Friday, 31 October 2014

Rediscovering a Slain Warrior of Ancient Times

History enthusiast Ponnusamy at the hero stone with eminent archeologist Poongundran

An armed warrior standing guard to the cattle of a village is attacked by a tiger. He fights against the wild cat, which at last mauls him to death. The villagers, who were grateful to the slain warrior, honour him by erecting a Nadukal (Hero stone) in his memory and inscribe on it the event of his death. They worship the monument by adorning it with Peeli (Peacock feathers), as a rule formulated in Tolkapiyam, the earliest treatise of Tamils.

Though such hero stones have withstood the path of time and still found on some village borders, the one seen at Vaanavancheri in Tirupur district, dates back to over 1200 years, as the inscriptions on the monument are in ancient Vattezhuththu (Rounded script). What’s more, reminding the instruction in Tolkapiyam, the villagers call the monument as Peelikkal (Stone adorned with peacock feathers)

“Classical pieces of Tamil literature like Purananuru, Agananuru, Aynkurunuru, Thirukural and Silapathikaram contain references about hero stones” informs Ponnusamy, coordinator, Veera Rajendran Archeological and Historical Research Centre, Tirupur, an organization, which is on the mission of bringing to light the cultural glories of Kongu’s past. 

“In those days cattle were considered as wealth that a king captured them from his opponent’s land and drove them to his country. Mentioned as Aakol in Tolkapiyam, the ‘cattle robbery’ brought wars between villages. And the ones, who died in the battle to redeem their cattle wealth, were honoured by their respective village people with the erection of hero stones in their memory” explains Ponnusamy.

After discovering the monument with inscriptions in Vattezhuthu, Kongu history enthusiasts Ponnusamy, Thooran Velusamy, Ravikumar, Nagaraj Ganesh Kumar and Sadhasivam informed Poongundran, eminent archeologist and former Assistant Director of State Archeology Department, who later deciphered the script.

Interpreting the inscription, Poongundran said:

“The script reads that Vaanavan, a local village ruler, fought against the tiger and was killed by the animal. In memory of his death, his widow, who is mentioned as daughter of Patti, another village ruler, erected this hero stone”

Pointing out its highlights, Poongundran also noted:

“Though many hero stones were discovered in the Kongu region, most of them date back just to the Vijayanagara rule of 16th century. However, this hero stone belongs to an ancient period with its inscription being in Vattezhuluthu. It is also strange, that it was erected by none other than the widow of the slain warrior” added Poongundran.
Picturizing a hero stone, the 264th song in Purananuru, reads thus in Vaidehi Herbert’s translation:

They planted a memorial stone with the name
etched, on a mound with gravel, and decorated
it with split hemp leaves, a red flower garland,
and feathers of a pretty peacock.

Will the families of bards, who do not know
of his passing, the great man who brought cows
with calves and chased away enemies, still come?

Surrounded by a pile of stones, the hero stone at Vaanavancheri also resembles the one described in the ancient Sangam lyric!

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Education of a ‘Crack’ Called C.K

C.K. Subramania Mudhaliar

C.K. Subramania Mudhaliar, an eminent Tamil scholar, who lived in Coimbatore between 1878 and 1961  and pioneered the Herculean task of writing commentary for Periyapuranam, a Shaivaite Bhakthi literature consisting of 4286 songs, was also a lover of English. He never changed his initials ‘C.K’ into Tamil as Ko. Ka.  to mean his native town Koyamputhur (Coimbatore) and his father Kandhasamy Mudhaliar respectively. Interestingly, the scholar, who was also a Vice chairman of Coimbatore Municipality once, did not worry about his friends calling him shortly as ‘C.K’ to mean him for fun as ‘madman’, since his initials C.K also stood for ‘Crack’ a colloquial expression to call an insane person.   

Beginning the first chapter in his book Piththan Oruvanin Suyasaritham ( A mad man’s autobiography), C.K. Subramania Mudhaliar writes that though his friends called him so, he is only glad about that.

An ardent admirer of Shaivaite philosophy, he writes:

“I am happy to be called as ‘Crack’ through my initials C.K. Because, Lord Shiva himself liked to be addressed as Piththan( a mad man), when his apostle, Sundramurthy Nayanar called Him so. And, how fortunate I am to get my God’s name!”   

