Archive for the ‘temple’ Tag

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

Thenparankundram Cave Temple

I was blessed to meet Dr. Venkataraman, a History Professor worked in Madurai Kamaraj University and an Archeologist. My father introduced me to him as he is residing in our residential complex. Professor took us to a Cave temple located in Tiruparankundram hill near Madurai city. The following are the details of that small cave temple.

·  Thenparankundram (behind Thirupparankundram) Cave temple has the age dated to 750 AD, which was originally a Jain cave.

·  In 1250 AD it was converted to Hindu Saiva cave by Maravarman Sundara Pandian

·  In 1310 Malikapur (Muslim general of Alauddin Khilji, Sultan of Delhi) destroyed this cave temple

·  During the decade of 1910 Archeological Survey took this cave for study.

·  The inner part of cave (Karuvarai in Tamil, Garbhagraha in Sanskrit) has the statue of Ardhanareeswarar (Lord Shiva as one half and Goddess Parvathi as other half vertically).

·  Statues of Natarajar, Sivakami, Murugan with his wives Deivayanai (Goddess of Heaven) and Valli (Goddess of Earth) can be found in the cave.

·  The Goddess Parvathi (with Natarajar, who is a dancing form of Shiva) will be referred as Sivakami.

·  Kali in North India will be referred as Karaikkalammiyar in South. A small statue of her can be found near Natarajar statue.

·  This cave contains inscriptions of Sundara Pandian of 1256 AD, who captured Madurai from 3rd Kulothunga Cholan. Also, the inscription refers him as “Chonaadu Vazhangiya Sundara Pandian” means he who has gifted Chola dynasty to 3rd Rajathiraja Cholan (who is son of 3rd Kulothunga Cholan)

·  It also has the inscriptions of taxation as ‘Puravu Varithinaikalam’ means Tax office.

·  The Lotus medallion symbols present on the pillars of cave ascertain this cave was originally a Jain cave. This lotus medallion symbol refers to cosmic symbol, which means Ordered Universe called Cosmos.

·  “Pandiyan Well’ (Pandiyan Kinaru in Tamil) is present near to this cave temple

·  Outside of this cave, we can find statues of Tamil Saiva scholars Appar, Sundarar, Sambhandhar and Manikavasagar. Sambhandhar is standing on a small pedestal (peedam) which is a special privilege given to him as he was the person who took off Jainism from Madurai and introduced Saivam after rescuing the king KoonPandiyan from severe ailment (in Tamil, Veppu Noi) by singing the song “Mandiramaavadhu neeru”.

·  Manikavasagar statue is in sitting position (Suhasanam, means relaxed position) in order to give comfort to him as he has hailed from Madurai.

·  Then statues of Bhairavar and Ganapathy can be found.

·  This hill was used by Sikkandar Sha, who was the last Muslim ruler of Madurai as the bunker during war against Kumarakampan of Vijayanagara Empire (lineage of Harihara-Bhukka). Sikkandar Sha was defeated in the hill and he was punished by putting him inside a large pan of hot oil. Hence, Thiruparankundram will be referred to as ‘Sikkandar Malai’ by Muslims.

Professor talked about many subjects on history, anthropology, culture, religion, linguistics, etc. Some of the points which I’ve gathered are listed below, which will be useful for future study.

·  Several religions have many myths on “after a man died, what happens to his soul”, like Saiva says, soul go to the feet of Lord Shiva. But Kashimiri Saiva Pandits argues, the soul gets integrated to Lord Shiva and in turn they say Lord Shiva is in his soul and he himself Shiva.

·  Vedic Aryans came to India from Volga region of Russia during 1500 BC

·  In 1000 BC Greek mythology flourished

·  Later Zoroastrianism religion flourished and believed in fire god

·  Non-vedic people (i.e. Dravidians – historians won’t use the word ‘Dravidians’, but refer them as Non-vedic) believe in rituals, but Vedic people only composed poems on god. The concept of ‘fasting’ came from Jains.

·  Jainism and Buddhism believed in chain of life which is a continuous cycle of birth and death. They believed, a person can be relived from the cycle of life, if he commits suicide (called as Sallahana). In Tamil, this will be referred as Vadakkiruthal.

·  Jains believe in cosmic laws and they introduced the concept of Vegetarianism (Ahimsa Paramodharma). Later Brahmins took this vegetarian practice in their culture.

·  Ancient civilizations are Egyptians and Indus valley.

·  Indus valley civilization records from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa reveals three races of people were stayed there. The races are Mediterranean (includes Indians), Mangoloids (Chinese) and Astraloids (Black people).

·  Mediterranean people didn’t have the knowledge of Iron and Horse. They knew about Copper and other animals in their culture like bull and elephant.

·  Vedic Aryans introduced horses to Mediterranean people.

·  In 450 AD during Gupta period and in 500 AD during Chalukya period the cave concept came to South and it can be found in Badami (Vathapi) region.

·  In 550 AD MahendraVarma Pallavan embraced cave and he built first cave temple in Mandahapattu, which is smaller than Mammallapuram (Mahapalipuram near Chennai)

·  Then Pandya kings took cave temple in 700 AD

·  As of today a total of 1200 cave temples are found in India, of which 900 caves belong to Buddhism, 100 to Jainism and 200 to Hindus (includes both Saivas and Vaishanavas)

·  The best caves can be found in Ellora (which has caves for all 3 religions) and Ajantha (which has only Buddha caves)

·  During 550 BC Buddha and Mahaveera lived

·  In 300 BC, Asoka created first cave temple (In Tamil, its called ‘Kudavarai Kovil’) in Barabar hill of Bihar. Jains were staying in that cave temples.

·  Normally Jains will stay in cave for 4 months (during rainy season) and during this period they do writing and painting arts.

·  After that they come out (on the day of Mahakarthigai) and live outside for 8 months.

·  After the first cave by Asoka, around 50 caves were built for Buddhas in Bombay region exactly near Nasik, Ajantha and Ellora during 200 BC to 450 AD time frame.

·  Browline is the slanting shield present on top of temple (which has been changed as Gopuram in recent centuries) is being derived from Greek mythology.

·  Tholkappiar and Thiruvalluvar are basically Jains, as per some historical findings.

·  Olden people in India (i.e. Non-vedic people, includes Dravidians) had accepted a supreme power above all and they’ve referred as God (In Tamil, they call as Saami). They don’t have the concept of naming each God and giving gender to God. They believe God is present in a Sacred Tree and during some festival occasions they sacrifice animals in front of the sacred-tree. All the kings in north and south Indian region before 5th century had belief in Sacred Tree concept.

·  In 5th century AD around 550 AD, Gupta built a cave in Udaygiri of Bhopal which has the Hindu god ‘Varaahamoorthy’ (which is a form of Lord Vishnu with Pig head with Earth on his nose and Mahalakshmi on his hand). This was referred as first statue of a Hindu God built in India. Later many kings in North and South India embraced statue worship of Hindu Gods.

·  Lord Muruga (second son of Shiva) is referred as Tamil God, but none of the famous kings in Chera, Chola and Pandiya dynasty had their name equivalent to that of Muruga. But some of the Gupta kings named after Muruga are SkandhaGupta and KumaraGupta.

·  Oldest cave was found in Pyrannes, which is present in the border of France and Spain. The French side of the cave referred as Lascaux has many paintings and characters. The Spanish side of the cave referred as Altamara has symbols of bull and other animals.

·  Olden characters of a language are belongs to Egypt and Mesopotamia.

·  Egypt civilization letters of 2500 BC are called as hieroglyphics. In Egypt both king and priest is same person. Only in Vedic culture, king (Kshathrian) and priest (Brahmanan) are different.

·  Mesopotamia (meaning ‘between two rivers’) initiated as Sumerian culture. After the fall of Sumerian, Babylonian culture flourished and after that Asyria culture flourished. This region introduced the Cuneiform letters. This language has the first written literature of the world, Gill Gamish. This was written in Clay tablets. This story looks similar to that of Kandapuranam, in which enemies become friends after the course of war.

·  Panini written grammar for Sanskrit. The language Prakrita was refined and introduced with grammar and it became Sanskrit. This happened in 4th century BC

·  Tholkappiar (who is not single person, but many Jain scholars in course of time), written grammar for Tamil language during 4th century BC to 5th century AD and it became Refined Tamil (Senthamizh)

·  Grammar of a language should be an unconscious process, which should come on the flow from mankind. The moment if we put consciousness to a language, it’ll become difficult to practice and evolve.

·  Language always comes from common man, but scholars make refine the language. Much language refinement may disguise the root part of a word. For example in Tamil language, the root part (Urichol) of certain words like Vellai, Velicham is ‘Vell’ means Light. This same root was used by common man for the word ‘Velakku’ means lamp (used in one film song ‘Velakku vecha nerathula maaman vandhaan). But scholars refined this ‘Velakku’ as ‘Vilakku’, which destroyed the root of the word itself.

·  Jains refined Tamil language during their time period.

·  Proto-Dravidian language is the root for six Dravidian languages Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Tulu and Brahui. If the term ‘proto’ is used, then it means that language is currently not in existent.

·  “Knowledge is Wisdom”. Knowledge needs to get sharper day by day. And one has to know when the knowledge has to put aside, is called Wisdom.