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Kudumiyanmalai Walkthrough

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Heritage walk of Kudumiyanmalai with Dr. J. Raja Mohamad and K.R. Rajendran, Tamil Nadu, May 9, 2015

Raja Mohammad: This is a wedding hall. This mandapa (hall) was in such disrepair, it was a long time before the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took responsibility for the place, repaired it and brought it to its present state. This is a kalyana mandapam (wedding ceremony hall).


A.P. Rajaram: Could you please tell me in which year this was built?

R.M.: This hall was built in the 17th century. All these structures, including the hall in front of the temple, were built in the 17th century.

The sculptures on the entrance of the temple, both the rows, were all built in the 17th century. We can talk about each individual sculpture later.

There are interesting sculptures on the rock. If you can see the ledge, there are sculptures of the 63 Nayanmargal (saint poets) carved. In the centre, a sculpture of Siva and Parvati sitting on the bull was carved. It is astonishing how those sculptors could climb up there and carve the sculptures.

We have to see the relevance of the discovered inscriptions. We have made a list of all the inscriptions found on the walls of the temple. We could use those and study their relevance. There are a lot of inscriptions but they are not complete, they are in bits and pieces. So it is difficult to decide where we should start reading the information from and how we should correlate them. If you look at the inscriptions on the top of the wall, these are surely 10th century inscriptions. See, all of them are in a very bad shape. So how do we collect information from the damaged inscriptions?  On this wall some two to three new inscriptions were found, apart from the ones that we have listed. These inscriptions are complete but the rest of them are in bits and pieces.

We have planned a thorough reading of all the inscriptions on these walls. Once the reading is done, we are planning to make a record of them.

If the ASI had not worked on preserving them like this, these inscriptions would have easily eroded. The rainwater would have seeped into them and these inscriptions would have been lost.

Even though these arrangements have been done in recent years, the preservation that the ASI has done is significant. If they had not done so, then the letters, the inscriptions would not be available to us. Carnatic music’s notations, the ragas, the seven swaras, their rules, how to read them, were all available through these inscriptions. These are the only inscriptions available that explain the details of music.

Bharata’s Natyashastra, written in the fourth century CE, had details about music, and after that there was the Sangitaratnakara, which was written in the 13th century, that was available to people. In between this period, if we look at what material on Carnatic music was available to the common public; how it was dispersed across Tamil Nadu or south India or India as a whole and made available to the common public; what are the types of ragas and other musical components, all these can be understood from the inscriptions.

Like I have said earlier regarding the kalyana mandapam and other buildings, if the ASI had not taken care of them, they would not have looked like they do now. Earlier these buildings were completely destroyed. All these ruins were repaired and restored. It was done by ASI only. The term heritage builders would be very apt for the ASI people; otherwise we would have lost all these things. In spite of all the economic constraints and other problems, ASI took the effort to carry out these activities to preserve our monuments and culture. Similarly, the ASI took care and rebuilt the ‘Thousand Pillared Hall’ place. The Mandapa or hall was in a ruined state, the ASI rebuilt it. This place is used during festivals as a resting place for the devotees. This place was rebuilt with great effort and helped bring back a similar cultural feel, which was replicated by ASI.


A.P.R.: To which century does the cave temple belong?

R.M.: The cave and the sculptures within belong to the ninth century, and the rest of the buildings attached alongside are from a later period. Mostly, during the Thondaiman period only this building was built, which we can say as being either from the 17th or 18th century. To prove this, there is an inscription there on the entrance near the steps. This inscription is of Thondaiman’s period of Pudukkottai. The Thondaimans were the rulers of this place from the 17th century.


A.P.R.: Some people claim that this could be of the eighth century and next came the Chola architecture and their style of buildings, and then the Vijayanagara buildings

R.M.: This cave temple is from the Chola period, it could be said that it is from the Muthuraiyars or Early Pandya period. It could be Early Pandya also because there is an inscription from that time. This inscription does not belong to the eighth century, it is from the ninth century and this inscription is also the earliest inscription in the Pudukkottai tract.


