Tamil-Brahmi script found at Pattanam in Kerala   1 comment

T.S.Subramanian in The Hindu reports:

A Tamil-Brahmi script on a pot rim, reading “a ma na”, meaning a Jaina, has been found at Pattanam in Ernakulam district, Kerala, establishing that Jainism was prevalent on the west coast at least from second century CE (Common Era). The script can be dated to circa second century CE. The three Tamil-Brahmi letters are followed by two symbols generally called Megalithic graffiti and these two symbols could not be identified. This is the third Tamil-Brahmi script to be found in the Pattanam excavations.

The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) has been conducting excavations at Pattanam since 2007, with the approval of the Archaeological Survey of India. The pot-rim was found during the sixth season of the excavation currently under way. Pattanam is now identified as the thriving port called Muziris by the Romans. Tamil Sangam literature celebrates it as Muciri.

P.J. Cherian, Director of the Pattanam excavations, said: “The discovery, in the Kerala context, has a great significance because of the dearth of evidence so far of the pre-Brahminical past of Kerala, especially in relation to the socio-cultural and religious life of the people. We have direct evidence from Pattanam now with the Brahmi script which mentions “a ma na” [Jaina] and so we have evidence that Jainism and Buddhism were extensively practised in Kerala.”

Iravatham Mahadevan, a scholar in Indus and Tamil-Brahmi scripts, said the discovery showed that “there was Jainism on the west coast at least from second century CE. The importance of the finding is that it stratigraphically corroborates the earlier datings given to the Tamil-Brahmi cave inscriptions in Tamil Nadu on palaeographic evidence. I will date this sherd, on palaeographic evidence, to circa second century CE.”

The Tamil word “a ma na” meaning a Jaina was derived from Sanskrit Sramana via Prakrit Samana and Tamil Camana, said Mr. Mahadevan. The two megalithic graffiti, following the three Tamil-Brahmi letters, could not be identified. “But we know from similar finds in Tamil Nadu, especially at Kodumanal, that Tamil-Brahmi letters and megalithic graffiti symbols occur side by side,” he said. Mr. Mahadevan was sure that “many more exciting finds will be made at Muciri [Pattanam] which was a flourishing port on the west coast during the Sangam age in Tamil Nadu, which coincided with the classical period in the West.”

Mr. Cherian, who is also Director of KCHR, said the discovery “excites me as an excavator because it was for the first time we are getting direct evidence relating to a religious system or faith in Kerala.” The pot might have belonged to a Jaina monk. The broken rim with the script was found at a depth of two metres in trench 29 in the early historical layer which “by our stratigraphic understanding could belong to third-second CE period,” he said. The associated finds included amphora sherds, iron nails, and beads among others.

In a trial trench laid earlier at Pattanam by Professor V. Selvakumar, Assistant Professor, Department of Archaeology and Epigraphy, Tamil University, Thanjavur and K.P. Shajan of KCHR, a pot-sherd with the Tamil-Brahmi letters reading “ur pa ve o” was found. Later, another Tamil-Brahmi script with the letters “ca ta [n]” was found.

Mr. Mahadevan praised the Pattanam excavations as “the best conducted excavations in south India.” He said it was “a potentially important site and excavations are being done in a competent way by Mr. Cherian and his team from the KCHR and they have involved experts from around the world.”

Posted September 2, 2011 by GRS in Brahmi, Inscriptions

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Ancient temple gets a facelift   Leave a comment

T. S. Subramanian reports in The Hindu:

 It is a puzzle – how this temple at Kalakkad in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, with its wealth of inscriptions, sculptures, murals, music pillars and a towering rajagopuram with about 1,500 stucco figures has never come under the spotlight. It has a big granary too.

While granary bins made of wood are found in temples and palaces in this part of southern Tamil Nadu, the one at Kalakkad temple is a masonry granary. The temple has features that go back to the Chola period and so could be more than 800 years old.

