This is Vettuvan Koil which means ‘Heaven of sculptors’ located in Kalugumalai, a panchayat town in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu. Kalugumalai is a small town which had a population of about 15,000 in the beginning of this century. Though Tamil Nadu has several temples, including UNESCO heritage sites, this temple has its own speciality. Do you know what’s its speciality?
Though this temple was constructed during the 8th century its speciality has been realised only a decade ago, that too when the government decided to popularise village tourism. Constructed in the Pandyan Architecture, the temple is maintained and administered by Department of Archaeology of the Government of Tamil Nadu as a protected monument.
The speciality of this temple is that it is entirely carved out of one solid rock, just like the Kailasa Temple in Ellora Caves. This rock-cut temple is notable for its architecture and construction method. While the early Pandya rulers helped build numerous cave and stone temples, it is the only known example of a Pandya era monolithic temple that was carved out in three dimensions, in-situ from the top of the hillock. It is an unfinished Shiva temple.
The temple is carved out in a rectangular portion measuring 7.5-m (25-ft) in depth. The sculptures and the carvings are indicative of Pandyan art during the period. The granite rock looks like a blooming lotus, with hills surrounding it on three sides. The vimana (ceiling over the sanctum) and mandapa are some of the features of the early Pandyan temples. The vimana has niches of Parsavadevatas, the attendant deities of Shiva, like ganas, Dakshinamurthy depicted playing a mridanga, Siva with his consort Uma, dancers, various niches of Nandi (the sacred bull of Shiva) and animals like monkeys and lions. Interestingly this is the only site where Dakshinamurthy is depicted playing the Mridanga (a percussion instrument), while in all other places, he is depicted playing Veena.
According to some historians, the temple is similar in architecture to that of Virupaksha Temple at Karnataka by Vikramaditya II during 734–44, Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple built by Narasimhavarman II during 685–705 AD and Kailasa temple, Ellora by Krishna I during 756–77.