Temples of Kunnakudi


Kunnakudi is a small village near Karaikudi in Tamilnadu, and is famous for its ancient cave temple of Subramanya situated on a small hill. It is also a place of considerable historical interest. On the western side of the hill are three excavated cave shrines at the ground level. These are in a line and are adjacent to one another. Later structures have been added to these shrines in the front. All these cave shrines are dedicated to Shiva. The first two shrines are embellished with very fine sculptural details, with beautifully carved 'Dwarapalas', but the third one is very plain. There are a number of old inscriptions in this region which are found to be useful to the research minded historians.

A finely carved idol of Chandikeshwara seated in 'Padmasana' with his hands resting on the lap in 'yoga' pose is found to the south of the first cave and in line with it. To the right is represented his emblem, the 'Parasu' with a long handle. The first cave shrine is regular in plan like other Pallava cave temples with the 'sanctum' scooped out of rock in the centre of the hins wall. A rockcut 'Shivalinga' is in the centre of the Sanctum. The cave is supported by two square pillars in the front and has sculptures on its side walls. On the northern wall is carved a figure of Vishnu, as 'Garudantika', with a high crown and having four arms holding his emblems in the upper arms. The lower right arm is in the 'Kalyavalambita' pose and the left is resting on the Garuda who stands to the left of Vishnu with his arms crossed over his chest. The figure has no representation of break or wings suggestive of the bird.

The eastern wall to the right of the 'sanctum' has a carved figure of 'Lingodbhavamurthy'. Shiva wearing a 'jatabhara' is shown with four arms. He holds the 'Parasu' and the 'Mriga' in the upper arms. The lower left arm is in 'Kalyavalambita' pose and the right in the 'Varada' pose. The 'linga' portion below his waist is shown as a flat pillar, while the portion above the head is shown as an arch with a garland. An idol of Brahma with three heads and four arms in the 'Anjali' pose stands to the right. Though the swan form of Brahma is represented, there is no boar form for Vishnu.

On the eastern wall to the left of the 'sanctum' are carved two sculptures, one representing Durga and the other Harihara. Durga, standing on the head of a buffalo, is shown with eigth arms holding the usual attributes and emblems. The lowest right hand is in the 'Varada' pose and the left is held across her body holding a fire in a cup. On her right is shown a seated figure offering 'Navakanda'. On the left is another figure kneeling in the 'Anjali' pose.

The adjacent figure of Harihara is shown with four arms. The upper pair of arms holds the 'Parasu' and the 'Shankha', the lower right is in the 'abhaya' pose, and the left is in the 'Kalavalambita' pose. The right portion of the head-dress is treated with a 'Jatamakuta' and the left is shown as a crown. The upper garment on the right appears as a tiger's skin shown upto the middle of the thigh, while on the left a 'Nilamsuka' is represented upon the ankle.

On the south wall is shown a beautiful idol of Nataraja with eigth arms. He holds various attributes and emblems including a 'Vrishdhwaja'. Both the legs are placed on the ground in crossed style. No 'Apasmara' is represented. The 'Jatas' move sidewards and downwards. Two 'Ganas' are represented, one on either side. One plays 'Kundamuzha' and other a pair of cymbols. At the back is shown the 'Prabha'. Unfortunately, most of these beautiful idols are not distance due to the frequent application of plaster during the recent years.

The side walls on the rock in front of the cave are also figured with scupture. There are two 'Dwarapalas' one on either side. On the northern wall is a standing figure of Subramanya with four arms, the upper arms holding a 'Kukkuta' and 'Vajra'. An interesting thick 'upavita' adorns the shoulders instead of the usual 'Yagnopavita'. In the wall opposite to this is a seated Genesha.

The Second cave contains, apart from the 'Dwarapalas', only one sculpture in the north wall of the rectangular wall. This cave also resembles the first in plan. There are five sculptures in the walls as in the first one. Vishnu and Garuda are the interesting idols. The Garuda wears a peculiar style of cap and is standing in the 'vinaya' pose. His wings are shown on either side.

In between the second and the third cave, the outer joining face has a 'Shiva-linga' carved in half relief and in small size. The third cave resembles the first and second in plan, but is totally devoid of sculptures. A strange stone inscription in the 'Vatteluttu' Characters relating to the eighth century A.D. is found in the first cave, which reads, 'Masiliccuram'. Probably, this appears to be an unfinished cave belonging to that period.

Another inscription on the pillar to the left of a Bhairava idol in the second rock-cut cave is dated the eighth regnal year of Tribhuvana Chakarvati Sundara Pandyadeva. It records a gift of land by 'Uyyavandan Verumudisudan, Adalayur Nandavan, for providing offerings to God Kshetrapala Pillaiyar set up in the temple of Tennarrunnayakar at Tirukunnakkudi by Parpayanar Taliyasingapannan of Sokkalur'. Evidently, it appears that the idol of Bhairava now found in the temple is the Kshetrapala referred to in the inscription.

It is gathered that the name of the main deity in the second cave is Tennarru Nayakar (the Lord of southern river). Another inscription in the pillar of the third rock-cut cave relates to the 23rd regnal year (1008 A.D) of Rajaraja Chola-I. It states that a gift of land "for providing offerings in the temple of Tirukunnakkudi Parameshwaran, by Kadan Sriyarur Devan of Mukundarrur, a 'Perundavam' of Rajaraja Deva who had obtained Tennarrupokku in pandinadu of Rajaraja Valanadu, as his 'Jeevitam'". It is clear from this inscription that the deity in the third cave was called 'Tirukunnakudi Paramaswamy'.

Kunnakkudi village is about 14kms from Karaikudi, and is connected by a good road. Buses and vans operate in this route at frequent intervals. It is preferable to camp at Karaikudi where good lodging facilities are available for the tourists and visitors.