CHENNAI: Purasawalkam in Chennai is home to an ancient Chola temple for Shiva. It is dedicated to Gangadeeshwara, also called Gangadhareshwara, the form of Shiva who received and bore the River Ganga on his descent to earth from the heavens.
This area gets its name from the Purasai (Palasha) tree or Flame of the Forest which must have grown in abundance here a long time back.
It is likely that Purasawalkam had a sacred grove of this species of tree. The Purasai tree is the sthala vriksham or sacred tree of the Gangadeeshwarar temple and there is one inside the temple compound revered by the devotees.
This temple has a tall five-tiered gopuram, studded with numerous sculptures at the entrance, visible from the main road. The main sanctum enshrines the linga and opposite this is a mandapa, constructed nearly fifty years ago. The idols of Surya and Chandra are seen facing the Linga.
Nearby is the south-facing shrine for Goddess Parvati, worshipped as Pankajambal. A rare stone idol here, not usually seen in temples is of King Bhagiratha who did penance to Shiva for bringing River Ganga to earth from the heavens.
A huge modern and eye-catching sculpture of Gangadhara with Bhagiratha worshipping a Shiva Linga near his feet is seen in the courtyard of the temple. A large temple tank is inside the premises.
Some donative inscriptions have been discovered in this temple in the past. A 13th century Chola epigraph registers a donation made to the temple in Tiruvanmiyur. Several Vijayanagara era inscriptions of the 15th and 16th centuries AD were discovered, but unfortunately were in a damaged condition.
(The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture)