A Chola Pandya Temple in Cheranmadevi and its secrets – part 2

Secret Chambers, Buried Treasure, Vaults with untold wealth, tunnels that run for hundreds of Kilometers, Kings escaping from inside a granite mandapa – are all stuff of legends. Having been brought up on a healthy dose of fiction, most of us would have dreamed of being in such a situation and no wonder it news & rumors continue to capture the attention of the masses to this day. So when we were given a chance to explore one such within the Bhaktavatsala Permal Temple in Cheranmadevi, it was a dream come true and we literally jumped in.

It is quite true that most ancient temples did have some sort of secret chamber to protect their wealth, not just to hold their treasures – that they had in plenty as not only Kings, but chieftains and the rich, showered them with gifts. These the temple utilised as a kind of village bank lending money and collecting interests. It also helped that despite frequent wars among the kings, temples were relatively insulated from pillage till the advent of Gazhni upnorth and Allaudin Khilji down south. These chambers then became the refuge for the Gods themselves, as they were the easiest to hide the movable deities

For more interesting reading check this from Dr. R. Nagasamy – Underground Secret Treasuries in Ancient Temples

The last para is quite hair raising...” Lastly the late T. G. Aravamudan, the noted numismatist, and the author of ‘Portrait Sculpture in South India’ narrated to this author on more then one occasion, his experience in the Great temple of Tanjore, In his young age, he was once taken blind folded, through an underground passage in the Great temple of Tanjore. When he reached the secret chamber and his eyes opened, he found a large number of Chola bronzes of exqusite beauty stored there. He was able to recollect that the passage through which he went seemed to be between two granite walls. Later he made several attempts to locate the entrance to the passage in the temple but failed. It is not unlikely that many such underground secret treasure chambers exists but their discovery will remain only a chance find. “

Back to our little secret, the chamber is right underneath the arthamandabam in front of the sanctum

We managed to beat the power situation in the State till then, but then suddenly as we turned away towards the exit, it claimed victory – thereby taking us back in time by many centuries – to understand how it would have looked then – dark.

There right by the site of the door, it would have been impossible to spot in that lighting – but ASI had removed the false stone door and replaced it with a steel hinged one for our benefit.

The layout of the entire contraption was pretty awesome – the door opened to a sheer drop of about 7 feet. about a feet from the bottom, there would have been a false wall – which gave way to a narrow tunnel – just about enough to let me crawl and then it turned right ! Claustrophobic – was the word, am not particularly fond of dark passages and this was pumping my adrenalin rush through the roof.

The small path then opened to a decent shaped room – about 4 feet in height but pretty wide.

It was pretty dark – the powerful flash of the camera and the trusted 3 cell EverReady torch, tried their best to help us out.

With all the excitement of being inside an authentic relic chamber giving us a high, we were a bit disappointed at seeing an empty room, but if only it could tell us its tale !

A crumbling treasure in Pullalur

It was almost noon and despite my folks showing various signals that it was past their endurance point, I was lost amidst the treasures of kanchi kailasanthar temple, when the jolt of my ( ok loan from Dad) samsung handphone brought me back to my senses.

“Vijay, come over on Kanchipuram Arakkonam route, am waiting near Tirumalpuram railway station. ” It was heritage enthusiast K.S. Shankaranarayanan. We were to go and try and cover the Early Chola temple in Tirumalpuram. Little did i realise what the rest of the day held in store for me. Halfway through, the landscape got the best of my brother’s ford and my folks. Quick decision to send them on their way back to chennai and i shifted to shankar’s vehicle. The next two hours was an amazing experience but that post will follow shortly, as what we witnessed later on during that day, churned our insides out. The image has been haunting me every since, and i sincerely hope and pray that there can be something that we can all collectively do to save this astounding structure from crumbling to dust.

