This 12thcentury temple was built by Rajaraja Chola II. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Airavateswara is smaller but more exquisite amongst the three Great Living Chola temples. Dedicated to Shiva, the temple also features traditions of Vaishnavism and Shaktism. At some point this temple was destroyed. Its original inner courtyard survives today, along with the Nandi mandapa and stambha (pillar) standing tall outside it. The fine Dravidian architecture exhibited at Airavateswara is called Karakkoil – a style inspired by temple chariots used during festival processions. Morning and evening sun dials form the chariot wheels. The reliefs along with the main temple bear carvings that depict stories of the 63 Bhakti saints. Some stunning sculptures include those of the river goddesses, and the 108 Devara Othuvars- musicians who sang at the royal court. The temple is named after Airavata, Lord Indra’s elephant. As per legend, Airavata’s clean, white skin was restored after it bathed in the temple tank. This legend is even carved on a stone in sanctum. The temple features unusual steps, the Bali Pitham, with intricate carvings and baluster which produce musical notes when waked upon, and are thus called ‘singing steps’.
Gurunathan Pillai Colony, Darasuram, Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu 612702, India