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RINGING To pass on information Photo: G. Moorthy  

Today we have information relayed to us through various sophisticated equipment and systems, but a somewhat similar system, though rudimentary, existed long ago in and around our region.

In the earlier days, people shared information mainly through pigeons and messengers who were often known as ‘runners’ (Oottan). But during Tirumalai Nayak's regime, when there was a message to be sent a series of bells rang.

It is believed that King Tirumalai Nayak (1623 to 1659 AD), an ardent devotee of Srivilliputhur Andal Temple, used to eat his breakfast only after the pujas were performed at the temple. To get the information that the pujas were completed, the king built mandaps about every five kilometres on the route from Madurai to Srivilliputhur and installed loud bells in them. Each mandap also had a small kitchen.

Mandaps

The bell man lived with his family at the mandap, which also served as ‘chatram’ for travellers and pilgrims. Now, only three mandaps can be identified on the route to Srivilliputhur. Of these, the mandap at Pilliayarnatham is maintained by the local Sanmarga Sangam.

This 17th century mandap has about 30 pillars in the form of a chariot pulled by elephants. The pillars are adorned with ‘dasavatharam’ and erotic sculptures. Sevanthi Asari designed and constructed the mandap, according to an inscription found there. The portrait of the Asari is also found at the entrance.

One of the other two mandaps hosts a firewood shop, while the other remains in tatters on the Srivilliputhur Road. Similar mandaps are found at Tiruparankundram, Pasumalai, Moolakaraipatti and Pazhanganatham near Madurai.

A similar story is told of Veerapandya Kattabomman, who was hanged in 1799 AD. It is believed that Kattabomman took his breakfast only after hearing the bell that passed on the information that pujas were over at the Tiruchendur Temple. He also built about 40 mandaps between Panchalakuruchi and Tiruchendur to pass on the message from the temple.

Copper plate evidence

“There is no recorded and documented evidence for the king waiting for the bell to have his breakfast,” says C. Santhalingam, retired archaeological officer. “But there is copper plate evidence at Arittapatti near Madurai which recorded the alarm system – a mode of relaying information.”

During the Nayak regime, local chieftains ruled some pockets of the country and often they revolted against the monarch. To keep them under control, Tirumalai Nayak raided their territories.

According to the plate, Chetty Dalavay, a military chief, appointed Vekappunathan, a resident of Kalikottai, to keep a watch on the border and pass information about invasion, if any, with an alarm. Vekappunathan was to stay in a high rock shelter, to which he would climb with the help of an iron ladder.

On one occasion, the raid of Tirumalai Nayak's army failed because of Vekappunathan's timely alarm. After identifying the reason for his army’s failure, the king’s men bribed the alarm man. Next time, the man did not inform the chief about the forthcoming raid and Tirumalai Nayak's army looted the village.

When the treacherous act of Vekappunathan came to light, Chetty Dalavay took away the iron ladder and let him perish atop the hill. The copper plate is now in possession of a person who has the same name, Vekappunathan.

Santhalingam says, “Belonging to 17th century, the plate gives interesting information about the history of the area and the information system that existed.”

Whatever may be the level of sophistication in passing on information, the crucial importance of communication remains.


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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 12:34:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/you-have-a-message/article3602086.ece

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