Temples History

Origin of temples in South India is entwined in mythology and recorded history. Many temples were established by Gods themselves, or even before the Gods! The famous 129th anuvaka in Chapter 10 of Rg Veda, proclaims,

But, after all, who knows, and who can say whence it all came, and how creation happened? The gods themselves are later than creation, so who knows truly whence it has arisen?

What is however clear is that all great temples were expanded and enhanced over centuries.

For example, Sangam literature (300 BCE) talks of Vidivelvidigu Perumtaccan as directing the renovation of the Sri Sabhanayagar temple in Chidambaram (Chit Ambalam, temple of consciousness)! Later additions and enhancements were made to the temple complex, by successive dynasties of Pallavas, Chozhas, Pandiyas, Cheras and the Rayars of Vijayanagar. The evolution of the temple complex as it exists to-day can be traced from Paranthaka Chozhan (907 – 950 CE) who laid the golden tiles we see to-day, over the Chit Sabhai, to the Western Gopuram built by Krishnadevarayar of Vijayanagar (1509 – 1542CE).

The Pallavas (550- 912CE) built the oldest of the existing temples in South India. They were the first of the dynasties to transition from earlier rock-cut temples to structural temples built with stone.

Mahendravarman I (590-630) was a royal artist! His style was the so-called cave-temple, where huge monolithic rock formation was chiseled to create exquisite temples. The temple dedicated to Brahma-Siva-Vishnu on a hill in Madagapattu off Vizhupuram – Senji road was ‘built by Mahendravarman. He also built the four ‘cave’ temples at Māmandur, Avanibhajana Pallèsvaram, the Siva temple at Siyamangalam and the Lalitānkura Pallèsvaram Temple, Tiruchirapalli – popularly called Uchi Pillayaar Kovil!

Mahendravarman also built a five-cave temple near Pallavaram. The walls are engraved with a number of his titles, Mahendravikrama, Mattavilāsa, Chettikari, Vichitra Chitta….This complex is now a Muslim Dargah.

He also built Vishnu temples, Mahendravishnugraha at Mahendravādi and Ranganāthar temple at Singavaram near Senji.

Kandasena, a general in the army of Mahendravarman built the temple popularly called Thirukazhunkundram, during the same period.

The Mamallapuram temples, Vaikhunthanathaperumal and Kailasanathar temples at Kanchipuram were built by Mahndravarman's descendants, Narasimha I, II, III and Rajasimhan during 630 – 730 CE.

The Chozhas (850 -1173) following the Pallavas, carried on the tradition, and evolved the style and architecture of temples. The Vijyalaya Choliswaram temple at Narthamalai said to be built around 860CE, during the time of Vijayalaya, the founder of the dynasty, is considered to be the first of the Chozha temples. Nāgeswara temple in Kumbakonam was built around 900CE, by Paranthaka Chozhan.

Vijayalay Choleeswaram temple, Narthamalia, Pudukottai

The greatest of the Chozha temple builders was offcourse Rararaja Chozhan ( 985-1016); and his son Rajendra Chozhan (1012- 1044). In less than the time India has been independent , in just 60 years, they built some of the most magnificent temples of Tamizhnadu, including the Tanjavur Big Temple and Gangaikondacholapuram temple.

The Airāvatheśvarar temple at Darasuram built (1160) by Raraja II and the Kampahareśvarar temple at Thirubhuvanam built (1190) by Kolothunga III are considered the epitome of Chozha aesthetics.

Copyright 2012, Temple Worshippers Society