Preparations are under way for the kumbabishekam of Sri Satya Vageeswarar temple on July 14 at Kalakkad, Nanguneri Taluk, Tirunelveli.

Stucco figures

A highlight of the kumbabishekam is the renovation of the temple’s 135 ft tall, nine-tiered rajagopuram which teems with 1,500 stucco figures. They were made of ‘sudhai’ (lime mortar) which were broken over a period of time. “We used the original material used in making these stucco figures, for making them again. We never used cement. For painting them, we used natural pigments. We never used synthetic paint,” said K.R. Chandrasekaran, treasurer, Kalakkad Bhaktar Peravai, which is spearheading the temple’s renovation. “On July 14, the kumbabishekam will be performed between 8.35 and 9.35 a.m.,” he said.

On the inner walls of the rajagopuram’s nine storeys there are about 200 beautiful murals, portraying scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharatha, Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam (Siva Leelas), Siva’s marriage to Parvati, episodes from the lives of the Tamil Nadu’s Saivite saints, Siva as Bhikshatana, Rati and Manmatha, Krishna Leelas, the wedding of Saivite saint, Sundarar and so on. The wooden floors and pillars of the nine floors have been repaired and painted anew.

S. Balusami, associate professor of Tamil, Madras Christian College, Tambaram, Chennai, said an inscription in the temple of Parakrama Pandyan, issued in his sixth regnal year i.e., in 1548, spoke about ‘Vanavan Naattu… Kalakkad alias Chola Kula Vallipuram.’ Other inscriptions in the temple also called the village ‘Kalakkad alias Chola Kula Vallipuram.’

The sculptures in the temple belonged to circa 16th century CE and they included those of Boothala Veera Udaya Marthanda Varman, a king of Travancore or Venadu.

Dr. Balusami said: “Boothala Veeran was an important king of Venadu or Tiruvadi. He built a palace at Kalakkad, named it ‘pudhu veedu’ (New House) and lived there for a long time. The front mantapam in the temple, with pillars that emit music when tapped, was built by him.” He was also called Puli Marthanda Varman.

“The Boothala Veeran’s sculpture is splendid. He has a sword and is surrounded by warriors. Two other remarkable sculptures are that of Bheema and Purusha Mrigam,” Dr. Balusami said.

There are sculptures of two steadfast friends, Cheraman Peruman Nayanar and Sundarar, the Tamil Saivite saint, in the temple. While there is a small sculpture of a horse at the base of that of Cheraman Peruman, there is a sculpture of an elephant on the pedestal of Sundarar’s portrait.

(According to legend, Cheraman Peruman and Sundarar, reached Kailash, the abode of Siva, on a horse and an elephant respectively. There is a Chola mural masterpiece in the Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur, depicting their journey to Kailash).

The temple has a big masonry granary which is normally found in Cholamandalam. “The bin could have been used to store paddy during times of drought or when the temple was used as a fortress to fight battles,” said Chandrasekaran.

Dr. Balusami, who has a Ph.D. for his research on the murals belonging to the Nayak period in 14 temples in Tamil Nadu, estimated that the murals in the Satya Vageeswarar temple could have been painted during the late 17th century or 18th century CE. “They have a lot of local/regional style,” he said.

In the description of T. Satyamurthy, former superintending archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, the murals are “an amazing art gallery of puranic themes.” The REACH Foundation, of which Dr. Satyamurthy is one of the founders, plans to restore these murals which have been vandalised.


Posted September 2, 2011 by GRS in Temples

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Expert nails false propaganda on Muziris   Leave a comment

Express Buzz

The effort made by some interested quarters to link the Muziris excavations with the visit of St Thomas Apostle has been criticised by eminent archaeologist and former director of the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Survey of India, R Nagaswamy.

“When looking at the literature on the life of St Thomas, it is not mentioned anywhere that he came to India. It is only a myth, which has now been connected with the excavations at Pattanam, near Kodungalloor,” the former visiting professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University told Express.

