Introduction – Kodumbalur is probably the most ancient site in Pudukkottai region. It is famous as the birthplace of Idangali-Nayanar, a prince of solar-race and one of the 63 Shaiva saints (Nayanar-s) who flourished before 9th century. The first reference of this town is found in the Tamil classic Silappadikaram in which it is referred as Kodumbai lying on the highway between Uraiyur and Madura. Kovalan, the hero of Silappadikaram, traveled through this route with his wife, Kannagi, and a Jaina ascetic. Uraiyur (now Trichy) was the capital of the Cholas while Madura (now Madurai) has been always the capital of the Pandyas from the time immortal. Periyapuranam provides a reference of Konnatu-k-kodi-nagaram (apex town of Konadu) for Kodumbalur.Irukkuvel of Velirs were ruling over Kodumbalur from very ancient time. As per a Muval Koil inscription Bhutivikramakesari, an Irukkuvel king, traced his lineage to the Yadava race, a clan of Lord Krishna of Dwarka. Tamil literature gives a number of chiefs who were member of the Velir family. They were settled at different places. Uruvappahrer Ilanjetchenni, the father of Karikala-Chola, was married to the daughter of Ulundur-Vel. Karikala was also married to Nangur-Vel’s daughter. Irungovenman, An Irukkuvel king with title Pulikadimal, was contemporary with the Chola ruler Karikala Chola. He traced back his lineage back to 49 generations reaching to a king of Dwarka. Pulikadimal means a hero who slay a tiger. There are two versions of this story. First version states that he was separated from his hunting expedition party and was pursued by a tiger which he killed in the last. Second version states that Irungovenman was the lord of Tuvarapati (current Dvarasamudra) and to have sprung from the homa-kund of a sage. At the instance of this sage he killed a tiger that came to interrupt his austerities.
It is interesting to find similarities between Irukkuvel and Hoysala-s. First, both claimed their lineage to Yadava race. Second, one of the early king of the both dynasties, Irungovenman of Velir-s and Sala of Hoysala-s, have been associated with killing of a tiger. Does this present some connection in between these two? This needs further study in both the dynasties to come to a conclusion.
As per Muvar Koil inscription, Bhuti Vikramakesari was ruling over Kodumbalur. He is stated to have defeated the Pallava-s and the Pandya-s. Samarabhirama, father of Bhuti, was married to a Chola princess Anupama. Bhuti Vikramakesari is identified with Tennavan Ilangovel who was a feudatory of the Chola king Aditya I. In this case the Pallava king slain by him could be Aparajitavarman who was overthrown by the Chola king Aditya I. This makes Samarabhirama contemporary of the Chola king Vijayalaya. He would have helped Vijayalaya in his conquests and established his ancestral domain of Konadu. His son, Bhuti, being contemporary of Aditya I was given the region which was ruled previously by Muttaraiya-s after their defeat in the hands of Aditya I. The Pandya king defeated by Bhuti would have been a Vira-Pandya who might be a probable contemporary of Pandya Rajasimha and a member of collateral line. Daughter of Bhuti, Nangai, was married to the Chola prince Arikulakesari, son of Parantaka I.
Bhuti Vikramakesari had two sons from his queen Karrali, Parantaka and Aditya. These are identical with Sembiyan Irukkuvel alias Bhuti Parantaka and Sembiyan Ilangovel alias Bhuti Aditta-Pidaran. Madhurantakan Irukkuvel alias Adityan Bhuti or Adityan Vikramakesari was the son of Sembiyan Ilangovel. Sembiyan Irukkuvel had three sons, Virasola Ilangovel alias Parantakan Kunjaramalla, Mahimalya Irukkuvel alias Parantakan Virasola and Vira-Irungolar alias Parantaka Siriyavelar. The last of these was married to Varaguna-Perumanar, the sister of Parantaka II Sundara Chola.