A.P.R.: Where is this inscription?

R.M.: This is inside the cave on one of the pillars. This is the inscription which is the oldest among thousand other inscriptions in Pudukkottai district and it is the one mentioning the earliest ruling dynasty of the locality. The building connecting the cave temple is from about the 12th or 13th century. This continues throughout, from the Chola period, to the Pandya period, then Nayak’s period and lastly Thondaiman’s period and continues into the modern period. The buildings are being added to constantly.


A.P.R.: Is there inscriptional evidence for this information?

R.M.: Yes, there is a lot of evidence. Nearly 70 rock-cut inscriptions are there.


A.P.R.: So these inscriptions tell the history of successive periods?

R.M.: Yes, all the inscriptions refer to the temple’s history. The local kingdom and its history, as well as the history of the temples, both are mentioned in these rock-cut inscriptions.

There is a veena called the parivadini—this veena was in use in the seventh and eighth century CE. The inscriptional information about this veena is in Kudumiyanmalai, Malayakoil and Thirumayam only. In Thirumayam the information is at two places. Therefore there are four places where there is information about the parivadini veena.


A.P.R.: Where is Malaikoil?

R.M.: It is not Malaikoil, it is Malayakoil, and it is near Ponnamaravathi and very close to a village called Nachanthupatti. There are two cave temples in Malayakoil also. There is a connection between this parivadini veena and the inscriptions depicting the musical treatise and notations, as these notations could be easily played only on this parivadini veena. The parivadini veena could be of seven or eight strings. This information is given in detail in the book Amarakosa, which talks about music.

This research—heritage management—we all need some kind of focus. The awareness among people is generally very less. We should bring in awareness and explain the importance of these sculptures and inscriptions. Just as Sahapedia is trying to bring awareness to the people, we should bring awareness to the common public. Make them understand that these are all part of our cultural heritage, these should be preserved.

The Early Pandya inscriptions are here on this pillar. This is the earliest dated inscription here. This may be the eighth century or early ninth century because a temple could not have appeared just like that. A temple takes so many years and factors to come into existence, so this may be dated a little earlier also. There is a prevalent old theory dating it to the seventh century, and claiming it to be Mahendravarma Pallava’s art structure. Most of the documents that were studied earlier were also in support of this old theory. Only now have people like us started working on this, taking efforts to reread them, concluding that we have to date this as belonging to the eighth century.

Even in the older history books, the musical inscriptions are mentioned as being Mahendravarma Pallava’s art inscriptions. Only now have we given a new reading to all the inscriptions. We concluded that the authorship could not be given to Mahendravarma Pallava and these inscriptions might belong to the Early Pandyas. Here in Kudumiyanmalai, there are more than 13 cave temples in Pudukottai, and all of them are more or less from the same ninth century period. Among all other cave temples, the intensive phase can be seen only in the Kudumiyanmalai cave temple, as this kind of cave temple structure is not found anywhere else. This is of great importance to Pudukkottai as well.

In the Pandyan dynasty, the lingam is mostly placed inside the yoni and is usually square in shape. During most of the other dynasties, the yonis were all depicted as circles, including the Pallavan depiction of the yoni as circular. The yoni would be made separately and the lingam would be placed on top of it. But here, the lingam and yoni are part of the parent rock and the structure is placed in the centre of the cave. The yoni is square in shape and the Early Pandya stone inscription is also present. This is because Mahendravarma Pallava’s kingdom in the seventh century ended at Trichy Malaikottai and turned towards the opposite side of Pudukottai. After that from the eighth century, the second Nandivarman’s regime stretched till the Kunandar Kovil Temple, Malaiyadipatti area. Thandi Varman, Nandivarman, Nirabya Kundalvarman; the successive Pallava kings’ regime extended towards Malaiyadipatti, Narthamalai, etc. On this side none of the Pallava kings tried to extend their regime, hence there is no evidence of Pallava inscriptions. The place nearby called Thirukonam also has Early Pandya inscriptions so we have concluded that these inscriptions are from the Early Pandya period or Muthuraiyar’s period.