In fact, the ancient Muzirs port must have been located in Kodungalloor and not in Pattanam because all major ports in ancient times were situated at river mouths. And so it is safe to assume that Muziris was at Kodungalloor, where the river joins the sea.

He felt there was a hidden agenda by certain sections to propagate the idea that Muziris was connected to Pattanam, where St Thomas is believed to have landed, and not with Kodungalloor.

Myth cannot be called history. Connecting myth with history could only create confusion and distort history, he said. “There is no substantial evidence to say that Pattanam is connected with Muziris. How was this conclusion reached? Those who claim to have found materials to connect Pattanam with Muziris have forgotten that these materials were also found in the eastern and the western costs of the country,” said Nagaswamy.

Posted September 2, 2011 by GRS in Uncategorized

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ASI embarks on documentation of rock-cut temples   Leave a comment

Source: Times of India

TIRUCHI: The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has embarked on an exhaustive documentation of the rock-cut temples in Tamil Nadu for the first time which has helped uncover a treasure trove of ancient inscriptions and frescos.

D Dayalan, superintending archaeologist, Temple Survey Project, ASI, said while the documentation of 80 of the 110 rock-cut temples has been completed, the remaining would be over by March-end next year and submitted to the ASI. “The documentation of these temples, discovered during various periods, would help future researchers and heritage enthusiasts as well as the public to learn about the temples,” he said.

The documentation involves GPS (global positioning system) mapping and drawings of all the structures in these temples with detailed measurements. “Each structure, including the pillars, icons and drawings have been extensively studied for the documentation. Five to six drawings with minute details of the features in the structures have been made. Besides, we have also photographed these structures,” Dayalan said.

Though there are various accounts of the rock-cut temples, this would be an authoritative one to be published by the ASI. Almost all the 110 rock-cut temples in the state belong to the period ranging from sixth to ninth century BC. Apart from the fact that excavating a rock-cut temple is a laborious task, there were other “political” reasons too for such temples not being built subsequently. “After the ninth century, the Cholas gained supremacy in the region. Since they established their capital in Thanjavur, which was flat terrain, there are more structural temples built here,” he said.

Pudukottai tops the list of regions in Tamil Nadu with most number of rock-cut temples with about 40 such structures, a fact easily attributed to the rocky terrain here, followed by the Madurai region. The ASI has also recorded historical, geographical, archaeological and environmental information of each of the temples. Inscriptional data of these temples have also been recorded.

During the course of the documentation work, the ASI team also stumbled upon new inscriptions, paintings and hero stones unrecorded so far. “As many as 25 new inscriptions were discovered during the course of the documentation exercise. Fresco paintings were found in a temple in Thiruvellarai near Tiruchi,” he said.

Posted October 19, 2010 by GRS in Temples

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Legal Document in Stone   Leave a comment

Suganti Krishnamachari writes in The Hindu….

Many ancient dance traditions are still followed by Kerala, according to Dr. Nagaswamy.

Dancers Somanaadi, Kallarai, Echumandai, Aravam, Eduthapadam, Porkesi (the golden haired one!) were given houses to live in, in addition to arable land. Not that they deserved less, for they were well-versed in music and dance. Yes, their names are unusual, but that is not to be wondered at, for they lived a thousand years ago. These are the names of some of the 407 dancers appointed by Raja Raja in the Big Temple.

While all the dancers were guaranteed security of tenure, the emphasis was always on their competence. If a dancer died, and the next in line from her family was not competent, a suitable replacement would be found, either by the descendant or by a group of qualified persons. These and other details were presented by Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director, Department of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu, in a lecture on ‘Rajaraja’s Inscriptional Document on his Endowment for 400 Dancers at the Thanjavur Temple,’ organised by the Bharatamuni Foundation for Asian culture, recently.

According to Makuta Agama, Siva the Dancer is the Supreme Form of Siva. The pattern of the Big Temple clearly suggests the influence of Makuta Agama, according to Dr. Nagaswamy. The Sri Vimanam is a representation of the mythical Mount Meru.