As a boy, C.K was much reluctant in attending lessons under Vaithyalingam Pillai, a lifelong bachelor from Jaffna, who ran a Thinnai Pallikoodam ( Pyol school) in Coimbatore. His house being large in the city, used to be called as ‘Vaathiyaar Veedu’, accommodated as many as twenty students, whom the Ubaathiyaayar (teacher) hardly allowed home except for taking bath and having food! In spite of the teacher’s prescription of strict rules and regulations, C.K had high regards for him, as he says that the teacher spent much of his income on the development of his pupils.

Recalling his student days in Coimbatore College, which, later, became the Government Arts College, C.K writes in his autobiography that the alma mater was then located near the Koniamman Temple. Pursuing F.A (Fellow of Arts), a two-year course after passing Matriculation examination there, C.K reminisces that his teachers in the college had great concern for students. He avers that Krishna Iyer, the vice principal of the college, was popularly called ‘B.A’ Krishna Iyer since he was the first man to obtain B.A degree in Coimbatore!  Listing the names of his other inspiring teachers including Kumbakonam Sabapathy Pillai, who handled Tamil for him, C.K informs that the principal of the college was an Englishman by name Hunter.    

While pursuing education at a college out of town, residing in a mansion or hostel and consuming food at a mess hall or a hotel is usual in modern era. But, it is surprising that C.K, while doing B.A in the Presidency College, Madras, was taken care of by his mother, as they both lived in a rented house at Triplicane. What’s more, C.K even got married while he was a student there by the end of the 19th century!

Source: Pithan Oruvanin Suyasaritham - Sivakavimani C.K. Subramania Mudhaliar. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Kongu Chieftain who hanged a British Messenger

It is quite natural for any Tamil cinema buff to imagine the yesteryear matinee idol Sivaji Ganesan, whenever he or she thinks of Veerapandya Kattabomman, a brave chieftain from Panchalankurichi, who was hanged to death by the British. It was the legendary actor, who played the inspiring role of Veerapandya Kattabomman in a movie of the same title.  However, history has not recorded the name of another Kongu chieftain, who hanged a British messenger to death in retaliation to the killing of Veerapandiya Kattabomman. What’s more, the chieftain hanged the white man from a tamarind tree in the same way as the British killed Kattabomman.

The feudal chieftain Eththalappa Naicken, who ruled a Palayapattu (A group of villages) with Thali as headquarters near Udumalpet in the Kongu region, was an ally of Veerapandya Kattabomman. It is said that Eththalappan provided military support to Oomaithurai, the younger brother of Veerapandiya Kattabomman in a war against the British after Kattabomman’s death in 1799. However, Eththalappan left the battle field in receipt of a message of his father’s death at Thali.

Though Oomaithurai faced a defeat in the war, Eththalappan, later on, strengthened his relationship with Oomaithurai by integrating a total of his neighbouring 14 Palayapattus and provided him a strong military support to wage war against the British. But, sensing a danger of defeat, the British government sent a team of messengers for holding a talk with Eththalappan at Thali in 1801 However, the chieftain, who wanted to avenge the killing of Veerapandiya Kattaboomman, captured the chief envoy and hanged him to death. He also buried his body in Thali.

The oral piece of history, which was handed down through generations in the Kambalathu Naicker community at Thali, has been documented in the book Eththalappan Varalaru, authored by Rangasamy Gounder.

It is also evident from a stone inscription found at Devaraya Naicker farmland in Thali. The inscription reads that an Englishman by name ‘Angirai Kethi’ was buried on Thursday, April 23, 1801. Interestingly, the place, where he was hanged to death, is appropriately called by the people as ‘Thookku Marathottam’ (The farmland, where a tree used for hanging people, stands)    

Reminding Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi’s addressing an Englishman in one of his poems as ‘Paranki’ (White gourd), the inscription too calls him as ‘Angirai Kethi Paranki’. It also informs that he came from Tanjore and his age was 27 at the time of execution.
Though the person executed by the Kongu chieftain was his enemy, a line in the stone inscription describes his death and burial euphemistically as follows: 

