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Three granite pillars with inscriptions of Pallava and Chola kings

The Hindu, 17 March 2007

Rare Find: A terracotta bull, a female head made of terracotta, miniature lingam made out of green-stone, a copper bell, conches and terracotta lamps discovered by the ASI at Salavankuppam near Mamallapuram.

CHENNAI: In its renewed excavation at Salavankuppam close to Tiger Cave near Mamallapuram, the Archaeological Survey of India (Chennai Circle) has discovered three granite pillars with inscriptions of Pallava and Chola kings. According to archaeologists, the inscriptions confirm that a structural temple built of bricks, dedicated to Subrahmanya, existed at the spot on the beach. It belonged to the pre-Pallava period or late Tamil Sangam age and could be 1,700 years old.

The inscriptions on the pillars belong to the Pallava period of 8th century A.D. when Thirukin Kizhavar was the local chieftain, the Pallava period of early 9th century A.D. when Nripatunga Varman was the ruler, and 998 A.D. when Raja Raja Chola was in his 13th regnal year. The inscriptions, in Tamil, are about the donation of gold and land for the temple and the maintenance of its perpetual lamp at Thiruvizhchil, which is present-day Salavankuppam. There is an inscription of Raja Raja Chola on the floor near the entrance to the Shore Temple. He built the Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur.

Among the ruins of the temple complex at Salavankuppam, the ASI has also discovered a terracotta bull (Nandi), a miniature (4 cm tall) Sivalingam made of polished green-stone, the terracotta head of a woman, a miniature copper bell, a Chola copper coin, moulded bricks, amphorae jars, terracotta lamps, stucco decorations, lids of pots, potsherds and conches. The exquisite Nandi, in the sitting position, has a pronounced hump, a garland of bells and wide jaws. The woman's head has an expressive face, arched eyebrows, big eyes and pupils.

The three pillars are in addition to the five pillars with inscriptions discovered at the site by the ASI during its excavations in 2005 and 2006.

These five inscriptions belong to Pallava kings Dantivarman (813 A.D.), Nandivarman III (818 A.D.), Kambavarman (9th century A.D), Rashtrakuta king Krishna III (971 A.D), and Chola king Rajendra III (13th century A.D). In 2005, the ASI also found an inscription of Kulotunga Chola in a nearby rocky outcrop. All the inscriptions refer to donations of land and gold for the maintenance of the temple at Thiruvizhchil ( The Hindu , July 12, 2005, September 21, 2005, and March 28, 2006).

Sathyabhama Badhreenath, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI (Chennai Circle), said: ``What is significant is that, from the Pallava kings of the 8th century A.D. to the Chola kings of the 13th century A.D, the Subrahmanya temple continuously received patronage. All these inscriptions mention Thiruvizhchil.''

G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI, called it ``the biggest brick temple complex dating back to the pre-Pallava period.'' He assigned it to circa 3rd century A.D.

The inscription of Thirukin Kizhavar stated that the chieftain made a gift of five ``kazhanju'' (small balls) of ``pon'' (gold) and that the interest accruing from it should go towards buying oil for the temple's lamp.

Nripatunga Varman's was about land donation to the temple. Raja Raja Chola's inscription about Thiruvizhchil spoke of ``brahmadeyam,'' that is, the deity and Brahmins becoming equal owners of temple land, and ``devadanam,'' the donation of land for administering the temple.

The temple, facing north, had two entrances, from the east and the west.

It was the first brick temple complex to be exposed in Tamil Nadu, Sathyabhama Badhreenath said. She described the figurine of the bull, which is 26 cm in height, 25 cm long and 18 cm broad, as ``a rare piece.'' Thirumoorthy called this discovery ``a fortune'' because ``a Nandi made of terracotta has not been reported so far.'' The unearthing of the figurines of Nandi and the Shivalingam, and of Ganesha earlier ``indicated that the temple was dedicated to the Saivite pantheon,'' he said.

While the temple was built of bricks in the pre-Pallava period and damaged by tidal action, the Pallavas converted it into a granite temple. This, too, was ruined by a tsunami or tidal action.

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