Viralimalai – The hill crowned with famous Subrahmanya (சுப்பிரமணியர் கோயில்) Temple, which is a prominent landmark for miles, presents a great show of beautifully banded granite gneiss. There is a famous peacock sanctuary.
Viralimalai is situated at the Trichy (திருச்சி) – Madurai (மதுரை) Highway and its about 25 kilometers from Trichy. From Pudukkottai, Viralimalai is about 40 kilometers and can be reached via Illuppur (இலுப்பூர்) on Manapparai road.
Dance tradition of Viralimalai
The temple was once a renowned seat of the Bharata natyam dance form and boasted of a separate dancer for each of the 32 adavu-s (அடவு, dance movements). Most of the inhabitants of this village can trace their descent from the Isai-vellala (மேளக்காரர், Melakarar) community.
Viralimalai has also lent its name to an exclusive kuravanji (குறவஞ்சி) dance-drama. Shyamala Balakrishnan writes: “Thanks to these families (of deva-dasi-s) the kuravanji named after Viralimalai has had an unbroken tradition of practical exposition for nearly two centuries. On Maha-siva-rathri (மகாசிவராத்திரி) night every year, till some fifteen years back, they used to play the kuravanji (குறவஞ்சி) as an all-night show to large admiring crowds of nobles, officials and ordinary folk, in front of the mandapam below the foot of the hill. Almost every deva-dasi (தேவதாசி) family of the place had a manyam (மானியம், land grant) for dance and two of them, in particular, had special additional manyam for the Viralimalai kuravanji. It was their business to keep alive the tradition of the kuravanji, which they did until they were forced out of it owing to socio-legal changes.”
The natural caverns in the hillock show signs of early human habitation. This place must have shared the fortunes of Kodumbalur (கொடும்பாளுர்), which is only about six km off. The presence of an early Chozha temple lends support to the belief that Viralimalai (விராலிமலை) was a prosperous village as early as the 9th century AD.
The sides of this hill have traditionally worn a coat of non-thorny trees, mainly Wrightia (veppaalai, வெப்பாலை). Pea-fowl, in their hundreds, have inhabited this hillside. They are to be encountered even now though their numbers are much diminished.
The Subrahmanya Temple
According to the tradition, the temple owes its origin to Jnana Varodaya (ஞான வரோதயர்), who belonged to Vayalur (வயலூர்), ten km west of Tiruchi. He induced a Perambur (பேராம்பூர்) chief, Azhagiya-manavaalan (அழகிய மனவாளன்), to build it. This was in the 15th century. In later times, other chiefs expanded the temple.
Arunagiri, the great saint who is believed to have lived in the middle of the 15th century, visited Viralimalai and sang in praise of the God here, expressing some of his mystic experiences.
The deity presiding over this temple is offered by way of neyvedhya every evening at the day’s last puja, the most curious of objects: a country cigar (சுருட்டுக் களஞ்சி) suruttu kalanji).
The Temple Architecture:
The ascent to the top of the hill is made by a series of flights commencing at an entrance close to the vahana-mandapam (வாகன மண்டபம்). To the north of the first landing, about half-way up, there is a natural cavern in which there is now a shrine containing a lingam, an Amman, Ganesa, etc. At the top is mandapam, from which one enters the main gopuram facing south. More steps lead to the northern prakaram. The idol of Sri Subrahmanya has six faces and twelve hands. The God is seated on a peacock, with the two Amman-s, Valli and Devasena, standing on either side
The mandapam-s are of the Madurai style, and the one on the extreme east affords a panoramic view of the country round as far as the Tiruchirappalli rock. Some panels containing dancing figures in bas-relief, evidently belonging to a ruined early Chozha temple at Kodumbalur (கொடும்பாளூர்), have been built into the walls of the northern prakaram. The two lion-pillars in the vahana-mandapam at the foot of the hill are of the Pallava type, and probably belonged to the Ainthali (ஐந்தளி) or Aivar-koil (ஐவர் கோயில்) at Kodumbalur.
Ther (தேர்) festival
The principal festivals are the Thai Poosam (தைப்பூசம்) held in January-February, Masi-mahabhisekam (மாசி மஹாபிஷேகம்) held in February-March, Panguni-uththiram (பங்குனி உத்திரம்) in March-April, Vaisakham (விசாகம்) in May-June, Nava-rathri (நவராத்திரி) in September-October, and the Sura-samharam (சூரசம்ஹாரம்) in November-December, and are attended by great crowds from other parts of the State and from the Tiruchirappalli district. Many of the pilgrims bring kavadi-s (காவடி), containing the milk and sugar, which are poured over the idol. The place is a favourite spot for the performance of vows, especially shaving of the head.
Saint Arunagiri-nathar (அருணகிரிநாதர்) and Viralimalai:
Tradition holds that the deity of Viralimalai Murugan (விராலிமலை முருகன்), appeared before a pilgrim at the temple-town of Vayalur and so overwhelmed him, as to bring him to Viralimalai, where he composed a set of sixteen songs of great metrical skill, included in the anthology known as the Thirup-pugazh (திருப்புகழ்). The author, who belonged to the 15th century and who had earlier led the life of a libertine, thence became famous as Arunagiri-nathar, the great saint and exponent of Saiva-siddhantha. Whatever be the truth the tradition, Arunagiri-nathar’s songs are one of the precious legacies of Tamil literature.Apart from their devotion, Arunagiri-nathar’s songs contain a vivid description of Viralimalai and it’s surrounding. A stanza from one of these may be translated as: ” In konadu (கோநாடு), where beetles haunt the kadappai (கடப்பை) and surap-punnai (சூரப்புன்னை) flowers for their nectar crowding the woods, and where the hum of their flight suggests the ragas desi (தேசி) and namakriyai (நாமக்கிரியை); and where herons hunt in the stream-fed lakes for the aaral fish find where agricultural fields abound, lies Viralimalai”.
The following are the immortal songs of the Saint, sung in praise of the God Murugan of Viralimalai:
About the origin of the temple
The origin of this temple is ascribed to Jnana Varodaya a native of Vayalur (வயலூர்), six miles to the west of Tiruchirappalli. When he was a little boy, he played the truant one-day to escape being flogged at school and hid himself behind the idol of Subrahmanya in the temple at Vayalur. There be remained shut up for the night unseen by the temple servants, when the God Subrahmanya appeared to him and blessed him with the gift of poesy.
Next morning his parents discovered him in the temple and were delighted at his newly acquired talents. Sometime afterwards, the God told the boy in a vision of his wish to have a temple built of him on the top of the hill at Viralimalai. Jnana Varodaya communicated the God’s commands to the chief Azhagiya-manavaalan (அழகிய-மணவாளன்) of Perambur (பேராம்பூர்).
Azhagiya also had a vision of the God, who appeared before him in answer to a hymn of the boy, but the vision was so dazzling that the chief lost his eyesight for a while. The chief built the temple, which was later extended by the Kumaravadi (குமாரவாடி) and Marungapuri (மருங்காபுரி) chiefs. Laudatory songs are still sung in praise of the Perambur chiefs during one of the temple festivals.
About the peculiar neyvedhya of country cigar
Karuppa-muthu Pillai (கருப்பமுத்துப் பிள்ளை), a minister of one of the Kumaravadi chiefs, was in the habit of visiting the temple every Friday, but on one occasion, a tank had burst after heavy rains and the Mamundi (மாமுண்டி) stream had become unaffordable so that Karuppa-muthu who was stranded on the bank was face with the prospect of having to spend a night without food and, what was most grievous to him, without cigars. The God, however, appeared before him in human form gave him a cigar and led him to the temple.
The grateful devotee ordered that henceforth cigars should be offered to the God everyday. The God was pleased with this native but sincere act of devotion, and accepted the unusual offering. One of the Tondaiman (தொண்டைமான்) rulers stopped this offering, as being inappropriate in a temple of Subrahmanya. But, the story goes, the God appeared to him in a dream with an emaciated body, and instructed him to restore the offering, which the Raja did. This offering is still continued.
The deity presiding over this temple is offered by way of neyvedhya every evening at the day’s last puja, the most curious of objects: a country cigar suruttu kalanji (சுருட்டுக் களஞ்சி).
Thiruvarangulam (திருவரங்குளம்) – A big temple, which has been expanded down the ages, dedicated to Hara-tirthesvara (ஹரதீர்த்தேஸ்வரர்) and Brahadambal (பிரஹதம்பாள்). The main shrine dates back to 12th century. A Nataraja bronze of superlative quality from this temple is now on display at the National Museum, New Delhi. This temple of Hara-tirthesvara and is held in high veneration by devotees far and near. There are a number of inscriptions here. There are a few mythological stories associated with this temple.
Thiruvarangulam is about 15 kilometers from Pudukkottai, which is well connected with Pudukkottai, Alangudi (ஆலங்குடி), Pattukkottai (பட்டுக்கோட்டை), Peravurani (பேராவூரணி) and Karambakkudi (கறம்பக்குடி) by frequent bus services. Taxi facilities is available from Pudukkottai, Pattukkottai and Peravurani.
The monument: Hara-tirthesvara temple
Thiruvarangulam is noted for its fine ancient temple dedicated to Hara-tirthesvara (ஹரதீர்தேஸ்வரர்) and Brahadambal (பிரகதம்பாள்). A Nataraja bronze of superlative quality from this temple is now on display at the National Museum, New Delhi.
The place was once a centre of iron-ore mining and contained in outcrop of ochre on the bunds of one of the temple tanks, called the Brahma-kundam (பிரம்ம குண்டம்).
The main shrine of the temple, which has been expanded down the ages, was built in the 12th century Chozha epoch. The earliest inscription in the central shrine is dated in the fortieth year of Kulottunga Chozha III (மூன்றாம் குலோத்துங்க சோழன்) (1218-19). The temple may have been built either in the reign of Raja Raja II (இரண்டாம் இராஜராஜன்) or early in the reign of Kulottunga III – the reign of Raja Raja II is considered to be more probable judging from the architectural features.
The Temple Architecture
The garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்) of Hara-tirthesvara is having the Chozha style of architectural features. The pilasters over the plinth have simple idhazh-s (இதழ்) without petals, large palagai-s (பலகை) with two vyali-s (யாளி) over each palagai-s as if supporting the architrave above. Above the pilasters a line of bhutha-gana (பூதகணம்) supporting a convex moulded cornice. The kudus (கூடு) are formed of foliage scrolls with figures of human heads within. There are niches on the wall, that on the south has a very finely carved figure of Vina-dhara Dakshina-moorthi (வீணாதார தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி), that on the west one of Lingod-bhava and that on the north one of Brahma. The niches are surmounted by makara-torana-s (மகரத் தோரணங்கள்).
The ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and maha-mandapam (மஹா மண்டபம்), which are in front of the shrine, are also of the Chozha style.
The main shrine, ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and maha-mandapam (மகாமண்டபம்) are surrounded by a hundred-pillared mandapam, the construction of which the Statistical Account of Pudukkottai attributes to Gopulingam, a Chozha minister. Along the walls of the southern cloister are large figures of the 63 Saiva saints. In this mandapam are sub-shrines of Ganesa, Lakshmi, Subrahmanya, Bhairava, etc. In the front part of this mandapam are the processional (உத்சவ மூர்த்தி, utsava-moorthi) images, which are fine specimens of late Chozha or early Pandya bronze.
