History & Culture

Namma Madurai: From Vedas to military strategies

REPLETE WITH STORIES: Front view of Meenakshi Udanurai Sundareswarar Temple, Koothiyarkundu. Photo: R. Ashok  

Koothiyarkundu literally means a hillock inhabited by dancing girls but surprisingly this village bears within its annals the story of a Brahmin Ramappa Ayyan, who led the battle against the then Mysore king Samaraja Wodayar in the First Mysore War in 1633 AD.

A left turn on the four-lane towards Tirumangalam leads to a narrow road that takes you right into the heart of the village. It is a serene village with a huge tank and fertile land around it. The well-laid roads, rows of houses with antennas sticking out, temples, a school, and advertisement boards tell us that the village has succumbed to technological invasions, but yet the tranquility that prevails seems to be filled with stories of yore.

The general’s story

The village traces its history to the period of Ramappa Ayyan, the military general of King Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659 AD), seventh ruler of the Madurai Nayak Dynasty.

C. Shanthalingam, retired archeological officer, recounts the history of the general. The then reigning monarch of Mysore, Samaraja Wodayar, sent an army to invade the Nayak empire. To teach a fitting lesson to the Mysore king, Ramappa Ayyan took out a counter raid and invaded Mysore, where he usurped many territories. This may have been the first time that the Nayak reached so far north from Madurai.

Meanwhile, the jealous subordinates of Ramappa Ayyan poisoned the mind of Thirumalai Nayak by stating that Ayyan would establish his own kingdom after annihilating the Mysoreans. Believing this story, the king sent two of his soldiers to arrest Ramappa Ayyan and order him to retreat from Mysore. When Ramappan Ayyan heard this he was shocked and when the soldiers tried to arrest him, he cut off their hands. Undeterred by the rumours abounding in Madurai, he stayed back to finish the work entrusted to him by the king. Later, he returned victorious with large booty, explained his mission to the king, and also proved his loyalty.

Another story goes that it was Ramappa Ayyan who was able to settle the simmering discontent brewing between the Sethupathi Rajas and the Nayak rulers. Shanthalingam says, “The whole episode of Sethupathi war is narrated in the famous folklore ‘Ramappa Ayyan Ammanai'. Ammanai is a genre where women sing in praise of a hero while playing with a ball.”

The Brahmins and the dancers

“Much before the village came to be known as Koothiyarkundu , it was known as ‘Chadurvedimangalam', a Brahmin settlement,” says Santhalingam.

Now, the village has no trace of its antiquity except for the Meenakshi Udanurai Sundareswarar Temple that was built during the regime of King Thirumalai Nayak. The portrait figures of the king adorn the pillars of the rear mandapam of the temple, restating the fact that the temple belongs to the Nayak period.

“Perhaps the king built the temple in honour of Ramappa Ayyan,” says M. Parvatharajan, who has been temple priest since 1970.

This temple has no inscriptions to reveal its past. Its unique feature is the presence of five Shivalingams referring to the five faces of Lord Shiva – tathpurusha, akora, satyojatha, vamadeva and isana. Another attractive feature of the temple is the Natarajar Sabha. All temples have an open sabha often referred to as Natarajar sabha. The Meenakshi Udanurai Sundareswarar Temple has a mini sabha with statues of Natarajar, Sivakami Amman and Vyakarapathar on the left and Karaikal Ammaiyar and Pathanchali munivar on the right.

“Sunrays fall on the Lingam in the sanctum sanctorum during summer and winter solstices,” says Parvatharajan.

The temple has a Dakshinamoorthy Sannidhi and Vishalakshi Udanurai Viswanathar Sannidhi. It is believed that the Vishalakshi-Viswanathar Sannidhi is the oldest temple of the village.

But how did the name Chadurvedimangalam fade away? According to Shanthalingam, “Perhaps, apart from Brahmins, the village also had a good population of dancing girls-cum-temple workers and hence this name.”

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 6:48:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/namma-madurai-from-vedas-to-military-strategies/article3376882.ece

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