Historian Pradeep Chakravarthy’s talk on ECR explored the various temples and inscriptions that reflect life and society centuries ago

Popping paracetamol to keep a fever down, Pradeep Chakravarthy was hardly fit enough for a stroll. But he took heritage and art lovers — out to celebrate ‘Namma Chennai ECR’ last weekend — on a journey of discovery from Thiruvanmiyur to Puducherry. With graphic and animated descriptions of important towns and villages on the East Coast Road, primarily in the 10th and 11th centuries, he walked his audience through the past.

Chakravarthy’s talk — delivered at Art & Soul, Akkarai which had organised a string of programmes, including an invitation to 13 established artists to communicate their impressions about ECR across mediums — was a result of a diligent pursuit of epigraphy and a familiarity with portions of ancient Tamil literary works and contemporary writings that contain references to the road.

East Coast Road was known as the Vadugaperuvazhi or the big way to the North. Besides providing connectivity between the Kaveri delta and the northern regions and being of particular value to the Cholas, the road facilitated trade with other countries, primarily those of South East Asia. Traded products included gems and gold, textiles, spices and ivory.

Seven inscriptions at the Marundeeswarar temple throw light on Thiruvanmiyur, but due to renovation carried out over a century ago the inscriptions are jumbled. A commentary on Thiruvanmiyur by Thirugnanasambandar suggest that it must have been a thriving region even in the 7th Century (circa). It abounded in forests and the sound of bees rivalled the sound of waves. Yet, buildings were so tall that they appeared to touch the moon. The women were incredibly pretty and the men, strikingly handsome. Through such sources from the past, it’s learnt that Thiruvanmiyur came under Puliyur kottam and Kottur nadu.

Further down the stretch, the Thiruvidaivendai temple provides more clues into the past. An inscription there talks about a merchant from Kondungallur in Malai Nadu (Kerala) making a gift to the temple and insisting that proceeds from it feed and support some Brahmins. Another inscription explains how a Chola king gave an oral order that 12 families be given land as reward for staging a play. Chakravarthy explained that an oral order, known as ‘thiruvaikelvi’, was written down on a palm leaf and later transferred to a temple. In most cases, the inscription contained details of when and where and to whom the oral order was given.

The Pathupattu’s picture of Mahabalipuram contrasts sharply with current reality. The ancient Tamil text talks about how liquor was free-flowing there. Referring to recent reports of how locals successfully campaigned for drinking joints being removed from within town limits, Chakravarthy pointed out the difference.

Much of what is known of Puducherry’s past comes from temple inscriptions at neighbouring towns and villages.

Inscriptions at Tribhuvani contain references to an inter-caste marriage between a Brahmin and a Vyasa and a royal order that a performance titled Kulothunga Chola Charitam be watched by the governing authorities and to a goldsmith named Arangan Komaran.

In a chat after the public performance, Chakravarthy expressed his deep conviction about history — it is not about dates and battles, but about how people dealt with the changes and challenges of life. Chakravarthy, who is grateful to his history teacher Uma (from KFI) for helping him develop this view of history, believes there is much to learn from this stone-carved wisdom and apply it to our lives.

For a video go to : http://thne.ws/pradeep-ecr