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Kallidaikurichi - Distant past History

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Kallidaikurichi is aptly named. 'Kal + idai + kurichi' means exactly what it is, a village in the midst of hills. In Sanskrit it has been faithfully translated in the 'Bhojanadi' (an astrological treatise)  as 'Shilaa - madhya - Hariswam'. In the Thamraparni Mahatmya of the Matsya Purama, it has been translated as 'Shila - Shalipuram'. Kallidaikurichi must have existed as a hunting village for centuries, even prior to the arrival of the Aryans to the south.  Prior the construction of its famous irrigation canal, the Kannadiyan canal, it could have only been a humble hunting place for wild animals.  Therku Kallidaikurichi (South Kallidaikurichi) in the revenue village still remains mostly a forest of palm trees within which are patches of rain fed dry lands interspaced with a few low and rocky hills.

Kallidaikurichi is on the border between the Pandya and the Chera countries of the past. The distance as the crow flies between Kallidaikurichi and Thiruvananthapuram is less than fifty miles (75 Kms appx.), though the road either from south via Nagarcoil or from north via Shencottai takes about 100 miles (150 Kms). A determined sturdy person can easily climb the bridle paths and move between hills, without undue exertion. The boundary between the Pandya and Chera Kings was subject to frequent changes, this way or that way, depending on who felt the more powerful between the two of them, at any point of time.  At times the Pandyas drove deep into Kerala and reaching up to Kanetti near Karunagapally. At other times the Cheras went up to Madurai and beyond. At one point the Cheras held in their hands the entire south India, for a tantalising brief period of five years. Kallidaikurichi got accustomed to these changes in her fortune and readily absorbed the characteristics of both streams of culture and language.


Kallidaikurichi-Ambasamudram-Alwarkurichi areas form the upper level of Thamiraparani irrigation system today. In the past it would have been a densely wooded area. The earlier name of Alwarkurichi was 'Kaderu' indicating the forest boundary. The Thamiraparani - Ghadananadi river areas were colonized during the Chola conquest of Pandya country in the 10th century A.D. The colonists from the Chola country came along with the Viceroy, Sundara Chola Pandya in A.D. 1017-18 and formed new townships and cultivated the newly converted forest lands. On a study of the inscriptions at  the Vedanarayana temple at Mannarkoil village, it is established that the temple was built during the time of this Viceroy. This temple was called 'Rajendra Vinnagaram' and formed a part of the big Brahmadayam village of 'Rajaraja Chaturvedi Mangalam' in  Mullinadu in the 'Mudikonda Chola Valanadu' of Raja Raja Pandinadu. The hamlets of 'Ilangokudi' (today's Ambasamudram), Kallidaikurichi, Attala Nallur, Vazuthiyoor, Alwarkurichi and Pappankurichi were parts of this big Brahmadayam village (now Brahmadesam).

'Ilangokkudi' or Ambasamudram has a history going back to the 7th century and earlier. The Thirupothudaya Nayanar Temple (now known as Erichavudayar Temple) on the northern bank of the Tamiraparani between Ambasamudram and Kallidaikurichi has a grant given by the Pandya Emperor. The new settlers gave the new villages, names similar to their old villages. Examples are Thiruppudaimaruthur, Cholakula Manikkam (now Vellanguli), Then Thiruvanam and Thenthiruvarur (now Idaikal) etc. Though Vedanarayana temple, the Mannarkoil, in its present form might have been built by the Cholas, it does not imply that there was no temple there earlier. Mannarkoil has always been in the list of 108 holy places of Vaishnavites. According to tradition, the great Alwar, Kulasekhara Varman, of Mahodayapuram (modern Crangannore in Kerala) who ruled Chera between 800 and 825 A.D. had worshiped at this temple and shifted his mortal Koil here. This may not be untrue as we find that 400 years later one Vasudevan Kesavan alias Sendalangaradasan is permitted by Jata Varman Kulasekara Pandyan (1190 - 1217 A.D.) to build a temple for the Alwar, within the princenets of the main temple. This devotee who hailed from Malanadu (Kerala) and the Pandya King would not have taken this trouble unless they believed that tradition has truth in it. Perhaps the earlier temple was one of wood and other perishable materials. In south India stone temples became popular only after advent of the Pallavas.


