All you need to know about Darasuram UNESCO Site

All you need to know about Darasuram UNESCO Site

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Darasuram History

Darasuram, also called Dharasuram is an ancient temple town in Tamil Nadu. It is located 3 KM from Kumbakonam in the Thanjavur district. It is also an important cultural heritage site, owing to the historical Airavateswara temple or Airavatesvara mandir and other temples built in a similar time period.

The entire site is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Darasuram Airavateswara temple along with the Periya Nayaki Amman temple form the highlight of the cluster of 18 medieval era Hindu temples in the Kumbakonam area.

The temples depict the Vaishnavism and Shaktism traditions, along with the folk legends of the Nayanmars – the Bhakti saints of Shaivism. The history of the Darasuram temple is a mix of folklore, mythology, and royal records. 

Dharasuram Temple Legend

The temple legend says that Airavata, the divine white elephant of Indra worshipped Shiva in this temple, as did Yama, the King of Death. Lore has it that Airavateswara, the presiding deity of the temple cured Yama himself when he was under a curse of a rishi.

Yama bathed in the sacred tank and got rid of the burning sensation. Since then, the water tank is called Yamateertham (pilgrimage of Yama) and remains sacred for devotees. The tank gets freshwater supply from the Kaveri River and is 228 feet wide. Pilgrims who come here often bathe in this tank. Later, during the Chola rule, the kings were said to worship Shiva Lingam in this temple. The temple walls hold inscriptions by the Chola and the Pandya kings.

Darasuram Temples

The Airavateswara temple is a storehouse of classic Dravidian art and architecture. With heavily ornated pillars, columns, and intricately sculpted walls, the temple showcases the Chola art and creativity of artisans of its time.

The vimana or temple tower is 85 feet high. The front yard has a mandapam/dais shaped in the form of a huge chariot drawn by horses. The seven swaras or notes can be heard at different points in time. The entrance is flanked by two imposing figures of Dwarapalakas or doormen, sculpted with vivid expressions. 

The main mandapam is called Raja Gambira, with a chariot drawn by elephants. The wheels as they are were added later by the Archeological Society of India. The temple ceilings boast beautiful carvings of Shiva and Parvati inside an open lotus.

Airavateswara temple
Airavateswara temple

Darasuram Architecture

The overall temple structure represents a chariot with major deities mentioned in the Vedas and Puranas like Agni, Varuna, Vayu, Brahma, Surya, Vishnu, Saptamtrikas, Durga, Saraswati, Sri devi (Lakshmi), Ganga, Yamuna, Subrahmanya, Ganesha, Kama, Rati and others.

The walls and pillars showcase Bharatanatyam dancers carved in stone, in various dancing poses. They are called Sodasa Upasaras. The sculptures also represent visuals of both mythological stories and contemporary society. There are carvings of women, children, farmers, along with the likes of Ravana, Buddha, Bhikshatana etc.

The paintings on the temple walls were later updated by the Nayak kings. The premise also houses the Periya Nayaki Amman temple, adjacent to the Airavateswara temple. It is dedicated to Shiva’s consort, Deva Nayaki, which is also the main shrine. It is believed that this temple was once attached to the main temple when the outer courts were complete. 

Darasuram Architecture

Most parts of the temple, like the gopuram/spire, are in ruins and the main temple with its shrine stand alone. But whatever remains, are within the inside wall of the main courtyard, raised from the ground by afoot. There are two sundials, namely the morning and evening sundials which can be seen as wheels of the chariot.

The stone carvings on the pillars and exteriors showcase gypsy women in gymnastic poses akin to a circus, entertaining villagers and the royals. The Periya Nayaki Amman temple still attracts large crowds of pilgrims every year, during the Hindu month of Magha, when there are special pujas held for Shiva and Durga. 

Hidden Facts about Darasuram

Here are some interesting facts about Airavatesvara temple – 

  • There is also a small mandapam, raised from the ground with seven stone steps. The steps are said to emit different musical sounds when tapped.
  • The chariot design of the temple is said to be inspired by the Konark Sun Temple in Orissa.
  • The masons/artisans used pure granite for construction and sculptures of all the figures and forms that are present inside the temple. 

Darasuram UNESCO World Heritage Site

Darasuram is an integral part of the Great Living Chola Temples, found at Brihadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur, the Gangaikondacholisvaram, Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavateswara Temple, Darasuram. All these temples were built by the Chola kings between the 10th and 12th centuries.

The architecture of all the temples in these places have a lot of similarities with the classic Dravidian stone and rock architecture and collectively make for a prominent part of Tamil Nadu’s history. The Darasuram sculptures are living evidence of ancient Indian art and Dravidian heritage.