From this mandapam one passes out through the second gopuram erected by a Gangaiyaraya (காங்கேய ராயன்) chief. It is in the Pandya style. Between the second gopuram and the first or main gopuram is a large corridor with massive monolithic pillars (anivetti-k-kal, அணிவெட்டிக்கால்) with carved lions on top supporting the roof. The pillars are elaborately sculptured with figures of donors, like, the Vallanad Chettiyar-s (வள்ளநாட்டுச் செட்டியார்), local chieftains, etc. In the middle part of the ceiling are sculptured the signs of zodiac. To the north of the mandapam are the sabha-mandapam (சபா மண்டபம், hall of dance) and a separate enclosure for the Amman shrine, which is much simpler than that of the God.
Architectural features of the Amman shrine mark the transition from the Chozha to the Pandya epoch. The vyali-s (யாளி) and bhutha-gana (பூதகணம்) found in the central shrine are absent here. The earliest inscription on this shrine says that the structure was built by Kannudaya-perumal (கண்ணுடைய பெருமாள்), queen of the Nishada-raja (நிசதராஜா) chief of Piranmalai (பிரான்மலை) and daughter of the Nishada-raja chief of Ponnamaravathi (பொன்னமராவதி).
The main gopuram may be assigned to the late Pandya epoch and has the decorative pilasters motif.
There are a number of myths and legends associated with this temple.
About the origin of the temple
The following account of the legendary origin of the temple is taken from an old Tamil prose manuscript.
A Rishi who was doing penance in the forest near Thiruvarangulam happened one day to restore to a hunter his wife whom he had lost in the woods. Out of gratitude, the hunter brought him everyday some tubers and fruit to eat. The hunter was in turn amply rewarded for his service, for a Palmyra tree sprang up miraculously in the jungle, and dropped a fruit of pure gold every day at the hunters feet as he brought food to the hermit. But unaware of the value of the fruit he sold them all to a Chettiyar of Vallanad for some rice, salt, chilly, and tobacco. A dozen years passed, and the Chettiyar had amassed thousands of these gold fruits.
At this time the Chozha king who held sway over these parts had built a fort near Thiruvarangulam. The hunter finally discovering his stupidity one day demanded additional payment for his fruit from Chettiyar, and when this was refused he appealed to the king who made inquiries. The king examined the miraculous fruits and found them to be pure gold. They then sought for the hermitage of the sage, but both he and the Palmyra tree had vanished, and in their place stood a lingam.
It also happened that a shepherd who carried milk for the king’s use from Kadayakkudi (கடையக்குடி) stumbled every day at this hallowed spot and broke his milk pot over the lingam, thus unintentionally performing the daily ablution of the God with cow’s milk. When the shepherd one day examined the spot with pickaxe and spade, he inadvertently cut the top of the lingam and the cut may have seen to this day – and was horrified to see blood issuing from the cut. The king decided that a temple must be built to the God, and he was pleased to find that the Chettiyar of the golden fruit was himself willing to build one at his own expense in six months. After completing the temple in this manner and providing it with a car and some jewels, 3000 of the gold fruits were still left and they were locked up in the temple cellars.
The temple is interesting for the small temple, which contains a male and a female figure.
The story is that an untouchable, who had disguised himself, was appointed as peshkar (பேஷ்கார், manager) of the temple and having been detected, was done to death. A deva-dasi lover of his, out of grief, committed suicide. The couple is now worshipped by the Isai-vellala community (மேளக்காரர்க, Melakarar-s) of the village, at this temple.
The main temple has another association with the once ‘untouchable’ community. According to an old Tamil prose manuscript, the temple car on an occasion broke down. When an attempt was made to move it, legend has it that the Lord appeared and decreed that the car ‘should not be moved unless a paraiyan (பறையன்)’ had broken the first coconut on the wheels of the car and touched the car ropes. The practice is observed to this day.
Thirumayam (‘thi-ru-ma-yam’) (திருமயம்) is a place of historical importance. Miles before reaching the town one can see a fort atop a large hill. There are two famous rock-cut shrines, one for Siva and the other for Vishnu, adjacent to each other. The Siva cave temple is older among the two. The Vishnu temple is very venerated and considered second only to the temple at Srirangam (ஸ்ரீரங்கம்). Closer to the rock-cut shrine of Siva is a large area dressed to take one of the largest inscriptions. The famous freedom fighter S. Sathyamoorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி) was born in Thirumayam in 1887.
Thirumayam, a town panchayat and the headquarters of the taluk, is 20 km south of Pudukkottai, on the Karaikkudi (காரைக்குடி) road (Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) – Ramesvaram (இராமேஸ்வரம்) National Highway, NH-210). It is the first main junction on this road from where the Madurai road takes its diversion.
The fort on the hillock is a prominent landmark for miles. Approaching the town, one can catch sight of the fort walls. There is a small Bhairavar-koil (பைரவர் கோயில்), on the outermost wall, facing the road, a favourite deity for vehicle-owners.
Immediately after this, there is a diversion to the left from the highway leading to the celebrated Vishnu and Siva rock-cut temples. They are at the foot of the hillock, on the south side. The Vishnu temple is closer to the road and one can see the temple and the octagonal tank called ‘Satya-pushkarani’ (சத்திய புஷ்கரணி) from the road itself. The Siva temple is west of the Vishnu temple.
After taking the diversion off the main road, to the right side are the steps leading to the entrance to the fort. There is a ticket counter set-up by Archaeology Department.
About one kilometer south of the fort is the old fort-entrance. It has a courtyard with pillared corridors and shrines of local deities. The sculptures on the pillars are beautiful.
Bus facility is available from Pudukkottai, Karaikkudi, Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) and Madurai (மதுரை).
The origin of the name (etymology)
The word ‘Thirumayam’ is derived from the word ‘Thiru-meyyam’ (திருமெய்யம்) which means the ‘place of truth’ in Tamil. It is from ‘satya-kshetra’ (சத்யக்ஷேத்திரம்) do the two deities of the place, namely, Siva and Vishnu, get their name, Sathya-girisvara (சத்தியகிரீஸ்வரர்) and Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி), respectively.
The earliest monument, the Siva cave temple is assigned to first half of 7th century AD on epigraphical evidences and its architectural style. The Vishnu cave temple may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century.
Thirumayam later formed part of the territories of the imperial Chozhas.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Hoysala-s ruled this place, first as the allies of the Chozhas and later of the Pandya-s. Two inscriptions here refer to Appanna, a Danda-nayaka (தண்டநாயகர், General) of the Hoysala army, who, while returning from his victorious march to Rameswaram, presided over an important tribunal, held at Thirumayam to settle a longstanding dispute between the trustees of the Vishnu and Siva temples.
In the 13th century, Thirumayam passed under Pandya rule, and there are inscriptions dated in the reigns of Mara-varman Sundara Pandya II (இரண்டாம் மாரவர்மன் சுந்தர பாண்டியன்), Jatavarman Veera Pandya III (மூன்றாம் ஜடாவர்மன் வீர பாண்டியன்), Jatavarman Parakrama Pandya (ஜடாவர்மன் பராக்கிரம பாண்டியன்), and an unidentified Veera Pandya (வீரபாண்டியன்).
The Vijayanagara inscriptions are dated in the reigns of Virupaksha I (முதலாம் விருப்பக்ஷன்) and Krishnadeva-raya (கிருஷ்ண தேவராயர்) (15th and 16th century AD).
In the 16th century, the chiefs of Chooraikkudi (சூரைக்குடி) administered Thirumayam.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the town was a northern outpost of the territories of the Sethupathi (சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்), but was directly administered by the Pallava-rayar-s (பல்லவராயர்).
About the year 1686, Vijaya Raghunatha (விஜய ரகுநாதர்), popularly known as Kizhavan Sethupathi (கிழவன் சேதுபதி), of Ramanathapuram, brother-in-law of Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (இரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) made over to the latter the area of Thirumayam. Sethupathi Thanda-thevan (தண்டத்தேவன்) confirmed this cession in 1723 in return for military help that he received from the Tondaiman against Bhavani Sankar (பவானி சங்கர்), a rival claimant to the chief ship of Ramanathapuram.
In 1733, Thirumayam was the only place of refuge left to the Tondaiman when the Thanjavur general Ananda Rao overran the whole of the Pudukkottai country. Here Vijaya Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (விஜய ரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) lay besieged for about a year until Ananda Rao raised the siege and retired. In 1755, The Raja of Thanjavur (தஞ்ஞாவூர்) submitted to the East India Company a claim for Thirumayam, but did not seriously maintain the claim.
There is an unauthenticated tradition that, at the time of the ‘Poligar War’ of 1799, the famous Katta-bomman (கட்டபொம்மன்) of Panchalankurichchi (பாஞ்சாலங்குறிச்சி) and his dumb brother had taken refuge in the jungles of Tondaiman territory near Thirukkalambur (திருக்களம்பூர்). They were captured by the Tondaiman and imprisoned for a time in the Thirumayam fort. He then handed over them to the English.
During the second ‘Poligar War’, Thirumayam was a depot for Lieutenant Colonel Agnew’s army.
Thirumayam is a place of historical importance and contains three celebrated monuments. They are the Thirumayam Fort and the famous rock-cut shrines of Siva and Vishnu, hewn out of the same rock. The old fort-entrance is also a noteworthy structure.
The Vishnu temple is closer to the diversion road and the Siva temple is to west of this. The Siva temple is in the eastern side of the Vishnu shrine.
The Vishnu temple
The Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி, lord-of-truth) temple is a highly venerated shrine and is regarded by local Vaishnavites to be second in sanctity only to the temple at Srirangam. It is called Adhi-rangam (‘original-Rangam’) and is claimed to be older than the temple at Srirangam.
Actually there are two Vishnu shrines. One is the cave temple and contains one of the most complete and the largest Anantha-sayi groups in India, conforming, almost to the detail, to agamic specifications of Anantha-sayi (அனந்தசாயி). The other is a structural temple in which Vishnu is worshipped in the form of Sathya-moorthi.
The rock-cut shrine is a natural cavern modified and enlarged into a cave temple with the tall facade pillars inserted. It may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century.
The fact that the celebrated Vaishnava saint, Thiru-mangai-azhvar (திருமங்கை ஆழ்வார்), sang hymns in praise of the deity at Thirumayam Vishnu temple has enhanced its sanctity. The following are the stanzas sung by the azhvar:
2016: mayyaar kadalum
CLICK HERE to read those stanzas (available in Tamil-Unicode and English Transliteration formats).
The temple architecture
The south facing temple has a main gopuram, which has many of the features of the late Pandya (13th – 14th AD) style.
The first mandapam, as one enters the temple, has tall pillars containing sculptures. It belongs to the Nayak period (16th century). The fine, life-size sculptures are in amazing details which only Nayak-s could master. The sculptures of Madurai-veeran (மதுரை வீரன்) kidnapping Bommi (பொம்மி), Manmatha (மன்மதன்), Kuravan (குறவன்), Kuraththi (குறத்தி), a Nayak chieftain, ladies in dancing poses, etc are a few to name.
In this mandapam, to the left are three shrines facing east, containing Chakrathaazhvar (சக்கரத்தாழ்வார், the ‘discuss’ of the presiding deity, Vishnu), Andal (ஆண்டாள்) and Krishna. On the right side are the shrine of Lakshmi-Nara-simha (லக்ஷ்மி நரசிம்மர்) and the room where the vahana-s (processional vehicles) are kept.
Entering the second mandapam, the visitor turns to the Amman shrine to the left.
