Lesser-known sites

Published : Oct 10, 2008 00:00 IST

IT was a sight for which we were unprepared though we had heard so much about the place. Pausing to regain our breath as we clambered up the hill, we encountered before us a rock face with three rows of bas-reliefs of Jaina Tirthankaras, one below the other. The Tirthankaras were seated in a dhyana pose on lotus pedestals, with three umbrellas above their heads.

A little distance away was a bigger bas-relief of a Tirthankara who had just attained enlightenment. The sculpture showed Indra arriving on his elephant Airavatham, celestial maidens dancing or playing drums or the flute, Chandra and Surya hovering above, and two devotees carrying flowers.

See the contra-distinction between the bare body of the tirthankara and the richness of the details in the carvings of Indra riding his elephant, the celestial maidens, Surya and Chandra, and the devotees with flowers, Dr. V. Vedachalam, retired epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, was quick to point out. With the ease of an expert, he read the inscriptions in Vatteluttu (a cursive Tamil script) below many of the bas-reliefs.

A short distance away was a monolithic temple called Vettuvankovil, hewn out of a hill, reminding one of the Siva temple at Ellora.

Welcome to Kazhugumalai, a Jaina sculptural site (9th century - 11th century A.D.), situated 100 km from Madurai. Kazhugumalai comes under what the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department and the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation describe as a lesser-known tourist centre.

Some of these centres are the hill stations at Yelagiri (Vellore district), Kolli Hills (Namakkal), Valparai (Coimbatore), Meghamalai (Theni) and Sirumalai (Dindigul); the waterfalls at Thiruparappu in Kanyakumari district, and Hogenakkal in Dharmapuri district; Pulicat with its Dutch fort and a bird sanctuary (Tiruvallur); and Periapalayam (Tiruvallur), Tirukkadaiyur and Tirumanancheri (Nagapattinam), and Tharamangalam (Salem), all famous for their temples.

Three centres that stand out for their historical significance are Kazhugumalai, Sithannavasal and Tranquebar. Vedachalam said Kazhugumalai not only was a Jaina centre of worship but had a monastery and a college, where both men and women taught students.

T. Arun Raj, Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (Chennai Circle), said the Vatteluttu inscriptions at Kazhugumalai revealed that women Jaina monks called kurathi came there from other Jaina centres such as Tirunarunkondaim, Tirucharanathumalai and Tirukottaru in Tamil Nadu. Sithannavasal in Pudukottai district is an ancient Jaina settlement. It has a Jaina rock-cut cave, a Tamil-Brahmi inscription of the 2nd century A.D. and beautiful frescoes rivalling those at Ajanta.

Tranquebar (Tarangampadi in Tamil) in Nagapattinam district has a Dutch-built fort. A treaty concluded in 1620 between the king of Thanjavur, Raghunatha Nayak, and a Danish admiral, Ove Gedde, sent by the King of Denmark as his ambassador to India, permitted the Danes to settle in Tranquebar.

A. Venugopal, Tourist Officer, TTDC, said his office was engaged in providing publicity to Valparai in Coimbatore district as a hill station and picnic spot.

T.S. Subramanian
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