India, a land of diverse culture and traditions, boasts of a myriad of ancient temples that serve as treasure houses of astonishing marvels and fascinating history. Among these architectural gems, the Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram, Tamilnadu, stands as a divine historic temple brimming with rich heritage and surprising artistic splendors. One among the three ancient temples collectively called the “Great Living Chola Temples,” the Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram has been bestowed with the prestigious UNESCO heritage tag. Join us on a virtual tour through the mystical tales and architectural grandeur of the Airavatesvara Temple.
A 1000-year-old Chola Marvel – A Mighty Divine Splendor
Dating back to the 12th Century CE, the Darasuram Airavatesvara Temple is a mighty divine splendor built by the famous Chola King, Rajaraja Chola II. Not just a powerful ruler, Rajaraja Chola II was a great patron of Tamilian art and architecture, gracing his empire with many architectural marvels like temples and monuments. The Airavatesvara Temple bears witness to the remarkable achievements of the Chola dynasty in the field of art, architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting. This revered Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Part of the Notable Trio – “The Great Living Chola Temples”
Along with the famous Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur and the Gangaikondacholeeswaram Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the Airavatesvara Temple is part of the notable trio called the “Great Living Chola Temples.” All three temples have earned the distinguished honor of being designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Despite its smaller size compared to the other two, the Airavatesvara Temple stands out for its exceptional beauty, delicacy, and intricate architecture.
Legend of Airavat – The White Elephant
The name “Airavatesvara” is derived from the celestial white elephant, Airavat, who is believed to have worshipped Lord Shiva at this sacred site. According to legend, Airavat was cursed by the short-tempered Sage Durvasa for disrespecting him, resulting in the loss of his spotless white color. Seeking redemption, Airavat fervently prayed to Lord Shiva at the temple’s present location, and upon the deity’s benevolent intervention, the elephant took a dip in the temple tank, Surya Pushkarini, regaining his white color and freedom from the curse. This legend lends its name to the temple as Airavatesvara and is beautifully depicted in stone carvings within the inner chambers of the temple.
The Sacred Temple Tank – Yamatheertham
Another legend associated with the Airavatesvara Temple revolves around Yama, the God of Death, who was cursed by a sage, causing a constant burning sensation all over his body. Seeking relief, Lord Yama prayed to Lord Shiva at this temple and found respite by taking a dip in the sacred temple tank. This tank is now known as “Yamatheertham.”
“Poetry in Stone” – A Spectacle of Architectural Brilliance
The Airavatesvara Temple is an astonishing spectacle in stone, resembling a chariot shape and reflecting stunning Dravidian architectural styles. The entire temple complex is brimming with carvings and inscriptions depicting stories from the epics and Puranas, truly embodying a “Poetry in Stone.” The exquisite carvings and sculptures adorning the temple structure are so magnificent and well-preserved that they leave visitors spellbound with their charm and intricacy.
The Musical Steps – An Artistic Wonder
One of the intriguing features of the Airavatesvara Temple is its “Musical Steps” or the “Singing Steps.” The small flight of seven steps leading to the sacrificial altar, Balipeetham, is ornately carved and represents the seven musical notes. Remarkably, when one walks or taps on these steps, they produce all seven melodious swaras or notes of music, leaving visitors in awe of this artistic wonder.
Micro Carvings – Testimony to Chola Sculptures’ Skill
The Airavatesvara Temple’s micro carvings are another wonder to behold. Despite their height being no more than an inch, these micro carvings exemplify the artistic brilliance and perfection of Chola sculptures, leaving a lasting impression on visitors.
The Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram is a sculptural and architectural masterpiece filled with history and a must-visit destination for history buffs, architectural enthusiasts, ardent devotees, and passionate photographers. Its mind-blowing splendors, mesmerizing architecture, and mystical tales will surely captivate and transport visitors back in time. Plan your sacred sojourn to the Airavatesvara Temple and explore its awe-inspiring charm and heritage.
Ways To Reach
By Air: Tiruchirappalli International Airport is the nearest airport, approximately 90 Km away.
By Road: The nearest town to Darasuram Airavatesvara Temple is Kumbakonam, just 5 Km away. Taxis, buses, or autorickshaws are available to reach the temple.
By Rail: Kumbakonam Railway Station is the nearest railway station, approximately 5 Km away.