Tharamangalam is a town an hour’s bus journey from Salem. Salem itself has nothing of interest according to locals. Tourist books don’t mention it either. So after visiting Mettur this morning, I left for this town at about 6 pm. When I arrived at Tharamangalam, it was past sunset and darkness had already set in. The point of curiosity for the tourist is the Kailasanathar Temple.
The temple is right opposite the bus station. A high wall, at places embossed with stone carving (fish, tortoise etc.), creates an expectation that this temple is significant and the visit is not in vain. An impressive 5-tiered gopuram greets you. The inner courtyard is spacious. A pillared corridor surrounds the courtyard. A nandi shirne stands before the main temple.
Entering the temple you will notice the following features:
- The main shrine is faced by two subsidiary shrines. It is the latter that create a central passage towards the main shrine. I found this scheme to be unique, not seen by me in any temple in Karnataka. Incidentally, this is the first temple I am studying closely as I begin my tour of Tamil Nadu.
- The space between these three shrines has a fascinating ceiling. A stone wheel ringed with pecking stone parrots is the highlight. It is claimed that the wheel can be freely rotated. Chains, probably of stone too, hang from the same ceiling.
- The main shrine stands at a level slightly below the level of the pradakshina patha. A well stands next to the main shrine at the same level.
- The ambulatory is full of interesting sculptures of gods, goddesses and saints. I admired greatly the figures of Rathi and Manmatha. There is an 18-armed sculpture of Nataraja, excellent by its own merit but not surpassing that of Badami Caves. Included among the saints are the 63 Nayanmars and 4 Nalvars. These are not sculptures for the sake of art alone. The temple is in active use. The sculptures glisten at times in oil. They are often decorated with vermilion and lamps burn in offering before them.
- There is an underground chamber and ante-chamber which can be accessed by a few steps. These chambers are only 6 feet high. There is a small stone linga, not bigger than one’s thumb. We can be sure its a linga because it stands on a substantial peeta.
- There are no exquisite carvings on walls like in Belur or Halebid. The beauty is in the sculptures, the pillars and capitals.
It is the pillars that deserve separate praise. Looking at the details, they are exquisitely carved. Looking at the overall arrangment, they are harmonious. They are formal but not rigid. Each pillar is essentially of a square base with octogonal or 16-sided sections or bands. In every section are carvings in bas relief. This basic pillar is joined to a much slender pillar by latticed stonework. These two form a composite pillar. At the corners, three such slender pillars together with the primary pillar form the composite pillar. The slender secondary pillars are not just ornamental. They support the overhanging stonework that rises gracefully towards the capital. On some pillars, elephants, horses and lions are beautifully carved. Yalis, or mythical lions, are carved on some pillars. It is said that stone balls in their mouths can be freely rolled.
Had I come during the day, I could have admired the whole thing much better and perhaps made a sketch or two of the pillars and sculptures.
Tamil Nadu is full of magnificent temples. In the grand scheme of things, no one even notices this temple at Tharamangalam. Most people would not even have heard of this temple unless he/she has passed by this region. Nonetheless, Tharamangalam is well worth a visit.
I kept Salem as my base for exploring the region. I took an early train from Bangalore to Salem. After visiting Mettur this morning, I returned to Salem and took a bus to Tharamangalam. It takes only an hour.
Salem has lots of options. Right opposite the New Bus Stand is New Saravana Bhavan. I had lunch today here at Rs 51. Service wasn’t that good. For dinner I packed idli and pongal. You have to order at one counter, walk across the crowded restaurant to the entrance to pay the bill and walk back to the kitchen with the slip. For God’s sake, I am the customer, not the waiter!
At Salem I stayed at Hotel Juha Regency. At Rs 250 for a single room with TV, it was very clean and right opposite the New Bus Stand. Good service overall.