The Importance of Rajaraja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola I in Southeast Asian Tamil Links

Our concern of the sculptural representation of Karaikkal Ammai has to be seen conjointly with the Political Connections of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra Chola I in the far east. Ample evidences on the Tamil Connection in Southeast Asia have been provided by the available Tamil/Sanskrit inscriptions related to both these Emperors found in Tamilnadu/Southeast Asia. It is important to understand the feats of Rajendra’s father – Rajaraja Chola the Great, who laid a stern carpet of friendly maritime relations with the Southeast Asian countries, that provided a firm pathway for the son to go beyond friendly relations and have a stronghold in trade as well as political supremacy.

While we discuss the religious culmination of both Tamil and Khmer Empires through the specific travel of iconography of Karaikkal Ammai during early 11th century, the extended economic connections of the Maritime Champions of Southern India with other Empires of Southeast Asia provide important resources. It is also well known that the ancient Tamils had successful economic ties with Romans and Greeks before Common Era as per exclusive literary evidences in Sangam Tamil Literature. The entirety of Tamil Land during the first millennium saw vast changes in the Ruling Kingdoms – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava which took turns in capturing respective terrains. Simultaneously, the Maritime Traders from different kingdoms of Thamizhagam and their respective Guilds settled in various Southeast Asian countries never seemed to have seized activity, irrespective of the change in rulers in home land – Thamizhagam.

The Sea has always proved a strong Livelihood Entity for the coastal kingdoms of South and Southeast Asia… be it the yesteryear Pallavas, Cheras, Cholas and the Pandyas of the Tamil Land, Champa, Chenla, Khmer, Srivijaya, Lanka and others in Southeast Asia. The art of tackling forceful waters has been an adventurous game for the sea farers. Or should they be called Sea Darers?

The political ambitions and victories of the Political Masters must have created a smooth path for the Daring Merchants to lead the Economic Arena, and vice versa, the Merchants in strong positions for centuries must have created the smooth passage of friendly relations to political victories for the Ruling Clan.

As Tansen Sen writes about the Chola and Srivijaya Kingdoms-

Because of their geographical locations and powerful naval forces, the two kingdoms already maintained significant control over key segments of Indian Ocean commerce during the eleventh century. The unprecedented naval conflicts between kingdoms in southern and southeastern Asia seem to have been a consequence of attempts by Chola traders and rulers to extend their sphere of influence into the coastal regions of China.

pg. 73, The Military Campaigns of Rajendra Chola and the Chola-Srivijaya-China Triangle; Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa : Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia.

 

The Cholas,  through their inscriptions, not only recorded their achievements and victories over other kingdoms in land and across the seas, but also documented their style of administration, commerce, religion, culture, language and literature and more. They used their architecturally brilliant Temples to chronicle their history and geographic entities for future generations. The inscriptions on stone and copper plates prove significant evidences to their contemporary history and additionally and most importantly serve as linking chains to preceding and ensuing centuries and kingdoms alike.

For knowledge of their military, administration and overseas commerce, the Chola documentation seems to have reached its pinnacle during the reign of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I. Both the Kings developed positive diplomatic and maritime trade relations with the kingdoms of South and Southeast Asia, and further expanded their strong military associations with the help of their valiant naval force and economic connections through well established Tamil Trader Guilds.

Epigraphy is regarded the most reliable evidence to prove facts about kingdoms and their activities. There is certainly a void left behind the history of sculpting Karaikkal Ammai in Cambodia and Thailand – void created due to absence of specific epigraphic evidences.

As mentioned in the previous post –

When there is absence of epigraphic clues on the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai included in Khmer Architecture, the best option as per Finot is to decode the images; Decoding Images not only with the style of particular Kings but a comparative view of contemporary maritime kingdoms with the root of identical religious factors – in this case – Karaikkal Ammai.

https://glorioustamils.com/2016/09/22/ammai-in-banteay-srei-and-the-tamil-maritime-links-in-south-east-asia/

 

Now, with the absence of specific evidences that would provide clues to Ammai’s travel to Southeast Asia – specifically Cambodia and Thailand, it is important to explore different ways to decode the images of Ammai in 11th century Tamil and Khmer Kingdoms.

The very few stone and copper plate inscriptions so far found in Tamil/Sanskrit languages in present day Tamilnadu, that mention the strong ties between the Tamils and Southeast Asian Kingdoms cannot be ignored here. These may not be direct epigraphic evidences to Ammai’s sculptural reference beyond high seas, but might provide a pathway to her explicit travel.

The Pious Lady walked her way to Lord Shiva’s abode with her unparalleled faith in the Lord. The only thing she wanted was to watch her Almighty Dance to Glory. From each one of Ammai’s verses, the tear filled reader can feel the relentless Trust and spiritual Conviction of Ammai on Shiva – the Mystical Dancer.

This Faith in the Mystical Dancer has elevated the Pioneer Tamil Saint of Indian Bhakti Movement way back in the 6th century ACE to more than an Ambassador of the Shaivite Movement spreading the wave of Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva towards Southeast Asia. Nearly four centuries after Ammai’s life, the Temple Builders gave the Eternal Devotee a sculptural identity even beyond high seas, and amazingly the same way she had wanted to remain.

A few important flash points

A few important flash points during the reigns of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I in Thamizhagam, during the years 985 ACE – 1050 ACE, which coincides with the reign of Suryavarman I in present day Cambodia (1010 ACE) and north-east Thailand might provide important clues on the strong connections between both states. These flash points with the available inscriptions are strong evidences of the influence the Tamils had on the economy, culture and religion of the Khmer Empire. The impact of the stronghold of the Tamils can be visible through sculptures in their temples and temple architecture.

 

  1. 985 ACE – Rajaraja I ascends the throne as Chola King after Madhurantaka Chola.

2. 1006 ACE – Rajaraja’s Larger Leiden Copper Plate Inscription. The Inscription dated in the 21st regnal year of the King was posthumously added by his son Rajendra I.

It refers to the construction of a Buddhist temple by King of Kadaram (Sri Vijaya) Maravijayothungavarman, son of Chulamanivarman at Nagapattinam, the coastal town of Tamilnadu.  Rajaraja I provides the income of eight thousand nine hundred and forty three kalam and odd of paddy accruing from the payment of land assessment of ninety-seven and odd (veli) of land of that village to the construction of Chulamanivarma vihara. Thats a proof to friendly, co-exisitng communities beyond high seas and religion. (Text of translated version of inscription adapted from article titled – ‘Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China’ by Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu)

 

 

img_5647Photo of the printed version of Inscription clicked from Tamil version of the book – Nagapattinam to Swarnadwipa – Reflection on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia

For inscription – refer link – page 274,275 –  Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China by Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu

3. 1010 ACE –

a. Completion of Thanjavur Temple – a mile stone in Chola Temple Architecture. With their economic ties at peak, the Cholas demonstrated their architectural excellence through Thanjavur Periya Kovil.  Before the Cholas, the kingdoms in today’s Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia were already influenced by religion and temple architecture from Indian kingdoms and specifically showcase impressions of Pallava Architecture in their temples.

