In Walajabad taluk of Kanchipuram district, there is a beautiful village called Thenneri.
The village has been inhabited since prehistoric times.
Researchers have found evidence for the presence of humans in prehistoric times in what is now 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, which is the current name of the village.
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Two old Sivan temples in Kanchipuram district’s Thenneri
There are two historical temples for God Sivan in Thenneri.
The Sivan temple a bit outside the village, originally known as Uttama Chola Eswaram, is now called Kanthaleeswarar. The Sivan temple inside the village is now called Abathsahaayeswarar.
In this article, we will look at the former.
Architecture of Uttama Chola Eswaram
The Kanthaleeswarar or Uttama Chola Eswaram is an east-facing temple. It has a garbhagriham (sanctum sanctorum) with an ardhamandapam (half pavilion).
The vimanam (shikaram) above the garbagriham is made of brick and stucco. There are sculptures of three Gods in the koshtams (niches) in the garbagriham — Dakshinamoorthy in the south koshtam, Vishnu in the west, and Brahma in the north.
While there are three koshtams in the ardhamandapam too, only the southern niche has the sculpture of a deity — Durga — while the other koshtams in the north and west are empty now.
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Uttama Chola Eswarathu Azhwar and other inscriptions
There are five inscriptions in the Thenneri temple.
Four of the inscriptions in the Uttama Chola Eswaram temple belong to the period of Raja Raja Chola. The other inscription is from the time of Veera Rajendra, grandson of Raja Raja.
The name of the village in the inscriptions is the ‘thankootru Uttama Chola Chaturvedi Mangalam’. The use of the word ‘thankootru’ shows the village was directly under the ruler.
In a Raja Raja Chola period inscription, the main deity of this temple is called Sri Uttama Chola Eswarathu Azhwar.
In the Veera Rajendra period inscription, the deity is referred to as Uttama Chola Eswaramudaiyaar.
The earliest inscription in this Thenneri temple belongs to the 11th year of the reign of Raja Raja Chola (996 CE). Present on the southern wall of the temple, this inscription notes that Sembiyan Mahadevi, the queen of Gandaraditya Chola and mother of Uttama Chola, donated land to the temple named after her son and also gave the copper vessels needed for worship there.
An inscription on the north wall of the Uttama Chola Eswaram temple belongs to the 231st day of the 12th year of the reign of Raja Raja Chola (997 CE).
This inscription says that the sabha of the Uttama Chola Chaturvedimangalam met at the Sri Mummudi Chola Vinnagara Azhwar temple — Mummudi Chola being one of Raja Raja’s titles — and took some decisions.
On the north wall of the temple, there is another inscription from the period of Raja Raja Chola. It notes that during the 17th year of ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ Raja Raja’s reign (1002 CE), Veerachola Suriyan, who worked for Udaiya Piratti Sembiyan Mahadevi, donated 45 goats to the deity of Uttama Chola Eswaram for the burning of a perpetual lamp.
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Tax on agri income during Chola era
On the same north wall, there is another inscription belonging to Raja Raja Chola’s period. It says that on the 154th day of the 20th year of his reign (1005 CE), the sabha of the village gathered and took some decisions over taxing the betel nut and banana trees growing there.
For betel net, the growers had to pay half the tax for the first 10 years. After that, the full tax amount had to be paid. In the case of bananas, half the tax amount had to be paid till the fruit cluster appeared and the full amount after that.
The inscription also gives the name of the person who engraved it on the orders of the sabha. His name was Thachan Saathan Aayirathenma Aasari (தச்சன் சாத்தன் ஆயிரத்தெண்ம ஆசாரி).
Chola Nataraja in Thenneri, Kanchipuram
As mentioned earlier, there is one inscription in the temple from the period of Virarajendra Chola. It belongs to the fourth year of his reign (1067 CE).
It notes that Thiruvekamban Aadalvalaanaaraana Jayasingakulakaala Vizhuparayar (திருவேகம்பன் ஆடவலானாரான ஜயசிங்ககுலகால விழுப்பரையர்) belonged to the village of Kurugadi in Kizhar subdivision of Nithya Vinoda division in the Chola kingdom (சோழ மண்டலத்து நித்தவிநோத வளநாட்டு கிழார் கூற்றம் குருகாடி ஊரை).
