Kunnathur Sambaian Chathiram holds key to an unfolding drama of intrigue involving civic authorities

For senior citizens in this Temple City, the Kunnathur Sambaian Chathiram near Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple holds a special significance — that is where weddings were conducted in their day. And for visiting devotees, the Chathiram was a place to rest and eat free of cost after an arduous journey.

The Chathiram is no longer a landmark building as the superstructure was pulled down by the Corporation after PWD engineers declared it to be unstable.

But the Chathiram, which once stood on the East Avani Moola Street, has gained posthumous notoriety. The now extant structure is at the core of a bizarre mystery revolving around a missing “maragatha lingam” or emerald lingam (phallic object symbolising Lord Shiva).

The lingam, housed down the years at the Chathiram, is said to have been shifted to the Madruai Corporation treasury following renovation work on the Chathiram. Currently, no one knows what has become of the priceless artefact.

Civic authorities are staring down the barrel of accusations of theft raised by a clutch of advocates. There are tales of smuggling syndicates and international auction sites woven into the narrative.

The Madras High Court Bench here is currently engaged in undoing the knots to allow the truth to emerge. Meanwhile, memories and eye witness accounts are tumbling out of the closet of history.

Speaking to The Hindu on Wednesday, advocate Maharajan recalled his wedding at the Kunnathur Chathiram on February 7, 1983.

“As all the kalyana mandapams in the city were booked, I reserved the Chathiram on the advice of a relative. I remember having remitted around Rs. 100 as rent. After the wedding, even as the feast was being served to around 150 guests, yatris were being served food by the family members of Sambaian, the owner” he said.

Seeking the blessings of the priest, who performed special daily pujas on the emerald lingam, was considered an integral part of the pilgrimage by the yatris, said Sankaran (80) of Vakkil New Street and a member of a forum, the Temple Protection Committee. The precious lingam was tiny.

It was less than one-foot-high. But the emerald was considered unique and priceless, he added. The Kunnathur Chathiram, which had an entrance on the eastern side, had a large hall measuring 20x20 ft. To the right was a verandah where the cooking was done. “It was a typical Brahmin household, but slightly bigger,” Mr. Maharajan said.

A Hindu Bakta Jana Sabha member pointed out that from time immemorial people in this region offered prayers to idols made of stone.

There was no deity made of marble in this region, which contradicts the Corporation’s claim that the missing lingam was made of marble.

About seven years ago, when the Corporation planned to demolish the Chathiram, the legal heirs of Sambaian, the owner, had expressed their reservations and filed a civil suit in the district court, an advocate said. However, after about three years, the parties reached a compromise on the condition that the building to be constructed in its place would not be let out for any commercial purpose.

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