Dharasuram, a quiet place on the edges of noisy Kumabonam, is the site of an ancient temple of the Cholas. This is one of the Big Three Chola temples, the other two being the temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. I visited this place on a sunny afternoon when there was no one else around here. A 12th C temple built by Raja Raja II, this temple is dedicated to a form of Shiva called Airavateshwara - Shiva worshipped by Indra's elephant, Airavata. The Archaeological survey of India and the Temple board have worked out an amicable compromise here - the temple board takes care of the garbha griha alone, while the rest of the complex is well maintained, thanks to the ASI.
On all four sides of the complex run raised corridors, which are likely to have been ornamented in a different age and time. Only some of these remain, like a pannelled wall which you can see above - these are the Nayanmar saints singing the praises of Shiva.In the centre of the complex stands the garbha griha surrounded by a splendid Mandapam. The Mandapam has many pillars, all of these carved and decorated with images of gods and goddesses, singing and dancing women, and many miniature sculptures, including a ganesha an inch and a half tall.
The Chola artists certainly had a different conception of the human body, and the contortions that it can be twisted into. Somehow this whole concept of "illusions" or "trick sculptures" seems to have been popular. I saw this kind of thing in Konark as well, a mingling of images, so that the viewer is lured into following the sculpture more closely, like a puzzle, figuring out who the limbs belong to!
Another one here...What exactly is that animal?
And they didnt hesitate to use the temples like a kind of vehicle too, to express the ideas of the age. The ASI guide informed us that this sculpture here, the lion devouring the elephant, was meant to be a symbolic representation of Hinduism triumphing over Buddhism. Buddhism at the time had a profound influence and was posing a serious threat to Hindusim with its promise of liberation from caste.Interesting to think that eight hundred years down the line, much the same thing is being repeated. Depressingly, caste still rules, and conversions to Buddhism still often happen not due to any interest in the teachings of the Buddha but as a desperate measure of escaping the oppressiveness of caste enforced roles.
Dharasuram is a beautiful reminder of an older age, but sometimes, time seems to have stopped where it was.