Brief History of Pudukkottai – Pudukkottai as a region has played a very significant role in the history of southern-eastern part of India, most of which is within Tamilnadu boundary now. South India was under dominion of two major powers, the Pallava-s and the Pandya-s for three centuries between 7th and early 10th century. Kaveri, a major river of South India, passes through this region making it fertile and rich. It made this region a matter of contention among all the neighbors. As it was at the boundary of these two kingdoms so witnessed many clashes. Because of its position at the periphery and distance from the capital city, this region was governed by local chiefs who ruled under authority of the powerful kingdoms like the Pallava-s and Pandya-s. These chiefs oscillated their allegiance between the Pallava-s and the Pandya-s depending on who is powerful at that time. Muttaraiyar-s and Irukkuvel-s were two main chiefs who ruled this part of land as vassals of either the Pallava-s or the Pandya-s.
Mahendravarman I (580-629 CE) inherited a vast region from his father, Simhavarman (550-580 CE). The southern part of this region was soon lost to the Pandya-s. As per Sendalai pillar inscription, a Pandya king gained a victory at Kodumbalur. Velvikudi plates report that Ter-maran defeated the Pallava-s at this place only. Vellar river probably formed the boundary between the Pallava-s and the Pandya-s. Muttaraiya-s ruled the north part of Vellar river while Irukkuvel were ruling the southern part. With resurgence of the Pallava-s, Muttharaiya-s’ allegiance was towards the Pallava-s as seen during the rise of the Pallava king Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (731-796 CE). The Pallava-s soon got back this tract of land from the Pandya-s when Nandivarman II defeated the Pandya-s. However there are few contradictory inscriptions from Pandya-s where it is stated that Maravarman Rajasimha defeated the Pallava king Nandivarman II Pallavamalla. But it is very much possible that both, the Pallava-s and the Pandya-s are right in their inscriptions. There might have been more than one clash in between these two powers which in the end resulted with the win of the Pallava-s. Two Velir chiefs, Marapidugu-Ilangovel and Videlvidugu-Ilangovel were holding subordinate position under the Pallava king Nandivarman II. An inscription from Adipuriswara Temple in Tiruvorriyur states that Videlvidgu-Ilangovelar was a vassal of the Pallava king Kampavarman.
By the early 10th century both, the Pallava-s and the Muttairaiya-s, were defeated and annihilated by the Chola-s under Aditya I. Pudukkottai became the dividing boundary between the Chola and the Pandya empires. However this did not last long and the Pandya-s were overruled by the Chola-s soon. The Irukkuvel-s became firm allies of the Chola-s after this victory. The Pandya resurgence in middle of 13th century ended the Chola dominion on this region. With a defeat in the hands of Malik Kafur, the Pandya-s lost Madurai to Delhi sultanate. It was Kumarakampana, a Vijayanagara prince, which brought back this region from the clasps of the Delhi sultanate in about 1371 CE. Provincial viceroys of the Vijayanagra empire, the Nayaka-s of Madurai & Nayaka-s of Thanjavur, asserted their independence after the end of that kingdom. By middle of 17th century, Tondaimans of Pudukkottai started ruling over this region which they did till the advent of the British in South India. Pudukkottai became a district in 14th January, 1974 comprising of some portion of Thanjavur and Tiruchirappalli.
|Muvar Koil Complex|
Monuments – There are four monuments of interest in Kodumbalur out of which three are under care of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India).
|Two surviving temples of Muvar Koil complex|
Muvar Koil – Muvar Koil in Tamil means ‘temple for three deities/persons’. This complex is known by this name probably because it has three temples inside. Only two out of these three have survived fully while the third one has only the basement remaining now. Local traditions and folklore give some interesting interpretations of the term ‘Muvar’. As per one belief, Shiva saints (Nayanar-s) Appar, Sundarar and Manikkavachakar built one shrine each. Another belief states that kings of three major dynasties Chera, Chola and Pandya constructed one shrine each. One another tradition states that these three shrines were constructed to house Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. As per a foundation inscription on south wall of the north-most temple, these temples were constructed by Kodumbalur Velir chief Bhuti Vikramakesari on behalf of himself and his two wives, Karrali and Varaguna. Bhuti Vikramakesari was a contemporary of the Chola ruler Aditya I hence these temples would have been constructed in middle of 10th century CE. This complex can be assigned to the early phase of the Chola architectural activities.
