July 24, 2017

Alavattaman Temple - Rajkilpakkam, Chennai

In the border between two villages, Rajkilpakkam and Sembakkam, at the southern outskirts of Chennai city, Alavattamman Temple is located.

Alavattam is considered as the Grama devta (village deity). The original temple must be at least 200 years old. The temple walls were built in 1932 as per an inscription. The tower and the front side mandap were later added in the last 20-30 years.

The sanctum enshrines Alavattamman. She has four arms and is found in the sitting posture.

At the entrance, the idols of Ganesh and Kartikeya are found.

The prakara is wide and has few holy trees. The stone representation of Sapta Matas is found in the prakara.

There is a huge tank located outside the temple. It is one of the biggest tanks in this neighborhood.

Happy travelling.

July 23, 2017

Tirumalai Jain Complex

Tirumalai is an ancient Jain center located near Arni town in Tamil Nadu state of India. There are few other places called Tirumalai in South India. The famous Tirupati Tirumala temple and a Murugan hillock temple near Tenkasi are also named as Tirumalai. This Jain center is not to be confused with them. This has no connection with other sites with the similar name.

Tirumalai, which is also called as Arahanthagiri, is located in Tiruvannamali district. Today, we could hardly find Tamil speaking Jains. The Jains in Tamil Nadu state are mostly from Rajasthan or Gujarat states. The marble temples of Jain Tirthankaras that are found all over Tamil Nadu are built by them in the last one or two centuries. However, in the ancient times, Tamil Nadu was full of Jains. In fact, most of the oldest Tamil texts which are available today, were either directly or indirectly related to Jainism. Similar to the granite temples of the Hindus, the Jain temples were also built with grand towers, beautiful vimanas, attractive sculptures and other architectural elements. Not many people in Tamil Nadu realize that such ancient Jain temples exist. Tirumalai is one site where we could find such ancient Jain symbols in large numbers. In the olden days, it was called in different names such as Vaigavur and Srisailapuram. It is believed that the Jain monks lived in the hills of the village right from the 7th century CE. This article would focus on all those ancient Jain sites of Tirumalai village.

Neminath Sculpture

Few group of shrines are located atop the hill and few other temples and caves are located at the foothills.

Climbing up a flight of around 150 steps and few sloppy rocks, we would reach the Neminath shrine. It enshrines the impressive 18 feet tall rock cut carving of Neminath. It is the tallest Jain image in Tamil Nadu state. It is believed to be a Chola period work (12th century CE). (I could not find any record to proove that it was done by the Cholas, though). The sculpture is simple and plain without any ornamentation. The 22nd Jain Tirthankara is found naked and in the standing posture.

Parshvanath Shrine

Further going up, there is a big boulder which reminds us the famous butter ball rock of Mamallapuram, due to its similarity.

A small shrine for Parshvanath is located there. A small stone idol of Parshvanath, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara, is found in the standing posture and a five hooded serpent is upon his head.

The period of the temple is not recorded anywhere, to my knowledge. I believe the idol must be much older than the later period structure of the shrine.

Holy Footprints

Further up on top of the hill, there are three holy footprints (Padams) engraved on the rocks are found. A rare variety of Devaalari tree is found nearby. It has been planted in such a way that the flowers from the tree fall directly on one pair of holy footprints.

It is said that three Jain monks sacrificed their lives without taking food or water on this hill. To commemorate them, the holy footprints of those monks are engraved. There are some later period inscriptions found near the footprints. The one inscriptions was done by ASI in 1930s.

From top of the hills, we could get the aerial view of the entire town and importantly the impressive towers and vimanas of the Jain temples at the foothills.

Vijayanagara Period Jain Temple

A beautiful three tiered tower, a more beautiful three tiered vimana on top of the sanctum, impressive sculptures on the Maha Mandap - all these belong to a Vijayanagara period temple at the foothills. Structure-wise, it looks more impressive that the Kundavai Jinalaya (the Chola period Jain temple) which is located beside this. It must have been built in the 16th century CE. 24 Tirthankaras adorn the vimana, whereas different Jainism related images adorn the tower.

The sanctum enshrines a feet tall lime mortar image of Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. The Yaksha and Yakshinis are found on his either sides. The backside wall and the ceiling are full of fresco paintings of Jainism images, which were done probably during the Vijayanagara period or later.

