The Airavatesvara Temple is a Hindu temple of Dravidian architecture located in Darasuram near Kumbakonam in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century, the temple has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur and the Gangeikondacholiswaram Temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram; These temples are known as the great and vibrant Chola temples.
The Airavatesvara temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Shiva is known here as Airavatesvara, since Lord Shiva was worshiped in this temple by Airavata, the white elephant of Indra, the king of the gods. It is believed that when Airavata was very sad to change his complexion due to the curse of the sage Durvasa, he recovered his complexion by bathing in the holy water of this temple. This belief is believed to be due to an image in the inner chamber of the temple in which Indra is seated at Airavata. It was from this incident that the temple and the presiding deity were named after him.
It is said that Yama, the king of death, also worshiped Shiva here. According to tradition, Yama, who suffered burns all over his body due to the curse of a sage, was healed by Lord Airavatesvara. Yama bathed in the holy pool and got rid of his irritation. Since then that pond has been known as Yamatertham.
Gods and Goddesses
The wife of the main deity, Periya Nayaki Amman, has a separate temple that is located north of the Airavatesvara temple. It is possible that when the outer courtyard was completed, it may have been part of the main temple. At present, it stands alone as a separate temple with the goddess temple in the great courtyard.
This temple is a storehouse of art and architecture and has magnificent stone carvings. Although this temple is much smaller than the Brihadisvara temple or the Gangeikondacholiswaram temple, it is more exquisite in details. This is because the temple is said to have been built with nitya-vinoda, “constant entertainment” in mind.
The vimana (pillar) is 24 meters (80 feet) high. The southern part of the front mandapam is in the form of a huge chariot with large stone wheels that is being drawn by horses.
To the east of the inner courtyard is a group of finely carved buildings, one of which is called the Balipit (place of sacrifice). A small temple is built on the pedestal of Balipeet in which the image of Ganesha is inscribed. On the south side of the chowki there is a group of 3 stairs with magnificent carvings. Various musical sounds are produced when tapping the feet.
In the southwest corner of the courtyard there is a mandapam with 4 shrines. One of them has the image of Yama. Surrounding this temple there is a huge stone rock on which the figures of Saptamatas (seven heavenly goddesses) have been made.
Inscription in the temple
There are several inscriptions in this temple. One of these inscriptions mentions the renovation of temples by Kulotunga Chola III. The north wall of the courtyard has 108 volumes of inscriptions, each with names, descriptions and images of Shivaacharya (saint who believes in Shiva) that represent the main events of his life. Another inscription near the gopura shows that a figure was brought from Kalyani, later renamed Kalyanapura by Rajadhiraja Chola I, after his defeat by the western Chalukya king (Someshvara I, his son Vikramaditya VI) and Someshnar. II captured the capital of the Chalukyas.