The complex has three main temples standing in middle and face west. There are remains of about sixteen sub-shrines around the main temples. The complex with such sub-shrines is called parivara complex housing various deities belonging to Lord Shiva and his family. Such complexes were probably originated during the Chola rule. There is a common maha-mandapa constructed in front of these main temples. It measures 91 feet by 41 feet however now only basement of this remains. Beyond this mandapa are the remains of a Nandi-mandapa and a bali-pitha. The feeling on the first look on this complex is that of witnessing a splendid composition with serene surroundings. The feeling culminates into an impression which is awestruck with the grandeur and beauty of the sculptures adorning these temples. The images are subtle yet impressive enough. This early work of enchanting beauty by the Chola artists provides a hint of what to expect from them in future. And we are fortunate enough as we find culmination of all their art into the Brihadeeshvara Temple (Big Temple) of Thanjavur.
|Middle shrine among the three temples|
First temple on entrance is the middle one among these three. Its platform is constructed with inverted lotuses and protruded beyond the main shrine (garbha-griha). This suggests that there had been a ardha-mandapa in front of this shrine. This closed mandapa would have been supported on walls on all three side, west side wall partially opened for entry into the temple. The platform for the temple is comprised of various architectural elements like kumuda, kampa, kantha, jagati etc as explained in described in shilpa texts. The upper most row, called upana, is comprised of vyala (mythical animal) all around the temple. This vyala row has gargoyles like figures at the corners. Koshtas (niches) are formed by pilasters constructed in the walls. The shape of the pilasters is tetragonal throughout. There is an ornamental band on upper side of the pilasters on which miniature images are carved in.
Vimana of the temple is consisted of three tiers. A vyala-row separates the first tier from the roof of the temple. Cornice of this temple roof is ornamented with chaitya (horse-shoe shaped) windows. These windows do not have any human head or other ornamental features like flower inside which was a regular characteristic of the Pallava and the Buddhist architecture. It will be very difficult to say and justify that the inspiration of carving such windows came from the Buddhist art as such kind of windows may be present in residential palaces or houses of that time which served as an inspiration source for those artists. The lowest tier of vimana has square kuta (dorms) on its four corners which resembles to the arrangement as seen in later Pallava cave temples of Mahabalipuram. Shikhara (tower) of these corner sala shrines reached till the top of the second tier of the vimana. There are niches provided in the middle of the side housing various images. Second tier has oblong sala in middle but no kuta at its corners. This arrangement of dividing corner shrines and middle shrines in two different tiers makes it different from single tier design of the Pallava shrines. Probably this is the reason why K R Srinivasan states that the vimana has two tiers not three. Chaitya windows are provided on each side of both the shrines, corner and middle ones. The third tier has no kuta and sala but has four Nandi images at its four corners. Nandi images are facing east or west only. There is a central niche at each side of this tier housing bas-reliefs. Shikhara (tower) rises above this tier on a square platform. Shikhara is of square shape curved at the corners and ornamented with creepers. Middle of each side is a large chaitya arch, referred as Maha-nasika in shilpa texts. There is a small temple carved in all of these large arches. Square shape of shikhara puts this temple into Nagara style of architecture. Above this shikhara is a stupi (finial).
|Shiva on north vimana|
|Subramanya on west side of vimana|
|Shiva as Ardhnareeshvara|
This temple has some very elegant and impressive sculptures found in India. Their beauty lies in the devotion and fine details put in by the artists. Niche on third tier of vimana on west houses Shiva with his consort Parvati. The current image looks like a poor copy of the original however I am not very sure if this is original or a copy. North wall has three niches. Uppermost has Shiva sitting in maharajalilasana posture with his arm resting on his mount, Nandi. On eastern wall, the uppermost niche has Subramanya or Kartikeya riding on his elephant. Middle niche has Shiva with his consort Parvati. Parvati is shown sitting in his lap but the image is very much worn out. Lowermost niche has Shiva who is depicted as Ardhnareeshvar. This sculpture is a masterpiece with respect to its composition where male and female characteristics are taken into consideration to very minute levels. A look at its face will bewilder you with its charm coming out of its female characteristic. Uppermost niche on southern wall is Shiva as Bhairava but as the image is much worn out so it is very hard to identify this icon. Middle niche is probably housing Shiva in Dakshinamurti icon. Lower niche is empty.