Outside the temple tower, there is a small shrine enshrining Panchaparameshti.

The temple has a front side small Maha Mandap. The Chola period inscriptions are also found on the boulders which become part of the temple complex now.

A small stone idol of Mahavira in the sitting posture is found in the Ardhamandap and another idol of Mahavir is found in the Maha Mandap. In the prakara, a serpent stone idol is located.

Kundavai Jinalayam

Behind the temple of Mahavir, the Jain temple called Kundavai Jinalayam is located. It is believed to have been built by Kundavai, the sister of Raja Raja Chola, in the 10th century CE. The presiding deity of the temple is Neminath.

The sanctum enshrines the small stone idol of Neminath. He is found in the seated posture with two disciples on his either sides.

In Ardha Mandap, there is a bigger black marble idol of Neminatha and in Maha Mandap, a small sized white marble idol of Neminath are found. These are all later additions.

In Maha Mandap, there are many beautiful metal idols of Neminatha and few other Tirthankaras and Jain deities are located in a separate shrine.

Brahmadeva, Jwalamalini and few other Tirthankaras are also found in the Mukha Mandap of the temple. The pillars in the Mukha Mandap have some interesting carvings.

Bali peetha and a platform for flag staff or deepa stambha are located facing towards the sanctum.

In the prakara a peetha is insalled to commemorate the Moksha attained by a Jain monk in the beginning of the 20th century CE. He was Shrivatheebha Simha, who wrote Kshetra Sintamani.

Cave Paintings

Few steps from the Kundavai Jinalayam would take us to caves where the Chola period paintings on the ceiling and the Vijayanagara period paintings on the walls are found. Some portions of the cave could be seen only by crawling.

If we lie down on the floor and look at the ceiling of the cave, it appears as if a colorful carpet is hanged atop. On the walls, the paintings of Dwarapalas and other Jain figures are found. In one cave, the big painting depicting Jain Tirthankara in the middle who is surrounded by women, animals and different varieties of celestial beings is found.

The bas-relief of a Tirthankara is found on the top surface of the rock that takes us to the caves. There are few shrines near by which are dedicated to Kooshmandini seated on lion, Bahubali with Brahmi and Sundari, Adinath and Parshvanath with Padmavati. (When I visited the temple, I could not go to these shrines which were closed).

King's Sculpture

In the interior village, there is a statue of a King (probably Nayaka?) with three consorts and another statue of a king surrounded by four maids. The locals call him as Raja Raja Chola, which is funny.


The inscription on a rock near the tower of Vijayanagara period temple tower dates to the 21st year of reign of Raja Raja Chola. It calls the town as Vaigai Malai.

The inscription on top of hill dated in the 11th year of reign of Rajendra Chola gives a long list of countries won by him.

In addition, there are inscriptions of Rajendra Chola (12th year of his reign), Raja Raja Chola (20th year of his reign), Vira Pandya, Rajanarayana Sambuvaraya and few other inscriptions are also found in and around the temples.

Happy travelling.

July 22, 2017

Delhi Gate of Arcot

Why would a monument in Arcot town in South India be named as Delhi Gate? What is the connection between Arcot and Delhi? What is the significance of this monument? To know everything, read on...

In the 18th century CE, the Mughals were still in power in Delhi. However, their control over the entire country was shaky. The British East India Company and the French East India Company were competing with each other to dominate. The enmity between the British and the French governments added fuel to this quarrel in India.

Hyderabad Nizams were originally the governors under the Mughal empire. The Carnatic Nawabs who had Arcot as their capital city were under the control of the Nizams.

Chanda Sahib was the son-in-law of the Nawab of Carnatic, Dost Ali Khan (he was the Nawab till 1740 CE). Sahib also served as a Diwan under the latter. After few years, he conspired against the then Nawab of Carnatic, Anwaruddin Muhammed Khan. At the same time (in 1748 CE), the Nizam of Hyderabad, Asaf Jah I died. A civil war broke out between the heirs, Nasir Jung and Muzaffar Jung.