The stone inscription at Angirei Kethi's grave

Thanjai Nagarathiliruntha
 Angirai Kethi Paranki
 irupathezhu vayathil
Dheiveekamaki Adingina Samaathu

(Angirai Kethi, a twenty seven year old Englishman from Tanjore ‘attained divinity’ and buried here)

Source: Eththalappa Naicker Thookilitta Aangileyanudaya Kalvettu – S. Ravi, archeologist and Epigraphist 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Shiva called ‘Amana’ Lingeshwara

At a time, when certain political movements raise a hue and cry against religious conversions in the country, it is a wonder they still maintain silence on the acts of their parental outfits in bringing even Gods of an alien faith into theirs. And one such 'converted' deity is ‘Amana'  Liingeshwarar’ whose shrine is located at Devanampalayam near Negamum in Pollachi.

Though the God is now worshiped as Lord Shiva, the prefix ‘Amana’ in its name not only connotes  the deity being nude, but questions whether Lord Shiva has ever been portrayed as a God wearing no clothes in any Shaivite literature.

On the other hand, the deities in the Digambara sect of Jainism were nude. Substantiating this, Soolaamani, a classical piece of Tamil literature, describes a Jain God as Aniyaathum Olithikalum Aaranangu Thirumurthy, which means the God, who possesses the natural, dazzling beauty despite being nude. Also, with the meaning of Digampara being ‘Sky-clad’ or ‘Naked’ the Jain ascetics, who belong to the Digambara sect of Jainism, shun all their properties and wear no clothes.

The Amanalingeshwarar Temple, which is located atop a rock in the middle of a dried up river at Devanampalayam, must be a Jain shrine over 700 years ago and could have been converted into a Shaivite shrine sometime during the rule of the later Cholas in the Kongu region. Moreover, as the name of the Chola king Vikrama Chola III, who ruled the Kongu region between 1273 A.D and 1303 A.D, finds mention in some of the dilapidated stone inscriptions, one can assume that the shrine was consecrated after it witnessed the conversion from a Jain temple to a Shiva shrine.

Standing witness to the consecration of the temple in 1302 A.D, an inscription reads that a Vellalan (Agriculturist) had donated a Thirunilaikaal (The chief pillar supporting the temple tower) for the shrine. Besides, an inscription starting with the word Thirukatraliyil… meaning ‘In the temple built of stone’ throws light on the history of the shrine’s development from a brick-built temple to a stone-built one.

Moreover, the inscription has also recorded the names of several people like Cholan Devan, Ekkan Kovanana Neethibalan, Devan Kesuvan, Devan Bemmaan,Santhanana Kothupichi Cholan and Kovan Poovan as the ones who made several gifts to the temple. With the mention of these people hailing from a village called Kuruneeli, the inscription proves a close relationship between the village and the shrine.

But, when you look for the village Kuruneeli near Devanampalayam, you can come across one by its name now corrupted to ‘Kurunallipalayam’. Also, in the research on the etymology of the village’s old name Kuruneeli, a definite answer is yet to be arrived,  since Neeli has different meanings as ‘Mother’  ‘Durga’ and ‘Parvathy’. What’s more, Neeli also means ‘A demoness ’ ! 

Sources: 1) Kongunadum Samanamum - Kovai Kizhar
                2) Devanampalayam Amanalingeshwarar Koyil – Epigraphist .D. Sundaram 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Friday, 10 October 2014

A Shepherd’s Discovery of ‘Rajakesari Peruvazhi’

With an ancient highway running from ‘Ulku Idam’, the place where taxes being collected, ( Ukkadam)  to Walayar through a deep forest, kings, queens, soldiers and merchants from various places in India and abroad must have journeyed through it on chariots, horses and mules to reach the west coast. Since robbery was also rampant those days, the traders had to hide their valuables at certain spots on the highway and communicated their whereabouts among themselves in riddles, which could be understood only to them.  

And a folksong related to such riddles, is still narrated by the peoplof Ettimadai, a village near the ancient highway Rajakesari Peruvazhi.

