N. Sethuraman’s discovery of Udayalur as the resting place of the Chola king Rāja Rājā The Great

Taken from the presidential address given by N. Sethuraman at the Seventh Annual Conference of The Place Names Society of India, in the year 1986

Arulmolivarman alias Rāja Rāja Chola The Great came to the throne in the year 985 A.D. Inscriptions state that in his 25th year corresponding to the year 1010 A.D., Rāja Rājā adopted the title Śiva Pāda Śēkharan which means he who carries on his head the holy feet of Lord Siva. Rāja Rājā died in 1014 A.D. In the reigns of his successors he was called “Sri Rāja Rāja Dēvar” and “Sri Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Dēvar” – obviously a mark of respect. With this information let us see the inscriptions coming from the village Udaiyālūr. This village is located six kilometers south of my hometown Kumbakonam. Last October, I happened to go to this village in connection with my tractor business. The beautiful Kailāśanātha temple of this village attracted my attention and so I entrusted my business affairs with my manager and visited this temple. This temple contains many inscriptions engraved in the reigns of the Chola kings who ruled in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. The inscriptions of this village were copied in the year 1927 and and reported in A.R.Er under serial numbers 303 to 315 but the full texts are yet to be published. When I visited the temple, curiosity prompted me to read the inscriptions in situ. Some of them are either damaged or in fragments. Among the available records whose reading are very clear and in full form the earliest belong to Kulotunga Chola I (1070 – 1122 A.D.)and the rest his successors. In the inscriptions the temple is called Śiva-Pāda-Śēkhara-Iśvaram situated in the village Śiva-Pāda-Śēkhara-Mangalam in Thirunaraiyūr Nādu, a sub division of Arulmolidēva-vala-nādu. The temple, the village and the vala-nādu. are called in the names of Rājā Rājā The Great.

It is evident that after the demise of Rāja Rājā, the village was founded in his name and the temple was built in his surname. From the records we can infer that the temple was built in accordance with agamic rules in honor of the great kind and not a sepulchral temple.

In the inscriptions the village is called dēvadānam and also as Māhēśvara-sthānam. The former is understandable but the latter name Māhēśvara-sthānam is rather peculiar because in the Tamil inscriptions, this is the only place (in Tamil Nadu) where, for the first time, the term Māhēśvara-sthānam is used. The literal meaning is “the place of the devotees of Lord Siva”. Māhēśvara-sthānam in its literal sense is not used in other śaivite centers. It is found in this village only and at the same time this village is also called “dēvadānam”. This means that Māhēśvara-sthānam mentioned in this record points out to something else. Adverting to the inscriptions, a record of Kulotunga Chola I, year 49, date 1119 A.D. states that the Māhēśvara Perun Dariśanattār (Māhēśvaras of the great darśana), the Pāśupata ascetics made gifts to the Kailāśanātha temple. This information shows in clear terms that the Pāśupata śaivites were in this village and why this village was called Māhēśvara-sthānam – the place of Māhēśvaras of the Pasupata school.

The place name Māhēśvara-sthānam and the presence of the Pāśupata śaivites prompted me to look out for a sepulchral temple or a memorial temple. I succeeded in my attempt but instead of finding the exact location I could only find epigraphical evidence. Nevertheless  let us see what it is.

On the south bank of the tank of this village there is a small Goddess shrine called Pālkulattu-Amman (local village Goddess). In the front mandapā of the shrine there are four pillars of same size and shape (circular). One of them bears an inscription of Kulotunga Chola I, year 42, corresponding to 1112 A.D. It states that the big sacred mandapā in front of the sacred temple (tirumāligai) of Śrī Rāja Rāja Dēvar alias Śrī Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Dēvar who was pleased to stand in the village of Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Mangalam, was in a dilapidated condition and so it was repaired by three devotees. 

Śrī Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Mangalattu elundu-aruli-ninra-Śrī Rāja Rāja Dēvarāna Śrī Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Dēvar tiru-māligai-munbil-periya-tirumandapam jītranittamaiyil”

Rāja Rāja Chola died in 1014 A.D. Ninety years later Kulotunga Chola states that Śrī Rāja Rāja Dēvar alias Śrī Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Dēvar was pleased to stand in a temple in this village. From this statement it can be easily inferred that the said temple was dedicated to Rājā Rājā.

