Female deity: Periya Nayaki (Brihannayaki)
Sthala vriksham: Vilvam
Gurunathan Pillai Colony,
Tamil Nadu 612702,
Phone:0435 241 7157
Ever seen stones speak, hum, sing and dance?
A classic example of the Dravidian style of architecture, the Airavateshwara temple at Darasuram, near Kumbakonam, breathes and exudes beauty, with its exquisitely detailed stone carvings, sculpture, design and inscriptions. Its elevation is breath-taking in its grandeur and grace.
Airavata, the mythical white elephant belonging to Indra, was once cursed by Rishi Durvasa on the grounds of disrespect. This made the spotlessly white elephant look hideous because of skin discoloration. The elephant bathed in the temple’s holy pond to have the curse removed. Shiva, thus, is now known as Airavata-Eshwara.
The image of Airavata along with Indra in an inner shrine illustrates this story.
The temple tank is called Yamateertham, which is explained by another story.
Yama, the lord of Death, under a Rishi’s curse, developed blisters all over his body. He came down and bathed in this temple tank, and rid himself of the curse.
Periya Nayaki Amman, Shiva’s consort, stands separately in a large court, detached from the main temple premises.
As we enter the temple from the “mahadwara” (main entrance) on the eastern side, there is the 80 feet high vimana(tower). The southern part of the front mandapa resembles a massive chariot, with large stone wheels drawn by horses. The sculpture rich pillars that make this mandapa are a treat to the viewer’s eyes.
As one crosses the second rajagopuram, one can see the Mukha mandapa, in the form of a chariot pulled by horses and elephants. Next are the Maha mandapa and Artha mandapa, finally bringing us to the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), with its 47 feet vimana.
The garbhagriha (womb house) is the residing place of the main deity of the temple.
Below are some of the fascinating sculptures that make up this dream of a temple.
- Saptamaatas (seven celestial nymphs) in ethereal beauty, with river goddesses such as Kaveri, Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada and Godavari.
- The 63 shaivite saints (arubathumoovar) on the north wall of the verandah, along with their names and highlights from their life.
- 108 Thevaram othuvars, who sang these seven volume collection of poetry on Lord Shiva, during the reign of Rajaraja Cholan II. The thevarams date back to the 7th century A.D.
UNESCO has declared the temple as a world heritage monument.
Pleasantly landscaped, and well illuminated, this temple is a tourist spot. It is best visited at around 4.30 p.m., as the setting sun bathes the temple in a golden glow, giving the visitor a dream-sequence like experience!
During pradosham (13th lunar day in the Hindu calendar between every new moon and full moon day), pradosha puja is performed near the massive Nandi statue. Since this puja is always performed during the auspicious period (1.5 hours before and after the sunset), it is a blissful experience finding yourself among the devotees, witnessing the puja in a setting that looks straight out of the heavens!
Knowledgeable local guides are available on request @ Rs.200-250.
Noticed an image looking part lion, part elephant, part horse and part bull, on the pillars in south Indian Hindu temples? This is called “yali”, a mythical creature in Hindu iconography.
The temple is open from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm every day, with the sanctum sanctorum closed from 12 noon to 4 pm. Please allot a minimum of 30 minutes for a tour inside the temple.
Best Time to Visit
Ideal time to visit Airavateshwara temple is between October and mid-March. The weather is pleasantly cool during this period.
How to Reach
By Rail Darasuram is around 5 km from Kumbakonam Railway station, the nearest station, on the Chennai-Thanjavur line.
By Air The nearest airport from here is Tiruchirappally, approximately 90 kms away.
By Road The place is about 300 kms by road from Chennai and 6 kms from Kumbakonam.
From Kumbakonam, a yellow-auto (tuk-tuk) ride, with a seating capacity of 3 passengers, costs approximately Rs 120 to drop you at the temple, or around Rs 275 for a round-trip, with a waiting time of 1 hour.