In recent years, a number of inscriptions of Jaina affiliation have been discovered all over Tamilnadu due to the assiduous efforts of Epigraphists and Archaeologists. Most of these discoveries have been published in journals like Avanam of the Archaeological Society of Tamilnadu and Kalvettu of the Tamilnadu Government Archaeology Department.
Besides, Some amateur Archaeologists have made brief notices of their discoveries in News papers. The present author, during the course of his field visits to various Jaina temples in Tamilnadu, had the opportunity of bringing to light more than a dozen of epigraphical records hither to unknown.
Among them, some are important as they throw interesting light on localization of myths and traditions centering around certain acharyas, attendant deities and temples. These traditions, at times, find literary corroboration also. Such inscriptions have been discovered from places like Karantai, Ponnur and Tirumalai. Their importance in the socio-religious context is discussed in the following pages.
Karantai is a small village situated 18 km. from Kanchipuram in Cheyyaru taluk, having a temple dedicated to Kunthunatha Tirthankara. The temple, dating back to the 9th century A.D.,
had undergone extensive repairs, renovations and additions many a time down the centuries and thereby, lost its original architectural
There are two low relief sculptures representing a Jaina monk, built into the eastern prakara wall. The first specimen carved out of a sandstone slab depicts the monk seated in dhyana posture and flanked by a book-stand, kamandala, bunch of peacock feathers and a pair of wooden sandals.
Being a sand stone carving, it could not withstand the onslaught time and therefore, started withering in due course. Hence, a replica of the same in granite was setup near the first obliterated figure, in about the 18th century A.D. At that time, in order to ensure their identity a label inscription reading “Srimat Akalankancharya” was inscribed below the latter sculpture.
Thus, Akalanka’s association with Karantai is revealed by the inscription as well as the sculptures.
Akalankancharya was a renowned Jaina monk of the Mulasangha at Sravanabelgola, who is said to have lived in the 9th century A.D. It is believed that he stayed at Karantai for some time during his itinerary to important Jaina centers of Tamilnadu.
It is known from the Mackenzie Manuscripts that at the instance of king Himasitala of Kanchipuram, Akalanka was invited to enter into a polemical debate with the Buddhist friars of Alividaitanki monastery near Kanchipuram. Initially, Akalanka could not succeed in his attempts to win over the Buddhists, as they are said to have adopted some unethical measures. At this juncture, Akalanka prayed to Ambika yakshi who had her abode in the Karantai temple for succor.
The goddess came to his rescue, exposed the foul means of his rivals and thereby, Akalanka could easily defeat the Buddhists and establish the superiority of Jainism.
1 This manuscriptal tradition is maganified with some additions in the 17th century collection of hymns, known as Kalyanavalttu} Although the above tradition seems to have been exaggerated in certain respect, Akalanka’s connection with Karantai cannot be rejected summarily, as local traditions are reminiscent of historical facts.
Ponnur, located 10 km. north-west of Vandavasi, has a 12th century temple dedicated to Adinatha, built on a low mount called Kanagamalai. The temple possesses a bronze image of Parsvantha, from whose prabhavali an inscription dated 1733 A.D. has been brought to light. It reads as follows:-
Svasti Sri Salivahana Sakaptam
1655-kku kaliaptam 4834 Chella ninra
Pramatisa varusham Vaikasi masam
17 thiyathi Ponnur Kangamalainathar
Koliukku Parsvanatharai Senagana
Virasenadevar sishyarahiya Ananta Señar
The inscription records that this icon of Parsvanatha was donated to the temple of Adinatha (Kangamalainathar) at Ponnur by the ascetic Anantasena of the Senagana and the disciple of Virasenadeva. The donation was made on the 17th of the Vaisakha month of Salivahana year 1655 and kali year 4834. These years correspond to 1733 A.D.
It may be added in this context that an already reported inscription from the same temple dated in the very same year, 1733 A.D., reveals that the inhabitants of Ponnur agreed to take out in procession the metal icons of Parsvanatha and Jvalamalini yakshi every Sunday from the temple to the nearby Nilagiri Parvata (Ponnur hill) at the time of the weekly worship of Helacharya.3
From this record and the newly discovered one, it is obvious that the Parsvanatha bronze image carried to the Ponnur hill in connection with the worship of Helacharya was the same icon donated by Ananthasenacharya. Evidently, for this purpose only the monk had donated the processional image. Virasenadeva of
the present inscription may be the same acharya who re¬established the Jinakanchimatha of Melchittamur.
According to the Kannada work Jvalamalinikalpa composed by Indranandi Yogindar in 939 A.D., Helacharya of the Dravida Sangha initiated the worship of Jvalamalini on the summits of Nilagiri Parvata near Hemagrama inorder to ward off the evil spirit of a brahma rakshasha which had afflicted the acharya’s lady disciple.
He prayed to the yakshi for seven days and finally on the eighth day, the disciple was relieved off from the evil.4 Nilagiriparvata and Hemagrama are identified with a hillock and the adjoining village in Mysore area.5
The above 10th century Kannada tradition was localized by the Tamil Jainas of Ponnur, when the worship of Jvalamalini and Helacharya got introduced in and around Ponnur in about the 18th century A.D.6 Infact, the newly found inscription adds credence to localization of the Jvalamalini-Helacharya Kannada tradition around Ponnur.