Uyya-vandha-thaayar (உய்ய வந்த தாயார்) or Ujjivanith-thayar (உஜ்ஜிவனித் தாயார்), the Amman, is believed to be very propitious. To the right is a long narrow shrine containing sculptures of the Vaishnava Acharya-s, Ramanuja (இராமானுஜர்), Madhura-kavi (மதுரகவி) and others and the azhvar-s. The pillars in front of this contain the Dasavatharam (தசாவதாரம்) of Vishnu carved in bas-relief. There is a dhvaja-sthambham (கொடிமரம்) in front of the entrance, in this mandapam. Behind this is the maha-mandapam of the Sathya-moorthi shrine, of which the south and west side have walls.
Palli-konda-perumal (பள்ளி கொண்ட பெருமாள்) of Thirumayam
Taking the pradakshina path from the Amman shrine, through the corridors of this mandapam, one reaches the sannidhi of the Yoga-sayana-moorthi (யோகசயன மூர்த்தி, ‘God-in-a-recumbent-posture’) or ‘Palli-konda Perumal’ (paL-Li-koN-da-pe-ru-maaL) in Tamil.
There is a sort of maha-mandapam (மகா மண்டபம்) in front of the shrine. It has two dvara-palaka-s (துவார பாலகர்). Beyond this mandapam is the rock-cut shrine, which may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century. It consists of an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and the garbha-griham (கர்ப கிரகம்). The floor of the garbha-griham is about 3 feet above that of the ardha-mandapam. It has got two pillars and two pilasters.
The main idol lying on a serpent couch is an imposing sculpture. It is about 15 feet long. The five hoods of the serpent, which covers the God’s head as a canopy, are half drawn backward. The God has two arms, one stretched behind him over the serpent Adisesha (ஆதி சேஷா), and the other folded at the elbow and held above his breast. All around the main idol, there is a wealth of sculptures, including Garuda (கருடன்), Chitragupta (சித்திரகுப்தன்), Markandeya (மார்கண்டேயன்), Brahma, the Deva-s, the Vasu-s, and the Kinnara-s (கிண்ணரர்கள்). Near the eastern wall are two demons, and, sheltered near the God’s feet, is the figure of Bhumi-Devi (பூமி தேவி), the Earth Goddess.
The legend that is associated with this group of sculptures is that when the demons Madhu (மது) and Kaithabha (கைடபர்) approached in an aggressive attitude, Brahma, Lakshmi and Bhumi-Devi were frightened. Adisesha, in his sudden wrath, spat poison, which consumed the demons, but was immediately stung with remorse at his hasty action without so much as asking his Lord’s permission. However the God comforted him with an assurance of his approval of the act.
To the right of the corridor leading to the rock-cut shrine, is the maha-mandapam of the Sathya-moorthi shrine. It contains a shrine for Garuda, on the southern side. This mandapam is a structure of the late Pandya (13th-14th century AD) period. The recess to the north is called Sundara-Pandya Kuradu (சுந்தர பாண்டியன் கூராடு) (Kuradu = annexe), and leads to the main shrine of Sathya-moorthi.
The shrine consists of a garbha-griham and an ardha-mandapam in front. They are surrounded by another covered hall. The garbha-griham, which adjoins an overhanging cliff, belongs to the late Pandya (13th-14th AD) period. In the shrine, Lord Sathya-moorthi stands between the life-size images of Garuda and a king with Sathya-rishi (சத்யரிஷி) and his wife kneeling in front. There is a narrow path between the rock cliff and the covered hall of the shrine, behind the shrine.
To the east of the Sathya-moorthi shrine are those of Vishwak-senar (விஷ்வக்சேனர்) (also called Sena-mudhali, சேனா முதலி) and Rama. Both these sub-shrines have ardha-mandapam and a small maha-mandapam in front. In the maha-mandapam of the Rama shrine is a portrait sculpture of a chief, probably a Nayak. Behind these shrines, close to the rock, are varieties of Naga images.
Further east is svarga-vaasal (ஸ்வர்க வாசல், ‘gate-of-heaven’) the holy gate through which the principal processional idol is taken out on the Ekadasi (வைகுண்ட ஏகாதசி) day in Margazhi (மார்கழி) (December-January).
The Sathya-pushkarani is a fine octagonal temple tank in the east side of the temple. It is in a reasonably good state of preservation with granite steps and walls.
The utsava-moorthi, (உத்சவ மூர்த்தி, processional bronze idol) of Lord Sathya-moorthi is a fine example of Pallava-style sculpture, and one of the Amman statues is an early Chozha bronze.
Another interesting point to note is that all the celebrations in this temple are for the Sathya-moorthi, even though it is much later than the ‘Palli-konda Perumal’.
At the southern end of the street leading to this temple is a shrine to Vedanta Desika, the famous Vaishnava saint and founder of the Vadakalai sect of Ayyangar-s.
The Siva temple
The Siva rock-cut temple, dedicated to Sathya-girisvara (சத்திய கிரீஸ்வரர்) is the earliest monument in Thirumayam. It is to the west of the Vishnu temple. This cave temple, from its architectural style and epigraphs, is attributable to the 7th century AD, in the same way as the cave temples of Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை), and Thirugokarnam (திருக்கோகர்ணம்).
The temple architecture
The front gopuram is modern, but it is a fairly good imitation of a late Pandya (13th century) structure. Immediately after the gopuram, to the left is the shrine of Lord Ganesa. It has an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) in front. Behind this is the way to the temple tank.
The first pillared mandapam, as one enters the temple, contains the shrines of Bhanu-uma-pathisvara (பானு உமாபதீஸ்வரர்) facing east. It has an ardha-mandapam in front. The sub-shrines of Vinayaka, Durga, Gaja-lakshmi, and Murugan are at the western side of the mandapam, behind the Bhanu-uma-pathisvara shrine. In the eastern half of the mandapam are the shrines of the Goddess Raja-Rajeswari (ராஜராஜேஸ்வரி), and Bhairava (பைரவர்), facing south. Both of them have ardha-mandapam in front. There is one Nava-graha (நவக்கிரகங்கள்) shrine also. Apart from this there are one recumbent nandi (நந்தி), Surya and Chandra, and a dhvaja-sthambham (கொடிமரம்). This group of shrines is known as the Keezha-koil (கீழக்கோயில், ‘lower-temple’) and probably belongs to the Vijayanagara period (15th century). There are a number of inscriptions on the floor of this mandapam.
Further up is another mandapam which can be reached by a flight of steps. Here is the shrine of the principal Goddess, Venu-vanesvari (வேணுவனேஸ்வரி, ‘Goddess-of-bamboo-forest’). The east facing shrine has an ardha-mandapam and two lady dvara-palaka-s (துவாரபாலகர்). It is a late Pandya (13th century) structure, recently renovated. The two pillars in front of the shrine have sculptures of vilakku naachchiyaar (விளக்கு நாச்சியார், ‘lady-with-lamp’). A number of bronze idols are kept at the southern side of the mandapam.
The northern wall of this mandapam is the living rock. It is on this wall, are the obliterated musical inscription (இசைக் கல்வெட்டு) and the Appanna Danda-nayaka (அப்பண்ணா தண்டநாயகர்) tribunal verdict inscribed. This is one of the largest inscriptions in South India. It records a settlement of a long-standing dispute between the trustees of Siva and Vishnu temples for the share of the produce of the temple lands. The special tribunal was presided over by the Hoysala general Appanna Danda-nayaka.
Above this mandapam is the rock-cut shrine of Sathya-girisvara. It consists of a rectangular ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்), cut with its long axis east to west. There are two massive, short cubical pillars and two pilasters on the southern facade of this ardha-mandapam and four other corresponding pilasters on the north.
The garbha-griham (கர்ப்பகிரகம்) faces east. It is a cubical chamber cut into the western wall of this mandapam. Its floor is reached by short flight of steps. The lingam and the yoni-pitham (யோனி பீடம்) inside the garbha-griham, as well as the recumbent nandi on the floor of the ardha-mandapam, are carved out of the living rock.
In the eastern wall of the ardha-mandapam and opposite the shrine is a colossal Lingod-bhava (லிங்கோத்பவர்) cut in relief. This is one of the earliest Lingod-bhava sculptures, reaching from floor to ceiling.
The niches flanking the entrance of the garbha-griham contain relief sculptures of dvara-palaka-s. They appear to be portrait sculptures. They are unconventional for each one is different from the other in pose, ornaments and dress. The one on the north has its cloth reaching down to the ankles, wears a yagnopavita of rudraksha beads and a peculiar hairstyle, and holds up his right hand in adoration. The other dvara-palaka rests one of his hands on a club.
The northern wall of the ardha-mandapam contains a short inscription in the Grantha script that reads ‘parivadhinidhaa’ and a mutilated Tamil inscription, which are ascribed to 7th century AD.
The Manual of Pudukkottai says ‘the walls and the ceiling (of the ardha-mandapam) were once covered with stucco on which were paintings. All that is left of them is a small patch on the ceiling with conventional carpet design. This patch of painting covered with the dirt and soot of centuries was recently cleaned”. Presently it is almost lost.
The Thirumayam fort is situated on and around a rock hillock. On the Pudukkottai-Karaikkudi (புதுக்கோட்டை-காரைக்குடி) Highway, it is a land mark for miles. Approaching the town, one can catch sight of the fort walls. Presently there are three concentric walls and the one adjacent to the road is the outermost one. There is a small Bhairavar-koil (பைரவர் கோயில்), on this wall, facing the Pudukkottai road.
Locally it is known as Oomayan Kottai (ஊமையன் கோட்டை, ‘fort-of-the-dumb’). The dump (Oomayan) refers to the younger brother of Katta-bomman (கட்டபொம்மன்), who fought against the British and was executed by the British. Local stories claim that Oomayan and his brother, Katta-bomman, during their escape from the British, constructed this fort in a night! According to the Statistical Account (1813), it was built in 1687 by Raghunatha Sethupathi (இரகுநாத சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்).
The fort is said to have been originally a ‘ring’ fort with seven concentric walls and a broad moat all round. The lines of the old outer defences are now marked by occasional remains of the works and ditch.
The walls above the rock, which enclose the main citadel, are comparatively well preserved. From the remains one may judge that the walls were surmounted by parapets of strong brickwork, serrated by machicolations and pierced by musketry vents.
Nearly half way up to the top, to the right, is chamber that was used as a magazine. Opposite to this, on the western slope of a boulder, a little below the top of the fort, is a rock-cut cell containing a lingam placed on a square yoni-pitham (யோனி பீடம்), cut out of the living rock. To the left of this cell, is a Grantha inscription of the 7th century AD reading ‘Parivadinidaa’ (பரிவாதினிதா). It is held by many that the word ‘Parivadini’ refers to a variety lute. The label ‘Parivadinidaa’ is also inscribed in the Siva cave temple in this town, and also in Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை) temple.
On the top of the citadel is a platform on which a canon is mounted. To the south of the platform is a tarn.
The citadel and the walls of the fort on the hilltop provide an excellent perch for a view of the houses in the town with their tiled roofs, the tank and the surrounding countryside.
Presently there are three entrances, on the north, on the south and on the south-east. Originally the main entrance to the fort was from the south side.
Even today there are some beautiful structural remains of this old fort-entrance, about one kilometer south of the fort. The structure of this fort-entrance is like a courtyard with pillared corridors on all sides and majestic entrances. The entire structure is decorated with a number of beautiful sculptures all along. There are shrines of Hanuman, Sakti-Ganapathi, and Munisvara, all protecting deities of the fort.
