Friday Review » History & Culture

Updated: August 12, 2010 21:26 IST

Much more than stone

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ON ARCHEOLOGICAL FINDINGS: Dr. T. Satyamurty. Photo: S. Thanthoni
The Hindu
ON ARCHEOLOGICAL FINDINGS: Dr. T. Satyamurty. Photo: S. Thanthoni

Dr. T. Satyamurty threw light on interesting facts about pre-Pallava temples.

Lead us from Untruth to Truth,

Lead us from Darkness to Light,

Lead us from Death to Immortality. (says the Universal Vedic Prayer, Asatomaa sad gamaya...)

Dr. Nanditha Krishna of CPR Foundation as she introduced Dr. Satyamurty talked of the “mental makeup” one generally has about the Mamallapuram temples associating them with stone structures of the Pallavas. Normally the Pallavas are construed as the beginners and yet a particular paper from Dr. Satyamurty roused her curiosity about temples of the Pre-Pallava period in South India.

Dr. Satyamurty began with a note that Tamil Nadu can boast of temples numbering over three lakhs, though statistics on that front are not comprehensive. Archaeological findings must be matched with the periods and this alone will bring in the much needed chronological order to the ages and civilisations. He pointed out that research is on regarding burial sites and that stress has to be laid on habitation sites.

Inscriptions on pillars

Speaking of Pre-Pallava Temples, Dr. Satyamurty explained how the Tsunami of 2006, brought to light a Subramanya Temple at Saluvanakuppam (Thiruvizichil) near the Tiger Caves of Mamallapuram. The inscriptions on two pillars spoke of switching over to stone in structuring temples. There are references to donations to a nearby temple and awarding a piece of land. It is learnt that the Rashtrakuta King, Krishna, provided for revenue to the temple.

Dr. Satyamurty applied this combined logic based on proof and fixed the “datum line” at 560 to 570 A.D, in studying Pre-Pallava worship places endowed with rich and unique architecture.

The remarkable features that came out of this re-discovering the past were the ardha mantapa with a small sanctum rectangular in structure, a bell normally used in temple rituals, the usage of clay as binding material and the presence of an exceptionally thick wall which meant a huge superstructure (Vimana) - to mention a few.

The regular and moulded bricks used here, compare favourably with those from other sites of the pre-Pallavan era (their size 34x18x6 cm) and the temple itself faces North which takes us to the pre-Agama tradition, again pointing to the period that is before the Pallavas. “We observed that the temple had a side entrance and a spear (Vel/Sulam) was also located at the edge of the Maha Mandapa of this shrine,” he said.

The breathtaking visual of a terracotta plaque where five women are performing Kuravai Koothu with one's arm around the other's shoulders forming a chain (pindi) was masterly piece of art. This dance performed in Murugan temples has references in Silappadhikaram. “This plaque was found below the Tsunami deposits which when seen in the light of the dating of the Tsunami brings us again to a period before the Pallavas,” Satyamurthy affirmed. Another piece of information was that had collapsed as many as three times owing to the fury of tidal waves.

Dr. Satyamurty drew the audience attention to a three-tiered temple of Veetrirundha Perumal at Veppathur near Kumbakonam which was already in existence. This was originally seen as a hillock and the temple can be said to belong to the pre-Mahendra Varman period. He made specific mention about the initiative taken by Paramacharya, who felt that the deity should be shifted to an adjoining place. Here too sturdy bricks were used and even after hundreds of years one finds that the binding material has held on although the temple is dilapidated.

Questions and answers

Scholars had questions, which Dr. Satyamurty answered. Of particular interest was the word “tsunami” instead of tidal waves or floods. geologists and geophysicists used this word to signify a special act of nature which can bring forth material from the bottom of the sea.

Dr. Satyamurty concluded with a plea that archaeology should be included as a specialised subject in the curriculum, economic considerations notwithstanding. “There is no dearth of interest among youth and it is left to us to exploit and properly channel these admirable young minds. Archaeological studies have great heritage value and are required to fix the chronology of historical events, serving thus in rebuilding our past.”

(Dr. T Satyamurthy is an archaeologist who undertakes extensive excavations. He has provided professional guidance in digitally documenting the paintings at the Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple and is the founder of REACH. The talk was organised by the CPR Foundation.)


Keywords: pre-Pallava temples

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