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Tenavaram Temple

Tenavaram Temple

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Tenavaram temple (Tamil: தென்னாவரம் கோயில்) (historically known as the Tenavaram Kovil, Tevanthurai Kovil or Naga-Risa Nila Kovil) was a historic Hindu temple complex situated in the port town Tenavaram, Tevanthurai (or Dondra Head), Matara) near Galle, Southern Province, Sri Lanka.(see pic) Its primary deity was a Hindu god Tenavarai Nayanar and at its zenith was one of the most celebrated Hindu temple complexes of the island, containing eight major kovil shrines to a thousand deity statues of stone and bronze and two major shrines to Vishnu and Shiva. Administration and maintenance was conducted by residing Hindu Tamil merchants during Tenavaram's time as a popular pilgrimage destination and famed emporium.


The complex, bordered by a large quadrangle cloister, was a collection of several historic Hindu Kovil shrines, with its principle shrine designed in the Kerala and Pallava style of Dravidian architecture. The central temple dedicated to Vishnu (Tenavarai Nayanar) was the most prestigious and biggest, popular amongst its large Tamil population, pilgrims and benefactors of other faiths such as Buddhism, Kings and artisans. The other shrines that made up the Kovil Vatta were dedicated to Ganesh, Murukan, Kannagi and Shiva, widely exalted examples of stonework construction of the Dravidian style. The Shiva shrine is venerated as the southernmost of the 5 ancient Ishwarams of Lord Shiva (called Tondeswaram), built at coastal points around the circumference of the island in the classical period. Tenavaram temple owned the entire property and land of the town and the surrounding villages, ownership of which was affirmed through several royal grants in the early medieval period. Its keepers lived along streets of its ancient agraharam within the complex. Due to patronage by various royal dynasties and pilgrims across Asia, it became one of the most important surviving buildings of the classical Dravidian architectural period by the late 16th century. The temple compound was destroyed by Portuguese colonial De Souza d'Arronches, who devastated the entire southern coast. The property was then handed over to Catholics. Tenavaram's splendor and prominence ranked it in stature alongside the other famous Pallava-developed medieval Hindu temple complex in the region, Koneswaram of Trincomalee. Excavations at the complex mandapam's partially buried ruins of granite pillars, stairs and slab stonework over the entire town have led to numerous findings. Reflecting the high points of Pallava artistic influence and contributions to the south of the island are the temple's 5th-7th century statues of Ganesh, the Lingam, sculpture of Nandi and the Vishnu shrine's 10th century Makara Thoranam (stone gateway), the frame and lintel of which include small guardians, a lustrated Lakshmi, dancers, musicians, ganas, and yali-riders.


Tenavaram temple was built on vaulted arches on the promontory overlooking the Indian ocean. The central gopuram tower of the vimana and the other gopura towers that dominated the town were covered with plates of gilded brass, gold and copper on their roofs. Its outer body featured intricately carved domes, with elaborate arches and gates opening to various verandas and shrines of the complex, giving Tenavaram the appearance of a golden city to sailors who visited the port to trade and relied on its light reflecting gopura roofs for navigational purposes.


Tenavaram remains one of the destroyed Dravidian temples that has yet to be properly rebuilt by Tamil Hindus. Due to religious and demographic change after the late 18th century, most surrounding villages and towns are not directly associated with the town. The Vishnu Devale and Buddhist temples have been constructed atop the ruins.


Etymology,

Dondra Head is known historically in Tamil as Then-thurai, Tevan-thurai, Tennavan-thurai, Tendhira Thottam, Tenavaram and Tanaveram which are variations of the same meaning "Lord of the Southern Port" in the language. Then or Ten is an anglicized form of the Tamil word for South while Tennavan ("Southerner") is a historic ephitet denoting the Hindu God Shiva in the language, used by Tamil poets and simultaneously used as an honorable description of several Pandyan kings. Tevan is God, Thurai means port, Thottam means "estate" while varam or waram denotes the Lord's abode Iswaram.  The shrines' primary deity Vishnu shared the name of the town, Tenavarai Nayanar, at the southernmost point of the island. The northernmost Vishnu shrine of the island, Vallipuram Vishnu Kovil, houses the ancient deity Vallipuram Alwar following a similar naming tradition.


