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Remains of Subrahmanya temple found near Mamallapuram

T.S. Subramanian

Renews debate whether it was one among the Seven Pagodas


  • Discovery close to the Atiranachandesvara cave-temple
  • Remains of the 1,200-year-old temple include two granite pillars bearing inscriptions of Pallava kings
  • Bricks and potsherds found from the ruins

    — Photo: Shaju John

    These are the remains of the 1,200-year-old Subrahmanya temple, found on the beach close to the Tiger Cave, a few kilometres off Mamallapuram. On the right are the two pillars with inscriptions in Tamil, belonging to the Pallava kings, Dantivarman and Nandivarman III, that speak about the existence of the temple there. On the left are the remains of the temple's plinth, made of granite slabs, and the inner core. In the background is the big rocky outcrop, with three inscriptions.

    CHENNAI: The remains of a Subrahmanya temple belonging to the Pallava period (circa 8th century A.D.) have been found on the beach close to the Tiger Cave, a few kilometres off Mamallapuram, near here.

    The discovery has renewed the debate whether the temple was one among the Seven Pagodas that reportedly existed on Mamallapuram's shores that are famed for its Pallava monuments. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chennai Circle, had unearthed in February and March this year the massive remains of a Pallava temple a few hundred metres from the Shore Temple.

    Now comes the latest discovery close to the Atiranachandesvara cave-temple, popularly called the Tiger Cave. "This temple may belong to an earlier period than the temple discovered close to the Shore Temple because it has a brick foundation. These bricks belong to the Pallava period," said T. Satyamuthy, Superintendent Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle. The remains of this 1,200-year-old temple include two granite pillars. While one pillar bears the inscription of the Pallava king Dantivarman, and is dated to 813 A.D., the other pillar has an inscription of another Pallava king, Nandivarman III, and is dated to 858 A.D.

    Speaks about donations

    Both the inscriptions, in Tamil, speak about donations to the Subrahmanya temple, at a place called Thiruvizhchil — present-day Salavankuppam — where the Tiger Cave is situated. The pillar belonging to Nandivarman III's reign has a "trishul" engraved on top — a typical Pallava symbol. The ASI, Chennai Circle, which is excavating the temple, has also found a lot of bricks and potsherds from the ruins of the collapsed temple. A copper coin belonging to the Chola period was found on the surface.

    A few hundred metres from the Tiger Cave is a big monolithic rocky outcrop. It has three inscriptions of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna III and the Chola kings Parantaka Chola and Kulotunga Chola. When S. Rajavelu, Epigraphist, ASI, read one among the three, he found that it belonged to the fourth regnal year of the Rashtrakuta king, Krishna III, who reigned in the 9th century A.D.

    The inscription spoke about the existence of a Subrahmanya temple at Tiruvizhchil and the donation of land for maintaining the temple.

    `Good result'

    Mr. Rajavelu discovered a mound nearby and felt it might contain the ruins of the temple. There were surface indications to that effect too. Mr. Satyamurthy said that when the ASI excavated the mound situated about 100 metres from the sea, "we got a good result."

    The ASI found the temple's plinth, which is made of sliced granite slabs. The temple could have had a square plan and it had an inner core, made of brick and rock. A small outer wall, made of brick, has been found. G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI, said this could be one of the earliest Subrahmanya temples found in Tamil Nadu, since the bricks found belonged to the early medieval period.

    Mr. Thirumoorthy said incriptions belonging to three different dynasties — Pallavas, Rashtrakuta and Cholas — spoke about the existence of the Subrahmanya temple at Tiruvihchil. Mr. Rajavelu said the pillar, which had an inscription belonging to the seventh regnal year (813 A.D.) of Dantivarman, talks about a Brahmin woman named Vasanthanar, wife of Sri Kambabhattar of Sandilya Gothram, belonging to Manaiyur, near Tiruvallur, donating 16 "kazhanchu" (small balls of gold) to the Subrahmanya temple. The interest from this gold was meant to be used to maintain the temple's perpetual lamp.

    The other pillar, with the inscription belonging to the 12th regnal year (858 A.D.) of another Pallava king, Nandivarman III, mentions that one Kirarpiriyan of Mamallapuram donated ten "kazhanchu" of gold to the temple.

    The villagers and the village assembly should use the interest accrued from the gold to conduct the temple festival during the Tamil month of Karthigai, it said.

    `Interesting' fact

    According to P. Aravazhi, the temple builders had used a mixture of clay, brickbats and stone to provide stability to the foundation because the temple was built on beach sand.

    "Although the Subrahmanya cult was popular in the form of Somaskanda panels during the Pallava period, it is interesting that a separate structural Subrahmanya temple of the Pallava period has been found so close to Mamallapuram," said Mr. Rajavelu.

    Mr. Satyamurthy said the temple had existed up to the 13th Century, because the inscription belonging to Kulotunga Chola on the rocky outcrop mentioned Tiruvizhchil village.

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