The Rajarajesvaram (Brihadisvara) the royal temple of the Cola monarch Rajaraja I was the greatest monumental undertaking of the Colas. The inscriptions on its walls are a veritable registry of administrative details.
The author Dr. Geeta Vasudevan has undertaken an indepth analysis of these inscription and examined the pivotal role of the royal temple in the economic, social, religious and political affairs of the empire. She convincingly puts forth the arguments that the royal temples under the middle Colas were instruments of imperial power and helped to enhance and consolidate Cola Hegemony over a vast empire extending over 1000 kms from Andhra in the north to northern Sri Lanka in the South.
The thesis is also the first serious attempt to bring out the differences between Bhakti temples and royal temples (or royal chapels of kings) the reasons the former have survived almost 1000 years as places of worship while many of the latter are languishing as archaeological monuments.
Dr. Geeta Vasudevan obtained her M.A. degree (1981) in ancient history from the centre for historical studies Jawaharlal Nehru University. She took her M. Phil and subsequently her Ph.D. (1992) from the Department of ancient history and archaeology University of Madras.
A keen scholar she has contributed to several journals and volumes on culture and history. Her essays reinterpreting existing theories on the epics have been well received.
Her commitment to the preservation of culture and history continues with her association as Director cultural Tourism with Dakshina Chitra the heritage centre near Chennai.
This book is based on my thesis entitled Royal Shrines and the growth and expansion of cola power for which I was awarded the Ph.D. degree by the madras University.
It is based on extensive research and indepth study of inscriptional data. A new interpretation to the temple as a royal temple is attempted. The royal temple as an instrument and institution of imperial cola power is illustrated through analytical and comparative study.
I am profoundly grateful to Dr. K.V. Raman (Prof. and head of the Department of ancient history and archaeology madras University) for his valuable guidance and advice at every stage in my research.
I thank the authorities of the University of Madras and ICHR for permitting me to publish my thesis.
Brahmanical Hinduism was the foremost religious of the people of South India in the middle of the first millennium A.D. It succeeded in uniting peoples of different regions and cultures and the institutions which helped in the propagation of this faith was the Hindu temple. The temple as a propagation faceted institution grew as a direct result of the Bhakti movement. This movement spearheaded by the Bhakti saints the nayanars and the alvars brought about a resurgence of temple based Brahmanical Hinduism.
The Hindu Temple as an institution was gaining importance even before the rise of the great Cola monarch Rajaraja I. it was emerging as an institution which bound the community together socially economically and through the medium of religion. Gradually the temple as the abode of the god and the palace as the abode of the king began to acquire certain common traits. These similarities grew over a period of time as did the similarity between the temple paraphernalia and royal paraphernalia and between the attendant of parivara deities of the principal deity and the royal retinue of the monarch.
Bhakti and Temple Building
The Bhakti period started during the reign of the pallavas. It was Appar the nayanar saint who converted the great Pallava king Mahendravarman to the newly resurrected Brahmanical religion. This period coincided with the withdrawal of royal patronage to non Brahmanical religions like Jainism and Buddhism. The Bhakti period saw the growth of innumerable temples to the principal gods Siva and Visnu. Some temples already existed as small brick and mortar constructions. These insignificant little temples were eulogized by the saints in their hymns the tevaram and the Divayparanandam. Miracles were attributed to the presiding deities of these temples and played of the Bhakti saints sanctified the temples and made them popular places of pilgrimage. The association of hundreds of temples with the Bhakti saints in the Tamil country is mainly responsible for their continuing sanctity even 1500 years after they were built. In the minds of the Tamil people the nayanars and the alvars continue to have a place as holy as the godhead about whom they sang.