History of the fort
The fort was built in 1687 by Raghunatha Sethupathi (இரகுநாத சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்). It was handed over by the Sethupathi to his brother-in-law, Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (இரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) (1686-1730), the first Tondaiman raja, along with the area of Thirumayam. The cession was confirmed in 1728.
The value of the acquisition of the Palayam (பாளையம்) and fort must have been fully realised by the Pudukkottai king, when in 1733 the Tondaiman was left with this bit of territory alone after Ananda Rao, the Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) general, had overrun the whole of the Tondaiman country. Here, Vijaya Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (விஜய ரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) lay besieged until Ananda Rao had retired.
There is an unconfirmed tradition that Katta-bomman and his brother the Oomayan were for a time detained at the fort before the Tondaiman handed them over to the British. (Hemingway in the Gazetteer of the Trichinopoly District mentions only Oomayan as having been lodged at this fort).
Other worshipping places
There are a number of minor shrines, which include one to Ayyanar (அய்யனார்), locally called Kaliya-perumal (கலியபெருமாள்), and another to Pidari (பிடாரி). The site where a Vaduga (Nayak) woman is said to have performed Sati (சதி) is held sacred.
The Muslim places of worship includes a mosque, with a tomb close by. Adjacent to the Pilla-mangalam (பில்லமங்கலம்) road, to the south of the mosque, is the tomb of Hazarat Quadri Ibrahim Alim. On the bank of the Thamaraik-kanmai (தாமரைக் கண்மாய்), just to the west of the fort, is the tomb of another Muslim saint at which offerings are made both by Hindus and Muslims. In the water spread of the Alan-kanmai (ஆலங்கண்மாய்) another saint lies buried.
There is also a Roman Catholic Chapel.
There are nineteen inscriptions in Thirumayam, five in Siva temple and fourteen in Vishnu temple. Some of them are already mentioned.
Closer to the rock-cut shrine of Siva, on the living rock are the mutilated letters denoting music terms like shadja, Gandhara, dhaivata, etc. in the Pallava grantha script of the 7th century AD. These certainly indicate that once the entire area was inscribed with musical treatise containing notations similar to, or a replica of the famous one in Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை). But it was obliterated in the 13th century, while recording the adjudication of the dispute between the priests of Siva and Vishnu temples for the share of the produce of the temple lands, by the Hoysala general Appanna Danda-nayaka (அப்பண்ணா தண்ட நாயகா) tribunal mentioned above. It is in Tamil script.
Another copy of the same document is inscribed on the rock to the north of the Siva temple tank.
Two more inscriptions in the Siva cave temple belong to reign of Mara-varman Sundara Pandya (மாரவர்மன் சுந்தரபாண்டியன்) (13th century AD). They are regarding grants to the temple.
The earliest inscription in the Vishnu temple is on a slab, which is now placed in the western prakaram of the Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி) shrine. This slab must have once formed part of a parapet to the steps leading to the cave-temple. It may be ascribed to the latter part of the 8th century or the early years of 9th century AD. It mentions a renovation of the cave temple and an endowment by the mother of Sattan Maran (சாத்தன் மாறன்), a Muttaraiyar (முத்தரையர்) chief (contemporary vassal of the Pallava Nandi-varman II and Danti-varman).
There are two Pandya inscriptions belonging to 14th century. Also there are four Vijayanagara inscriptions (15th and 16th century). Other inscriptions are by local chiefs.
Thirukkattalai (திருக்கட்டளை) – The Siva temple is a good specimen of early chozha architecture of the second half of the 9th century. This is a parivara complex type with sub-shrines around the main shrine. The inscriptions in the temple help to understand the history of the temple.
Thirukkattalai (‘thi-ruk-kat-ta-lai’) is about 15 kilometers from Pudukkottai town. Taxi service and Town bus services is available from Pudukkottai.
The monument: Early Chozha Temple
The Siva-worshiped as Sundaresvara (சுந்தரேஸ்வரர்)-temple seen in the village is a good specimen of early Chozha architecture of the 9th century and is of special interest. The dating of this temple is based on an inscription taken as of in the reign of Adithya Chozha I (முதலாம் ஆதித்த சோழன்) (874 AD) relating land grants for the temple.
This place seems to have been an important pre-historic centre. There are traces of pre-historic burials and stone circles nearby.
The Temple Architecture
The Thirukkattalai temple is a typical structural temple of the parivara complex type with sub-shrines for the relevant divinities found abutting against the prakaram wall. The scheme is different from the freestanding scheme, as at Narttamalai (நார்த்தாமலை) that carries the original sculptures of the respective divinities inside them. This is perhaps one of the few extant examples of an early temple unit with ashta-parivara shrines, meaning, a temple around which are eight sub-shrines, standing intact.
The garbha-griham and ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) belong to the second half of the 9th century and are among the earliest structures in the district. The former is built of stone from basement to finial, and has a square vimanam (விமானம்). Below the stupi (ஸ்தூபி) and simha-lalatam (சிம்ம லலாடம்) and in the tier below are two rows of niches, one above other; those on the south contain seated figures of Dakshina-moorthi (தக்ஷிணா மூர்த்தி) and Bhikshatana-moorthi (பிக்ஷாடணமூர்த்தி), those on the west figures Varaha (வராகம்) and Vishnu and those on the north two figures of Brahma. The corbels are fluted and above them is a line of vyali-s (யாளி). The niche in the southern wall contains an idol of Vina-dhara Dakshina-moorthi (வீணாதார தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி), a rare and interesting specimen, that in the western wall a figure of Lingod-bhava (லிங்கோத்பவர்) and that on the northern wall a figure of Brahma. The dvara-palaka-s (துவாரபாலகர்) have only two arms.
The Amman shrine belongs to the late Chozha period. Round the central shrine are seven sub-shrines dedicated to Surya, the Sapta-matrika (சப்த கன்னியர்), Ganesa, Subrahmanya (சுப்பிரமணியர்), Jyesta (ஜ்யேஷ்டா), Chandra and Chandikesvara (சண்டிகேஸ்வரா) a feature peculiar to early Chozha temples.
There are number of inscription. In some of the inscriptions the place is mentioned as Thiruk-karrali (திருக்கற்றளி) meaning “the sacred stone temple” and also as Karkurichchi (கார்குறிச்சி).
Sittannavasal (‘sith-than-na-vaa-sal’) (சித்தன்னவாசல்) is the best-known archaeological site in Pudukkottai. It is famous for its cave paintings, which are second only in importance after Ajanta paintings in the art history of India. It is perhaps the only place where you can find inscriptions in Tamil from the 3rd century BC to the 13th century AD. Also there are megalithic monuments such as stone-circles, urn and cists burials spread in the plains around the hill
Sittannavasal is a corruption of Sit-tan-na-va-yil (சித்தன்னல்வாயில்), which means ‘the abode of great saints’.
Sittannavasal is located on Pudukkottai-Annavasal-Viralimalai (புதுக்கோட்டை-அன்னவாசல்-விராலிமலை) main road about 16 Kilometers from Pudukkottai.
The village lies to the right of the road from Pudukkottai to Annavasal (அன்னவாசல்). An arch put up by the Government welcomes the visitors.
On the main road before one takes a turn to enter Sittannavasal and on the roads leading to the monuments, there are remains of prehistoric burial sites.
Most of the monuments of this place are in and around a hill, which runs along the north-south direction. The hill itself is not very tall, reaching to about 70 meters.
Following this road off main road one reaches the foothills of the hillock at which the road takes a left turn. It is from here one starts the climb to the Jain caverns, called Ezhadippattam (ஏழடிப்பட்டம்). The cavern contains a number of stone beds and inscriptions.
Further traveling on the road would take you to the western slope of the central hillock. From here one makes a short climb of some steps to reach the Jain cave temple, and its world famous mural paintings.
Town Bus and taxi services are available from Pudukkottai.
Sittannavasal is the most renowned site in the district. Most of the monuments of this place are in and around a rocky hill. On the western side of the hill is the celebrated Jain rock temple with relics of paintings, which have an important place in the Indian art history.
On the eastern side is the natural cavern with rock beds where Jain ascetics practiced severest penance, over more than a thousand years since 3rd century BC. There are innumerable Tamil inscriptions here.
To the north of this natural cavern, on the eastern slop of the rock is a small rock-cut temple submerged in a tarn, called Navach-chunai (நவச்சுனை). There are megalithic monuments like burial urns, stone circles, cairns, dolmens and cists in plenty, near to the hillock.
The Jain cave temple
The best-known monument in the district is this Jain cave temple with its mural paintings belonging to the 9th century AD.
The cave lies on the west face of the hillock. The view is of the hill from the footpath leading to the temple is somewhat frightening. The cave temple stands beneath an enormous scarp, threatening of a sudden fall any time. The sparse vegetation around, the huge hillock in the background, aloofness of the cave, all these lend an aura loneliness and forlornness.
An easy climb of about hundred feet over the sloping rock takes the visitor to the entrance of the cave temple, called Aivar-koil (அறிவர்கோயில், ‘temple-of-the-Arhats).
There is still some uncertainty regarding the origin of this temple. The temple in its architectural style resembles the cave temples built by the Pallava king, Mahendra-varman (மகேந்திர வர்மன்). But it is also known that the Pallava rule did not reach this far. The cave temple on the Rock-temple in Tiruchi (திருச்சி) – the one found on to the left of the entrance to Uchi-pillaiyar Koil (உச்சிப் பிள்ளையார் கோயில்) – is considered the southern extremity of his influence. In the absence of any foundation inscription it would not be possible ascertain the builder of this temple. An inscription of the 9th century AD within the temple mentions the addition of a mukha-mandapam (முக மண்டபம்) by a Jaina acharya from Madurai (மதுரை) named Ilan-Gautaman (இளங்கௌதமன்) during the reign of the Pandya king, Srimaran-srivallabhan (ஸ்ரீமாரன் ஸ்ரீவல்லபன்) (815-862 AD). From this it may be taken that the original temple is still older.
The cave temple architecture
The temple plan is simple and elegant. One enters the temple through a veranda. This is built by the Maharaja of Pudukkottai in the 20th century. It may be surmised that the maha-mandapam (மகா மண்டபம்) built by the Pandya king must have collapsed. Some point out the debris lying about to prove this.
Beyond this is the ardha-mandapam (அர்த்தமண்டபம்). It measures 22½ feet by 7½ feet. It is slightly taller than the garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்). The façade of this ardha-mandapam consists of two massive pillars in the middle and two pilasters, one at either end. The pillars are squarish at the two ends and octagonal in the middle. The pilasters are also of the same design. The living rock above the pillars and pilasters is carved in the form of a massive beam, in front of which projects a single flexured cornice (கபோதம், kapotam).
A doorway, five and a half feet by two and a half feet, approached by a flight of steps flanked by surul-vyali (சுருள் யாளி) leads from the ardha-mandapam to the sanctum.
The garbha-griham (கர்ப கிரகம், sanctum) measures 10 feet by 10 feet and of height 7½ feet. On either side of the doorway to the garbha-griham are ornamented pilasters enclosing two niches, one on either side. These pilasters are smaller but of the same type as the pillars. They have on the upper cubical parts of the outer face lotus medallions carved in bold relief. There is a large niche in each of the northern and southern walls in the ardha-mandapam. The ceiling of the inner shrine shows a wheel with hub and axle representing the Dharma Chakra (தர்ம சக்கரம்) or Wheel of the Law.
The sculpture and the matchless paintings of the cave are worth studying in detail.
The veranda is bereft of any detail, except for a famous inscription. The inscription is seen on the rear wall on the right. This records the renovation of the ardha-mandapam and building the maha-mandapam in the reign of the Pandya king.
