Monday, January 25, 2010

Darasuram Temple

Our first site of the day was the Airavateshwara Temple in the village of Darasuram. It took us longer to get there, as our driver (like most Indians I have met) did not know how to read maps and instead relied on guessing or asking locals. The road we took from one main town was a smaller one, which meant a longer, but more scenic drive.

Built in 1146-1173 by the Chola leader King Rajaraja II, this temple may be small in size but its beauty equals that of Thanjuvur and other Tamil temples. Walking past the kids playing soccer on the green grass outside of the temple’s high walls, we reached the large gopura gateway set a meter below ground. The large door was closed, but a small sub-door was open. Through it I saw a woman taking a nap. As I was about to walk through it, she woke up and opened up the larger door. Placing our shoes off to the side (all temples require you to remove your shoes), we entered the courtyard. Off to one side we could see a few men and a couple of women engaged in construction work. It was reassuring to see maintenance and restoration efforts taking place. Some wore sandals or flip-flops, while others carried on their work in bare feet. The women wore saris and the men had dhothis tied around their waist.
Rubble or sand was piled into a shallow basket, placed on the head, and taken away. Like many Indians, they asked us to take their photos. By now my two friends were quite used to this request.
First we visited the mandapa, climbing up the stairs to reach the open porch. Each square pillar was filled with relief carvings of various sizes, from the top to the bottom. The bottoms of the pillars on the outside consisted of a rather large mythical creature that had the face of an elephant, horns of a goat, and body of a lion. Dancers and musicians, along with the usual gods and goddesses were common themes on the pillars. Even the stone ceiling was decorated with swirling designs, flowers, and dancers. One row of pillars led to the inner sanctuary, guarded by two sari-clad sculptures and a Nandi facing the dark interior. Along the wall I saw some fine figurative sculptures made in black basalt including images of various gods and goddesses.

Back down the steps, I pointed out that the mandapa was in the shape of a chariot, pulled by horses and behind these rearing creatures a wheel. An elephant was on the other corner of the stairwell, perhaps also pulling the chariot. Along the sides of the main temple one could see sculptures in niches and frescoes of other figures. Red appeared to be the dominant color, but green and gold were also visible. How beautiful must this temple have been at one time! Up higher, one could see a profusion of sculptures of figures, including some that looked more demon-like. Although mostly the color of the original stone, patches of faded color still remained here as well. Near the base of the temple, dancers appeared in motion, swaying to the music. Along a smaller stairway I saw a clever motif in which the head of an elephant morphed into that of a bull.

Unlike most places in India, we virtually had the temple complex to ourselves. This could make the visit enjoyable in itself, but the real draw is the temple’s beauty. The size makes it much more manageable than some of Tamil Nadu’s famous temples. Even if you only have an hour on your way to Thanjuvur, the village of Darasuram is worth the stop.

See more photos of Darasuram on my Flickr page


Bibi said...

I think that's the temple I liked best, for its beauty and lack of visitors!

Melissa Enderle said...

It was my favorite temple as well. It's surprising that so few people (including teachers at school) know about Darasuram.