by members of the Nagarathar community. In the past, the place has also had various other names, including Malai Kadambur, Telungu Kulakala Puram and Kulothunga Chola Puram.
Despite its name, neither the temple nor this place traces its origins to the Chola period. Instead, during the 7th-9th century CE, when this temple was built, this place was ruled by the Muttaraiyars (Muthurajars), a powerful local dynasty, who were a feudatory of the Pallavas. Later, the area was captured by the Cholas, and the Muttaraiyars shifted their allegiance to the new rulers. The temple was, however, later significantly expanded by the Cholas in the 9th and 10th century, and the place was also renamed Vijayalaya Chozheeswaram, in honour of Vijayalaya Chola, the founder of the Chola empire.
Today, the temple is in active worship, inasmuch as there is a daily opening of the doors and puja being performed. However, it is visited less for the religious aspect, and far more for its cultural and architectural prominence.
There are varied stories as to the building of the original temple. One is that it was built by a Muttaraiyar lieutenant named Sattan Pazhiyili (after whom the Pazhiyili Easwaram Siva cave temple is named), and is dated to 862 CE, the 7th regnal year of the Pallava King Nrupatunga Varman. However, according to another version, the builder was Ilango Adi Arayan, also called Semboodhi. It may also be that Semboodhi was another name for Sattan Pazhiyili.
The temple itself stands as a precursor to Chola temple building, and given the overlap of timelines, may well be regarded as an early example of the Chola style of temple building (for this purpose, Chola being more in relation to the geographical area rather than dynastic rule). Most importantly, the architecture here is absolutely and splendidly breath-taking!
The entire temple is made of granite and has seen several rebuildings and renovations over the centuries. While most of these were during the Chola period, one also finds Nayak period paintings inside the temple. Most recently, the Archaeological Survey of India restored parts of the temple and, indeed, the temple continues to be an ASI site today. For this reason, some of the sculptures – particularly of Siva with Parvati (Uma Sahita Murti) and Veenadhara Dakshinamurti, which belonged to the griva (upper portion of the vimanam) are now in the Pudukkottai museum.
Interestingly, the first two tiers of the three-tiered vimanam are square, while the third is circular (as are the griva and shikhara). This seems to be a comingling of the Nagara and Vesara styles, and perhaps one of the very rare examples of such construction. This is also interesting because the interior of the temple is also similarly designed – the garbhagriham itself has a circular outer wall, but there is a small circumambulatory passage between the garbhagriham wall and the main wall of the temple, the latter being rectangular.
The main temple – which faces west and has a Nandi in front – is surrounded by six shrines for parivara devatas, though at one time, there were eight such shrines. These six shrines are not as well maintained as the main shrine and so are in varying stages of upkeep / ruin.
The eight shrines are/were for Chandran (east), Suryan (south), Sapta matrikas (south), Vinayakar (South-west) Murugan (West), Jyeshtha Devi (north-west), Chandikeswarar (North) and Bhairavar (North-east). Of these, the shrine for the Satpa Matrikas is a bit longer, due to the requirement to accommodate the seven matrika vigrahams. Of course, today all of these shrines are empty. The original occupants of these shrines, as above, is based on the architecture of the shrines themselves as well as their location in relation to the main temple. However, some of these are quite obviously different from the normal arrangements we see at most Siva temples – particularly the sapta matrikas and Murugan shrines.
The walk up to this temple is entirely on the hillock, with very few steps provided. Therefore, it is highly recommended that one wears footwear suited for such climbing. The total climb will take about 25 minutes for a person of average fitness.
One can get an even better, almost aerial, view of the temple, by climbing up (above the Siva cave temple, in effect). This is a further 5-minute climb, but presents fantastic views!
Other information for your visit
Being an ASI site, the temple does not open until around 9 or 10 am, and is typically closed on Sundays. However, this place is best experienced first thing in the morning, so it is advisable to reach early and enjoy the architecture etc, while the solitude lasts. One can always come back later in the day if so desired, when the temple may be open inside.