Inscriptions of Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, Thailand

The iconographic representation of Karraikal Ammai – the Demon Devotee of Shiva, in Prasat Phanom Rung in Northeast Thailand, was discussed in the previous post. This post focuses on the inscriptional evidences in and around Buriram Province of Thailand, to which Prasat Phanom Rung belongs.

The victory of the Tamils across the sea, in neighbouring Srilanka and farther Kingdoms of today’s Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos beyond the Andaman Sea is well documented in Rajendra Chola’s Meikeerthi ‘Alai kadal naduvum pala kalam cheluthi’ (Thirukkadaiyur Inscription). The Chola Dominance in the above mentioned areas could be considered as the Apex Point of Tamil influence in Southeast Asia.

As an effect of Rajendra’s mighty navy ‘sweeping the high tides in their numerous vessels’ (alai kadal naduvum pala Kalam cheluthi) across several kingdoms of Southeast Asia, the introduction of the sculpture of Ammai in Khmer Temples could have happened in the 11th century CE. But the inscriptions in the province of Buriram, provide an expansive view of the Tamil influence in the region as far as Northeast Thailand, centuries prior to Ammai’s structural representation in Khmer Architecture.

Evidences of Tamil influence in Thailand during the Pallava Era are found as early as 3rd century CE. The touch stone of a goldsmith was discovered from Kuan Luk Pat in Krabi Province in Southern Thailand, on the shores of Andaman Sea. The Tamil words -‘Perum Pathan Kal’ was inscribed in the touch stone, which Professor Karashima assigns to 3rd or 4th century CE. (pg. 330, Tamil Edition of Nagappattinam to Swarnadwipa)

The Pallava Grantha inscriptions in Buriram to be discussed below only reverberate that Tamil Traders and their influential Guilds had their settlements in several parts of today’s Thailand too, long before the massive naval victory of the medieval Cholas. The Pallavas had clearly made a solid platform for the medieval Cholas, to proceed with their unstoppable fray of political and economic triumph that saw its zenith under Rajendra I, son of Rajaraja I, the Great.

Pallava Grantha Inscriptions

Pallava Grantha Script was an invention of the Tamils of ancient Thamizhagam/Thamilagam, in the first centuries of the Common Era to write Sanskrit. The ancient Language of Thamizhagam- Tamil was written in Southern Brahmi Script and the Pallavas developed the Grantha Script by improvising the prevalent Brahmi script to add more consonants, in order to write texts in Sanskrit. This Pallava Grantha, has travelled to several South-east Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand and has played a pivotal role in the development of native scripts in these countries.

According to the Database of Thai inscriptions, so far, there are 104 Pallava Grantha inscriptions found across the country. That’s a huge number, for a foreign script to be used as the only script to represent a native language, and remain a dominant script of several other neighbouring countries for centuries. Pallava Characters as they are mentioned in Thailand and Cambodia, were used to write Sanskrit, Pali and Mon Khmer Languages. They include stone inscriptions, Dvaravati silver coins and baked clay seals.

Province of Buriram

The Database of Thai inscriptions, provides the list of inscriptions found at several temples in Thailand. Among the inscriptions discovered in the province of Buriram, three inscriptions from Tham Pet Thong cave in the district of Pakham, southwest of Buriram are written in Pallava Grantha script. The language of the inscriptions is Sanskrit and belong to 12th Buddhist century, equivalent to 7th century CE. The three inscriptions highly dilapidated, mention the name of King Mahendravarman of the Chenla Kingdom.

Pallava Grantha Inscription of Tham Pet Thong, Buriram

courtesy: Chaowanee LekklaTracing Zhēnlà Beyond Cambodia: Archaeological Findings on the Lower Mekong River Basin

Chitrasena, brother of Bhavavarman I of the Chenla Kingdom took the coronation name Mahendravarman (590-611 CE). Incidentally, Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE), son of Simhavishnu of the Pallava dynasty in Tamilagam, who ruled approximately in the same decades of Mahendravarman of the Chenla Kingdom (590-611 CE) of Cambodia, had glorious titles Chitrakarapuli and Vichitrachithan.

On the earliest inscription of Phnom Bayang Temple (in the Takeo province of today’s Cambodia), K.A.N.Sastri, in his ‘South Indian Influences in the Far East’ says, ‘It bears two dates in the Saka Era, 526 and 546, corresponding to 604 and 624CE…………………………. The inscription most probably spans the reigns of Bhava(varman), Mahendra(varman) and Isana(varman).

Chitrasena Mahendravarman succeeded his brother Bhavaraman and Isanavarman succeeded his father Mahendravarman.

Historian Shastri on the Pallava Grantha inscription of Phnom Bayang writes-

Like all the other inscriptions of the time its characters are unmistakably South Indian, and if its provenance were not known, no epigraphist could distinguish it from, say, a Pallava inscription of the seventh century.

pg.40, 41, South Indian Influences in the Far East

Prior to the analysis on the inscriptions of Phnom Bayang, KAN. Sastri, on Chitrasena Mahendravarman’s inscriptions and Mahendravarman of the Pallava Empire in Tamizhagam says-

pg. 37, KAN Sastri, South Indian Influences in the Far East

This interesting similarity is not only one of several important fields for future analysis, but also a strong reminder of two of the most prominent connections that the Tamil Pallava Kings had with Southeast Asian countries, most importantly Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, namely-

  1. The Legend of Nagi of Thamizhagam that is also found in the annals of Cambodia and Thailand
  2. The Royal connect of a collateral lineage of the Pallavas in modern day Cambodia or southern Vietnam

The brother of the Pallava King Simhavishnu (575-600 CE), Bhimavarman, migrated to a far away Land and founded a collateral line of Kingship. From that faraway Land, considered to be today’s Cambodia or southern Vietnam, Nandivarman II , at a tender age of 12, was brought back to his ancestral soil, Kanchipuram- the capital of the Pallavas, and was crowned the King.

As per the Genealogy provided by Kasakkudi Plates of Nandivarman II, (S.I.I., vol.2, part 3), below is the collateral line of Kingship –

  • Bhimavarman
  • Buddhavarman
  • Adityavarman
  • Govindavarman
  • Hiranyavarman
  • the sixth Generation Nandivarman II

The exact period of reign of Nandivarman II is disputed among scholars. KAN Shastri (pgs. 148 to 151, A History of South India) assigns Nandivarman II to 731 CE and his son Dantivarman to 795 CE, while R. Gopalan (pgs. 119 and 134, History of the Pallavas of South India) assigns Nandivarman II to 710 CE and his son Dantivarman to 775 CE.

Bhimavarman left Kanchi in the last quarter of the 6th century CE. Within a time span of more or less 125-150 years, the sixth generation Nandivarman II, son of Hiranyavarman was brought back to the same capital of the Pallavas, from a faraway Land, whose Kings possessed the same title ‘Varman’ as the Pallavas of the Tamil Land.

The corpus of inscriptions written in Pallava Grantha script in Thailand and Cambodia are indeed evidences of the spread of the influence of the Pallava Kings and the Maritime Trade Links of the Tamils through their Trader Guilds in particular.

The earliest Tamil inscription in Thailand found at Kuan Luk Pat (in the 3rd century CE) and the Takuapa Tamil inscription (in the 9th century CE), are both from Krabi and Phang Nga provinces respectively, near Andaman Sea – South Thailand. Pallava Grantha inscriptions have been found in several provinces across the country, irrespective of the cardinal directions. This only proves that the Tamil Trader settlements had comfortably stationed themselves for generations in Thai provinces, and enjoyed considerable influence on the Language and Religion of the host land.

Inscriptions of Phanom Rung

With the above mentioned apparent facts, the inscriptions of Phanom Rung could be seen in the light of the Tamil influence in Khmer Temples of North east Thailand.

There are 8 inscriptions recorded from Phanom Rung Temple and its premises. The inscriptions cover 8th century CE to 13th century CE.

The earliest among the inscriptions (Phanom Rung inscription1/B.R.8) is from 13-14th Buddhist century, equivalent to 8-9th century CE. Like the Tham Pet Thong cave inscription of the 7th century CE viewed above, this inscription too is written using the Pallava script, but a slight variant- which developed into ‘Post Pallava’ script, the language written being Sanskrit.

Inscriptions from the 10th century onwards are scripted in Old Khmer, the languages being Khmer and Sanskrit.

Phanom Rung Inscription 2/B.R 11- belongs to Saka Year 911, equivalent to 989 CE. The name of the Temple as ‘Vnam Run’ gets mentioned in the inscription, as proof of existence of the temple in its present name, at least since the 10th century CE. The King who ruled the Khmer Empire during that time was Jayavarman V, son of Rajendravarman II.

Inscriptions 4,5,6 of Phanom Rung (B.R-9/B.R-12/PR 6) belong to 16th century Buddhist Era, anywhere between mid 10th to mid 11th century CE. Though the inscription doesn’t mention any King, with the period 11th century indicating Suryavarman I, a connoisseur of temples on mountains like Phnom Chissor and Preah Vihear, a few researchers have suggested that the temple of Phanom Rung could have achieved its grandeur during his reign.

On Prasat Phanom Rung, Briggs says,

In its lonely grandeur, its position in the slope of a hill, its lay-out in successive courts instead of concentric enclosures, its series of stairways and causeways, with their mile-posts and naga-balustrades and in other respects, it bears a close resemblance to the monuments of the latter part of the reign of Suryavarman I – to which period it probably belongs – and especially to Phnom Chissor.

pg.182, Lawrence Palmer Briggs, The Ancient Empire

If one goes by Briggs’ suggestion, like Phnom Chissor in Phnom Rung too, the sculpture of Adavallan/Dancing Shiva, finds a place with his Demon Devotee Karaikkal Ammai. The fascinating pediment is located in the eastern antechamber that connects to the Main Sanctuary of the temple.

