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