Introduction – Kunnandarkoil in Tamil means Temple of the Lord. The temple has many inscriptions which greatly help in tracing back its history. There are about thirty-seven inscriptions found in this temple. The earliest ones are from the Pallava period of Nandipottavarman (Nandivarman III). As per V Latha there are three Pallava inscriptions of Nandivarman III however T V Mahalingam only reports one in this temple. I am not sure if there are three or one however none of these is foundation inscription. The inscription talks about donation of 200 rice nali to accommodate the cost of feeding 100 brahmanas on the day of Tiruvadirai. This suggests that the village was big enough to accommodate residences of hundred brahmanas at least. Another suggestion could be that the donation for hundred people does not suggests that there were hundred people at that time but the donation was probably made keeping a foresight for later times. V Latha states that Tiruvadirai is a famous festival celebrated at the temple of Tiruvarur. It seems that tiruvadirai was similarly auspicious during that time as well. Another record of Nandivarman records digging of a tank near the temple.
Inscription of the early Chola period are mainly donations for temple lamps. In one such inscription of the Chola king Rajakesarivarman Rajaraja, the lord of this temple is referred as Tirukkunrakkuti Matevar. The god is referred as Tirukkunrakkuti Nayanar in one inscription of Kulottunga Chola. This inscription talks about a land donated to the temple. There was a treasury in existence at the temple as supported by the inscriptions of Rajakesarivarman Tribhuvana and Rajaraja. Former records a gift of gold coins deposited to the treasury while the latter records a land transaction in the name of Tantecurapperuvilai whose cost was deposited in the treasury which is referred as sri pantaram.
There are few endowments recorded in Pandya inscriptions. Inscription of Parakrama Pandya records an endowment of a land piece. In the time of Sundara Pandya endowment of 100 gold coins was created for food offerings. Endowment of land gift was also given in the reign of Kulasekharadeva Pandya. His two inscriptions details about the type of land gifted and the kind of interests to be earned from those gifted land. There is an interesting inscription of Sundara Pandya which talks about fines in case of communal riots. It states that if an individual is involved in any kind of communal clash then he or she will be fined with 100 panam (used for money) as a punishment. If the whole village succumbed to any communal riot then the village will be fined with 500 panam. It seems that few instances of such communal violence might have occurred in past that’s why the king put such an order in place. Does this communal violence refers to Shaiva and Vaishnava clashes?
There is another interesting inscription of a Muttharaiya chief. It states that he donated his land to the Lord as he has no son and hence after him all his assets be given to the temple. Devdasis or temple dancers of that time used to possess many assets and were counted among the riches. One such instance is found in this temple where an inscription states a gift provided by a devdasi. This inscription is dated in the reign of Kumara Viruppanna Utaiyar. V Latha suggests that this Kumara Kampana of Madhuravijayam fame who recovered the Tamil country from the Sultans of Madurai in 1371 CE. Gifts from devdasis seems to be in practice during those times as another such instance is found in the temple of Kudumiyanmalai where a devdasi gifted money to repair and maintain the temple. In other inscriptions of Kampana this country has been referred as Pandivalanadu, the fertile country of the Pandyas. There are few inscriptions of Vijayanagara king, Krishnadeva Raya, as well. V Latha suggests the Telugu influence in inscriptions after the advent of Vijayanagara dynasty as she finds words Somavara and Shukravara for Monday and Friday respectively.
There are few Nayaka inscriptions as well. One Nayaka chief, Kunnai Nayakkar, granted money from his land to the temple. Probably it meant that the land was granted and the money earned by the usage of the land should be kept with the temple. The temple sees extensions during Nayaka period as mention of construction of mahamandapa and nrittamandapa is mentioned in the inscriptions. There is an inscription of a washer man and his wife about some donation from their side. This provides a very different outlook on the social behavior at that time. Putting an inscription of a washer man, who is considered to be from a lower cast, in the temple compound suggests that there was no differentiation between ranks once you are within the precinct of a temple. Everyone is same irrespective of his cast and creed. However at the same time, I feel that there might be many instances where we see such kind of differentiations in practice during those times.