The Great Living Chola Temples, along with Darasuram are managed and maintained by the Archeological Society of India. In 1987, UNESCO declared Darasuram as a World Heritage Site for its significance and contribution to India’s art and cultural legacy on a global scale. 

[Also Read: All you Need to Know About Thanjavur | Travel Guide]

Things to do in Darasuram 

Most tourist attractions in the Darasuram world heritage site are close to each other, at a distance of 5 to 10 KM and can be covered within a couple of hours. 

Here are some of the best places to visit in Darasuram – 

  • Visit the Darasuram Temple and Periya Nayaki Amman Temple – Explore the ancient architecture and history of the famous heritage site. The Darasuram temple timings are from 8 AM to 12.30 PM and 4 PM to 7.30 PM, all days of the week.
  • Visit the Sarangapani Temple – The temple is considered as one of the three major shrines of Bishnu and one of the Divya Desams. The giant temple is 12 story high was built in 15th century by the Nayak Kings. 

Other Attraction in Darasuram

Suryanar Koil Temple

Suryanar Koil Temple
Suryanar Koil Temple

About the Place:  Situated in the village of Suryanar Koil, the temple is dedicated to the sun god – Surya. It’s presiding deity is Suryanar, and his consorts – Ushadevi and Pratyusha Devi. The temple also houses deities associated with each of the nine planets. The temple is famous for hosting a grand celebration of the Ratha Saptami festival.

Timings: 6:00 AM – 12:30 PM and 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Entry Fee: Free

Best time to visit: Mid-January to mid-February. 

How to reach from Darasuram: The temple is located 20 KM from Darasuram and takes about 45 minutes via NH36/NH 45C and Chinnammal Kallarai/Kallanai – Poombhuhar Rd. You can use the public buses available from Mayiladuthurai, Aduthurai, Anaikarai and Thirupananthal or book a cab or rent a car from Darasuram to reach Suryanar Koil Temple.

Tiruvidaimarudur Conservation Reserve

About the Place: Located in the Tiruppadaimarathur village in Tirunelveli district near Kumbakonam, this natural avian reserve is a protected bird nesting region. Spanning over a vast area of 2.84 hectares, the reserve is established within a Shiva temple compound.

The enclave boasts aquatic and land birds like egrets, pond herons, spot-billed pelicans, and endangered species of storks. There are about 400 egrets within this reserve. The area is dotted with freshwater ponds and 20 varieties of ancient endemic trees like maruthu, mahwa, neem and illuppai. 

Timings: NA 

Entry Fee: NA

Best time to visit: October to February 

How to reach from Darasuram: The avian reserve is located at 17 Km from Darsuram and takes about 30 minutes to reach via NH 36/NH 45C. The best way to travel is to book a cab or rent a local car from Darasuram.

How to Reach Darasuram

How to Reach Darasuram

Darasuram temple location is easily accessible from Kumbakonam and other major towns within Tamil Nadu. The heritage site with both the temples sits at 4 KM southwest of Kumbakonam town. 

By Train

Darasuram has its own railway station, which is connected to Kumbakonam and Thanjavur. There are regular trains to these cities from Chennai, Madurai, Trichy, and Bangalore.

By Road

There are buses from Kumbakonam town to Darasuram on a regular basis. There are also state-run and private buses from other cities like Thanjavur and Salem. The best way to travel to Darasuram is to book a cab or rent an outstation car from any major city in Tamil Nadu. 

By Flight

The nearest airport is at Trichy, 95.6 KM away. There are regular flights available to Trichy from all major cities in Tamil Nadu and other states. 

Best time to visit Darasuram

The best time to visit Darasuram is between October to March, when the weather is pleasant to explore the temples and outdoor sites.

Places to Stay in Darasuram

  • Hotel Ark 
  • Vinayaga by Poppy’s
  • Mayapuri Amira Luxury Hotel
  • Indeco Hotels Swamimalai
  • Cholaa Dynasty
  • Hotel Riverside Resort & Spa

Places to Eat in Darasuram

  • Mangalambika coffee & Tiffin center
  • Sathar’s Restaurant
  • Sri Balaji Bhavan
  • Fayaz Restaurant 
  • Shamby’s Pizza Cafe

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All you need to know about Darasuram UNESCO Site
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All you need to know about Darasuram UNESCO Site
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Darasuram, also called Dharasuram is an ancient temple town in Tamil Nadu. It is located 3 KM from Kumbakonam in the Thanjavur district. It is also an important cultural heritage site.
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