May 6, 2018

Airavateswarar Temple - Kanchipuram

Perhaps, the Pallavas have gifted Kanchipuram abundantly. That might be the reason why many of the heritage marvels remain neglected in the city. Airavateswarar Temple, is one of such lesser known gems from the Pallavas.

In a busy corner on the West Raja Street, opposite to the famous Katchabeswara temple, surrounded by the crowded shops, this temple with a small entrance is located. The later period ordinary tower may not encourage anyone to enter inside and explore. But, inside this simple entrance, lies one of the most beautiful temples of the city. The taller structures around the temple make its beauty remain hidden from the outside world.

Airavat is the name of the white elephant of Indra. Airavateswarar could mean the Lord of Airavat. I am not sure about any Puranic legend that connects the presiding deity with Airavat.

The west facing temple is small and has just the sanctum and a small Mukha Mandap. The Nagara vimana is mostly destroyed and not visible from the ground level nowadays. The sanctum enshrines the Pallava period Dhara Lingam. The wall behind the Linga has the relief images of Somaskanda along with Brahma and Vishnu. The panel is surrounded by Dwarapalas on either sides. The north and south walls inside the sanctum have the images of  the Devas. (There are few other temples in this city where such figures are found on either sides of Somaskanda. I personally think that the Devas are present at one side and the group on the other side must be Asuras. There are differences in the facial features between both the groups.)

The lintel of the sanctum entrance has the relief image of Ganesha. Even above that, the Bhuta Mala (group of miniature images of Bhutas) is found. The entrance has Dwarapalas on either sides.

The Mukha Mandap has only two sculptures.

The south facing interior wall of the Mukha Mandap has Urdhava Tandav Murti. He has six arms and holds various weapons in his arms. His right leg is raised towards upside. Uma is found standing in a stylish posture to his left side. Few Ganas are also found here and there. The restoration work has spoiled some of the fine features of this sculpture.

The north facing interior wall of the Mukha Mandap has the rare depiction of Shiva as Chakra Dana Murti. He is seated along with his consort Uma. The lower portion of the panel depicts Vishnu in Anjali Mudra. He has six arms and knelt down to perform poojas to Daivika Lingam. The scholars might differ from me. But, I personally think that this panel depicts two different sequences. The lower portion depicts Vishnu performing pooja to Shiv Linga. The upper portion depicts Shiva with Uma, appearing in person to Vishnu. There is that third figure standing with his arms folded. I think this is also Vishnu. Here, he is shown merely with two arms, to depict his humbleness to receive the gift (discus) from the Lord.

The mandap is supported by two vyla pilasters. The entrance of the Mukha Mandap too has two Dwarapalas. The relief images of Ganesha are found above both the Dwarapalas.  The lintel has the series of Bhuta in different forms.

Facing towards the sanctum, the Nandi Mandap and small bali peetha are located. They are not as old as the main structure.

Sculptures on the outer walls

There are few sculptures on the outer walls of the sanctum and Mukha Mandap. Let me give the details of each and every sculpture found here.

Sculptures on the north wall

If we circumambulate the temple, the first sculpture found is Durga. She is seated on lion.  Her right leg rests on the ground and left leg is folded stylishly on the lion. There are few figures around her; two birds on the top and an elephant below.

The next panel depicts Shiva with bow, called as Tripurantaka. Brahma is found next to him, in Anjali Mudra. A Dwarapala is also found next to Brahma. This panel is partly damaged. The other part of the panel is completely lost. I presume Vishnu must have been there originally. Now, we find a modern day Brahma as the niche image instead.

The next sculpture is Kala Samhara Murti. This is badly damaged. Kala or the lower half of Samhara Murti is not found. Only the eroded upper portion of the sculpture exists. A Dwarapala is found next to him.

A sub-shrine with the later period Chandikeshwara is also found opposite to Durga.

Sculptures on the east wall

The sculptures on the east wall are completely gone. A newly made Naga devta is found in a niche. Definitely, the original temple would not have Naga devta as the Koshta image.

Sculptures on the south wall

The sculptures on the southern exterior wall are also very badly damaged. One of the partially eroded image is Bhikshatana Murti. Uma is found next to him. It appears somewhat disconnected.

One Dwarapala and a divine figure in Anjali Mudra are partially visible. I presume this portion of the wall must have originally had Lingodbhava, with Brahma and Vishnu on either sides. But, there is no way that we could confirm that.

Totally six standing lions (vyalas) are found across these three walls.

Let me wish that at least the remaining sculptures be protected in the future.

Happy travelling.

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