Yesterday our group of amateur epigraphists went on a field trip to 3 temples in and around Kanchipuram, an hour's drive from Chennai. We were accompanied by Sri S Ramachandran, the eminent Tamil Epigraphist and Historian and Dr K Kumar, Archeologist.
Rudra Solai at Pudhur:
The first stop was at a village called Pudhur, near Ocheri on the Chennai Bangalore Highway. The Pudhur village has a Shiva temple in ruins dating back to 11th century AD. The temple has inscriptions on the walls of the temple on the North and East. The inscription dates back to 1091 AD and the inscription talks about the temple which was then called as "Rudra Solai". The temple was built of Granite stones which has withstood the test of time admirably. Even after 1000 odd years, the main vimanam of the temple is still intact and only the outer prakara was fallen off. Most of the granite stones lay scattered around the temple and it is very much possible that this could be re-built with some money and effort. The inscriptions on the Eastern side was much later dating back to 1361 AD. Both the inscriptions talks about the grants provided to the temple and also about the tax waivers. We spent a good 3 hours reading through (actually, it should be trying to read through) the inscriptions. Sri Ramachandran, was able to read the inscriptions quite easily but we struggled to read.
An interesting thought was put forth by Sri Ramachandran that this may be a Pallipadai temple of Rajendra Cholan. Pallipadai means a temple built on the samadhi of the King, which used to be the practice those days. As with all historic findings, this theory can't be confirmed by reading just the inscriptions on these walls but needs to be corroborated by other inscriptions and known historical facts.
ASI monument at Brahmadesam:
From there we moved to a place called Brahmadesam, which is another 4 kilometres from Pudhur. Here in Brahmadesam, there is a Archeological Survey of India site where a temple which was found inside the earth was excavated and re-built at the same place it was found. We were lucky to have a ASI staff present at the site at that time so that he opened the main door. But the stone inscriptions are on the outer walls. As it has been excavated and re-built, the quality of the structure is much better. ASI has done a terrific job of rebuilding it but the maintenance and awareness among locals is very poor. There were no signboards or explanatory plaques to describe the details of the temple and how it was rebuilt etc., It would be very useful for visitors like us. The inscriptions are all around the outerwalls and in few places the inscriptions were lost in the process of rebuilding.
The presiding deity is Lord Shiva again and it is a sandstone structure. As it is a ASI monument there are no worship happening and it is more of academic importance than religious one. We had an interesting discussion on one of the motifs on the temple walls as to who Lord Narasimha has on his lap. It varied from Lakshmi to Prahalad to Hiranyakasubu. It remained inconclusive as we ran short of time and people started feeling hungry.
Pennalur near Sriperumbudur:
After our lunch at Hotel Sakthi Saravana on the Chennai Bangalore Highway, we visited the Pennalur temple of Lord Shiva. This is now located behind the Electricty Board sub-station on the NH. The temple is in ruins but the saving grace is the temple is under worship for the last few years thanks to the local efforts. The temple dates back to 11th Century AD and the main temple is still very much intact. The outer prakara and the walls have given away and the stones are lying scattered all around. The original name of this place, as we could find from our inscription reading is "Keralanthaka Cholan Peru Nallur". Perunallur has morphed itself into Pennalur over the course of time. The temple's outer walls which once boasted of beautiful idols of Lord Vinayaga, Dakshinamurthy and others were stolen by somebody few years ago.
We wound our trip after a thoroughly enjoyable day of inscription reading, understanding history and our culture.