Visitors want TN government to take over its maintenance

On Thursday, thousands from Tamil Nadu will offer worship at a temple dedicated to Kannagi situated at Vannathiparai in Kerala abutting Theni district.

The temple, popularly known as Mangaladevi Kannagi Kottam, has remained a symbol of monumental neglect.

This annual ritual on Chitra Pournami is the only occasion when Kannagi, the ordinary woman who burnt Madurai for the injustice meted out to her by King Pandian Nedunchezhian, is worshipped.

Kannagi, according to literary evidence, walked for 14 days from Madurai to Vengaikanal Nedunkundram, where the temple is now located. From here, she is believed to have reunited with her husband Kovalan. Tribal people, who were witness to the event, reported it to the Chera king, Chenkuttuvan, during his visit to the hilly region. As per legend, the king brought stones from the Himalayas to construct the temple for Kannagi. The King of Ceylon, Kayavagu, attended the consecration of the temple.

Though it originally belonged to Tamil Nadu, as per the earliest evidence of 1817 (a survey was conducted by the East India Company) and St. George Gazette of November 15, 1883, it now falls in Kerala territory. It is easily accessible from the Kerala side.

The two inscriptions found at the temple relate to Rajaraja Chola of 11th century and Kulasekara Pandian of 13th century. According to a senior epigraphist, the 11th century inscription is “fragmentary” and refers only to Rajaraja Cholan. The later inscription has a reference to the ‘Amman’ in the temple as ‘Pooranagiri Aludaya Nachiar.’ A related reference to the Mangaladevi temple is found in a Perumal temple at Gudalur in Theni district. This is juxtaposed with a reference to Kannagi as ‘Mangala Madanthai’ in the Tamil epic, Silappathikaram, and the deity in the Mangaladevi temple is worshipped as the epic’s heroine, he explains.

Silappathikaram narrates the story of Kovalan, a merchant of Poompuhar, who loses heavily in his business because of his obsession with Madhavi, a danseuse. He moves to Madurai with his wife, hoping to revive his business to regain the lost fortune. When he goes to sell his wife’s anklet, the goldsmith takes it to the king and makes him believe that it is the queen’s lost anklet. The king immediately orders the beheading of Kovalan without even seeing him. Enraged at the injustice, Kannagi visits the king’s court to prove her husband’s innocence. Her anklet has emerald, while the queen’s anklet was made with pearls. The king, ashamed at his misjudgement, dies on the throne, followed by his wife.

But Kannagi, the first ordinary woman to become the protagonist of a Tamil epic, is unable to come to terms with her personal tragedy and sets Madurai on fire. She walks for 14 days to enter the Chera country and reaches the spot near Kumuli in Kerala to reunite with her husband. Mariamman worship became popular in the State after Kannagi.

Progressive decay

Devotees visiting the temple on the occasion of Chitra Pournami, between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m., are pained at the neglect of Kannagi Kottam. There is progressive decay of the two structures at the temple. “In view of its heritage, historical and cultural values, the temple has to be taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India. ASI, Thrissur Circle, which has 44 monuments to protect, can take this second century temple as its 45th monument for protection,” says IAS officer M. Rajendran, who has published two books on the epigraphs belonging to Chozha and Pandya kings in Tamil Nadu.

“At present, access to the temple is through Kerala and reserved forests of Tamil Nadu. Basic amenities have not been provided at the spot. The monument is under the control of Kerala’s Department of Archaeology, but no money has been spent on its conservation, claims Dr. Rajendran.

Regular visitors also argue for the takeover of the temple by the Tamil Nadu government for upkeep, like the Padmanabhapuram Palace in Kanyakumari district, which is maintained by Kerala. The place where Kovalan is believed to have been beheaded is called ‘Kovalan Pottal,’ which is one of the 16 protected monuments of the Archaeological Survey of India in Madurai.

More In: Tamil Nadu | National