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Chithra Madhavan | HENB | April 6, 2016:: Somangalam, a small village about 10 km from Kundrathur, has a temple for Shiva in addition to the Vishnu temple dedicated to Soundararaja Perumal. The main sanctum having the Lingam which is worshipped as Somanathiswara faces east. Goddess Parvathi is enshrined in a separate sanctum as Kamakshi Amman.
The entrance to the temple is via an arch which has been constructed in recent times. The icon of Nataraja here is in the rare chathura tandava pose. The central shrine is of Chola vintage with a rounded rear end which is called gajaprishta vimanam indicating the main sanctum resembles the back of an elephant.
This temple is connected with Chandra or the Moon god. According legend, Chandra was once cursed by King Daksha and lost his lustre. He then worshipped Shiva in this temple after bathing in the sacred tank called vinai tirtha kulam and got back his beauty. Another tank near the temple is called Chandikeshwarar Tirtham. The moon is called Soma in Sanskrit, and Shiva worshipped by Soma is called Somanathiswarar. The village too got its name Somangalam. There is a separate shrine for Soma here.
The Somanathiswarar temple is one of the nine temples dedicated to the nine planets (grahas) situated around Porur. A feature of this temple is the Nandi faces outwards and not at Shiva. It is said that a king was once renovating the temple when the army of the enemy attacked the kingdom. The king requested Nandi to face the enemy and thwart their attack and Shiva’s bull turned around and blew away the foes!
Village named after Soma
Somangalam, the village near Kundrathur, one of the suburbs of Chennai close to Porur, is a place of great antiquity. The two little known Chola temples in Somangalam, one for Vishnu and the other for Siva and the Tamil inscriptions found on their walls bear testimony to this suburb’s connections with the Cholas. The name Somangalam has continued to exist for more than a thousand years as evident from the Chola lithic records. The other ancient names of this village were Rajashikhamani Chaturvedimangalam and Panchanadivana Chaturvedimangalam indicating that it was peopled by scholars who were well-versed in the four Vedas. It was situated in the ancient territorial sub-division of Maganur Nadu in Chengattu-k-kottam in Jayankonda-cholamandalam.
The medium-sized east-facing Siva shrine in Somangalam, now known as the Somanatheswara temple, is a classic example of Chola architecture.
The central sanctum has an apsidal shape known in technical parlance by the Sanskrit term gaja-prishta meaning ‘back of an elephant’ due to its structural design. Similar apsidal Chola shrines are seen in many temple-complexes around Chennai and also in the surrounding areas, including the Ramanatheswara temple in Porur, not too far from Somangalam.
The walls of the Somanatheswara temple are studded with sculptures and inscriptions. Images of Ganesha, Vishnu and Brahma in the niches are exquisite creations of Chola artisans. Noteworthy are the carvings of the vahanams or mounts of the respective deities on the pedestals. Chola era images of Dakshinamurti and Durga as Mahishasuramardini are also seen here.
Interestingly, the Nandi at this temple faces the entrance, relating to an age-old tradition of Somanatheswara ordering Nandi to face and drive out the inimical army that was about to invade his devotee’s land when the latter was in the midst of a temple-building activity.
Incidentally, the village and this deity take their names from Soma or the moon who is said to have worshipped Siva here and for whom there is a separate shrine inside the temple. The earliest epigraph in this Siva temple is dated 1,174 A.D. (of the reign of Rajadhiraja Chola II), registering the gift of cows and providing the ancient name of this deity as Someshwaram Udaiyar.
An interesting lithic record, of the time of Kulothunga III, dated 1,192 A.D., refers to breaches in the bunds of a lake in Somangalam for two years in succession.
The lake bunds were repaired by one Kaman Kandavanavan, who also bore the expenses towards the annual repair of the tank. Several other inscriptions in the reign of this later Chola monarch are seen here.
Similar to Kerala temple
Near the Siva shrine is a Vishnu temple dedicated to Soundararaja Perumal, who is seen in a standing posture with the upper hands holding the conch and the discus, the lower right hand in abhaya hasta and the left resting on the hip (kati hasta).
The deity is flanked by Goddesses Sridevi and Bhoodevi. The other utsava murtis in this sanctum are Narthana Krishna, Vishwaksena, Sudarsana and Anjaneya. In the vestibule (antarala) connecting the main shrine with the mandapam in front are the stone images of Vishwaksenar, Nammazhwar, Andal and Ramanujar. Opposite the central sanctum is the shrine of Garuda. There is only one circumambulatory passage (prakaram) in this temple which is quite wide and spacious.
Herein are seen a number of sanctums, the most important being that of Goddess Lakshmi worshipped here as Soundaryavalli Thayar. A neatly maintained garden (nandavanam) skirts the compound of the temple.
The most eye-catching feature, which can be seen as soon as one enters the temple is the main mandapam.
With its tiled roof and woodwork supporting it, the visitors are reminded of the Kerala temples famous for their tile and timber tradition. An old deepasthambam (lamp-post) made of a single piece of granite is seen in front of this mandapam. A tiny gopuram greets the visitor at the entrance to the temple.
A long inscription, dated 1,073 A.D. (of the reign Kulottunga Chola I), can be seen etched clearly on the walls of the main shrine in this Vishnu temple. It states that this deity was worshipped by the name Thiruchitra-kuttatu-Azhwar in the Chola times and records a gift of land to the temple by the mahasabha (administrative unit) of the village. The donation was intended for holding various services, offerings and lighting of lamps in the evenings.
The devotees attending the festival were to be fed from the tax money of the land gifted. It is heartening to know that during the Tamil month of Margazhi, Andal’s Thiruppavai is chanted by school students at this temple.