They said, “Lord Indra’s elephant worshipped Lord Shiva here!” I said (indulgently with a smile), “Yeah, right.” They said, “The steps will sing when you step on them!” I said (with eyes rolling), “Oh Yeah.” We were standing in front of the stunning architecture of one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Airavateswara Temple’. This temple along with 2 other temple, Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur and the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram are collectively known as the Great Living Chola Temples. For further read on them, click here.
History In Brief
History of any place is important to know it better and understand its uniqueness, however, I personally don’t enjoy too long history lessons and therefore, here’s a short history about the temple! The temple was built by king Rajaraja Chola II more than 1000 years ago! This temple was known as Ayirattali temple during ancient time and later on became to be known as Airavateswara temple. Originally it was a huge temple complex with seven streets and seven courts, however, now only one court remains with the main temple. The other ruins can be seen scattered around this temple.
Legends, Myths And Folklores
Why am I telling you legends, myths and folklores about this temple? Well, there is always some truth behind all legends, myths and folklores about an ancient place. So, you deserve to know it and decide on your own whether it is true or not!
Stories goes that Lord Shiva was worshipped here by Lord Indra’s elephant named Airavata, and hence the name of the temple is ‘Airavateswara’! Airavat had trunks and four tusks, and therefore, the original temple was created that way. Apparently, Airavat was cursed by sage Durvasa for disrespecting him and therefore, Airavata turned into a discoloured elephant. Only after Airavat took a dip in the sacred waters of the temple he was freed from the curse!
Another story says that Lord Yama (King of Death) was a great devotee of Lord Shiva and when he was cursed by a sage with a inflamed body, he took a dip in the sacred tank of the temple and was freed from the curse!
The ‘Magic’ In The Temple
So, coming to the main point, why did I say I discovered magic in this temple? The moment I entered the temple complex I was awe-stuck by the intricate work that was done in the stone walls of the temple, the sculptures, the ceilings… how can human hand with just a chisel make such unblemished, symmetrical artistic wonder on hard stone? Isn’t that magic?
For more than 1000 years this temple has been continuously in use by Hindu devotees as place of prayer for Lord Shiva. That is why Airavateswara Temple along with the other two temples are called ‘Living’ Chola Temples. Even I entered the temple and offered by prayers and received tilak and prasads from the pujari! A religious place has stayed the same for over 1000 years and have followed the same practices despite passage of time… Isn’t it magic?
Once upon a time this temple’s walls were colourful and painted with deities, flora and fauna. Today many of those painted walls are bare, and yet, you get glimpses of those amazing paintings and murals in several places in the walls and ceiling. How is it that more then 10 centuries couldn’t erase the glory of this temple totally? How is it that this paintings and murals still survived? Isn’t that magic?
This temple is over 1000s years old and has seen so many dynasties rise and fall around it. It has seen the invasion from neighbouring princely states and also by the armies of Delhi Sultanate led by the Muslim commander Malik Kafur, Khusrau Khan and Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who destroyed everything remotely connected to Hindu religion, and yet, this temple survived every such raid, destruction and also the ravage of time for more than 1000 years… Isn’t that magic?
Do you know what I found magic of all? The Singing Steps! Oh yes, the steps actually sings when you step on them! The ornately carved steps go from east to west and when stepped upon them they produce a musical note. Its intriguing how the ancient artisans managed to make this hard rocks resonate music, and that also in such synchrony! Isn’t that magic!
How To Reach
The temple is located in the district of in Tamil Nadu in India at a small artisan town called Darasuram. It is only 30km from the large town Kumbakonam, which his very well connected to the nearby cities by road and rail.
Put Airavateswara Temple in your Travel Bucket List for 2019 and believe me, you will not be disappointed when you visit this amazing temple of India. Its magic can only be felt and is very difficult to truly describe in words or picture. You will thank me that I introduced you to one of the most amazing place in India which is very little known to not only foreign travellers but also Indians! Do let us know how was your visit!