Apr 26, 2008

Jain Vestiges in Coimbatore District

By M. AROKIASWAMI, M.A., Ph.D.

COIMBATORE, the headquarter of the district which goes by its name in the State of Madras, is well-known to-day as the "Manchester of South India." There is perhaps not another place in the whole of this region to equal it not only in the numerous spinning and weaving mills it possesses but also in the general standard of wealth, health civilisation and culture. But few are interested in studying the history of this district and particularly the development of culture in this area. Of the era preceding the period of British occupation of the district, which began in 1799, particularly little or nothing is known.

In this paper I propose to make an enquiry into a subject which forms part of a larger whole, viz., the cultural development of the Coimbatore region in early times and the particular subject for enquiry here is an estimate of the Jain contribution to this quota. So many vestiges of Jainism are to be found in this district that there is no doubt about the great influence this religion must have exerted over the people of this region in early times. That it must have been much more than any one would suspect is certain. Names of places like seenapuram clearly remained one of the early jain influent over the region; while old jain shrines found in places like. Vijayamangalam, Tirumurthimalai and Karur bear an equally strong evidence to the same. A figure of the Jain Thrithankara is found in Tirumurthimalai; and a number of Jain beds are found to this day in Arunattarmalai in Karur Taluk while in Arasannamalai near Vijayamangalam the Neminatha temple has been now converted into a Vinayaka temple. Not only this. The district of Coimbatore in early times seems to have been the home of several Jain scholars, not the least of whom was the great Bavanandi, the author of the celebrated Tamil grammar, Nannul, who seems to have lived in the region of Vijayamangalam in Erode Taluk.

It is impossible for us to explain these vestiges unless we postulate a period of Jain glory in the district at some time during its sojourn in South India. The Kongadesarajakkal, a XVII century Tamil Mss., which has been recently edited by Mr. C. M. Ramachandran Chettiar, Advocate, Coimbatore, (Madras Govt, Oriental Series, VI, 1950) brings to light a set of seven rulers called Rattas (Rashtrakutas?) in this region during the period between 250 A.D. and 400 A.D. Many if not all of them are represented in this work as professors and strong supporters of Jainism. (Ibid., pp. 1-2). In the reign of the fourth ruler, Govindaraya, a grant to the jain Arishtanna is mentioned and in that of the sixth ruler, Kannaradeva, the names of three great Jain theologians, of whom one Naganandi is mentioned by name, are referred to. (Ibid)

The history of the origin of the Ganga dynasty of Mysore indicates even more clearly how deep-rooted was janism in the district of Coimbatore in early times. It would appear that in the closing years of the IV century A.D., King Padmanabha of the Gangas had to send his two sons, Dadiga and Madhava to the south by way of preparing himself to meet his enemy, King Mahipala of Ujjain. (Rice; Mysore and Coorg; p. 31). The rest of the narration as found in Rice's words is as follows:

"When they arrived at Perur, which is still distinguished from other Perurs as Ganga-Perur (in Cuddapah district), they met there the Jain Achariya Simhanandi. He was interested in the story of these Ganga princes and taking them by the hand, gave them instruction and training and eventually procured for them a kingdom."(Rice: Op., cit., loc., cit).

Many Ganga records like the Udayendiram plates of Prithvipati II, the Kudlur grant of Marasimha and the Santara inscription on the Huncha stone* bear clear evidence to the fact that Simhanandi gave them a kingdom and that he was a reputed Jain teacher. The last mentioned record indeed refers to him as "the archariya who made the Ganga kingdom.":

"Ganga-rajyaman madida Simhanandy acharyya."(EC., VIII, Nr. 35)

Indrabhuti in his Samayabhushana names him as a great poet to be kept on par with Elacharya and Pujyapada. (IA., XII, 20). Still, no better description can be given of Simhanandi than what is found in the Jaina record near the Siddhesvara temple at Kallurgudda in Shimoga Taluk:

"The Vijaya or victory to the farthest shore of learning, the full moon to the ocean of the Jaina congregation, possessed of patience and all the ten excellent qualities, his good life, a secure wealth, rejoicing in the modest, his fame extending to the four oceans, keeping at a distance from the evil, a sun in the sky of the Kranurgana, devoted to the performance of the twelve kinds of penance, promoter of the Ganga kingdom-Sri Simhanandiacharyya."(EC., VII, Sh. 4)

On the other hand we owe to the evidence of inscriptional records like those of the Parsvanathi Basti at Sravana Belgola and others to be seen at Kallurgudda and Purale in Shimoga Taluk that Madhava definitely came under the influence of Simhanandi, who intiated him into jain doctrines and conferred on him a kingdom on condition that he always took care to uphold that Faith throughout its confines. (Ibid, also 64). The latter tow give a detailed account of this origin of the Ganga Kingdom, which deserves to be quoted at least in part, as it gives one an idea of the depth of Jain influence that ruled over the region where the Ganga kingdom was founded:

"On Madhava impressing him with his extraordinary energy... Simhanandi made a coronet of the petals of the Karnikara flowers bound it on Madhava's head, gave them (the two brothers) the dominion of all the earth, presented them with a flag made from his peacock fan and furnished them with attendants, elephants and horses. Along with these he gave them also the following advice: 'If you fail in what you have promised, if you do not approve the Jina sasana; if you seize the wives of others; if you indulge in wine and flesh; if you form relationship with the low; if you give not your wealth to the needy; if you flee from the field or battle-your race will go to ruin.