Rajaraja projects himself and the Cholas as a friendly yet strong economic power. The already well settled Tamil Merchant Guilds abroad seem to have bloomed suddenly with confidence due to Political Amicability between the Cholas and the host kingdoms of the Guilds.

b. Portrayal of Dancing Shiva in Rajaraja’s Magnum Opus – The Emperor doesn’t forget his grandmother Chembiyan Madevi’s introduction of Karaikkal Ammai at the feet of Adalvallan. He places her watching the Divine Dance to the left of Shiva, somewhat similar to Madevi’s sculptural depiction, in a panel close to the central niche of Dancing Shiva. It is also note worthy to mention that Madevi had experimented the portrayal of Ammai in various ways mostly to the right of Shiva in a separate panel close to the niche placing Adalvallan (Koogur Mampazhamudaiyar – sanskritized name: Ambaravaneswarar temple), with an exotic instrument sirattai kinnari (Thiruppugalur Konapiran – sanskritized name: Vardhamaaneeswarar temple) or at the feet of Shiva among various instrumentalists (exclusive panel of Karunthittaikudi – sanskritized name: Vasishteeswarar temple), etc.

 

Adalvallan in Rajaraja’s Thanjavur Temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(photo courtesy: Dr. Ma.Ra. Kalaikkovan, Founder, Dr. Rajamanickanar Historical Research Centre, Thiruchirapalli)

4. 1010 ACE – Suryavarman I claims Khmer throne after years of turmoil.

5. 1014 ACE – Rajendra I, son of Rajaraja I comes to power after demise of father.

6. 1014/1015 ACE- Nagapattinam Inscription 1 of Rajendra I  -This refers to the grant made by Sri Mulan Agattisvaran, an agent of Srivijaya to erect a gateway to the compound wall of Tirukkaronamudaiya Mahadevar Temple in Nagappattinam. (Text of translated version of inscription adapted from article titled – ‘Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China’ by Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu)

img_5654Photo of the printed version of Inscription clicked from Tamil version of the book – Nagapattinam to Swarnadwipa – Reflection on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia

For inscription – refer link – page 275,276 –  Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China by Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu

7. 1015 ACE – Nagapattinam Inscription 2 of Rajendra I –  refers to the grant by an agent of Srivijaya from Menrondripattinam of Rajarajamandalam, who gifts a collection of jewel stones like ruby, emerald etc, weighing 14 and 1/2 kalanju for the silver image of Nagaiyalangarar. (Text of translated version of inscription adapted from article titled – ‘Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China’ by Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu)

 

img_5648Photo of the printed version of Inscription clicked from Tamil version of the book – Nagapattinam to Swarnadwipa – Reflection on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia

For inscription – refer link – page 276,277 –  Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China by Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu

8. 1019 ACE – Nagapattinam Inscription 3 of Rajendra I – This refers to the grant by an agent Kuruttan Kesuvan of Srivijaya, for providing food to persons in the Nagapattinam temple and for feeding the deity and Brahmanas. The inscription also specifies the grant for these purposes as 87 and 3/4 kalanju Chinakkanakam (Chinese Gold) and 60 and 3/4 kalanju untikaipon (stamped gold) and the total being 236 and 1/4 kalanju. (Text of translated version of inscription adapted from article titled – ‘Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China’ by Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu)

 

img_5649Photo of the printed version of Inscription clicked from Tamil version of the book – Nagapattinam to Swarnadwipa – Reflection on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia

Rajaraja’s Larger Leiden Plates of 1006 and Rajendra’s 1014, 1015 and 1019 inscriptions of Nagapattinam show the cordial connect between Cholas and Srivijaya. The available inscriptions co-incidentally talk religion on a mutual tone. While Rajaraja grants a village for a Buddhist Vihara for Srivijaya, the agents of Srivijaya provide grants for Hindu temples in Chola country.

The entangled Religion factor alongside Mercantile is certainly not to be ignored.

The growing power of the Cholas – economically and politically has been recognized by their strong competitors in the Indian Ocean – the Srivijaya. The above mentioned inscriptions which talk of their grants show their desire for cordial relations through their agents in Tamil Land.

Other epigraphical evidences reveal the unambiguous rise of the Cholas as Maritime Champions during the reigns of Rajaraja and his son Rajendra. Rajaraja I conquered the Cheras, Pandyas, Vengi, Gangapadi, Tadigaipadi, Nolambapadi and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Srilanka, Maldives and many more. Alongside successful conquests of Kingdoms, Rajaraja followed friendly diplomacy towards his Southeast Asian neighbors across high seas.

9. 1027 ACE – Thirukkadaiyur Inscription of Rajendra I – Rajendra Chola initially continues father’s policy of amicable relations with the Southeast Asian Kingdoms and also reconfirms Rajaraja’s grant to the Buddhist Vihara in Nagapattinam. There seems to be a sudden deviation in the friendly strategy in 1017, which erupts in 1025 into the largest ever sea battle undertaken by any Indian King as on date, under Rajendra I. His Thirukkadaiyur Inscription lists his conquests and victories across the rolling sea.

 

 

img_5651Photo of the printed version of Inscription clicked from Tamil version of the book – Nagapattinam to Swarnadwipa – Reflection on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia

[Rajendra Chola] having despatched many ships in the midst of the rolling sea and having caught Sangrāma- vijayottunga-varman, the King of Kadaram [Kedah, Malay Peninsula], together with the elephants in his glorious army, (took) the large heap of treasures, which (that king) had rightfully accumulated; (captured) with noise the (arch called) Vidhyādhara-torana at the ‘war-gate’ of his extensive city; Śrī Vijāya [Palembang] with the ‘jewelled wicket-gate’ adorned with great splendour and the ‘gate of large jewels’; Pannai [east cost of Sumatra] with water in the bathing ghats; the ancient Malaiyur [Jambi, Sumatra] with the strong mountain for its rampart; Māyuridingam [Malay Peninsula] surrounded by the deep sea as by a moat; Ilangāśoka [Langkasuka, Malay Peninsula] undaunted in fierce battles; Māpappālam [near Pegu, Burma] having abundant water as defence; Mevilimbangam [near Ligor, south Thailand] having fine walls as defence; Valaippanduru [perhaps Panduranga, central Vietnam] having Vilappanduru(?); Talaittakkolam [at the Isthmus of Kra, southern Thailand) praised by great men (versed in) the sciences; Mādamālingam [Lamuri, north Sumatra]; Ilāmurideśam [Tambralingam, east coast of Malay Peninsula], whose fierce strength rose in war; Mānakkavāram [Nicobar Islands] in whose extensive flower gardens honey was collected; and Kadāram of fierce strength which was protected by the deep sea.

THE CŌḶAS by k. a. nilakanta sastri, (courtesy: http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415485432/15.asp)

The unexpected reversal of cordial approach to Political and Military Dominance by Rajendra has been a topic of divergent views, with analysts attributing different reasons for such a sea raid. Tansen Sen interprets it as a ‘Trade War’ –

“The Chola raid on Srivijaya can be concluded as an ambitious maneuver with a pretext to remove hindrance from the trade route

the Srivijayan diplomatic and military attempts to block maritime links between  Indian and the Song markets may have been both the principal factors for the Chola naval raids”

page 2, Tansen Sen’s View by Hermann Kulke, The Naval Expeditions of the Cholas in the context of Asian History; Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa.

