Parthivapuram Parthasarathy Temple
This is an ancient ninth century temple located at Parthivapuram, a suburb of Munchirai, a village some ten kilometres west of Marthandom (Kuzhithurai Municipal town) in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. According to the Huzur Office (copper) plates, the temple was raised by Ay (Vrishni Kula) King Karunandadakkan (AD 857 - 880). Built in his ninth regnal year, it was intended to be the loftiest and the finest architectural construction of the Ays. As a temple, it might have enjoyed considerable importance, since a Chola inscription from the site refers to the setting up of a silver image in the temple, while a record dated in AD 923 registers a gift of land for burning two perpetual lamps. The latest known inscription is assignable to the 15th century and the inscriptions are silent about any renovation work till then.
The west facing temple is located in a spacious site of 2.50 acres. It is an example of tritala vimana, built on a square plan from adhishtana to sikhara. The adhishtana is of granite with the usual mouldings. The pranala in the form of a fluted shaft with curved lotus bud end emanates from the simha mukha. Below the pranala is a seated bhuta gana.
Four alternating recesses divide the adhishtana and the bhithi (superstructure) into five bays. Walls are made of granite blocks; some portions are plastered with lime and decorated with pushpa potikas. There is a simha mala at the top. The niches in the walls are non-functional.
The axial division of the west facing temple, consists of a square garbha griha, having a pradakshina patha all around, a projecting mukha mantapa, and an attached portico, the last mentioned unit with a flight of steps on the north and south. As usual, the sopanas are flanked by hasti-hasta banisters. In front of the portico stands a namaskara mantapa, with granite base and tiled pyramidal roof. The namaskara mantapa seems to be a later addition. It has four granite pillars on the four corners. In between them on the four sides are wooden arches supported on wooden pillars. There is no ceiling for the namaskara mantapa, but the rafters converge on the pinnacle of the roof.
The mukha mantapa has three entrances; west, north and south. The southern entrance leads to the thitappally or kitchen through a covered passage. The portion above the entablature in the main vimana is constructed of brick. The second tala has deities placed at four cardinal nooks; Brahma on the north, Indra on the east, Dakshinamoorthy on the south and Narasimha on the west. These images are made of stucco. The stupi crowning the edifice is of metal. There are four small turrets on the four corners of the vimana.
In all there are six subsidiary shrines in the sprawling campus. The most ancient structure among these is the Sri Krishna shrine in the south-west corner raised on a podium of much larger dimensions. It is an example of alpa vimana (small one storeyed vimana) built in Dravidian style. It is also an example of sama-chaturashra vimana, with square griva (neck) and sikhara (roof above griva), the latter as usual pinnacled by a stupi (finial). A narrower mukha mantapa comes out of the garbha griha on the east side where the temple faces. The most striking feature of this vimana is the well executed Mrgamala (animal chain) at the adhishtana level as well as the prastara (entablature) level. Though mrgamala is a feature found in the 9th-10th century temples of Kerala, its occurance at two levels is a rarity. The temple can be dated to the 9th century, as a fore-runner of such mrgamala exposition.
The other subsidiary shrines are those of Varaha and Vadakkum Perumal (Vishnu) on the north side and Karakandiswaram Sivan, Sivan in front of Krishna temple in the south side and Sastha and Dakshinamoorthy shrine in the west projecting portion of the temple complex.
It is a notable distinction of this temple that there is no hundi (for collection of money from devotees) anywhere in the premises. The annual festival of ten days duration is in Chingom from Atham to Tiruvonam asterism.
The temple complex had a salai (Vedic University) attached to it with boarding facilities for ninety five chattar (scholars). The Huzur office inscriptions (copper plates) specify the rules and regulation of the salai for the strict observance by the students. A knowledge of Vyakarana, Mimasa and Paurohitya was considered imperative for an applicant; in fact five chattars were to attest each application to that effect. Furthermore, those who wanted to get admission into the Parthivapuram Salai should have the necessary knowledge to conduct the affairs of the 'three kingdoms', the Cera, Chola and Pandya. The mode of recitation of the Vedas has also been specified in the copper plates which also contain other stipulations like fine for using abusive language, fasting as punishment for fighting with weapons within the salai premises and so on.
The Ay King Vikramaditya Varaguna wanted to make Parthivapuram another Kandalur salai, the famous University which existed somewhere near Tiruvananthapuram (the exact location is still a matter of contest among historians) at that time (9th century). However the Parthivapuram salai failed to surpass the glory and importance of the latter establishment. It is also evident from the fact that not a single Chola invasion of 10th or 11th century was directed against it as was the case with Kandalaru Salai. However, it is clear that the Vrishni Kula King made all efforts to build a mangificent edifice in this temple-salai complex, worthy of his fame and achievement. The temple is now a protected monument under the Archaeolgical Survery of India.
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Last Revised (contents): 16 April, 2009
Last Revised (design) : 26 july, 2004