The question that has to be decided here is the identification of Perur mentioned in ganga records. Taken in conjusction with the history of the Rattas, the Kongadesarajakkal furnishes proof that it was on their fall that the Gangas rose to power and began ruling from Skandapura in Kongudesa (which is the ancient name for the territory comprising the modern disteicts of Coimbatore and Salem). The Chronicle would even inform us that the last Ratta ruler changed his religion from Jainism to Saivism and that was the cause of his downfall. Further, all the early activities of Konganivarman-as the first historical ruler of the Ganga house becomes known in all the records of this dynasty-are confined to this Kongudesa. (Kongadesarajakkal (Or Mss. Edn.) pp. 2-3). It is true that we lack definite epigraphic evidence in support of this, which we have mainly only from the Tamil chronicle above referred to. But it must be remembered that in the first place we have only a few records for the Ganga period here referred to; and even the few references that we have to the early grants of the Gangas seem to refer only to places in Coimbatore district. Such are places like "Kudluru" to the west of the Tatla and east of "Marukarevisaya", in which the names of Kudluru and Marukarevisaya are easily identifiable with the present Gudalur and Madukari in this area. (Kudaluru grant of Madhavavarman; MAR., 1930).

The conclusion naturally follows that Per here referred to as the spot on which Madhava was initiated into Jainism and conferred a kingdom on condition that he upheld it through all its confines must be the Perur within 3 miles from Coimbatore. We have numerous evidences to show that at the time referred to and for long afterwards this Perur was indeed an important place. The place referred to by this name cannot be the Perur in Cuddapah district, as Rice surmises, where no Jain remains are to be found. The tratdition is that Dadiga and Madhava were sent to the south of Mysore, as already indicated. Further, the very title assumed by the first ruler as Madhava Konganivarman seems to give an unmistakable proof of this conclusion, since as the Kongadesarajakkal aptly remarks:

As wealth, the Kongu country and great munificence were possessed by him he was styled srimalt Konganivarman Dharmamahadiraja. (Kongadesarajakkal (Taylor's trans.); MJLS., XIV)

While the mention of Simhanandi as a "person of the southern country' in the inscription at Parsvanatha Basti at Sravana Belgola already referred to, seems to set the seal upon this conclusion.

It is an agreed fact that the canarese country of which modern Mysore forms the crown and centre furnished a home for the religion of Mahavira in the days when it was not very much liked by his own countrymen of the north. The Brihatkatha of Harisena clearly refers to the migration of the Bhadrabahu mission from Mysore to Punnata in the years following the dealth of Chandragupta Maurya. (Rice; Mysore Inscriptions, p. 146; IA., XVII 366). Historians are not yet agreed as to what country is meant by the name, 'Punnata.' All available evidences seem to point to the region of S. Coorg and N. Coimbatore district as the region designated as 'Punnata' by Harisena, so that it would appear that a portion at least of the modern district of Coimbatore was the central hearth of Jainism even before the beginning of the Christian era.

A copper plate of the Ganga King Durvaniti seems to give a direct clue to this identification, when it refers to the King's conquest of Punnata in his 20th. regnal year. (MAR., 1916). On the other hand, the Komaralingam copper plates of the Punnata King Ravidatta indicate the occupation of the Kingdom by Durvaniti by positing a break in the regular line of Punnata rulers. (IA., XVIII, 362). The latter plates record the grant of the village of pungisoge by Ravidatta while on his victorious march an in his camp at Kirtipura-a place generally identified in the southern portion of modern Mysore. Whatever be the strength of this identification, if cannot be definitely said what region was comprised in this kingdom of Punnata.

In the first place, it must be remembered that Kirtipura was not its capital, as has often been maintained by writers, but only a camp in the victorious march of King Ravidatta. It is quite possible that he had undertaken a campaign in the attempt to strengthen his possessions, which had suffered during the occupation of Durvaniti. The mention of varuous grants made on the occasion from Kirtipura of places like Kolur, Kodamuku etc., "to persons to whom they belonged," as the grant clearly mentions, only confirm this conclusion. Further, the copper plate grant which gives evidence here is obtained from the village of Komaralingam in the Udumalpet Taluk in the modern district of Coimbatore; and Ptolemy designates a country called 'Ponnuta' as a "land of beryls," so much found in the Kangayam area of the same district. Besides, the donor of the grant, Ravidatta, expressly states that he is making it with the permission of the Cheramman:

"While his, Ravidatta's, victorious camp is at the town of Kirtipura, which is the best of towns, with the permission of Cheramma(n) ........the village known as Pungisoge in the east central desa in the Kudugur nadu which is in the Punnadu vishaya has been granted." (Komaralingam Copper plates, 11, 11 ff)

