Friday, April 7, 2006

नागेश्वरस्वामिने नमः

The small but perfect Nāgeśvara (or Nāgasvāmī) temple is for the visiting Sanskritist easily the most thrilling sacred site to see in Kumbakonam, a city noted for the superabundance of its temples. Here “small” refers to the original structure supposedly completed early in the reign of Parāntaka Coḷa (reg, 907–940 AD). After passing through what seem like never-ending bombastic (and dilapidated) enclosures of more recent design the visiting Sanskritist (sahṛdaya) cannot help but be speechless when faced with the remains of the original Cola masterpiece.

Sure, the Bṛhadīśvara temple may be imposing, but the aesthetically aware Sanskritist must on no account fail to receive darśanam of Nāgeśvara and his consort Bṛhannāyakī as well. The sacred well located here is called Nāgatīrtham, Ādiśeṣa is believed to have done penance here. Another attraction is the elegant and early Coḷa inscription covering almost the whole of the early temple.

As if this were not enough, the best time to visit this temple are three days in the month of Caitra (11th, 12, and 13th lunar days, though it is the only time of the year it ever approaches being crowded). These are the only days of the year when the sun’s rays fall through an ingeniously fashioned opening to bathe the central liṅgam in light.

The images posted are Ardhanārīśvara in the west, the wife of the donor (?) dānapati, Brahmā in the south, and probably the dānapati and his wife. Use your imagination to eliminate some of the more hideous modern accretions to the Cola structure to perceive the subtle original design.

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