What and where is this structure that i talk of ? Its an area that has surprisingly witnessed two historic battles. ofcourse, the name Pullalur, wouldn’t register as a Panipet would do, however a little flashback – for those who have read Kalki’s Sivagamiyin sabatham – thanks to Pavithra for the online English translation – am sure Sivagami & Gundotharan along with Pullikesi and Narasimha Pallava would come back to refresh our memories.

Sivagamiyin Sabatham – Battle at Pullalur

The site also witnessed an astounding defeat of the British by Tippu and the french in 1780 – read more from Sri Muthiah’s –

The story of Two Obelisks.

Ok, enough of the location, what you are going to see below is possibly a ….

No self publicity here. You will understand the reason for me posing here after a couple of progressive longer shots ! Now, where am ?

Hmm, lets zoom out a bit more.

We were actually returning after visiting the temples in worship in Pullalur, when from inside these bushes Shankar spotted this structure. When we enquired around, the villagers mentioned ” Oh, that’s our tonsured Vimana ( mottai Gopuram)”

It was only when we went nearer, that we could gauge the actual scale of this beauty.

The lower base has been subject to parasitic activity – obviously the bricks have been put to ` better’ uses.

The towering tower really started overpowering us with its imposing presence, like an aged warrior, despite its visible marks of valor, it still held its head high in the skies. We counted six tiers capped by a beautiful shikara ( the top dome is missing now)

There were still a few Sudhai ( lime & mortar) sculptures on the Vimana.


Despite all the destruction around it, centuries of obvious neglect spawning a profusion of vegetation eating into it – the real beauty of this Vimana came to us. What we cannot delivery today, with the best of engineering talent, machines, science, technology, advances in materials – this lonely edifice proclaimed its mastery in silence, with a profound sense of grief and overpowering sadness that enveloped us, touching a raw chord in our hears was its core, which revealed itself to us in a powerful manner as we stepped inside the Vimana.

The engineering skill of the ancients – it was still picture perfect, the sacred geometry of the tiers were still doing their duty. But in that, they seem to place an appeal to us. Duty bound to their task, despite the main deity not being present, they conveyed the essence of the Omnipresent. The Tamil equivalent of the central core of a temple is called the ” karu varai” which essentially means a mother’s womb – such a profound significance for a name and the selfless dedication that is associated with it. Can we do something in return?

No ordinary sink

While writing about the Tanjore Brihadeeshwara temple, you tend to get lost praising the chola sculptor, but then there are a few later day contributions which need to be acknowledged as well. It might already be well known that i am not particularly a great fan of sculpture post 13th C – but then there are few vestigial remains that are a tribute to the great traditions of stone work. We have seen a few examples like the Srirangam sesharaya mandabam, the pillars from the great Kanakasabhai of Perur – in that line there does exist a splendid structure inside the big temple environs, that needs to be featured. The Nayak contributions to the big temple via the Subramanya Shrine is notable. We will see just a sample from the Subramanya temple – well, just a spout and a sink.

Locating the Subramanya shrine is not difficult, 3/4 into circumambulating the Vimana, you cannot miss the shrine, but credit to the artist, it does merge into the overall theme seamlessly despite a 600 year gap. Using a mixture of British Library antiquesand images from the net to get you a look feel.

What we are going to see, comes into view as you are 3/4 th ( again) into circum ambulating the subramanya shrine.

There is something surreal about black and white photography!!

Well, we have come to the subject of todays post – there is word in tamil, which i cannot correctly translate into english ” menakkedarathu ” – it would mean going to great extent to do a small job.

Lets look at our subject a little closer.

Yes, its a spout for the ablution water to pass from inside the shrine into a receptacle below. Take a look at the splendid stone work on this spout, simply master class, the curves and the graceful lines accentuate the form.

Now, for the sink. Its no common sink mind you!

With Lion mot tiffs as its base, this sink carved of a single block of stone, has more to it that offers the eye. Its got an interesting tale to tell as well.


If you have been following the posts regularly you would have already known the tale, we featured it in

Feed Half of Bheema to

Once you read it, find out what Bheema has in his hands.

and now is caught as his hand is empty