Apart from the temples of Phnom Chissor and Preah Vihear, in temples at Vat Baset, Vat Ek and Banteay Srei in Cambodia that Suryavarman I had undertaken restoration, the sculpture of Dancing Shiva with Karaikkal Ammai has occupied an important place.

glorioustamils.com/2019/07/18

The earliest representation of Karaikkal Ammai in Tamil temples was in the 10th century by Chembian Madevi, and the earliest representation of Ammai in Khmer temples according to available evidences was in the 11th century by Suryavarman I (discussed in several previous posts). The 11th century inscriptions of Phanom Rung and Inscription of Suryavarman I found at Prasat Hin Phimai (which also hosts the sculpture of Ammai with Adavallan/Dancing Shiva), both temples in Isan – northeast Thailand, certainly provide a hint that the same King might have included the sculpture of our interest in the temple of Phanom Rung.

Inscription 8/B.R.14 belongs to 17th Buddhist century (12th century CE) and Inscriptions 7 and 9/B.R.1 and B.R.19 are assigned to 18th Buddhist century (12th to 13th century CE), which suggest the reign of Suryavarman II, the latter two specifically indicating the last years of his Kingship.

Inscription 7 provides the genealogy of the Mahidharapura Dynasty listing the names of Jayavarman VI, Dharanindravarman and Suryavarman II.

While the focal point of the Khmer temples in discussion is Karaikkal Ammai with Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva, does any of the inscription talk anything related to either of the duo?

Inscription 8 refers to the installation of sculpture of Dancing Shiva. This Phanom Rung inscription belongs to Suryavarman II, 12th century CE. It mentions the construction of a pond named ‘Sri Surya’ and erection of holy sculptures of Dancing Shiva, Vishnu, Madhusudana and Devi.

In the inscription, Dancing Shiva is referred as ‘NruttaSamboh’; Vishnu as Lakshmidrta; and Krishna as Madhusudhana, in Sanskrit.

pratimāṃ sthāpayāmāsa yobhaktyāvidhināyutaḥ – – ———————————————————————spada-ādarāt ———————————sthāpayāmāsavidhinā————————–yobhaktyāmahatānvitaḥ – – – – – – – – – – ——————————————————maheśasya saṃnṛttaśambhoḥ lakṣmīdhṛtāṅghrermadhusūdansyadevyānimām saṃvarṇamayinnyadhat

However, in view of the usage of the word ‘prathimam’, it appears what is spoken of could be the golden image of these Gods for the Temple- (‘Prathimaam Sthaapayaam’) and not regarding the Dancing Shiva in the pediment. The practice of providing golden images of Gods to temples has been seen in Preah Vihear too.

Narendraditya’s Golden Swing and Manickavasagar’s Ponnoosal (Golden Swing)

In inscriptions 7 and 9 of Phanom Rung, Narendraditya is mentioned along with Suryavarman II. The character ‘Narendraditya’ in Isan and 12th century Khmer history needs deep research. Some researchers call him the nephew of Suryavarman II, a few more think he might have been an important vassal King of Suryavarman II, who fought and brought victories for the Khmer Emperor. So much so that, with no single King to directly claim the major construction of Prasat Phanom Rung, there is also ambiguity whether the true builder in its refined state could’ve been Narendraditya, the then ruler of the area, under the Khmer Emperor Suryavarman II. In this connection, it is also believed that, the Pond named after Suryavarman II – ‘Sri Surya’, according to inscription 8 of Phanom Rung, was dug and named by Narendraditya, in lieu of his respect for the King of the Dynasty. (pg.127, Prasat Phnom Rung, Thai Fine Arts Department Publication)

Inscription 9 of Phanom Rung has 4 faces of written content. Face I talks of two swings offered by Narendraditya. One swing- ‘Indradolakhyadolam’ for Lord Sri Bhadresvara – Shiva of Phanom Rung and a Golden swing- ‘hemadolam’ for Devi. The Sanskrit ‘Dola’ can also denote a Palenquin.

(nare)ndrādityanāma bhṛt

indradolākhyadolāṃ yaś

śrībhadreśvara īśvare

dadau tatra dadau nāga

pattaraṃ sthūlādriśambhave

devyāṃ rājaguhāyāṃ yo

yānatātām satāṃ matāṃ

hemadolāṃ vīlasitāṃ

mānyamāturadānmudā

When translated as ‘Swing’ in connection to Lord Shiva, the connect of Tamil Saiva Saint Manickavasagar cannot be missed. Manickavasagar’s Thiruvasagam is categorized as the 8th Thirumurai, among the 12 Thirumurais or the Holy Text of the Tamil Shaivites. Dr. G.U. Pope translated Thiruvasagam to English and the magnum opus was published in 1900.

Manickavasagar’s ‘Thiruponnoosal’ or Singing the glory of Lord Shiva on a Golden Swing is a delightful composition, where he imagines himself as a young girl, calling other girls to join on the golden swing to sing the praise of Shiva. The fact that the Golden Swing of Manickavasagar had travelled to Thailand through his devotional hymns has several historic evidences.

One, the Verses of Thiruvempavai are still recited during the coronation of the Thai King, and known as ‘Triyampawai’.

The other, the Giant Swing of Thailand at Wat Suthat Thepwararam in Bangkok.

The Giant Swing of Thailand and Triyempawai Festival

Around 2 minutes walk from ‘Devasathan’ Hindu Temple lies Wat Suthat Thepwararam, a Royal Buddhist temple constructed in the first few decades of the 19th century. A Giant Swing stands in front of Wat Suthat. The Swing predates the Buddhist Wat and was erected in 1784. The Giant Swing was originally constructed in front of the Devasathan Hindu Temple. Later when it got damaged, the tradition stopped. In 1920, the swing was moved to the present location, and became a tourist attraction.

The Giant Swing of Thailand is associated the Tamil Poetry Thiruvempavai (composed by Manickavasagar). It displays the continuous medieval connect between Thamizhagam/Thamilagam and Thailand, that has clinged on till the first few decades of the 20th century CE. The tradition of Swing in Thailand symbolises the ancient tradition of Manickavasagar’s Ponnoosal. Annual Swing festivals are said to have been conducted at several shrines in Siam and Ayuthaya regions, and the festival was itself was called ‘Triyampavai-Tripavai‘ after the holy verses of Manickavasagar and Andal respectively. 

The important ceremony of Tri Yampawai Tripawai, popularly known as Lo Chin Cha
(playing on the swing) was one of the most interesting of all Siamese State Ceremonies. None of the seventeenth century European writers mention this ceremony, with exception of Van Vliet, which was practiced in the Ayutthaya period.

The rite was performed to pay homage to Shiva as to commemorate the God’s annual 
visit to the earth. Once a year the god Shiva comes down to visit this world and stays 
here for ten days. He used to arrive on the seventh day of the waxing moon in the first month and depart on the first day of the waning moon. As thus the Swinging Festival was performed in the first lunar month, but was changed in the Ratanakosin period to the second month. It was not only an important State Ceremony in the former capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, but was practiced in the other chief cities of the realm in ancient times. 

https://ayutthaya-history.com/Temples_Ruins_SaoChingCha.html

The period of Manickavasagar is not certain. He is apparently not included among the 63 Nayanmars of Tamil Bhakthi Movement, compiled by Nambi (early 11th century CE). Sundarar (9th century CE) doesn’t mention him directly in his ‘Thiruthondar Thogai’, but several scholars have raised doubts as to whether ‘Poyyadimai Illatha pulavar’ that Sundarar notes could be Manickavasagar. Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar has provided a detailed analysis on why ‘Poyyadimai Illatha Pulavar’, which translates as ‘Poet, who abides by truth’ could be Manickavasagar, in his book ‘Kaala Aaraichi’ – excerpt from the book is given below.

He also asserts that Manickavasagar should have lived during the reign of Pandya Varaguna (792-835 CE), before Sundarar (840-865 CE), who lived during the reign of Nandivarma Pallava III. Manickavasagar praises Varaguna Pandian in his Thirukkovaiyar.

There is no reference of Manickavasagar in Nambi Andar Nambi’s ‘Thiruthondar Thiruvanthathi’, but the latter elaborates ‘Poyyadimai illatha pulavar’ as 49 poets of the later Sangam period, which again Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar feels might not be right. At the same time, the same author Nambi in his ‘Kovil Thiruppanniyar Viruththam’ writes-

வருவா சகத்தினில் முற்றுணர்ந் 
  தோனைவண் தில்லைமன்னைத்
திருவாத வூர்ச்சிவ பாத்தியன் 
  செய்திருச் சிற்றம்பலப்
பொருளார் தருதிருக் கோவைகண் 
  டேயுமற் றப் பொருளைத்
தெருளாத உள்ளத் தவர்கவி 
  பாடிச் சிரிப்பிப்பரே.  58 

He acknowledges Thiruvasagam and Thirukkovaiyar, both works of Manickavasagar and addresses him as ‘Vadhavoor Chivapaathiyan’, one of the names of the Saint derived from his birthplace Thiruvadhavoor. Nambi Andar Nambi’s works belong to early 11th century.

Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I introduced the sculptures of Thriunavukkarasar, Thirugnanasambandar and Sundarar in Thanjai Peruvudaiyar Kovil/ Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple. According to Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, neither Father nor the Son provided the sculpture of the Saint in discussion. In 1056 CE, Manickavasagar’s ‘Thiruvembavai’ is mentioned in the Thirukkovalur Veerattaneswarar Temple inscription of Rajendra II (1054-1064 CE), son of Rajendra I. The Reverred Tamil Scholar feels only after this period, the hymns of Manickavasagar were sung in Tamil Temples.