In the niche of the northern wall of the ardha-mandapam is a figure of a Jaina acharya seated in the meditative pose, cross-legged, with the hands placed one over the other, palms upwards, resting on the folded legs. There is a single umbrella over the head of the image, which proves that it is not that of a Tirthankara (தீர்த்தங்கரர்).
On the opposite wall, placed in a similar niche, is the figure of Parsvanatha (பார்ஸவநாதர்), the twenty-third Tirthankara, seated in the same posture, but with a five-headed serpent spreading its hood over his instead of an umbrella.
On the back wall of the garbha-griham are three images carved in relief, all in the same meditative posture. The northern and central figures have triple umbrellas, showing them to be Tirthankara-s, while the southern has single umbrella, and probably represents a Chakravarti or an acharya or an Arhat.
The Sittannavasal Paintings
The Sittannavasal paintings carry on the tradition of the well-known Ajanta frescoes (2nd century BC-6th century AD, the Ceylon Sigiriya (Srigiri) frescoes of the fifth century AD and the Bagh frescoes in Madhya Pradesh of the sixth and seventh centuries AD. Sittannavasal is, therefore, an early example of the Ajanta (அஜந்தா) or post-Ajanta period, and in merit it compares well with Ajanta and Sigiriya. We may safely say that Sittannavasal is one among the earliest frescoes so far known in South India, and that they are the only example of early Jaina frescoes.
The technique employed is what is known as fresco-secco, that is, the painting is done on a dry wall. (In the Europe mural paintings are done on a moist wall and are called fresco-bueno). In this process the surface to be painted is first covered with lime plaster, then coated with lime-wash and the painting done on it. The colours used are black, green, yellow, orange, blue, and white. In 1937-39, Maharaja of Pudukkottai had the paintings cleaned. After cleaning the paintings, they applied a preservative coating, and strengthened the painted plaster, wherever it was loose, by injecting suitable cementing material without retouching any part of the paintings.
The walls, ceiling, cornice, beams and pillars were originally decorated with paintings. Those on the walls have perished, and those on the ceilings, beams and the upper parts of the pillars alone survive, albeit partly.
Of these, the remnants of the mostly disfigured paintings on the pillars and the lotus pool scene on the ceiling of the ardha-mandapam (அர்த்தமண்டபம்) and the carpet canopy on the ceiling of the inner shrine are the most important.
It is inferred that the paintings found in the garbha-griham and those in the ardha-mandapam may not belong to the same period.
PAINTINGS ON THE ARDHA-MANDAPAM
On the front face of the southern pillar is a beautiful picture of a dancer, her left arm stretched out gracefully. She has her right arm bent at the elbow, the palm held in the abhaya gesture. Her ears are adorned with patra-kundala (known as olai in Tamil), rings set with gems, and her arms decked with bracelets and bangles.
Even more graceful is the other dancer on the front face of the northern pillar. She has her left arm in the gaja-hasta gesture suggesting trunk of an elephant, while her right arm is bent at the elbow, the palm facing outwards in the abhaya gesture. The headdress and the ornaments of this dancer are very distinct. The hair is decked with pandanus (thazhai in Tamil) petals.
These two animated figures, with their broad hips, slender waists, and elaborate ornaments, recall the beauty of the Apsara of mythology; their pose and expression suggest rhythm and dynamic movement. The portraiture of dancers in Sittannavasal must rank as one among the best in the whole of India.
The painting on the other face of the southern pillar represents a man and a woman, possibly the founder, and one of his queens. The man has an elaborate kiritam (கிரீடம், diadem on the head), a patra-kundala (rings set with gems) in one ear and makara-kundala (மகரகுண்டலம், ring in the shape of a makara) in the other. His demeanor and his diadem indicate his royal status. The other figure, unfortunately, is now very indistinct. In front of these two is another figure in red, much defaced.
All these paintings, which would rank among the great paintings of India, are unfortunately greatly disfigured, mainly due to vandalism with in the last 50-60 years.
There are also paintings on the corbels, beam and cornice. On the corbel are scroll designs with lotuses. The painting on the cornice, which projects in front of the mandapam, is made up of carpet designs with conventional lotuses. The surface of the cornice in front of each of the two pillars bears a hamsa (mythical swan). On the northern wall, below the cornice on a patch of plaster, are the figures of a trident, fruits and flowers in yellow and red.
PAINTINGS ON THE CEILING
Canopies of different patterns are painted on the ceiling over the two images in the ardha-mandapam (அர்த்தமண்டபம்). That over Parsvanatha (பார்ஸவநாதர்) has both natural and conventional lotus flowers, the former in full blossom against a lotus-leaf background. That over the acharya has only a conventional lotus-pattern, now very much faded and defaced.
In the centre up to the borders of the carpet canopy is painted an exquisite composition, ‘Samava-sarana’ (பார்ஸவநாதர்), a lotus tank with the arhat collecting flowers and animals and fish frolicking.
The famous ‘Samava-sarana’ Composition
The scenes of this composition are from one of the most delightful of the Jain heavens. This heaven contains a hall known as the Samava-sarana, to which the souls of the bhavya-s (பவ்யர், ‘the faithful’) resort to hear the discourse of the Tirthankara (தீர்தங்கரர்). Before entering this hall, the souls have to pass through a number of regions in this heaven, one of which is a lotus pool where fishes, birds, animals and men disport themselves. The painting shows bhavya-s diverting themselves in a pool full of flowering lotuses. The flowers with their stalks and leaves, and the birds, fishes, makara-s, bulls and elephants are shown with a perfect simplicity, charm and naturalness.
The pose and expression of the bhavya-s shown in the picture have a charm and beauty, which compel attention. Two of them are shown together in one part of the tank. One is picking lotus flowers with his right hand and has a basket of flowers slung on the other. He is represented in a deep red colour. His companion carries a lotus in one had, the other is bent gracefully, the fingers forming the mrigi-mudra (‘deer-gesture’). His colour is orange, showing the merit of the soul. The third bhavya, an extremely beautiful figure, also orange in colour, is apart from the others. He carries a bunch of lotus over his left shoulder and lily over his right. The three figures are naked except for their loincloths. The hair is neatly arranged and the lobes of the ears are pendant.
Painting on the ceiling of Garbha-griham
The painting above the three images in the inner shrine is intended to serve as a canopy. The design suggests a carpet, with striped borders and irregular squares and circles interlinked. Within the squares are conventional lotus flowers, and inside the circles are crosses with bulbous ends. On the upper sides of the horizontal arm of the cross are human figures and on the lower sides lions.
The Ezhadippattam (ஏழடிப்பட்டம்)
The Ezhadippattam is the name given to a natural cavern where over more than a thousand years since 3rd century BC, Jain ascetics practiced severest penance.
The cavern is near the top of the centre of the hill and on its eastern side, but accessible only from the west. In the past the only approach to the cavern was over the top and along a narrow ledge in which seven precarious footholds (hence the name, ‘Ezhu-adi’ (ஏழு அடி) meaning ‘seven steps’) are cut in the rock. Proper steps have now been cut, and an iron railing provided.
The cavern is roomy but low. The floor is marked out into spaces for seventeen beds, each with a sort of stone pillow. One of them, which is the largest, is perhaps the oldest since it contains an inscription in the Asoka Brahmi script but in the Tamil language of the 3rd or 2nd century B. C. This is one of the oldest lithic records of South India.
The inscription is believed to be a record of the bed made for the use of a Jain ascetic belonging to a place in the Present Vellore district by one Ilaiyar (இளையர்) of Sittannavasal.
By the other beds names of Jain ascetics who resorted to this cavern and practiced the severest form of penance are inscribed in old Tamil script of the 8th or 9th century A. D. (According to R. Nagaswami, in the Tamil book titled ‘Kalvettiyal’ (கல்வெட்டியல்) published in 1972 by Tamilnadu Archaeological Department, these inscriptions are belonging to 4th –5th century A.D.) These inscriptions show that for about thousand years from the 3rd or 2nd century BC this cavern was a resort of Jaina ascetics.
THE NAVACH-CHUNAI (நவச்சுனை)
The Navach-chunai is a tarn situated on the eastern slope of central part of the rocky hillock. It is about one kilometer north of the Ezhadippattam, at a somewhat lower level than it. Reaching there requires a lot of rock-climbing and trekking and would need somebody to guide.
The pool takes its name from a naval-maram (நாவல் மரம்) or jambu-tree (Syzygium jambolanum) close by.
Like the Talai-aruvi-singam tarn (தலை அருவி சிங்கம் சுனை) of Narttamalai (நார்த்தாமலை) (on the Mela-malai, மேலமலை), this contains inside, a submerged rock-cut shrine. Stylistically it is a late Pandya temple (13th century AD). It contains a Siva lingam in the centre and a narrow passage to walk round. The water is occasionally baled out, and the lingam worshipped. This is locally called the Jambunatha’s cave (ஜம்புநாதர் குகை).
The megalithic burials
Megalithic burial is a typical mode of disposing the dead in most part of Tamilnadu in the past. Some suggest the period 3rd century BC to 1st century AD is considered to be when this was practiced. It may be remembered that this period is also the period of Sangam. Loosely called ‘dolmans’, these are stone-capped burial monuments with chambers and similar interment arrangements in stone. These monuments are found in many places in Tamilnadu like the districts of Chengalpattu (செங்கல்பட்டு), Vellore (வேலூர்), Pudukkottai (புதுக்கோட்டை), Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்), Salem (சேலம்), Coimbatore (கோயம்புத்தூர்) and Tirunelveli (திருநெல்வேலி).
Locally known as Pandava-kuzhi (பாண்டவர் குழி, ‘pits-of-Pandava-s’), mandavar-kuzhi (மாண்டவர் குழி, ‘pits-of-the- dead’), kurangup-pattadai (குரங்குப்பட்டடை), or kurangup-pattarai (குரங்குப்பட்டரை, ‘monkey’s-workshop’) and mudu-makkal-thaazhi (முதுமக்கள் தாழி, ‘burial-pots-of-the-old-people’). The last name is the most widely used.
Other interesting sites
Along the western base of the hill, and beneath the central and southern parts of it, we can see the shrines to Ayyanar (அய்யனார்), Pidari (பிடாரி), and other village deities. From this one may infer that there must have been a village close to the hill on the site now covered by the dry fields.
Capital of the only princely state of Tamilnadu during the British time (1686 to 1948) and presently district headquarters. One of the planned towns of India. Home of one among the earliest cave temples (about 1300 years old) with a continuous traditions till date. A notable centre for arts and temple architecture during the period of royalty. The Government Museum, the palace and impressive public buildings are a few other attractions.
This town is located on Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) – Rameswaram (இராமேஸ்வரம்) NH210, about 50 km south-east of Tiruchirappalli and about 60 km south of Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்). Pudukkottai is connected with Tiruchi, Madurai (மதுரை), Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்), Karaikkudi (காரைக்குடி) with Regular bus service. It has a notable station of southern railways which connects Pudukkottai with Chennai, Chidambaram (சிதம்பரம்), Thanjavur, Tiruchi and Rameswaram. It is situated in the valley of the Vellaru (வெள்ளாறு) – 6½ km to the north of the river. It stands on a ridge that slopes gradually towards the south.
