The variety and richness of Bangalore’s cultural heritage is to be experienced, rather than gleaming information from books and the net. In the midst of bustling activity, traffic jams that have become a part of the city life, tucked in a bylane, not very far from the main Domlur road is a quaint West-facing 10th century Chola temple, which is the oldest in Bangalore City. To a newcomer to that area, this ancient temple can be discovered only by accident, as its existence is not familiar to those outside the Domlur/Indiranagar belt. It may strike the first time visitor/devotee initially as one of the many temples that dot a neighborhood, as structurally it’s not striking. The temple stands on a high base and probably was in the centre of the village, and once a prominent structure, unlike today.
The munificence of the illustrious kings of the Pallava, Chola, Hoysala, Vijayanagar dynasties who were themselves great devotees and patrons not only encouraged scholars, but inaugurated the proliferation of the most glorious institutions--the great temples that South India is associated with. The temples are not only all comprehensive religious institutions but coordinate all aspects of local life. King after king vied with one another, to improvise and excel till no village was left without this symbol of Bhakti.The art panels and sculptures on the pillars, outer walls give an insight into the country’s rich repository of mythology and the then prevailing social norms to the visiting people. Thanks to these kings, today we are fortunate to have such antiquity and marvels in stone.
The type of pilasters in the Sanctum and Navaranga walls and the name Chokka Perumal, leads to the belief that the temple is of Chola origin, though there are no records as such. The whole of the Chola belongings of Bangalore were in the Illaipakka nadu (present day Yelahanka) of Rajendra solavala nadu (Gangaikondachola). Domlur itself is referred as Tombalur and as Desimanikkapattanam in the inscriptions. It could have been an important hold even during the reign of the Gangas.
The Epigraphia Carnatica –Vol 9 of Bangalore District mentions 6 inscriptions. The Tamil inscriptions of Chakravarthi Posalaviraramanatha Deva are addressed to the authorities of all temples in his kingdom. One epigraphy says that all kinds of taxes, tributes, and tolls, of Sondekoppa village have been granted by Devaraya II of Vijayanagar to the temple. The wet and dry lands in Dombalur together with wells, trees, houses are granted to God Sokkapperumal.In Tamil Grantha on the doorframe dated about 1270 AD one Alagiyar donated the two doorposts. Another Tamil inscription says, one Talaikkattu (maybe a general) and his wife give as tax-free the temple property, for the God Tripurantaka Pperumal, as also the dry and wet lands with their boundaries in the village of Jalapalli, the tank at Vinnamangalam and other lands below the big tank of Tombalur for conducting worship, and maintenance of the temple. The charge of the temple was given to Talai Sankurappachariyan.
Another speaks of Poysala vira Ramananda who donated 10 pons for the temple from the Tommalur revenue account in 1290AD. From the inscriptions in Kannada, on the stonewall skirting the door entrance, as also a stone inscription on the right side which has seal of cow and calf, that is a sacred symbol. The left stone inscription would have fallen due to vagaries of nature.
Renovation of this monument has been extensively done, as the original structures are only the Sanctum Sanctorum, and two ardhamantapas in front of it. One of this has an underground cell that is fully covered today. This was earlier meant to store valuables, vessels etc. Today all that remains is a pointer that is slightly longer than its counterpart, on the inner side of the arch jutting downwards suggesting that there is something beneath it. One marvels at the ingenuity of the builders.
The images of Vishnu or Sokka Perumal, His consorts Sri and Bhu are in the garbhagriha. The deity is strikingly beautiful and well carved. As informed by Smt.Shakuntala Keshavachar the figures are carved from Saligrama stone from Gantikinadi (Nepal), the only place where the sacred stone is found. It was found that one of His consorts Bhudevi had a small chip off Her nose. To correct this, the entire figure was scraped as one would sharpen a pencil, and the same was done to the other Consort Sridevi too. A herculean task indeed, involving precision. Renowned Sri Parthasarathy Battachari, the father of Sri Kannan of Kodandarama swamy temple at Hiremagalur, who conducts poojas and marriages in Kannada, did Prathisthapane 20 years ago. Abhishekam is performed to the main deity only on Saturdays.
The Vijayanagar style Navaranga pillars and the front mantapa are later additions. The sculpture on the navaranga pillars depict kolata scene, dueling by weapons, fight of Vali and Sugreeva and lion figure at the base. An interesting feature here is the existence of 8 Pranic points that were discovered by a retired Chief Executive Engineer, hardly 10 years ago. 3 points in the temple prakaram is marked and the remaining 5 are outside the temple. In the navaranga are placed the images of Gopalakrishna and the Alvars.Interestingly the priests of this place have dedicated themselves to the service of this god since 4 generations, though this parampare will cease with the present archakaru. There are 2 devoted pujaris additionally who are provided with accommodation.
But for the untiring efforts of head priest Sri.Keshavachar the temple in all likelihood, would have fallen apart as it was infested with bats with a leaking roof at some places, and the space put to commercial use. The Champakadhama temple on Bannerughatta and Amaranarayana temple at Kaivara are similar to this, as the same king would probably have built them. This Chola temple was renovated 20 years back, and the whitewashing was sand blasted thereby restoring its antiquity, unlike the Champakadhama. It is therefore very neatly maintained.
On the outside, at the right corner to the front is a Ganesha shrine, which is a modern one.A portion of the premises is let out for commercial establishments, as a self-sustaining measure.
South Indian Vaishnavism (the cult devoted to the worship of Vishnu and His ten incarnations) was given a new dimension by some of the Tamil saints or Alvars with their soul stirring hymns and the stronghold was the Tamil country, which flourished at first under the Alvars up to the 8th C and then by the Acharyas.Great religious saints like Ramanuja, Chaitanya also gave a boost in spreading Vaishnavism.The Cholas are credited in bringing Vaishnavism to Karnataka in the Late 10th C and early 11th C, and confined to select towns. It was the great Hoysala king Vishnuvardhan who brought it to the heartland of Gangavadi around 1116. As in other Vaishnava centres in the Chokkanatha temple also, in the Dhanur masa Tiruppavai (30 Compositions of Andal- the Bhakthi movement saint) are sung throughout the month, one per day before sunrise. This is an ancient practice and considered sacred for adoring the Lord, and special endowments were made during the Cholas rule.
Just a furlong further down to this west-facing temple, is an Anjaneya temple and its said if a line is to be drawn the head of this deity is positioned right beneath the feet of Chokkanathaswami.Though the oldest among the three old temples in Bangalore, the other two—Gavi Gangadhareswara and Ulsoor Someswara are more well known. This temple is worth a visit.