 

If Trade and holding Power of Trade Routes have been reasons behind Rajendra’s Srivijaya attack, the rise of Cholas from a friendly economy to a powerful naval force must have invoked changes in the mindset of the Kingdoms nearby. One of those was the Khmer Kingdom.

“More or less simultaneously with the expansionism of the Cholas under Rajaraja and Rajendra, the kingdom of Angkor for the first time extended its frontiers far beyond its dynastic homelands, and subjugated parts of Laos, central Thailand, and the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. It soon became the dominating power in the Gulf of Siam and Mainland Southeast Asia and was therefore, bound to get into conflict with Dai-Viet and Champa who were competing for the control of the important maritime trade routes on the eastern coast of Mainland Southeast Asia.”

pg.3, Hermann Kulke, The Naval Expeditions of the Cholas in the context of Asian History; Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa.

10. 1020 ACE – Karandai Copper Plate Inscription of Rajendra I – refers to the chariot presented by a Kamboja King to Rajendra, inorder to protect his sovereignty.

Photo of the printed version of Inscription clicked from Tamil version of the book – Nagapattinam to Swarnadwipa – Reflection on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia

This inscription is one direct connect between Tamil and Khmer Empires. It doesn’t show any religious correspondence as mentioned in Nagapattinam Inscriptions with regards to Srivijaya. Yet, this is a remarkable evidence of Trade Wars leading to Military Conquests, thereby emphasizing the Chola Influence on other Southeast Asian Kingdoms.

Though all the previously mentioned inscriptions have been translated, discussed and analyzed by various respectable researchers, they have been repetitively mentioned by this writer to re-emphasize the Power of the Chola Naval Forces which was its zenith in the 11th century ACE, which in turn led to successful maritime trade activities through Tamil Merchant Guilds in the Southeast Asian kingdoms and as far as China.

The success in military raids and maritime trade links across the Indian Ocean, cutting across the Straits of Malacca and reaching the Song Dynasty of China, is another way of giving prominent stature to the Tamil Merchant Guilds in the raided countries and neighboring kingdoms alike.

 

The Takuapa Tamil Inscription

While we talk about the Tamil Merchant Guilds called ‘Manigramam’ present in the Southeast Asian Kingdoms during the Chola reign, it is important to mention the Takuapa Tamil Inscription. The Takuapa Tamil Inscription is the first available epigraphical evidence of Tamil Trader Settlement in Southeast Asia written in Tamil Language. The early ninth century ACE inscription mentions ‘Sri Avani Naranam’ – the title of the Pallava King Nandivarman III, who ruled from Kanchipuram in Thamizhagam from 826 ACE to 850 ACE.

……….(ya) varmakku

……man tan nangur udaiya

……..n totta kulam per sri Avani

naranam manikkiramattar (k)

kum Senamukattarkkum

…..patarkkum adarkkalam

The inscription refers to the tank dug by Nangur Udaiyan and called Avani Naranam and is placed under the protection of the Manikkramam, the residents of the military camp…

pg. 28,29 – Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription, KA. Nilakanta Sastri (link: Journal of the Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society)

What lies beneath and above the evidences on Tamil Merchant activities, is the religious string always clinging on to Trader Guilds. Takuapa, on the west coast of Malay Peninsula has left behind Hindu sculptures in Pallava style. The main deity that was believed to be Vishnu has been suggested by Prof. Sastri in his revised article in the Journal of Oriental Research as Shiva in Gangadhara form with Bhagiratha on his right and Parvathi to his left. He also mentions that Dr. Wales had assessed the date of the images to be between 7th and 8th century ACE.

The most important fact to be noted here too is the religious link alongside the trade link. The traders settled in several parts of various kingdoms across Southeast Asia, created their own religious entities to stay connected to their roots. With or without pre-planned motive on spreading the influence of their language, culture and religion in the country of their settlement, there has been undoubted influence of the Tamil Religious Cult that traveled with the trade wave.

 

In historian K.A. Sastri’s words-

We thus see clearly that our inscription attests the presence at Takuapa of a good number of Tamils including soldiers and merchants and having a permanent stake in the country round about and rearing religious and secular institutions conducive to their spiritual and material welfare, Quite possibly the political power of Nandivarman III extended to parts of the west coast of the Malay peninsula at least for some years. pg. 30, Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription, KA. Nilakanta Sastri (see link: Journal of the Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society)

 

Preaching Shaivism through stories of Nayanmars

Trying to place Karaikkal Ammai in the religious interest of Trader Guilds, the foremost reason to have brought her into Southeast Asia could be because of the community she originally belonged to. Hailing from Karaikkal, the port town of yesteryear Pallava country which later came under the Cholas, Ammai belonged to the Trader Community.

As mentioned in previous posts, the sculpting of Ammai in Tamil Temples was pioneered by Chembian Madevi in the 10th century ACE. Yet, the devotional verses of Tamil Nayanmars on Shiva have been popular among Tamils throughout previous centuries. The vigour to place Shavisim beyond other rival beliefs as Buddhism, Jainism and even Vaishnavism (different sect within Hinduism) has always yielded success through the spread of the divine verses of the prominent three Nayanmars as well as the stories of 60 other Nayanmars and their love for Lord Shiva, before Chekkizhar could create their stories in verses in Periya Puranam, in the 12th century ACE.

There is no clear evidence to prove the spread of the verses of Karaikkal Ammai, which sees Shiva as the Mystic Dancer. Her verses are not for the ordinary Devotee. Strong verses immersed in the ashes of the Cemetery, seeing herself as the skeletal ghost and calling herself the Demon of Karaikkal are exclusive features of Ammai’s Devotion. Reading her poetry, one might feel that the story of Ammai is better comprehensible than her verses, because of the Mystical Spritualism that she portrays.

An explicit story, aloof from the rest of world and even beyond, seeking removal of worldly beauty and earthy desires, and even more – a Desire to watch the Dance of the Eternal Dancer should’ve been the story of households trying to preach Shaivism to the next generation as well as to protect from other religious beliefs.

The verses of Thirunavukkarasar, Sambandhar and Sundarar – the foremost saints of Tamil Bhakti Movement were and still are rendered in Temples to praise the glory of the Lord. But, the story of Ammai is a life portrayal of Devotion to be narrated by word of mouth.

The Takuapa Tamil Inscription that mentions Avaninaranam is another link to Thevaram verses sung in Temples. It was seen before that Avaninaranam was one of the titles of the Pallava King Nandivarman III. The Thiruvallam Inscription of 852 ACE, as classified by S.R. Balasubramanyam, refers to grants offered to singers of Thiruppathiyam in the temple of Thiruvallam devoted to Lord Shiva.

The inscriptions says – ‘Tirupatiyam paduva ullitta palapani’

pg. 88,89; The Embodiment of Bhakti by Karen Pechilis Prentiss

Thiruppathiyam refers to Thevaram hymns.  Thiruppathigam mentioned here, could be those of the Supreme Trio of Tamil Shaivic Movement. If the hymns of the Shaivite Trio had been popular among temple goers and society as a whole, with singers employed in the temples as early as Pallava rule, the spread of the stories of Nayanmars couldn’t be behind.  The fact to be noted here is the importance given to the Pioneers of Shaiva Bhakti Movement, in keeping Shaivism  intact among the members of the society.

