Kudumiyaanmalai – a sculptural marvel – A Guest post – Mr. Mohandoss Ilangovan

A real treat to viewers, my young friend Mr. Mohandoss takes us through a spectacular post ( thanks to him for allowing us to repost his excellent article on Kudumiyaanmalai. The Tamil version is his and the English translation is by me). He is an IT professional and a budding artist as well.


Over to him

I feel my desire to visit Sittanavaasal was influenced strongly by the famous song ` enna vilai azage’ ( whats the price beautiful !) from the tamil film Kadhalar Dhinam ( lovers day). Love, and first love at that is reminiscent with nostalgic memories, one of them being the song which melts your heart.

When i mentioned to my Dad that i wanted to visit Sittanavaasal, even before seeking to book transport /car he put his condition not to photograph the lovely maidens there. I heard of him that after Kallanani, Mukkombu, Trichy Rockfort, the latest haunt of love birds was Sittananvaasal. Do not want to add more on it though. We got to know from the ASI person in Sittanavaasal about Kudumiyaan malai. Only after we visited the temple did we realise that if not for that tip we could have missed a spectacular site. ( will write more about Sittanavaasal shortly)

The Priests as usual were inaccurate in their explanations, adding more masala into legend – like that the temple was over 2000 years old and couldnt explain clearly about the spectacular stone sculptures there. The ASI person was also missing in action during our visit. However, some searching around and enquiring, led us to him – and he did gives us some interesting insights into the ` musical inscriptions’ and ` rock cut temples’.

The main duty of the priests is definitely not this, but atleast they could have some basic information correct. Anyway, thanks to them, i spent some time researching on the temple, having been to Tanjore big temple and Gangai Konda Cholapuram many times, the sculptures at Kudumiyaanmalai were top class, their finishing exquisite, but i quickly learnt that they are dated later to the big temple and gkc.

Despite the beauty, how far this temples fame has spread is to be seen, though well know in and around Trichy ( as per my Dad). When i was looking for authoritative works on the temple, i can across `Pudukkotai District History – Dr J. Raja Mohammed’ – with some information, which i share with you below. The photos are mine.

Kudumiyaanmalai is situated 16 kms from Pudukkotai. The place gets its name from the main deity who is called SigaaNaathasami ( Siga – Kudumi – pony tail – roughly meaning the deity with the pony tail – for want of better words!!). How he got the pony tail is described in the temple legends as an interesting story. The temple priest was a devote Shiva devotee. However, one day, his lady love was with him and in his love lorn state, he offered the garland meant for the Lord to his lady love. At that moment, the King made an unscheduled visit to the temple, and the Priest had to adorn the deity with flowers. Not knowing what to do, he used the same garland and later presented it to the King. However, the alert King noticed a strand of long hair in the garland and querried the priest. Caught in his act, the priest came up with a quick solution, lying that the main diety did have long mane/pony tail. When the king persisted to be shown this, the Lord in his infinite grace, chose to forgive his devotees act and save him. The Shiva Linga grew a mane. To this day, devotees are shown the knot on top of the Linga to testify to this grace of the Lord.

There are many inscriptions of historical significance in this temple, a 10th C one names the town as Thirunalakkundram, a 14th C one as Sigaanallur and the diety as Kudumiyaar, a 17-18C one calls it by its current name as Kudumiyaanmalai. Thirunalakundram – means sacred, holy hillock. Due to some liguistic misconceptions there are some legends relating this site to the story of Nala. 14th C inscriptions refer to the diety as ` thenkonattu siganallur kudumiyaar’. Some others refer to him as Kuduminaathar. Siganallur in all probability could have been Sigaranallur – Sigara – hill top. Even today we see a hill crowning this town. Maybe with the passage of time sigara became siga and the above legend of his pony tail could have been spun during the later period – For Kudumi in tamil doesn’t refer just to the tuff of hair/pony tail ut also to the top of a hill, a person of high standards etc. for eg, the great devotee Kannappa Naaynar prays to the deity names Kudumithevar in Kalahasti. Such names getting altered due to sanskrtisation of tamil names, is seen in other places like Malyilaaduthurai /Mayuram, Kurangaaduthurai / kapisthalam, thirumaraikaadu /vedaaranyam

In days of yore, there would have been settlements all over the plains surrounding this hill. When we climb the hill there is a natural cave/cavern which could have been inhabited by stone age man. There is Murugan temple on top of the hill, and on the eastern slope we find the Siganaathaswami temple.

There are many rare and interesting inscriptions revealing the long and checkered history of Pudukkotai here. The cave temple ( upper cave) has a Carnatic Music inscription which was earlier assigned to the great Pallava King Mahendra Pallava. However, recent studies have proved otherwise. The main Grabha Graha of Siganaathaswami is assigned to 12th C. After that the region chieftains Pallavaraayar have been contributing donations for its upkeep as per inscriptions. Following them, the temple gained prominence during the rule of the Thonadaimaans . They were crowned in this temple, Ragunaatharaayath Thondaimaan ( 1686 -1730) built the outer Mandap of the cave temple. In 1730 Raja Vijayaraguraaja Raayath Thondaimaan was crowned in front of this temple. An inscription dated 1872 in the Amman temple states that this temple was consecrated during the rule of Ramachandra Thondaimaan.

The cave temple as stated above is on the Eastern slopes and carved into the rock face. The main Garbha Graha and its corridor is sculpted into live rock, while the adjoining Mandabam was later added during 18th C with its imposing Door guardians.
The sculptures are majestic and graceful exhibitions of masterly stone work. The Garbha Graha ( Sanctum Sanctorum) has a shiva linga and to the south of the cave, there is a lovely – unique valampuri ( trunk curled left against the normal right) Ganesh carved into the rock fave.