He gave 93 sheep to ensure that a lamp to the Nataraja in the temple was always burning. The inscription notes that two Saiva Brahmins who had the right to conduct pooja in the temple agreed to burn two perpetual lamps and also ensure that the number of sheep didn’t fall below the 93 donated (“இந்த ஆடுகளை சாவாமூவா பேராடுகளாக கைக்கொண்டு…).
The inscription also reveals that there was a Chola-era Nataraja bronze deity in the temple.
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Sembiyan Mahadevi’s sacred womb, a temple for Vishnu, & a mandapam named after Raja Raja Chola
1) “… Sri Gandaraditya Thevar Nampirattiyar Prandhagan Maathevadigalaaraana Sembiyan Mahadeviyar Kandan Madurantaka Devarana Sri Uttama Chola Thevarai Thiruvayiru Vaaitha Udaiyapirattiyar…”
(“… ஸ்ரீகண்டராதித்ததெவர் நம்பிராட்டியார் பிரான்தகந் மாதெவடிகளாரான செம்பியன் மாஹாதெவியார் கண்டன் மதுரான்தகதெவராந ஸ்ரீ உத்தமசோழ தெவரைத் திருவயிறு வாய்த்த உடையபிராட்டியார் …”)
The above portion is from an inscription on the south wall of the temple that dates to the 11th year of Raja Raja Chola’s reign.
It is a rare inscription in the current northern Tamil Nadu region (or Thondai Mandalam in earlier times) that mentions that Sembiyan Mahadevi is the wife of Gandaraditya Chola and the mother of Uttama Chola.
The phrase “Uttama Chola Devarai Thiruvayiru Vaaitha Udaiyapirattiyar” (She who bore Madurantaka Uttama Chola in her sacred womb) reveals the respect Raja Raja had for Sembiyan Mahadevi.
2) “… Namoor Svasthisri Mummudi Chola Vinnagara Azhwar…” (“… நம்மூர் ஸ்வஸ்திஸ்ரீ ஸ்ரீமும்முடிசோழ விண்ணகராழ்வார்…”)
The above portion is from an inscription on the north wall that dates back to the 20th year of Raja Raja Chola’s reign.
Mummudi Chola is one of Raja Raja’s titles. Thus, this inscription reveals that there existed a temple for Perumal (Vishnu) in the village of Thenneri, then Uttama Chola Chaturvedimangalam, named after Raja Raja Chola (Vinnagaram in Tamil = Vishnu Griham).
This temple for Vishnu in Thenneri, then called Mummudi Chola Vinnagar, is now known by the name Kalyana Venkatesa Perumal Koil.
3) “… Namoor Brahmasthanathu Saduralai Rajarajanilai Niramba Perunguri Koodi Irundadhu” (“நம்மூர் ப்ரஹ்மஸ்தானத்து சதுராலை ராஜராஜனிலெய் நிரம்ப பெருங்குறி கூடியிருந்து…”)
This is part of the inscription on the north wall of the temple engraved in the 20th year of Raja Raja’s reign.
It shows that there was a mandapam near the centre of the village where the Perunkuri Sabhai (sabha which consisted of people from all sections of society and was administered by Brahmins) gathered. The name of the mandapam was ‘Saduralai Rajarajan’.
Other details revealed by inscriptions in Uttama Chola Eswaram
There was a silver thulaakol (weighing scale) in the village named ‘Kanchipurathu Ninran’.
In the Chola period, Thenneri was a part of the Ootrukaadu Kottam of Jayamkonda Cholamandalam.
Through the inscriptions, we learn that the shepherd community and Saiva Brahmins with the right to conduct pooja, amongst others, resided in Thenneri
There were cheris (places where people from all sections of society including merchants, Brahmins, Vellalas, shepherds, et al., lived) in Thenneri named after Uttama Chola, Sembiyan Mahadevi, and Mummudi Chola, one Raja Raja Chola’s titles .
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 Uttama Chola Eswaram temple in Thenneri 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.
For the location of the Uttama Chola Eswaram temple, click here.
When is the temple open?
The temple is under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
The opening and closing times of the temple are not fixed. The key of the outside gate is with a person living nearby and their contact details will be updated once the author gets them.
While not encouraging the practice, the author notes that many people just scale the outside gate that is often closed. While the garbagriham will still be closed, one can thus still view the exterior of the temple with the sculptures, inscriptions, etc.
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(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)
(Translated from Tamil by Prasanna RS. The Tamil version of this article will be published soon)