In 1751 CE, there was a dispute of succession between Mohamed Ali Khan Walaja, the son of Anwaruddin Muhammed Khan and Chanda Sahib. Dupleix of the French East India Company sided with Chanda Sahib and Muzaffar Jung to bring them into the power in their respective regions. The British East India Company supported the rival teams. All these incidents led to the Second Carnatic War.

Chanda Sahib initially succeeded and became the Nawab. Wallajah escaped to Trichy. Chanda Sahib along with the French force followed him and invaded Trichy. As Chanda Sahib did not many any arrangement to protect Arcot, a small British army of about 200 soldiers, 300 Indian soldiers and 8 officers under the leadership of Robert Clive captured Arcot. They captured Arcot on 31st August 1751 CE. The objective was to drive away Chanda Sahib from Trichy.

Sahib sent a 10,000 strong army (as per few records, the number varies) under his son Raza Sahib to reclaim Arcot. He was defeated by the British in Arcot and later at Kaveripakkam. He was killed in the battle. Ultimately, Chanda Sahib escaped to Thanjavur. He was beheaded in a mutiny by the Thanjavur army.

Clive won the battle not due to his strength, but due to his strategies. He was serving as a clerk and did not have military experience. His eight officers too were not experienced in the battle. This plan of siege of Arcot was proposed by him to the Governor of Madras, Saunders. The remarkable battle fought by Robert Clive was a turning point in his own life as well as the history of India. The Siege of Arcot, between 23rd September and 14th November 1751 CE, made him to rise above and ultimately become the Governor General of India later. He laid the foundation of the British Empire in India (earlier it was only the East India Company). As the Governor General, he rule most parts of India.

Robert Clive camped in a room atop a gate which was part of the Arcot Fort. It was named as "Delhi Gate" to signify the beginning of the capture of Delhi by the British. The fort along with this gate was built by Daud Khan Panni, a Mughal Governor, in the first half of the 18th century CE. The fort was later destroyed by Tipu Sultan in 1783 CE. Today only the foundations can be seen. However, the Gate and the room atop the Gate are still intact. A plaque mentioning Clive's name is found on the wall of the Gate.

Happy travelling.

Tiruvallam Vilwanatheswara Temple

Tiruvallam or Tiruvalam is a town located near few well known towns such as Ranipettai, Vellore and Katpadi in Tamil Nadu state of India. The ancient town has an important temple dedicated to Lord Shiva called Vilwanatheswarar temple. It is considered as the 10th among the Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams (274 most important temples of Lord Shiva) located in the Thondai region.

  • Sambandhar has revered the temple in his verses in Devaram.
  • Arunagirinathar has sung on Kartikeya of this temple in his Tiruppugal verses.
  • God Vilwanatheswara or Vallanathar
  • Goddess Dhanur Madhyambal or Vallambikai or Villidai Nayaki or Theekkali Amman
  • Teerth (Holy water) - Gowri Teerth and Neeva River
  • Sthala Vruksha (Holy tree) - Bilva
  • Considered as one of the Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams
  • Believed to be the place of Vandiya Devan, the prime character of the most popular historical novel of Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki (no historical evidence)
  • The temple is vast and is spread across five acres.
  • Three Nandi idols in different sizes, but all are facing away from the sanctum. 
  • Adhikara Nandi faces towards the sanctum instead of Nandi.


The divine Mango

Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam, which was written in Tamil, has an interesting and popular legend. Although the incident mentioned in the legend logically might have happened in Kailash, the holy abode of Lord Shiva, the local legend claims that this episode happened in Tiruvallam.

As per the legend, Narad Rishi met Shiva and Parvati and presented a divine mango fruit. He told that it could not be cut into pieces. Shiva, who had two kids, Ganesh and Kartikeya, was clueless on whom to give the fruit. Hence, he announced a competition between the brothers. As per the rule, the one who could circle around the entire world faster would get the divine fruit.

Kartikeya, thanks to his peacock, swiftly started to roam around the world. The poor Ganesha could not move faster due to his fat body. As per the advice of Naradh, he circumambulated his parents. He was declared as the winner as circling around the first couple of the universe is better than circling around the world. 

Thus, Ganesh got the mango fruit. Hence, he is called as Kani Vangiya Vinayaka in this temple, which means one who got the fruit. As he circumambulated his parents in this site, this site is called as Tiruvalam, which means "circumambulation" in Tamil. 