That dancers were held in high esteem even in the Vedic times is evident from the fact that Apsaras were considered guardians of the directions. The art of dance is also spoken of in Tholkaapiyam and Silappadikaaram.

The education of a king was not considered complete without a reading of the texts on music and dance. And both court and temple dancers were initiated into the art by the king himself. The Pallava king Mahendra Varma even wrote a dance drama, “Matta Vilasa Prahasana,” the only one of its kind to have been enacted for more than 1,000 years.

In the very first verse, MahendraVarma talks about angika, vachika, aharika and sattvika, terms every dancer is familiar with. The Chakkiyars of Kerala, even in recent times, spend seven days, on this one verse. Dr. Nagaswamy said that it is in Kerala that many unbroken traditions survive, and to understand Raja Raja’s inscriptions on music and dance, it would help if one were familiar with the traditions of that State.

The dancers of the Big Temple were referred to as Thalicheripendugal and came from temples in many villages. Some places such as Tiruvarur and Tiruvaiyaru sent many dancers to the Big Temple. Pandanallur sent only one.

A long inscription in the Big Temple gives the names of the 407 dancers, the villages they came from, the street in which they lived in Thanjavur and the door numbers of the houses allotted to them. Natya acharyas, udukkai players, veena players, those who sang Sanskrit compositions, those who sang Tamil compositions, madhalam players, conch players and gandharvas, a chief accountant to manage financial matters, assistants to the accountant, launderers, tailors, those with skill in fixing gems to garments, Chakkiyars and a Superintendent to oversee everything were also appointed, and their remuneration was also specified in inscriptions.

While not all karanas have been sculpturally represented in the Big Temple, panels have been provided for the unrepresented ones too, indicating Raja Raja’s desire to complete the project. The frescoes in the Sandhara passage also affirm Raja Raja’s fondness for dance. In one painting, we see Sundarar being welcomed by celestials singing and dancing. In another painting Sundarar, Cheraman Perumal Nayanar, and Lord Siva are seen watching a dance performance.

A Cambodian king is said to have appointed 1,000 dancers in a temple, but no king other than Raja Raja so meticulously recorded every provision he had made for artistes, concluded Dr. Nagaswamy.

The weights and measures used by Raja Raja also had the names of Lord Nataraja, like Aadavallaan and Dakshina Meru Vidangar.

Sculptural representations of the karanas that came after the time of Raja Raja show the influence of Abhinava Gupta’s commentary on Bharata’s Natya Sastra. The trend is evident in the Sarangapani Perumal temple sculptures (12{+t}{+h} century CE). In the Chidambaram temple, the influence is complete.

In the Kumbakonam Sarangapani temple, each karana is labeled. In the Chidambaram temple sculptures (13{+t}{+h} century CE), the verse of each karana as given by Bharata is also inscribed in grantha and Sanskrit.

The Kamikagama followed widely in Tamil Nadu specifies that dance as codified by Bharata should be danced in temples, and also prescribes the duration of the dances for different times of the day.

A rock inscription (3rd century CE) in Brahmi, in Arachalur, a village near Karur, has two jatis composed by one Vannakkan Devan Chattan. Here syllables prescribed in the Natya Sastra are used.

Posted September 25, 2010 by GRS in Inscriptions, Temples

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A King’s Passion   Leave a comment

Written in stone – Big Temple’s inscriptions reveal a King’s passion
T.S. Subramanian

Running to 107 paragraphs, the calligraphed inscription describes Raja Raja Chola, seated in the royal bathing hall, giving orders for the inscription at the base of the vimana.

With the 1000th anniversary celebrations of the building of the Raja Rajesvaram temple under way in Thanjavur, there is an air of festivity in the town.

Built by Raja Raja Chola (who ruled from 985 -1014 Common Era), the Big Temple is not only a magnificent edifice with its majestic vimana, sculptures, architecture and frescoes, but also has a wealth and richness of Tamil inscriptions engraved on stone in superb calligraphy.

