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VOL. XXII NO. 2, MAY 1-15, 2012
A Chola temple near Tambaram
By Chithra Madhavan

Entrance to Dhenupurishwarar Temple, Madambakkam

A view of the Mandapa at Dhenupurishwarar Temple, Madambakkam.

One among the numerous monuments under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India in and around Chennai is the historic Dhenupurishwarar temple in Madambakkam, close to Tambaram. It is a temple dating back to Chola times and much enlarged in the subsequent Vijayanagara era. Walking into the temple is like going back in time.

The entrance is through a half-completed gopuram of Vijayanagara workmanship. Most visitors hurrying in and out of this monument miss seeing the intricate carvings on the sides and the ceiling of this entrance gateway. If we stood and looked, it would be our mute tribute to the unnamed artisans of the 15-16th Centuries who sculpted such minute designs and figures on the hard granite ceiling more than twenty feet high. Passing through this gopuram, you see a multi-pillared mandapam in which each stone pillar is studded with many superb sculptures of deities.

It is interesting to know that the most ancient inscription in Madambakkam was not found in the temple, but dug out from the backyard of a house of one of the residents of the village. This stone slab, already damaged when discovered, has an inscription in the Tamil language and script of the Chola times (10th Century C.E.). It records a grant of land for Siva, the presiding deity of this temple, known in those days as Sittreri Mahadeva.

Walking through the inner circumambulatory passage of the temple around the apsidal-shaped main sanctum is a delight for historians, archaeologists and heritage-enthusiasts since there are numerous epigraphs to be seen on the north, south and west outer walls of the shrine. Neatly etched in Tamil script of the Chola and Vijayanagara times, these records, which register donations of land, livestock and other details, are a mine of information for understanding the past. The Chola epigraphs here are dated to the kings of the 13th Century C.E., like Kulottunga III and Rajaraja III. Of Vijayanagara times, there are a number of inscriptions of Emperor Mallikarjuna (15th Century C.E.) whose lithic records have also been found in Tirumullaivayil and Kunnattur and also of Sadasiva Raya (16th Century C.E.), during whose reign the sack of the glorious city of Vijayanagara (present-day Hampi) took place. In Chennai, an inscription of the time of this emperor is found in the Parthasarathi temple in Tiruvallikeni.

Going around the sanctum for Goddess Parvati, enshrined here as Dhenukambal, is equally rewarding as there are records on the walls belonging to the reign of the illustrious emperor Jatavarman Sundara Pandya (1251-1268 C.E.), inscribed in the 13th Century Tamil letters. It was this heroic monarch who transformed the Pandyan kingdom into an empire of which the territory now known as Chennai was a part.

Madambakkam was known in the Chola days as Ulaguyyavanda-Chola-Chaturvedimangalam. It was situated in the ancient territorial sub-division of Nedukundra-Nadu, in Puliyur-kottam aka Kulottunga-Chola-Valanadu, a subdivision of Jayamkonda-Chola-mandalam. The fact that Madambakkam was also known as Anidhira Mangalam is gathered from a Chola inscription found in the Nitya Kalyana Perumal temple at Tiruvidandai (another A.S.I. protected historic temple) on the East Coast Road which records a donation of gold to the sabha (administrative organisation of a village) at Anidhira Mangalam alias Madambakkam. From its interest earning they agreed to supply a certain amount of ghee every day for a lamp in the Tiruvidandai temple.

A polished granite slab near the main gopuram of the Madambakkam temple, donated by a philanthropist in the recent past, has the accurate details of the history of this temple neatly etched in English and Tamil. A worthy donation indeed, as it helps visitors realise they are in a historic site more than a thousand years old.

It is a delight to visit this ancient Siva temple in Madambakkam. Not only is it spick and span, the centuries-old gopuram, mandapams and sanctums have been restored from their damaged condition with much care and dedication. Moreover, the inscriptions have been superbly preserved, unlike many that have been obliterated in various other temples in Chennai in the name of renovation.

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An exchange of letters
Perambur Railway Hospital - A remarkable journey to excellence
An Old Boy's advice
METERPODU – A work in progress
The economist as a Shakespearean scholar
A Chola temple near Tambaram

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