A poetic princess

ON HISTORY TRAIL The Lingam placed as a decoy. Photo:G.Moorthy   | Photo Credit: G_Moorthy

Next time you are inside the Meenakshi Amman Temple, just slow down near the Durgai Sannidhi. It is here, behind the celestial wedding witness tree, that a slice of history remains hidden. The lingam at the spot, of course, is worshipped by the devotees. Those who follow history will notice the crowbar marks on this lingam. What usually goes unnoticed or unread is a fading tin sheet on the wall behind it.

It says that the temple puja was restored after 43 years with the recapture of Madurai and re-opening of the temple by Kumara Kampana of Vijaynagar in 1370. It describes how Kampana and the priests dug out the original lingam and sannidhi hidden behind a wall. It had been closed with bricks, plastered and camouflaged with parrot nests to escape raiders. When the original sannidhi was reopened, the board says, two lamps were found to be still burning inside and the garland on the original lingam had not withered. The dummy lingam, placed as a decoy, bore the brunt of the attack and is the one we see now with crowbar marks outside the sanctum sanctorum.

It was this bit of information that set the Metroplus team, along with T. Vadamalaiappan, ardent history lover and employee of TVS Sundaram Fasteners, on an Indiana Jones adventure! We pored over data and information available in books and on the net. And what we found was a wonderful connection between the ancient city of Madurai and a wise and beautiful princess of the Vijaynagar Empire, Gangadevi, also known as Gangambika, who was inspired by Kalidas and wrote Sanskrit poetry.

Interestingly, the female tri-force of Madurai symbolizing power, wisdom and courage is associated with Goddess Meenakshi, Rani Mangammal, who is described as a popular administrator and efficient ruler of the Nayak kingdom, and Kannagi, the legendary Tamil woman who avenged her husband's unjust execution by cursing the city and its Pandya king. Gangadevi's name doesn't figure much, and she is not discussed in history lessons.

Vadamalaiappan points out, “It is largely due to lack of evidence and also the religious and political war between the two communities then.” Adds C.Santhalingam, retired archaeological officer, “There is no useful record or inscriptional evidence about this other than Gangadevi's own documentation. Also, she did not belong to Tamil Nadu and the Vijaynagar records are very meager.”

Gangadevi's poetry, however, is believed to be the only available chronicle of the happenings of the period in verse. Much of it is in praise of the valour of her husband and his recapture of Madurai from the Delhi Sultanate in 1370. She also offers her salutes to gods, past and contemporary great poets, and teachers. She writes of the beauty of poetry, her deep love for languages and the pleasure of writing.

Her original nine chapters written in Sanskrit, called “Mathura Vijayam” and also known as "Veera Kamparaya Charitram", were initially believed to be lost. But they were discovered in the form of palm-leaf manuscripts in Thiruvananthapuram in 1900 in a private collection. In 1950, the Annamalai University came out with an English translation and before that Perumal devotee Sri Krishnamacharya of Srirangam brought out a Tamil version. It is also reported to have been translated into Telugu. These publications with their limited editions are hard to find now but still serve as a reference to establish the history of Madurai. “Mathura Vijayam” is significant as it also coincides with the recordings of the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, who was in Madurai as a guest of the Madurai Sultan during that time. The narrations match and are both accepted by historians.

History records Gangadevi as brave and intelligent. She served in the royal court as a poet, rode horses and entered the battlefield along with her husband, inspiring armies of women warriors.

Well-known historian Prof.R.Venkatraman recounts an incident of “Mathuradevi” as described in the book. The deity of Madurai appears in the dreams of both Kampana and his wife Gangadevi, lamenting that the glory of Madurai has fallen to an intolerant regime. She bequeaths him Chandrahaasam, the revered and legendary moon sword of the Pandyas, and asks him to save the city. Gangadevi narrates the suffering of the people and the eerie look of the raided city after the bloodbath. What followed is history — the defeat of Madurai Sultan and the re-opening of the Madurai temple, which was very small then. “What you see today is 90 per cent reconstruction by successive Nayak rulers. When Kampana ruled Madurai, he repaired many temples. His campaign was a great beginning,” adds Prof. Venkatraman.

The people of Madurai owe a great deal to Kampana for saving the city, and to Gangadevi for documenting its famed temple in pure poetry for posterity. Do we not need to tell these stories to our children?

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 3:42:20 PM |

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