Temple walls speak history

Inscriptions are a great way to connect to the past and learn lessons

October 11, 2018 04:01 pm | Updated 04:02 pm IST

A view of tala sculpture in Nellaiyappar temple

A view of tala sculpture in Nellaiyappar temple

The temples on the banks of the Tamiraparani have several important inscriptions, that offer a fund of information on local governance and social life across the Pandya, Chola, Chera (Venad) and Nayaka dynasties.

Inscriptions are the last thing pilgrims would look for in a temple. Etched on the walls and floors, they are all political, social, economic and judicial records and invaluable for an unbiased study of history and psychology. A few samples are: Inscriptions inside the Nellaiyappar temple, located in the middle of the river’s course date back only 1,400 years although the temple itself is older. Many inscriptions have been lost to ‘renovation.’ The golden period of the Pandya kings was under Maravarman Sundara Pandiyan (1216-1238 CE). He was guided by a person called Thadakanni Chitrudaiyan Uyyanindravan Gurukulatharayan. This person has given gifts to this temple as well as the Vishnu temple in Tiruthangal. In both, the gift is carved in a satirical verse.

The writer says in the poem that pained by the Bikshatana at the temple having to go begging for food, he has given enough land so that he could eat comfortably and not hold the kapala. Outside the Muruga shrine (western prakaras), on the floor is a thala pramana or a composition of beats composed/invented by Pichchandi Annavi, a resident of Pasuvanthanai village in 1870. The notes are carved into a flower shape. Many of the donations to the temple are of land, lamps and structures. Several given by Devadasis. A particularly generous donor was a Thalaikolli from the Madurai Meenakshi temple.

In the ancient inscriptions, Palayamkottai is mentioned as Sri Vallabha Chaturvedi Mangalam, named after Sri Vallabha (815-865ACE). The Tripurantaka temple has inscriptions from the reigns of Raja Raja. The adjacent Vedanarayana temple seems to have started off as an Ashtanga Vimana temple but has only one upper floor. The temple has an intricately carved Pandya Alankara Mandapa, which is now sadly covered in brass. The museum has some impressive Jain images from Tuticorin district and hero stones. Inscriptions on the hero stones are from 600 years ago.

A bas relief sculpture showing the maritime trade at the Thirukurungudi Nambi Temple in Tamil Nadu

A bas relief sculpture showing the maritime trade at the Thirukurungudi Nambi Temple in Tamil Nadu

Many inscriptions in the region show a connection with Malaimandalam or Kerala. The Venad rulers had palaces in the region and the upper tracts of the river were hunting grounds. Tirukkurungudi and Nanguneri even had worship protocols influenced by the Nambudiri system. Even today, temples at Bhoothapandi and Padmanabhapuram in Kanyakumari district show this amalgamation of cultures. The Vishnu temple at Tharuvai was built by a Raman. Sivalapperi is the birthplace of Mukkudar Pallu, a genre of bardic literature. The earliest record here is 1,400 years back. One of them mentions a gift of 22 sheep by Anukkan Api Nangai to burn a perpetual lamp. She was the wife of Sathur Bayankara Mutharaya.

Inscriptions also reveal that the region was not always peaceful and harmonious. However, disputes were resolved and the judgment respected. Brahmadesam, near Ghatana river has a resolution of this type. Another is in Kallidaikurichi where a bitter conflict was resolved between Vellala and Nadars. From a national point of view, the inscriptions on a small, slender pillar at Manur are the most important. They go back 1,400 years when the village assembly met to redraft the rules of elections and duties of the village legislature. The details show how much we have regressed as a democracy today.

Although not on the river banks, those pilgrims who have more time, are encouraged to visit the temples at Malaiyadikurichi and Darukapuram near Sankarankoil. The ancient cave was hewn out by Sathan Eran, of Sevur in 637ACE, this makes it one of the oldest temples or monuments in the region. Other inscriptions from 1135 on the pillars are on land grants.

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