Aaalaa Marathula Ambu, Velaamarathula Villu, Angundu Panam, Ingille, Ingundu Panam, Angille (Roughly translated – The arrow is in the banyan tree, the bow is in the babul tree. The money is there, but not here, the money is here but not there)”

“Though the meaning of the song cannot be interpreted exactly, it is still recited by some elders of our village to say how the merchants confused the highway robbers and prevented them from stealing their valuables” informs Anbarasu, a shepherd-turned- businessman at Ettimadai.

Pointing at the three hills Sorimalai, Thimilmalai and Attamalai in Ettimadai, Anbarasu says:

“Look, you can have a clear view of Rajakesari Peruvazhi between those mountains”

Interacting with K.R. Babu, a poet and historian of Coimbatore at Rajakesari Peruvazhi on Friday, Anbarasu informed:

“I have been to the forests of Ettimadai ever since I was a boy, as I used to take my goats for grazing on the hills. Though  elders in our family would say that there existed an ancient highway, I came to know its name as ‘Rajakesari Peruvazhi’ only after I read an article in 2002 by eminent archeologist late Karunanandham in Kalaikathir, an exclusive magazine for science in Tamil”

Anbarasu used to read books while grazing goats near the highway. But, it was a coincidence that he discovered the highway’s name as ‘Rajakesari Peruvazhi’ while reading the magazine at the same Rajakesari Peruvazhi!

“If you go deep into the forest and reach the spot Thekkanthittu between Thimilmalai and Attamalai, you can come across the highway’s name inscribed on a large rock in Vattezhuththu. You can also notice a Venba (A conventional Tamil poem) inscribed on the rock in praise of the Chola king, who strengthened the highway. The inscription, which dates back to 10th century A.D, is still safe, as it is far away from human reach” adds Anbarasu.

Pointing at the ancient highway, which runs between the long stretches of cacti along its sides, poet K.R.Babu averred:

“It is pleasant to imagine the chariot travels of kings and queens through Rajakesari Peruvazhi over 1000 years. It brings to mind the scenes from historical novels by celebrated Tamil writers like Kalki and Sandilyan”

Link to my article in The New Indian Express :

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Dilapidated Shrine of the ‘Kongu’ Shiva

Sensing the human entry, a bat flaps its wings and escapes through a hole on the damaged roof of the dilapidated sanctum sanctorum of the Kongavidangeeswarar temple. The ancient shrine, which is in a sorry state of dereliction, is located at Kadathur, a village on the banks of river Amarawathy in Udumalpet sandwiching the districts of Tirupur and Dindigul in the Kongu region

The deity in the temple is called with the region’s name as ‘Konga’Vidangeeswarar. However, the villagers simply call the shrine as ‘Konganeeswarar Koyil’.
Though the temple is alive today only in its remnants like the Arthamandapa ( The entrance hall) and Garba Graha ( Sanctum sanctorum) after losing its other architectural grandeurs like Thiruchuttru (  Temple enclosure) and  Sannathis ( Apertures on the temple enclosure with little idols of other deities), a few inscriptions on the temple’s wall throw light on its glorious past.

Deciphering a stone inscription at the Shiva temple, one can assume that the shrine could have been built over 800 years ago, as it mentions the name of the Kongu Chola King Veera Rajendran, who ruled the northern and southern parts of the Kongu region between the years 1207 and 1256 A.D.

The stone inscriptions behind the temple wall

One of the ten stone inscriptions now available on the temple’s wall, mentions that two royal officials from Keeranur donated some lands at Kadathur to the Vageeswaramudayaar Temple in Dharapuram. The inscription also notes that the Kongavidangeeswarar Temple is located at Kadathur of the Karaivali Naadu, a division of the ancient Kongu region.

Another inscription has recorded that a man donated two coins (Kaasu Irandu Achchu) to meet the expenses of burning the Sandhya Dheepam (Lamp lit during the pooja hours) at the shrine and they were deposited in the Bandaram (Temple’s treasury). The inscription also adds that the coins were spent to buy a piece of cultivable land from the nearby village Kaaraithozhu and the income obtained from the land’s agricultural produce was used for burning the Sandhya Dheepam.