Second temple, south of the first one, is similar in architecture as that of the first as well as same in most of the measurements. This also has a three tier vimana with square shikhara and a stupid above it. There is a sculpture of Shiva as Harihara in the front niche of the vimana on west. Uppermost vimana niche on north is Shiva as Gangadhara. Parvati is accompanying Shiva however she is standing turned away from him as she is being jealous of Shiva’s attention towards Ganga. Below it is shown Shiva with Parvati in lower tier of vimana. Niche on north wall has an unidentified icon.
|Shiva as Tipurantaka|
|Shiva as Kalari|
Eastern wall of this temple has some marvelous icons. Vimana upper niche houses Shiva as Tripurantaka. He is shown driving an arrow out of his quiver. Shown with four hands he is holding a bow and parasu (axe)in two of the hands. Lower tier niche houses another wonderful icon where Shiva is shown as Kalari, destroying Kala. He is shown dancing in chatura posture over the figure of Kala. A slim smile on his face with posture and position of his arms, Shiva presents a very impressive countenance. He is depicted with four hands carrying pasa (noose), parasu (axe) and a deer. One hand is in suchi mudra pointing a finger towards the body of Kala which is suppressed under Shiva’s feet. Niche on east wall has Shiva as Vrishbhamurti where he is standing on support of his mount, Nandi.
|Shiva as Gajasamharamurti|
Southern wall also has some interesting images. Vimana upper niche has Shiva as Gajasamharamurti where he shown tearing apart the skin of an elephant. Depicted with four hands he carries a snake in one of hand while another hand is in suchi mudra pointing downwards. Two upper hands are stretched to the maximum in act of tearing apart the skin. There is a gana standing on left side of Shiva. Hairdo of this sculpture is very interesting. Lower tier niche has Shiva in dancing posture, probably representing Nataraja. His lower two hands are in usual posture of Nataraja icon, one hand in gajahasta mudra while another in abhaya mudra. Niche on the south wall has a marvelous icon of Shiva as Veenadhara carrying a veena, Indian musical instrument. As this icon faces south so this Shiva Dakshinamurti Veendhara is a very unique icon.
Before going to next temple, I would like to quote a comment given by Percy Brown about the early Chola architecture, ‘Dating from the 9th and 10th centuries, that they are in the early Chola style is fairly evident, but at the same time Pallava features are observable, while their relation to the monolithic rathas at Mamallapuram may be noted’. I assume that the author is referring this Pallava influence in the execution of bas-reliefs and other sculptures as I do not see any such influence on the temple architecture as such. Pillars with lion base which were a characteristic style during the later Pallava-s are no more in use during the Chola-s. Pillars during the Chola-s became much slender with a large and protruding abacus above the capital. The joint between the capital and the abacus was carved with flower designs, called padmabandha in shilpa texts. The study of architectural evolution states that the evolution starts from small and culminates into a bigger manifestation of that small start. So called early Chola temples at Panangudi, Kaliapatti etc are of small size. However we have already seen the bigger complexes during the Pallava-s as evident from the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram and Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi. It would be wrong to say that the Chola-s, who conquered over the Pallava-s in the early 10th century were unaware of their architectural marvels. However still we find simple and smaller temples built during the Chola-s. I think that the explanation lies with the conception and idea of the monument. It is not that all the temples of that period were conceived and constructed by the king or the royal house. There were many temples which were constructed by local chiefs or person of some influence like saints etc. The temples which were constructed under the order of a royal grant must have been grand and elegant in design and idea which is sufficiently reflected in Kailasanatha and Brihadeeshvara temple where both were constructed by the royal houses of those times. However the temples which were constructed by local chiefs might not be that grand when compared to the former category. Hence though we may accept that the evolution always flows from the small towards the big however everything which is small does not qualify that it would have been of an early origin. Hence small temples which are dated of early origin may have been built quite later in time. Until there is no foundation inscription on such monuments, it will be hard to exactly date those. Another difference seen with the Pallava temples is the shikhara of these temples. Pallava temples have octagonal shikara throughout in all of their temples while Kodumbalur temples have square shikhara.
