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Unearthed stone ends debate

T. S. SUBRAMANIAN

Inscriptions on a hero-stone, belonging to the reign of Raja Raja Chola, throw fresh light on the emperor's powers.

Photos: D. Gopalakrishnan

Snippet of history: Dr. S. Ilango (left) and his colleagues reading the inscription on the hero-stone belonging to the reign of the Chola emperor, Raja Raja I (985 A.D. to 1014 A.D.)

A hero-stone belonging to the reign of the Chola emperor, Raja Raja I (985 A.D. to 1014 A.D.) has been unearthed in Tamil Nadu. It has a eulogy in Tamil that talks about Raja Raja “beheading the Malai Alargal” - the Chera warriors of Kanthalur Salai, near the present-day Thiruvananthapuram. Kanthalur Salai is now called Valiassala.

According to epigraphists, this inscription is important because it settles a long-standing debate about what Raja Raja Chola did at the port-town of Kanthalur Salai. There was a debate whether he had destroyed the boats, brought under his control an autonomous Vedic educational centre situated there or defeated the Chera warriors trained there in Vedas and warfare.

The inscription, dated to 14th regnal year (899 A.D.) of Raja Raja Chola, has been found on a lake-bed at Chengam village, 35 km from Tiruvannamalai. The hero-stone has the carving of a warrior on the other side, with an inscription in Tamil around the carving. This inscription is different from the usual ones found on such hero-stones.

Such inscriptions usually describe how the hero, who is remembered in the stone, foiled robbers' bid to stealcattle in the village or fought a tiger or killed a wild boar. But this inscription talks about how a man was killed for pulling the saris of womenfolk belonging to the family of an oil-monger.

The hero-stone has been discovered by S. Ilango, lecturer in the Tamil Department of Madras University, T. Senthilkumar, lecturer in Tamil at Muthurangam Government Arts College, Vellore and Gandhi, lecturer in Tamil at the Government Arts College, Cheyyar.

The inscription of Raja Raja Chola too has an unusual eulogy (“prasasthi”) because it talks about his defeating the Chera warriors and thus throws light on what had happened at Kanthalur Salai. For a debate has been under way for the past several decades on what Raja Raja Chola accomplished there. It touches on points that he built a mantapa there, that he split in two a naval vessel belonging to the Chera king and that he destroyed a number of boats.



Ilango points out the carving on the stone, which was found on a lake bed at Chengam near Tiruvannamalai .

Tamil poet “Kavimani” Desika Vinayagam Pillai had suggested that when the Chera king stopped the free distribution of food at the Vedic educationcentre at Kanthalur Salai, Raja Raja Chola intervened and revived the practice. However, Ilango says that researchers rejected this viewpoint.

According to Ilango, the discovery of a copper plate of 868 A.D and belonging to the reign of Aay chieftain, Karunanthadakkan, provides a fresh angle to the controversy.

The inscription on the copper plate informs how the Aay chieftain established a Vedic education centre at Parthivasekarapuram (near Marthandam in the present-day Kanyakumari district), modelled on the lines of the one at Kanthalur Salai. The copper plate gives details of how both the teachers and the pupils of the Parthivasekarapuram centre were trained in Vedas and warfare.

The interpretations

The renowned epigraphist, the late T.N. Subramaniam, had been of the view that both Kanthalur Salai and Parthivasekarapuram Vedic schools must have functioned autonomously, without any royal control. Thereafter, the late K.K. Pillai, who had been Head of the Department of History, Madras University, had suggested that when Raja Raja Chola wanted to bring about changes in the functioning of the Vedic school at Kanthalur Salai, its trustees, who had functioned independently till then, must have resented it. Raja Raja Chola, therefore, must have despatched his soldiers to bring the rebellious teachers and pupils under his control.

It is in this context that the hero-stone acquires importance, argues Ilango. For it talks about how “Arunmozhi Thevar alias Raja Raja Chola, who defeated the Nolambas, the Gangas and the Vengai Nadu… beheaded the Malai Alargal of Kanthalur Salai…”

In the assessment of A. Padmavathy, retired Senior Epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, it is “an important discovery because it solves several puzzles. ”

In the context of scholars expressing different opinions about the relationship between Raja Raja Chola and Kanthalur Salai, the inscription specifically mentions how he beheaded the “Malai Alargal of Salai”, that is, the warriors of Kanthalur Salai and subjugated them. Raja Raja Chola's attack on Kanthalur Salai had been his “maiden victory,” says .Padmavathy.

The other inscription is important too because it describes how a miscreant had been killed when he pulled the saris of womenfolk belonging to the family of “Kamban.” The inscription says that Kamban was a “Mayiletti,” that is, an oil-monger who belonged to a group of merchants called “kavarai.” But it is not clear from the faded inscription who had been killed - the miscreant or the man who tried to boldly prevent the deed from being done.

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