CHENNAI: The ancient Dhenupurisvarar temple in Madambakkam, a suburb close to Tambaram, is one of the lesser known temples near Chennai. This Shiva shrine dates back to the Chola times as seen from the architectural features and also from the inscriptions etched on the walls.
According to tradition of this temple, a cow (Dhenu is Sanskrit) worshipped the Shiva Linga here and hence the name Dhenupurishwarar. There is a small sculpture of a cow bathing the Linga with milk in this temple.
The central east-facing sanctum houses the Shiva Linga worshipped as Dhenupurishwarar. This sanctum is apsidal in shape with a rounded rear end. Apsidal shrines such as these are known in Sanskrit as gajaprshta vimana, literally meaning ‘back of an elephant’ since in form they resemble the hind portions of an elephant. The sanctum for Goddess Dhenukambal is very close to the main sanctum and faces south.
The large front mandapa has numerous pillars studded with sculptures of the Vijayanagara style. The entrance way to this temple has an unfinished gopura above it, constructed in the Vijayanagara style and nearby is the temple-tank where the annual float-festival takes place. Nearly a dozen inscriptions have been discovered in and around this temple throwing light on its history.
The inscriptions also reveal that the original names of Dhenupurisvarar were Sitrreri Aludaya Nayanar, Sitrreri Udaiya Nayanar and Sitrreri Mahadeva. The name Sitrreri indicates a small lake which is seen in Madambakkam. It was situated in the ancient territorial sub-division of Nedukundra-Nadu, in Puliyur-kottam alias Kulottunga-Chola-Valanadu, a sub-division of Jayamkonda-Chola mandalam. A lot of festivals are celebrated in this ancient temple, one of the most important being the Panguni Uttiram festival in the Tamil month of Panguni (March-April).
(The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture)