Tracing the history of the sepulchre temple of Sundara Pandya Eswaram

On the northern bank of Gundar, now filled with thorny bushes, a temple stands treasuring 1000 years of history and a body of Pandya King. Tombs and mausoleums are common in North India and other parts. It is really rare to find them below the Vindhyas.

The Sundara Pandya Eswaram Temple at Pallimadam – the original name was Pallipadai -- is unique because it is a tomb of a Pandya king.

“Pallipadai means a Shiva temple constructed on the cemetery of a king,” says C. Santhalingam, retired Archaeological Officer and adds “this is the only pallipadai temple found in the Pandya country.”

The Chola Kingdoms do have some pallipadais, like Panchavan Madevi Pallipadai at Pattieswaram near Kumbakonam, Merpaadi Arinchigai Eswaram near Vellore, and Adithan Pallipadai at Thondaiman Peraatrur near Kalahasthi.

Sundara Pandya was the elder brother of a King Veera Pandya, who beheaded a Chola King and was popularly known as Cholan Thalai Konda Veerapandyan (946 AD- 966 AD).

Sundara Pandya died here during one of his visits. To Commemorate the death of his brother, Veera Pandya constructed a pallipadai. The temple was known as Sundara Pandya Eswaram Temple.

In Saivism, there were three sects namely Pasupatas, Kalamukhas and Kapalikas. Kalamukha sect priests named as Mahaviradhis settled here and looked after the temple’s maintenance and administration. Kalamukhas priests established a mutt in the temple. Because of the presence of the mutt, the village came to be known as Pallimadam.

Structure and inscriptions

When you enter the temple through an incomplete gopuram doorway, amidst a green grove, there are two structures - Kalanathaswamy and Sornavalli Amman sannidhis. There is also a small pillared mandap for Nandhi in the front.

The temple has a garbhagriha, arthamandapa and mahamandapa. Everything is simple and plain without sculptures, which is typical of Pandya style architecture. The shrine for Shiva’s consort lies on the right side of the main temple. She is known as Sornavalli Amman. The temple has the Nagara style of Vimana.

The steps have a half-buried Vattezhuthu inscription that has details about a Kurandi Thirukattampalli, a Jain school.

In total there are 16 inscriptions. “Stones used for the construction of the temple were brought from Kurandi village which had a dilapidated Jain temple. Inscription found at the temple also have details about the existence of a Jain school at Kurandi,” says Santhalingam.

Other inscriptions engraved in the temple mention about the various donations made to the temple. According to one of the inscriptions belonging to the period of King Veera Pandya (953 AD), Moovenda Velaan alias Arangam Poothi, Kilavan Arulali and Thatchan Ulagan and Maran Athichan alias Cholanthaga Pallavarayan of Puliyur donated lamps and sheep to the temple. During the same period, some Devaradiyars who were engaged in temple work also donated sheep towards the maintenance of the temple. The inscriptions bear the names of the donors as Kaavidhi Kanaipetral, Nithipetral, Nakan Kulangavilai etc.

Renovation

Santhalingam says though the temple was constructed during the 10th century, the temple was rebuilt and renovated during later Pandya rule. According to a later Pandya period inscription, one Sonaadan Nambi donated a doorjamb during renovation. The temple also has 17th century inscription that informs about the renovation undertaken by Setupathi Raja.

Earlier, the temple was named after King Sundara Pandya and is now known as Kalanathaswamy temple.

The shrine and the river are famous next to Rameswaram. Even today, people perform funeral rituals on the bank of Gundar.

The pallipadai temple stands as a testimony for ancestor worship which was rampant in Tamil culture, as Veera Pandya wanted his brother to live as long as the sun and the moon.