Cave Temple – This cave temples has been carved out from a low rising hill on its eastern façade. This hall type cave would have been carved during the Pallava reign whether by the Pallavas or by their subordinates, the Muttharaiya-s. This fact is supported by the earliest inscription from the time of Nandivarman III though there is no foundation inscription. The cave would have been in existence during his time when he inscribed his words on it. This rectangular mandapa is supported in two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are of the Mahendra order, octagonal shaft in between cubical sections. The corbels are of taranga type as found in his Trichy cave. This hall has only one single bay in contrast to two bay design of most of the earlier Pallava caves.
A cell or better say shrine has been carved in the middle of the back wall of this cave. This shrine is protruding forward about 2 feet from the back wall. The platform is raised about 2 feet from the ground and two stairs are provided in its middle to reach the cell inside. This platform is consisted of architectural elements like kantha, kampa, jagati and kumuda. The front part of this shrine is made of four pilasters forming two niches and middle entrance door. There is a shivalinga inside the cell which is carved out of the original rock. This feature, of original rock linga, is very rare in earlier Pallava cave shrines. However this is an integral part of Muttharaiya and Pandya creations. This suggests that though this cave would have been carved during the Pallava reign but may be by the Muttharaiya sculptures. K R Srinivasan also suggests the same stating as Muttharaiya-s were positioned in between the Pallava and Pandya territory hence their art style was influenced from both these styles. V Latha suggests that this original rock shivalinga represents swambhu (self-born) character which is referred also in Silappatikaram.
There are portrait sculptures of two dvarpalas carved in the niches on either side of the entrance of this back wall shrine. Left dvarpala is carved in familiar attitude as seen in other Pallava cave shrines. He is standing with one leg bent at his knee and placed behind his right feet. He is standing with support of his club which is supporting his left arm. Palm of the right arm is placed above the handle of the club. The club is entwined with a snake which is a characteristic style from the earlier Pallava time. The club here is very slim and refined in comparison of massive clubs of the earlier time. In totality, he represents a refined graceful figure in contrast to massive crude personification of the earlier Pallava examples. This dvarpala has two protruding prongs behind his head which suggests that he is the representation of trishula (trident). One point of interest would be that this dvarapala is not wearing any yajnopavita. Right side dvarapala is standing in an interesting posture which is rare among the Pallava order. He is standing with his arms held crossed in front of his chest. He is wearing a yajnopavita and his dress goes down till his ankles. There is a protruding axe-blade in his jata-bhara which suggests that he is the representation of parasu (axe).
There are two interesting relief carvings on side walls of this cave hall. On the south wall is a relief sculpture of Ganesha in valampuri style, truck turned to right. This valampuri style is very frequent in Pandya region and most of the Ganesha images are in this style. He is seated in padmasana and shown with four hands. One of his lower hand is resting on his thigh and another one is carrying a modaka. In his upper hands are shown ankusha (elephant goad) and a broken tusk. Tradition of Ganesha worship in Tamilnadu region is a subject of controversy. Earlier scholars like K R Srinivasan suggest that this tradition was borrowed from the Chalukya-s by the Pallavas. Ganesha did not get proper place in the earlier Pallava cave temples as the only representation is found where he is shown with other ganas in Ramanuja Mandapa at Mahabalipuram. However if Kudumiyanmalai is also considered among the Pallava creations then there is a proper relief sculpture of Ganesha outside that cave. There is another thought about the tradition of Ganesha worship. Piliyarpatti cave has an inscription which has been dated to 5th century CE on basis of its language and alphabet style. This cave shrine is dedicated to Ganesha and has a sculpture where he is shown with two hands only. An icon with two hands is considered of earlier origin then an icon with multiple hands in iconography study. If this all is accepted then Piliyarpatti is probably the earliest cave shrine of Tamilnadu and that Ganesha worship was in practice from ancient times, at least in and after 5th century CE. This breaks down two of the earlier hypotheses, first that Mandagapattu was the first cave shrine created during Mahendravarman Pallava’s reign and that Ganesha worship came down from the Chalukya-s to Tamilnadu.