In the long list of copper images dedicated to the Thanjai Periya Koyil/Rajarajesvara Temple, Thanjavur, the image of Manickavasagar doesn’t appear. Among the Thiruthondar, images of Thirunavukkarasar, ThirugnanaSambandhar, Sundarar, his wife Paravai Nangai, and Chandeswara were provided during the reign of Rajaraja I and images of Thriunavukkarasar, ThirugnanaSambandar, Sundarar, Siruthondar, his wife Thiruvenkaattu Nangai, their son Seerala Thevar were provided during the reign of Rajendra I.

(South Indian Inscriptions, Volume 2, Part II, Inscriptions numbered 33-56)

While the Thevarams of Appar, Sambandhar and Sundarar have been sung in Temples as early as 9th century CE during the reign of Nandivarman III, according to epigraphical evidences, it is an accepted fact that their hymns were very much prevalent in the Tamil society before epigraphic evidences emerged. The same way, the narratives about her life and hymns written by Karaikkal Ammai must have also spread ahead of her iconographic representation, beyond doubt.

With the inscriptional evidence of Manickavasagar’s hymns being part of Temple worship becoming apparent in mid 11th century CE, the songs should’ve been part of societal worship culture decades before. However, it is still a historic surprise that Rajaraja I didn’t include the Saint regarded as the 4th important pillar of Saivism in Tamil Land, in his Master Piece Thanjai Periya Kovil.

As per Ma. Rajamanickanar’s ‘Kaala Aaraichi’, Manickavasagar is believed to have lived before Sundarar, which denotes the period of Varaguna Pandya I in the last decade of the 8th century and first few decades of the 9th century CE. While Dr. G.U. Pope , who passionately translated Manickavasagar’s Thiruvasagam to English, claims that the Saint could have lived in the 7th or 8th century CE.

Additionally, the literary works of Manickavasagar had been included in the Thirumurai List as 8th, following the Venerable Trio who gave the first 7, by Nambi Andar Nambi in early 11th century CE, under Rajaraja I, before the inclusion of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temple Iconography. Thiruvembavai was sung in Tamil temples since 1056, the same Triyempawai that is sung during the Royal Coronation Ceremony of Thai Kings till today. (pgs. 93-118, Manickavasagar Kaalam, Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, Kaala Aaraaichi)

We can summarise the connect with events in the chronological order, as per available evidences-

  1. Sculpture of Ammai in Tamil Temples
  2. Inclusion of the hymns of Ammai and Manickavasagar in Thirumurai List
  3. Sculpture of Ammai in Khmer Temples
  4. Sculpture on Manickavasagar and Inscriptions on his hymns in Tamil Temples
  5. Influence of Manickavasagar through Thiruvempavai in Khmer Temples in Thailand

The connect of Manickavasagar’s Swing, can be seen through Thiruvempavai Festival and the Swing in Thailand in the later centuries. But, the Golden Swing- ‘PONNOOSAL’ in the Saint’s own coinage, seems to have had a Khmer association, through Narendraditya in Phanom Rung.

Bridging the Connect

First, was the Pallava connection with the Grantha Script in the province of Buriram to which Prasat Phanom Rung belongs- one 7th century CE Pallava script and another 8th to 9th century CE variant, Post Pallava script. Second, was the erection of the image of Dancing Shiva in Thailand and Cambodia, very similar to the sculptural depiction in Tamilnadu (the demon devotee Karaikkal Ammai joyfully watching the cosmic dancer- Adavallan). Then, came Narendraditya’s ‘Hemadholam’, quite an exact translation of Manickavasagar’s ‘Ponnoosal’ – the Golden Swing. The sway of the Swing had continued through the 20th century. The Swing could have been halted, but the hymns of Manickavasagar still fills the air, at least in parts of Thailand, during special Royal occasions.

As seen previously, the earliest representation of Karaikkal Ammai in the temples of Tamilnadu by Chembian Madevi was in the 10th century. The introduction of Ammai in Khmer Temples by Suryavarman I could have been in the second quarter of 11th century CE. The inscription of Narendraditya’s Golden Swing was in the 12th century. The time period of the sculpture of the Demon devotee of Shiva along side Adavallan in Khmer temples in Isan- north east Thailand, seems uncertain and ambiguous. If it has to be considered as a 12th century CE inclusion, later than Suryavarman I and during the rule of Suryavarman II, that only emphasises the continued patronage received by the Tamil traders settled in the Khmer conquered states of Thailand.

Hence, the sculpture of Adavallan alongwith Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer temples could be one of the several outcomes of continued Tamil influence, especially post Rajendra Chola’s Massive Naval Victory and even a century beyond the Supremacy of the Cholas in the countries along the Andaman sea and Gulf of Thailand.

From the above discussed inscriptional and literary facts, the Tamil Connect in Thailand appears to be an astonishing affair. Several researches of the past and the recent ones, seem to introduce new dimensions in exploring the far-reaching geographic and cultural path of the Tamils in Thailand and in Southeast Asia as a whole. The need is, extensive in-depth research than an assertive conclusion.

Illustrations

A glimpse of the architectural charm of Prasat Phanom Rung-

Causeway that leads to the Main Temple

causeway that leads to the Main Temple

The First Naga Bridge

Closer to the Main Temple

Middle doorway of the eastern gallery

Yogadhakshinamurthy and Indra on Kala

closer view

Scenes from Ramayana

Ravana ubducting Sita

Battle scenes

Krishna

Krishna killing Kuvalayapida, the elephant

Uma Sahithar/ Uma Maheshwara on Nandi

a closer look at the ornate Nandi

MAIN SANCTUARY

the Sanctum Sanctorium

Nandi

Dwarapala – the Guard

Adavallan/Dancing Shiva

Adavallan with Karaikkal Ammai

Lintel below Dancing Shiva – Reclining Vishnu

References:

  • pg.182, Lawrence Palmer Briggs, The Ancient Empire
  • C.Minakshi, Administration and Social Life under the Pallavas

Links:

Ammai in Prasat Phanom Rung,Thailand

The next temple in Isan – North East Thailand, with the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai alongside Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva is Prasat Hin Phanom Rung. The temple is located in the present day Thai Province of Buriram, nearly 364 kms North-east, from the capital city Bangkok. 

Prasat Phanom Rung is yet another masterpiece temple, which seems to have undergone several innovative inclusions under various Kings, like other Khmer monuments in Cambodia and Thailand. According to the Thailand National Committee on the World Heritage Convention

The Phanom Rung sanctuary compound was constructed over several phases, dated by means of iconography of its art and architectural styles together with its inscriptions. These comprise two foundations of sacred brick buildings of 10th century C.E., the minor sanctuary of 11th century, the central sanctuary built by king Suryavarman II’s relative Narentratitaya in 12th century and two Bannalais (libraries) of the 13th century. Further sacred buildings built in the reign of King Jayavarman VII in 13th century, including the Royal attire Changing Pavilion, the Kudi Rishis of Nong Bua Ray, the medical centre or hospital (Arokayasala) and Prasat Ban Bu, a rest house with fire where travelers could shelter (Dharmasala) on the plain at the foot of Phanom Rung, alongside the road linking Angkor and Phimai.

Structural evidences show that the temple has had constructions and improvisations from 10th to 13th centuries CE.

Inscriptional Evidences found till date (see Database of Thai Inscriptions) shed light on the temple from the 8th century CE to 12th century CE.

The Restoration Project of Prasat Phanom Rung, a collaboration between the Thai and French Governments was launched in 1971. After 17 years of committed zeal and scientific archeological reconstruction, the temple with its additional Avatar as a Historical Park was made open to public in May 1988.

This is a huge temple complex with several features like the stairways, processional walkways, three Naga Bridges, a Pavilion, Inner Galleries and the most important Central Sanctuary or the Main Tower. The two brick sanctuaries, built around 10th century CE are believed to be the oldest structure in the Prasat. The Bannalai or the Library used to store Holy Scriptures – an early 13th century CE structure, appears to be the last Khmer addition in the premises. 

The Central Sanctuary is where the Principal Deity – Shiva in Linga form used to be housed. On the entrance pediment of the Main Sanctuary, the beautifully sculpted statue of Adavallan/Dancing Shiva stands majestically with the exceptional glowing smile on the face. 

As seen in the recent posts on Khmer temples such as Phnom Chissor, Vat Baset, Prasat Preah Vihear, Banteay Srei, museums in Phnom Penh and Battambang, all in today’s Cambodia and Prasat Hin Phimai in today’s Thailand, this particular sculpture, that of Adavallan/Dancing Shiva has been the core of analysis. In Phanom Rung too, the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai- the Demon Devotee of Shiva, sitting alongside Dancing Shiva, mesmerised by his celestial performance, is the focal point.

From the previous articles, it was comfortably construed that the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai could have been introduced in Khmer architecture, during the reign of Suryavarman I (1010-1050 CE), with sculptural evidences from Phnom Chissor and temples in Battambang province (Cambodia). Preah Vihear and Banteay Srei too, have had inclusions of structures by the same King.

In Thailand, the period of Prasat Hin Phimai is generally assigned to the last decades of the 11th century. As seen in the earlier post on Isan, inscriptional evidences show light on Suryavarman I’s imprint in the area around the Temple premises, signifying religious tolerance between Buddhism and Saivism. Additionally, the fact that the Khmer expansion in Isan (North-east Thailand) reached its culmination during the rule of Suryavarman I, should not be overlooked. 

Sculptural or Inscriptional evidences from Prasat Phanom Rung, like other Khmer Temples, do not provide any specific date to the inclusion of the sculpture of Dancing Shiva alongwith Karaikkal Ammai.

But more in-depth research of the province of Buriram and Prasat Phanom Rung (where the Main Sanctuary houses the sculpture of Dancing Shiva and two women with sunken breasts), might bring out new historical facts and links, on the inclusion of Karaikkal Ammai in yet another Khmer Temple, in Thailand.