Raja Raja's titles included the expressions of 'Manabharana' and 'Kshatriya Shikhamani'. After the Pandya conquest, Raja Raja established brahmin settlements at Manabharanallur (present day Manaramangalam) Kshatriya Shikhamani Puram (Kallidaikurichi) apart from Brahmadesam. Kallidaikurichi seems to have had the following subdivisions - Madakkurichi, Velankurichi, Cherakumaran and Kallidaikurichi. It seems Brahmadesam which had tank irrigation at that time as it is now, was a better place for settlement of Brahmins. The irrigation canal (Kannadiyan Canal) at Kallidaikurichi, which made Kallidaikurichi very fertile, must have come into being only after Chola conquest was reversed by the second Pandyan Empire.

The second Empire was established by Mara Varman Sundara Pandya I, taking advantage of the weak successors of Kulothunga Chola III (1178 - 1216 A.D.). While doing so the Pandya had to be wary of the newly risen dynasty of Hoysala in South Karnataka, which were pro Chola in at first and became pro Pandya only later on. There were several marriage alliances between the two Royal families. The Hoysalas and the Pandyas divided the former Chola territories  amicably between themselves. According to local tradition, it was a Kannadiga Physician (physician from Karnataka) who caused the famous 'Kannadiyan canal' to be constructed starting from the confluence of Thamiraparani river with Manimuthar river, a mile west of Kallidaikurichi. The Kannadiyan physician refused to receive the munificent reward the local King pressed on him, and instead arranged for the execution  of of this important public work. In view of the close friendship that existed between the two neighbors during the 13th century A.D. there are no improbabilities in this traditional account. It has to be remembered that the Kalingarayan and Thadapally canals in Coimbatore district were also constructed by Kannadiga rulers. Perhaps the Kanndiga physician was also an irrigation engineer. So one can safely assume that the Kannadiyan canal irrigation system was constructed some time in the second half of the Thirteenth century A.D., by the Pandya King with the help from  the Hoysala Kingdom.

At present the Lakshmi Varaha Swami Temple and the Manendiappar temples are the important temples in Kallidaikurichi village. Both of them are of comparatively of new origin. There were older temples in the village earlier. Now, three of them are without worship and  in ruins. One is still under active puja everyday and in reasonably good condition. All the older temples are situated in the eastern part of the village. This shows that the eastern part of the village is generally the older part and the western portion came into existence later. The older temples are dealt with in the chronological order below.


The Second Pandya Empire came to an inglorious end as a result of the civil war for succession between Sundara Pandya and Veera Pandya, the legitimate and illegitimate sons of Mara Varma Kulasekhara. Sundara Pandya despairing of success invited the intervention of Alluddin Kilji. The ruler of Venad at that time was Ravi Varma Kulasekhara, a son-in-law of Maaara Varma Kulasekhara. The son-in-law fought against both the sons and the foreign invaders. While chasing Malik Kafur, Ravi Varma's armies reached up to Kancheepuram, where he crowned himself as the King of all the South India. Like all vein human glory, his life was short and he died of natural causes in 1314 A.D.

His successors in Venad inherited his conquests and had to face the raids of Muppidi Nayaka of Warangal in 1316 A.D., The expedition of Khusru Khan in 1318 and the invasion of Mohamad Bin Tuglak in 1327 A.D. The establishment of Sultanate of Madura by Jalaludin Ahsan Shah in 1335, limited the areas under the control of Venad to Tirunelveli District only. Though Kumara Kampanna and Harihara-II of Vijayanagar put an end to the Muslim sultanate. the old Pandya family had been restored to power in a limited area with Tenkasi as their capital from 1400 A.D. This further reduced the area under the control of Venad kings to areas south of Tamiraparani river and Ambasamudram Taluk only. This also suffered further when Achutha Raya ordered an invasion of Travancore to punish the Raja for having helped the rebel Vira Narasimha alias Chellappa. This cost them the taluk of Ambasamudram. In 1558 A.D. another expedition under General Vittala of Vijayanagar attacked them on their failure to pay tribute. The territory under their control diminished then to Nanguneri Taluk only.

