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Archive for the ‘Tamil’ Category

In Kalki’s epic novel, Ponniyin Selvan, which is about the the early life of 10th century Chola emperor Raja Raja Chola I, there are many references to Buddhism. In the second book, we get to see him in Sri Lanka restoring the Buddhist Viharas and getting impressed by the size of the statues of Buddha. Later when he gets caught in a cyclone and falls sick, he lives in hiding in the Buddhist Monastery of Nagappatinam in Tamil Nadu.

Recently the Archaeological Survey of India had found a 10th century Tamil inscription that mentioned the donation of land to build a Shiva temple in Kolapakkam, 20 km from Chennai. Deciphering the inscriptions, they found two Buddha statues in dhyana pose and some ornamental pillars.

S. Rajavelu, epigraphist, ASI, had recently found that the third inscription belonged to “Sri Vijaya Maharaja,” a king from Sumatra, and that it was issued in his eighth regnal year. The inscription mentions his donating 250 kuzhi (a measurement) of land to Agatheeswarar at Kolapakkam, which was in Perur nadu (country), a sub-division of Puliyur. Sri Vijaya was a contemporary of Raja Raja Chola and the palaeography of the inscription showed the script was similar to that of the period of Raja Raja Chola. Sri Vijaya had a cordial relationship with the Chola kingdom. Although the inscription mentioned Sri Vijaya’s donation to the temple, it indirectly indicated Buddhist activity nearby, because Sri Vijaya was a Buddhist.

Dr. Satyamurthy and Dr. Rajavelu explored the area and found the ruins of a Buddhist temple close to the Agatheeswarar temple. The two Buddha sculptures and ornamental pillars, in granite, were unearthed. The Buddha sculptures are three feet tall. One sculpture has a dharma chakra on either side of the Buddha. This was sculpted in the ancient region that is now Tamil Nadu. The other sculpture has a three-tiered umbrella above the Buddha’s head and women bearing fly-whisks.

According to Dr. Satyamurthy, the face of this Buddha has Mongoloid features and this sculpture shows South-East Asian influence. One of the ornamental pillars unearthed has a bas-relief of a human face, with a head-gear that shows South-East Asian influence. An image of Ganesa is carved on this pillar.

Kolapakkam perhaps was a centre of Buddhist activity. According to Dr. Rajavelu, this area coming under Tondaimandalam was noted for Buddhist activity about 1,000 years ago, prior to the Chola period. [Buddha statues unearthed near Chennai]

Update: It seems the statues are not that of Buddha, but of Jain thirthankaras

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Few days back, we had a review of Kalki’s epic novel Ponniyin Selvan and had the question – where does a historical novelist get his characters from?

Books on Indian history talk mostly about the North Indian dynasties and only a few lines are spent for the South Indian ones. Even in those few lines, only the famous kings are mentioned and details are just glossed over. Thus when it comes to the Cholas, you may hear about Raja Raja Choza I and Rajendra Choza, but not about Parantaka I or Parantaka II.

The Chozha dynasty

One of the authoritative histories of South India, Nilakanta Sastri’s A History of South India provides more detail. According to Sastri, Parantaka I ascended the throne on 907 A.D and ruled for forty-eight years. Even though there was prosperity during his time, thirty years (955 – 85) after his reign there was a period of weakness and confusion. Parantaka I was succeeded by his son Gandaraditya who with his queen Sembiyan-mahadevi played a major role in religion than in politics. By the time of the death of Gandaraditya in 957, the Choza dynasty had shrunk to the size of a small principality. Gandaraditya’s brother Arinjaya ruled only for a year and was succeeded by his son Sundara Choza Parantaka II.

His son Aditya II was made the yuvaraja and and Sundara Chozha turned his attention to the south to defeat Vira Pandya. Sundara Choza defeated him and Vira Pandya was killed by Aditya II. The last years of Sundara Chozha were clouded with tragedy and this is the story told by Kalki’s novel, Ponniyin Selvan.

According to Nilakanta Sastri, Uttama Choza conspired to murder Aditya II and compelled Sundara Chozha to recognize him as the heir apparent. He ruled till 985 A.D and after that Arulmozhi Varman, Sundara Chozha’s second son took over and started the period of Choza imperialism.

That’s all the information. So where does a novelist turn to find other characters and details of life at that time? What about Vandiyathevan or the conspirators Ravidasan and Soman, or Nandini? Did they really exist or were they created by Kalki?

Kalki’s other sources were stone inscriptions, copper plates and other books. There is a stone tablet in the great temple of Thanjavur which has the following inscription: “The revered elder sister of Raja Raja Chozhar, the consort of Vallavarayar Vandiyathevar, Azwar Paranthakar Kundavaiyar”. The book sources were K.A.Nilakanta Sastri’s The Chozas and T.V.Sadasiva Pandarathar’s Pirkala Chozhar Charitttiram. The second book has a five line reference to Vandiyathevan and from that, he became the hero of this novel. The names of the conspirators also came from a stone inscription.

Lot of information about the activities of various kings came from inscriptions like these as well as copper plates like the Anbil one. The Thiruvalangadu copper plates state, “The Choza people were very keen that after Sundara Chozan, Arulmozhi Varman should ascend the throne and rule their country. But Arulmozhi Varman respected the right of his Uncle Uttama Chozhan, the son of his father’s younger brother, Kandaradithan, to the throne and crowned him King”.

In the conclusion of the novel, Kalki frames a set of questions which the reader may have about the characters after the end of the novel and he talks about each one of them, but does not give any sources for the information.

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