Over 150 school students of the city went trekking on a remote hillock near the village of Arittappati, a small hamlet located around 35 km east of Madurai, on Thursday braving the scorching sun, a formidable terrain and lurking snakes.
Contrary to the notion of a wildlife excursion, it was a back-breaking trip of tremendous academic interest for the students who got a peek into the country’s rich cultural and diverse history by visiting a seventh century rock-cut Shiva temple that lay nestled between the hills.
As part of ‘My City My History’ contest, launched by Fox History and Entertainment and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the students were explained the remarkable history behind the temple by retired MKU Professor of Art History, R. Venkatraman, and retired archaeologist V. Vedachalam during this Heritage Walk.
The nationwide programme encourages school students to pen a 750-word essay on an interesting and an untold historical story about their city, thus taking history beyond textbooks with five eventual winners getting an opportunity to present their story on the channel.
Addressing the gathering of eager students who remained enthusiastic despite a knee-breaking trek, Prof. Venkatraman elaborated about India’s cultural history starting from the oldest civilisation found – the Indus valley civilisation – and the advent of Aryans and Dravidians into the country.
On the importance of the temple, he said it had Lord Shiva carved into the hill and was flanked on both sides by statues of Ganesh and Lagulisa, a feature found only in two or three places.
The temple, carved out during the middle of the seventh century, was lost and had become defunct for over 11 centuries. It was found again only in the 20th century by British archaeologists, he said.
He also explained in great detail of the growth and spread of Buddhism, Jainism and other contemporary religions.
Dr. Vedachalam said that the site contained Brahmi inscription, the oldest script in India. Other languages such as ‘Vatta ezhuthu,’ Pali, Sanskrit and Tamil have evolved from it.
The inscriptions on the site revealed that not only did it have a religious significance as early Jain monks stayed and preached their faith at that location but it was also a hub of business, he explained.
Students from the four schools of the Mahatma Group and Rotary Laharry Matriculation Higher Secondary School took part in the Heritage Walk.