As has been already said, several villages like Kolur, Kodamuku, Tanagundur and Elagovanur are mentioned as coming under other grants made on the same occasion. Though these names must still remain unidentified, it is clear that all these places abutted on the Kongu frontier. The location of Pungisoge as mentioned in the above quoted passage, "in the eastcentral desa in the Kudugurnadu (Modern Coorg) only supports this conclusion. The name Elagovanur itself suggests the possibility of a location near to if no Coimbatore itself. That Ravidatta was a feudatory of the Cera sovereign of the time is put beyond doubt by the permission he is said to have obtained from the Cheramman for issuing the grants referred to.

From all these considerations it seems but natural to conclude that the Kingdom of Punnata must have been a small state carved out from parts of S. Mysore and N. Coimbatore during the period of the weak rule of the Gangas over Kongu, possibly immediately after the death of Vishnugopa. This period seems to have offered a golden opportunity for Chera revival. Through silence is no argument the omission of the Chera name in all the victories detailed in the inscriptions of the various Ganga rulers from Kongani I down to Durvaniti is very significant. A few inscriptions from Vellalur in Coimbatore district give the names of two Cera rulers, Kokkandan Viranarayana and Kokkandan Ravikodan who style themselves "sovereign jewels of the luni-solar race (ARE, 1910 pp. 147-'48). Unfortunately there is no indication about their date, except the fact that the letters of the records are of old archaic characters. On the other hand, the style assumed by the kings, "Jewels of the luni-solar race" clearly indicates the Cera-Pandya connection, since the moon (luna) is mentioned. The effective appearance of the Pandya in Kongu occurs only in the VII century AD, so that it may be safely surmised that these inscriptions of the Cera must belong roughly only to this period.

These points of information help us to posit

(a) that the Ceras had come on a decline after the era of the sangam age and it helped the rise of ganga power in Kongu and Karnataka;

(b) that the Ceras made attempts to revive in the VII century AD;

(c) that the Vellalur inscriptions record the establishment of Cera power once again in Kongu;

(d) that the line of rulers of the Komaralingam copper plates were Cera feudatories.

From these deductions the indentification of the Punnata country seems plausible. It must have been a kingdom subordinate to the Ceras comprising parts of Coorg and Coimbatore district. Ptolemy's description of Punnata as "a land of beryl" seems definitely to point to the region of Kangayam in modern Coimbatore Dist, as lying within the kingdom of Punnata (McCrindle: Anc. India). The Mercara copper plates refer to Punnata as a "ten-thousand country;" and, as Mr. Rice contents, it must be the same as the later-day "Padi-Nadu" (Ten country), mentioned in the Yelandur inscription of AD. 1654 (Mys. Inss., P. 283, 334). In locating this region the above mentioned record clearly mentions the place. 'Tarapura,' evidently modern Dharapuram in the district of Coimbatore, which is said to lie SE of the kingdom (Ibid, p.334). 'The fact that equidistant to both Kangayam and Dharapuram (lying within a distance of six miles) is Padiyur, which is still famous for the far-famed beryls of Ptolemy, must be taken as giving a very strong cnfirmation to the view here advanced. That Coorg and this region of Coimbatore district must have once formed a unit in early times is seen from what the celebrated historian of Mysore, Col. Wilks, records in his "History of Mysore":

"In the southern part of Mysore the Tamil languageis at this day named the Gangee from being best known to them as the language of the people of Kankayam. (Wilks, Mysore, p. 4, F, N.2) On the other hand, the same Wilks bears testimony to the fact that for some time the Cera king had complete mastery over this region, when he says:

"Cheran united Kangiam and Salem to the dominions of Kerela of Malabar."(Op., cit., p.5).

Even the name 'Punnata' and be explainted. It seems to be just a corruption of the name, 'Pounnadu' the land of gold. That there was much gold to be had from the region of Coorg and Kongu is unexceptionalble. While the Mysore gold minies bear evidence to this in some indirect way, the XVII century Tamil work, Maduraikalambakam speaks of the "gold that is found in Kondu" (Konguraippon), thus bearing a direct testimony to the Kongu wealth of gold. (The term Ponnadu seems to have been analogous to the name of the Cola country watered by the cauvery, Viz., the 'Punalnadu'.

Thus we are able to posit that the region of modern Coimbatore was a central hearth of Jainism in the south at least three conturies before the Christian era and that it continued to be so for a long time afterwards certainly through-our the period of the Ganga rule. An inscription of the XII century which referring to the Hoysala conquest of Kongu under Vishnuvardhana (1120 AD), Speaks of his general in that region, Gangarajah of great fame as" :a devout Jain. "(See Sastri; Colas, II, i). We need not try to trace the later history of Jainism in Kongu. Probably it came on a period of steady decline from that date onwards. But what has been so far said is enough to explain the numerous Jain vestiges in this region, to be seen to this day.

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