Moreover, throwing light on the  practice of providing Kaanikkai (Voluntary offering of money, gold etc) and seeking the deity’s help in overcoming  troubles in life even before 700 years, another inscription discloses that Anuthiru Pallavarayan, an officer under the Kongu Chola King Veera Rajendran, donated a piece of land at Kannaadi Puthur to the temple. Interestingly, his gift to the God was to help his king get rid of the Grahadhosham (A suffering from the malignant influence of planets).

Pointing at the dilapidated structure of the Kongavidangeeswarar Temple, Dhasappan, a 72 year old agriculturist in Kadathur, says:

“My grandfather told me that Kadathur had once witnessed a mild earthquake in his ancestors’ time. It is said that the villagers rushed to the temple, poured loads of soil alongside the bottom of its walls and prevented the sanctum sanctorum from falling”

The agriculturist also informs that large pieces of inscribed stones from the temple’s debris were later used in the construction work of a well, which is still seen adjacent to the shrine.

Source: Kongavidangeeswarar Kovil – Epigraphist D.Sundaram

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Inscribing Thirukural for Eternity

Kumaragurupara Swamigal and Pulavar Se.Rasu - Picture : Shankar Narayan

The Kongu region, which is known for its copious contribution to classical Tamil literature, will have another feather on its cap, if a literary organization’s proposal of inscribing all the 1330 couplets of Thirukural on a hill at Malayappalayam in the Erode district, becomes a reality.    

The Chennai-based organization Kural Malai Sangam, which mooted the project a few years ago, submitted its proposal to the government of Tamil Nadu in 2009.

“Though our proposal was rejected in the beginning, it was accepted later and a survey has been conducted by Erode District Collector V.K..Shanmugam in this regard “said Ravikumar, founder president of Kural Malai Sangam.

Following the government’s acceptance, the organization conducted a symposium in association with Hindusthan College of Arts and Science on Sunday evening to emphasize the need of getting the Thirukural couplets inscribed on the hill.  

As part of the programmme, a book ‘Kalvettil Thirukural’ was released. The book, which speaks on the importance of inscribing the couplets on the hill, contains articles by various erudite Tamil scholars like E. Sundaramurthy, former Vice-chancellor, Tamil University, Thanjavur, Thavathiru Kumaragurupara Swamigal, Pontiff of Gowmara Madalayam, poets Sirpi Balasubramaniam and Eraniyan.

Eminent archeologist Poongundran writes in the book ‘Kalvettil Thirukural’ thus:

“Though Thirukural is a work in Tamil, it propagates the morals to the mankind in common. And documenting its couplets on the hill is historic” 

Quoting a line from Tamil poetess Avvayar’s popular work Moothurai in his address, Pulavar Se.Rasu, former head, Department of Archeology and Epigraphy, Tamil University, Thanjavur, said:

“By reading the line Nallaar Oruvarkku Seyyum Ubakaaram Kalmel Ezhuththupol Kaanume… we can understand that the gratitude of good people, who received the help, is as immortal as letters inscribed on the stone”

Informing that several stone inscriptions found on the mountains have withstood the passage of time, Rasu pointed out that inscribing the couplets of Thirukural on stone will make the greatest Tamil work imperishable in the world.

Citing the discovery of an ancient stone inscription containing musical notations on a hill at Arachalur near Erode, noted Tamil scholar and junior pontiff of Perur Mutt, Maruthalasa Adigalar said:

“The Arachalur stone inscription stands witness to the erudition of ancient Tamils in music. Similarly, the posterity will wonder at the philosophy-rich couplets of Thirukural, if they are inscribed on the hill”

K. Ramasamy, Vice-chancellor, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, pointed out:

“Inscribing Thirukural couplets on the hill will make the greatest Tamil work eternal on earth. And Tamils, cutting across their castes and religions, should join hands in the great task”  

Saraswathy Kannayan, Correspondent Hindusthan College of Arts and Science, welcomed the gathering. V.G.Santhosham, President, V.G.P. Ulaka Thamizh Sangam, Nalla.G. Palanisamy, Chairman, Kovai Medical Centreand.Hospital and President of Thamizh Panpaattu Mayyam, Chief Educational Officer A. Gnana Gowri, Tamil scholar Pulavar Nanjappan, poet Kavidasan, Tamil enthusiasts Mathivanan and ‘Kural selvi ‘ Mangayarkarasi spoke in the meeting. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: