CHENNAI: Historian and researcher of ancient history and archaeology, Chitra Madhavan emphasised the diverse culture and religion of the ancient town of Kancheepuram. She enthusiastically shared historical evidence of the existence of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Buddhism and Jainism in the temple town.
The lecture at The Leela Galleria was her sixth and last in a series on the temple town of Kancheepuram. It was packed with patrons and history buffs. “Going to Kancheepuram is a great experience each time. Each temple is unique and has its own architecture and iconography,” she said.
An expert in temples of Kancheepuram, she said Parutikunril (today’s Thiru Paruti Kunram), said to have been a stronghold of Jainism, is still known as Jain-Kanchi. “The inscription of Simha Varman of the sixth century talks about the grant of land to the Jain monastery in a place called Parutikunril. It has inscriptions of Vajra Nandi, a Jain scholar and also about a Sanga (group) who lived there,” she shared.
Highlighting the existence of Jainism, she said temples for Vardhamana Mahaveera and Chandra Prabha in Thiru Paruti Kunram were not well known and knowledge about their existence is still scant. “Even most locals don’t know their own history,” she said. Chitra spoke about some temples that are modernised, and claimed that transformation of ancient monuments is a way of distorting original facts.
“When Hiuen Tsang visited India in the seventh century, he stayed in Kanchi for a considerable period of time. Texts direct to remarks about monasteries, Buddhists and a stupa,” she said. Shedding light on the existence of Buddhism in Kancheepuram, she said that though the religion existed in the town, no trace of the past could be found now. “Though archaeologists have excavated many Buddhist sculptures, in recent times there hasn’t been much activity,” she shared.
Mentioning two temples that were built from sandstone, the Mukthishwara and Mathangeshwara temples, she said the Mukthishwara temple (originally called the Dharma Mahadevi temple), was built by a queen in the eight century.
“She was the queen of Nandi Varman the Second. Though it is a very small temple, the Tamil inscriptions furnish information about the queen’s employees, many of whom were female dancers. Even their names are etched there,” she said. She focused on two important temples, the Kachapeshwara temple in the heart of Kancheepuram and the Jwarahareshwara temple, asserting that the nature of the temples was unique and interesting. “On a pillar in the Kachapeshwara temple was a verse from a seventh century poem called Surya Shathaka by Mayura Bhatta. It is interesting and overwhelming to find such an ancient verse on a pillar,” she shared. She explained that the shrine of the Jwarahareshwara temple was a perfect sphere, as compared to the usual square or rectangular shape. She also spoke about the Kumarakottam, a famous Muruga temple.