Tenavaram Temple

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.

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