Airavatesvara Temple

Airavatesvara Temple

Infobox World Heritage Site
WHS = Great Living Chola Temples

State Party = IND
Type = Cultural
Criteria = i, ii, iii, iv
ID = 250
Region = Asia-Pacific
Year = 1987
Session = 11th
Extension = 2004
Link =

Airateswara Temple is a Hindu temple of Dravidian architecture located in the town of Darasuram, near Kumbakonam in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This temple, built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century CE, along with the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur, the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram are a UNESCO World Heritage Site referred to as the Great Living Chola Temples [ Great Living Chola Temples - UNESCO World Heritage Centre] ] .


The Airateswara temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Shiva is here known as Airavateshwara, because he was worshipped at this temple by Airavata, the white elephant of the king of the gods, Indra. Legend has it that Airavata, while suffering from a change of colour curse from Sage Durvasa, had its colours restored by bathing in the sacred waters of this temple. This legend is commemorated by an image of Airavata with Indra seated in an inner shrine. [See P.V. Jagadisa Ayyar, pp 350-351] The temple and the presiding deity derive its name from this incident.

It is said that the King of Death, Yama also worshipped Shiva here. Tradition has it Yama, who was suffering under a Rishi's curse from a burning sensation all over the body, was cured by the presiding deity Airavateswarar. Yama took bath in the sacred tank and got rid of the burning sensation. Since then the tank has been known as "Yamateertham".


This temple is a storehouse of art and architecture and has some exquisite stone carvings. Although this temple is much smaller than the Brihadeeswara Temple or the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple, it is more exquisite in detail. This is because this temple is said to have been built with "nitya-vinoda", "perpetual entertainment", in mind.

The "vimana" (tower) is 24 m (80 ft) high. The south side of the front "mandapam" is in the form of a huge chariot with large stone wheels drawn by horses. [See Chaitanya, K, p 42]

To the east of the inner court lies the a group of well-carved buildings, one of which is the "Balipita" ('seat for sacrifice'). The pedestal of the "Balipita" adjoins a small shrine which contains an image of Ganesha. The pedestal has a set of 3 finely-carved set of steps on the south side. Striking the steps produce different musical sounds.See P.V. Jagadisa Ayyar, p 351]

In the south-west corner of the court is a "mandapam" having 4 shrines. One of these has an image of Yama. Adjoining this shrine are large stone slabs sculptured with images of the "sapthamathas" (seven celestial nymphs).


The main deity's consort Periya Nayaki Amman temple is a detached temple situated to the north of the Airavateshwarar temple. This might have been a part of the main temple when the outer courts were complete. At present, it stands alone as a detached temple with the shrine of the Goddess standing in a single large court.

Inscriptions in the Temple

There are various inscriptions in the temple. One of these records the renovation of the shrines by Kulottunga Chola III.See P.V. Jagadisa Ayyar, p 353]

The north wall of the "verandah" consists of 108 sections of inscriptions, each containing the name and description and image of the "Saivacharya" (Saivite saints) listing the principal events in their life. [ See Chaitanya, K, p 40 ] [See Geeta Vasudevan, p 55]

Another inscription close to the "gopura", records that an image was brought by Rajadhiraja Chola I from Kalyanapura after his capture of the place. [See Richard Davis, p 51]

UNESCO World Heritage Site

This temple was added to the list of Great Living Chola Temples in the year 2004. The Great Living Chola Temples includes the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur, the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. All of these temples were built by the Cholas between the 10th and 12th centuries CE and have a lot of similarities. [See P.V.Jagadisa Ayyar, p 316]




External links

* [ World Heritage Site status for Airavatesvara Temple]
* [ Video of the Temple]

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