The Airavateshwara Temple, built by King Rajaraja II (c.1146–73), stands in the village of DARASURAM, an easy 5km bus or bike ride (on the Thanjavur route) southwest of Kumbakonam. This superb, if little-visited, Chola monument ranks alongside those at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram; but while the others are grandiose, emphasizing heroism and conquest, this is far smaller, exquisite in proportion and detail and said to have been decorated with nitya-vinoda, “perpetual entertainment”, in mind. Shiva is called Airavateshwara here because he was worshipped in this temple by Airavata, the white elephant belonging to the king of the gods, Indra.

Darasuram’s finest pieces of sculpture are the Chola black-basalt images adorning wall niches in the mandapa and inner shrine. These include images of Nagaraja, the snake-king, with a hood of cobras, and Dakshinamurti, the “south-facing” Shiva as teacher, expounding under a banyan tree.