Fascinated by the Chola-n architecture, we visited the Tanjore Brihadeeswara temple and that happened to be the catalyst for us to explore the great living Chola temples along the Cauvery belt. Yet another time we packed our bags and steered the car along the Chennai- Trichy highway, to reach Darasuram. En-route,we visited the Thillai Chidambaram temple and halted for the night’s rest.
Chidambaram to Darasuram is roughly 80 kilometers and an early start helped us reach Darasuram around 8 in the morning. The road from Chidambaram to Darasuram is a narrow strip , with tiny villages showing up every now and then. We fully relied on the google maps and found no difficulty in spotting the temple which is pretty much within the tiny town of Darasuram .
The first sight of the temple gave us immense joy.
Raja Chola-2 during the 11 th century ,the king had designed every single piece to full-fill the wish of a cow-herdess to have a temple in her village. Surrounded by lush green lawn, the temple is maintained by the Archaeological Survey Of India. The main temple entry, the ‘mahadwaram’ looks ruined. As you walk a few 100 meters from the mahadwaram comes the ‘nandi’ statue. Right behind the nandi,there is the musical staircase that is said to emanate musical notes when one taps.It is now preserved and protected inside an iron cage.
We took off the footwear and walked along the stone paved path towards the main complex of the temple. The moment we stepped in, we were engrossed in the architectural marvel and the silence that prevailed. Except for the occasional moos of the cows and the chirp of the birds, there was not a single disturbance and the morning December weather was favorable for a stroll.
The main ‘mandapam’ that houses the inner sanctum is carved in the form of a ‘ratha’ (Chariot) and horses.We visited the ‘garbagriha’ to seek blessings from the ageless shiva lingam and that is when we noticed the pillars supporting the ‘mandapam’ were engraved with intricate patterns,depicting stories from the Indian mythology, dance and yoga forms.
Not just the pillars, the roofs had intricate carvings and one has to see to believe the beauty in those timeless artwork. The mandapam and the pillars are real storehouse of sculptures and architecture that one just can’t get enough of it.
The Brihadeeshwar temples at Tanjore and Gangaikondacholapuram makes you crane your neck to get a full view of the ‘vimanam’ where as the Airavateshwar temple makes you drop your jaw in awe for its detailed,miniaturized carvings. Miniature because, the carvings are laid out on the the monolithic stones and each carving not measuring more than 5 inches.
The outer ‘praharam’ has shelter like structures along the perimeter, a part of which has been destroyed during the pre-British era.The pillars of the shelter reflects symmetry and you are sure to be visually illuded. The windows on the pillared ‘mandapam’ are mind-blowing with designs engraved intricately.
This temple is over-spilled with the sculptures of a mythical creature called “Yazhi”(pronounced as ya-lee). These are a mix of lion face and a horse/ snake torso. The lion was the royal insignia of the Pallavas and they immortalized the yazhis .When found in abundance in this Chola temple,we lost track of where our imaginations were taking us. Were Yazhis really found in the nearby jungles as ferocious creatures and then became extinct or was it an animal that emerged out of a concoction of fantasy and fiction ?Were they installed to ward off the evil powers or were they to symbolize strength and as guardians?
Pondering over the mythical creatures and the other sculptures, we walked around the square-planned temple premise and finally sat down, resting our backs on one of the pillars.What once used to be a complex with bustling religious activities and trade , is now a spot for wanderers and school students!
Our ancient kings were not mere rulers waging bloody wars and conquering lands , but great men with vision who etched marvels on the sands of time. Marvel is really an understatement in case of the great living Chola temples.