The Siva temple at Panaiyapuram in Tamil Nadu was to be demolished to make way for widening the Vikkiravandi-Thanjavur highway.

Villagers of Panaiyapuram in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu are an overjoyed lot and they cannot wait anymore to honour their saviours. They want to erect big banners, expressing their “gratitude” to the saviours, and present them with turbans and shawls. A reception too will be organised. The saviours are National Highways Authority of India officers, who, heeding the protests of locals, have decided not to demolish the 1,300-year-old Siva temple in the village to make way for widening the Vikkiravandi-Thanjavur National Highway (NH) 45C. The villagers will also honour Tamil Nadu officials who convinced the NHAI not to pull down the temple.

When the plans to widen the NH-45C, cutting through the temple, became public, residents of Panaiyapuram, Pappanapattu, Mundiyampakkam, Kappiyampuliyur and Thuravi forgot their caste and class divisions and rose as one to protest against it. For, the widened highway would have shot like an arrow through the ancient Siva temple and its sanctum sanctorum for Panankateesvarar, and the shrines for his consort Satyambikai, Ganesa and Muruga would have been razed to their foundation. Inscriptions belonging to Rajendra Chola (regnal years 1012 CE to 1043 CE), his son, Rajendra Chola II, Adhi Rajendra, Kulotunga I, Jatavarman Sundara Pandiya I, Vikrama Pandiya and others would have disappeared. (The Hindu, Road that may erase history, April 6, 2012).

This enraged the villagers, who were determined not to allow the temple demolition to go through. They petitioned Villupuram Collector V. Sampath, NHAI officials and Union Ministers. The State government’s land acquisition officer feared the issue would lead to a law and order problem. The NHAI officials informed their headquarters about the protests.

The NHAI has now decided “to restrict the proposed ROW [right of way] width to avoid acquisition of the ancient temple near Panaiyapuram village by restricting the extent of land acquisition up to the existing compound wall of the temple on the LHS [left hand side] of the temple portion only.” The NHAI has stated this in a letter, dated October 6, 2012, to the Competent Authority and the Special District Revenue Officer (LA), National Highways-45C, Villupuram. In an earlier communication also, dated September 20, 2012, the NHAI said the “four-laning of NH-45C will be accommodated between the existing compound wall of the temple and the existing Veeranam pipeline on the other side.” When contacted, an NHAI official said: “The temple will not be touched.”

The NHAI’s decision has delighted the villagers. R.P. Pugazhendi, ex-president, Panaiyapuram panchayat, called the decision “the will of God.” Residents of Panaiyapuram and other villagers, he said, “forgot their caste and class and fought together to save the historic temple.”

He added: “We will host the NHAI and the State government officials a reception. We will honour them by giving them shawls and turbans. We will erect a hoarding, expressing our gratitude to them, at the highway intersection, where the roads branch off to Chennai, Puducherry, Thanjavur and Villupuram.”

R.P. Athiyaman, who belongs to Panaiyapuram but lives in Chennai, praised the NHAI officials for respecting “our sense of history and sentiments.”

R. Nagaswamy, former Director of the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology, said the Saivite saint Tirugnana Sambandar, who lived in the seventh century CE, had sung verses praising the temple’s Sivalinga. Rajendra Chola-I’s inscription called the deity Nethroddharaka Swami (i.e., the deity will cure eye ailments).

Rajendra Chola I rebuilt the Panaiyapuram temple in honour of his woman personal assistant (“anukki” in Tamil) called Paravai and the town around the temple was called Paravaipuram.

The inscriptions of Rajendra Chola II (regnal years 1052 CE to 1064 CE), Adhi Rajendra (1068 CE to 1071 CE) and Kulotunga Chola I (1070 CE to 1122 CE) mention the gift of paddy, land and gold coins to the temple.