Thirumayam, Kundrathur Cave Temples

My Deepavali 2009 holidays had a memorable heritage trip with Dr. Venkataramaman, my father, brother and friends.  We went to Thirumayam and Kundrathur cave temples and spent valuable time there.  We are thankful to Professor Dr.V. who spent his valuable time in taking us with great interest and explaining all the historical and archeological information about Hindu culture, Buddhism and many other stuffs.  Below are some of the points which I’ve managed to gather from his continuous flow of information.

  • Thirumayam cave temple in Pudhukottai was built by Videlvidugu Mutharayar

    Thirumayam temple

    Thirumayam temple

  • Mutharayars were descents of Pallava and followers of Buddhism
  • Old cave pillars are big in size divided into 3 equal parts with comparatively less ornamental work
  • Contrapose sculptures in old caves were of flexible body position carved on stone; this type of sculpture was first initiated in Greece around 4th century AD.  Pallavas, Pandyas and Mutharayars were best in depicting these sculptures
  • Dwarabalagar statues (two statues on side of main deity) were known as Nandhi and Bringi.  Nandhi could be identified by the 2 horns near the shoulder/head of the human statue.
  • First cave in India came around 2nd century BC by Emperor Ashoka in Barabar (Bihar)
  • The bronze statues used in Hindu temples as Urchavar were introduced by Cholas



  • The deity Lingothbhava always kept as West facing; its a “pillared flame” structure; story revolves as competition between Brahma and Vishnu to see the head and foot of Lord Shiva, in which former takes Swan form, flies high to see the head and the latter takes Swine form enters into ocean to see the feet.  Brahma lies to Shiva saying he saw the head, so getting the curse of not get worshiped by people as separate temple for him.  Whereas Vishnu accepts the eternal power of Shiva and the Lord himself grants equal status for Vishnu and he gains popularity among people.
  • “Kadi-hathsam” is a mudra shown by hand fingers, which is the left hand position of Lord Venkateswara
  • “Aasuva-hathsam” is a mudra show by fingers to invite the people who are seeing the statue
  • “Bodhigai” is a part between 2 pillars in cave; the shape and style in bodhigai will be useful to study the age of the cave (e.g Tharangam-bodhigai)
  • Rishtorm and Kumudham (Virudha kumudham, Muppattai kumudham) are bottom parts of stone mandapam surrounding the main deity.



  • Ashoka derived “Lion symbol” as a majestic symbol from Persians
  • Pre-Ashoka deity Kali had Tiger as her vehicle (Kali – symbol of fire)
  • Post-Ashoka deity Durga had Lion as her vehicle (Durga – symbol of water)
  • 3 earlier places of Kali worship in India were at Bengal, Ujjain and Tamilnadu (in name of Kotravai)
  • Kotravai’s son was Murugan (the father was unknown) and later Kotravai was banned in Hindu religion and Murugan was pulled into Shiva’s family
  • Total of 1200 caves are in India, in which 900 belongs to Buddha, 200 to Hindus and 100 to Jains
  • Ajantha has one of the best caves esp. cave number 19 and 29;
  • (First stage of Hindu art) From 402 AD Hindus took cave depictions initiated by Chandra Gupta II in Udhayagiri
  • First Hindu cave art sculpture is Varaaha Murthy (dynamic sculpture of swine face of Vishnu taking Bhoomadevi fast from Thirupaar Kadal)
  • Second stage of Hindu art at 587 AD by western Chalukya Pulikesi II king’s Chithappa Mangaleshwar build Badami Cave (in Karnataka); same time Elephanta cave for Shiva also emerged.

    Nandi (Dwara-balagar)

    Nandi (Dwara-balagar)

  • Third stage of Hindu art around 600 AD by Mahendra Varma Pallava ; first work at Mandagapattu then came to South Arcat, Thiruchy and Kancheepuram; Followed by Narasimha Varma Pallava at Mahabalipuram.
  • Varaaha cave and Mahishamardhini cave in Mahabalipuram are best work
  • Pandya king’s early cave temple located near Sankaran Kovil known as Malayadi kovil developed by Chezhian Sendhan Pandyan
  • In Madurai, Narasimha cave in Yaanaimalai depicted at 770 AD, Thiruparankundram cave at 773 AD and Thenparankundram cave at 780 AD
  • After 850 AD no caves were established in India
  • One example of Massive cult structure is Brahadeeswara temple in Thanjavur by Rajaraja Chola at 10th century AD.  This was derived from Brihat Buddha structure of Bamiyan Buddha statue which is 175 feet tall belongs to 5th century AD.
  • Hindu mythology imported deities and ideologies from Greece e.g. Durga is equal to that of Diana, Saraswathi is equal to Minarva.
  • Nandhi nagari, Deva nagari are scripts of North India.  Ashoka age’s Brahmi script is considered as mother of all Indian scripts
  • Suryan and Chandran deities are identified by the flowers they hold in their hand.  Lotus of Suryan and Lilly for Chandran, because these flowers blossom after seeing their respective deities.
  • Rig Veda the earliest Hindu text came at 1500 BC, which is much later than Egyptian civilization which belongs to 3000 BC.  Indus Valley civilization belongs to 2500 BC.
  • The Vishnu deity carved in the Vishnu temple of Thirumayam is a beautiful sculpture of Vishnu in Sayanakolam, with Brahma sitting on a lotus rooted on Vishnu’s naval.  Many deities like Sridevi, Bhoomadevi, Ayudha Purushaas, Snake in rotated fashion, Fire flames killing Asuraas (Madhu and Kaidabhar) carved in the entire wall of that cave.
  • Best AnandhaSai statues (Vishnu in Sayanakolam) can be found in Dhiyogar, Thirumayam and Mahabalipuram.

