Scores of tourists who come to Kanniyakumari to visit the Bhagavathi Amman temple, Vivekananda memorial and the newly-created 133-foot Thiruvalluvar statue, miss out on the Guganatheeswarar temple.
Tucked away from the national highway, surrounded by shops, and altered by modern-day construction materials, the temple, which is over 1,000 years old, had a direct connection with Rajendra Chola, the son of King Rajaraja I, who built Gangaikonda Cholapuram. But what makes it more interesting is that it has received grants from a woman, who is referred to as the pendatti of Rajendra Chola in the inscriptions.
“Today, the word pendatti may mean wife. But it was used in the inscriptions only to refer to a maid or helper. Even today, we prefer the word manaivi and not pendatti to refer to a wife, though the latter has gained currency,” explained A.K. Perumal, folklorist and the author of the book Thenkumariyin Kathai (The history of Kanniyakumari).
As per the inscriptions, the woman, named Cholakulavalli, had cooked food for Rajendra Chola. She was from Palayur Thittai in Puliyur Nadu. She had made a gift of 50 sheep for a perpetual lamp.
“Puliyur Nadu is present-day Nagapattinam. During the Chola period, 11 villages were incorporated under the Nadu division. Thittai must have been a hamlet of Palayur,” said Kalaikovan, director of Dr. Rajamanickanar Centre for Historical Research. A village named Thittai still remains in Nagapattinam district.
Both Mr. Perumal and Dr. Kalaikovan reiterated that the word pendatti was never used to refer to a wife in ancient Tamil country.
“According to Kalvettu Sol Agarathi, a dictionary of inscriptions published by the Archaeology Department, it means velaikkari, penmagal and sthree. If a woman is a wife of a king, there will be a lot of superlative titles such as Madevi before mentioning her name,” Mr. Perumal said.
Dr. Kalaikovan said the word pendatti rarely found mention in inscriptions till the 9th Century.
“It is not found in Sangam literature and Tamil epics such as Silapathikararm and Manimekalai. It did not find a reference in Perunkathai and Seevagachinthamani either. It gained currency during the period of the Cholas, and pendatti was the term used for maids,” he explained.
The Lexicon of the University of Madras refers to the words as a woman, quoting the phrase selva pendatti from Thiruppavai. Of course, it has also included the modern meaning of wife.