History & Culture

Granite slab presents a vignette of Ambattur as a trading hub in the fifteenth century

Whenever there was a heavy monsoon, S. Sumathi and her family would follow a time-tested practice. They would desert their inundated thatched house and take refuge in a Shiva temple located by a narrow stream, in Ambattur. The temple being located on a mound, flood waters would not reach them. Sumathi, a child then, recalls leaning against a granite slab.

Sixty years old now, Sumathi is a still a regular visitor to the temple. Along with a few other residents, she has been helping keep the temple premises spic and span. The group continued with the work even during the lockdown.

The granite slab at the temple enables her to make a nostalgic connection with her childhood. However, now this piece of granite is more than just a piece of granite to Sumathi and other residents of the locality. It signifies a piece of history to them.

“The granite slab is firmly rooted in the ground. Many years ago, As a child, I would play around the slab,” says Sumathi. “Now, we are guarding the slab as it contains some writings on it.”

The writings mentioned by Sumathi are inscriptions that present a vignette of life in the neighbourhood centuries ago, harking back to the Vijayanagara kingdom in the 15th century.

The two-feet-tall slab contains 23 lines that were written from left to right in Tamil describing a direction given by a local chieftain named Malayadeva Maharaja of Vijayanagar empire to donate half of the total taxes collected from the weekly market in the neighbourhood towards the annual maintenance of the Shiva temple.

In order for the traders to comply with the chieftain's direction, a granite slab with inscriptions about it was erected at the temple.

“The inscription refers to Ambattur twice, signifying the importance of the locality during those times. The inscriptions also indicate that Ambattur has been in existence for many centuries. It’s a rare find about a neighbourhood,” says S. Sreekumar, Archeological Officer (A.O), Tamil Nadu State Archeology Department.

During the Vijayanagara period, Ambattur was a major trading town that was located on ancient highway routes that took in trading hubs like Tirupatti, Uthukottai and Periyapalayam.

Senior archaeologists and historians point out that the inscriptions clearly outline the conditions on which the donations should be made by the traders towards the maintenance of the temple.

Three types of taxes for traders and a donation

Specifically, three taxes — Ulalyaam, Allupathabam and Adikasu — were levied from traders with one-half of the total taxes being used for the temple maintenance and the rest of the money being directed towards initiatives aimed at improving the living conditions of residents in the neighbourhood.

The term Ulalyaam refers to the tax levied from traders for entry into a trading town. Allupathabam is a type of tax that is collected for establishing trading outlets in the weekly market. The Adikasu is a tax similar to the modern-day property tax where the tax is collected for the space used in the weekly market. The inscription also mentions that such weekly markets should be organised only on Sundays.

Revenue divisions

Divided into 27 revenue divisions, Thondaimandalam was the region ruled by the Vijayanaragas. This region had Chittoor, which is in present-day Andhra Pradesh, forming its northern boundary, Villupuram its southern boundary and Kancheepuram its western boundary.

Ambattur was the trading headquarters of one of the divisions in Thondaimandalam.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 8:02:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/granite-slab-presents-of-a-vignetteof-ambattur-as-a-trading-hub-in-the-fifteenth-century/article32475866.ece

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