History & Culture

Namma Madurai: Monks turned into Hindu deities

Sculptures of Jain Thirthankaras at Kovilankulam temple. Photo: S.James   | Photo Credit: S_James

That Jainism and Hinduism have had their share of turbulent times is well known to all in Tamil Nadu. Conversions and reconversions were the order of the day almost till 15th century. Sculptures of Jain Thirthankaras were left bare without any adornment of clothes or jewels symbolising that they had renounced worldly pleasures for attaining enlightenment. A village near Arupukkottai belies this. At Kovinlankulam village Jain Thirthankaras have become Hindu deities.

With kumkum, sandal paste, red dhoties and turbans, the Jain Thirthankaras look every inch the guarding deities of the village. The village youth though convinced that they are Jain deities, deck the sculptures in the same way.

The open temple has three sculptures sitting in arthapariyanga asana. The centre sculpture has curled hair while other sculptures on the right and left sides have triple umbrella representing three ratnas – good wisdom, good vision and virtue.

“Curled hair represents Mahavira,” says C. Santhalingam, retired archaeological officer.

The temple has a sanctum sanctorum and a front mandap. This temple in the Pandya region was constructed during the Chola regime. It is believed that one chieftain Chola Kon constructed the Jain temple that has three inscriptions belonging to Kulothunga Chola I (1118 AD).

Santhalingam says, “according to the inscriptions, the Jain temple had a golden vimana and the Lord was known as Mukkudaiyaar.” The original name of the village in the records is referred to as ‘Kumbanoor’ and ‘Gunahanaparanallur.’ The village was under the subdivision named Sengattu Irukkai and the geographical division called Venbuvazhanaadu.

“The Mukkudaiyar temple is a structural temple of Jains,” he says and “this is a very rare phenomenon. Similar structural Jain temple is found at Hanumandakudi near Devakottai constructed by Pandya kings.”

The inscription also gives out details about the person who made the sculpture, donation of land for temple maintenance and a well that served water to the village and temple. It also gives details about establishment of water sheds for travellers during summer season. The temple attracted devotees from various parts of Pandya country like Kurandi, Kundrathur, Madurai and Sathangudi.

“The information in the inscription is in verse form,” says Santhalingam, “and has the names of some officials.”

It is believed that Jainism encountered a setback with the advent of Bhakti Movement in the 7th century. But, with the best efforts from a Jain monk Achanandhi, Jainism was rejuvenated during 9th and 10th centuries. In this connection, probably, a temple was constructed at Kovilankulam. Jainism flourished till 12th century in the Pandya region and is well attested by the presence of the Jain temple.

“Now, villagers identify the temple as ‘Ambalaappaswamy Temple.’ Ambalam meaning head of an assembly hall,” says Santhalingam.

The village is home for a perumal temple too which is in ruins. King Kulasekera Pandya’s (1203 AD) inscription is found at the temple. This inscription substantiates the evidence that the village was also known as Gunahanaparanallur. The temple is known as Gunahanparavinnagar and the deity as Engum Alagia Perumal. Kulasekera Pandya’s inscription also has reference to appointments of soldiers who were entrusted with the work of protecting the temple.

“During the Medieval period (10th to 15th centuries), both Jainism and Vaishnavism flourished simultaneously. Both rulers and people patronised these temples believing in religious harmony,” he says.

And now these villagers are patronising it in their own way. Who is worried about such technicalities when all we want to do is adore and worship the divine!

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 7:53:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/namma-madurai-monks-turned-into-hindu-deities/article4265457.ece

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