In the olden days, as there was no teertha nearby. Hence, the priests used to get water for the deity from a place called Kanchanagiri. An Asura, Kanchan by name, did not allow the priests to draw water from this hill. As per Lord Shiva's order, his vaahan Nandi fought with this Asura and killed him. Hence, in this temple, Nandi is always facing in the east direction similar to Lord Shiva, to ensure that there is no danger from the Asura or his people.


It is believed that Vishnu and Sanaka Rishi has installed two Shiv Lingas in this temple complex and worshiped them.  The bowl of Sanaka is also found in this temple.

Nee Vaa

The temple is situated right on the banks of the river "Ponnai". As Lord Shiva called the river to come near his shrine as "Nee vaa" (which means "you come" in Tamil language), the river is also called as Niva river.

Origin of Shiv Linga

It is said that this region was originally a Bilva forest. A cow used to go to a particular snake-hole daily and release its milk on top of it. After some time, a Shiv Linga was discovered when the snake-hole was cleared. 

Theekkali Amman

Similar to many other shrines of the Goddess, it is believed that the Goddess of this temple was in Ugra (ferocious) form in the beginning. She was called as Theekkali Amman in those days. Adhi Shankara pacified her and she ultimately got this shanta (peaceful) form.


During the golden time of the Cholas, Tiruvallam was more like a buffer region between the Cholas and the Chalukyas. It is believed that it was the capital city of the Banas. Most of the inscriptions that are found in the temple belong to the Chola period and it is not easy to tell who built the original temple. Some portions of the temple must have been built by the Cholas in the 10th century or later centuries. However, most of the structures including the sculptures on the pillars that are found all over the temple appear to be later works.

Vandia Devan:

It is believed that this town was part of Bana kingdom. Vandia Devan, who married Kundavai, the sister of the famous Raja Raja Chola I, was believed to be from this town. He became more popular thanks to his portrayal by the author Kalki in his novel "Ponniyin Selvan". He belonged to Vanar clan. 

Different names of the Town:

During the period of Nandivarma Pallava (8th century CE), the site was called as Vanapuram. In the 9th century CE, it was called as Paramesvara Theekkal Vallam. The deity was called as Tiruttheekkali Perumanadigal in the 9th century CE. During the period of the Cholas in the 10th and 11th centuries CE, the deity was called in various names such as Tiruvallam Mahadeva, Tiruvallamudaiya Nayanar or Tiruvallam Udaiyar.


There are more than 20 stone inscriptions found in this temple as well as one inscription in the nearby boulder on the banks of the river . The inscriptions belong to various dynasties such as Vijaya Nandivikramavarman (Ganga King?), Raja Raja Chola I, Rajendra Chola I, Adhi Rajendra Chola, Kulotunga Chola I, Kulotunga Chola III,  Pandya King Vira Pandya and others. 

Sivananda Mouna Swamigal:

Saint Sivananda Mouna Swamigal stayed in this temple for many years. People used to meet him to get cured of their illness. He had consecrated the temple with the funds collected from the public.

Temple Layout:

Temple Entrance:

The temple entrance faces the southern direction. The outer tower has four tiers and has many colorful and interesting stucco images. There is an inner three tiered tower too. The temple covers an area of approximately five acres and the complex is surrounded by high walls.

In front of the outer tower, there is a mandp full of pillars with various sculptures.

Gowri Teerth, the holy temple tank with a mandap in the middle (called as Neerazhi mandapam) is located in the area between the two towers.

The shrine of Raja Rajeswari, Shiv Linga and the Samadhi of Mouna Guru Swamigal with a Linga installed atop are all located outside the outer tower.

A very beautiful sculpture of Valampuri Vinayaka, Atma Lingeswara and Bhairav are found at the entrance of the second tower. 


The presiding deity of the temple is found in the form of a big and majestic Shiv Linga. He is named as Vilwanatheswara. His sanctum faces the east direction. He is a swayambhu (self manifested) Murti on a square peetha.

Chola-period Bronze Idols:

In Ardha Mandap, a sub-shrine is located which is full of beautiful Chola period bronze images such as Bhikshatana, Somaskandar, two pairs of Uma-Chandrashekhar and few later period bronze idols such as Murugan-Valli-Devasena, Ganesh, Pidari Amman, etc.