This is the Parivadini inscription. This is the Pallava’s Grantha script. 'Pa – Re – Vaa – Dee – Nee.' There is no such inscription found all over India. Only in these four places within Tamil Nadu were these inscriptions found.

The pillar looks like those found in the Hoysala palaces, where there are a greater number of cave temples as well. Most of the Hoysala cave temples also had pillarsa similar style, as artists took influences from one region to another when they travelled. They travelled from one place to another along with their skills and brought artistic trends to different places. The style of the pillar here was acquired similarly. Among the 13 cave temples in Pudukkottai District, only in this place can we see this style of pillar architecture; in other places we have different styles.

From here we can see the original cave temple. This is the hill. If you can see the break to differentiate both the sides; from here it is the hill and the rest is the built temple.

This hall, built during the 17th century, was made by the devadasis—who lived in this area and donated a huge sum for the maintenance of the temple.


A.P.R.: Was this temple built for devadasis?

R.M.: No, this temple along with the hall was built by the devadasis. The natyamagal (courtesans), who were here to dance in the temples donated a huge sum and had built the temple along with the Mandapa. After the building and further maintenance of the temple, they gave their own property as an endowment. Here in one of the inscriptions there is a mention of 16,000 gold coins donated by the devadasis for this temple. The period is assumed to be about the 13th century to the 14th century. The inscription mentioning this data is present on this temple structure itself.

This type of granite is not found in this geographical area. It must have been brought from outside. Most probably it was from the Karnataka border, because only there is this kind of black granite available.

On this wall too there are lots of inscriptions. The historical sequence of the Pudukkottai area can be traced in the inscriptions on this wall. This Amman temple was contributed by the early Thondaimans of Pudukkottai area. Because of their contribution we can see the Telugu inscriptions here. They are of Telugu origin. These inscriptions are commonly found because in the early days, from the 14th to the 15th century, parts of Tamil Nadu were ruled by Telugu people. The Thondaimans of Pudukottai were descendants of this clan.

There were many endowments by the Thondaimans for the people; hence the walls of this temple have Telugu inscriptions. This inscription actually refers to one of these endowments. This temple was made by the early Thondaimans. The total number of rulers during the Thondaiman dynasty were about nine, starting from the 17th century up to 1948. For the first few rulers—about three to four rulers—the coronation ceremony took place in this temple. If we look at the anterior side of the temple, there is a big platform—a single huge stone measuring 20 feet in width and height. This is an interesting piece of information which we are able to see for ourselves at the entrance to the temple. For the early Thondaimans, the coronation ceremony was performed with the king seated on this stone.

You can see the repair work done by ASI in these places. Almost the entire temple will be renovated. Once this temple’s renovation is complete, the other places will also undergo restoration.

This is the Aarukaal Peedam Mandapam (six-pillared hall). This entire six-pillared peedam base is of a single stone.

It starts there and finishes here: one, two, three, four, five and six. For this huge six-pillared hall, the platform was formed of a single stone. See, it’s the same stone, that corner has broken a little. This is the six-pillared hall and adjacent to that is the twelve-pillared hall. This six-pillared hall was made with a donation by a devadasi named Pallavaraya Manikathaal. She lived in this place and she had made a donation to build this particular six-pillared hall. To acknowledge this donation, her statue is carved on two pillars facing the six-pillared hall, with an inscription below.


A.P.R.: Was she a devadasi?

R.M.: Yes, she was a devadasi. The term Manikathaal denotes that she is a devadasi. In this region, there was a small kingdom named Vaithoor Pallavarayar, which lasted for about 200 years. The kings from this kingdom too had their coronation ceremonies in this six-pillared hall. After these kings, the early Thondaiman kings practised the same coronation ceremony in this place. Later the Thondaiman kings had their crowning ceremonies at Thirukonam. So this is the special six-pillared hall made of a single piece of hexagonal rock.