Preaching Shaivism through Nayanmars as Religious Trendsetters  has been a continuous trend among the Rulers and their Spiritual Advisors. This again showcases the importance given to Nayanmars in temples, to emphasize Shaivism among the population. Hence, the stories of the simple saints of Shiva formed an integral part of Religion and Religious Belief since the Pallavas.

This remains proof to yet another fact that the portrayal of these poets in stone comes far later as after centuries of their deeds, but the spread of Shaivism through their lives has been a continuous affair through Temple recitals and word of mouth. Kingdoms were no different to this scenario. Most of the Nayanmars who lived before the Victory of Cholas in the 9th century ACE, in different kingdoms of southern India,  seem to have glided into the religious lives of the Tamils irrespective of the kingdoms they belonged to. Tamil – the language and Shiva – the Lord were the only main connecting factors.

 

Traders as Religous Diplomats

The already well known stories and hymns of the Nayanmars made the Chola Queen Chembiyan Madevi portray the Pioneer Saints in Sculpture. It is to be understood that the Tamils living in Tamil Land or the Tamils migrated to foreign lands for Trade purposes carried their religious identity as part of the roots left behind. Hence, we see Shaivism prominent in the Trader Settlements through their inscriptions and the Religious Sculptures discovered all along Southeast Asian countries.

If Thirunavukkarasar, Thirignanasambandhar and Sundaramoorthy Nayanar form the three Primary Saints of Tamil Bhakti Movement, why was Karaikkal Ammai the first Tamil Saint to travel abroad seaways?

The Traders Settlement in Southeast Asian Kingdoms, lived their lives for centuries with the stern Shaivite identity through belief in Shiva and his Devotees – the Nayanmars. We see the same culture till today. The immigrant communities trying to stick to roots through Religion is the norm of all ages. Even in Takuapa we find idols of Hindu Gods as evidences of Temple and Worship among the Dwellers.The spread of Shaivism received a strong pathway through the spread of devotional stories among the immigrant Tamil Trade Settlers to stay rooted.

With the unexpected uprising of the friendly Cholas as a  Strong Military among the Kingdoms along the Indian Ocean and Malay Peninsula, the Merchant Guilds could’ve found sudden and increasingly positive ties in the places of their overseas settlement.

As quoted by Hermann Kulke,  Meera Abraham’s view on Rajendra’s Raids on Srivijaya from her book ‘Two Medieval Merchant Guilds of South India’ is to be seen in light of the above mentioned reflection.

 

“Our belief is that the raid was undertaken partly at least to establish trading rights for Tamil-speaking merchants in those areas, a trade from which the ruler, the merchant and the Chola bureaucracy could expect sizable profits”

pg. 15, M. Abraham’s view by Hermann Kulke, The Naval Expeditions of the Cholas in the context of Asian History; Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa.

Here, Ms. Abraham emphasizes a direct influence of the famous Manigramam and Ayyavole merchant guilds on the politics of the Cholas. This is yet again proof to the intertwined connect of the Merchant Guilds and the Political Masters.

With Rajendra’s raids, and Khmer King Suryavarman I (who comes to power in 1010 and sends a chariot to Rajendra in 1020) extending friendly hand, with expectations of amicable reciprocity from the Tamil country,  the Tamil Trader Community could’ve found a right time to represent their identity in Khmer country through the sculpture of  Ammai, who belonged to their own community back in Tamizhagam. The reason behind why the Shaivite Trio – Appar, Sambandhar and Sundarar couldn’t find their first place in Southeast Asian Temples and Karaikkal Ammai takes the first entry could also be the same.

Traders have always proved to be Religious Diplomats. Their potential in elevating a kingdoms/country’s Economy has been seen to have placed them among the Elites. These Diplomats along with the Spiritual Advisors of the Khmer Kings could have successfully elevated the devotion of Ammai to a new personification in Khmer Temple Architecture.

Hence, Suryavarman I adopting the sculptural portrayal of Karaikkal Ammai in the temples built and renovated by him, could have been the retrospective effect of the raids of Rajendra I and the new energy pumped into the Tamil Merchant Guilds of the Khmer Empire.

Adalvallan in Rajendra’s Gangaikonda Cholapuram

4-gangaikonda-cholapuram-nataraja-panel

(photo courtesy: Dr. Ma.Ra. Kalaikkovan, Founder, Dr. Rajamanickanar Historical Research Centre, Thiruchirapalli)

One can also notice the fact that Rajaraja’s Karaikkal Ammai is placed almost the same as Chembian Madevi’s style of sculptural portrayal. Rajendra makes a change in his Gangaikonda Cholapuram Ammai. She is not sculpted to the side of the Dancing Lord, but seen sitting among a separate panel of instrumentalists below Him.

Dancing Shiva with Karaikkal Ammai in Prasat Hin Phimai, Thailand

img_2555

img_2551

In portraying Karaikkal Ammai in their Temples, the Khmers seem to have adapted the similar pattern of Rajendra I.  Then, is this yet another clue to the introduction of Ammai by Suryavarman I ?

Ammai in Phimai (Khmer)img_2551-copy

 Ammai in Gangaikonda Cholapuram (Chola)4-gangaikonda-cholapuram-nataraja-panel1

Karaikkal Ammai sculpted in Khmer Temples in north-east Thailand would be seen in the next post.

Bibliography

  1. Tansen Sen, The Military Campaigns of Rajendra Chola and the Chola-Srivijaya-China Triangle; Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa : Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia.
  2. Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu, Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China; Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa : Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia.
  3. Hermann Kulke, The Naval Expeditions of the Cholas in the context of Asian History; Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa : Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia.
  4. KA. Nilakanta Sastri, Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription.
  5. Karen Pechilis Prentiss, The Embodiment of Bhakti.

Links

  1. https://glorioustamils.com/2016/09/22/ammai-in-banteay-srei-and-the-tamil-maritime-links-in-south-east-asia/
  2. Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions Relating to Southeast Asia and China by Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu
  3. http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415485432/15.asp
  4. Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription – KA. Nilakanta Sastri; Journal of the Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society
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Chembiyan Madevi – Pioneer who introduced Ammai in Chola Temples

The Sculptures of Karaikkal Ammai with picture perfect iconography in Cambodia and Thailand should inspire researchers to explore more on the Tamil Links with South East Asia. Hence, the places in Medieval Thamizhagam, where the patronisation of the saint started in stone could form the CORE CHARACTER of any analytical study and certainly is fundamental for any such research.

  

As per available iconographic evidences, Karaikkal Ammai, the pioneer saint of the Bhakti Movement in India who lived in the 5th/6th century ACE during the reign of Pallavas seems to have been sculpted for the very first time in Shiva Temples built by the Chola Kings. The first Chola Royalty to have brought Karaikkal Ammai in temple sculptures is Chembiyan Madevi, the consort of Gandaraditha Cholan, who ruled the Chola country for a very short period from 950 ACE to 957 ACE.