Inscriptions – A Sanskrit inscription is written on its south wall in early Grantha characters and gives details of Kodumbalur Velir family. As the first line is not readable hence the first ancestor of this family is not known. However it is clear that he captured an elephant battalion of some enemy in one of the war. The genealogy is as followed:
Unknown ancestor -> Paravirajit Viratunga -> Ativira (titled Anupama) -> Sanghakrit -> Nripakesari -> Paradurgamarddana (who conquered Vatapi) -> Samarabhirama (whol killed Chalukki in a battle at Adhirajamangala) -> Buti
Bhuti got the title of Vikramakesari by his prowess in battles. He is stated to have made the waters of the Kaveri red with the blood of the Pallava army slain by him. He also conquered Vira-Pandya and destroyed one Vanchi-vel. It is stated that he was living with his two wives, Karrali and Varaguna, at Kodumbalur. Karrali had two sons Parantakavarman and Adityavarman. Bhuti Vikramakesari built three shrines in the name of himself and his two queens for Shiva at Kodumbalur. He also presented a matha (monastery) to Mallikarjuna of Madura, a teacher of Kalamukha sect of Shaivas and eleven villages for feeding fifty ascetics of that sect each day.
Aivar Koil – Aivar Koil in Tamil meant ‘five-temples’. It is so called as there are remains of five temples in this complex. It is referred as Aintali temple in its inscriptions. This complex lies little south-west of the Muvar Koil complex. The five shrines of this complex share the same platform similar to the Pallava temple of Panamalai. In this respect this temple can be put under the category of panchayatana architecture where a central shrine is surrounded by four corner shrines all built on same plinth. The first such surviving temple is Dashavatara temple at Devgarh which was built during Gupta reign of 5th century CE.
This west facing temple is composed of an closed ardha-mandapa, a maha-mandapa supported on pillars and a Nandi-mandapa all connected together with the main shrine. None of these structures have survived expect the remains of their common plinth. An image of Nandi is still there in Nandi-mandapa however whether this is the original statue is not very sure. There are two entrances provided on its north and south side which opens into ardha-mandapa and circumambulatory path around the main shrine. It seems that all the shrines were having Shiva-lingas and were dedicated to Shiva only.
|Kota-varai or Kartikeya?|
There are few interesting remains in this complex. Ganas placed on the railings of the staircase leading to side shrines. There is a row of gana now placed on the maha-mandapa base. Some part of cornice with kudus on it is also placed on the base. There is an interesting sculpture placed on one of the side of the platform. As it is much worn out hence identification is not easy. Some scholars claim that this is an image of Kota-varai. The hair-do of this sculpture looks very similar to the hair-do of Kartikeya during the Guptas hence in my opinion this could be Kartikeya. As Kartikeya and Kota-varai are both associated with Shiva hence their presence in this shrine is not of any surprise. But where Kota-varai is an icon developed and evolved in Tamilnadu, Kartikeya is present in all of the styles across India.
Inscriptions – Two inscriptions belonging to Raja Raja I have been discovered and both speak about the gifts made for keeping perpetual lamps burning.
Muchu Kundesvara Temple – Referred as Mudukunram temple in its inscriptions, this temple was built by Mahimalaya Irukkuvel, chief of Kodumbalur, in 920 CE during 4th year of the reign of Chola king Parantaka I. This east facing temple was repaired and extended in 13th century when a maha-mandapa and a Devi shrine was added to the complex. The temple is built in parivara style like Muvar Koil. However compared to sixteen sub-shrines of Muvar Koil, this temple has only seven out of which remains of four can be seen.
|Arrangement of sub-shrines in a parivara type temple|
Vimana of this temple has two tiers. Cornice supported on walls have kudus all around. Above the cornice is a vyala row which separates first tier with roof. The first tier is composed of kuta (square/rectangular shrine) and sala (oblong shrine) similar to the arrangement seen in later Pallava cave temples. There is no separation of corner shrines and middle shrines between two tiers here as seen in Muvar koil. Kutas are places at the corners and sala in the middle of the side. Statues are placed below inside the middle sala on all three sides. Second tier of vimana does not have kuta and sala arrangement. Cornice of this second tier has kudus all around. Above the cornice are placed four Nandi-s on four corners similar to Muvar Koil. Nandi-s either face east or west but not north or south. It seems there should have some explanation for such an arrangement of Nandi-s. Above the second tier rises square griva above which a square shikhra is placed. A similar arrangement is seen in Muvar Koil as well. Square shikhara puts this temple under Nagara style of architecture. Maha-nasikas (large arched window) are provided in middle of each side of this square shikhara. An image is placed below each of maha-nasika.