Pudukkottai town was originally surrounded by an impenetrable jungle that formed a natural defence. Parts of this old wood are still to be seen in what are called the Kasba east ‘forests’. In former times the approaches to the town were through these jungles along three roads on the north, south and west. On these roads stood gateways called vadi-s (வாடி) in Tamil. Each of these was under the charge of a commander with a detachment. These outposts are still commemorated by the place-names Machuvadi (மச்சுவாடி), Kummandanvadi (கும்மண்டான்வாடி) and Puliyavadi (புளியவாடி). The town is skirted on the west, along the area known as Thirugokarnam (திருக்கோகர்ணம்), by low rocks that supply granite.
Of the founding and early history of the town, there is very little hard evidence. ‘Pre-historic’ burial sites in Sadaiyap-parai (சடையப்பாறை), west of Thirugokarnam (திருக்கோகர்ணம்) and on either sides of Thirukkattalai (திருக்கட்டளை) ‘cart-track’ indicate that this region of the town, as other parts of this tract, was the home of early men. When and how such a megalithic settlement crystallized into a populous town (mangalam or nagaram, மங்களம்/நகரம்) is not quite clear.
According to ‘A Manual of the Pudukkottai State (1944)’, the megalithic settlements may have grown into a populous town of Kalasa-mangalam (கலசமங்களம்), which became an important settlement of the Chettiyar-s (செட்டியார்) and Karala-Vellalar (காராள வெள்ளாளர்) communities. The mercantile part of this town grew into a nagaram (நகரம்), called Senikula-manikka-puram (சேனிகுள மாணிக்கபுரம்) with a merchant-guild. With the accession to power of the Pallava-rayar-s (பல்லவராயர்) of Vaiththur (வைத்தூர்), Kalasa-mangalam (கலசமங்களம்) became the capital of a Palayam (பாளையம்).
To the west of Kalasa-mangalam, was Singa-mangalam (சிங்க மங்கலம்). Parts of these two mangalam-s became the eastern and western halves of the modern Pudukkottai town. Near them grew up another nagaram, Desabala-manikka-puram (தேசபால மாணிக்கபுரம்) by name.
How these towns mangalam-s and nagaram-s were transformed into Pudukkottai town is not clear nor is it known when exactly the kottai (கோட்டை, fort) after which Pudukkottai takes its name, was built. The earliest mention of the name of Pudukkottai occurs in an inscription on the basement of the Santha-natha Swami temple (சாந்தநாத ஸ்வாமி கோயில்) in the town. The inscription is dated to the regime of the Chozha king, Kulottunga III (மூன்றாம் குலோத்துங்கன்), and can be ascribed to the 13th century. The name ‘Pudukkottai’ occurs in a 14th century inscription in the temple at Thiruvarangulam (திருவரங்குளம்), a short distance from the town. Again in the famous temple of Gokarnesvara (கோகர்ணேஸ்வரர்) in Thirugokarnam, a suburb of the town, two inscriptions, one belonging to the 14th century and the other to the 15th century, refer to the name of the town as Pudukkottai. It has been inferred that Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (இரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்), who built the town in 1686, must have also fortified parts of it within about ten years of his reign. It is probable that the fortification was destroyed between 1732 and 1734 by Chanda-sahib (சந்தா சாஹிப்) or Ananda Rao (ஆனந்த ராவ்) or both during their invasions of the town. This cannot, however, be maintained categorically.
It is believed that Chanda-sahib destroyed the Tondaiman’s palace that is said to have stood at the northern end of the town. After its demolition, a new palace was built at Siva-gnana-puram, (சிவஞானபுரம்) south-east of the town, which the then Raja used as a palace and a hermitage and where, it is believed, the 18th century sage and composer Sadhasiva-brahmendra (சதாசிவ பிரம்மேந்திரர்) came to initiate him.
In 1812 the town was burnt down and rebuilt, at considerable expense, by Raja Vijaya Raghunatha (விஜய ரகுநாதத் தொண்டைமான்) at the instance of the Resident, Major Blackburn. The streets were laid out so as to intersect at right angles with the Raja’s palace in the centre. In 1813, the town contained three palaces, six terraced houses, 300 tiled houses and 700 thatched houses, besides 21 tiled and 700 thatched houses at Thiruvappur (திருவப்பூர்), and 320 thatched houses at Thirugokarnam (திருக்கோகர்ணம்), the two suburbs of the town. It is said that there were three chatram-s (சத்திரங்கள், choultries), one kept open only during Dassara in the town near the Pallavan-kulam (பல்லவன் குளம், a tank), one, on the Kundaru (குண்டாறு, about 2 km south of the present bus stand) and one at Thirugokarnam.
Even in those early days the town was attractive. Hamilton’s East India Gazetteer (1820) refers to ‘its wide, regular, and clean streets intersecting each other at right angles,’ and to its stuccoed, whitened and tiled’ houses. Pharaoh’s Gazetteer of Southern India (1855) speaks of Pudukkottai as ‘a populous town’, and eulogizes its ‘handsome pagoda’, its ‘grand high mosque’, its ‘tanks and wells of excellent water’ and the ‘large and commodious houses in the principal streets, with tiled roofs, several of them terraced’.
The expansion of the town since its rebuilding in 1812 has been steady and continuous, and received considerable impetus during the administration of Sir Sashiah-sastri (சேஷையா சாஸ்திரி) (1878-1894). During his tenure new suburbs were built, the streets were re-laid, tanks were deepened and cleaned, and many public buildings were constructed.
Mythological story of origin
There is also mythological story about the origin. A General History of the Pudukkottai state (1916) recounts the following story. According to this, one Muchu-kunda-chakravarti (முசுகுந்த சக்கரவர்த்தி), a Chozha king, who had his capital Thiruvarur (திருவாரூர்) in the Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) district, in one of his tours through his dominions was so struck with the beauty of the tract to the north of the Vellaru (வெள்ளாறு) that he thought of building a town there. The Rishi Parasara (பராசரர்) fixed an auspicious hour for commencing operations, and Kalasa-mangalam, consisting of ‘nine cities’, (blocks) was brought into existence. The king Muchukunda applied for inhabitants to the God Kubera (குபேரன்), who sent him 1,500 families.
The story was probably invented, after the town had become rich and its merchants were found to be very wealthy. In this account fact and fiction are inextricably mixed.
Roughly speaking, Pudukkottai may be considered as divided into the following blocks:
The town proper, a densely populated block, consists of wide straight streets running east to west and north to south, and intersecting one another at right angles. In the centre are now the ruins of the ‘fort’ with thick and high ramparts (only part of the western wall remains.). Within it at the centre stood what was called the ‘old palace’ containing a shrine to Dakshina-moorthi (தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி), a Durbar Hall that was used on state occasions by the former Rajas of Pudukkottai, and the palace stable. State functions and ceremonies, including the Dassara, were conducted here.
Abutting on the inner fort on its eastern side are situated the temple of Santha-natha-swami (சாந்தநாத சுவாமி), and the picturesque Sivaganga tank (சிவகங்கை குளம்), popularly known as Pallavan-kulam (பல்லவன் குளம்), with its central mandapam, flights of steps and substantial parapets.
Outside these run the four main streets, called Raja Veedhi-s (இராஜவீதி) in Tamil. Thus there are four main streets (Raja Veedhi-s); East Main Street (Keezha Raja Veedhi), West Main Street (Mela Raja Veedhi), North Main Street (Vadakku Raja Veedhi) and South Main Street (Therku Raja Veedhi). Beyond these the naming of the street is regular, like East Second Street, East Third Street, etc. South Main Street is the bazaar street, and is the commercial centre of the town.
Originally the North Main Street housed the families of the priests appointed for service at the Dakshina-moorthi (தக்ஷிணாமுர்த்தி) temple within the palace. They were Andhra-s who wielded much spiritual influence in the palace. The Sirkile, the name by which the Diwan was originally called, and the other principal officers lived in the North and East Main Streets, and for a long time the courts were held in the East Main Street near the Ariyanachchi Amman Koil. Many of the officers were then Marathas and there are still some Maratha families in these two streets.
Karaitope (காரைத்தோப்பு), an old suburb to the south of the town, contains the Malai Idu (மாலையீடு), or site on which in 1807 the widowed queen of Raja Vijaya Raghunatha (ராஜா விஜய ரகுநாத தொண்டைமான்) performed the sati (சதி). A temple has been built on the site.
Pichchathanpatti (பிச்சத்தான்பட்டி) was a suburb, south of the town where the Railway Station is located now. It is chiefly important for an old bungalow for long used as a presidency by the political agents of the British government during their visits to the capital. It is more than a century old and is mentioned in Hamilton’s Gazetteer (1820), which says, “About a mile and a half to the south-west of the capital, Tondaiman has an excellent house built and furnished after the English fashion – where every respectable European traveller is sure of meeting with a hospitable reception”.
Machuvadi (மச்சுவாடி), Rama-chandra-puram (இராமச்சந்திரபுரம்), Ganesh Nagar, Gandhi Nagar, Marthanda-puram (மார்தாண்டபுரம்), Santha-natha-puram (சாந்தநாதபுரம்) and Lakshmi-puram in the south, and Rajagopala-puram near the railway station were residential suburbs.
Sandhaippettai, to the west of the town proper, was and is, as its name implies, the market place. The market, which was formerly held on the roadside, has been shifted to an open space to the south of the road where permanent sheds have been erected for the sale of commodities. The market, which is held every Friday, is the largest in the district. Also there is an ‘farmer’s market’ (உழவர் சந்தை) where the farmers sell their produce without the middlemen, in the west fourth street.
To the west of the town lies Thirugokarnam (திருக்கோகர்ணம்) at the foot of a rock. Here is the famous temple of Gokarnesvara (கோகர்ணேஸ்வரர்) and Brahadambal (பிரகதம்பாள்). The Goddess was the tutelary deity of the former Rajas of Pudukkottai, who consequently styled themselves ‘Sri Brahdamba-dasa’ or the ‘servants of Sri Brahadambal’. They were ceremonially installed on the gadi and anointed at this shrine. It is in the name of this deity that the coin called the Amman-kasu was struck.
Thiruvappur is another suburb. This suburb was once a centre of silk weaving and was mostly inhabited by the silk-weaving Sourashtrian community called Patnool (பட்டுநூல்). According to the Statistical Account of Pudukkottai (1813) there were 30 looms in the place in 1813, and according to Pharaoh’s Gazetteer, it was an emporium with an ‘extensive weekly market’, and ‘numerous bazaars in which cloths of various qualities and the best in the province’ were sold. The weekly market referred to here, was subsequently transferred to Sandhaippettai. The dyers of the place prepared pink dhotis (saya veshti, சாய வேஷ்டி), which had a wide reputation, but at present their craft is moribund. Near is the Kavinattuk-kanmai (கவிநாட்டுக் கண்மாய்), the largest tank, in the district.
Koilpatti is to the north to Thirugokarnam. Originally a straggling hamlet, it was laid out afresh by Sashiah-sastri (சேஷையா சாஸ்திரி). According to a legend, the men of this village formerly lived at Ettarai-kombu (எட்டரைக் கொம்பு), which they deserted in a body because the local Palaya-karar (பாளையக்காரர்) attempted to outrage one of their girls. The girl committed suicide, becoming after death a goddess worshipped in temple built for her at Koilpatti. There is also another temple in the place called Malukkan-koil (மளுக்கன் கோயில்), at which a Malukkan or Muslim is worshipped in compliance with his dying request. The Manual (1944) states: “His antecedents were by no means such as to render him worthy of canonisation, for he had been in the habit of secretly riding down nightly from Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) to meet his concubine at Thiruvappur. One day he was slain (it is said) at the foot of an icchi (இச்சி, Ficus tsiela or F. Indica) tree by the God Malai-k-Karuppar (மலைக் கருப்பர்), whose repeated warnings to discontinue these clandestine meetings he had disregarded”.