Tirumalai is a famous Jaina pilgrim centre about 20 km. from Polur in Tiruvannamalai district. It has a huge cave inhabited by Jaina mendicants during early medieval times. Subsequently, structural temples dedicated to Neminatha and Mahavira were built at the foot-hill and a shrine for Parsvanatha atop the hillock.
Behind the Parsvanatha shrine, an inscription in 18th-19th century characters is found on the open rock. It reads as follows:
“Sri Sailapura mennum Tirumalai Devasthanankalin Dharmakarttakkalaha Irunthavarhaludaiya Punitha namankal Choladesa cherala maharaja merpadi Paramparai Tagadamaharaja
Kunthavaiyum Chamundaiya Kulanthai Upadhyar merpadi Kumarar Bhupala Upadhyar ”
The above inscription mentions the names of the trustees of the Jaina temples at Srisailapuram alias Tirumalai. They are, Tagadamaharaja of the Chera lineage (ruling over parts of Choladesa), Kundavai, Chamundaya, Kulanthai Upadhyar and his son Bhupala Upadhyar. Among the above five names, the last two are names of actual trustees of the temples, while the remaining are not so.
It is interesting to note that this epigraph includes Queen Kundavai of the Chola family, Tagadamaharaja of the Chera lineage and one Chamundaiya as trustees of the temples at Tirumalai. Kundavai was the elder sister of King Rajaraja Chola I (985-1012 A.D).
who was instrumental in building the Neminatha temple which came to be known as Kuntavai Jinalaya.1 Tagadamaharaja of the Chera family was the Atiyaman Chieftain Vidukadalagiya Perumal, a vassal of the king Rajaraja III (1216- 1256 A.D.).
The same chieftain of Tagadurnadu (Dharmapuri area) repaired and renovated the stucco images of a yaksha and yakshi, set up previously inside the huge cave at Tirumalai.8
Chamundaiya of the inscription may be identified with Chamundappai, the wife of a merchant Nannapaiyan, who had donated some money for a perpetual lamp and for food offering to the Neminatha temple in year 1024 A.D.9
The lady donor’s name recorded in the earlier inscription is mistakenly considered to be that of a male, hence, changed into Chamundaiya in the newly discovered epigraph.
Apart from the inscriptions, there is a 16th century sculptured panel, planted at the foot-hill, representing a royal male figure flanked by chauri-bearing women attendants. The central figure is believed to be that of Tagadamaharaja, although there is no corroborative evidence to prove its identity.10
Taking into consideration of the sculptured panel (of Tagadamaharaja) and the names of Kundavai, Tagadamaharaja (Vidukadalagiya Perumal) and Chamundappai mentioned in the earlier inscriptions (11th and 13th century), a local tradition seems to have evolved in later times.
As its seqal, the above benefactors were considered as trustees of by-gone days. In view of this tradition, the actual trustee, Bhupala Upadhyar, recorded their names in the present inscription.
Some points of socio-religious significance emerge from the above recently discovered epigraphs. Akalankacharya’s visit to Karantai could have been a historic event.
His alledged encounter with the Buddhists reflects the sectarian attitude between the Jainas and Buddhists. But the role played by Ambika Yakshi of Karantai in the Akalanka-episode is a typical myth dovetailed in the 16th century, when a separate shrine for the goddess was built within the Kunthunatha temple complex.
This myth served as a catalyst to popularize the worship of Ambika Yakshi and gain a wider social basis for Jainism.
This is also the case with the localization of Jvalamalini- Helacharya tradition at Ponnur and the practice of taking out the processional images of Parsvanatha and Jvalamalini from Adinatha temple to the nearby Ponnur hill.
It indicates the introduction of the worship of Jvalamalini in Tamilnadu in the 18th century with Ponnur as its principal centre. The absence of the same yakshi in Jaina Tamil literature and sculptural art till about the 17th century also subscribes to the above view.
Very likely, Anantasenacharya was instrumental in introducing the worship of Jvalamalini at Ponnur.
The inclusion of historical figures such as Kundavai, Tagadamaharaja and Chamundappai in the list of trustees of the Tirumalai temples was, in all probability, to legitimize the trusteeship of Bhupala Upadhyar and gain good support from the local Jaina community.
(Published in Proceedings of the Tamilnadu Hi story Congress, Coimbatore, ed. .N.Rajendran, 2002.
1. Mackenzie Manuscripts, ed., T.V.Mahalingam, Mss:14:Sec.3.
2. Kalyanavalttu, Dharmadevi Sobhanamalai, Verses, 4:50-78.
3. Annual Report on Epigraphy, 416/1928-29.
4. Jvalamalini Kalpa, 1:5-8.
5. R.N.Nandi, Religious Institutions and cults in Deccan,
6. A.Ekambaranathan, Jaina Iconography in Tamilnadu, pp. 142-143.
7. Annual Report on Epigraphy, 80/1887.
8. Ibid., 90/1887.
9. Epigraphia Indica, Vol.IX, No.31.
10. A. Ekambaranathan, Tirumalai and its Jaina temples, (in Tamil), p.60.