  

karunthittaikudi Adalvallan with ammai and 5 kinds of instruments – all in one panel

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The Grand Old Lady of the Chola Empire

  

adalvallan in Aanangur

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After defeating the Pallavas,  Cholas claimed power over the lands of Thamizhagam with Vijayalaya Chola in mid 9th Century AD, followed by Aditya and Paranthaka who built temples at their creative best. After Paranthaka, there was a slight deviation towards Devotion over aspirations of conquest and thirst of power. Gandarathitha. son of Paranthaka I who came to power next was a staunch devotee of Shiva more than an ambitious King. His wife Chembiyan Madevi was a true consort to his likes of Devotion. Gandarathitha an ardent Shiva Devotee himself, has sung hymns on the Lord and his hymn is included in the 9th Thirumurai.

  
While Gandarathitha died at an early age with his son still very young, Arinjaya his brother ascended the throne. After the death of her husband Gandarathitha, Chembiyan Madevi devoted her life for the cause of Devotion to Lord Shiva and stood up as a Majestic Lady hailed for building numerous Shiva Temples during the second half of 10th century ACE. Her valid contributions to the welfare of villagers and upbringing of culturally-religiously oriented Chola Off-springs still remain distinctly unrecognized, yet documented well in inscriptions.

  
To simply mention that Chembian Madevi built many temples during her life-time would be a thorough under statement of her Pioneering Abilities. Madeviyar has a long list of innovations and initiatives to her credit, in making the Chola temples more diverse – through design changes in temple architecture like increasing the number of Niches, which seem to be minimalistic until her father-in-law Paranthaka’s period.

  
Losing her husband at a very early age, with a young son still not ready to attain the throne of Chola Empire, this strong hearted Lady of Tamil Civilization diverted and focused her concentration on religious activities. Madevi has always been a major donor to temples even during Paranthaka’s reign, as a crown princess and also during her husband’s reign.

  
The Pinnacle Achievement through Temples

 

adalvallan in kailasanathaswamy temple, chembiyan madevi village

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Not succumbing to her personal losses, she rose up as a truly brave soul and a remarkably respectful character in the Tamil Bhakti Sphere, through her amazing Will to rewrite Culture, Religion and Diversify Temple Architecture through Temples built during her long octogenarian life time. This certainly can be termed as the Pinnacle Achievement of the Grand Old Lady, who lived to see six successful Emperors of her Land, the Chola Territory. Indeed, very true – married at a very early age and becoming part of Chola Empire, the daughter-in-law of King Paranthaka Chola, Chembiyan Madevi has had the unique life of experiencing and cherishing the Chola Supremacy during the rule of six Emperors.

  

  1. Paranthaka Chola (907ACE – 950ACE) – father-in-law
  2. Gandarathitha Chola (950ACE – 957ACE) –  husband
  3. Arinjaya Chola  (957ACE – 958ACE) – Brother-in-law (Gandarathitha’s brother)
  4. Sundara Chola (Paranthaka II)  (958ACE – 969ACE) – nephew (Arinjaya’s Son)
  5. Uttama Chola (Madhuranthaka) (970ACE – 985ACE)- son of Gandarathithya and Chembiyan Madevi
  6. Rajaraja the Great (985ACE – 1014ACE) – grand nephew (Paranthaka II’s Son)

  

She lived a highly deferential life as a guiding force for 5 Kings of Chola Empire starting from her husband Gandarathitha’s rule.

  
Chembian Madevi and Karaikkal Ammai
  

the most gracious ammai – in koogur

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Chembian Madevi – the Grand Old Lady of the Chola Empire- is of utmost importance for any research on Karaikkal Ammai. This is precisely because she seems to be the Pioneer Queen to have ordered sculptural representation of Karaikkal Ammai in most of the Shiva Temples she built and those brick temples she renovated in stone. The life of the Skeletal Mother of the Tamil Bhakti Movement, must have left such a deep impact on the Queen, that Chembiyan Madevi makes Ammai’s presence as per Ammai’s wish – sitting below the dancing feet of Adalvallan – Nataraja,  mesmerized in his cosmic dance.

  
The undeciphered connect of these two Pioneers in their own respects – Madevi and Ammai, between 6th century ACE and 10th century ACE can be strongly felt in the temples. The eternal wish of a mother emotionally accepted and appreciated by another mother, and interpreted in stone- but after an interval of about 400 years in history. Truly Amazing isn’t it?

  
The temples built by Chembian Madevi around present day Thiruchirapalli, Thanjavur, and Nagapattinam districts in Tamilnadu stand testimony to the involvement of Chembiyan Madevi in glorifying eternally the Aura of Karaikkal Ammai.

  

Dr. Kalaikkovan, Founder, Dr. Rajamanickanar Historical Research Centre, Thiruchirapalli

  
(Refer side bar of this blog for more details on Dr. Ma. Ra. Historical Research Centre’s Profile, Publications of Dr. Kalaikkovan and his Centre’s Journal ‘Varalaru’)

  
I had the great honour of getting unparalleled guidance from Dr. R. Kalaikkovan, Founder, Dr. Rajamanickanar Historical Research Centre regarding Karaikkal Ammai sculptures in Tamilnadu, Chembiyan Madevi Temples, glimpses of Chola Temple Architecture, Inscriptions, Social Aspects that are preserved and revealed through temples and many more.

  
Achieving the Tamilnadu Government Prize for his first research book ‘KALAI VALARTHA THIRUKKOVILGAL’ published in 1985, Dr. Kalaikkovan has won several laurels for his contributions towards Historical Research. His relentless interest in exploring History through Temples has lead to the finding of several unique sculptures, paintings and inscriptions in the temples of Tamilnadu. His Centre has been publishing its annual research magazine ‘VARALARU’ since 1983.

  
A brief note on Dr. Kalaikkovan’s contributions –
  

  • elaborate research work on Cholan Kochengannan and his Mada (raised platform) temples
  • field research articles on Karanas in Natya Shastra
  • a complete research book on Pazhuvettaraiyar named ‘Pazhuvur Pudhaiyalgal’
  • documenting the history of Thiruchirappalli from 600 ACE to 1300 ACE
  • recording approximately 600 new inscriptions found in temples of Tamilnadu between 1982 and 2002
  • extensive researches on Temple Architecture and Sculptures of Pallavas and Cholas
  • changing the already existing negative view on Kalabhra time as the Dark Era of Tamil History through inscriptions, literature and historic evidences.

  

‘Dr. Kalaikkovan is an ophthalmologist (by profession) who balances his medical practice with his ardent love for researching the state’s past, particularly through its temples’ http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/bringing-the-past-to-the-present/article7310014.ece

  

Dr. Kalaikkovan mentioned during his travel (in November 2013) to Banteay Srei Temple, Cambodia that the skeletal figure found below Dancing Shiva was Karaikkal Ammai. He explained about the Iconography of Ammai and how Angkorian temples possessed the perfect iconography. This introduction of Ammai in Cambodia by Dr. Kalaikkovan is the root cause of my interest in Ammai and the Tamil Connections in South-east Asia. Furthermore, through Ammai, the epitome of Devotion, he has also introduced me to another Ammai, Chembian Madevi, the epitome of Early Chola Culture and Religion.