Temple building activities thus gained momentum in the beginning of pallava rule. The pallava kings became ardent temple builders. It can be said that the pallavas were the first to build karralis or stone temples in the Tamil Country. Mahendravarman and his son and successor Narasimhavarman experimented in carving temples in stone. Most of them were simple in plan and many of these temples were not consecrated by the saints. It is no surprise then that they lost their importance with the demist of their builders. Many undertakings like the five rathas of Mammallapuram remained incomplete. These as well as other temples were not of great importance for the common man as they were not mentioned in the hymns of the Bhakti saints. The Kailasanatha temple one of the first grand stone temples built in the Tamil another grand pallava royal temple at kanci the vaikunta perumal temple continues to this day as a holy shrine because it was visited by the saint Tirumangai alvar. The pallava period also saw the codification of the agamas or the rules that were to be followed in the construction of temples and in the conduct of worship in them. However it was during the cola rule that agama worship became firmly established.
The Cola Period and Tamil Culture
The cola empire under Rajaraja I and his successors extended over the entire Tamil country including Kerala and established a pan Tamil civilization over the conquered areas. The cola empire extended over the whole of south India from coast to coast and in the north was bound by the river Tungabhadra and the Vengi frontier. (Vengi was almost an integral part of the empire between 1000 to 1150A.D). In the south Cola Hegemony extended over Sri Lanka too. However what is of note is that the colas after Rajaraja established a uniform Tamil culture in all the regions under their control.
It was the first large empire to espouse the cause of Tamil as the official language. The prasastis of the Pallavas were generally in Sanskrit the classical language of the north. In this and other respects the pallavas yearned to model themselves after the northern monarchs. Not only was Sanskrit the royal language but the pallavas performed Vedic sacrifices like the rajasuya very much like the north Indians Kings. It was the pallava who introduced the practice of making land grants to families of Brahmanas and settled them in exclusive Brahmana hamlets called brahmadeyas. The colas too made brahmadeya grants. In other respects though they did not imitate the northern kings and their Vedic practices. The colas retained their Tamil identity while introducing Brahmanical rituals in temples. Even here the emphasis is on rituals in temple worship and not so much on Vedic practices. They recognized the importance of the Brahmana community as the cornerstone of organized Brahmanical religion which they espoused wholeheartedly. However they did not lose their identity as Tamil monarchs. It is significant that they were proud of their origins from the days of Karikala and traced their descent form the mythical Cola king in their prasastis. They also retained certain practices which were essentially of a Tamil or Dravidian character. For instance some early Cola monarchs built Pallipadais for their dead ancestors. Pallipadais were funerary monuments erected over dead kings and such a custom was of ancient Tamil or Dravidian origin. The linga or deity was said to have been placed over the mortal remains of the dead king and regular worship was conducted. The adityesvara at tondamanad erected as a pallapadai by parantaka I to his father and the arinjigai-isvara at Melpadi built by Rajaraja I to commemorate Arinjaya are but two of the pallipadais built by the Cola monarchs. By retaining their Tamil Character and by lending royal patronage to agamic saivism and Vaisnavism as well as to the tevaram and the Divyaprabandam they endeared themselves to their Tamil subjects. They encouraged both Sanskrit and Tamil Learning.
The role played by the Colas in propagating temple worship was immense. They not only built several of their own but also rebuilt existing temples in stone. Aditya I is credited with covering the banks of the kaveri with a number of lofty and impregnable stone temples to Siva Parantaka I continued the work of his father and the grand dowager of the cola house sembiyam Madevi built innumerable temples to Siva and Visnu and also rebuilt existing ones in stone.
It was a time when religious sentiments reigned supreme. Bhakti saivism was popularized by the Saiva Nayanars patronized by the imperial colas. The temple became the focus of the religious activities of the people. The religious feelings of the populace led to the increase in the financial resources of the temple. This additional wealth of the temples required an effective redistributive system. Gradually the temple became a redistribution centre of wealth and services. The various social groups were directly or indirectly involved with the temple either by way o extending their services to the temple by helping in its administration or by carrying out the religious activities of the temple. In course of time the entire community was interlocked through its association with the temple and the temple became the nucleus of the religious social and economic and activities of the society.
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