Namma Madurai: Thiruvedagam, the place which witnessed the fall of Jainism in Madurai

Thiruvedagam has always remained an intellectual centre in the Madurai region. The lush green fields and the serenity today belie the great tussles it witnessed aeons ago.

Madurai has a rich legacy of both Saivism and Jainism and a tussle for supremacy was natural to exist in the past between the two religious faiths.

In the early 7th century CE Arikesari Nedumaran also known as Koonpandian who ruled Madurai was a staunch follower of Jainism. But he suffered from a chronic disease and the Jains who enjoyed his patronage tried but failed to cure the disease. On the request of Queen Pandimadevi Mangaiyarkarasi, the renowned child Saivaite saint Thirugnanasambandhar cured his disease and converted him back to Saivism.

Aghast by this, the Jains challenged Thirugnanasambandhar and Saivism. As in vogue those days a series of serious religious debate ensued but remained inconclusive. The test of Analvadham (fire challenge) and Punalvadham (water challenge) was then taken.

The palm leaf manuscripts of both the faiths were thrown into fire and the Vaigai River.

The fire burnt the Jain scriptures and left Thirugnanasambandar's untouched. The Vaigai carried away the Jain manuscripts but pushed the child saint’s manuscripts to the shore of Thiruyedagam which later came to be known as Thiruvedagam.

“This legendary episode is celebrated every year during the full moon day of Tamil month of Aavani and is known as the ‘Yedu ethiririya’ festival,” informs the temple priest B. Parasurama Pattar.

One among the 14 sanctified Shiva shrines in the Pandya country, the Thiru Edaganatha Swami Temple at Thiruvedagam is a masterpiece belonging to an era of splendour, wealth and culture unsurpassed. It is on the North bank of River Vaigai.

“The temple belongs to 7th century CE as it has been mentioned in Thirugnanasambandhar’s Thevaram,” says C. Santhalingam, retired archaeological officer.

Later during 13th century CE, Pandya kings took up the extension and renovation work of the temple. During 16th century CE, Vijayanagara kings attempted to build a gopuram but left it incomplete.

At the entrance of the Mottai Gopuram, there are sculptures of Nandhi, Lord Vinayagar and Lord Muruga, besides the Kambathadi Mandapam. The main structure has a maha mandapam, artha mandapam and sanctum sanctorum. The lord is known as Edaganatha Swami in Tamil and Pathrika Parameswar in Sanskrit. It is mentioned both in Pandya and Vijayanagara inscriptions.

The prahara has the statues of 63 Nayanmars who are known for their service to Saivism, Balaganapathy, Dakshinamoorthy and navagrihas.

Adjacent to the Swami sannidhi lies the Elavaarkulali Amman who is known as Suganda Kundalambal in Sanskrit. The temple has a sculpture of Lord Vinayagar sitting on his mouse (moonchru) vehicle. He is known as Sevi Saaitha Vinayagar.

Later in 1930 three families belonging to Chettiar Community renovated the temple and organised kumbhabhishekams.

The village also has a temple for Lord Vinayakar on the banks of river Vaigai known as Padithurai Vinayakar. According to the legend, when the inscriptions swam against the current, Lord Vinayakar took the form of fishes and protected the manuscripts. There are stone structures representing the river, the manuscripts against the water current, statues of Lord Vinayakar, Thirugnanasambandhar and Lord Shiva with his consort on his Rishba Vahanam.

A reference to the temple is found in third Thirumurai of Thevarapathigam authored by Thirugnanasambandhar. It is also believed that rishis like Brahman, Parasar, Vyasar and King Susakedhu worshipped at the temple.

Totally 14 inscriptions are recorded and published in the Annual Report of Epigraphy 1905. Among them, 13 inscriptions belong to the later Pandya period and one belongs to Krishna Devaraya of Vijayanagara Kingdom.

“Most of the inscriptions are mutilated. The fragmented parts of the inscriptions talk about land grants for temple maintenance,” says Mr. Santhalingam and adds that the inscriptions belong to Jadavarman Kulasekera Pandya (1192- 1216 CE), Maravarman Sundara Pandya I (1216– 1238 CE), Sri Vallabha Pandya (12th CE), Vikarama Pandya and Parakrama Pandya (13th CE).

The inscriptions also refer to a mutt established in the name of Thirugnanasambandhar and land was donated to the mutt to feed 20 ascetics. The inscriptions refer to the temple as Thiruvedagam Udaiya Nayanar and village was under ancient geographical division named Pahanoor Kootram.

In March 2010, volunteers of a heritage walk organised by INTACH and DHAN Foundation unearthed four statues in the temple garden. Senior epigraphist Vedhachalam and retired art history Prof.Venkatraman identified the statues and assessed their age. Dhakshina Moorthy statue was found in a rare yogic position with Shandikeswarar statue with damaged face belonged to Pandya period, a Bairavar statue of 11 century that belonged to Chola period and a damaged Natarajar statue belonging to 17 century Nayak period.