In the previous article, we saw in detail about the Uttama Chola Eswaram temple in Thenneri, its architecture and inscriptions there. Now we will look at the bigger Chola temple for Sivan within the village of Tenneri, the Anantiswarar or Aapathsagayeswarar as it is called now.
Although an inscription of Vira Rajendra Chola, grandson of Rajaraja, has been found in the Aapathsagayeswarar, this speaks about the donation to the Lord of another nearby temple. Since the earliest inscription found here is of the period of Kulothunga Chola I, we can infer that this stone temple in Thenneri for Sivan was likely constructed during the period of this ruler.
Architecture of Kulothunga Chola period temple in Thenneri
The sanctum sanctorum of this east-facing Thenneri temple is square in shape.
The vimana above the sanctum is built in the Gajaprishta style.
In Sanskrit, Gaja means elephant and Prishta, the back. The structure resembles the back of an elephant, hence the name. This is an art style almost unique to the Thondaimandalam (current northern Tamil Nadu) region.
In the koshtams or niches, there are sculptures of Pillaiyar or Ganesha, and Dakshinamoorthy (both south), Vishnu (west), and Brahma and Durga (both north).
On top of these niches, there are beautiful miniature sculptures in makara toranas.
12 inscriptions in larger temple for Sivan in Thenneri
A total of 12 inscriptions from the Chola to the Pandya and Vijayanagara periods are found in this temple.
The inscriptions were issued in the time of the following rulers: Virarajendra Chola I (one inscription), Kulothunga Chola I (three), Rajadhiraja Chola II (one), Kulothunga Chola III (2), Sadayavarman or Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan 1 (two), Sambuvarayar (one), and Vijayanagara (one) along with one miscellaneous inscription.
We will look at some of the important details in them.
Village named after Kulothunga Chola
We saw in the article on Uttama Chola Eswaram in Thenneri that the village was called ‘Uttama Chola Chaturvedimangalam’ during the period of Raja Raja Chola (985–1014 CE).
By the time of Kulothunga Chola I (1070–1120 CE), the village of Thenneri was known as ‘Sri Kulothunga Chola Chaturvedimangalam’, which we can see in inscriptions issued during his rule.
In an inscription of the fifth regnal year of Kulothunga Chola III (1178–1218 CE), the name of the town is ‘Thirayaneri ana (திரையநெரி ஆன) Kulothunga Chola Chaturvedimangalam’.
In other inscriptions, the name is ‘Thirayanurana Sri Kulothunga Chola Chaturvedimangalam’.
Also read: Who are Uttama Chola & Sembiyan Mahadevi? Ponniyin Selvan: A not-so-beginner’s guide
Name of the temple in inscriptions
In an inscription of Kulothunga Chola I, the name of the Lord of this temple is ‘Thiru Anantiswaram Udaya Mahadevar’.
An inscription of Rajadhiraja Chola II (1163–1178 CE) calls the deity ‘Aaludayar Thiru Anantiswaram Udayar’.
An inscription of Kulothunga Chola III says ‘Tiru Ananticharam Udayar’.
An inscription of Jatavaraman Sundara Pandyan I (1251–1271 CE) says ‘Udayar Thiru Anantichuramudaya Nayanar’.
Inscriptions from period of Kulothunga Chola: Donation of 12 goats by a servant woman
The earliest inscription is dated to the 33rd regnal year (1103 CE) of Kulothunga Chola I. In this inscription on the south wall of the sanctum sanctorum, it is revealed that a person named Ayyanseriudayan Devan Thiruvallamudayanana Rajadhitha Villupparaiyan (ஐய்யன்செரியுடையான் தேவன் திருவல்லமுடையானான ராஜாதித்த விழுப்பரையன்) gave the necessary donations for the Thirupalliyezhuchi Pooja.
On the same southern wall, there is an inscription from the 36th regnal year (1106 CE) of Kulothunga Chola I, which begins with the prasasti (meikeerthi) ‘Pugal Madhu Vilanga Jayamadhu Virumba Nilamagal Nilava Malarmagal Punara’ (புகழ்மாது விளங்க சயமாது விரும்ப நிலமகள் நிலவ மலர்மகள் புணர…)
(A meikeerthi is a poem describing the ruler’s abilities and achievements including conquests.)
A vellatti (வெள்ளாட்டி, servant woman) who lived in the same town lit a Sandhi lamp (சந்தி விளக்கு) for the Lord of this temple. For this, she gave 12 goats.
The Mahasabha of the village is said to have assured her that with these 12 goats, they will light the Sandhi lamp with 12 nazhi of ghee until the moon and the sun are there.
On the northern wall, there is an inscription from the 41st regnal year (1111 CE) of Kulothunga Chola I.
It notes that rice, paddy, ghee, firewood, salt, etc., were provided for arthasama pooja (late-hour pooja), various types of neivedanam (food offerings), Thirumanjanam (sacred bath) and Tirupathigam (Thevaram) chanters.
Merchant from Poonamallee
On the south wall, there is an inscription from the 13th year of the reign of Rajadhiraja Chola II (1176 CE).