Pudukkottai town proper is connected with all the suburbs by good roads.
Sri Gokarnesvara – Brahadambal koil (ஸ்ரீ கோகர்ணேஸ்வரர்-பிரகதம்பாள் கோயில்)
Occupying an important place among the ancient classical monuments of Pudukkottai, the Thirugokarnam temple, popularly known as Brahadambal Temple, lies in the foot of a rock. This is one of the oldest temples in South India, with its history dating back to early 7th century AD and still in use.
The deity is known as Gokarnesvara, and is associated with the sthala-puranam (ஸ்தலபுராணம்) of this temple. It goes on the following lines. The celestial Kama-dhenu (காமதேனு) happened to arrive late one day at Indra’s (இந்திரன்) court. She was banished from the heaven and condemned to live the life of an ordinary cow on earth until such time as she should have expiated her sins by worshipping the God Siva. On reaching earth, she sought the hermitage of the sage Kapila (கபிலர்) situated in the jungle at this place. Under his guidance she performed daily worship to the Siva lingam under the bakula (vakula) tree. Everyday she tramped to far away river Ganga and brought its sacred water in her ears for the God’s abhishekam (அபிஷேகம், ablution). Hence the god is called Gokarnesvara or the ‘Lord of the cow’s ear. In due course she had a she-calf, but stifling motherly instincts, she still performed her daily journey leaving her calf at the temple gate. But soon the time came for her salvation, and as she retuned one day at nightfall with the sacred water in her ear, the God taking the shape of a tiger stood across her path at a place since called Thiruvengaivasal (திருவேங்கைவாசல்) and threatened to devour her. On her remonstrating that it was time for the ablution of the God, she was allowed to go on condition that she returned immediately after the worship was over. When the cow came back, according to her promise, the seeming tiger changed its shape, and Siva and Parvathi manifested themselves and carried the cow to heaven. According to a variation of the story the tarn on the top of the hill, was cut by the cow with her horn and stored with the Ganga water from her ear, and a cleft on the top of the lingam is said to be a hoof-print that she left as she bathed the idol in the sacred water.
Locally the temple is better known as Brahadambal temple. A shrine for Brahadambal constructed later at the ground level. The goddess Brahadambal was the tutelary deity of the Pudukkottai Tondaiman rulers. They proudly called themselves ‘Brihadamba-dasa’ or ‘servant of Brahadambal’. They ruled the kingdom in the name of the goddess. The Tondaiman rulers even minted coins featuring the portrait of Brahadambal. The temple was, thus, intimately associated with the ruling families of the region.
There is also another presiding deity, Vakula-vanesvara (வகுளவனேஸ்வரர், ‘God-of-vakula-forest’) and is named after the sthala vriksham (temple-tree) of the temple, namely, Mahizha Maram (the Bakula tree, Mimusops elengi).
The temple was constantly being renovated and additions made till the last century. Because of this continuous history over a very long time the temple acquired some special features.
- The cave temple has more architectural technical features compared to other cave temples of this region
- The relief sculpture of ‘Sapta-matrika’ (சப்தகன்னியர்) of this temple is important from the point of view of iconography
- It contains about 30 inscriptions. Some of them are Grantha inscriptions of the 7th century AD
- There are two main deities: Gokarnesvara and Bakula-vanesvara
- There is no shrine for Nava-graha (‘the-nine-planets’)
- The temple has five ther-s (temple-cars), which is a large number comparatively, with marvellous craft work, architecture and of noteworthy features
- Because of the benevolence of the royalty the temple was the centre of dance, music of great repute
Because of its exquisite architecture and noteworthy sculptural and artistic features, this is an excellent temple for study of temple architecture and iconography starting from early Pallava – Pandya (7th century) period till Nayak period (17th century).
The temple architecture
One enters the temple complex from the south. Beyond the customary Ganesa at the entrance, one passes through a long corridor leading to the shrines on the ground level. This corridor is exquisitely decorated with carved pillars and sculptures. These carvings exhibit unsurpassed piece of art and workmanship of the Nayak period. There are shrines for Kasi Visvanatha (காசி விஸ்வநாதர்) and a vasantha-mandapam (வசந்த மண்டபம்) on the left before reaching the Raja-gopuram (இராஜ கோபுரம்) at the end of the corridor. The Raja-gopuram is guarded by dvara-palaka (துவாரபாலகர்). On the right side a big Drum or Murasu (முரசு) is placed to beat in morning and evening, when pooja-s are performed.
Leaving Raja-gopuram, we enter into the Silpa-mandapam (சிற்ப மண்டபம், Sculptural mandapam) also called Rasi-mandapam (ராசி மண்டபம்). The ceiling of this mandapam is adorned with sculptures of the Rasi-s. On the colonnades are found some exquisite portrayals of Rathi-Manmatha (ரதி மன்மதன்), Durga (துர்கை), Karnan (கர்ணன்), Arjunan (அர்ஜுனன்), Raman (ராமன்), Dasaratha (தசரதன்) and Kaikeyi (கைகேயி), etc. On the left side of this is the Golu-mandapam (கொலு மண்டபம்), a large mandapam, which has seen very colourful Nava-rathri (நவ ராத்திரி) functions in the past. On the right side are the oonjal-mandapam (ஊஞ்சல் மண்டபம், swing hall) and the kitchens.
Crossing a door we reach the Brahadambal shrine. The present structure of this shrine seems to be a very late structure, probably added within the last two centuries. The absence of any inscription on its wall bears out this conclusion. The large mandapam in front of the Amman shrine, like the corridor leading into the temple from the street belong to the Madurai Nayak (மதுரை நாயக்கர்) style. On the pillars of this mandapam are figures in high relief of chiefs and nobles who have not yet been satisfactorily identified. During the Tondaiman (தொண்டைமான்) period daily worship included dance and music recitals in this mandapam.
The east-facing Brahadambal shrine consists of an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்), beyond which is the garbha-griham (கர்ப கிரகம்). The statue of the Goddess of extraordinary beauty, adorns the sanctum.
The pradakshina (perambulation) starts with the 63 Nayanmar-s (நாயன்மார்கள்) on the left and then the east-facing shrines of Maha-Ganapathi, Rishabha-rudha (ரிஷபா ருடர்) and Kasi-lingam (காசி லிங்கம்). Ahead of this if the beginning of the excavation of the original cave temple. There are a few minor deities like Kuzhandai-vadivel (குழந்தை வடிவேல், முருகன், Murugan) and Sapthalingam (சப்த லிங்கம்), in the niches on the left approachable through a flight of stairs.
On to the left of the entrance to the Gokarnesvara shrine on the rock face to the south of the cave are figures the Sapta-matrika (சப்தமாதர்), Ganesa and another deity who may be identified as Veerabhadra (வீரபத்திரர்).
In the rock-cut garbha-griham is Gokarnesvara in the form of a lingam.
The ardha-mandapam has two large relief sculptures, Ganesa on the south
wall Gangadhara (கங்காதரர்) on the north wall. All these are typical 7th
century Pallava-Pandya sculptures.
The maha-mandapam and the other mandapam-s in front of the central rock-out shrine belong to the Chozha and Pandya (11th to 13th century AD.) periods. Some beautiful bronzes, kept under lock, are found in the maha-mandapam. Facing the shrine are the bali-pitham (பலி பீடம்), dhvaja-sthambham (த்வஜஸ்தம்பம்) and nandi (நந்தி) installed on a rock-clearance. It is likely that the passage to enter the Gokarnesvara shrine must have passed through this.
To the north of the nandi is the exit to reach the shrines of the upper level. Immediately on the left is an inscription belonging to the Raja Raja III (மூன்றாம் இராஜராஜன்) period (1226 AD). A short flight of steps takes one to the sunai (சுனை, tarn) from which the suburban population took drinking water in the past. A view of the tarn and the rocky outcrop is a pleasing sight.
On the left to the exit, situated almost above the Gokarnesvara shrine, are the shrines for Subrahmanya (சுப்பிரமணியர்), Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Annapurani (அன்ன பூரணி) and Rudrashalingam (ருத்ராக்ஷலிங்கம்). And on the right to the exit are that of Brahma, Jvara-haresvara (ஜுவரகரேஸ்வரர், ‘destroyer of fever’), Bhairava, Surya, the four Saivait saints, Appar, Sundarar, Gnana-sambanthar (ஞானசம்பந்தர்) and Manikka-vachakar (மாணிக்கவாசகர்), Chandra and Dandayudha-pani (தண்டாயுதபாணி).
From this vantage point one can have a view of the surroundings: the Mangala-kulam (மங்களக்குளம், tank) in the east and rocky out crops all around. From here one can see the Raja-gopuram, which is nor visible from elsewhere, the vimanam (விமானம்) of the Brahadambal shrine and of Vakula-vanesvara (பகுளவனேஸ்வரர்). Not to be missed is the grand old mahizha-tree (மகிழமரம், Mimusops elengi or Vakulam in Sanskrit), which is the sthala-vriksham, with its extensive crown. The trunk of the tree can be seen at the ground level.
Returning to the ground level, and continuing the pradakshina (பிரதக்ஷனம்), we come to the mandapam, which houses bronzes of Nataraja, His Consort, and the four Saivait saints. These idols are of exceptional beauty. Beyond this is the shrine for Mangalambikai (மங்களாம்பிகை), built in 13th century AD. It has an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்தமண்டபம்) (15th century AD.) also. To the west of this is the sannidhi (சந்நிதி) of Vakula-vanesvara. He is worshiped in the form of a lingam. The shrine, in its present form, belongs to 18th century AD. On the northern wall of this shrine are sculptures of Vinayaka and Dakshina-moorthi (தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி). One can see these sculptures from the outer corridor itself.
A hexagon shaped Sukravar-mantapam (சுக்ரவார மண்டபம்), dhvaja-sthambham and mahizha-tree are seen within the premises in front of the Brahadambal shrine. At the base of the tree is a small idol of Sadhasiva-brahmendra (சதாசிவ பிரம்மேந்திரர்). The reason for worshipping Sadhasiva-brahmendra in this temple is because he happened to be the guru of Tondaiman (தொண்டைமான்) Rajas and the sage blessed the Raja with Dakshina-moorthi slogan-s and mantra-s.
Mangala-theertha-mandapam (மங்களத் தீர்த்த மண்டபம்)
The gate to the east of Sukravar-mantapam leads to the Mangala-theertha-mandapam and the Mangala-kulam (tank). Now badly neglected the tank has seen better days. The last Maharaja, Rajagopala Tondaiman was crowned on the steps of this tank. Two exquisitely carved pillars are found on both sides of the steps flying down to the tank. They look as if two horses are bearing the pillars and exhibit a fine piece of art. One Rasi-Chakra (ராசி சக்கரம்) is also seen on the ceiling of this mandapam. The northern part of this mandapam is built by late Pandya-s (13th century) southern part by Tondaiman-s (17th century AD).
Other temples and worshipping places
Adjoining the Brahadambal temple (பிரகதம்பாள் கோயில்), on the east bund of the Periya-kulam (பெரிய குளம்), is a small temple dedicated to Meenakshi (மீனாக்ஷி) and Sundaresvara (சுந்தரேஸ்வரர்) and supposed to be built in the reign of Raja Ramachandra Tondaiman (இராஜா ராமச்சந்திர தொண்டைமான்). On the south bund of the Periya-kulam tank is a shrine containing figures of the sixteen forms of Ganesa.
