Thirumazhisai near Poonamallee close to Chennai is home to an old Shiva temple and two Vishnu temples. The Shiva shrine is known as Otthandishwara temple and can be seen from the main road in Thirumazhisai. This temple is known for its antiquity, architecture, sculptures and inscriptions.
It is said that when a Chola king visited this place, a creeper encircled the leg of the elephant he was riding on. He cut the creeper with his sword and while doing so hit a Lingam. He then built a Shiva temple at that place and enshrined the Lingam.
The temple facing east is entered through a tall gopuram of five tiers on the south side. This temple tower is studded with small, well-wrought sculptures reflecting various stories connected with Shiva including Gajasamharamurti (Shiva killing a demon who was in the form of an elephant), Meenakshi Kalyanam and Nataraja in urdhava tandavam pose. There is another entrance to the temple on the east side which leads to the temple tank. The central sanctum is of an unusual shape with a rounded rear portion called Gajaprishta vimanam — ‘gaja’ in Sanskrit means elephant and ‘prishta’ means rear. The shrine is thus made to resemble the shape of a ‘sleeping elephant’ called thunganai madam in Tamil.
A large and well-maintained temple-tank is seen adjacent to the temple. There are Chola inscriptions, the earliest dated 1115 AD. These epigraphs are found on the base of the main sanctum, pillars, walls and other places and they mention that the name of the deity in Chola times was Agattisvaram Udaiyar and Otthandishwara Tambiranar and it changed to Otthandiswarar in the Vijayanagara era.
The epigraphs mention donations to this temple over time and the involvement of people called Maheshwaras and Shivabrahmanas who were responsible for fulfilling the endowments made to the shrine.
(The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture)