Location of the temple:
Pullamangai is located on the outskirts of Pasupathi Koil, Papanasam Taluk, Thanjavore District, Tamilnadu, South India. It is easily accessible by vehicles from Thanjavore and Kumbakonam.
The place is nothing more than a simple village as of today, located on the southern bank of river Cauvery – surrounded by paddy fields & coconut trees.
The Chola temple under discussion is located on the western corner of the main street that constitutes the village of Pullamangai.
History of the Temple :
Going by the inscriptions and other archealogical evidences, it is surmised that this temple might have been built during the early years of Chola king Parantaka Choladeva-I (907-953 AD).
During Parantaka’s reign, the kingdom was at war many a times, but still the pious act of converting early Saivite brick temples to granite structures continued without many setbacks. This temple came under the royal attention of Parantaka during his reign who subsequently reconstructed it in stone.
Earliest references to this temple are found in “Panniru Thirumurai” (Twelve holy scriptures), a famous collection of Saivite devotional hymns in Tamil, compiled during the middle ages. The first three books of Thirumurai collection contain hymns on various temples of Lord Shiva sung by Saint Thirugnana Sambandar, a child prodigy who lived during early part of Seventh century AD (Rajamanickanar 2003:101).
One of the temples sung by Sambandar in Chola Mandalam area (present day Thanjavore, Kumbakonam and Thiruvarur districts of Tamilnadu) is the Thiruvalanthurai Mahadeva temple at Pulamangai. On epigraphical grounds, this temple can be identified with the one at present day Pullamangai. From these references, we see that the temple was already in existence and in worship during early 7th century AD.
Saint Sambandar’s hymns (Thirumurai 1.16. 1 – 1.16.11) throw interesting light on the state of affairs at Pullamangai, during this early period. Mentioning the name of the place only as Pulamangai and not Pullamangai in all the eleven hymns, Sambandar hails the natural springs that were abound in this area (1.16.1,2,6,7,11). He also makes a curious remark about the many owls that were singing from their tree homes (1.16.5). Hymns 1.16.2,4 and11 seem to suggest that an early course of river Cauvery was running near the temple, during Sambandar’s times. This is not the case as of now. An epigraph from Sri Chakkarappali – a nearby place – suggests that the river might have changed its course during the later half of 10th Century AD.
It is very likely that the structure that stood during Sambandar’s period was made out of brick and timber, constituting the Sanctum Sanctorum and probably an Artha and Mukha Mandapas. It should have been worshipped by the local devotees and those from nearby areas.
Beyond Sambandar, we do not find any mention about the temple, either from Saint Thirunavukkarasar – his contemporary or from Saint Sundarar, who comes a little later. Thus, it is safe to assume that the temple did not rise to major prominence during 7th / 8th Century AD.
At least one more temple by name Thiruvalanthurai existed in South India during Sambandar’s times. This was located in a place called Pazhuvoor identifiable with the present day Keezhap Pazhuvoor in the Ariyalur District of TamilNadu. This temple has also been glorified by the Saint in 11 stanzas
The local history is that this town was known as Pullamangai and the temple name was known as “Alandhurai”. However, in present days the town name has become Pasupathi Koil.
This temple is located in the banks of Kudamuruti River. Since this temple Thala Vriksham is “Ala Maram” hence it is called as “Alandhurai”, some people say this too.
The actual story for this place is, when Devas were trying get nectar by churning the milky ocean, the snake they were using spewed poison, and it is said the God abode here took that poison and settled here. Hence the name Alandurai or Alanthurai.
Also there is a legend that Parvati is said to have taken the form of a Chakravaha bird and worshipped Shiva here, hence the name Pullamangai.
Some sources say that the name Pullamangai is sourced from the Kites that live in the Temple Tower.
Temple building activity under Parantaka Choladeva-I
The prowess and valor of Aditya Choladeva-I resulted in the rise of Chola political power during late 9th Century AD. Building on the solid foundation laid by his father, Parantaka Choladeva-I vigorously sought to expand the Chola domain on all the four directions, consolidating a region that would later on become a mighty empire under his great-grand son, Rajaraja Choladeva -I.
The combined reign of Aditya-I and Parantaka-I was marked by intense temple building activity across many regions of Tamilnadu. Aditya is credited to have converted several ancient Shiva temples into long lasting Granite structures on the banks of river Cauvery, on either side. This culture seems to have followed through the period of Parantaka, with greater intensity.
Though the kingdom was at war many a times during Parantaka’s long reign and the king himself had to witness the tragedy of losing two of his own sons to those wars, the pious act of converting early Saivite brick temples to granite structures continued without many setbacks. Parantaka’s act of providing a golden roof to the ancient Shiva temple at Chidambaram is hailed in many inscriptions and literatures of later period.
Encouraged by the ruler, his officials, feudatories and subordinate kings of lesser capacity also seem to have engaged in similar activities, as evinced by many inscriptions of this period.
The traditional sculpting community of Tamilnadu received this royal zeal with equal enthusiasm and participation. The net result was a series of temples that arose across the Chola heartland, expressing multitudes of religious and social themes that would rival almost all other artistic expressions of India, across the ages.
Padhmashree S.R. Balasubrahmanyam, a doyen on early Chola art, classifies nearly thirty temples (Balasubrahmanyam 1971:4) as those belonging to Parantaka age. These include the Shiva temples at Thiruvaduthurai, Thirukkarugavur, Thiruchchennampoondi, Uyyakkondan Tirumalai, KeezhapPazhuvoor, Thiruvotriyur, Mathuranthakam etc. Though each of these temples has their own merits and features of excellence to celebrate, Pullamangai can undoubtedly be given the credit of being the noblest expression of Parantaka School of art.
Thirugnana Sambandar was a child prodigy who lived during early part of Seventh century AD who sang the fllowing song :
Palunthuru thiralayina paramanpira manthan
Polunthira lavarvazhtharu pozhilchuzhpula mangaik
Kalanthira larachchadiya kadavullidang karuthil
Alanthurai thozuvarthamai yadaiwavinai thane.
And so on goes another 10 or so songs.
It is fairly right to say that this temple did not come into major prominence till 8th Century AD, this is going by the evidence that there is no other song by contemporaries of Sambandar (Saint Thirunavukarasar and Saint Sundarar).
Pullamangai temple reconstruction
During early 10th Century AD, Pullamangai had become a settlement of Brahmins and came to be known as Pullamangalam. It was located in Kizhar Kootram, a subdivision of Chola Mandalam (or Chola heartland).
The temple seems to have been bought under the royal attention during the last years of Aditya and/or the early years of Parantaka. It was subsequently reconstructed in stone, certainly before the sixth year of latter’s reign – if not earlier. Looking at the magnitude of labor and intricacy in workmanship, we can easily see that the funding was very liberal for the project, possibly directed from the royal treasury.
Around seventeen epigraphs have been recorded in the temple and if we ignore the two incomplete fragments, we get fifteen complete records spanning over a period of one and half Centuries or so. These inscriptions shall be dealt with in later sections.