Airavatesvara Dharasuram Temple in Kumbakonam – A Marvelous Chola Architecture Temple With Musical Steps – One of the Oldest Great Living Chola Temples & UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kumbakonam – Visit, History, Architecture, Temple Timings, Contact Number, Travel Guide (Updated)
– lord shiva temple showcasing the grand chola kingdom’s architecture, sculpture excellence
The Great Living Chola Temples in Thanjavur stand as remarkable achievements of the Chola Empire, featuring three main temples in Tanjavur: the Brihadisvara at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara at Darasuram. The Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple was constructed by Rajendra I, while Darasuram’s Airavatesvara Temple was built by Rajaraja II, dedicated to Lord Shiva, who appeared in his dream in the form of an Elephant. This temple showcases the Chola kingdom’s excellence in architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting.
The Airavatesvara Temple is located 8 km from Kumbakonam and 34 km from Thanjavur. It is known for its heritage significance, positioned among eighteen medieval Hindu temples in Kumbakonam. The temple boasts a captivating Vimana, Mandapa, and Gopuram. At this temple, Lord Shiva is portrayed in a distinctive form called Airavateswara, blending the names of Lord Shiva and Airavata, the white elephant of Lord Indra, which worshipped Lord Shiva at this sacred location.
The Airavatesvara temple is smaller than the Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The unique front mandapa, known as Rajagambhiran Tirumandapam, resembles a chariot with ornate pillars.
The main tower, standing at 80 feet, displays stunning carvings, including a panel of 73 sculptures depicting the life history of the 63 Nayanmars and the 108 Devara Othuvars who sang in the temple during the time of Raja Raja II.
This temple is currently listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is a must-visit destination during the Kumbakonam tour.
History of Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram
At the Airavatesvara Temple, Airavata, the white elephant of Lord Indra, sought solace and healing from Lord Shiva. Cursed by Sage Durvasa for disrespect, Airavata’s white skin regained its color through a divine dip in the temple’s sacred tank. This tale is intricately carved in stone within the inner chambers of the shrine.
Also, Lord Yama, the King of Death, worshipped Shiva in this sacred place. It is said that Airavateswara, the temple’s presiding deity, once cured Lord Yama from a curse inflicted by a rishi. As Lord Yama found relief by bathing in the sacred tank, now known as Yamateertham, which remains a holy site for devotees.
Architecture of Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram
The Airavatesvara Temple, a significant monument from the Chola period, showcases elaborate Dravidian architectural style sculptures depicting dancing figures, animals, and deities. The temple’s front mandapam, resembling a chariot pulled by elephants and horses, showcases numerous paintings, frescoes, and sculptural carvings from the Vedas and Puranas.
This sacred place features smaller shrines honoring various gods including Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma, Lord Surya, Lord Indra, Lord Agni, Lord Varuna, Lord Vayu, Saptamtrikas, Goddess Durga, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Ganga, Goddess Yamuna, Lord Subrahmanya, Lord Ganesha, Lord Kama, and Goddess Rati.
The Rajagambhira Hall features intricate carvings of lively elephants and horses drawing chariots. The pavilion boasts 108 distinct pillars, each adorned with superbly detailed sculptures depicting dancers, acrobats, and the mythical five-in-one creature known as Yali.
Stone-carved Bharatanatyam dancers, known as Sodasa Upasaras, grace the walls and pillars in various dancing poses. These intricate sculptures depict both mythological tales and scenes from contemporary society, featuring women in various Bharatanatyam poses, children, farmers, and figures like Ravana and Bhikshatana.
The Nayak kings subsequently adorned the temple walls with intricate Mural paintings. Adjacent to the Airavateshwarar temple stands the Periya Nayaki Amman temple, dedicated to the main deity’s consort. The temple boasts highly ornate pillars, featuring a chariot hall with intricately carved steps called the Musical steps that produce melodious 7 raga sounds.
Musical Steps / Singing Steps in Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram
A special thing about the Airavatesvara temple in Darasuram is the seven musical steps, symbolizing the seven musical notes (raga). When someone walks or steps on them, these steps generate a musicalnote from seven distinct ragas, hence called them as “Singing Steps” or “Musical Steps.” We can spot these steps at the temple entrance, right beside the Nandi statue outdoors. Currently, the musical steps are protected by a brown iron cage (refer to the left image below).
These historical sites are currently preserved and overseen by the Archaeological Survey of India. Numerous sculptures from this temple, such as the complete Bhikshatana set portraying Rishi Patnis, are now safeguarded in the Government Tanjavur Art Gallery.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Acknowledging its cultural and historical importance, the Airavatesvara Temple, part of the Great Living Chola Temple trio, earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2004. Pilgrims and global visitors continue to be captivated by its architectural beauty, making it a revered destination for seekers of both spiritual and historical insights.
Stone Sculptures in Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram
The unique front mandapa, known as Rajagambhiran Tirumandapam, resembles a chariot pulled by elephants and horses, with ornate pillars.
Stone Sculptures depicting Dancing Figures, Animals, and Deities
The pavilion boasts 108 distinct pillars, each adorned with superbly detailed sculptures depicting dancers, acrobats, and the mythical five-in-one creature known as Yali.
Stone Sculptures depicting dancing figures, animals, and deities
Nayak Kings subsequently adorned the temple walls with intricate Mural paintings
Stone Sculptures at Airavatesvara Temple Pillars
Features smaller shrines honoring various gods including Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma, Lord Surya, Lord Indra, Lord Agni, Lord Varuna, Lord Vayu, Saptamtrikas, Goddess Durga, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Ganga, Goddess Yamuna, Lord Subrahmanya, Lord Ganesha, Lord Kama, and Goddess Rati.
Travel Tips for Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram in Kumbakonam
Address of Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram in Kumbakonam:
Gurunathan Pillai Colony, Dharasuram, Kumbakonam, Valaiyapettai – 612702
Temple Timings of Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram in Kumbakonam:
Morning Hours: 8:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Evening Hours: 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Contact Number: 0435 241 7157
Photography Rules: Photography of Stone Sculptures is allowed around the temple.
How to reach Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram in Kumbakonam
On Road: The Airavatesvara Temple is located 8 km from Kumbakonam. Kumbakonam town is well connected by road networks. There are regular bus and auto services from many important cities in south India Chennai, Coimbatore, Tiruchirapalli, Karaikal, Pudukkottai, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Mayiladudhurai, Pattukkottai, Bangalore, Ernakulam, Ooty, and Mysore.
On Flight: The nearest airport is Tiruchirappalli International Airport (TRZ) which is 100 Km away from the temple.
By Train: The nearest railway station is the Kumbakonam railway station ( station code – KMU) at a distance of 2 km.
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