They had to face frequent punitive expeditions led by the Nayak armies under Thirumala Nayakar, Rani Mangammal and Chokkanatha Nayaka. They managed to cling on to Nanguneri somehow. When the Nawab of Karnatic replaced the Nayaks in 1736, even this became precarious. The weakness of Dharma Rajah (1758 - 1798), the successor of Marthanda Varma (1729 - 1758) was taken advantage of by the East India Company, who compelled him to give up Nanguneri and take Shencottah in the year 1765 A.D. This position continued until the state reorganization on a linguistic basis was implemented in 1956 November. The period of 450 years of Venad rule in Kallidaikurichi and surrounding areas of Tirunelveli District explain several distinctive features and peculiarities found in the culture and customs of the people and their economic history as indigenous bankers.

With this background we should be able to appreciate the history of the Lakshmi Varaha Swami Temple better. All Venad Kings were devoted Hindus and they took pride in being the inheritors of the crown of Kulasekhara Alwar. One of their Biudhi's is 'Kulasekhara Kireetapathi'. There were about 30 rulers during this period of 450 years between Ravi Varman Kulasekhara (1249 - 1314) and Marthanda Varma of Travancore (1729 - 1758). Almost all of them were interested in temple building, endowing classical education, construction and maintenance of irrigation works and fostering of internal and external trade and commerce. Some of them were great warriors, who carried their arms even into Ceylon, while many of them were weak rulers, especially after 1568 A.D, when General Vittal inflicted a crushing defeat on them. One of them Aditya Varma Saravanganatha (1376 - 83) is credited with the building of the Krishna Shrine within the Padmanabha Swamy temple in Trivandrum. His successor Chera Udaya Marthanda Varma (1383 - 1444) used to reside in Cheran Mahadevi. The 'Karivelamkulam Puja' is still performed in Padmanabha Swamy Temple commemorates one of his victories. He also built the Sabha Mandapam at Suchindram temple. The 'Leela Thilakam' a Sanskrit work on grammar and rhetoric praises this King.

Kothai Aditya Varma came to the throne of Venad in 1469 and ruled till 1484 A.D. He is also known as Chempaka Aditya Varma. He ruled over a territory comprising the present districts of Quilon, Trivandrum, Kanya Kumari and Tirunelveli except Thenkasi Taluk which was under the former Pandyas. He was a pious person devoted to peaceful arts and public works. He is credited with the donation of an Agraharam in Quilon called 'Chempakaraman Theruvu' and also a place for people in distress, known as 'Anjinan Pulakidam'. The famous bell of Thirukkurumgudi temple was cast and dedicated during his reign as witnessed by inscription in the temple 644 M.E (1469 A.D). He is described therein as the King of 'Then Vanji' (Quilon). He is dear to Kallidaikurichians, for it has been recorded in all histories of Travancore that he resided in Kallidaikurichi, during his entire reign of fifteen years from 1469 to 1484 A.D.


The earliest inscription in the Lakshmi Varaha temple of 653 M.E. (1478 A.D.) records some gifts made to the deity of temple called 'Jnanappiran' by one Thiruvengadamudayan of Kadirarayanpatti, hailing from Cherakumaran Sub divison of Raja Raja Chaturvedi Mangalam. The second inscription of 655 ME (1480 A.D.) records another gift to the temple by a brahmin. The third inscription of 671 M.E (1496 A.D.) deals with a gift of twenty Mas of land for conducting a puja in this temple known as 'Veera Keralan Sandhi'. The fourth inscription 698 ME (1524 A.D.) deals with a gift of paddy made by Kaikolan Kumarar Marthandan of Cherakumaran Sub division, falling with the area served by 'Jnanapiran' temple, in favour of the God in another temple known as 'Pavalakkoothar' for celebrating the Kartika Depam festival in the temple, a Vishnu temple. It may be noted that the Kartika festival is observed normally in Siva temples. This inscription thus indicates the broadminded universality of religious faith.