To the south of the Cave temple, on the eastern slopes, measuring 13’x14′ is a famous Carnatic Music inscription, which defines the generic guidelines for the music. This is a unique one of kind inscription and no similar ones exist anywhere in India. It nestles inbetween the 4th C work of Bharatha on Dance and Saarnagadevar’s Sangeetharathanakaara – describing the music during the interlying period. Its a record of a King Parama Mageshwaran, who was studying under the tutelage of Rudrachaarya, however not much is known of their identity. Based on the script, Dr. C. Meenakshi and other researchers asssigned it to Mahendra Pallava. But recently this has been disputed.

On the rock on top of the Cave temples, towards the summit, the 63 naayanmaars have been beautifully sculpted.

Siganathar – Akilandeswari temple, was a thriving centre during the samasthana period. East facing temple, as you enter through the main Gopura entrance, you see the 1000 pillared hall.

The pillars of this hall have lovely sculptures of Hanuman, Vaali, sugreev and others.

As you go further inside, you see the main hall – immediately you feel transported into some Museum of sculptural art. Such is the amazing range of sculptures you find in every side, completely numbing your senses by their overdose of artistic excellence.

Though these sculptures may date more recently ( AD 16-17 C), they are a lasting testament to stone craft of that period.

Having received an almost immortal life though a boon, the demon Hiranyakasipu, drunk on his power, looses his mind and refuses to believe in the omnipotence and omni presence of God, asking where is Hari ( Vishnu) to his own son Prahaladha, who in his infinite devotion says the lord is in every spec every pillar. Amused by the reply, Hiranyakasipu kicks the nearby pillar to split it – and from side bursts open a fiery creature – half man half lion – Narasimha, to use the flaw in the boon, catches him, place shim and his thighs and disembowels him – wearing his intestines as a garland. This is fantastically depicted in this pillar.

The Lord of love, Manmadhan with his love dart shooting sugar cane bow. The mesmerising Mohini ( Vishnu) who bewitched all the Rishis of Tarukavanam.

A lovely Ganesha with his consort, a ten headed Ravana ?, destroyer of evil Agora Veerabadra and many more. Such detailing of the sculptures, you can actually study the armaments of the infantry and the cavalary and how they both fought each other.

The corridor leading from the hall to the temple is called gangaiyaraiyan Kurudu ( built by the chieftains called gangaraiyars). Next to this is a hall constructed during Pandya rule, and further inside the mail hall and shrine are early Chola. The temple has seen multiple renovations and restorations in the interim period right from that time. The presence of the 8th C Pandya inscription refers to two shrines – Tirumoolathaanam and Tirumetrali. Tirumoolathaanam most possibly refers to the shiva shrine. The vimanam is a brick construction. The corridor surrounding the main shrine has Saptra matrika ( seven divine mothers) sculpture, Lingothbahva, Jesta devi, subramanya ( Muruga) etc. The Nayak period Hall has Vyagrapada ( tiger legged saint), Patanjai ( snake rishi) and other splendid sculptures.

The Amman diety is named Akhilandeswari and is a Pandya period construction. Just in front of this shrine is a 12’x8′ slab of black granite. It was on this stone that the rulers of Pallavarayar and Thondaiman clans crowned themselves. A courtesan names Umaiyaalnaachi helped construct an amman shrine near the rock cut cave – and names it malaimangai or sooundaryanaayagi. She also features in many donations for the Kudumiyaanmalai shrine.

Kudumiyaanmalai’s carnatic music inscription was earlier assigned to Mahendra Pallava. The following arguments are put against this :

1.There are no records to show the extent of Mahendra Pallava’s regin into the territory south of the river Kaveri.
2. There are more than 120 inscriptions in Kudumiyaanmalai of various Kings.Not one is a Pallava record. The earliest records are Pandya records assigned to Maravarman Rajasimman aka First Sadayan Maaran AD 730-765 and second Jadilapaaranthaga Varuguna Maran Sadayan AD 765-815.
3. The pillars of the cave are stylistically differing from the charateristic Mahendra pillars.
4. The absence of somasskanda carving in the back wall of Garba Graha.
5. The Linga in the cave temple also differs stylistically from Mahendra’s. From the 8th C inscription in the cavetemple, its been dated to that period.
6. Having dated the shrine to the 8th C, it also follows that the carnatic music inscription also be dated to that period. Though the script is said to be similar to those in vouge during Mahendra Pallava time, similar granta characters have been found in later pandya inscriptions like in Velvikkudi and copper plats grants kept in the chennai museum.
7. The reference to Gunasena in inscriptions is taken to resemble the title ( biruda) Gunabara of Mahendra Pallava. However even Gunasena does not find mention in Kudumiyaanmalai. ( its found in Tirmayam, malayadipatti)
8. The title of Parama Maheswara at the nend of music inscription, was assigned to be a title of Mahendra. However, in all the titles of Mahendra pallava there is no mention of this title. Further, Maheshwara was a title taken by kalamuha/pasupatha sect which were ridiculed by Mahendra Pallava in his sanskrit play Mattavelaar prahasanam. so he wouldnt keep a title which he ridiculed as his own.

Kodumbalur in days of yore was the capital of the Velirs and they supported the kalamuha sects giving them many grants. These are recorded in Kudumiyaanmalai. so in all probablilty a Kodumbalur Velir King could have taken the title of Maheshwara.

Thus all the arguments point away from Mahendra Pallava.