The dilapidated Vedanarayana temple in Morappanadu unveils interesting details about the kings of South India.

Political expediency was what determined relations between the kings of the South so that, then as now, there were no permanent enemies or friends among the ruling class. Thus it is that we find the same dynasties both fighting with each other, but also every now and then having marital relations. The Hoysalas had marital relations with the Cholas and Pandyas, who were themselves often at war with each other. The Hoysala Someswhara is referred to in a record of Maravarman Sundara Pandyan II as 'Maamidi,' meaning uncle.

There is a village in Tirunelveli that was named Vira Somideva Chaturvedimangalam, after the Hoysala Vira Someshwara. Off I set off on a trail of history. All I know is that the Vedanarayana temple is in Morappanadu, close to Tirunelveli. But when I get to the village, I find a Lakshmi Narayana temple, where Vedanarayana with His consorts is kept in a separate enclosure. There is no sign of a separate temple for Vedanarayana. Enquiries reveal that close to the Tamiraparani river is the ruined temple of Vedanarayana. The ceiling has caved in, and so the idols have been moved to the Lakshmi Narayana temple.

A villager offers to accompany me to the ruined temple. We walk along a beaten track, fringed by fields and come to a canal. A sturdy piece of wood serves as a bridge across the canal. As I step across it, a peacock on the other side cries indignantly at my incursion into its territory, and hurries away. A couple of other villagers joins us. Together we hack away at the bracken, creepers and thorny plants to get close to the temple. Trees have grown on the roof of the temple, but the walls have not yet collapsed.

The inscriptions are in excellent condition. There are records of land grants to the temple, which is referred to in inscriptions as Somideva Vinnagara Azhwar temple. An inscription in the temple refers to Vira Pandya II as the one "who took Eelam, Kongu and Sonadu, and was pleased to perform the anointment of heroes at Perumbattrappuliyur."

The Pandya period

A small digression becomes necessary here, to look at Pandya history. Between 1237 A.D. and 1286 A.D. seven Pandya Kings seem to have ruled. Of these Jatavarman Kulasekhara Pandya II, Maravarman Sundara Pandya II, Maravarman Vikrama Pandyan II, Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I, and Jatavarman Vira Pandya II were brothers, who seem to have shared power. They had military victories in places like Kanchipuram and Chidambaram, as is evident from the inscriptions seen in these places. Inscriptions of each of these five kings, lay claim to the same military victories over Eelam, Chola Nadu and Kongu Nadu.

"The Pandya genealogy presented a very confusing picture, and details about the dynasty could be arrived at, only after the research of Sethuraman," says epigraphist Dr. Marxia Gandhi. "Sethuraman, ironically, was neither a trained epigraphist, nor an archaeologist, but a businessman. His contributions to historical study were the result of his interest in astrology, which led to his studying astronomical details in inscriptions. This in turn helped him to identify 25 Pandya kings, bringing the total number of Pandya kings about whom we have information to 47. He concluded that there may be more, yet to be identified."

Generous donations

While Jatavarman Vira Pandya II is mentioned in the Morappanadu temple inscriptions, his brother Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I's generous donations to the Srirangam temple are recorded in inscriptions elsewhere, and also in the Kovilozhugu. Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I donated 18 lakh gold coins to the Srirangam temple. The story of how he arrived at this figure is interesting. He had a huge balance made, in which the scales resembled boats. He set the boats afloat, and on one boat he put an elephant, and sat on it, with his armour and weapons. On the other side he put gold coins, pearls and precious stones, until the scales were balanced. He then donated the gold, pearls and gems to the temple.

One tale that I hear in quite a few villages in Tirunelveli, including in the village of Morappanadu, is that about 300 years ago, the Tamiraparani was in spate, and that it wiped out entire villages. Morappanadu too went under water, says a villager, but the Vedanarayana temple survived the ravages of the flood, and was in good repair until 50 years ago.

Yet another temple, yet another slice of history is slowly disintegrating, and will soon be forgotten, if something is not done soon.