Something old, something different
KUMBHAKONAM is a city of temples , there's one in every street I think ! And most of them are "living temples" . Like they say, there's no past or present in India. Its a continuum.
Of the dozens of temples here, the oldest seems to be The Nageshwara Temple . Original tamil name : Kudanthai Keezhkottam . It is associated with Sunworship and is built so as to have rays of the sun falling on the presiding lingam ( Pataala Bheejanathar or Nageswara) on certain auspicious days. It dates from the time of Paranthaka Chozhan ( 910 AD) A fortress like complex, it has various shrines, big and small, within its enclosure. The front Gopuram of average size is over crowded with figures, both religious and secular and is extremely colourful .
The central shrine is shaped like a chariot pulled by horses . The spokes in the giant wheels are all figures representing the Zodiac deities, separated by lances. Such charioit designs are found in quite a few southern temples.
The sabha-mantapam looks different from the usual kind, with walls, windows, its elephants and the guards all brightly coloured like new wooden toys !
Another striking feature is the imagery on the outer walls of the central shrine. Among the dense stone inscriptions are niches with sculpted figures that are not of any deities . They are of fine early Chozha workmanship and are portraits of unknown patrons who must have endowed the shrine. The faces and clothing show features seen in ancient Ceylonese or Far-east sculptures. I found them fascinating and intriguing.
Two of the many unknown patrons :
( Note the lady's red lips. Cannot say if it was originally painted so, so if its the handiwork of modern day renovators )
( This man has the look of an ascetic. Perhaps he gave up everything he owned to the temple !)
( Dakshinamurthy , without the tree ; with luxuriant hairdo.)
( Brahma, looking pleased with himself. Perhaps he dint notice the modern grafitti marring the ancient inscriptions on his walls ! )
( A goblin servitor - looks unfinished)
Another unusual feature here is that the Female Village Gaurdian (Mariamma), usually put up in a secluded shrine at the edge of a town or village, resides in a "outhouse" right within this temple complex. She was the guardian of soldiers of yore , revered as Padaivetti Mariamma. ( The Vanquisher of Armies).