Niches are provided in all the three walls of vimana however all are empty. Niches of first and second tier are adorned with images. Upper tier niche on south has Shiva as Dakshinamurti. Lower niche of the same side also has same icon however this time Shiva is holding a veena hence he is portrayed as Veenadhara–Dakshinamurti. West side niches, upper tier and lower tier, have Vishnu in each. North side niches, both, have Brahma. This arrangement of Dakshinamurti, Vishnu and Brahma later became a characteristic feature of the Chola temples.
Inscriptions – Eleven inscriptions of 10th to 16th century were discovered from Muchukundeswara Temple. Four of them belong to the period of Parakesari Parantaka I (907-953 AD) and one each to the periods of Raja Raja I, Rajendra I, Kulothunga I, Vikramachola, Sundara Pandya, Vijayanagara and an Araiyar chieftain. Parakesari inscription mentions the name of the builder and his liberal endowment of lands for conducting daily poojas at the temple. The inscription belonging to the Raja Raja I refers to a temple Desi Val Isvaram at Kodumbalur. The temple, which is not in existence, now, is believed to have been constructed by members of merchant guilds. The inscription also refers to a merchant guild, “Munnuravar” and the name has come across for the first time during archaeological studies in the region.
Rajendra period inscription refers to gifts made by a Panan of Kodumbalur Vizhuperaraiyan Vikramakesari Arulmozhi Devan, while the one belonging to the Vikrama Chola (1118-1135 AD) period details the gifting of 100 goats for supply of ghee for daily poojas and keeping two perpetual lamps burning by Ooralinatha Ambalakoothan Chola Vichathara Peraraiyan in memory of his son, Kunran. This is only the second inscription belonging to the Vikrama Chola period that has been discovered in Pudukottai district. Another inscription belonging to the Salivahana year 1454 (1532 AD) gives the name of the Amman as Thirumudu Kunrathu Nachiar, which has been brought to light only now. The inscriptions, also refers to several temples such as Thiru Alankovil, Thirupudisvaram and Vikramakesari Griham — all of which are not in existence now.
Abstract of an inscription from SII Vol 23 – This seems to be an unusual record-in faulty style-purporting to be an inscription dated in the 7th year of a Kodumbalur chief Virasola-Irukkuvel with the Chola title Parakesarivarman prefixed to his name. It states that on the representation (made to the chief) by Alagan Virasola-Anukkamal of the udankuttam (?), the kanmalur and some others (not clear) an image of the deity called Akkasalisvaram-Udai[yar] was consecrated in the temple of Tirumudugaram at Kodumbalur, and provision was made for its daily whorship and offerings by means of a gift of a land known as Seral-endal as devadana.
An inscription at a pillar from a temple at the tank refers to it as Minnamalai Iswaram of Kodumbalur. Minnamalai is the surname of Bhuti Vikrama Kesari, an Irukkuvel chief, and the temple had been apparently built by him. The stones used in the temple that had fallen into decay, should have apparently been used for constructing the tank.
Nandi Shrine – Near a modern temple, Vattam Katcheri, is a large statue of Nandi. It is about 9 feet long, 6 feet high and 10 feet round the body.
How to Reach – Kodumbalur is about 35 km from Pudukkottai lying on Pudukkottai–Manapparai road. You will get bus from Manapparai to reach here.Viralimalai and Manapparai are two major towns near Kodumbalur. It is about 5 km from NH 45B, Triuchchirappalli–Tovarankurichchi, little after you pass Viralimalai.
- Brown, Percy (1959). Indian Architecture: Buddhist and Hindu Periods. Mumbai. Taraporewala and Sons.
- Konow, Sten (1914). Epigraphia Indica Vol XII. New Delhi. Archaeological Survey of India.
- Michell, George (1989). The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India Volume I: Buddhist, Jain, Hindu. London. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140081442
- Srinivasan, K R (1996). Temples of South India. New Delhi. National Book Trust of India. ISBN 8123718675
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