Located at three kilometres from Kumbakonam on the Kumabakonam – Thanjavur Bus Route is the unflustered village of Darasuram where we find the artistic marvel of Cholas, the Airavatheswar Temple. The Airavatheswar Temple is one of three temples tagged under the “Great Living Chola Temples” by UNESCO; the other two temples being the Big Temple aka the Brihadeeshwara Temple of Thanjavur built by Raja Raja Chola I and the Brihadeeshwara Temple of Gangai Konda Cholapuram built by Rajendra Chola I. Airavatheswar Temple was built by Raja Raja II; in fact, the temple was referred as Rajarajeswaram and the place as Rajarajapuram during his period.
According to the legend, Airvatha, the elephant of Indra regained its colour after worshipping the main deity, Shiva of this temple and having taken a bath in the sacred water of the temple tank. The temple tank is called Yama-Theertham and is believed to have been created by Lord Shiva himslef with his trident to let Yama bathe in and be cured from a curse ordained by sage Durvasa.
The Chola Kings’ patronage to art and architecture is well known to the world but least the modern generation would have imagined that the Cholas celebrated the art of Dance so much that there exists a Chola temple that has carvings depicting dance poses almost on all pillars and on all the walls of the temple. Yes, the Darasuram Temple features carvings that depict dance poses all over the place. Although there exist some repetition of poses, most of them are unique and I’m sure if one has the time, patience and knowledge of the 108 adavus (poses) of Bharatanatyam, he would be able to locate all of them in the carvings at the Darasuram temple.
Dance and music are like the conjoined twins; they exist together. You need music to dance and good music makes you dance. So can we understand the presence of the magical ‘musical steps’ representing the seven swaras of music at the Darasuram Temple. It leaves the people with wonderment when a stone rolled from the first step makes the sound of Sa..Ri..Ga..Ma..Pa..Da..Ni when the stone touches each of the steps before landing on the floor. The musical steps is now protected inside an iron cage in order to preserve it from the playful handling of the people.
Apart from the exotic dance carvings, the temple also features exorbitant amount of carvings depicting the stories from Thiruvalayadal puranam, Periya Puranam and other Saiva texts. You can make out some of them if you have a little knowledge of these stories; however if you want to fully understand the story behind each and every depiction, you need a guide who has good knowledge of Saiva Siddhandham and a day’s time would not be enough. You may have to do the exploration over a week or even for a longer period of time, depending on your interest and availability of time.
Similar to Kancheepuram, Darasuram is also famous for silk-weaving. You may find some of the finest hand-woven silk sarees being sold directly by the weavers at Darasuram. You may include the same in your shopping list, the next time you are in the temple town of Kumbakonam.
Presenting here few of the pictures from my camera. The complete album has been posted in our Facebook Posts.
Please refer to the travel tips mentioned in my other post on ‘Great Living Chola Temples’. I have covered these over there.