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In typical Pallava style

The pillars of the Venkatesa Perumal temple, Tirumukkudal, bear exquisite bas-relief sculptures. The inscriptions speak of endowments and gifts made to the temple during the Chola reign, writes CHITHRA MADHAVAN.

The gopuram at the Venkatesa Perumal temple ... expanded by Chola and Vijayanagara rulers.

THE TINY village of Tirumukkudal in Kanchipuram district, about 75 km from Chennai, dates back to the Pallava era. It earns its name from the picturesque location it is situated at — the confluence of the Palar and two of its tributaries, the Vegavati and the Cheyyar. An inscription engraved in this shrine is ample proof that a temple dedicated to Venkatesa Perumal found on the deserted outskirts of this village, overlooking the now-dry rivers existed as early as the ninth century A.D.

The main sanctum sanctorum of this temple, which faces north, houses the imposing image of Lord Venkateswara, also known as Appan Venkatesa Perumal in a standing posture with sage Markandeya and Goddess Boomadevi seen meditating at his feet. The way to the sanctum sanctorum is through a large-pillared mantapa.

To its right is a small shrine for Goddess Alamelumanga, facing east. Also found in this mantapam are beautiful stone images of Hanuman, Garuda and many of the Azhwars or the Tamil Vaishnava saints. The entrance to this mantapam is supported by pillars typical of the Pallava style of architecture with the lion base, reminiscent of those found in the Vaikunta Perumal temple in Kanchipuram, capital of the Pallava kings.

The Chola and Vijayanagara rulers have also contributed to the architectural expansion of this temple complex. Within the spacious courtyard are several mantapams, the pillars of which bear exquisite bas-relief sculptures of the Vijayanagara style, depicting the various incarnations (avataras) of Lord Vishnu, Mahalakshmi, Rama, Garuda, Hanuman and Ramanuja.

A beautiful stone image of Lord Venkateswara

The walls of the main sanctum as well as those of the second prakara are studded with numerous epigraphs in the ancient Tamil script, the oldest of which is datable to the reign of the Pallava ruler, Nripatungavarman of the 9th century A.D. There are also many Chola inscriptions of the reign of Rajaraja-I, Rajendra-I, Vira-Rajendra and Kulottunga-I which speak of endowments and gifts made to this shrine, thus showing that this temple enjoyed immense popularity during the Chola reign. Interestingly, these epigraphs reveal that this deity was called Vishnu Bhatara in the Pallava times, as Tirumukkudal-Azhwar and Mahavishnu in the Chola period and as Venkateswara Swami at a later date.

Among these records, the most important and interesting one is engraved on the east wall of the first prakara and belongs to the period of Vira-Rajendra Chola (1062-1070 A.D.). This long epigraph records the existence of a Vedic college located in the Jananatha-mantapa inside this temple in the 11th century A.D. where eight subjects including the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and grammar were taught. The number of students enrolled in this educational centre, the number of teachers for each subject and the daily remuneration paid have been detailed in this inscription.

This well-preserved record also mentions that these students lived in a hostel attached to this college where cooks and servants were employed to take care of the needs of the inmates. In addition, this inscription speaks about a hospital (athura-salai) attached to this temple where students and temple staff were treated. This hospital, called Vira-Cholan, had 15 beds and a large staff comprising a physician named Kodandaraman Ashvathaman-Bhattan, a surgeon who performed operations, many nurses who attended on the patients, servants who fetched medicinal herbs and also a barber. The payment given to the hospital staff and the names of about 20 Ayurvedic medicines stored in this hospital are given in detail in this informative epigraph.

In many of the Vishnu temples in the Tamil country during the Chola times, provision was made for the recitation of Nammazhwar's `Tiruvoimozhi' and the Tirumukkudal temple was no exception as the contents of this inscription reveal.

... and Garuda.

According to the epigraphs in this shrine, Tirumukkudal was situated in the ancient territorial sub-division called Madhurantaka-Chaturvedimangalam which was a part of Kalatur-kottam, a district of Jayamkonda-chola-mandalam. Luckily, this shrine as well as the inscriptions here have been preserved well. The temple is a protected monument under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India.

This temple which once reverberated with the sound of Vedic chanting and the recitation of Sanskrit texts now stands a mute testimony to the glorious times of the Pallavas and the Cholas, whose kings, besides being great conquerors and administrators strove for the propagation of learning and literature.

A unique festival is held in this temple every year on Mattu Pongal day in the Tamil month of Thai. Lord Varadarajaswami of Kanchipuram crosses the river along with Lord Lakshmi Narasimha (of the temple situated atop a small hillock in Pazhaya Seevaram on the opposite shore of the Palar,) to visit the Venkatesa Perumal temple at Tirumukkudal. Here, these three deities along with two others from the nearby shrines are placed in different mantapas in the temple courtyard. Devotees throng the place on this special occasion. This festival was celebrated on January 16.

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