When we think about the history of southern India, Chola empire is a prominent empire which comes to mind. The Chola dynasty was a Tamil empire of south India, and was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in history of the world. The earliest references of it are found in inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE left by Ashoka of Maurya Empire. What we will explore today is the contribution made by one of the queens of this dynasty, to the splendid architecture of the Chola temples, especially that of Uma Maheshwarar.
The Sembian Mahadevi was a 10th century CE Chola queen who built and renovated more than 14 temples. She was the queen of Gandaraditya Chola and mother of king Uttama Chola. The works of this queen can be seen in several different fields of interest. She built several temples, established the Veda salas, gave land grants even after being widowed. She was known to be an excellent temple builder, and a highly respected patron of the arts.
The Marxist distortians like Romila Thapar say that these Hindu queens had no power, and that they committed Sati after their husbands passed away. But this 10th century proved these beliefs wrong. She achieved many a feat, and these temples were some of them. She not only built and renovated the temples, but also paid attention to detail, making sure that they were built in one common style, and installed inscriptions.
The Uma Maheshwarar temple built by the queen in a village called Konerirajapuram
, near Kumbhakonam, is one such example. The temple is surrounded by lush green paddy fields, and is known to this day, for the 9 feet Nataraja commissioned by Sembian Mahadevi.
The temple structure has undergone many changes since Sembian Mahadevi first built it, but the core of the temple remains the same as she originally built it. The temple is much smaller and simpler compared to the later Chola temples, but has many features that are seen in later temples as well.
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The temple houses excellent Murtis of Lord Shiva as Nataraja, Lord Shiva as Lingodbhava and sage Agastya in the Devkoshthas or niches on the temple walls. The main Shivalinga in the Garbhgriha is worshipped as Uma Maheshwarar, as the temple was built by Sembian Mahadevi in memory of her husband, Gandaraditya. In the inscription, she refers to herself as Sri Gandaraditta deva tam-pirattiyar (beloved of Shri Gandaraditya).
But the highlight of the temple are the magnificent bronze Murtis of Shri Nataraja
and his consort, Devi Parvati as Siva Kami Sundari
. Commissioned by Sembian Mahadevi more than a thousand years ago, the Murtis glow like they were polished just yesterday!
The legend behind the murtis – The Murtis are so exquisite that there is a belief that no human hand could have made them. The story goes that the size of the Murti was so big that the sthapaty couldn’t get the wax model cast right. This issue was worrying him, when an old couple appeared before him and pestered him for a drink. Even when he asked them to go away, the couple wouldn’t budge. In frustration, he asked them to drink the molten mixture of Panchloha that was ready to be poured into the cast. The couple drank the hot molten metal, and in their place stood two perfect bronze Murtis!