The title for Rajadhiraja Chola II in this temple inscription mentions his victories in Madurai and Eelam (Lanka), which is relatively rare (ஈழமும் மதுரையுங் கொண்டருளின ஸ்ரீராஜாதிராஜ தெவர்க்கு யாண்டு…)
The inscription notes that a merchant Mangalakkizhan Ponnan Kaakunayagan, who lived in Poonthamallee (பூந்தமலியில் வாணிகன் மங்க[ல]ங்கிழான் பொன்[னன்] காக்[கு]நாயகனனென …) or Poonamallee — now a suburb of Chennai — had given land.
He donated the land for Amudupadi (அமுதுபடி, offering for the deity) for the Tirupalliarai Nachiyar (திருப்பள்ளியறை நாச்சியார்) who stood in this temple.
Direct order of Kulothunga Chola III
On the northern wall of the mandapam in front of the sanctum sanctorum of the Thenneri temple, there is an inscription from the fifth regnal year of Kulothunga Chola III (1183 CE) that begins with the meikeerthi ‘Poomevi Maruviya Tirupponmadhu Punarndhu Thidanmevu Kalaimagalum …’ (பூமேவி மருவிய திருப்பொன்மனது புணர்ந்து திடன்மேவு கலைமகளும் …).
This inscription, which received the direct order of the king, tells us about the offerings given to the temple’s madaivilaagam (மடைவிளாகம்). Madaivilaagam is the surrounding area of the temple.
On the eastern wall of the hall, there is an inscription dated to the 23rd regnal year (1201 CE) of Kulothunga Chola III.
It notes that a person named Malaikudaiyaan Padampakkanayakan (மலைக்குடையான் படம்ப[க்]கநாயகன்) of Peruvenpaakam (பெருவெண்பாக்கம்) gave two cows and a calf to the Mahadeva of Thiru Ananticharam for burning a Sandhi lamp.
Two Saiva Brahmins who have the right to perform puja in this temple have agreed that they would get these two cows and a calf and light the lamp. These two can be known from the inscriptions as brothers.
Inscriptions from the time of Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan
On the south wall of the same hall, there is an inscription from the 12th regnal year (1263 CE) of Jatavaraman Sundara Pandyan I with the title ‘Emmandalamum Kondaruliya …’ (எ[ம்]மண்டலமும் கொண்டருளி[ய] …).
The lands that were given to the Lord as a charity before Sundara Pandya’s time were confirmed then by the mahasabha of this town.
Also read: Arittapatti, village near Madurai with a 2,100-year-old inscription, Pandya cave temple, and more
On the same south wall of the hall, there is an inscription from the 14th year of the reign of the same ruler, Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I (1265 CE).
It begins with ‘Svasthisri Kochadaipanmaraana Tribhuvanachakravarthigal Sri Sundara Pandya Devarku…’ (ஸ்வஸ்திஸ்ரீ கொச்சடைபன்மரான திரிபுவனச்சக்கரவத்திகள் [ஸ்ரீ] சுந்தரபாண்டியதெவற்கு…)
The inscription notes that for an utsavam of the Natavarom Perumal (நாடவரொம் பெருமாள்) image — could be a trident stone — in the temple on the sacred day of the Tamil month of Aadi, land was given as a gift.
Sambuvarayar inscription and land given to a sculptor
There is an inscription of the Sambuvarayars without the king’s name (which would imply that the former chieftains under Cholas started ruling directly) on the south wall of the same hall.
Based on the style of the script used, the inscription could be assigned to the early 14th century. This inscription tells us that land was given as a gift to the Lord of this temple.
An inscription without the name of any ruler is found on the northern wall of the sanctum sanctorum. It is noted that two hundred kuzhi of land were given to the sculptor Anuthari (சி[ற்]பாசாரி அனுதாரி) who made the Pallaku Sokkar (பல்லக்கு சொக்கர்) bronze idol and its pedestals free of charge.
This inscription was engraved on the eleventh day of the month of Aippasi in the Sarvasiti year.
Gift to another temple
An inscription of Virarajendra Chola is found on the southern wall of the sanctum sanctorum. The year of the inscription is not known as that part is now destroyed.
It tells us about the gift of lands to Thirukadambanthurai Udayar temple, which was in another place.
The Virarajendra Chola inscription mentions that Thirukadambanthurai Udayar temple is located in Pulivala Nadu (country) in Kaliyur region (Kottam) (காலியூர்கொட்டத்து புலிவலநாட்டு…). of Jayamkonda Cholamandalam.
But we know from other inscriptions, both from before and after Virarajendra’s time, that the Thiru Anantiswaram Mahadevar temple is located in Thirayanur in Ootrukaadu region.
This is enough evidence for us to confirm that this Sivan temple in Thenneri has no connection to this particular inscription.
It is not certain why this inscription is placed here. It seems that it may have been placed here as a copy of an inscription in the Kadambanthurai Udayar temple (South Indian Inscriptions, Volume 7, No. 439).