    Octagonal Temple Tank

    Octagonal Temple Tank

  • Saiva temple symbolizes god as Fire (so they do Dheebhaaraadhanai), whereas Vaishnava temple symbolizes god as Water (so they give Theertham)
  • Vishnu’s Chakra on left hand normally showed by its flat surface (as seen in Thirupathy).  9th century Vishnu’s Chakra will be shown by its side surface (the Chakra’s usage form) known as PrayogChakra.
  • Buddha’s mother had a dream of white elephant with 6 tusks, enters into her stomach without any pain.  Astrologers revealed this as a sign of giving birth a son, who will achieve great heights in people’s minds.
  • Buddha’s life includes marriage, great enlightenment, preaching and death.
  • Elephant calf symbolizes Buddha’s early stage (child Buddha), Horse symbolizes the event of detaching himself from house, Tree symbolizes Nirvaana (great enlightenment), Deer symbolizes his preachings and ‘Stone on top of Peedam’ (stone structure surrounds the golden box contains bone of Buddha) symbolizes PariNirvaaana (death)
  • Representing Buddha with the symbols (of animals and other structures) belongs to Heenayaana buddha.  During Mahayaana buddha period Buddha’s face was depicted.

    Fort View

    Fort View

  • During later stages, Buddha was depicted as Bodhisatva and Avalakoteswara in which he wears big crown, many garlands and rich clothings.  This can be seen in China, Nepal and other places.
  • Afghanistan’s Gandhara Art might be considered as the cradle of Indian Art.
  • Badami’s cave number 3 has a wonderful sculpture of Vaigunda Nadhar (Vishnu sits on top of snake)
  • Temples foundation depth would be very less following a model called ‘Floating foundation’.  Brahadeeswara temple is 200ft high but its foundation is only 6 ft.  Inside the 6 feet series of stones would be laid and forming an artificial hillock.  On top of that stone structure, temple would get constructed.
  • Kundrakudi Cave temple Linga was under worship between 8th century AD to 12th century AD.  After that Murugan temple became dominant.
  • SaptaMaathargal (Saptakannigal – 7 women) derived from Chalukya’s period.  Varaagi, Vaishnavi, Gowmaari, Maheswari, Narasimhi, Chamunda and Jeshtadevi are those 7 gods.  Jeshtadevi considered as prominent god among themselves flanked by her son (bull faced) and her daughter.

    Our gang

    Our gang

  • Saint Francis of Assisi (in Italy) established Capuchin Order – a set of practices to follow.  He had Stigmata (wounds in certain part of body from which blood comes out with pain similar to that of Jesus crucification)
  • Famous words from Saint Francis – “O Lord! Make me as instrument of thy peace”
  • Advise to us from Dr.Venkatraman – “Come out of Foolishness, Spread the generosity”; Break the shell of own religion and observe the best from all religions.
  • Rumi is a Sufi saint, who has to be known by everyone for his ideologies.
  • Books to read : (1) Autobiography of Thomas Merton (2) “Asia Journal” by Thomas Merton

9 comments so far

  1. Sai Magesh on

    you guys are fortunate enough… the informations are very interesting… how did you miss out discussion chiththanna vaasal?

  2. Sai Magesh on

    next time please upload photos in bigger size… 🙂

  3. prabhuh on

    Ok Sai. Yeah, I’ll ask him about Chiththanna vaasal next time …

  4. Thirumayam Trip « Sen Speaks on

    […] day. I have a copy of mail to read, and dont want to replicate the same here in blog. You can check Prabhu anna’s post and also my pictures for which i had tried adding a lot of comments so that it explains something. […]

  5. Praveen on

    quite informative. I am missing all these 😦

  6. prabhuh on

    @Praveen: No worries da.. You are gaining more !

  7. injamaven on

    Dear Prabhuh, I notice the photos of Varichiyur enlarged, but these masterpieces at Thirumayam didn’t. Luckily I have the beautiful Lingodbhava from another source. You enjoy the same things I do, clearly. I really enjoyed Thirupparankundram too, but noticed that the Natesa panel had been recut since I saw a book illustration of it. There are many Muttaraiyar and Pandya masterpieces of sculpture aren’t there. You are fortunate to have the Professor V. with you to explain. This Jaina Varichiyur site is new to me. Thanks.

  8. prabhuh on


    I am surprised that you wrote that Hindu religion imported the Gods from Greece. It is a real shame. Kindly do not be offended. Please make an attempt to read the Vedhas – Do not listen to others – Read it for yourself on your own and find out the truth. Widen your reading to include sanskrit originals. If I can, you too can. That is all I have to say. Thanks.


    My reply for above comment:

    As a Hindu, I know various Gods, Mythology and related philosophies of Hinduism. At the same time, I’ve got a chance to read about Greek Mythology and surprised to know the relation and equivalence of various God mentioned there.

    Instead of “imported from”, I should have mentioned “Hindus God and Goddess are roughly synonymous in their roles of Greek Gods”.

    One more thing we could accept is, the linguistic relation between Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and Parsi, which reveals the high possibility of people speaking these languages were originally from same clan and land.

  9. propertytalks on

    this is really good and informative,…. thanks for sharing this….

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