Natham Kovilpatti, a small village with a 2000-year-old past, has a Chola connection

Say Kailasanathar Temple to any archaeologist or art buff, and they will break into an expression of joy. A Kailasanathar Temple in any part of India has never failed to reveal aesthetic wonders, and the one near our city at Natham Kovilpatti is no exception.

Here, the painted ceilings declare the beliefs and deepest aspirations of many an artist. Sadly, the works in both Swami and Amman Sannathis suffer from neglect. Paintings are peeling off due lack of maintenance.

The artistic liberty taken here presents us with an esoteric set of scenes from the epic Kumarasambhava. In front of the Amman Sannithi, there are two sets of paintings from the legend and incomplete paintings depicting the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. The birth of Karthikeya is explicitly shown with vivid details. “It is a move away from the legendary story according to which Lord Muruga was born out of a flame from Lord Shiva’s third eye and it’s unique and not seen in any other art work in Tamil Nadu,” says R. Venkatraman, retired professor of art history.

“The paintings are unique in many ways,” he adds. “They depict tall and slender human figures resembling the Greek art realism.” Idealism and realism in paintings were prominent in 5th century BC Greek art and in art of the 5th century AD, the Gupta period, in northern parts of India. Paintings showing similar proportions in human figures were resurrected in the 18th century AD during the Nayak period at Kailasanathar Temple.

As early as 1978, Dr. Venkatraman highlighted the importance and distinctive features of the paintings found in the temple. He says that Krishna Deva Raya started shetradanam (visiting of holy places) and his vassals and polygars followed suit. In the ceilings of the front mandap of Swami Sannithi, scenes of the visits of Lingamma Nayak, military general of Chokkanatha Nayak (1659-1682), to temples of Tamil Nadu are painted. They are identified in both Tamil and Telugu script.

There are other unusual things about this temple. According to K. Muthumani, temple gurukkal, both Swami and Ambal face west and the temple is sought after by people with ‘sevvai dhosham’. Nandhi here becomes Parvathi’s attendant and is seen in front of Ambal Sannithi also. Navagrahas are found in sitting position. ‘Ashtma siddhis’ get shaped here as statues.

“The temple is constructed following ‘maguda aagamas’ and pujas start with Swami and end at Nandhi, unlike other temples where Lord Vinayaka is entitled to have the first puja,” he says.

The temple was believed to have been constructed during the Pandya regime between 10th and 11th centuries. The extension works were taken up during the Nayak regime.

According to retired archaeological officer C. Santhalingam, during this time, Dwarapathi Vels took control of this region as subordinates of the Pandya rulers. They claimed that they were descendants of Krishna from Dwaraka, so they named their region Dwarapathi.

Inscriptions

Inscriptions belonging to the 13th century refer to Maravarma Sundara Pandyan and Kulasekera Pandyan. They indicate that the temple was earlier known as ‘Kailasamudaya Sivaprakasam Eswaram’ Temple and a devotee Madhu Periyal alias Mangayarkarasi installed a perpetual lamp and donated 11 sheep to the temple.

Another inscription found at the entrance of the temple refers to establishment of an annachatram. A copy of the inscription is also found at Lingamma Nayak’s mud fort at Natham.

A 12th century inscription refers to funds and tax paid to the temple by the mercantile guild. An 11th century inscription found in the village reveals the existence of Eripadainallur, a fortified mercantile centre. The guild ‘Disai ayirathu inutruvar’ was settled here and engaged in business activities. The fortified centre was guarded by security guards such as ‘eriveerar, munai veerar, and kodi veerar’. A similar inscription was collected from Samudrapatti near Natham. Both these inscriptions are displayed at Mahal Museum. There are also copper plates that give an insight into the tax collected from Muslim traders.

According to Dr. Santhalingam, the little brook Thiru Manimuthaaru divides the village into parts. On the northern bank it is called Natham and on the southern bank it is Natham Kovilpatti. He adds that Silapathikaram refers to three different routes from Chola country to Pandya country. It is believed that Kannagi and Kovalan took the second route around Thuvarankuruchi, Sirumalai, Sirukudi, Samudrapatti and Natham to reach Madurai.

Many invaders too came via Natham to Madurai, including Sanda Sahib, 18th century military general of Arcot Nawab, whose ploy to attack Madurai was foiled by the village Kallars. During the same period, Khan Sahib alias Marudanayagam also ruled this region.

Natham has a 2000-year-old history, as evident from the burial urns that were unearthed from the village. The word ‘Natham’, meaning agro-based habitation site, had two divisions – Brahmin and mercantile settlements known as Sundara Chola Chaturvedi Mangalam and Eripadai Nallur, respectively.

The village was named after the King Sundara Chola Pandya. Starting from the regime of Raja Raja, Chola kings ruled Pandya country. In those days, the Chola kings added the suffix ‘Pandya’ to their names to pacify their countrymen. The Chola Pandya ruled Pandya country as viceroys of Chola monarchs.

Natham with all its history, lush fields and the Kailasanathar Temple merits a visit anytime. The village never fails to reward the visitor with a surprise or two.