Karaikkal Ammai at the feet of Adavallan in Prasat Phanom Rung

Adavallan/Dancing Shiva with Karaikkal Ammai 
display board in the Prasat

When we analyse the sculpture of Adavallan/Dancing Shiva in the above picture, what captivates the spectator the foremost, is the tranquil smile on the face of Adavallan. The sculptor has showcased his expertise even in the delicate sway of the arms of the Cosmic Dancer. Here too, Dancing Shiva is portrayed as ‘Natakesvara Dasabhuja’ – (Ten Armed Dancing Shiva) as mentioned in the Takeo inscription of Suryavarman I (refer – religious-development-under-suryavarman-i-karaikkal-ammai-in-prasat-hin-phimai/ ), as seen in Vat Basset, Battambang Museum, Banteay Srei, Preah Vihear and Prasat Hin Phimai.

There can be seen in the sculpture, two women seated to the right of Adavallan. The temple description reads, ‘one should be the evil incarnation of Goddess Uma and the other might be Karaikkal Ammaiyar’. Rather than naming her an evil incarnation, Goddess Chamundi can be referred as the fierce or aggressive form of Uma or Parvathi, wife of Lord Shiva. 

With the spread of Hinduism and its Mythological legends far beyond India, evidences of which are available from the mid centuries of the first millennium, Chamundi being part of Shiva’s sculptural panel need not be an inclusion of surprise. But the journey of Karaikkal Ammai, the Demon Devotee of Shiva, an exclusive personality from Tamil Land, to find a seat to view Shiva’s cosmic dance in the Khmer Temples of Cambodia and Thailand, certainly seems to be an astonishing one.

Chamundi is a fierce incarnation as per Hindu Mythology. Ammai was a fearless individual, rather a Human and one of the Pioneer Saints of the Tamil Bhakti Movement, with three literary works to her glory (in Tamil namely Arputha Thiruvanthathi, Thiruvalangaatu Mootha Thiruppathigam and Thiruvirattai Manimalai). She stood unrelented to the societal pressures of womanhood, and took up ‘Peyuru’ or ‘Demonic Image’, to realise and hail the intense dance of Shiva in the Graveyard in the midst of the dead. She threw a number of whips at several social issues as early as the 6th century CE – be it her freedom of choice to take up Spirituality at a young age or to emphasise worship in one’s own mother tongue rather than alien languages regarded sacred by several socio religious factions. 

She addressed herself in her hymns as ‘Karaikkal Pei’ (6th century CE)- the Ghost of Karaikkal and Sundarar in his ‘Thiruthondar Thogai’ (8th century CE) called her ‘Peyar’ – the revered Ghost. Her sculptural representation in her homeland ‘Thamizhagam/Thamilagam’, exactly symbolises her life, an emaciated skeletal figure enjoying the eternal dance of Shiva.

Hence, it is indeed with absolute astoundment that this series of articles regarding the sculptural representation of Ammai in far away Khmer Temples, that is very much similar to her representation at Home (Chola Temples of today’s Tamilnadu), is being written. 

In Prasat Phanom Rung, there is a change in the iconographical representation of Karaikkal Ammai. The usual skeletal depiction as an emaciated figure found in Tamil temples from 10th century CE and in the 11th century and later Khmer temples, seem to have received a transformation in this Prasat. 

The Sculptor or the Royal Architect of Prasat Phanom Rung chose to portray in the Sculpture, two dynamic and powerful Women in the life of Shiva, one – his Divine Spouse and the other – his Demon Devotee. It seems he also chose to give a subtle image to the fierce Chamundi and a more Human like appearance to ‘Peyar’ Ammai. The highly damaged lintel leaves very little to discuss about the facial features of both the Ladies, to comprehend better. The Women are adorned with ornaments in their neck and arms, a very unusual iconographic representation of Ammai. Additionally, each seem to be holding a child on their shoulder. Since the head of the sculpture has not survived, the only clue to holding another figure, is the hand of the women holding an arm with hanging fingers. A closer look would reveal tiny fingers on the right breast of both. The image close to the feet of Adavallan/Dancing Shiva additionally seems to hold a feet on the left side. 

Alternatively, since Ammai’s songs manifest the Lord’s Dance in the Funerary Grounds, the figure holding a tiny arm and feet could also suggest that she could be holding a corpse.

Let’s consider the other sculptures of Karaikkal Ammai alongside Adavallan in Khmer Temples, in Cambodia and Thailand. In almost all the temples, in the Panel that hosts Dancing Shiva, the lone woman to watch him dance is Ammai, always in a seated posture, sometimes with cymbals in hands. Only in the sculpture in Battambang Museum, the Museum booklet says, one figure is that of Devi- Shiva’s consort and the other is of Karaikkal Ammai. As interpreted in Battambang Museum as Devi, here in Phanom Rung too, one among the two women has been analysed as Chamundi, an incarnation of Devi.

Among the blessed to watch the Eternal Dance of Shiva, specifically in close proximity could be none other than His Demon Devotee ‘Peyar’. Ammai in Tamil Temples has always been kept in par with the ‘Ganas’ of Lord Shiva, as she wrote in her Arputha Thiruvathathi – ‘Peyaaya Narganathul Onraaya Naam’ – ‘I am one of His Ganas, in the form of a Ghost’. The same has been seen in Khmer Temples too. 

Like she herself described her appearance in Thiruvalangaattu Mootha Thiruppathigam as ‘Kongai thirangi narambezhunthu’- one with shrivelled breasts, she has always been portrayed as an emaciated figure with shrivelled breasts, with a ghost-like image.

கொங்கை திரங்கி நரம்பெழுந்து 
  குண்டுகண் வெண்பற் குழிவயிற்றுப்
பங்கி சிவந்திரு பற்கள்நீண்டு பரடுயர் 
  நீள்கணைக் காலோர்பெண்பேய்
தங்கி அலறி உலறுகாட்டில் 
  தாழ்சடை எட்டுத் திசையும்வீசி
அங்கங் குளிர்ந்தனல் ஆடும்எங்கள் 
  அப்பன் இடந்திரு ஆலங்காடே. 

திருஆலங்காட்டு மூத்த திருப்பதிகம் 

courtesy: Karaikkal Ammai's Thirivalangaattu Mootha Thiruppathigam

The sagging breast is again a strong indication of Ammai’s depiction.

The sculptor has also given a human like iconography with ornaments adorning the ladies. Yet, they do not possess the aesthetic beauty of Goddesses, Apsaras or normal women found in other panels. This is what makes one strongly feel that, the two should be representations of demonic characters. As such, a Demonic Icon to find a place during Lord Shiva’s celestial performance could be none other than Karaikkal Ammai. Moreover, the ornate accessories could have been provided to synchronise their representation with the intricate carvings around Dancing Shiva and the Panel as a whole. This particular panel, when compared to the panels of Dancing Shiva in other Khmer Temples, is indeed more explicit in its craftsmanship.

Karaikkal Ammai has not only pictured her own appearance in her poetry. She has also illustrated the appearance of Adavallan/Dancing Shiva in beautiful Tamil words, which the Pallavas splendidly displayed (in different Karana postures) in their architectural marvels and the Cholas magnified and glorified as the King of Dances in their monumental Temples in yesteryear Thamizhagam. The Dancing Shiva of the Cholas are exact reproductions of Ammai’s Lord of Dance. That could be analysed in a different post.

Such was the connect that Ammai had with the Lord and His Dance. It was such a divine association, that could not be separated by Geographical boundaries, Kingdoms or Languages. The sculpture of Karaikkal Ammaiyar in Prasat Phanom Rung again reiterates the Tamil Trader Connect in South East Asia, specifically in Khmer Kingdom that covered Cambodia and Northeast Thailand. It asserts the Tamil influence over Hinduism, Temples and Temple Architecture in the above mentioned regions.

Apart from the iconographic representation of Ammai in Prasat Phanom Rung (in the 11th century CE or later), inscriptions in the temple decipher new facts. Further more, the collection of other inscriptions in Pallava Grantha Script around the Buriram Province of Thailand to which Prasat Phanom Rung belongs, illuminates the spread of the Tamils, mainly Traders as far as North East Thailand. The inscriptions stand as evidences to the Tamil influence on the Language of yesteryear Thai Kingdoms, prior to the introduction of the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Architecture.

If introduction of Ammai’s sculpture was a Chola influence, evidences of Pallava influence in Thailand are found as early as 3rd century CE. The touch stone of a goldsmith was discovered from Kuan Luk Pat in Krabi Province in Southern Thailand, on the shore of Andaman Sea. The Tamil words -‘Perum Pathan Kal’ was inscribed in the touch stone which Professor Karashima assigns to 3rd century CE.

Without getting into details of the overall Tamil influence in Thailand, the next post would concentrate on the Tamil influence seen in Buriram Province in North east Thailand, to which Prasat Phanom Rung belongs, to further strengthen the religious connect of the Tamils through the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temples of Thailand.

References

pg.182, Lawrence Palmer Briggs, The Ancient Empire

Links-

Ensemble of Phanom Rung, Muang Tam and Plai Bat Sanctuaries

Ancient Maritime Cross – cultural Exchanges Archaeological Research in Thailand

Chaowanee LekklaTracing Zhēnlà Beyond Cambodia: Archaeological Findings on the Lower Mekong River Basin

PrasatPhanomRung.pdf

Thai Scripts: A 730-Year History

pgs. 40, 41/ K.A.N.Sastri, ‘South Indian Influences in the Far East

M D Muthukumaraswamy, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/for-1000-years-tamil-life-has-chimed-to-his-verses

Khmer Political and Economic Expansions in Northeast Thailand under Suryavarman I (1010-1050 ACE)

The friendly diplomatic relations maintained by Rajaraja I and the subsequent military conquests of his son Rajendra Chola I in connection with the Kingdoms of Southeast Asia and the consequential increase in the influence of the Tamil Trader community in Khmer temple architecture has been discussed in the previous post.  The impact of the influence of Maritime Tamil Traders through the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai – an innovative introduction along with Dancing Shiva in Khmer temples, which was the pioneer architectural excellence of Chembian Madevi in Chola Temples in Thamizhagam/Thamilagam from mid 10th century ACE is the focus point of this series of posts – ‘Ammai in Southeast Asian Temples’.