  
Thereafter, he also enlightened me on the temples of Chembiyan Madevi and her Devotion towards Shiva; Adding that the temples with the first sculptures of Karaikkal Ammai in Tamizhagam were constructed by Chembiyan Madevi. A visit to Tiruchirapalli and field work with the great scholar has filled me with basic knowledge about those beautifully sculpted, magnificently erected temples which are store houses of the glorious history and wonderful documental evidences of social life of Tamils in the past. A long list of the Pioneering Activities of Madevi has been my coveted collection from Dr. Kalaikkovan.

  
Pioneer Activities of Chembian Madevi
  
As mentioned above, she bears the exclusive specialty of introducing Karaikkal Ammai in Stone Sculptures in her temples. Apart from this ‘Launch’, which is of great importance to our research on Ammai, Chembian Madevi has carved her own Niche in breaking new grounds in Dravidian Temple Architecture. Madevi has many ‘first-times’ to her Innovations List.

 

    • The first Royal Administrator (Administrator of Temples) to bring in Karaikkal Ammai in her stone sculptures.

 

ammai in thiruikkodikaval

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    • The first to introduce Adalvallan/Nataraja or the Dancing Shiva in a separate Niche in her Temples. Shiva as Nataraja is seen sculpted in Pallava and Early Chola Temples  in various parts of a temple. Chembian Madevi provides a special place for Dancing Shiva, giving prominence, sculpting him in a separate niche, thereby emphasizing the concept of Adalvallan. While the Sanctum with Shiva in Linga form is the basis of a temple’s religious enthrallment, the Dancing Shiva in a dominant niche showcases the rich, cultural/aesthetic charm the Creator of the Temple wishes to portray. In the temples built and rebuilt in stone by Madevi, Adalvallan captivates the visitor with his entourage of performing artists.

 

adalvallan in konerirajapuram

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    • The first to depict Adalvallan/Nataraja and Karaikkal Ammai as the focal point of her sculptures, in the Muga Mandapam -front corridor of her temples. After Gandaraditha (954 ACE) until Uttama Chola, the period  Madevi has been very energetically responsible for the construction and rebuilding of Shiva temples; for almost 30 years, she brought Adalvallan and Karaikkal Ammai in lime light, truly carving a niche for herself. As mentioned above, Adalvallan captivates the visitor with his entourage of performing artists with the addition of a spellbound spectator in Karaikkal Ammai (also performing with cymbals and sirattai kinnari).

  

    • The first Queen to introduce Sage Agasthya in the Muga Mandapam. She has provided an important position to the sculpture of Agasthya, especially in Anangur Temple, where Sage Agasthya is given prominence with Makara Thoranam (Ceremonial Arch) in the Niche.

  

♦♦There are innumerable sculptures of Agasthya found in Indonesia and sculptures of Karaikkal Ammai in Cambodia and Thailand. A tight knit research between Agasthya-Ammai and Chembian Madevi  might bring about a break-through in the research of link of the Tamils with South-East Asia.

  

agasthya, adalvallan, ganesha in Koogur

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        • She became the spearhead of her own stylistic temple architecture, with increased niches. The beautiful temples of Aditya and Parantaka I are known for their simplicity and elegance, yet dynamic artistic presentation with intricate miniatures carved around. Chembian Madevi creates her temples with a multi-faceted tone – Religious Reverence combined with Sculptural Excellence. In her temples, religion takes the front seat with introduction of several sculptures in prominent niches. She seems to have believed in bringing out the complete talent of the artisans of her era that her Temples are loaded with unparalleled sculptures and more niches – certainly a treat to the eyes of both religious and architecturally inclined scholars alike.

  

      • Chembiyan Madevi is the first Queen to have sculpted her husband in Temples, making him part of the Temple Worship Tradition. This can be characterized as her extreme Respect and Devotion towards her husband Gandaraditha. This unwavering adorer of Shiva and his Devotees, chose to showcase her royal husband’s staunch religious belief to future generations, thus bringing everlasting glory to the Chola King. A millennia and more, one cannot stop being captivated by the sculptures of the King, worshipping Shiva, in Linga Form

  

sculpture of gandaraditha in thirunaraiyur

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      • Inscriptions during Madevi’s period showcase the level of authenticity and perfection she wished to provide to future readers and interpreters. While a temple might have numerous inscriptions belonging to different kings over a period of several centuries, classifying inscriptions in order of different rulers might be time consuming. Chembiyan Madevi records/re-inscribes the old inscriptions, that didn’t belong to her with the phrase – ‘idhuvum oru pazhangarpadi’ – translated as  ‘this is yet another previous/old inscription.’ Her clear method of differentiating previous inscriptions reduces much ambiguity. This way, her temples are certainly an Epigraphist’s delight.

  

    • Chembiyan Madevi makes Karaikkal Ammai play the string instrument ‘Sirattai Kinnari’ for Nataraja, for the first time in Thiruppugalur Temple.

  

ammai in thiruppugalur

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Dancing Shiva is always associated with a number of instrumental accompaniments, played by his attendants/ganas.

  
In Chapter 6 of the book ‘Pen Theiva Vazhipadu’ by Dr. M. Nalini and Dr. R. Kalaikkovan, the authors define the importance of Thalaipparai, Mathalam and Sirattai Kinnari – three instruments sculpted in pallava and early chola temples. While Parai and Mathalam fall in the category of Percussion Instruments, Sirattai Kinnari is a Bowed String Instrument. (To ellaborate, it has a stringed fiddle with coconut shell body.)

  
According to the book, I translate –

  

Sangam Tamil Literature mentions several varieties of Percussion Instruments (skin Instruments) and Silappadikaram introduces various musical facts. Different varieties of Percussion, Wind, String and Metal Instruments are depicted in pallava temples, including cave temples. Sirattai Kinnari – is introduced as Tamilnadu’s first bowed string instrument in pallava-pandya sculptures. This instrument which is minimally seen in temples built by Pallavas and Pandyas is seen more in Early Chola temples.

  

Chembiyan Madevi, who introduces Ammai in sculptures also makes the usually ‘cymbal’ handed Karaikkal Ammai play the ‘Sirattai Kinnari’ for her Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva. The beautiful sculpture in Thiruppugalur is one of its own. This clearly shows the spirit of innovation in the Grand Old Lady, who let her sculptor create history.

  

  • There is a very special and unique accomplishment of Chembiyan Madevi, not only as a Queen Mother but as a Royal Mother-in-law.  Her daughter-in-laws – the consorts of Madevi’s son Madhuranthaka present a Bronze Sculpture of their Mother-in-law to Kailasanathaswamy temple in Chembian Madevi village, glorifying her service to Shaivism in Chola Temples. Such was the respect she commanded, within her royal family and the Tamil society, that her own bronze sculpture was sponsored in her honour, most importantly, while she was still alive.

