Shiva temple with rare inscriptions in


For many, the mention of Kovalam, on the way to Mahabalipuram on East Coast Road would conjure up images of a vast expanse of beach and luxurious resorts made popular by foreigners. But the place is also where a 1200-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Kailasanathar exists unattended and uncared for — a silent testimony to our rich cultural heritage. 

The Kailasanather Temple [Credit: M. Karunakaran]

The Sri Kailasanathar Temple, tucked away in a quiet street branching off from the main road — hardly 300 metres from the seashore — dates back to the Eighth Century A.D., according to Archaeology Department sources. They say that there is proof in the form of inscriptions on the Aavudaiyar (Lingam) and on the surrounding walls to show that the temple was built centuries ago. 

Speaking to Downtown, K. Sridharan, former Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Section, says that Kovalam served as an important sea port for 600 years from the 10 th Century B.C. to 16 th Century B.C. It was during this period that the Kailasathanar Temple was built and maintained by the traders’ guild. “There is proof in the form of inscriptions in the temple to show that the Lingam was installed in Eighth – Ninth Century. The Aavudiayar bears an inscription ‘Sri Satheruman Murthiper’. ‘Sat’ means a trade guild and ‘Satheruman’ refers to the Lord. This, along with other inscriptions engraved in the ‘Adishtanam’ (base) of the ‘Maha Mandapam (Inner Mandapam on the eastern side) were discovered by the State Department of Archaeology in 2000 during Epigraphical survey,” he states. 

Mr. Sridharan says that the traders exported many items, including cotton and arecanut from Kovalam for which they levied tax. This revenue was gifted to the temple for worship and maintenance. Successive generations renovated, extended and modified the temple structure. This continued till the Vijayanagar Period (16th Century) for which there is evidence and is also recorded in the department’s ’Kalvettu’ magazine,” he adds. 

Padmavathy A, who retired as a Senior Epigraphist in the Archaeology Department, and who had visited the temple during her tenure, says that the Aavudaiyar bears inscription in Palaeography Script that is very rare. “The inscription dates back to the Eighth Century A.D. and is proof that the Lingam was sculpted during that period.” 

She says that the Sanctum Santorum and the Outer Mandapam were built in the 13th Century A.D. “In fact, an inscription dating to this period is found on the Dakshinamurthy idol. The inscription states the name of the merchant who installed the idol. There are also other stone sculptures and inscriptions belonging to the 16 th century in the temple,” she adds. 

Besides the presiding deity, the temple has separate sannidhis for the Lord’s consort Kanaka Valli and Subramanya with his consorts Valli and Deivanai. A unique feature of the temple is the presence of thee Ganesa sannidhis — Kubera Ganapathi, Vijaya Ganapathi and Siva Sakthi Ganapathi. 

The nearly 200 sq ft Mandapam on the northern side of the temple has deities of Lord Venkateswara flanked by Bhuma Devi and Surya, a huge Lingam, Kalikambal and Swarna Bhairavar. The pillars bear sculptures depicting scenes from the Ramayana. There is also one sculpture that shows Siva pushing Yama with his foot to save Markandeya. 

However, the temple gopuram, the walls of the sanctum sanctorum and the outer walls have developed cracks that show that the structure has withstood the ravages of time. The growth of weeds and plants on the gopuram, with their roots making their way inside the sanctum sanctorum through the roof is testimony to the neglect of the centuries-old place of worship and the threat to its very existence. 

T. Kripa Sankar, Managing Trustee of Shantha Kripa Sankar Trust, who is spearheading a one-man campaign to restore the historical temple to its pristine glory, says: “It was by accident that I chanced upon this temple in 2000. When the bus I was travelling to Mahabalipuram broke down in Kovalam, I went round the seaside town and discovered this temple which was in utter mess. I learnt from the local people that it was under the care of the local fishermen. The premises had an overgrowth of vegetation and the gopuram, praharam and the vast stone-pillared mandapam were in a bad state.” 

He says that he wrote to the then DMK Government seeking assistance to save the temple from ruin. “Till date, there has been no action in this regard, except for the fact that the temple was brought under the control of the HR and CE Department in 2005.” 

Mr. Kripa Sankar, through his trust that is engaged in many social services, has refurbished the stone mandapam and given it a fresh coat of paint. Rubble and wild growth can be seen all round the cobbled pathway leading through the praharam. 

Yet, an octogenarian priest, M. Subramaniam, has been performing a one-time puja to the deities daily for the last 20 years. “The temple was in a bad condition and infested with snakes till a decade ago. It is only with the help and care of Mr. Kripa Sankar’s trust that we have been able to clean up this place a bit,” he says. 

The temple is now administered by three trustees. But paucity of funds is a major drawback. Earlier, the temple was administered by the EO of the Thiruvidanthai Temple. Under the Government’s scheme in which funds from revenue-earning temples are given to those with poor revenue, a sum of Rs. Two lakhs was sanctioned for this temple from the Thiruverkadu temple, according to Devarajan, former EO of the Thiruvidanthai temple. He says there is a proposal to renovate the temple by retaining its main structure and carrying out repair works on the vimanams and laying a new weathering course and flooring. 

Mr. Kripa Sankar says that the temple is in dire need of renovation if it is to be preserved for posterity. “At a time when new temples are mushrooming in every street corner, it is pathetic that ancient temples that hold within them our rich cultural heritage are languishing in anonymity or even being ignored,” he says. 

“The Government should act at the earliest to save this treasure. Many people outside this locality are not even aware of the existence of such a temple. It is up to the authorities to take up repair work, restore the temple to its original glory and popularise it among the masses,” he adds.  

Author: Saraswathy Srinivasan | Source: The Hindu [July 21, 2011]

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