The stone image of Adi Siva Shankara Narayana Murti (a very long and unique name for Vishnu) is also found in Ardha Mandap.

Another sub-shrine that goes little underground enshrines Shiv Linga. He is called as Patala Linga.

Uniqueness of Nandi:

In Maha Mandap, there is no Nandi found. Instead, the bowl of Sanak Rishi is located in the place of Nandi. (Please refer the legend section to more about Sanak's connection with this temple). 

In Mukha Mandap, there is Nandi which faces in the same direction as the sanctum. Similarly, in the outer area near the flagstaff and bali peetha, a very big white colored stucco idol of Nandi is found. In front of that another Nandi (stone image) is located. They also face their backsides towards the sanctum. Thus, all these three Nandis facing in the opposite from their usual positions talk about the legend related to Nandi killing the Asura. (Refer the legend section above).

Instead of Nandi, Adikara Nandi (Nandi with human body and bull's head) is found facing towards the sanctum.

Koshta Murtis:

The beautiful idols of Ganesh, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu with Prayago Chakra, Brahma and Vishnu Durga are found as the niche images. Chandikeshwara is found in his usual location.


The Dwarapalas at the entrance of the Maha Mandap look gigantic and artisic. The Dwarapala on the true right side of the sanctum has his lower left arm raised above his head and his index finger of upper right arm raised upwards. The Dwarapala on the left side has his index finger directing towards the presiding deity. 

Inner Prakara:

The inner prakara around the sanctum has the idols of Brahmi, Kariya Manicka Perumal, Ganesh and Naga. In addition, the stone idols and bronze idols of all the 63 Nayanmars are arranged in parallel in upper and lowers rows.

Personification of Stars:

As per the Hindu calendar, there are 27 Nakshatras (stars). All these stars in the personified forms appear as the stucco images on the vimana of Nataraj shrine. 

Nataraj and Sivakami, in the form of bronze idols, are found in this shrine, which is located near the Nandi Mandap.

Mouna Swamigal:

Mouna Swamigal built the big stucco idol of Nandi. His stone idol is found on the true right side of this big Nandi. The mandap where the Nandi idols and Swamiji's idol are located is bigger and has many interesting images on the pillars. Navagrahas are also located within this mandap.

Dhanur Madhyambal:

The Goddess Dhanur Madhyambal is found in a separate east facing shrine with the front-side mandap. It is situated in the outer prakara of the temple.

Ganesh, Annapoorni, Shakti and Durga are found as the niche images around her sanctum. Vallabha Ganapati and Palani are found at the entrance of the shrine.

Outer Prakara:

The outer prakara of the temple is vast. There are so many sub-shrines in this area.

  • Veera Bhadra - both relief and stone images are found
  • Nalvar
  • Shaneeswara
  • Kasi Vishwanatha - small Linga
  • Chandra Mouleeswara - a small Linga
  • Arunachaleshwara - a big Shiv Linga
  • Four Shiv Lingas together - Sada Siva, Ananta, Sri Kanda and Ambikeshwara
  • Subramanya-Valli-Devasena
  • Sahasra Linga
  • Bhairav
  • Surya
  • Sundareshwara - Meenakshi 
  • 1300 years old holy tree
Kani Vangiya Vinayak:

In the outer prakara, a big idol of Ganesh is found in a separate sub-shrine. He is named as "Kani Vangiya Vinayakar", which means the one who got mango. It is related to the legend of Ganesh getting the divine fruit from his father. (For more details, refer the "legend" section above.

Adi Vilvanathar:

A small temple like shrine is located in the outer prakara region. It enshrines Shiv Ling, who is called as Adi Vilvanathar. A small Nandi is found facing towards him. Only Brahma and Durga are found as the niche images on the wall of the shrine.

A holy Jackfruit tree is found near this shrine.

108 pillared Mandap:

Noorukaal mandap or the mandap with 108 pillars is the highlight of this temple. Deities in different forms and postures, dancing girls, soldiers, men fighting animals, saints, mythical animals and lot more are found in the form of sculptures on all these pillars.

Happy travelling.