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Tamil inscriptions found near Tiruvellarai temple

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PEEP INTO THE PAST: An inscription belonging to a merchant guild found near the Pundarikatchar temple at Thiruvellarai near Tiruchi.
PEEP INTO THE PAST: An inscription belonging to a merchant guild found near the Pundarikatchar temple at Thiruvellarai near Tiruchi.

T.S. Subramanian

Engraved in Tamil, they are datable to the 10th-11th century A.D.

CHENNAI: Three inscriptions of different periods, including one belonging to a merchant guild, have been discovered close to an ancient Vishnu temple at Tiruvellarai near Tiruchi.

The inscription in Tamil, datable to the 10th-11th century A.D., has several symbols, associated with such trade guilds, engraved on it. A team, comprising D. Dayalan, Superintending Archaeologist, Temple Survey Project, southern region, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and A. Anil Kumar, Assistant Archaeologist, made the discovery. The inscription about the merchant guild is engraved on a granite slab, found half-buried in a field south-west of the Pundarikatchar temple. It has 21 lines in Tamil, with a few Sanskrit words.

Dr. Dayalan said this inscription referred to an “ambalam” (a temple or mantapa) of Chettiyars of Tiruvellarai and mentioned a trade guild called “ainuttruvar,” which meant 500 members. It was common to make transactions or build edifices in the name of “ainuttruvar,” and the Chettiyars, a trading community, could have formed the “ainuttruvar.”

This inscription also has the engraving of two bags, called “pasumpai” and considered sacred by merchant communities. The other symbols are a sword, billhook, bow and arrow, coiled whip, elephant goad and lance. The inscription refers to a person called “tirukayyilattu ainutruvan” as the protector of charity and has a verse that says that “the feet of the persons who patronise or protect charity shall be on my head.”

Some of the merchant guilds referred to in the inscriptions in south India are “ainnutruvar,” “Manigramam,” “Nanadesi,” “Padinen-bhumi,” “Anjuvannam” and “Ayyavole.”

The “ainnutruvar” overarched all the substantial traders’ guilds in a particular locality, and also covered a wider area and various communities, including artisans, said Dr. Dayalan. An inscription of about 1,000 A.D., found at Bedkihal in Belgaum district, Karnataka, referred to “Aynurbaru” (500 great men). Merchant guild inscriptions with symbols such as conch, axe and lamp have been found at Melnangvaram in Karur district; Idaimalaipattipudur, Kaliampatti, Nagainallur and Singalatakanallur, all in Tiruchi district; and Pozhichalur in Kanchipuram district. These guilds had warriors to protect them.

The ASI team found several label inscriptions in Pallava grantha, belonging to the 7th-8th century A.D., on a hillock on the rear of the temple. These labels are the names of devotees such as (ka) pra mi na sa and (aa) vi ri ta.

On the same hillock, Dr. Dayalan, Mr. Anil Kumar and others discovered a big inscription, running to several metres in size. It is in Tamil and belongs to the Vijayanagara period. Preliminary study indicates that it refers to a “bhattar” (temple Brahmin) of a village called Manavala Chaturvedi Mangalam and an officer named Mummudi Chola Thevar.

V. Vedachalam, retired Senior Epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, who has researched on Tiruvellarai and its temple, called these discoveries “important additions to Tiruvellarai’s history.”

Dr. Vedachalam, who has authored a book titled ‘Tiruvellarai,’ which was published by the Department in 1977, said that while Tiruvellarai was 1,500 years old, the Pundarikatchar temple had its origin during the reign of the Pallava king, Nandivaram II, in the 7th-8th century A.D. The temple saw continuous construction by the Chola, the later Pandya, the Hoysala and the Vijayanagara kings.

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