ANANDAMANGALAM is a small hamlet near Orathi village in Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu. The nearest railway station is Olakkur, eight kilometres away, on the Chennai-Villupuram railway line.
There is a sprawling lake a kilometre north of the village, and by its side is a cluster of rocky outcrops with Jain vestiges—a Jain basdi (place of worship) in ruins, rock-cut sculptures and inscriptions. After Robert Sewell, who visited the place around 1882 to prepare his monumental Lists of Antiquarian Remains in the Madras Presidency , no one has devoted any serious attention to these remains. In the days when emphasis was laid mainly on inscriptions, Sewell made only a passing reference to these sculptures. The historian on Jainism P.B. Desai referred to this group of sculptures after seeing photographs of them in the office of the Government Epigraphist, Mysore. I spent a day looking at these remains.
For nearly a millennium, ascetic religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivika thrived in Tamil country before their decline began during the Chola period. There is plenty of literary evidence pointing to the prevalence of these religions. Jainism survived for a much longer time than Buddhism and Ajivika, and even now there is a small population of Jains in Tamil Nadu. There is much archaeological evidence strewn around the countryside indicating a Jain past, but these remains are neglected and ignored. Some interest has been revived in recent years by a group in Madurai called Green Walkers, who have taken to trekking up to these Jain caves and studying them.
The Anandamangalam vestiges are in two small clusters of boulders. In the western cluster, relief sculptures and inscriptions can be seen, while the remains of a dilapidated temple lie on the eastern side. The sculptures are on two rocks. The first is an east-facing panel, two metres in length and one metre in width. It is divided into three sections—the first shows the yakshi (tutelary deity) Ambika, while the other two depict tirthankaras (in Jain belief, a tirthankara is a person who has conquered the cycle of rebirths). A few metres from this rock is another upright boulder that bears a sculpture depicting Parsvanatha, the 23rd tirthankara of Jain belief. It is about a metre long and faces the north.
Ambika is the yakshi of Neminatha tirthankara. Ambika’s popularity in this part of the country was a feature of medieval Jainism and was in tune with the position given to female deities in the Hindu pantheon in this area. She was always given equal status with the tirthankaras, as evidenced by the numerous rock-cut sculptures of this period. She is usually depicted with two hands, holding a bunch of mangoes in one. There is invariably a child by her side. Here she, depicted as standing, wearing a loincloth that reaches up to her ankles and bare above the waist, has a karandhamakuda (a pot-like headgear) on her head. Her ear ornaments are circular. Two boys stand on her right, and a girl on her left. Ambika’s left hand is placed on the little girl’s head and her right is kept on her hip. There is flywhisk on either side of Ambika’s head. Behind her is a bamboo with leaves.
Once Ambika’s identity is established, it is easy to identify the tirthankara placed next to her. This must be Neminatha, whose yakshi she is. The bamboo is another pointer to the identification of the tirthankara here. He is sitting on a lotus seat, in the padmasana posture. His back rests on a round pillow, and two crocodiles are chiselled on either side. A pair of rampant lions flank him. There are two attendants, with flywhisks, on either side. Above them are figures of the sun and the moon in human form. The third figure is Parsvanatha, with the hood of the snake spread over his head.
Two metres away, there is another sculpture, one metre long, featuring Parsvanatha and facing north. To his right is a woman and to his left a male, worshipping on his knees. The tirthankara himself stands on a lotus pedestal. The curling body of the five-hooded snake forms the backdrop, and the hoods are spread above the head of the tirthankara.
Between these two sculptures is another rock, and on its western face can be seen a Tamil inscription. This lithic record is attributed to the 30th regnal year of the Chola king Parantaka I (A.D. 945). It documents the fact that there was a Jain monastery here called Jinagiripalli ( palli means monastery) in that spot and Varthamana Adigal, student of Vinapasura Adigal, received five gold coins to feed Jain monks.
Though small in size compared with numerous examples of Chola period plastic art, there are sufficient details in this group of sculptures that merit closer scrutiny. On the basis of the ornaments shown here, the period can be fixed as early Chola with reasonable certainty. The mere presence of early Chola inscriptions here need not establish the date of the sculptures. There are many examples of a king visiting a temple long after it was constructed and recording his gift.
Diminutive figures in sculptures that are found in the Ambika panel are a characteristic of the early Chola period. The temples of Parantaka I bear many such sculptures chiselled like jewels. The temples of this period are also quite small in size. One reason for this might be that the Chola sculptors were still experimenting with small temples. Therefore, the panel sculptures were also proportionately small, like the figures of two boys and a girl who flank Ambika. These figures in Anandamangalam invite comparison to the Ramayana panel on the base of THE Brahmapuriswara temple, an edifice built by Parantaka I at Pullamangai, near Kumbakonam.
Sannavira, which the two boys and Ambika sport, is an ornament worn across the torso and featured in sculptures made until the middle Chola period. The lion on which Ambika stands also provides a clue to the period. It is almost a miniature version of the famous Pallava lions found in Rajasimha’s works with whorls in the mane. This kind of representation of lions persisted during the Chola period also. The small lion motif seen in the Durga panel on the northern wall of the Brahmapuriswara temple at Pullamangai can be cited as one example.
The manner in which the tirthankaras have been depicted is also A characteristic of that period. The semicircular, halo-like motif observed behind the head of Neminatha recalls similar treatment of the goddess Saraswathi of Gangaikondacholapuram. The action of the attending deities, the flying moon and sun, reminiscent of the vidyadharas of Arjuna’s penance panel at Mamallapuram, is very natural and there is no indication of stylisation.
As indicated by the inscription, it is clear that there was a Jain palli here and these sculptural panels formed part of it. The rock floor round the panels has round holes of about 10-cm diameter, indicating that apparently wooden poles were driven into them to form an enclosure. Below the sculpture panel, there is a small drip line chiselled into the rock, which is an indication that the space beneath the boulder was used as a shelter. There would have been a construction covering these reliefs, probably made of wood or brick and mortar.
All these sculptures would have been painted with vibrant colours in their original state, as evidenced by traces of painting on such figures elsewhere.
When you sit under this boulder, which is at a height of about 20 m from the ground, you get a commanding view of the landscape around you. This is characteristic of Jain retreats. Six kilometres to the north of this site, there is another small rocky hill adjacent to Orathi. There is a Jain shelter with three rock-cut beds.
Jain establishments such as palli s and basdi s were a common feature in ancient Tamil country, and these palli s were active at least for a millennium. In some Jain caverns, Brahmi inscriptions have been found. This indicates that this palli also was active at least for a thousand years. Anandamangalam deserves a closer examination than it has received.