The Jain beds strewn around our ancient city comprise a valued cultural treasure. The inscriptions on them and the bas-relief sculptures are the remaining evidence of Tamil language's antiquity besides indicating the flourishing period of Jainism during various centuries.
Mostly, the Jain caves have the bas-reliefs of tirthankaras and the inscriptions that tell the tale of people of all walks of life from chieftains to common man and how they patronized Jainism. The inscriptions also throw light on the number of Jain schools that existed during the period.
Another hill that stands tall withstanding vandalism and vagaries of nature is the hillock at Muthupatti. More popularly known as Karadipatti alias Perumalmalai, the hillock has two bas-relief structures of tirthankaras, a separate beautiful but ruined tirthankara sculpture, three Brahmi inscriptions, Jain beds and two vattezhuthu inscriptions.
The two bas-relief sculptures of tirthankaras are sitting on Arthapariyankaasana posture on a pedestal borne by three lions. Attendants are found on both sides of the structures. The head is adorned with triple umbrella. Below the sculptures, there are two ‘vattezhuthu' inscriptions that date back to 9th or 10th century A.D.
The first inscription refers to a Jain school located at Kurandi near the present Aviyur village that is located between Madurai – Aruppukottai road, according to Archaeological sources. The source say: A small hill at Kurandi village is known as ‘Paranthaga Parvatham' and the school located at this place is called Sri Vallabha Perumpalli.
The word Paranthaga might be identified with the Pandya King Paranthaga Nedunchadaiyan, who ruled Pandya country during 768 to 815 A.D. His son Srimara Sri Vallabha, who ruled during 815 to 862 A.D. might have patronized this Jain school. So the school is named after him. A student of the school, Mahanandhi Periyar, who is the student of Ashtopavasi Padarar, carved this sculpture.
Another inscription mentions the village Kurandi is in the limit of Venbunadu- a sub-division of Pandya country. Here the village Kuyilkudi is mentioned as ‘Amirthaparakrama Nallur' alias Kuyilkudi. Here, Kanagaveera Periyadigal, a disciple of Gunasena Thevar, installed the image on behalf of Kuyilkudi village. The inscriptions also refers that the palanquin bearers of the palace have undertook the duty of protecting the sculptures. Kurandi School has wide contact with Kazhugumalai Jain School and Palani Ivar Malai Jain School. There were also teachers-student exchange programmes, the source noted.
The separate sculpture of a tirthankara, who is on ‘arthapariyankaasana,' is seen on a pedestal borne by three lions. He is fanned by attendants (yakshas) from the sides while a streak of light and branches of pindi (Asoka) tree are seen at the back of his head. The sculpture represents the early Pandya sculptural art during 9th century A.D.
Tamil Brahmi inscriptions
Belonging to first century B.C., one of the three Tamil Brahmi inscriptions has a reference to a resident of Musiri, the port city of Kerala on the Western Coast. Archaeological sources say that the resident might have carved out these Jain beds. Another inscription carved at the side of a stone bed is damaged and it is hard to decipher while the third inscription has a reference to ‘Vindaiyur.' The Vindaiyur may be identified with present Vandiyur, he says.
It is said that Jain monks chose Madurai, capital of Pandya Kingdom, to propagate their religion as the city enjoyed the status of being an important trading centre. The city structures and sculptures, indeed, narrate stories of the past as we browse through history.