Among the minor deities at Thirugokarnam (திருக்கோகர்ணம்), Karuppar (கருப்பர்) on the Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) road is the most important.
At Thiruvappur (திருவப்பூர்) is the Rajarajeesvaram (ராஜராஜீஸ்வரம்) temple. The earliest inscription in this temple is dated back to 1202 AD, by Kulottunga III (மூன்றாம் குலோத்துங்கன்). It was probably built in the reign of his predecessor Raja Raja II (இரண்டாம் இராஜராஜன்) (c. 1146-63 AD). Its architectural features are those of later Chozha structures. The temple is having a garbha-griham (கர்ப கிரகம்), ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and maha-mandapam (மகா மண்டபம்) of the same period. The temple is in ruins and is not used for worship any more.
The Mariamman temple (மாரியம்மன் கோயில்) of Thiruvappur is very popular in Pudukkottai region. The Poochchorial (பூச்சொரியல், ‘flower-showering’) festival in summer draws hundreds of devotees from all over the district.
In Thiruvappur, south side of the railway gate, there are two temples for Lord Vishnu. One is Kalyana-prasanna-venkatesa-perumal temple first built during the reign of the late Pandya-s (13th century AD.) and the other is a modern temple, a shrine for Venu-gopala-swami.Within the Dakshina-moorthi temple (தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி) in the old Palace is preserved the holy sand on which Sadhasiva-brahmendra (சதாசிவ பிரம்மேந்திரர்) wrote his instructions to Raja Vijaya Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (ராஜா விஜயரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்).
The Santha-natha swami temple (சாந்தநாத சுவாமி கோயில்), which is in the middle of the present town, is next in importance to the Brahadambal temple. – The annual festival of this temple is held in Ani (ஆனி) month (June-July).There are three Vishnu temples within the town proper – those of Varadaraja, a 13th century temple in east third street, Venkatesa and Vitoba near to the Pallavan-kulam (பல்லவன் குளம்).
The Bhuvanesvari temple (புவனேஸ்வரி கோயில்) at Pudukkottai is a great attraction to pilgrims. It is recent temple and has an interesting origin. In the early years of the present century there was a judge in the State of Travancore. While trying a murder case he was faced with a dilemma. Though the evidences pointed to the guilt of the accused, his heart felt otherwise. He, then, decided to lay down his office and became a sanyasi. It was in Pudukkottai where he finally shook off his mortal coil. He was buried in a vacant land close to the cremation ground. After a few years one of his disciples, himself an avadhutha-swamigal, came in search of his guru’s samadhi and succeeded in locating it. With the help of local devotees he erected a modest shrine and was known as Adhishtanam.
Sixteen years later a disciple of the avadhutha, Sri Santha-nantha-swami, came to Pudukkottai and established himself at the shrine. He first installed an idol of Bhuvanesvari, and later built subsidiary shrines for Ganesa, Subrahmanya (சுப்பிரமணியர்), Dattatreya (தத்தாத்ரேயர்) and others. The annual homam conducted according to vedic prescription draws devotees in thousands from all over the state and from outside. During this religious discourses and music concerts are also conducted.
To the south of Santha-natha swami temple is a popular Ariyanachchi Amman Koil (அரியநாச்சி அம்மன் கோயில்). Minor shrines are those dedicated to Hanuman, one within the precincts of Santha-natha swami temple and another near the old bus-stand, Manonmani Koil (மனோன்மணி கோயில்) on the East main Street, Kamakshi Koil (காமக்ஷி கோயில்), Porpanaian Koil (பொர்பனையான் கோயில்), Thadikonda Ayyanar Koil (தடிகொண்ட அய்யனார் கோயில்) and Singa-muthu Ayyanar Koil (சிங்கமுத்து அய்யனார் கோயில்).
There are two mosques, one in the town and the other in Thiruvappur (திருவப்பூர்). The town mosque is about a hundred and fifty years old, and is ascribed to one Mandra, who is also credited with having built some mandapam at Pallivasal (பள்ளிவாசல்) in the Thirumayam (திருமயம்) Taluk.
The Darga of Hazrat Syed Shah Parhezi Auliya is held in great veneration by the Muslims of the town. Auliya, a prince of Yemen in Arabia, renounced the world and wandered about the countries of south-west Asia and India and at last settled in Pudukkottai in the first half of the 18th century. Many miracles were attributed to him. His sanctity attracted the notice of the Tondaiman (தொண்டைமான்), who held him in high esteem and had a tomb risen in his honour after his death. It is believed that his nephew and disciple also lies buried by the side of the Auliya.
The tomb to the north of the Nainari tank (நைனாரிக் குளம்) is that of Jatcha Bibi, a Muslim lady who led an ascetic life.
The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an elegant and spacious edifice in the gothic style, east of Marthanda-puram (மார்தாண்டபுரம்) is the principal church of the Pudukkottai Catholic parish. The foundation stone was laid in January 1908, the nave was completed in April 1911 and it became the parish church in 1922.
The Protestant church at the north end of the town is a simple and austere lime-washed building. It was built in 1905 and consecrated in 1906. The pulpit’s stained glass backdrop is quiet impressive. The churchyard contains, among others, the tombstone of the former administrator and Diwan of Pudukkottai, Sir Alexander Loftus Tottenham, who died in the town on 13th December 1946, after a service of nearly fifty years in India, twelve of which were spent in Pudukkottai. The flat marble slab bears the word ‘Write me as one that loves his fellow men’.
Other interesting places and attractive buildings
The Public Office building to the south of the town is wide two-storied structure of exposed brick, pointed neatly with arched gothic windows and spiral staircases. The building, which in the days of the Darbar housed the offices of the Diwan, the Darbar Office and the Chief Court, is now occupied by the office of the revenue divisional officer and the civil courts along with several departments of district administration.
To its front stand a bronze statue of Marthanda-bhairava Tondaiman (மார்தாண்ட பைரவ தொண்டைமான்) and elsewhere in the compound a sculptural symbol to mark the formation of the new district. Contiguous to it is the residence of the collector, set in spacious grounds.
The Government Hospital, the residences of the British officials and the Raja’s College also belong to the same architectural style. These buildings are of red brick uncovered by mortar and belong to a style popularised by Robert Chisholm and vaguely called ‘Indo-Saracenic’. The Raja’s College is an imposing building with a large playground, where under the last Tondaiman, a keen cricketer, many important cricket matches were played. A brother of the last Tondaiman represented the state on a few occasions.
In another part of the town are the offices of the collector housed in the New Palace.
The New Palace, designed and built by the late Nilakanta Sastriar, whose daughter was Tmt. Rukmini Devi Arundale, the founder of Kalakshetra in Chennai. Sastriar was the special Engineer for the Palace construction and later State Engineer. The Palace has a handsome appearance, with its well dressed stonewalls and Moorish cupolas and is surrounded by a large park, with lawns and gardens. There were tennis, cricket and football grounds, and a riding course. The building was first occupied in 1930 and the Raja lived here with his family. A bungalow in the compound was occupied by the Raja’s Aide-de-camp. To the south of the New Palace is a bungalow, once occupied by the Raja’s English tutor.
There is a Government Museum in Tirugokarnam. It was opened in 1910. It consists of different sections like
- Arts and Industries-representing local arts and industries with specimens from outside the State for comparison and study
- Economic section containing a representative collection of local cereals, fibers etc-
- The Natural History section
- Ethnology-with a fine selection of arms and armour and of musical instruments
- Numismatics-a fairly representative collection of Indian coins
- Archaeology-illustrative of the large field of ancient monuments and sculpture for which the State is famous
- Reference library
The museum has developed largely in recent years and is well worth visiting. It is open to the public on all days except Sundays and State holidays.
Position, Area & Boundaries
The original princely state of Pudukkottai was a land-locked territory, with Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி), Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) and Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்) as its neighbours.
At the time of being made as a separate district in 1974 the coastal strip of Aranthangi (அறந்தாங்கி) was added to it.
Presently, the boundaries of the Pudukkottai District are the Bay-of-Bengal in the east, Thanjavur and Tiruchirappalli in the north, Tiruchirappalli in the west and Sivaganga (சிவகங்கை) and Ramanathapuram in the south. It is having a 36 km. of seashore in the east.
Area: 4661 square kilometers
The terrain of the district is generally flat. Dry open lands with cultivation as well as semi-barren wastelands form the basic Pudukkottai (புதுக்கோட்டை) country. On the western surface of the plain emerge rocks of low and middle elevation. The scrub jungle, once plentiful, is to be met with now in a few pockets only. The terrain is divisible into two broad portions with distinctive physical aspects, eastern and western. The dividing line may be taken as a north-south line passing through the town of Pudukkottai. The lands west of this line comprise the greater portion of Kolattur (குளத்தூர்) and Thirumayam (திருமயம்) taluk-s and are rocky. In the east are Alangudi (ஆலங்குடி), Pudukkottai, Aranthangi and part of Thirumayam taluk-s, and are bereft of hard rocks. Alluvia and soft rock are found here.
Though the Tamil word used for the hills of Pudukkottai is malai (மலை) , that is mountain, none of the outcrops would meet the requirement of the definition. There are numerous hills and lofty rocks are to be found in Pudukkottai. The important among them are the Narttamalai hills (நார்த்தாமலை மலைகள்), Sevalur hills (செவலூர் மலைகள்) and Annavasal hills (அன்னவாசல் மலைகள்). Fine quality granite is available in plenty. Names of a number of places bear malai as suffix or prefix like Narttamalai (நார்த்தாமலை), Viralimalai (விராலிமலை), Malayadippatti (மலையடிப்பட்டி), Malaiyakkoil (மலையக்கோயில்), etc.
The Pudukkottai terrain studded with hills and knolls in the west of the district, gently slopes towards the flatland, estuaries and seacoast in the east. The plains of east Pudukkottai consist of miles of open country, ploughed fields and tidal mudflats. The presence of alluvial soil on the east Pudukkottai surface makes it fertile and suitable for agriculture.
The district s tanks are ubiquitous. Irrespective of the geology, tanks, called kanmai (கண்மாய்) in Tamil, can be seen distributed over the entire district. These tanks irrigate the district s agricultural fields.
Rivers in Pudukkottai are only jungle streams that themselves take their rise from tanks. Since the tanks have surplus only for a short period around the monsoon time, most rivers are dry for most part of the year. The most significant stream is Vellaru (வெள்ளாறு). The other streams or rivers are the Pambaru (பாம்பாறு, ‘Snake-river’), the Agniyaru (அக்னியாறு, Fire-river ), the Ambuliyaru (அம்புலியாறு), etc.
The length of seacoast in the district is about 36 kilometers. Where the rivers of the district enter the sea, estuarine islets have been formed. The point off Mimisal (மீமிசல்), where Kolavanaru (கொலவனாறு) joins the sea, is one such islet. The Pudukkottai seaboard, like the rest of the Coromandal coast, has a simple structure.
The district has a hot tropical climate, humid near the coast. The summer season is from March to May, May being the hottest (Temperature about 37 deg C). South-west monsoon lasts from June to September. October and November constitute the retreating monsoon season. The north-east monsoon is over by the second-half of December.
The relative humidity is between 50 and 80 per cent, but during February-July the air is drier. The annual rainfall is in the vicinity of 950 mm.
The sky is generally cloudy during the monsoon. In the rest of the year it is mostly clear.
Recorded history of Pudukkottai lists a succession of years that have witnessed drought and the consequent famine.