Friday, November 15, 2013

Remains of Subramanya Temple of Sangam period excavated at Saluvankuppam (Mamallapuram), India.

The Pallava sea-port Mamallapuram is known for its cave temples, rock-cut monolithic rathas, open-air bas-relief and free standing structural temple. Archaeological excavations at Saluvankuppam village (also known as Thiruvizhchil) near to UNESCO monument Tiger Cave, just six km north of Mamallapuram, Kanchipuram district, Tamil Nadu, India, have thrown light on the ruins of the brick temple dedicated to Lord Subramanya dating back to second century A.D. Archaeologists of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) team excavated this site in 2005.

 

 1. Subramanya Temple viewed from North
 2. Subramanya Temple showing Balipeetam and Granite Spear (Vel) on a brick platform at the entrance to the shrine
 3. Subramanya Temple viewed South West corner. Laterite bricks used as foundation material for the temple. Note the subsequent layers of thin, tabular bricks of a younger period.
 4. Subramanya Temple showing circumambulation corridor (cloister mandapam), the portion of the brick layers.

Architecture

The foundation for the excavated temple site was built on alluvium soil. The rectangular plinth construction uses two kinds bricks i.e., large size laterite stones (Sangam age) and tubular thin bricks (post Sangam period). There is a brick layer at the bottom and on top of which there are four more laterite layers separated by four more additional brick layers.  

 5. Subramanya Temple using Laterite bricks as foundation material for the temple. Note the subsequent layers of thin, tabular bricks of a younger period.

 6. Subramanya Temple showing a portion of the brick layers 
 7. Litho section facing East, exposed during the excavation. Note the layer of shell and shell fragments at the surface as resource material for the preparation of lime plaster. 

The brick and laterite stones were plastered with lime. At later stage ten more layers of brick and rock boulders were added. The site shows outer and inner covered circumambulation corridor (cloister mandapam), frontal pavilion (mukha mandapam), sanctum sanctorum walls built of bricks, with standing pillars on all four sides of the temple. The sanctum sanctorum measures 2 meters in length and 2.2 meters in width built with '27 courses of bricks.' The big size bricks found at the sanctum sanctorum are unique and resembles with the bricks earthed out in other Sangam period sites i.e., Puhar, Urayur, Mangudi and Arikamedu. The temples don’t have direct entrance and only got side entrances and this feature found in pre-Pallava Buddhist monuments

 8. The sanctum sanctorum of the Subrahmanya Temple
 9. Ardha Mandapam at Subrahmanya Temple
 10. A portion of the brick prakara or compound wall of the Subrahmanya Temple

The site also exhibits a six-foot spear or 'Vel' carved out of granite stone (weapon held by Lord Subramanya) positioned on two rows of chiseled lotus ('padma') pedestal before sanctum.
It is learned from former ASI director that the temple underwent construction in three stages. The original construction made during Sangam period (pre-Pallava period) was washed away by tidal waves. At second stage Pallavas (8th or 9th century A.D.) re-established the plinth of the temple with the addition of stone slabs. Following yet another tidal wave which collapsed the structure, the Cholas rebuilt the temple by adding very large size dressed stone blocks at stage three. This structure was also ruined by another storm surge.
11. Subramanya Temple viewed from South East

Inscriptions

Number of rock inscriptions is found near the shrine. The specific three granite pillars, which lead for the discovery of the shrine, bears inscriptions of grants offered to this shrine (Ref. 1-3). Later five more inscriptions discovered (Ref. 4-8). Now three more inscriptions identified Ref. (9-11).

1. Kirarpiriyan of Mamallapuram made grants of ten 'kazhanjus' (small sized gold balls) First pillar inscription
2. Vasanthanar, a Brahmin woman offered a grant of 16 kazhanjus Second pillar inscription which can be dated back to 813 A.D. 
3. Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014 A.D.) Third pillar inscription is about the grant 
4. Pallava king Dantivarman (795 to 846 A.D.) Fourth pillar inscriptions which can be dated back to 813 A.D.
5. Pallava kings Nandivarman III (846 to 869 A.D.) Fifth pillar inscriptions which can be dated back to 858 A.D.
6. Pallava kings Kambavarman (9th century A.D) Sixth pillar inscriptions
7. Krishna III (939-68 A.D) Rashtrakuta king Seventh pillar inscriptions which can be dated back to 976 AD,
8.  Pallava king Kambavarman (9th century A.D) Eighth  pillar inscriptions
10. Krishna III (939-68 A.D) Rashtrakuta king Ninth  pillar which can be dated back to 971 A.D.   in his 21st reignal year
10. Rajendra III Chola (1216–1256 A.D)  Tenth pillar inscriptions
11. Kulothunga Chola III (1178–1218 A.D.) which can be dated back to 1215 A.D.

All the inscriptions in ancient Tamil script record about the donations of land and gold for the maintenance of the Subramanya temple at Thiruvizhchil and it continuously received grants. All these inscriptions mention the village as Thiruvizhchil.

Archaeological Artifacts

The following archaeological artifacts were collected from the excavated site:

1. Terracotta plaque The terracotta plaque - a bas-relief panel measuring about 13 cm by 12 cm depicts five women dancers performing 'Kuravai Koothu.' This rich archaeological artifact presents the dancers (with headgear and conspicuous eyes) seen singing. The expert dating it back to second or third century A.D.
2. Granite carved spear or 'Vel' measuring six feet is seen standing erect at its lotus pedestal before sanctum.
3. Terracotta Ganesha icon.
4. Terracotta bull or Nandhi measuring 4 cm in height.
5. Shiva Lingam sculpted from polished green-stone.
6. Terracotta head of a woman
7. Copper bell - miniature size. Copper coin belonging to Chola period.
8.  Amphorae or glazed jars, lids of pot, potsherds etc.
9. Terracotta lamps.

Conclusion

Archaeologists' conclusions are:

1. From the evidences like temple orientation, brick size and artifacts collected from this site, the ASI team concluded that this structure immediately antedates the Pallavas. They are also of the opinion that this one is the earliest brick temple in Tamil Nadu identified as of now. Further to this they also infer that no other temple of such nature is reported from south India.

2. Presence two evidences granite spear and the plaque depicting women dancing 'Kuravai Koothu' allow the ASI experts to conclude this one as Lord Subramanya temple.

3.The Reach foundation, Chennai conducted carbon - 14 dating on the paleo-tsunami evidences (sea shells and other debris) proved that they got  deposited in different periods between 405 A.D. and 564 A.D. and between 1019 A.D. and 1161 A.D.

4. According to T.Sathyamurthy, Superintendent, ASI Chennai Circle, (now Reach foundation trustee) conclude that the shrine belongs to Sangam period since it faces northwards. The modern temples built according to Shilpa Shastras (written between 6th or 7th century A.D.) are facing either east or west. This fact encouraged him to conclude that the temple was constructed before the 6th or 7th century A.D. He also estimated the age of the brick shrine ranging between 1700 and 2200 years.
However, noted Indian archaeologist R. Nagaswamy is critical of this claim due to lack of references to the shrine in the popular literature of the period.

Reference

  1. Archaeologists stumble on ancient temples: New finds of old temples enthuse archaeologists. Ramya,M. Times of India.
  2. Maguire, Paddy. Tsunami reveals ancient temple sites. BBC. October 27, 2005
  3. Muthiah.S, Editor. 400-year Record of the First City of Modern India, Volume 1. Madras.
  4. Sathyabhama Badhreenath, Hema Achyuthan, Smriti Haricharan and Mohandas, KP. Saluvankuppam coastal temple – excavation and application of soil micromorphology. Current Science 100 (7), April 10, 2011. Retrieved on 23 August 2012.
  5. Sivakumar, S. Much more than stone. The Hindu. August 13, 2010.
  6. Subrahmanya Temple, Saluvankuppam. Wikipedia.
  7. Subramanian, N. Remains of ancient temple found. The Hindu. September 21, 2005
  8. Subramanian, T S. Another surprise in Mamallapuram. Frontline 22 (22), November 4, 2005.
  9. Subramanian, T S. Pillars with inscriptions of Pallava, Chola kings found. The Hindu. March 17, 2007.
  10. Subramanian, TS. Rare artifacts found.  . The Hindu March 28, 2006. 
  11. Subramanian, T S. Remains of Subrahmanya temple found near Mahabalipuram. The Hindu. July 27, 2005
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