In this post, we continue to concentrate on the Khmer temples with the sculpture of Ammai, but with a shift from today’s Cambodia towards the north-east region of today’s Thailand, which is presently called Isan. The Isan region falls to the north west of today’s Cambodia and shares borders with both Laos and Cambodia.

Several provinces that constitute today’s north-east Thailand formed an important historical part in the Khmer expansion of geographical territory, specifically during the reign of Suryavarman I.  This author proposes to view the inclusion of Ammai in Khmer temples in the light of Khmer expansion towards north-eastern regions of Thailand in three ways-

  1. Political Extension
  2. Economic Expansion
  3. Religious Development

The facts pertaining to the above mentioned three faceted Khmer Expansion during the reign of Suryavarman I, are dealt in an attempt to search evidences, which are epigraphic and non-epigraphic in nature, for the inclusion of the sculpture of the Tamil Saiva Saint, Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temples.

Political Extension

The Khmer focus on today’s north-east Thailand or beyond and north of Dangrek Range is believed to have gained momentum during the reign of Rajendravarman II (944-968 ACE). However, it was only after Suryavarman I claimed the Khmer throne in the first decade of the 11th century ACE, that the Khmer expansion took a giant leap, occupying several provinces in today’s Isan and even beyond.

Mitch Hendrickson (currently Asst. Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Chicago) holds a Doctorate in Archeology. He focuses his research on communication systems and expansion mechanisms of the Khmer Empire between 9th to 15th centuries ACE. His 2012 publication – Connecting the Dots: Investigating the issue of transportation between the temple complexes of the medieval Khmer (9th to 14th centuries AD), examines the transport routes established as links between various Khmer temples. His paper brings out important geographic and political dimensions of the reigns of various Khmer Kings combined with religion. The research reveals the road routes established by Khmer Kings along the important temples they built and also provides a different interpretation on the connectivity of these temples after the inclusion of several provinces of Dvaravati region (north western region of today’s Cambodia) into the Khmer territory. It also provides us additional details on Suryavarman I and his geographic expansion and the efforts made by him to increase mobility to and from the temple sites built and renovated by him, in Cambodia and northeast Thailand.

If, as assumed, the Khmer temples are part of a greater cultural landscape under politico-religious control, an examination of connections at the regional and supra-regional scales will provide insight into the internal dynamics of the Khmer empire and its geographic history.

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

This analytical paper on the communication corridors of Khmer Kings gives us fascinating details on the expansion of the Empire and the far flung regions controlled by different Kings, in specific context of this paper, Suryavarman I.

The second significant feature is the restricted size of royal territories until the reign of Suryavarman I in the early 11th century. At this time the focus expands significantly to the northwest and south of the Tonle Sap Lake. Interestingly, the areas influenced by subsequent kings largely mirror the 11th century occupation, which suggests that regional communication was formally established at this time.

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

In the picture below, the author shows the communication corridors of Kings, necessarily used to develop transport routes between temple sites.  Additionally the picture also throws light on the comparative mapping of the geographic/political Khmer expansion through their religious entities and storehouses of cultural refinement – ‘Temples’.

 

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

After Udayadityavarman I, the sites influenced by Suryavarman I in the first decade of the 11th century ACE show his sturdy grip as far as the western regions of Cambodia, forging into Dvaravati region. The significant geographic expansion aided in the creation of culturo-religious institutions in form of temples in the newly extended territory.

Pali Chronicles – the Chamadevivamsa and the Jinakalamali (both belonging to the 15th century ACE) and Mulasasana, talk of the story of the Khmer expansion in the Menam Basin and also mention the name of ‘Kambojaraja’. Even if the chronicles can be brushed aside as imaginary, Coedes clarifies that – ‘ we nonetheless have clear manifestations of Cambodian expansion in the era of Suryavarman I in the region west of the Great Lake, where his inscriptions are particularly numerous’.  (George Coedes, pg.137, Three Great Kings, The Indianized states of Southeast Asia).

 

Lopburi inscription of Suryavarman I

  1. 944 śaka caturdaśī ket bhadrapa
  2. da ādityavāra nu vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtva
  3. n añ śrī sūryyavarmmadeva pandval vraḥ ni
  4. yama ru samācāra ta tapra pi bhūvana phoṅ
  5. dval pi thve toy onā sthāna ta pasvi pho
  6. ṅ nu vraḥ paṃ nvas bhikṣu mahāyān a stha
  7. vira O nau ru ta pvas vyat pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
  8. vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtvan añ śrī
  9. sūryyavarmmadeva o nau ruv anak ta cval sāṃ
  10. pi tamaḥ tapovanāvāsa noḥpi thve
  11. kaṅval pi vvaṃaṃ pān pi tapasvi yogi
  12. phoṅ svat mantra pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
  13. vraḥ pāda kaṃrateṅ kaṃtvan añśrī sū
  14. ryyavarmmadeva ti pre cāp pi nāṃ cuñ ta
  15. sabhā stap vyavahāra nirṇṇaya toy

http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/en/inscribe_detail.php?id=381

This inscription of Suryavarman I from Lopburi, mentions that the Buddhist monks belonging to two sects – Mahayana and Sthavira and the Brahmins – Tapasvi Yogi lived together in Lavo. This is not only a proof of Suryavarman I’s Khmer expansion in the Dvaravati region but also a proof of religious secularism encouraged under him.

Where is Lopburi?

 

Map courtesy: By Hdamm – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4141418

Above map shows Lopburi and Nakhon Ratchasima in arrows. The extent of Suryavarman I’s expansion beyond the Dangkrek Mountains, with Prasat Hin Phimai, which falls under the province of Nakhon Ratchasima and reaching as far as Lopburi was only a beginning to his commercial and architectural expansion – bringing economy and religion under a single umbrella of political conquests…. much similar to Rajendra Chola I, his contemporary Tamil Emperor, whose political conquests resulted in economic and religious expansion of Tamil culture as far as China – beyond Southeast Asia.

Economic Expansion

The geographic expansion of Khmers under Suryavarman I has been briefly discussed above. What would seem most important in the study of the inclusion of iconography of Karaikkal Ammai in Cambodia and north east Thailand is the religious expansion during the first half of the eleventh century. But, there is one more important theory that makes the powerful chain of geographic and religious expansions stronger – that is Economic Expansion. The economic expansion or commercial development of Khmer Kings is a topic of separate, in-depth analysis- already done by several scholars and researchers. The economy aspect of any King’s rule occupies a significant place in his political and religious influences taken from and spread towards other friendly and non-friendly nations. Significantly, economic relations might be more expansive than political, as it additionally aids in cultural and religious give and take.

With the focal point on Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer temples, the economic expansion of Khmer Kings needs to be explored. The political and economic expansions of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I of the Chola Empire in Thamizhagam were discussed in the previous post. The maritime Tamil merchants and their stronghold in Southeast Asian economies had led to various cultural reciprocities, the most beautiful among them being the inclusion of Karaikkal Ammai, the demon devotee of Lord Shiva in Khmer Temples.

As written previously, the Tamil Economic upheaval was at its apex during the reign of the father-son duo – Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. Inscriptions on Rajendra I’s Southeast Asia conquests are proof to the political and economic might of the Tamils in the early 11th century ACE, the period corresponding to the reign of Suryavarman I in Khmerland.

Inscriptions in Thamizhagam show an uninterrupted process of maritime trade and political stronghold of the Tamils in Southeast Asia, from Rajaraja I’s successful friendly relations, followed by a new policy of political conquests by son Rajendra I. A century later to Rajaraja I’s reign, Kulottunga Chola’s inscriptions in 1114 ACE, talk of friendly relations sought by Suryavarman II with the Tamil Kings.

Inscription of Kulottunga I  that a stone was provided by Suryavarman II to the Shiva temple of Chidambaram (Chittrambalam or Thillai being its original Tamil name).

 

Photo clicked from Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions by Noburu Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu

Researchers and Scholars have analysed the evidences of the glorious commercial expansions under the rule of Suryavarman I, who incorporated the west of the core Angkor area extending till Lopburi (Lavapura) into the then existing Khmer territory. The corresponding cultural and religious networks he created within and beyond his territory might bring in clues to the inclusion of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Architecture.

The interest that Suryavarman I showed in his political expansion, continued with the immense emphasis he laid upon administrative and commercial activities internally and internationally.  He focused on enhancing trade and commerce of his kingdom by integrating markets of his then existing territory and newly captured provinces. One of his primary concerns was to dominate the economic scene among the neighboring states, by extending friendly relations with the South Indian Cholas.

Kenneth R Hall’s extensive research on Khmer commercial development during the reign of Suryavarman I has indeed left behind ample references that relate to the Tamil maritime links in and around the Khmer territory.

Epigraphy suggests that prior to Suryavarman’s reign, goods of Chinese origin had entered the Khmer core through the eastern part of the domain, as the inscriptions concentrate on commercial activities in that direction (Coedes: IC,v6; 183-86; Aymonier: 1900-1904, 443). Inscriptions from Suryavarman’s reign reverse this eastern focus, being concentrated in the western region. While the proliferation of inscriptions in the newly integrated areas is a reflection of the period’s administrative expansion, there are strong commercial implications as well.  Once the Khmer had established control in Lobpuri and areas to the south, goods brought from China to say Phanom Wan no longer needed to cross the mountains to the east. Instead, they could reach Lopburi and Phanom Wan via the Chaophraya River system, the same route being used for goods that were coming from India, Persia, and Arabia via Tambralinga. Such a direct interaction with the international routes no doubt was viewed as an asset to the internal development of the Khmer economy in Suryavarman’s time.

