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Tales from the past

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Antiquity (Clockwise from left) A view of the structure. A boy looking into the tunnel. The broken statue of Lord Vishnu
Antiquity (Clockwise from left) A view of the structure. A boy looking into the tunnel. The broken statue of Lord Vishnu

Temple, which needs maintenance and care

Beyond question, the most attractive feature of the Temple City is its antiquity, myriad traditions and the history passed down to generations by word of mouth.

Architectural treasures that have been trumpeting the legacy of the past are slowly disintegrating owing to human neglect.

It is unfortunate that the coming generations may go unaware of the splendours from the past which they otherwise ought to inherit.

One such tangible symbol in Madurai district is the ‘Eswaran Koil’ at Koodakovil village in Tirumangalam Taluk.

A right turn on the National Highways near Parapathi Village takes the visitor to the Koodakovil village, famous for Tuesday market.

Another right turn near the Mariammal Temple brings the visitor to a less trodden path.

Half-a-kilometre later, a beautiful stone structure, now in ruins, sits in solitary splendour surrounded by green fields.

Mere rumblings

The sanctum sanctorum has nothing but a huge heap of rumblings fallen from the roof and fast moving bats.

In the small room in front of the sanctum sanctorum, a tunnel is seen and villagers believe that it joins the tunnel in Meenakshi Sundaswarar Temple in Madurai.

Though villagers call it ‘Eswaran Koil,’ it is certainly a Vishnu Temple, assures C. Santhalingam, Archaeological Officer, Department of Archaeology.

To justify, he says the stone structure or the temple has many vestiges.

A broken statue of Lord Vishnu on the right side of the mandapam and the engravings on the niches around the temple make it evident that it is a Vishnu Temple.

“Lord Vishnu is in his full dress. Though the statue has mutilated features with no head, hands and legs, the dressing pattern reveals that it is Lord Vishnu,” he says, adding that carvings of Lord Krishna Dasavatharam such as ‘Narasinha Avathar’ and the ‘Kalinganarthanam’ of Lord Krishna can be seen in various niches of the temple, which belongs to the 13th Century AD, especially during the later Pandya period.

The temple is flanked by a small hillock on its left and a huge rock on its right. The hillock has a label in Tamil script which reads ‘Sri Karanathaan’ belonging to 11th Century A.D. Sri Karanathan refers to a village accountant, says Mr. Santhalingam.

The villagers are ignorant about its history. Even the elderly persons of the village Chinnapillai and Muthu, reiterate they have never seen any puja being performed ever since their childhood.

“Nobody knows when or why the pujas were stopped,” says Chinnapillai and adds that the temple has a room on the basement that might store the statues and other properties of the temple.

Agrees Mr. Santhalingam and explains that in those days people had the habit of hiding the statues especially during the invasions. If the people who hid the temple property are alive, the statues will be restored. Or else they get buried until excavated.

Popular stories

As the history of the temple is unknown like the presence of the deities, villagers make their own stories. One popular belief is that the native women from the village have to drop coins on the roof of the temple as soon as they give birth to children. “Wherever they are, they should come down to the village to offer the prayers,” says Perumalakka.

Another popular story that makes round in the village is that in those days ‘human beings with tails’ lived in the temple. “We have not seen such characters,” says Perumal, an 82-year-old man whose field lies behind the temple. He says that his grandfather had told him that people who ran behind a calf that entered into the tunnel inside the temple had never returned.

Brahmins and Muslims

Muthu says that earlier Brahmins lived here but later moved away from the village for unknown reasons. Concurs, 82-year-old Periyasamy. He confirms that he had seen land ‘pattas’ that has names as ‘Aiyar.’ The Muslim presence is also recorded with the presence of two locations called Mappilaithurai Kanmoi and Thulukar Samadhi.

Arriving at the origin of the name of the village Koodakovil, P.K. Palaniappan, a businessman, says that the villagers unearthed a ‘Bairavar’ statue when ploughing the land.

They kept the statue in a basket and waited for the ‘kanmoi’ to dry so that they could establish the statue at the other bank of the water body. As the statue was kept in a basket (koodai) it was called Koodakovil.

On the contrary, Mr. Periyasamy says that probably Madurai is known as ‘Koodal Managar’ and similarly there are places called Vadamadurai, Nedu Madurai and Keezh Madurai. Similarly, the village is probably named after Koodal Managar.

Mr. Santhalingam also says that probably people wanted to build a Perumal Temple similar to that of Koodal Azhagar Temple in the city which is called ‘Nanmada koodal.’

Villagers in heart of their hearts want to preserve and improve the structure and hopes that the Archaeological Survey of India would take up steps to retain it to tell the tale of the past.

S.S.KAVITHA

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