Another relief sculpture is carved on the north side wall. Shiva is shown with Uma (Parvati) which is referred as Umasahitamurthi in agama texts. Both Shiva and Uma are shown seated in maharajalilasana posture where one leg is laid on the platform and another is placed with erect knee. Shiva is shown with four hands holding a parasu (axe) and a snake (?) in his upper hands. Lower right hand is placed near his chest in kataka (?) mudra and lower left hand is placed on his thigh. Uma is shown with two hands carrying a flower in one of her hands. She is wearing a karanda-makuta. There is a lady attendant standing next to Uma and carrying a basket in her hands. There is visible crack in the roof which reached till the sculpture of Uma.
Cave Temple Extensions – There is a mahamandpa constructed in front of the cave temple. There is a Nandi shrine within this mahamandapa. This mahamandpa is enclosed by a wall encasing the cave. There is a gopuram on eastern side of this entrance which is used as the main entrance in the present time. There is another enclosure encasing this mahamandapa. There are two monuments of interest within this second enclosure. One is an unfinihsed rock cut shrine carved on the north side of the main cave but outside the mahamandapa complex. This cave has few stray images inside it’s cell. On its northern side is an image of Chandishvara which faces south. He is shown seated on a platform and holding a danda (stick) on which an axe blade is fixed. Chandishvara is seen as the guardian of Shiva temple and many of the transaction were carried on his name as supported by many inscriptions. It is believed that Shiva granted him the permission to guard his shrines. Mostly his shrines are located on the north side of the main shrine as seen in this monument complex as well. However though his shrine is located on northern side, his image is carved so as he faces south. Is this some kind of mixed representation of Dakshinamurthy and Chandishvara?
There is a ratha-mandapa (chariot-mandapa) as well inside. This is called hundred pillared hall however there are only ninety pillars inside. There are two wheels and two horses driving this mandapa. There are eight ganas placed at the base of this mandapa in front. Seven are male and one is female. Does this suggests that this mandapa was in form of a chariot which should be driven by eight horses? There are references of seven horses in the chariot of Surya (Sun) however eight horses is a very unusual occurrence hence the number of ganas might not be for horses. There are twenty-four spokes in both the wheels. The spokes are in form of a shankha (conch) and a deva-gana arranged in alternate fashion. Such hundred pillar mandapas were in fashion during Nayakas and Vijayanagara time.
There is a Murugan (Skanda) shrine on top this hill. This seems to be a recent structure. In the south of mahamandapa, sapta-matrika images are placed. They are shown in company of Veerbhadra and Ganesha. V Latha suggests that these images belong to 8th-9th century. The arrangement of Ganesha and Veerbhadra is probably interchanged. Usually Veerbhadra lead the gang however here Ganesha is placed first and Veerbhadra in the last. Another thing of interest is that Vaishnavi’s image is repeated twice and Kaumari is absent.
Inscriptions – There are about 37 inscriptions in this cave and complex. Many of those are talked about in the introduction of this article. Below is given the details about one of the earliest inscription from this cave.
1. Svasti Sri [||] Ko-Nandippotta-
2. raiyarku yandu 3-avadu [|] Mi-
3. pulai-nattu Vaduvur-kKanavatima-
4. nn-ayina Pagaiccccandira Visaia-
5. raiyan riruvadirai-nanru a-
6. tt==aliya vaitta arisi 200 iru-
7. nurru-nali nurruvarkku ||
Abstract – Registers a gift of 200 nali of rice by Ganavatiman alias Pagaiccandra-Visaiaraiyan of Vaduvur in Mipulainadu to meet expenses of feeding hundred persons (in the temple) on the day of Tiruvadirai. It is registered in the 3rd regnal year of Nandipottavarman, the Pallava king.
How to Reach – Kunnandarkoil is located on Pudukkottai-Killukottai road about 35km from Pudukkottai. It can be reached from Kiranur as well from where it is 13 km. It can also be reached from Adanakkottai.
- Gopalakrishnan, S (2005). Early Pandyan Iconometry. New Delhi. Sharada Publishing House. ISBN 8188934216
- Latha, V (2005). Cave Temples of Pandya Country: Art and Ritual. New Delhi. Sharada Publishing House. ISBN 8188934224
- Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. New Delhi. Agam Prakashan
- Srinivasan, K R (1996). Temples of South India. New Delhi. National Book Trust of India. ISBN 8123718675