Pg. 182, Hall, Kenneth R., A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100 – 1500

These economic strong points of the Khmer Empire during the rule of Suryavarman I, could be seen in light of the economic stronghold of Rajendra Chola I across Southeast Asia. While Suryavarman I opened new trade entry points through Phimai and Lopburi, west of Angkor, one of his prime motives as the reigning Khmer Emperor was to surpass the Srivijayas and hail supreme in Southeast Asian Economic Arena. Despite two powerful trade economies – China to the north and Tamil Cholas to the far west of the Khmer Empire of the day, Suryavarman I was very active in establishing a hugely successful Khmer Commercial Presence among the immediate neighboring kingdoms of Southeast Asia, thereby dominating the trade routes of Isthmus of Kra.

The economic empowerment during his reign is also attested by the ‘large scale urbanisation’ –

epigraphy mentions only twelve place names ending in –pura, a Sanskrit term used to identify urban areas, during the reign of Jayavarman IV (928-942), twenty-four in the period of Rajendravarman II, twenty under Jayavarman V, but forty-seven – more than double those of his immediate predecessors – in the reign of Suryavarman I

Pg.320,  Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336.  JSTOR link : www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

Khlon Jnval Vanik

Another interesting phrase that might need additional analysis is ‘khlon jnval vanik’, mentioned in Khmer epigraphy. Coedes deciphers in his Inscriptions du Cambodge vol.3 (inscriptions in Prasat Prav) – the various words that refer to merchants. A few special words decoded by Coedes –

Khlon Jnval – residing vendor/local merchant

Khlon Jnval Vanik – Travelling merchant

Travan Vanik – Merchant Quarter

Vap Champa – Cham merchant

Vap China – China Trader

Pg. 321, Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR link : www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

As deciphered by Coedes,  ‘Vap’ could refer to a trader from a foreign country, and  ‘Vanik’ might indicate a merchant traveling throughout the territory of the Khmer ruler . According to Hall, among the inscriptions found at Vat Baset and Svay Chek (Bantay Prav), ‘Khlon Jnval’ denoting the local merchants in khmer language seem to dominate in Vat Baset, proving it to be an important local communication center; whereas Bantay Prav inscriptions show that ‘khlon jnval vanik’ denoting traveling merchant, occupies a greater place. Hence, Bantay Prav could have been an important center of communication and exchange between the Khmer core and its western provinces, with Lopburi becoming part of Khmer Land after Suryavarman I’s expansion.

Six of seven inscriptions of a commercial nature from these two temples date to Suryavarman’s reign, while the seventh, an inscription from the reign of Harshavarman III (1071), is the latest inscription examined.

Pg. 327, Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

These terms regarding inland merchants during the period from mid 10th century ACE until last few decades of 11th century ACE, signify the extensive trade within the extended Khmer Territory.

According to George Coedes –

Vanik est un mot d’emprunt Sanskrit significant ‘commercant’ that translates as –

‘Vanik’ is a borrowed word from Sanskrit which means Trader.

George Coedes, Pg. Inscriptions du Cambodge, Vol III

This comment by Coedes has made more number of scholars and researchers believe the word ‘vanik’ to be of Sanskrit origin and this fact gets repeatedly mentioned in several later research papers and articles.

Historian K.N. Shastri, in his article on the Tamil Inscriptions of 9th Century ACE, talking of merchant guild ‘Manigramam’ found in Takuapa says –

‘The Manikkiramam deriving its name ultimately from Sanskrit Vanik-gramam (guild of merchants) is a powerful mercantile corporation often mentioned in South Indian Inscriptions

Pg. 29-30, K.A.Nilakanta Sastri,Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription, Journal Malayan Branch, Vol, XXII, Pt. I

There are two points to be discussed here –

  1. Is ‘Manikkiramam’ derived from Vanik-gramam?
  2. Does the word ‘vanik’ have its root in Sanskrit as both these scholars say?

Coedes’ Inscriptions du Cambodge was published in the year 1937 and Sastri’s Takuapa article was published in Journal of Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society in the year 1949, though written in 1948. K.A.N. Sastri’s previous and first article on Takuapa, prior to 1949 – ‘The Takuapa Tamil Inscription’ was published in the The Journal Of Oriental Research Madras Vol. Vi, in the year 1932. It is interesting to note that the Sanskrit connection is mentioned only in the 1949 article, after the publication of Coedes’ ‘Inscriptions du Cambodge Vol. III’.

On ‘Manikkiramam’ being derived from Vanik-Gramam, and the root word of ‘Vanik’ to be from Sanskrit,  Dr. Kalaikkovan, Founder, Dr. Rajamanickanar Historical Research Centre, Thiruchirapalli opined through a telephonic conversation in May 2017-

“If the Tamil traders wanted to name their overseas merchant guild based on the word ‘Vanikar’, meaning traders/merchants in Tamil, why should they re-phrase it as Manikkiramam? They might as well have had their guild’s name ‘Vanika Gramam’, which directly specifies the term – Merchant Village. Manikkiramam could have got its name from the product that was traded – pearl or other precious stones/beads.”

This stands true from the fact that Tamizhagam had been a Buzzing Economic Centre since centuries before Common Era. Also, glassware and beads that have been excavated from Southeast Asian coastal towns especially from Malaya and Thailand testify the gem trade between the Tamils and Southeast Asian friends that flourished from Tamil Ports. It is additionally well proven from available Tamil literary sources and travelogues by foreign authors from the early centuries of the 1st millennia that the Tamil Coastal Line was a busy business haven enjoying imports and exports between the Arabs and Southeast Asians.

Trade with Southeast Asia already existed in the early historical period, the focus now (after mid 6th century ACE) shifted towards Southeast Asia, Srilanka and China. Thus the trading activities survived in the later periods. Thirdly not only the luxury goods but even the beads, either of semiprecious stones or glass, were a valuable item of trade. The central role of South India, especially Tamil Nadu, in the international gem trade has led Peter Francis (‘Early Historic South India and the International Maritime Trade’ by Peter Francis Jr.)  to call the region the “Treasure Chest of the Ancient World”.

Pg.132, Vikas Kumar Verma, Maritime Trade Between Early Historic Tamil Nadu and Southeast Asia; URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/44145830

Hence, the ambiguity regarding the word ‘Manikkiramam or Manigramam’ could be viewed wider with the merchandise of the traders  – possibly gem trade and pearl fishery which has been much prevalent between the Malayan Peninsular States and Thamizhagam.

Poetic references of ‘Vanigar’ in Early Tamil Literature

In this case, the root of the word ‘vanik’ needs more scrutiny.  A search for ‘vanik’ in early Tamil Literature gives new light to the belief of scholars. Before making its place in 11th century Khmer epigraphy, ‘vanik’ has found powerful usages in Literary Tamil Language. Before entering into ‘Bhakti Ilakkiyam’  (Saivite Devotional Hymns by Nayanmars and Vaishnavite Hymns by Alwars) which dominates 6th century ACE until 12th century ACE of Tamil Literary Scene, the Tamil Epic Silappadhikaram written in approximately the 2nd century ACE, mentions ‘Vanikar’.

1.Silappadhikaram, (first half of 2nd century ACE – according to Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, pg.67 Kala Araichi) the epic written by Ilangovadigal has several mentions of ‘Vanikar’  for example, ‘Aruvai Vanikar Veedhi’  denotes the Textile Merchant Street.  The protagonist of Silappadhikaram, Kovalan himself is introduced as – ‘Kovalan enbaan or vaanigan’ –  ‘A merchant named Kovalan’

‘கோவலன் என்பான் ஓர் வாணிகன்’

Additionally, Silappadhikaram mentions ‘vaniga marabu’, ‘vaanigar’, ‘vaanigan’ and ‘vaaniga peedigai’ – all these words referring to merchants. (pg.1382, Index des mots de la literature tamoule ancienne, vol.III, Institut Francais D’Indologie)

2.Moving backward in time, Thirukkural – (appr. 1st Century ACE to 3rd century ACE according to Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, pg.47, Kala Araichi) mentions –

வாணிகம் செய்வார்க்கு வாணிகம் பேணிப்
பிறவும் தமபோல் செயின்.

Thirukkural- 120

Naduvu Nilaimai

Vaanigam seivarkku vaanigam peni
Piravum thamapol seyin

Translation:

A thriving trader is the trader known,
Who guards another’s interests as his own.

http://www.thirukkural.com

3.Puranaanuru (3rd century BCE -3rd century ACE) mentions vanigan and vaanigan in a few poems.

i. Aravilai vanigan ai allan……. (Puram 134)

புறநானூறு 134, பாடியவர்: உறையூர் ஏணிச்சேரி முடமோசியார், பாடப்பட்டோன்: ஆய் அண்டிரன், திணை: பாடாண், துறை: இயன் மொழி
இம்மைச் செய்தது மறுமைக்கு ஆம் எனும்
அறவிலை வணிகன் ஆஅய் அல்லன்
பிறரும் சான்றோர் சென்ற நெறியென
ஆங்குப் பட்டன்று அவன் கைவண்மையே.

