For years, devotees at the ninth century Adipuriswarar (Shiva) temple in Tiruvottiyur walked on granite slabs with rare inscriptions that dated to the Chola and Vijayanagara empires.

The slabs had been laid on the floors of the temple as part of a renovation carried out some centuries ago. Over the past fortnight, hundreds of such slabs and pillars, covered with inscriptions, were removed from the floor for preservation.

On Tuesday, a dedicated team of archaeologists led by the government-designated consultant, K.T. Narasimhan, and the commissioner of the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department, P. Dhanapal, inspected the renovation work and the rare Chola era paintings discovered by a research scholar of the state archaeology department a day ago.

“As against the single stone image of Lord Shiva, the main deity at the temple was built with two stones and this has led to a doubt whether the idols had been damaged during the ongoing renovation work,” said Narasimhan, former superintending archaeologist of ASI (Chennai Circle).

After years of usage, the inscriptions on the granite slabs are worn out. Nevertheless, archaeological experts and officials of the HR&CE department want to the preserve the rest of the inscriptions on the slabs. The flooring will be replaced with marble slabs.

The stone inscriptions on the floor near the Durgai Amman Sannidhi in the Adipuriswarar shrine were removed so they could be reinstalled in a suitable spot. Similarly, lingams behind the Adipuriswarar Sannidhi were removed to a dais. Incidentally, in most cases, the inscriptions are found on the walls of old temples. It is believed that they were placed wrongly on the floor during an earlier renovation.

According to the Madras Government Epigraphists’ version, the deity in the central shrine was named Adipuriswarar and it was said the linga therein is in the form of an ant hill. It is in the presence of this god (Shiva) that the Hindu saint Sundarar is said to have accepted Sangili, with whom he had fallen in love in this temple, as his consort. The temple, archaeologists said, might originally have been a brick structure in the 7th century and would have been rebuilt by later dynasties including the Cholas.

The temple’s significance was evident from the fact that even the Chola kings, based in the south, attended festivals here. For instance, Chola koing Rajadiraja – II (1163 – 1178 A.D) attended a festival in the ninth year of his reign. Likewise, his predecessor Kulottunga - II (1133 – 1150 A.D), in the 19th year of his reign, held a durbar to look into the petitions relating to the temple lands lying waste.