Contribution of the Chittiramezhi Nattar to society

The inscriptions show the generosity of a community

Sukhasana Perumal in the Thittakudi temple, is not known by this name in inscriptions. In most inscriptions the name of the deity is Thirumelakoil Emperuman, in some it is Thirumelakoil Azhwar. In two inscriptions dated 1334 and 1486, the name is Veetrirunda Perumal, ‘Veetrirunda’ perhaps giving rise to the Sanskritised Sukhasana. In two inscriptions the name is Chittiramezhi Vinnagar Emperuman.

The name Chittiramezhi suggests that this temple was of special interest to the Chittiramezhi Nattar. In fact, from one of the early inscriptions dated 1170 C.E, we learn that the Chittiramezhi Periya Nattar and the merchant guild known as Thisai Ayirathu Ainootruvar met in the temple courtyard, to worship Bhu Devi, and that this involved the worship of agricultural implements like the mezhi (plough).

Who were the Chittiramezhi Periyanattar? In Chola times, Oorar were bodies of landholders, with administrative functions in their respective villages. The Nattar was a body that represented the Oorar, where the area of interest was larger. The Nattar bodies seem to have had more heft in the drier Tondai region, than in the delta region. The Periyanattar was a body of agriculturists, which operated well beyond the Nadu divisions.

Sometimes the Periyanattar body was called Chittiramezhi Periyanattar – the periyanattar of the beautiful plough. Dr. Y. Subbarayalu writes: “These big gatherings are generally found in the context of patronising a common cult temple dedicated to Vishnu…” According to Dr. Subbarayalu, the Periyanattar groups were “multi-ethnic” and “bound by the common profession of agriculture.” He writes: “These supra local bodies of the landholders met together with the merchants for some common purpose.” And interestingly, the Chittiramezhi Periyanattar and the merchant guild met in the Thittakudi Sukhasana Perumal temple in 1170 CE, for worship of Bhu Devi. They provided a corpus to be used for food offerings and for the purchase of clothes for the deity (amudupadi sathuppadi).

In 1171 C.E., Kadandai Senthan Adithanan Raja Raja Vangaara Mutharaiayan provides a parcel of land called ‘kaliyuga meyyan masakkal…, the word masakkal indicating that land which was once fallow, has been made cultivable. “Vangaaram mentioned in the inscription still goes by the same name. It is near Sendurai. Pennadam is also called Kadandai. A sect here is called Kadandaiyar. They are Vanniyars, who even today are prime participators in the chariot festival in the Pennadam Siva temple,” explains epigraphist L. Thyagarajan. One of the inscriptions, dated 1182 C.E., talks of land donated by Magathai Ponparappinanaana Vanakovaraiyan. “Vanakovaraiyan ruled the Athur region, with Aragalur as his capital, during the reign of Rajadhi Raja II and Kulottunga III. Vanakovaraiyan was a poet too, and his verses are inscribed in the Tiruvannamalai temple. There is a song attributed to Kamban, which praises Vanakovaraiyan’s generosity to poets,” says Thyagarajan.

Inscriptions inside the Sukhasana Perumal temple

Inscriptions inside the Sukhasana Perumal temple
 

In an inscription of 1190, the 12th regnal year of Kulottunga III, we find that a merchant Thiruvaalampozhil Gandan gives the temple 1,010 coins as corpus, the interest for which is to be used to provide paddy to 30 Sri Vaishnavas, who carry the processional deity round the streets of the village on New Moon day. A further 160 gold coins are given by the same merchant for food offerings and for providing paddy to Sri Vaishnavas.

In 1208, Pavitra Manikka Velan buys land (kaaniyaga kondu) in Kulathuvaai Keeranur, a hamlet to the South of Thittakudi and gifts it to the temple for daily Thiruvaradanai. He gives the land his name, calling it Pavitra Manikka Nallur, and makes it clear that he is giving away everything in his land to the temple, including the lake, the ponds and residential areas. Often old names change, but close to Thittakudi there are two villages named Kolathur and Keeranur, giving us some idea about the probable location of Pavitra Manikka Nallur.

Most inscriptions in the temple were published in 1937. But Thyagarajan discovered six new inscriptions in 1987, including the oldest, dated 1114 C.E, which is the 44th regnal year of Kulottunga I. “One of the inscriptions I found will be of particular interest to devout Vaishnavites,” says Thyagarajan and points to it. “I find the whole of Madhurakavi Azhwar’s ‘Kanninun Siruthambu,’ with the Sanskrit and Tamil thaniyans composed by Nadhamunigal!

While all other Azhwars wrote in praise of Vishnu, Madhurakavi Azhwar was unique, for all his verses were in praise of Nammazhwar, his Acharya. The inscription begins with ‘Srimathe Ramanujaya namaha,’ and ends with salutations to Nammazhwar and Madhurakavi Azhwar. “From the script, one can guess that these verses were inscribed sometime between 12th and 13th centuries,” says Thyagarajan. As I take pictures of the verses on the wall, I recall Vedanta Desika’s verse ‘Inbathil irainjudalil…’ in his Adhikara Sangraha. In this verse, Desika marvels at Madhurakavi Azhwar’s bhakti towards his Acharya Nammazhwar. Desika says that while the Lord who can confer joy, jnana and moksha, is waiting to bless Madhurakavi Azhwar, the latter turns for these boons to Nammazhwar, who gave us the Vedas in pure Tamil. Reading the lines on the wall was an emotional moment for this writer.

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