Puranānūru 134, Poet Uraiyūr Ēnichēri Mudamōsiyār sang for Āy Andiran, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Iyan Moli
Āy is not like a businessman with fair
prices who thinks that the good done in
this birth will help the next one.
His generosity is because of other noble
men before him who followed the right path!

ii.  Yaanor Vaaniga Parisilan Allen ….(Puram 208)

புறநானூறு 208, பாடியவர்: பெருஞ்சித்திரனார், பாடப்பட்டோன்: அதியமான் நெடுமான் அஞ்சி, திணை: பாடாண், துறை: பரிசில்

குன்றும் மலையும் பல பின் ஒழிய
வந்தனென் பரிசில் கொண்டனென் செலற்கு என
நின்ற என் நயந்து அருளி ஈது கொண்டு
ஈங்கனம் செல்க தான் என என்னை
யாங்கு அறிந்தனனோ தாங்க அருங் காவலன்
காணாது ஈத்த இப்பொருட்கு யானோர்
வாணிகப் பரிசிலன் அல்லேன் பேணித்
தினை அனைத்து ஆயினும் இனிது அவர்
துணை அளவு அறிந்து நல்கினர் விடினே.

Puranānūru 208, Poet: Perunchitharanār sang for Athiyamān Nedumān Anji, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Parisil
When I stood there and said that I have crossed many
hills and mountains to come to him for a reward, he
showed me great kindness and asked me to take what
I wanted, this king who is difficult to withstand
by his enemies.

I am not like a merchant who considers these gifts
as merchandise
, to take gifts which are given without
being seen.  It would be sweet if he knows my worth
and gives me a gift, even if it were tiny like millet!

https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com/ettuthokai-purananuru-201-300/

4.Paripadal Thirattu (3rd century BCE – 3rd century ACE) mentions ‘Vanigar’/merchants – the plural of vanigan/merchant –

ஆங்கு ஒரு சார் உண்ணுவ பூசுவ பூண்ப உடுப்பவை
மண்ணுவ மணி பொன் மலைய கடல்
பண்ணியம் மாசு அறு பயம் தரு காருகப்
புண்ணிய வணிகர் புனை மறுகு ஒருசார் . . . 25

on one side, there are decorated streets with shops
where faultless, honest merchants sell food,
fragrant smearing pastes, ornaments, clothes, bright
gems and gold brought from the mountains and ocean.

sangamtamil/paripadal

5.The earliest mention till today is from the earliest Grammar Work available in Tamil Language – Tolkappiyam (3rd – 4th century BCE)

Vaisiyar perume vaniga vaazhkkai (tholkappiyam, poruladhikaram, 622)

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/77849/8/08_chapter2.pdf

The term ‘vanik’ that denotes merchants is available in Tamil Literary texts as early as 3rd Century BCE. This literary evidence that proves the usage of a particular word in a particular language, earlier than other languages, especially before Common Era and its continuous usage through several centuries across the next millenium- proves the root word of ‘Vanik’ need not be Sanskrit but most probably Tamil. The word ‘vanik’ seen in Khmer epigraphy from 10th to 11th Century ACE, also proves the continuity of the well established links of the Tamil traders which is known from travel notes of foreign authors-  from as early as the last few centuries Before Common Era (Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar on Periplus notes (70-100 ACE)  on Chola Trade, pg. 106,  Cholar Varalaaru) and literary evidences (Tamil Epics Silappadhikaram and Manimekalai that speak of Chola Maritime Trade with Western and Eastern countries in 2nd century ACE). The Takuapa Tamil Inscriptions in Thailand, the earliest epigraphic evidence of maritime tamil traders guild in Southeast Asia,  provide clues to the continuous link of Tamil Vanigars/Traders from early centuries to the final centuries of the millennium. The Khmer Rulers, who have used the same word to denote the same group, which is merchants in their epigraphy, is yet again a proof of the powerful commercial activities of the Tamil Merchants, especially during the reign of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I, contemporary Tamil Empires of Suryavarman I.

Names of poets prefixed with Vanigar in Early Tamil Literature

The usages of ‘vanigan’ in Sangam Tamil Literature were seen above.  Additionally, the huge collection of poems of the Sangam Tamil Age mentions the community to which few of the several poets belonged to. Among those, in the context of ‘vanigar- merchant’, in Purananuru, Agananuru and Mullaipaatu – below mentioned poets have their specific trades/merchandises prefixed to their names:

Purananuru-

Poem  59 – written by Madurai Koola vaanigan Seethalai Saathanar – Seethalai Saathanar – Grain merchant of Madurai

Poem 264 – written by Uraiyur Ilampon Vaniganar – Gold merchant of Uraiyur

Poem 329 – written by Madurai Aruvai Vaanigar Ilavettanar – Ilavettanar – Textile merchant of Madurai

Agananuru-

Poem 298 – written by Madurai Panda Vaanigan Ilanthevanar – Ilanthevanar – Grocery merchant of Madurai

Mullaippaattu written by Kaviripoom pattinathu Ponvaniganaar maganaar nappoodhanar – Nappoodhanar – son of Gold merchant of Kaviripoom pattinam

‘Vanigan’ in Early Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions in Tamilnadu

Apart from these names, one of the earliest of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions found at Madurai Azhagar/Alagar Malai and Pugalur also finds mention of ‘vanikan’.

1.Madurai Azhagarmalai inscriptions – early Tamil Brahmi Script, that dates between 3rd century BCE and 1st century ACE (acc. to Iravatham Mahadevan)

refer – பழந்தமிழ்க் கல்வெட்டுகள் – மா. இலாவண்யா

(Pazhanthamizh Kalvettukkal –www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866)

Upu vanigan viyagan – salt merchant

Panitha vanigan nedumalan – sugarmerchant (according to Iravatham Mahadevan) or edible camphor merchant (according to Mayilai Cheeni Venkatasamy)

Kolu vanigan elasanthan – plough merchant (according to Iravatham Mahadevan) or Iron merchant (according to Ra. Nagasamy)

Refer –தமிழ் பிராமி கல்வெட்டுகள் காட்டும் தமிழகச் சமூகப் பொருளாதார நிலை’- தி. ஸ்ரீ. ஸ்ரீதர்  – (‘The Socio-Economic Life of the Tamils through Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions by Sridhar)

2.Inscriptions from Pugalur Jain Temple –  later Tamil-Brahmi Script that dates between 2nd century ACE and 4th century ACE (acc. to Iravatham Mahadevan)  (www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866)

Karuvur Pon vanigan nathi adhittanam – Gold merchant from Karuvur

Ennai Vanigan veni aadhan adhittanam – Oil merchant

www.tamilvu.org/tdb/titles_cont/inscription/html/pukalur.htm

These early Commom Era inscriptions again refer to traders of different commodities.

These literary and epigraphic evidences in Tamil that show the usage of ‘vanikar’ and that dates from a time span extending from 4th century BCE (tolkappiyam) to 3rd century ACE, are enough proof for the roots of the word to have originated from Tamil Language. With no available literary/epigraphic evidence earlier than these, until a proven evidence of its usage is available in any other contemporary language – it is logical and indeed valid to claim the word could have its roots in Tamil.

With both the terms, ‘vanigar’ and ‘vanika’ denoting merchants or traders been found mentioned in Sangam Tamil Literature and in Tolkappiyam – the oldest Tamil Grammar text found till today, ‘vanik’ could not possibly have its roots in Sanskrit. Apart from the root of the word, its usage in Tamil Literature associated with Tamil Economic activities, that is similar to denote economic activities in Khmer Land, a millenium later, when the Tamil Cholas were at their ‘Vanik’ best in Southeast Asia is certainly an element for further critical research.

Literature centuries before Common Era, systematic Grammar of the language to produce such mature literature and a well established civilisation to cultivate long routed economic activities and strong rooted cultural reciprocities, the Tamils have left behind enough and abundant documentation through literature and epigraphy, the proof of their influences far and wide. It is for the learned scholarly world to recognise or wait for search of more evidences.

Hundreds of centuries with limited evidences – literary, epigraphic and sculptural, History finds its decisions mostly in Probability. As mentioned in the previous posts, with an open-mind to accept new discoveries that would answer satisfactorily various ambiguities in history, with the same theory of Probability as per available evidences till today, this is an honest view on the Tamil and Khmer connection of the word ‘vanikar’ (available in khmer epigraphy as ‘vanik’) which means traders/merchants.

Now, we come back to usage of the same word ‘vanik’ meaning traders/merchants in Khmer epigraphy during the reign of Suryavarman I. The terms ‘khlon vanik’ and ‘khlon jnval vanik’ meaning resident merchants and travelling merchants respectively as quoted by Kenneth Hall from George Coedes, should be seen in the light of Khmer economic development at its expansive best and political and economic stronghold of the Cholas in Southeast Asia under Rajendra I at all time high sidelining Srivijayas. Additionally, a wider view of the Tamil word ‘vanikan’ available in early Tamil Literary sources, would provide evidences of the comfortable positions enjoyed by Tamil Trader Settlements across centuries, not to ignore the Pallava influences seen in ancient provinces of today’s Thailand.

The chart below provides information on the mention of the word ‘vanik’ in khmer epigraphy-

 

pg.177, Eileen Lustig, Money doesn’t make the world go round: Angkor’s non-monetisation, Economic Development, Integration, and Morality in Asia and the Americas – edited by Donald C. Wood

It can also be seen that Vat Baset inscriptions under Suryavarman I leads in numbers. It is also to be noted that the term ‘vanijam’ inscribed previously in 8th century ACE undergoes a change in ‘vanik’ from the 10th and 11th century ACE inscriptions – a closer similarity to ‘vanikar’ of Tamil Language.

Using services of merchants towards temple donations is a prevalent norm even today. Kings have always had close links with merchants and their community for religious and cultural innovations through Temples, which could be done easily with the wealth accumulated by and from the traders. Khmer rulers couldn’t have chosen a different path and Khmer epigraphy provides abundant evidences to this.

