History & Culture

On how Kongu Nadu was a Jain bastion

Epigraphist and Tamil scholar Pulavar Dr. S. Raju, who has written more than 100 books, knows the history of Kongu Nadu like the back of his hand. It was Raju, who, through field work, identified Kodumanal as the Kodumanam mentioned in Paditrupathu.

“Tamil Nadu was divided into five regions, of which Kongu Nadu was one,” says Raju. “Sangam literature treats Kongu Nadu as a separate country.”

Chera kings were called ‘Kolli Kavalan.’ Doesn’t this mean Kongu Nadu was part of Chera Nadu? “The Cheras ruled over the region for some time. But that does not mean Chera Nadu and Kongu Nadu were one country,” clarifies Raju.

Kongu-Chera Nadu link

Raju says that the connections between Chera Nadu and Kongu Nadu reveal many interesting facets of social history. The road between Kongu Nadu and Chera Nadu, which passed through the Palghat mountain pass, was called Rajakesari Peruvazhi. The inscription on the Thukkachi memorial stone, shows that Rajendra Chola I took this road to Chera Nadu. Traders who landed on the West Coast, travelled through Kongu Nadu to the East coast.

Kongu Vellalars settled in Palghat at least 1,000 years ago, as evidenced by inscriptions in the Kadathur Siva temple in Kongu Nadu. C.M. Ramachandra Chettiar, who first recorded Kongu Nadu’s history, wrote that there was an attack by the Kongu army against Chera Nadu 1,000 years ago, in which the Kongu king died. Kongu army chiefs settled down in Palghat, and their descendants are known as Mannaadiyars.

“Kongu Vellalars, who were adjudicators and agriculturists, were honoured with the title Mandraadiyar. Just as Tamil words ‘thindru’ (eat) and nindru (stand) are articulated as ‘thinnu’ and ‘ninnu,’ so did Mandraadi became Mannaadi,” says Raju.

The Kongapadai festival in the Chittur Bhagavati temple in Palghat, recalls the attack by the Kongu army. Palghat Vadaseri Mannaadiyars have hereditary rights in the Perur temple, in Coimbatore district. They had a choultry for pilgrims in Palani, the Southern boundary of Kongu Nadu. This choultry was bought by Palani Devasthanam in 1974 and now a Nagaswara school functions there.

C. Gopalan Nair, in his Malabar series, says Vellan Chettiars of Kerala hailed from Dharapuram. Kongu Jains settled down in Wyanad.

Who were the Kongu Cholas? “In 942 C.E., Parantaka I appointed his relative and general Veerachozha Mahimalaya Irukkuvel as ruler of Kongu Nadu and gave him the title of Kongu Chola. It is said of Raja Raja — Ganga Nadu kavvi, Konga Nadu velipadittaruli. This means that while Raja Raja seized Ganga Nadu, he granted autonomy to Kongu Nadu. For almost 300 years from 1,004 C.E., the Kongu Cholas ruled autonomously. They even adopted the names of the Imperial Cholas —Vikrama Chola, Kulottunga Chola etc.”

What were the reasons for the spread of Jainism in Kongu Nadu? “Ruling dynasties like the Rashtrakutas and Gangas supported Jainism. Monks provided food, shelter, medical treatment and education, and this brought them followers. Merchants helped Jain monks.”

Jainism withstood the bhakti wave, despite the visits of Sambandar, Appar and Sundaramurthy Nayanar to Kongu Nadu.

On how Kongu Nadu was a Jain bastion

Raju draws attention to three 2nd century C.E. Jain inscriptions in Arachalur, which he discovered. On a Jain bed in the Arachalur hills, is an inscription — ‘ezhuthum punaruthan maniya vannakkan devan sathan.’ The word ‘punaruthan’ is an alteration of punarthan, which means organised.

On how Kongu Nadu was a Jain bastion

On how Kongu Nadu was a Jain bastion

The other two inscriptions have musical syllables, which are the same when read from left to right, and vice versa; they are also the same when read from the top of a column to the bottom and vice versa. These two inscriptions show that Maniyan Vannakkan Devan Sathan organised musical syllables. “This inscription, which belongs to the same period as Silappadikaram, is centuries older than the Kudumiyamalai inscription on music, and yet the Arachalur inscription hardly draws visitors,” rues Raju.

Inscription on Perunkathai

Raju says that the contribution of Kongu Jains to Tamil was immense. “Konguvelir, who wrote Perunkathai, based on Durvineetha’s Brihatkatha, must have been a Kongu Vellala Jain. A Sanskrit inscription in the Vijayamangalam Jain temple, talks of the beauty of Perunkathai. This temple was built in 678 C.E. So Konguvelir must have lived in Vijayamangalam around this time.”

Sivaka Chintamani, one of the five big epics of Tamil was written by Thiruthakkatevar, a Kongu Jain. He is said to have been patronised by King Poyyamozhi. Raju says that Poyyamozhi is the Tamil equivalent of Satyavakya, a Ganga King whose period was from 870-907 C.E. Neminatha, a grammar work and Vachanandimaalai, which gives rules for poetry, were written by Kongu Jain Gunaveerapandithar. Bhavanandi, the author of the grammar work Nannool, was a Jain who lived in the end of the 12th century C.E. and the beginning of the 13th century C.E. in present day Seenapuram, close to Vijayamangalam.

On how Kongu Nadu was a Jain bastion

Vestiges of Jain influence can be seen in commonly used Tamil words. Jains built halls (kootam) attached to their monasteries (palli), and in these halls they taught children everything from mathematics and grammar to Jainism. In course of time, pallikootam became a generic word, meaning school.

There was a Tamil Sangam in Vijayamangalam, and when Konguvelir wanted to write Perunkathai, he was asked to answer questions posed by the Sangam. While Konguvelir was worrying about how to field questions from the scholarly Sangam, his maid went up and answered all their questions. The scholars were so impressed that they gave permission to Konguvelir to go ahead with his work. There are sculptures in the Vijayamangalam Jain temple of Konguvelir, his maid and members of the Tamil Sangam.

Was this a stray instance, or were many women of Kongu Nadu accomplished? “Many of them were. The irattai pulavargal of the 17th century — Chinnammaiyar and Poonkothai — wrote Thiruchengottukuravanji, and also a treatise on Advaita. When tax collection was disrupted due to invasions by the Mysore kings, Poonkothai, who was good in accountancy, travelled to every village, scrutinised old records, and put the tax system back on its feet. In the process, she discovered that even before the wars, there had been many tax evaders. She brought them under the tax net, thereby augmenting the state’s revenue. Inscriptions record that Chinnammai and Poonkothai repaired the mandapam in front of the Amman shrine in the Sangameswara temple in Bhavani.”

On how Kongu Nadu was a Jain bastion

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 8:02:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-influence-of-jainism-in-kongu-nadu/article19845654.ece

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