July 28, 2013

Tanjore Rajagopala Swamy Temple aka Kali Temple - a rare temple by Nayakas and Marathas

Site Name: Kali temple aka Rajagopala temple
Site Type: Hindu temple
Location:  Tanjore city, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: Sudarshan (Chakrathalwar) is the main deity; many rare sculptures of Shivendra are found
Nearest Railway Station: Tanjore
Nearest Airport: Trichy
How to reach: Well connected by road from Trichy
Hotel: A lot of options across the entire city
Restaurants: Most of the restaurants are located near bus stand and Brahadeeswara temple; few vegetarian mess or restaurants are found in the remaining part of the city

Those who know about Thanjavur (Tanjore) city is South India know mainly about the great Brahadeeswarar Temple. However, there are many rare and interesting sites found across the entire city. Let us explore one such interesting temple which is little known. The temple which I am going to write about in this article has interestingly multiple names. People call the temple as 'Kali temple' nowadays. As the main deity of the temple is Chakrathalwar (Sudarshan) there are people who call it as 'Chakrathalwar' temple. Earlier the temple was called as Rajagopala Swamy temple. During the period of Marathas, this temple was called as 'Shivendra temple'. Let us start exploring this unique temple which was built by Nayaka kings, patronized by Marathas and recently renovated.


The temple is located in Vadakku Raja Veethi (North Main Road) in Tanjore town. The ancient temple was not in good condition for many years; recently it got renovated and kumbabhishek happened. Post that, people have started visiting this temple. However, it still remains as a little known temple. Not only this temple, even many of the historical facts about this temple also remains unknown or little known.

The temple is east facing. It has two towers (Raja Gopurams); the first tower is seven tiered and the second tower is three tiered. Both the towers are plain without any images. 

The temple has three main shrines - Chakrathalwar shrine, Kali shrine and Shivendra shrine. 

Kali Shrine

Kali shrine is located facing the south direction in the area between the two towers. Although the original temple was constructed by the Nayaka kings, this particular section of the temple was constructed by the Maratha kings. It is believed that a Maratha queen wanted to conduct a yagna to drive off the British; hence a lot of idols got installed in this temple in hurry. This particular shrine is full of idols and most of them are 6 feet to 9 feet high. Although they cannot be considered as very beautiful, many of them are rare idols. It is impossible to find such gigantic images together in a single shrine.

Baglamukhi Kali is the main deity in the shrine. She is in ferocious form with eight arms. The utsava idol of Kali is also located nearby.

The other images found in this shrine:

1) Bhairav with his consort (Kali?)
2) Shiva in the sitting posture with four arms; Parvati and Ganga on his either sides; he is called as Shivendra - a Maratha deity
3) Two soldiers on horses called as Martanda Bhairava - originally supposed to be Kandobha, a Maratha deity
4) A tall statue of Shiva Durga with four arms
5) A tall statue of Kohlapur Mahalakshmi with four arms
6) Much taller than Durga and Mahalakshmi statues - statue of Vishnu Durga with eight arms
7) Small statues of Ganga and Yamuna
8) Chamundeshwari and two other Goddesses
9) Gaja Lakshmi
10) Utsava idols of Shiva and his two consorts
11) Ganesha idol
12) Sapta Matas idols

The entire temple is called as Kali temple nowadays due to this particular shrine.

Sudarshana Shrine

Inside the main temple complex, the sanctum sanctorum which is located in the middle has a big idol of Sudarshana (Chakrathalwar) who is found along with his two consorts on his either sides. It is rare to find a temple having Sudarshana as the main deity. Also, I have never seen or heard about him having two consorts. 

The temple has inscriptions right from the period of Achuthappa Nayaka (dated 1539 CE). The Nayakas who constructed this shrine named it as Rajagopala Swamy temple. There is no records on whereabouts of the original deity Madana Gopala. It is not known why and when Sudarshana became the main deity of the temple. 

The sub-shrine of Garuda is facing the sanctum santorum.

Shivendra Shrine

The shrine that  is found in the prakara is called as Shivendra shrine; it is very interesting and unique. Like Kali shrine, this shrine was also constructed by the Maratha kings. They called the entire temple as 'Shivendra temple' and registered the temple property in the name of Shivendra.

Shivendra is a Maratha deity. He is a form of Lord Shiva; however like Maha Vishnu he carries conch and discus. It is said that he encompasses Vishnu's amsha (part). He is in the sitting posture and has four arms. On his either sides Parvati and Ganga are found in the sitting posture.

There are totally eight sets of Shivendra idols found in this shrine. Each set is of different size. Two sets of idols are very large in size. One Shivendra idol is found only with Parvati; all the remaining seven idols are found along with two consorts. Two Shivendra idols have elephants as the vaahana in front of them; one Shivendra has Rishaba and all other Shivendra idols have Nandi as the vaahanas. (Rishaba is different from Nandi; Rishaba is in the standing posture whereas Nandi is in the sitting posture). One Shivendra has third eye on his forehead.

This entire shrine is very unique and unusual. I am not sure if similar shrine is found anywhere else even in the land of Marathas. 

If you get a chance to go to Tanjore, do not miss this unique temple.

Happy travelling.


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