Kazhugumalai is a small village in Kovilpatti taluk of Tuticorin district. It is located on the main road leading to Sankarankoil from Kovilpatti. Situated at the centre of these two towns (20 km from Kovilpatti and 19 km from Sankarankoil), this place is significant for its strategic location on an ancient trade route that led from Kovilpatti to Courtallam and Shencottah. These days brooks in this village are always dry, and its black cotton soil is thirsty looking up to the heaven for rain.
The present name, Kazhugumalai, seems to be a later occurrence, named after the hillock in which some historical monuments are located. Earlier, the place was called ‘Tirumalai' and also ‘Araimalai.' In the early Pandya records, it is referred to as Nechchuram and Tiruneccuram. These must have been originally Neccuram and modified into Nechchuram in due course of time.
Tiruneccuram seems to have been divided into two parts — Peruneccuram and Ilaneccuram — one comprising the southern and eastern parts of the village, and the other forming the southern-most area. They have been renamed at a later date as Kottai Kazhugumalai and South Kazhugumalai respectively. Epigraphical references mention the existence of a palace, attributed to one Ettimannar here. Ettimannan is said to be a Pandya official as well as the head of the nadu of this region.
Neccuram was under the control of agricultural peasants. During the early Pandya period, this village might have been a fertile one with paddy fields and wells, dominated by the peasant populace. As the epigraphs address this place as Perur, it must have been a large one for those days, populated by hundreds of families. The Tamil Nigandu, Senthandivakaram, states that a village with more than 500 hundred families is called Perur. It is evident that many of the present small villages seem to have been big cities and even formed the capitals of ruling dynasties earlier. The best examples are Uraiyur, Gangaikondacholapuram and Vijayanagar. Around 11th century A.D, a trade/commercial city called ‘Peruneccurattu Pavithramanickapuram' seems to have existed near Nechchuram. Traders from various countries, including the Pandya and Chola regions, occupied it.
Origin of monastery
As said earlier, Kazhugumalai seems to have flourished politically as well as socially with its location on an ancient trade route. The Jain caves of this place are facing northeast, north and west. It seems to have flourished as a centre of worship for Jains as well as an educational institution for monks and their disciples. This is evidenced by the depictions of hundreds of images of the Tirthankaras with ‘vatteluttu' records below the figures.
There are 102 epigraphs inscribed on the rock of the monastery here. Of them, only one is engraved on a single stone. They belong to different centuries. One of them is in Tamil and all others are in ‘vatteluttu' characters. Three epigraphs bear the regal years of the early Pandya ruler Maranjadayan and other records mention the events only. Two records were issued during the third year of the king and the remaining one was engraved in his 42nd year. Paleographically, they belong to the 9th-10th century A.D. There were three kings —Varaguna I alias Parantaka Nedunjadayan (A.D.765-815), Varaguna II (A.D.912-985) and Parantaka Viranarayana (A.D.866-911) — who had assumed the title Maranjadayan. It is not certain as to which king that this inscription is to be attributed.
Of these records, two are assigned to the third regal year of the king, found on the rock east of the Ayyanar temple. Paleographically, these inscriptions may be assigned to the third year of Parantaka Viranarayayana (A.D.869). It is evidenced by the occurrence of ‘viranarayana eri' in one of these records. They also refer to Kuluvanai Nallur established by Gunasakarappadarar.
Some scholars attribute the remaining record, engraved in the 42nd year of Maranjadayan, to Parantaka Viranarayana (A.D.908). But it is not acceptable, for, this record paleographically seems to be earlier than the two records mentioned above. Further, the area in which this record is engraved seems to be the earliest of the cave structures bearing epigraphical records and sculptures of the same period. Hence, the record may be, as rightly said by T. V. Sadasivapandarathar, attributed to the 42nd year (A.D.807) of Parantaka Nedunjadayan alias Varaguna I.
As early Pandya records, starting from the 9th century, are found in the Kazhugumalai Jain ‘palli' (monastery) one cannot ascertain that this centre was instituted only during the 9th century. There are a few ‘vateluttu' records assignable to the later part of the 8th century. Hence the origin of this Jain ‘palli' may be taken back to the last quarter of that century. The process of engraving the inscriptions in ‘vatteluttu' characters was in vogue between the 7th and 11th centuries in the Pandya country. From the days of Rajaraja I, the Chola monarch, to the 12th century, both ‘vatteluttu' and Tamil scripts were used to inscribe on temple walls in the Pandya region. This probably is the transition period indicating the shifting of the mode of writing to Tamil script from ‘ vatteluttu.'
From the above observations, one cannot ascertain that all the epigraphical records of Kazhugumalai Jain ‘palli' belong to either 8th-9th centuries or 10th-11th centuries. The earliest of the Kazhugumalai records belong to the later part of the 8th century. Some of them belong to the 11th century and all others, probably a major part, belong to 9th-10th centuries. It reveals that this Jain ‘palli' flourished for a long span of 350 years. After the 13th century, it seems to have become extinct in the absence of patronage from Pandya rulers. The Chola rulers also supported the Jains here for a long period till its extinction. However, during the rule of the succeeding Vijayanagar-Nayak kings, stray references are traceable as to the existence of this sect in this area.