  

  • Among the major roles of a woman, Madevi has been a winner in her roles of Mother and Mother-in-law.  Inscriptions that denote Madevi are exclusive and show the respect she commanded. While the above paragraph notes on her success story of being mother-in-law; a Mother’s distinctive esteem is manifested in the inscriptions of Konerirajapuram/Thirunallam temple. The inscription reads-

  

ஶ்ரீ ஶ்ரீ மதுராந்தகத் தேவரான உத்தம சோழ
ரைத் திருவயிறு வாய்த்த….
……………………………கற்
றளி எடுப்பித்த………………….
சந்திர சேகரரான சாந்தன் குணபட்டன்

  
It says – ‘Sri Sri Madhuranthaka Thevarana Uthama Chozharai Thiruvayiru Vaitha…’

  
According to the inscription, Chembian Madevi is not just ‘mother of Madhuranthaka’ but she is glorified as ‘the sacred womb that had/carried Madhuranthaka’
  
This inscription is certainly a manifestation of the greatly honorable position that this Pioneer Lady held.

  

the inscription with the sculptor Sathan Gunabhattan’s sculpture

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While we hail the western world for their documentation and easily ridicule ourselves on lack of documenting knowledge, we have comfortably forgotten our well built evidences of more than thousands of years of history – TEMPLES. It is high time we start looking at temples as social schools alongside Devotional Institutions.

  
The Tamil Emperors of the past have used temples as Archive Sources of their socio-economic-political lives for future generations through Inscriptions and Sculptures, but we fail to look in that angle as concentration is stuck only on the Devotional Aspect of Temples. That is the reason why websites on Temples, mostly talk about the epics and stories behind the Devotional Build Up rather than the much needed historic evidences that the Temples and the Inscriptions try to tell us.
It is high time that society realizes the importance of Temples and Inscriptions in the portrayal of our Identity. As Dr. Kalaikkovan mentions,

  

‘True history would provide our perfect Identity to the world and would also enrich the ethics of life’

pg.82, Pen Theiva Vazhipaadu – Thotramum Valarchiyum

 

Karaikkal Ammai in Prasat Preah Vihear

 

Dancing Shiva in Preah Vihear

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The next temple where Karaikkal Ammai is seen to closely enjoy the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva is Prasat Preah Vihear.

 

Gopuram I – the trademark lintel

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Preah Vihear in Khmer Riel (currency)

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Prasat Preah Vihear (called by the Khmers) or Prasat Phra Wihan (called by the Thais) is a magnificent temple situated on top of a 525 meter high cliff on the Dongrek mountains. The temple and the mountains lie between Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Province (north-western Cambodia) and Thailand’s Si Sa Ket Province (north-eastern Thailand).
preah vihear maphttp://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1131887

 

The Temple of Preah Vihear, a unique architectural complex of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases on an 800 metre long axis, is an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1224

 

The construction of the temple had begun under the rule of Jasovarman (889-910 ACE) and completed during the rule of King Suryavarman II (1113-1145 ACE). Suryavarman II was the King who gave the Angkor Empire its most revered jewel – Angkor Wat. Yet, most of today’s standing structures and lintels of Preah Vihear were built by King Suryavarman I, the King who built the temples of our point of interest -Dancing Shiva with Karaikkal Ammai – Vat Ek, Vat Baset and Phnom Chissor.

 

massive naga

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The Khmer Cliff Temple, occupied by Siam off and on, later affected by the Khmer Rouge Regime and then again by conflicts with Thailand used to be less accessible to tourists till recently. But that is not the case now. The magnificent temple can be reached by a few hours of travel easiest from Siem Reap.  Or as we did combined with the ancient temples of Battambang, which is a longer route. Siem Reap seems to be a better option, with multiple ancient locations at easy reach.

 

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The former Washington Post foreign correspondent John Burgess has authored a book on Preah Vihear named ‘Temple in the Clouds’. Prasat Preah Vihear is truly too close to the clouds.
Panoramic view of preah vihear
The temple absorbs anyone into its charming architecture. It grabs the visitor into its intricate carvings, aesthetic designs and artistic enclosures. It is an architect’s Delight, archeologist’s Paradise, vivid traveler’s Adventure and a faithful worshiper’s Heaven.

Preah Vihear is one of the greatest Khmer master pieces of all times with its massive structure which is truly captivating.

 

glorioustamils - preah vihearhttp://sophanse.blogspot.in/2008/06/hopeful-careful-wait-for-temple.html

 

Important Facts about the temple-

  1. The construction of the temple started in early 9th century
  2. Earliest surviving parts of the temple belong to Koh Ker period in the early 10th century
  3. Elements of Banteay Srei temple of the late 10th century can also be seen
  4. Most of the temple was constructed during the reign of King Suryavarman I (1002-1050  ACE)
  5. King Suryavarman II contributed to major restorations of the temple
  6. Lord Shiva is worshipped as Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara
  7. Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation towards the east.
  8. An inscription provides detailed account of Suryavarman II studying sacred rituals, celebrating religious festivals and making gifts, including white parasols, golden bowls and elephants, to his spiritual advisor, the aged Brahmin Divakarapandita.
  9. According to the inscription, Divakarapandita took interest in the temple and donated to it a golden statue of dancing Shiva known as Nataraja.

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On Shiva Temples in the Angkor Era-

Shiva temples often open to the east; they feature three towers, the north tower is dedicated to Vishnu, the central tower to Shiva, and the south tower to Brahma.

Shiva’s different names in Khmer Temples-

  • Sambor Prei Kuk: Gambhiresvara (Inscrutable Lord), Sri Ratnesvara (Lord of Precious Stones), Prahasitesvara (The Smiling Lord)
  • Banteay Srei: Tribhuvanamahesvara (Great Lord of the Threefold World)
  • Preah Vihear: Sikhareshvara (Lord of the Summit).

http://www.angkorguide.net/mythology/shiva/shiva.html

 

It is inevitable to show some of the sculptures beautifully carved in the lintels of the temple.

The structure of Preah Vihear is classified into five Gopurams. The entrance of the Temple is marked by Gopuram V with its massive pillared walls and the trademark lintel, now in restoration mode.

Walking towards the inner Gopurams numbered IV, III, II and I, one crosses a series of stairways with long walking paths. Each Gopuram stands stunning with its exclusive carvings depicting epic scenes and exclusive sculptural master pieces of Khmer temple architecture like the churning of ocean and reclining Vishnu.

 

Here are a few of those-

 

an inscription

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reclining vishnu

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churning of ocean

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Karaikkal Ammai in Preah Vihear?

Entry to the temple is through Gopuram V, then proceeds towards Gopuram IV and Gopuram III. As we enter Gopuram II, there lies the Main Sanctuary which is again a huge structure with beautifully carved lintels. The most striking feature of the Main Sanctuary is the ‘Dancing Shiva’. He is seen dancing on a head of an elephant over Kala.

 

While Shiva dances after killing the elephant demon in the glow of the setting sun, the whole world dances with him. For a millennium the sun has been setting with that primordial glow under which Shiva danced for the first time in a hoary mystic past. His devotees watched his dance of emancipation day after day in the crepuscule of the setting sun.”