The Ganesh shrine of the temple was known as the Ganeshwaran Kovil and the Shiva shrine of the complex was known as Naga-Risa Nila Kovil. This name is possibly etymologically related to Nagareshu, from the famous phrase Nagareshu Kanchi coined by the 5th century poet Kalidasa in describing Kanchipuram as the "best city." Nila means blue while Kovil or Koil means a Tamil Hindu temple in Tamil. The whole complex was the southernmost shrine of the five ancient Iswarams of Lord Shiva on the island of classical antiquity along with Koneswaram (Trincomalee), Naguleswaram (Keerimalai), Thiruketheeshwaram (Mannar) and Munneswaram (Puttalam).


In Pali the town is called Devapura and Devanagara. In Sinhalese it has been referred to as Devinuwara, meaning City of Gods and Devundara.


In English today the town is known as Dondra or Dondera. It was a prolific sea port and capital city in medieval Sri Lanka and housed merchants from around Asia, amongst whom were many traders from Tamil Nadu.


History,

Early History,

A map drawn by early Greek cartographers reveals the existence of a Hindu temple at the same location along the southern coast. Ptolemy in 98 CE marks the town as "Dagana" or "Dana" (Sacra Luna), a place "sacred to the moon," which geographers note corresponds to Tenavaram. In this temple the principal deity was known as "Chandra Maul Eshwaran". On the forehead of the deity was a large precious stone shaped like a moon crescent. Ancient Tamil texts such as the Yalpana Vaipava Malai call the town Theivanthurai (God's Port) and the deity's name Santhira Segaram or "Lord Shiva, wearer of moon on his head". This shrine became known as the Naga-Risa Nila Kovil of Tenavaram by the medieval period, and as "Tondeswaram", one of the five ancient Ishwarams of Shiva in the region.


Construction development in 6th - 8th century CE,

There is scattered literary and archeological evidence from local and foreign sources describing the division of the whole island in the first few centuries of the common era between two kingdoms. The accounts of 6th century Greek merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes who visited the island around the time of King Simhavishnu of Pallava's rule in Tamilakam reveal the presence of two kings, one of whom was based in Jaffna, home to a great emporium, who ruled the coastal districts around the island. This Tamil kingdom evolved from Nāka Nadu of the ancient Nāka Dynasty. Merchant guilds from Tamilakkam often built from scratch or maintained previously built shrines to Lord Shiva and Vishnu across South and South East Asia during the rule of Pallava, Chola and Pandyan kings. During the conquest of Ceylon by Pallava King Narasimhavarman I (630 - 668 CE) and the rule of the island by his grandfather and devout Vishnu devotee, King Simhavishnu (537 - 590 CE), many Pallava-built rock temples were erected in the region to various deities and this style of architecture remained popular and highly influential in the next few centuries. The temple complex was developed with a Pallava style of architecture between the 6th and 8th century CE.


One tradition states that a temple shrine in Tenavaram was constructed by King Aggabodhi IV in the middle of the 7th century CE, fusing Dravidian stone-made temple construction with a local interpretation.  The Kegalla district ola manuscript found by archaeologist Harry Charles Purvis Bell records another popular tradition, involving the arrival of a red sandalwood Vishnu image at Tenavarai by the sea in 790 CE. King Dappula Sen was involved in restoring the Vishnu shrine of the complex during this time to house the image after envisioning its arrival in a dream. The manuscript indicates several Tamil pilgrims' arrived at Tenavaram at this time, and how the King granted its lands to the Hindus who accompanied an image of Vishnu. The Chief Brahmin Priest/merchant prince who brought the image was called Rama Chandra, (a name which alludes to Lord Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu). The sandalwood image was moved soon after to other shrines inland. Some scholars regard the story of a sandalwood image washing ashore to be mythical. A 17th century literature source details that right after the washing ashore of the wood image, Tamil Brahmins versed in Vaishnava lore from Rameswaram in Pallava-era Tamilakkam were invited to the town to fashion and import an image of Lord Vishnu to Tenavaram. Other sources indicate the Tamils brought the statue to Tenavaram for safe-keeping as Rameswaram was under attack. Rama Chandra founded the Ganesh Kovil of Tenavaram in 790, located at Vallemadama on the sea coast, where the waves struck its walls at the Kovil Vatta. The Naga Risa Nila Kovil of Shiva was in the vicinity of