by Lakshmi Menon
A Beautiful Morning at Airavatesvara Temple
Airavatesvara Temple is one of the three great living temples which has UNESCO World Heritage tag located in Dharasuram, in Kumbakonam, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The other two temples are Brihadeeswarar temple and Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple (Gangaikondacholesvaram temple) Airavatesvara Temple is an ancient temple built by the famous Chola king Raja Raja Chola II in the 12th century. This beautiful temple is a stone temple with many carvings and inscriptions. Here, Lord shiva is worshipped by Airavata, the white elephant of the King of the Devars. According to one story, Yama, the King of Death, was cursed by a rishi and suffered from constant burning sensation. He took bath in the sacred tank here and got rid of his curse and hence the tank has been known as Yamateertham.
As I walk around I marvelled at the stunning architecture of this beautiful ancient temple. It is one of the most beautiful architectural creations of Chola dynasty. The renovation of the shrines was done by Kulottunga Chola III. The main tower is 80 feet in height. There is a big mantap which is in the form of a chariot with large stone wheels and drawn by horses. This is called called Rajagambhira mandapa which has intricately carved wheels with spokes and hubs. The pillars and ceiling of this mandapa have intricate carvings of Siva, Parvati, Ganesa and a host of other deities, and also of dancers in different poses and musicians playing on various instruments.
There are about 108 inscriptions about the lives and principles of Shaivaite saints in the temple. Another inscription close to the gopura, indicates that an image was brought from Kalyani, then known as Kalyanapura by emperor Rajadhiraja Chola I after his defeat of the Western Chalukya king Someshwara I.
Goddess Parvati is worshipped in an adjacent shrine as Deivanayaki Amman.
The Airavatesvara temple was much larger than what it is now. The Nandi mandapa and the stambha are found outside of this main temple courtyard. All the Chola temples have a Shiva figure coming out of the Linga at the rear wall of the temple so does this one. Watch the Video - Airavatesvara temple visit
After touring the beautiful temple, if you are interested in buying some Kumbakonam silk saris, you can find the people around the temple, who will guide you to the weavers staying closeby and get some reasonably priced saris. we met a silk sari weaver here and bought two saris for almost half the price. ***