The word pallipadai does not appear in the records. However the phrase elundu-aruli-ninra-Śrī Rājā Rājā Dēvar alias Śrī Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Dēvar – emphasizing the sense of immortality – prompts us to surmise that it should be either a sepulchral or memorial temple in which the portrait statue of Rājā Rājā (who was pleased to stand) would have been installed and worshipped. The name Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Dēvar (Dēvar – lord who carries on his head the sacred feet of Lord Siva) clearly indicated prior to his death Rājā Rājā should have been conferred Siva Dikshā by his Guru.

In his Tirumandiram (Āgamas in Tamil) saint Tirumūlar (7th century) states that when a person, who in his lifetime had Siva Dikshā dies, the body should not be cremated but buried. Tirumūlar give a vivid and elaborate description as to how and where the body should be buried and a linga installed over the same. This is called ātanma (āyatana ? ) and the tomb or samādhi built there is called Guhai. Tirumūlar says that regular services should be conducted in the samādhi temple and the guru (whose body is buried) should be worshipped as God.

Memorial shrine called dēvakula with a royal gallery of portrait statues of the deceased is also mentioned in the Pratimā Nātaka of Bhāsa. (For further details please refer to page 4 of Epigraphica Indica volume XXI).

Mathura pillar inscription of Chandra Gupta II dated 380 A.D. refers to the construction of a shrine called Guru-āyatana dedicated to two Pāśupata teachers. It is said that in the shrine two images of lingas with the portrait sculptures of the deceased carved on them, were installed and worshipped. The lingas were called in the names of the late Gurus. The āchārya who was no more and who was worshipped (in the form of a linga) was called Bhāgavat. The shrine was also built by a Pāśupata āchārya by name Uditāchārya in memory of his teachers of the Pāśupata school.

In Tamil, the temple is called koyil. Tirumāligai means a palace or a holy shrine in which the statues or the metallic vigrahās (images) of Gods are installed and worshipped. A Tirumāligai in the context of a place of worship could be an annex within the bigger complex of a temple premises or a separate building. Curiously the Udaiyālur temple inscription states that Śrī Rājā Rājā Dēvar alias Śrī Śiva Pāda Śēkhara Dēvar was pleased to stand in the Tirumāligai. This statement prompts us to surmise that a statue of Rājā Rājā in a standing posture should have been installed and worshipped.

All these information point out that a memorial temple dedicated to Rājā Rāja Chola existed in the village Udaiyālur and in the temple a portrait statue of Rājā Rājā was installed and worshiped (either with a linga or carved on a linga or a separate statue). Śiva Pāda Śēkhara was the Dikshā nāma and no wonder his statue was worshipped as God “Dēvar” and it reminds us “Bhāgavat” of Mathura pillar inscription mentioned above. Our surmise is also justified by the presence of the Pāśupata śaivites in this village and the name Māhēśvara-sthānam attributed to it.

The pillar on which the above inscription is found and also the adjacent three pillars of same size and shape belonged to that memorial temple which stood in the name of Rājā Rājā and which disappeared in the later years. It should have been built by his son Rājendra Chola (1012 – 1044 A.D.) The fragments of the inscriptions of Rājendra and his sons are available on the basement of the vishnu temple which is of a later origin. Probably these records should have been engraved on the walls of the memorial temple and when went into ruins and the slab containing the fragments found their way to the new Vishnu temple. These records are yet to be copied. The other records including the pillar inscriptions are reported in the Archaeological Report on Epigraphy, 1926-27. Since the full texts were not published, above information escaped the attention of the earlier researchers. There are some more inscriptions and they are also to be copied. I trust the concerned department of Central and State Governments will launch a project in this village and bring out fresh materials. Careful survey, investigation of the inscriptions found in every nook and corner and scientific exploration will certainly bring to surface at least traces of the memorial temple dedicated to Rāja Rājā The Great and it will be an outstanding discovery of this decade.