History & Culture

Bahur, seat of learning

The outer prakaram fo the Bahur temple. Photos: Chithra Madhavan  

Bahur, approximately 20 km from Pondicherry en route to Cuddalore, is home to an ancient Siva temple which is now a protected monument of national importance under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India. Although many architectural changes have taken place over the centuries inside the temple complex, vestiges of architecture and sculpture from times bygone are still evident here.

The ancient name of this village as given in the inscriptions was Vagur, located in the territorial division called Vahur Nadu and the deity enshrined in the main sanctum now worshipped as Mulanathaswami was once known as Mulasthanam Udaiya Perumanadigal and Parameswara.

In all probability, the Bahur temple belongs to the early Chola times. In the niches of the outer walls of the main sanctum are images of Nritta Ganesa, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga of the 10th century. Below these are exquisite carvings in a row, of dancers in various poses and musicians playing different instruments.

Many inscriptions are seen etched on the stone walls of the Bahur temple even today. A few belong to the reign of the Rashtrakuta king, Krishna III, also known as Kannaradeva of the 10th century, one of the last great rulers of this dynasty who ruled from Manyakheta (Gulbarga District, Karnataka).

This king invaded the Chola territory and defeated the Chola army decisively in the 10th century and thus his inscriptions are seen in many temples in Tamil Nadu. The Rashtrakuta inscriptions in Bahur record the gift of sheep and lamps to this temple and one even mentions the gift of stone slabs in the construction of the shrine.

Gifts to the temple

Chola inscriptions here date back to the period of Aditya Chola II, the elder brother of Rajaraja I of the 10th century A.D. They too mention various gifts to this temple and one donation was earmarked for annual repairs to be carried out in the tank at Vahur.

One of the greatest discoveries at Bahur was a copper-plate inscription, close to this temple in the middle of a structure of bricks in 1879. It belongs to the eighth year of the reign of Nripatunga Varman, one the last Pallava emperors of Kanchipuram. This bilingual record, dated c.877 A.D., consists of two portions, the first in Sanskrit etched in the Grantha script and the second in Tamil and in the Tamil script of the Pallava times. This interesting inscription mentions an educational endowment made to a college of learning called Vidyasthana in Vahur. The donation, made by the king’s Minister called Marthandan or Nilaithangi, consisted of three villages, the income from which was `to be enjoyed by the residents of the seat of learning at Vahur.’

The copper plates record that this exceptional centre of education had as its curriculum, the fourteen branches of learning (chaturdashavidya) which included the four Vedas, six Vedangas, Mimamsa, Nyaya, Dharma Sastra and Puranas.

This very detailed inscription mentions that the poet Nagaya who composed the Sanskrit verses was an employee of the Bahur college and the person who wrote it on copper sheets was a goldsmith named Nripatunga after the Pallava emperor.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 3:05:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/bahur-seat-of-learning/article5809690.ece

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