Stories in stone

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

This bas-relief at Kazhugumalai has three rows of Jaina Tirthankaras seated on lotus pedestals
WE were completely unprepared for what awaited us as A. Gangadurai, the caretaker, opened the locks of the single gate near a barbed wire fence and led us down a flight of narrow steps hewn out of a hill at Kazhugumalai. On the rock surface, frozen in time, was a superbly sculpted Jaina Tirthankara seated in the ardhapariyankasana pose on a lion pedestal, with a triple umbrella above his head. Around the enlightened one were celestial maidens, dancing inside coils of creepers or playing the flute or a percussion instrument. Their merry abandon signified the occasion of his attaining kevalagnana, or enlightenment. On either side was a chowrie (flywhisk)-bearer. Below them, two devotees stood with flowers in their hands.

At an Ayyanar temple, hidden inside the sanctum sanctorum, are these sculptures of Tirthankaras seated in ardhapariyankasana. The temple, which came up about 100 years ago, obscures some of the bas-reliefs.

R. Champakalakshmi, former Professor of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, in her essay titled “From natural caverns to rock-cut and structural temples: the changing context of Jain religious tradition in Tamil Nadu”, calls the three rows of Tirthankaras “a unique group of the 24 of three kalas, or ages, i.e., Trikala Caturvimsati Tirthankaras….” The essay has been published in Airavati, a felicitation volume brought out by in honour of the epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan in August 2008.
A few hundred metres from the rock surface is Vettuvan Kovil, a monolithic temple hewn out of a hill. The late C. Sivaramamurti, who was the Director of the National Museum in New Delhi, in his book Kalugumalai and Early Pandyan Rock-cut Shrines, describes it as “by far the most beautiful rock-cut temple of the Pandya period… a half-finished free-standing monolith which recalls the famous temple of Siva at Ellora”. The Jaina sites at Kazhugumalai and Vettuvan Kovil are under the State Department of Archaeology.
Apart from Vedachalam’s articles in the Kalvettu magazine published by the State Department of Archaeology, Kazhugumalai finds considerable mention in the work of scholars such as Champakalakshmi, A. Ekambaranathan (Professor, Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras, and author of a book in Tamil on Kazhugumalai) and S.M. Ganapathi (retired Curator, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology and author of a book in Tamil titled Kazhugumalai, Vettuvan Kovil).

In this long frieze on the vimana of Vettuvan Kovil ganas can be seen dancing and playing musical instruments.

He pleaded helplessness and suggested that she go back to her husband. Scared of her husband’s wrath, Ambika, committed suicide. She reached heaven and became an attendant, that is, a yakshi, of Tirthankara Neminatha. But Ambika was unable to forget her past and Indra granted her a boon that she could return to earth and live with her husband while at the same time being a yakshi. Back home, her husband demanded that she show him her “golden appearance” to prove she was a yakshi. When Ambika revealed her true self, the husband was taken aback by the dazzling halo. That is why his hand, in the sculpture, is raised and the face, with the glare, perhaps, is not deliberately sculpted.
“There are sculptures of the yakshi Ambika at Sitharal [near Nagercoil], Anai Malai and Samana Malai [both near Madurai] and Tirumalai. But this one at Kazhugumalai is the masterpiece,” said Vedachalam. Another masterpiece is the sculpture of Bahubali (Gomatesvara) standing in meditation in a forest, with creepers entwining his legs, and his sisters Brahmi and Sundari telling him to shed his ego. Bahubali was one of the two sons of the first Tirthankara, Adinatha. (Bahubali himself is not a Tirthankara.)

THE VIMANA OF Vettuvan Kovil shows Dakshinamurti playing the mridangam. He is generally shown playing the veena.

There are 102 inscriptions at Kazhugumalai said Arun Raj. Of them, 100 relate to Jainism and the remaining, Saivism. The Jaina inscriptions mainly talk about the Tirthankaras and the donors who paid for sculpting their bas-reliefs. The donors included local merchants, carpenters, teachers, students, and so on.
The bas-reliefs were made in memory of dead relatives, too. The vatteluttu inscriptions mention the name of the Pandya king Maran Sadayan, who donated 17 bas-reliefs. The inscriptions also talk about the Pandya kings Parantaka Nedunchezhiyan (A.D. 765 -A.D. 815), and Parantaka Veera Narayanan of the 9th century.
The inscriptions, according to Vedachalam, provide another interesting piece of information: to protect the hill and its sculptures, there were two groups of warriors called “Tirumalai Veerar” and “Parantaka Veerar”.

An illegal wall that has come up at Kazhugumalai obscures intricate bas-reliefs.

It is not true that Jainism was rooted out of Tamil Nadu after the 7th century A.D. A good example of the revival of Jainism in the Tamil country after the 8th century is Kazhugumalai,” said Vedachalam.
Arun Raj said important Jaina sites in the southern districts were Tiruparankunram, Anai Malai, Azhagar Malai, Mankulam, Arittapatti, Kizhavalavu, Vikramangalam, Mettupatti, Muthupatti, Kongarpuliyankulam and Karuvalangudi. Jainism also flourished at Sitthannavasal in Pudukottai district. In northern Tamil Nadu, there were Jaina sites at Tirunarungkondai, Tirunatharkunru, Mel Kudalur, Mel Sithamur, Jambai, Tirumalai, Thondur, Paraiyan Pattu and Thalavanur.


Anonymous said...

i loved this post !!! carved, painted or sculpted things always interest me :)

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