Elaborating on the chariot sent by Suryavarman I to Rajendra Chola I, and the Chola raids on Srivijaya, Kenneth Hall reiterates Coedes’ words –

Coedes stated that the Chola expedition led to the reintroduction of Khmer influence in the isthmian region during the second quarter of the century

Pg. 332, Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

He adds,

It is the author’s belief that the gifts given to Rajendra by Suryavarman were not intended to “save his own kingdom”, but to establish a friendly trade relationship between Cambodia and Chola ports.

Pg. 334, Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

This core emphasis on victorious trade accomplishments of the Khmer Empire under Suryavarman I along the Isthmus of Kra, with the cordial relations of Tamil Cholas could well have contributed to the upsurge and higher influential positions of the Tamil Traders or ‘Vanik’ settled in Khmer territory. This upsurge in the positions of Tamil Traders could have further proved as a catalystic aid in the inclusion of the sculpture of Tamil Saint Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temples in Cambodia and north-east Thailand. An important fact here – Karaikkal Ammai, the demon devotee of Lord Shiva from the Tamil country, also belonged to the same ‘Vanigar’(tamil) – trader – ‘vanik’ (khmer) community in 6th century Thamizhagam.

It can be stated rather unambiguously that Karaikkal Ammai – the Pioneer Tamil Saint and Poetess of the Saivite Bhakti Movement in Tamil Land, who belonged to the Vanigar/Vanik/Trader community, would have been the star religious Ambassador for the Tamil Trader Settlements living in far eastern countries – including the land of focus of this research – Khmer Land under Suryavarman I.

References

  1. Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches – Interpreting Ancient Sites in Southeast Asia
  2. George Coedes, Three Great Kings, The Indianized states of Southeast Asia
  3. Noburu Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu, Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions
  4. Hall, Kenneth R. “A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100 – 1500”
  5. Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975JSTOR.
  6. George Coedes, Inscriptions du Cambodge, Vol III
  7. K.A.Nilakanta Sastri,Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription, Journal Malayan Branch, Vol, XXII, Pt. I
  8. Vikas Kumar Verma, Maritime Trade Between Early Historic Tamil Nadu and Southeast Asia
  9. Index des mots de la literature tamoule ancienne, vol.III, Institut Francais D’Indologie
  10. Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, Kala Araichi
  11. Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, Cholar Varalaaru
  12. மா. இலாவண்யா , பழந்தமிழ்க் கல்வெட்டுகள்
    Ma. Lavanya, Article : Pazhanthamizh Kalvettukkal, Varalaaru.com
  13. தி. ஸ்ரீ. ஸ்ரீதர் , தமிழ் பிராமி கல்வெட்டுகள் காட்டும் தமிழகச் சமூகப் பொருளாதார நிலை in Keetru.com – (‘The Socio-Economic Life of the Tamils through Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions by Sridhar)
  14. Eileen Lustig, Money doesn’t make the world go round: Angkor’s non-monetisation, Economic Development, Integration, and Morality in Asia and the Americas – edited by Donald C. Wood
  15. Recueil des inscriptions du Siam, Part II, Inscriptions of Dvaravati, Srivijaya and Lavo by Coedes
  16. Mohamed Nazar, M , Arab trade and traders in the Pandya country – thesis submitted to Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
  17. Dr. S. Sivasankaran, “State of Handloom Weavers, Weaving and Fabric in Tamilnadu Through the Ages”, International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Humanities, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page Number 95-103, 2016.

 

Web links

  1. Old Myths and New Approaches Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia
  2. http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/
  3. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4141418
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14719726
  5. www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.
  6. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44145830
  7. http://sangam.tamilnlp.com/cilappatikaaram
  8. https://learnsangamtamil.com/
  9. http://www.thirukkural.com/
  10. https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com/ettuthokai-purananuru-201-300/
  11. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/77849/8/08_chapter2.pdf
  12. www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866
  13. Keetru.com/index.php/2014-03-08-04-39-26/2014-03-14-11-17-85/19346-2012
  14. www.tamilvu.org/tdb/titles_cont/inscription/html/pukalur.htm
  15. http://www.persee.fr/docAsPDF/befeo_0336-1519_1929_num_29_1_3297.pdf
  16. http://hdl.handle.net/10603/61422
  17. Link to Takuapa and Tamil Inscription by KAN. Shastri in the Journal of Oriental Research, Madras Vol Vi, 1932 – https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.283291/2015.283291.The-Journal#page/n357/mode/2up

 

Ammai in Phnom Chissor

 

Karaikkal Ammaiyar in Phnom Chissor

IMG_2363
As mentioned in the earlier post, most of today’s standing structures and lintels of Preah Vihear were constructed during the reign of Suryavarman I (1010-1050). He has often evoked researches regarding expansion of Khmer Rule in present day north-east Thailand; constructing new temples; renovating/adding new structures to existing temples; as well as strengthening Iconography of Dancing Shiva in temples, which was already documented by Pre-Angkor rulers as early as 7th century ACE.

Here is another temple devoted to Lord Shiva, towards the southern end of today’s Cambodia.  Phnom Chissor, built during the rule of Suryavarman I,  displays the sculpture of Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva. The temple offers no disappointment-  one can find Shiva’s humble devotee, Karaikkal Ammai sitting below Him watching his eternal dance.

 

the lintel

IMG_2366

 

ammai to the right of adalvallan

IMG_2363

To the left of shiva is the person with ‘muzhavu’ – the percussion instrument.

 

karaikkal ammaiyar with cymbals in hand


Like Prasat Preah Vihear built on top of Dangrek Mountains, Temple Phnom Chissor is  also built on top of Mount Chissor; and was originally known as ‘Suryaparvata’ or the mountain of the Sun God, named after the King who constructed it. The Shiva Lingam or the main deity of the temple was called ‘Suryavarmeswara’.

Located in Takeo Province of Cambodia, about 70 kms south of present day capital Phnom Penh, reaching Phnom Chissor requires a climb of more than 400 steps from the southern entry to the temple. The impressive sandstone lintels and intricately designed doorframes are testimonies to a majestic Empire’s architectural inclination.

Map below shows north-west Cambodia with province Battambang (Vat Baset), northern Cambodia with Preah Vihear and southern Cambodia with Phnom Chissor, where Dancing Shiva  with Karaikkal Ammai was sculpted during the 11th century ACE.
Country_map

map courtesy: http://www.excursionasia.com/pages/map.html

These temples belong to the 11th century ACE. But, the worship of Shiva Nataraja in Cambodia dates back to early 7th century ACE. The Isanapura inscriptions of Isanavarman I in Sambor Prei Kuk mentions it.

 

The people of Ancient Cambodia worshiped the Shiva Nataraja since the 5th C.A.D. The K.440 inscription of King Ishanavarman I who ruled around 616-628 A.D. recorded the installation of the silver image of Nrittesvara. http://documents.mx/documents/karaikal-in-cambodia.html

 

Additionally, Dancing Shiva with ten arms is specified in the Takeo inscriptions of Suryavarman I, which refers to an image of ‘Natakesvara (king of dancers) with ten arms (dasabhuja). mireille benisti
The dancing Shiva in Phnom Chissor doesn’t have 10 arms, but the common string instrument in the hands of the eternal dancer is something to be noted. The sculptors of Adalvallan in Battambang, Preah Vihear and Phnom Chissor have given an instrumental possession to the Dancer and they are similar too.

 

battambang

IMG_1397

 

preah vihear

IMG_1333 - Copy

 

phnom chissor

IMG_2363 - Copy
Mireille Benisti, French scholar and researcher of early Khmer Art and comparative Indian Art and Iconography, first published an article in 1967, in ‘Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient’ under the topic – ‘Notes d’iconographie khmère’ –  the title of the article being – ‘AU SUJET D’UN LINTEAU DE VAT BASET’ (On the Lintel of Vat Baset).

In the previous post, it was mentioned that Mireille Benisti published an article on Karaikkal Ammaiyar in Vat Baset in the year 1976, based on the book ‘Karaikkalammaiyar: An iconographical and textual study by Peter J. J. de Bruijn. However, subsequent online searches revealed that she could be the first scholar to have noticed Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temple Art. She first documents the iconographic presence of Ammai in Vat Baset and then in Banteay Srei and Prasat Hin Phimai (Thailand) in her articles in the same Bulletin in 1967 and 1969 respectively.

According to Ms. Benisti, ‘the Baphuon style’ of the temple architecture and the inscriptions in the sanctuary (Vat Baset) may date back to mid-eleventh century, during the reign of Suryavarman I, but the lintel of dancing shiva and karaikkal ammai might belong to the second half of the eleventh century, an assertion, she attributes to the style of Kala Head, Branches and other ornamental representations sculpted in the temple.

This lintel mentioned by Ms. Benisti couldn’t be located in Vat Baset during my visit in December 2014.  I feel the picture published by Ms. Benisti is similar to the lintel found outside Battambang Museum. Hence, the lintel that Ms. Benisti saw at Vat Baset in 1967, could  possibly be the one currently (December 2014) placed outside the Museum. She also explains about the ten armed Adalvallan dancing between two female characters.
IMG_1397

 

Further to come-

The earliest sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Land – Banteay Srei Temple, built in the year 968 AD.

 

References

  1. mireille benisti –‘Notes d’iconographie khmère’ – Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient – 1967
  2. mireille benisti – ‘Notes d’iconographie khmère’ – Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient – 1969- pages 159-161
  3. U-tain Wongsathit, Department of Oriental Languages, Silpakorn University, Thailand – ‘Karaikal in Cambodia’ –  http://documents.mx/documents/karaikal-in-cambodia.html
  4. The Indianized States of South-East Asia  by George Cœdès

Karaikkal Ammai in Prasat Preah Vihear

 

Dancing Shiva in Preah Vihear

IMG_1334 - Copy

 

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

IMG_1964

 

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.