“This is the only temple in the whole of India,” says R. Nagaswamy, former Director, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, “wherein the builder himself has left behind a very large number of inscriptions on the temple’s construction, its various parts, the daily rituals to be performed for the Linga, the details of the offerings such as jewellery, flowers and textiles, the special worship to be performed, the particular days on which they should be performed, the monthly and annual festivals, and so on.”

Raja Raja Chola even appointed an astronomer called ‘Perunkani’ for announcing the dates, based on the planetary movements, for celebrating the temple’s festivals.

Again, this is the only temple in India where the King specifically mentions in an inscription that he built this all-stone temple called ‘kattrali’ (‘kal’ meaning stone and ‘tali’ a temple). This magnum opus, running to 107 paragraphs, describes, among others, how Raja Raja Chola, seated in the royal bathing hall on the eastern side of his palace, instructed how his order should be inscribed on the base of the vimana, how he executed the temple’s plan, the list of gifts he, his sister Kundavai, his queens and others gave to the temple.

The inscriptions provide a list of 66 beautiful bronze idols Raja Raja Chola, Kundavai, his queens and others gifted to the temple. The inscriptions elaborate on the enormous gold jewellery, inlaid with precious stones such as diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, corals, pearls, for decorating each of these bronzes. Interestingly, the measurements of all these bronzes — from crown to toe, the number of arms they had and the symbols they held in their arms — are inscribed. Today, only two of these bronzes remain in the temple — that of a dancing Siva and his consort Sivakami. All the jewellery has disappeared.

Dr. Nagaswamy, who recently authored a book, Brhadisvara Temple, Form and Meaning, said highly specialised gemmologists classified the gems according to their quality and weight. Even the lacquer used inside the beads and the thread employed for stringing them together were recorded. There were references to white pearls, red pearls, chipped ones, those with red lines or skin peeled off.

Raja Raja Chola gifted gold vessels to the temple, and their weight, shape and casting were mentioned in the lithic records. Even a small spoon, ‘nei muttai,’ for scooping out ghee, finds a mention. The inscriptions throw light on the temple’s revenue from various sources, the mode of payment and the meticulous accounting procedures. “It shows the care and attention with which the temple property was entered in the registers and the responsibility fixed for handling them. Raja Raja Chola had an extraordinary administrative talent, unsurpassed either before or after him,” Dr. Nagaswamy said.

The inscriptions even speak about the temple’s cleaners, sweepers, carriers of flags and parasols, torch-bearers for processions at night and festivals, cooks, dancers, musicians and singers of Tamil and Sanskrit verses.

Posted September 25, 2010 by GRS in Inscriptions, Temples

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Tamil varsity inks pact with ASI   Leave a comment

Tamil varsity inks pact with ASI
Tamil University here has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Epigraphy Branch of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at Mysore for digitising more than a lakh estempages (copies of inscriptions) in all languages.

It was signed by M. Rajendran, Vice-Chancellor, and Ravishankar, Director (in-charge) of the Epigraphy Branch, Mysore, in the presence of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi at Tiruchi on Wednesday. Mr. Rajendran said the Chief Minister had sanctioned Rs.24 lakh to the university for the work.

The Epigraphy Branch has estempages of inscriptions collected from 1887. Those collected till 1908 have been published.

The Tamil University has taken steps to digitise the ones collected after 1909.

Out of the more than one lakh estempages, 65,000 are in Tamil and throw light on the history and culture of Tamil Nadu.

All the estempages with the branch would be digitised now.

“Sometimes, original inscriptions might have been lost in the course of time. But, estempages taken from them help us in knowing about them,” Mr. Rajendran said. Estempages are treasure troves and digitising them will help researchers.

“We thank the ASI for coming forward to use the estempages with it for digitising and also the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister for approving the project. The Chief Minister has evinced much interest in the project,” Mr. Rajendran said.

Posted September 9, 2010 by GRS in Inscriptions

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