Karthik Madhavan

ERODE: The 2608th birthday of Vardhman Mahavir, which falls on Tuesday, is perhaps the best occasion to look at Kongu region’s, in particular Erode district’s, association with Jainism.

The association is at least 2,000 years old, says historian and professor Pulavar S. Raju.

It started during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya in the third century B.C., when about 8,000 Jains, under the leadership of Mauryas spiritual guru Bhatrabahu, started travelling south. After camping for a while in Sravana Belagola in Karnataka, a team under Visakacharya moved further south into Tamil Nadu, via Erode.

Their entry into modern day Tamil Nadu was through Kongu region, the Pulavar says and adds the Jain structures can be found at 72 places in the region.

In Kongu Nadu, as the region was then known, the Jains lived in caves and established Basathi/Vasathi or temples. Only five of those temples exist today and they are in Poondurai, Vellode, Vijayamangalam (then Vahai), Thingalur and Jeenapuram.

The presiding deity in Poondurai temple is the 23rd tirthankara Parshvanath, Vellode first tirthankara Adinath, Vijayamangalam eighth tirthankara Chandraprabhu, Thingalur ninth tirthankara Pushpadanta, and Jeenapuram first tirthankara Adinath.

The temples the Jain monks established also turned out to be great education centres, says Mr. Raju, who has authored a book on the subject, ‘Kongu Nadum Samanamum’ (Kongu region and Jainism). They used the temples to teach, compose works on literature, grammar and mathematics, he says and adds that their works were in Tamil, which they learnt as per the practice of mastering local language.

Mr. Raju goes on to say that Jain contribution to Tamil perhaps surpasses that of Saivism and Vaishnavism.

The first translated work in Tamil is ‘Perungathai’, which is based on the Sanskrit work Bruhatkatha. Jain monk Vijayamangalam Konguvaleer translated the work in seventh century A.D.

The well-known ‘Seevaga Sinthamani’, based on Seevagans story, is by Thiruthakka Thevar, who authored the work in ninth century A.D. in Dharapuram. It is one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. The authoritative work on Tamil grammar, ‘Nanool’, is also from a Jain monk, Bhavanandi. The 12th century work was composed in Jeenapuram, he says.

Other Tamil works like ‘Vatsanandi Malai’ and ‘Neminatham’ have also been the contribution from the monks, who belonged to the Digambara sect. Mr. Raju, whose doctoral thesis was also on the subject, says the most important of all is the work on Tamil Isai (Tamil music) by Adiyarku Nallar, who wrote a commentary on ‘Silapathikaram’.

But for the commentators work we would not be having a work on Tamil Isai, he says and adds that Adiyarku Nallar also hailed from the region, a village near Vijayamangalam.

The credit for the first book on Kongu history, ‘Kongu Mandala Sathakam’, also goes to a Jain named Jenandran, who authored the work in 18th century.

From the glorious days Jainism has come down in the region and today only the aforementioned five temples exist.

Taking care of Vijayamangalam and Poondurai temples are two Jain families, both Digambara.

To protect the Jain temples, the then Erode Collector T. Udhayachandran sent a proposal to the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department, suggesting setting up of a Jain temple tourism circuit.

Mr. Raju says if the proposal is implemented it will go a long way in not only protecting the temples but also highlighting Erode’s association with Jainism.