Saturday, 11 February 2017

Sharing People's Discovery of Kovai's Ancient Highway

History enthusiasts Perur Jayaraman and Anbarasu share their views on the Rajakesari Peruvazhi inscription: Picture by L.Anantharaman

For the illiterate villagers living on the forest fringes, a strange four-lined note inscribed on a slab of rock inside the woods must have been an enigma. And one such inscription is still seen inside the Madukarai forest. Though eminent epigraphists later deciphered the inscription, people had viewed it from a different perspective earlier.

The inscription found in the Madukarai forest 
The venba, a four-lined Tamil poem inscribed on the rock praises a Chola king for his relaying an ancient highway and trade route called 'Rajakesari Peruvazhi' which had connected the east and west seashores before the Christian era. The poem, inscribed in the old Tamil vattezhuthu ( rounded alphabet), praises the king for his deployment of a 'shadow army' in the highway to protect the traveling traders from the attack of robbers. But now, one can hardly believe the location of the inscription is the disused Rajakesari Peruvazhi, for it is now a haunt of wild elephants.

Archeologist Poongundran's imprint of the inscription in 1976
Though elders in our village hardly knew to mention it as 'kalvettu', a technical Tamil term for stone inscription, they simply called it 'ezhuthu parai' ( Letter rock) “ says Anbarasu, a native of Ettimadai, a forest fringe on Tamil Nadu – Kerala borders in Coimbatore.

Anbarasu, who was once a shepherd, used to read magazines as his cows and goats grazed in the woods. As usual on a day, he was busy reading a book about the disused ancient highway Rajakesari Peruvazhi. Interestingly, the Rajakesari Peruvazhi was nothing other than the spot where Anbarasu was reading the book!

Epigraphist D.Sundaram's rewriting of the old Tamil vattezhuthu inscription 
I was much elated to know that I was at the spot, which the book was telling me about ! “ he avers.

As heard from his ancestors, Anbarasu recalls another interesting incident on the inscription:
" As the epigraph was a mystery to the villagers, they believed that the ununderstandable writing in it contained the secret of a treasure, which was buried inside a nearby well. They had also been of the opinion that a 'Bootham' (a goblin) was keeping watch of the treasure. And one day, the people even got a yagna  performed by the local priests to appease the 'Bootham' and get his 'permission' to dig up the 'treasure !. The superstitious people did not know that the well was constructed by the king to quench the thirst of the traveling traders and their horses and bullocks " 

Recalling a different experience, 68 year-old Perur Jayaraman, a well- known source person for Coimbatore history, shares how he stumbled upon the stone inscription:

While I was a boy, I accompanied a s
ervant of our farmland to take lunch for a man that was absconding at K.G.Chavady, being accused of a crime. On our way from Perur to Chavady through the forest, we halted at a spot. There, a man met our servant and told him that his friend was sleeping on the 'ezhuthu parai'. And that was when, I heard the inscription being called so”

Having observed the four-lined inscription, a surprised Jayaraman told his parents that it was written in a 'ruled notebook', as a horizontal line ran engraved under each line in the epigraph!

Though Anbarasu and Perur Jayaraman hail from Ettimadai and Perur respectively and had little chance to meet each other, City Express brought the two together for a freewheeling chat on Rajakesari Peruvazhi. The history enthusiasts recalled how the stone inscription had an impact on the people living in the forest fringe.

However, R. Poongundran, former assistant director, Tamil Nadu Archeolgy Department, who deciphered the inscription in 1976 , says:

The epigraph mentions only a Chola king's title as 'Kokandan'. Even R. Nagasamy, the then director of Tamil Nadu Archeology department, opined that the title could refer to king Rajaraja. But, after long years, when I stumbled upon another stone inscription mentioning king Aditya Chola I as 'Kokandan', I confirmed that he was the one that relaid the Rajakesari Peruvazhi,which ran through Coimbatore for many centuries even before the Christian era” 

 Link to the feature in The NewIndian Express: