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Mahavira bas-relief tells a story

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SIGNIFICANT POINTER: The Mahavira sculpture found on a rock surface at Panaipadi village in Villupuram district.
SIGNIFICANT POINTER: The Mahavira sculpture found on a rock surface at Panaipadi village in Villupuram district.

T.S. Subramanian

Recent discovery from Chola period confirms Villupuram area was an important centre of Jainism

CHENNAI: An exquisitely carved bas-relief of Mahavira, the 24th tirthankara in the Jaina pantheon, has been discovered at Panaipadi village in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district. R. Sivanandam, epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, made the discovery when a team under the guidance of R. Vasanthakalyani, epigraphist-cum-instructor of the Department, was on a regular survey camp of epigraphy to study inscriptions around Panaipadi.

The discovery confirms that the area covering present-day Villupuram district was an important centre of Jainism in Tamil Nadu. The sculpture, from the Chola period, was about 1,000 years old, said K. Arulmozhi, Commissioner, State Department of Archaeology.

The bas-relief of Mahavira is carved on the surface of a boulder facing a Mariamman temple on the edge of a lake at Panaipadi. He is seated in a “dhyana” (meditation) pose and there are three umbrellas above his head. He has curly hair and his ears are pierced. There is a semi-circular “prabha” (halo) around his head. There are prancing lions on either side. Carvings of lions adorn the seat-pedestal. The sculpture has carvings of a yakshan and a yakshi on either side of the 24th tirthankara; they have “chamaras” (fans) in their hands.

“The tranquil face of Mahavira and the way the yakshan and the yakshi are carved attest to the fact that this sculpture has Chola period features and it belongs to the 10th century A.D.,” said Mr. Sivanandam.

Cholapandipuram village, about 2.5 km from Panaipadi, was a 10th century Jaina centre. On a nearby hillock, Andimalai, are carvings of Adinatha, Parsvanatha, Gomatisvara, Mahavira and Padmavathi and 20 Jaina beds hewn out of rock beds. An inscription at Cholapandipuram said these carvings were made at the behest of Sriveli Konkaraiyar Puddhadigal. Another inscription was in the form of a poem: it mentions that a local chieftain, Siddhavadavan alias Sethirayan, donated Panaipadi village for the worship of these Jaina tirthankaras during the second regnal year (952 A.D.) of Chola king Kandaraditya.

“When nothing related to Jainism was found at Panaipadi which has been mentioned in the inscription at Cholapandipuram, the discovery of the beautiful carving of Mahavira at Panaipadi now is important,” said Dr. Arulmozhi.

The Villupuram area was a flourishing centre of Jainism. This could be seen, said Ms. Vasanthakalyani, from discoveries of a number of Jaina sculptures and beds near Ginjee, Thondur, Melsithamur, Sirukadambur, Thirunarungkondai and so on.

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