Gandaraditya canal, Sembiyanmadevi canal, …
The inscriptions show that Saiva Brahmanas who had the right to perform puja, Tirupathigam (Thevaram) singers, Kanakans (accountants), Karanathans (members of the judicial council), et al., were residents of the village.
One vellatti (servant woman) involved herself in temple work, as we saw in a Kulothunga Chola I inscription in the temple.
It is known that there were canals such as:
‘Kandaradhicha canal’, named after the Chola ruler Gandaraditya, elder brother of Rajaraja’s grandfather Arinjaya [கண்டரா[தி]ச்சவாய்க்காலுக்கு…, mentioned in a Kulothung Chola I period inscription on the south wall of the sanctum sanctorum]
‘Sembiyanmadevi canal’, named after Gandaradtiya’s queen Sembiyan Mahadevi ([செ]ம்பியன்மாதெவிவாய்க்காலுக்கு…, Rajadhiraja Chola II inscription on the south wall of the sanctum sanctorum), and
‘Mummudi Chola Canal’, named after one of Rajaraja’s titles, Mummudi Chola. It is mentioned in a Kulothunga Chola I inscription on the north wall of the main shrine and also in a Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan period inscription on the south wall of the mandapam in front of the temple.
Also read: Venkayya, the scholar who rediscovered ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ Raja Raja Chola
Thenneri lake named after Rajaraja Chola
Also, an inscription from the Kulothunga Chola I period on the south wall of the main shrine notes that a lake has the name ‘Mummudi Chola Pereri’ (மும்முடிசொழப்பெரெரி). This must have been the present-day Thenneri lake.
As noted in the previous article, researchers have found evidence for the presence of humans in prehistoric times in the vast Thenneri lake.
During the Sangam age, the region was ruled by Thiraiyan and the lake, likely built by him, was known as Thiraiyan Eri. The name of the lake Thiraiyan Eri, over time, has changed to Thenneri, the current name of the village.
The area surrounding the temple is called Madaivilaagam (மடைவிளாகம்), as noted earlier. There was one such area in Thenneri that then had the name ‘Thiruneetrucholan Madaivilaagam’.
Both Kulothunga Chola I and Kulothunga Chola II had the title ‘Thiruneetrucholan’.
Thiyagavalli, chief queen of Kulothunga Chola I
The village of Thenneri, known at the time of the construction of the stone temple there as ‘Thirayanurana Sri Kulothunga Chola Chaturvedimangalam’, was located in Ootrukaadu Kottam of Ootrukaadu Naadu (ஊற்றுக்காட்டுக் கொட்டத்து ஊற்றுக்காடு நாடு), part of Jayamkonda Cholamandalam.
The area where the village was located was also known as Thiyagavalli Valanaadu (தியாகவல்லி வளநாடடு) of Ootrukaadu Kottam. Thiyagavalli was the chief queen of Kulothunga Chola I.
Was the larger Sivan temple in Thenneri of the late Pallava period?
Based on the temple architecture and sculptural style, scholars have defined the periods of various temples in the Tamil region as Pallava period, Early Chola period, Medieval Chola period, Later Chola period, and Pandya period.
The earliest inscription related to the temple now found there is from the period of Kulothunga Chola I, so some researchers have concluded that this temple is of his time.
It is generally believed that if there is an idol of Vishnu in the west side koshtam or niche (as is the case in this temple), it must be originally of the Pallava period. In later periods, Vishnu sculptures were replaced in the western koshtams by Ardhanaari or Lingodhbhava idols.
Further, the style of the Vishnu idol in the western koshtam resembles those of the late Pallava period.
The author believes that there might have been a brick temple in this place during the Pallava period. This could have been kept as a model and rebuilt again as a granite stone temple during the Kulothunga Chola I period.
Although we cannot come to a definite conclusion based on only the inscription and style, this is certainly a strong possibility.
Also read: C Minakshi, trailblazing woman historian who unearthed the Pallavas, and much more
Reaching Thenneri temple from Chennai and other places
The temple in Thenneri is around 35 kilometres from Tambaram in south Chennai and nearly 30 km from the nearest prominent railway station — Chengalpattu.
The stone temple built in Thenneri built during the period of Kulothunga Chola I is around 20 km from Kanchipuram. The closest prominent bus stop is Walajabad, just over 8 km from Thenneri. From there, you can avail an auto to the village.
Here is the location of the Thenneri temple.
When is the temple open?
The temple is still under worship. It is now under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
It is open during the normal temple timings in the morning and evening.
Those who want to see a shrine that dates back to the period of Kulothunga Chola I, the longest-reigning Chola emperor and also the great-grandson of Rajaraja Chola I and the grandson of Rajendra Chola I, can visit the Thenneri Thiru Anantiswaram Mahadeva Temple in Thenneri.
(C Ragavendar is a history and heritage enthusiast from Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. Skilled at reading historical inscriptions and numismatics, he founded the Varalaru Virumbigal Sangam, which has currently around 21K followers on Facebook. The group has recently started conducting heritage walks in South India, mostly in Tamil Nadu)