NAMMA MADURAI Traces the history of a lone Vishnu Temple in Thoppulakarai

Once at the centre of an ancient trade route from Arupukkottai to Ceylon, the Thoppulakarai village has a Vishnu Temple to speak of its 800 years old glorious history. But unfortunately the temple is falling prey to neglect.

For records, the village can boast of uniqueness with a Vishnu Temple, Jain Temple and a Durga Temple. While the Jain visage is reduced to two Thirthangara images, the Durga Temple has lost its original structure and a brand new temple stands in its place.

At Thoppulakarai, the damage inflicted by the vagaries of nature and human neglect is showing on the Vishnu Temple located on the western side of the village. Stones are slipping out of place and over bearing peepul trees are adding to the damage of the temple structure.

Thoppulakarai is situated on the way to Sayalkudi from Arupukkottai. According to inscriptions, the ancient name of the village is Kulathur that existed within the limits of Alatrunaadu, an ancient Geographical division.

According to archaeological evidence, the Vishnu Temple was constructed during the later Pandya period and named as Thirumerkoil Uyyavanda Vinnagaram. “The word vinnagaram refers to a Vishnu Temple,” says C. Santhalingam, retired archaeological officer.

The structure of the Vishnu temple is small and simple. It has only two sections - garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) and arthamandapam. Inscriptions belonging to the period of Maravarman Sundarapandiyan I (1216-1238 CE) and Maravarman Kulasekera Pandiayan I (1268 to 1310 CE) state that the temple existed even in the 13th century AD.

“From the inscriptions engraved on the outer walls of the temple, we come to know that the village houses a Vishnu temple, a Jain Temple and a Durga temple,” says Mr. Santhalingam

He says “the Jain temple was known as Virporiviraperumpalli” The temple existed during 9-10 CE. There is no trace of the Jain temple except for the presence of two Thirthangara images in the village. Villagers have shown little care to the Jain sculptures and erected them on the banks of the village tank situated at the centre of the village along with Shiva Linga. Now, iron railings protect the Jain sculptures that are decked up with kumkum and sandal paste.

Villagers of Thoppulakarai and Palerichil alias Pallava Kulaandanganallur have also donated land both to the Vishnu and Jain temples. “It was donated for the maintenance of the temple servants and priests,” says Santhalingam.

Inscriptions

One inscription of Maravarman Vikrama Pandya period (around 1250 CE) mentions about donations made by one villager Nindravaadipiran Alagam Perumal. He donated perpetual lamp and land.

Another inscription reveals the existence of an irrigation tank, sluices and land donation made by villagers for the maintenance of the Vishnu temple.

Inscription engraved on the altar (palipeeda) reveals that the altar was made by one Irattai Muvan alias Tamilatharaiyan, a resident of a nearby hamlet called Palerichial.

One more inscription of Kulothunga Chola I (1072 – 1120 CE) mentions about the existence of a Durga temple and one Simha Vahana made by Veeransadaikan. The inscription also reveals that during Kulothunga Chola period, the Pandya country was under the regime of Chola Dynasty.

Now, the village has a temple named ‘Irangi Muthammal’. Perhaps, this might be the Durga temple that has been mentioned in the inscriptions found at the Vishnu Temple.

“Kali is often referred to as goddess of mercantile community,” says Mr. Santhalingam and adds that “Even now, the Kannada speaking Devanga Chettiyar community, a mercantile group from the nearby village Niraavi come to offer prayers and penance on Sivaratri day.”

There was an ancient trade route between Arupukkottai and Ceylon in the 12 and 13 century AD which might have been frequently used then by Elangai Valanchiyar, a mercantile group.

“There is a reference to the community in Arupukkottai inscription,” Mr.Santhalingam says.

Sayalkudi, a sea shore village is just 30 km away from Thoppulakarai. It is also very near to Ceylon, present Sri Lanka.

With such rich details in the form of inscriptions and an ancient links, it would be worthy to save whatever is left of Thirumerkoil Uyyavanda Vinnagaram?

S.S. KAVITHA

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