(Sahai 2009, p. 91, 94-96.)

http://www.angkorguide.net/temples/trips-and-remote-temples/preah-vihear/prasat-preah-vihear.html

 

 Adalvallan and Ammai – Dancing Shiva and Karaikkal Ammaiyarr

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Shiva is seen dancing, and to the sides of the dancer to whose tunes the whole world seems to dance, are two characters playing instruments for the eternal dancer. To the left of Shiva is the person with ‘oru muga muzhavu’ -a percussion instrument as in Banteay Srei. To his right, the lintel is in very bad shape, the sculpture of a person is very difficult to trace. Yet, seems like a squatted figure with a skinny body. Does the figure also hold ‘cymbals’ to provide additional music to the dancer? With the sculptures of Dancing Shiva so far seen, with the main characters on both sides, this squatted figure could certainly be that of Karaikkal Ammai. Whether it matches the iconography of Ammai, is for researchers to decide.

 

squatted figure to the right of dancing shivaIMG_1333 - Copy

 

oru muga muzhavu to his leftIMG_1333 - Copy (2)

 

In temples of Cambodia namely –

  • Banteay Srei,
  • Vat Baset,
  • Broken pediment inside Battambang Museum
  • Phnom Chissor

and temples in Thailand namely –

  • Prasat Hin Phimai,
  • Prasat Narai Yeang Weang
  • Prasat Kampeang Yai

-Karaikkal Ammai is sculpted to the right of Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva. The same is seen in Prasat Preah Vihear too. It is also necessary to mention that apart from these temples, the lintel placed outside Battambang museum shows Ammai to the left of Shiva. One of the two broken pediments inside the same museum shows a squatted figure to Shiva’s right and one is seen sitting to his left.
Ammai and Mount Kailash

According to Ambassador Julio A. Jeldres, the Official Biographer of HM the King Father, Samdech Preah Upayuvareach Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia-

 

The temple of Preah Vihear is not a “Hindu monument” but a Khmer sanctuary, built by Khmer kings and dedicated to Shiva the Hindu god.

 

It should be understood that for past Khmer kings, a sanctuary was first and foremost a cosmological recreation. Thus, the construction of Khmer sanctuaries in the form of multi-tiered Pyramids meant that the place was considered a sacred cosmic mountain. This was particularly noticeable in the temples dedicated to Shiva, because of the association with the god’s mountain home –Mount Kailasa-. A mountain or a cliff top location, as in the case of Preah Vihear, was always the first choice for the Khmer architects building these major temples.

http://preahvihearcambodia.com/2008/08/ambassador-julio-jeldres-letter-to.html

 

 

shiva and parvathi on nandi

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Below are the verses from Sekkizhar’s Periya Puranam (12th Century) about Ammai’s Trek to Mount Kailash. Sekkizhar explains Karaikkal Ammai’s ascent to Mount Kailash to see her Lord’s Dance.
வட திசை தேசம் எல்லாம் மனத்தினும் கடிது சென்று
தொடை அவிழ் இதழி மாலைச் சூல பாணியனார் மேவும்
படர் ஒளிக் கைலை வெற்பின் பாங்கு அணைந்து ஆங்குக் காலின்
நடையினைத் தவிர்த்து பார் மேல் தலையினால் நடந்து சென்றார்
http://www.shaivam.org/tamil/thirumurai/thiru12_05_04.htm
With a speed exceeding that of the mind She traveled fast the realms in the north; She came near the Mount Kailas of pervasive radiance Where abides the Wielder of the Trident, decked with A garland of Konrai blooms burgeoning in serried order; She durst not tread with her feet the holy ascent But measured it with her head.
http://www.shaivam.org/english/sen_th12_peyar.htm

 

It certainly cannot be a simple temple architectural display to portray Dancing Shiva on a hill, especially in a cliff temple recreated as Mount Kailash, alongside his Demon Devotee watching his dance in Religious Ecstasy.

 

While Lord Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer is an embodiment of Mysticism,  Karaikkal Ammai’s poetry is manifestation of Devotional Mysticism.

 

 Preah Vihear – clashes and conflicts

 

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19th century Cambodia came under the control of Vietnamese and French. The French continued their rule into 20th century and Japanese took over. After a while, the Japanese gave up to the French again. Only in the 1950s Cambodia became an independent state, later to be completely devastated by the brutal Khmer Rouge.

In the heritage site affected by both natural and man-made catastrophes, historically seems mostly man-made time and again,many of the lintels and most of the carvings on the lintels have taken a strong blow. Beyond various clashes of former Empires, disputes among later Countries, 20th Century Cambodia also suffered at the hands of the brutal Khmer Rouge. From 1975 until 1978 the Khmer Rouge held Prasat Preah Vihear and maintained it as their strategic resistance spot. Hence, making the pathway to the cliff landmine infested and restricted to tourists. Additionally, with intermittent armed conflict and legal battle fought at the Hague based International Court of Justice, with neighboring Thailand over the temple, the once sacred worship place is a soldier-occupied military arena with de-mining activities still on the go.

Many researches done on Khmer temples have taken a back seat due to these various conflicts the heritage country has suffered. In 1976, Mireille Bénisti had published an article which stated that Karaikkal Ammai was depicted in Khmer Art. She found a lintel in Vat Baset where she found a figure that she claimed could be Ammai. The researches do not seem to have continued further, mainly due to the above mentioned clashes and conflicts.

Mareille Benisti was a French Indologist and author of various books on Khmer Monuments and Buddhist and Hindu Art of India and Cambodia. Her book ‘Stylistics of Early Khmer Art’  studies the relations between early Khmer and Indian art during the 7th and 8th centuries.

Earlier, in the Second International Tamil Conference Seminar held in the year 1968, in Madras – today’s Chennai- the capital of Tamilnadu, Mareille Benisti had given a presentation on the title – ‘Karaikkalammaiyar in Cambodia’. Her presentation was under the theme – Archeology and the Arts (Archaeology and Epigraphy).

 

2014-2015 are successful years for the temple. The International Coordinating Committee (ICC)  for Preah Vihear Temple Complex was established in December 2014. In 2015, India and China have agreed to co-chair the Renovation and Protection of the Temple, thereby play important roles in preserving the Khmer Heritage Sanctuary.

Due to the undeviating efforts of Cambodian Government, today, Preah Vihear is a sort after historic monument, with the terrain making it an additional attraction for adventure tourism. De-mining in full force and Tourism in total swing, Preah Vihear is getting renovated, hopefully with ancient history intact.

The above notings on conflicts and clashes were not meant to deviate the topic of Karaikkal Ammai, but to reinforce the need for all-inclusive researches with several hindrances removed in the present millennium.

With renovations and reformations taking place in the UNESCO site, the sculpture should be viewed in new light, not only in terms of Iconography and History, but also relate to the Religious Connections of the Khmer Empire and the Tamil Empires of Pallavas and later, the Cholas.

There are very few reference/research books available to the interested reader. This state needs to improve.

Additionally, emphasis should be thrown upon the Traders Guilds of yesteryear Tamil Land which were prominent beyond borders throughout South East Asia including China. Along with the Religious Connect, Economic Connect should also form an important theme of New Age Studies. Especially, in the case of Karaikkal Ammai who belonged to the Trader Community in the Pallava Land of Tamizhagam.