In the village Melacheval about 20 miles sown the river from Kalidaikurichi there is a temple known as 'Aditya Varameshwara Temple' with several curious and interesting features. It is temple rebuilt on the ruined site of an older temple, after it had been desecrated and damaged by muslims. The original temple had been built by Sundara Pandya of the Second Empire, in Kanaviniya Pandya Chaturvedi Mangalam. The temple had been reconstructed, without damaging the remaining original structures by one Kandan Keralan of Muttchai in Kurukkenikollam (Quilon) of Malaimandalam (Kerala) under the orders and patronage of Kothai Aditya Varma, who however passed away before the construction was completed, as shown by the epigraph in that temple dated 662ME (1487 A.D.). The memory of the King is perpetuated by an engraved figure in one of the prakarams of the temple and the name of the chief deity, Shiva, as 'Aditya Varmeswara'.

That temple also contained a Vishnu with the name 'Vira Keralaperumal' as well as Parvati known as 'Nila Sundari Nachiyar' and Krishna called 'Vira Keralappillayar'. The involvement of the word Kerala deserves notice. Further in those days, all youthful Gods used to be called Pillayas. In the Padmanabha Temple's Krishna Shrine, the deity is known as 'Thiruvambady Pillayar'. However, subsequently some Saivaite fanatic seems to have taken offence and has thrown out the images of Vishnu and Krishna. But the inscriptions of their installations remain. This recalls the famous episode of Kulothunga Chola II (1133 - 1150 A.D.) throwing out the image of Govinda Raja from the Nataraja Temple at Chitambaram.

What could have been the reasons which prompted Kothai Aditya Varman to build a temple for Lakshmi Varaham in Kallidaikurichi? It could not be his devotion to his 'Ishtadevata' only. Perhaps he wanted to build a duplicate of Sri Varaham temple at Trivandrum in his chosen capital. A Manipravala kavyam known as Ananthapura Varnanai which was written some time before 1450 A.D., describes the Sri Varaha Temple at Trivandrum. This Tamil-Malayalam poem is quoted in support of a point by the Leela Thilakam the Sanskrit book on Grammar and Rhetoric, which was published just before accession to the throne of Kothai Aditya Varma.  Therefore, Sri Varaham Temple must have been a temple of note, fit enough to be duplicated in Tamil Nadu, by a king of Kerala.  Just as in Sri Varaham Temple at Trivandrum, a Sri Varaham Street stretches in front of the Lakshmi Varaha Temple in Kallidaikurichi.


There is another local legend which states that originally the area now occupied by Sri Varahapuram Street was in the hands of Muslims and the brahmin streets were therefore divided into two distinct entities, with consequent discomfort and inability to observe the caste rules. According to the legend the Muslims moved to southern areas and the street was constructed. We have seen Kothai Aditya Varman resorting to resettle the Muslims from a particular locality in his capital to another locality. This new agraharam has also another name Veerappapuram. This name came perhaps due to the fact that Veerappa Nayaka who had already involved himself with inscriptions in other temples in the village constructed the Mandapam in the centre of the Agraharam, where the deity Lakshmi Varaha is taken for a ceremonial halt during certain festivals. Mudaliappapuram and Thimma Raja puram Agraharams must have been built at same time as this Mandapam, after the memory of Dalawa Ariyanatha Mudaliyar and General Saluva Thimma of Vijayanagar.

There is another minor temple for Sastha or Ayyappan in the Sri Varahapuram Agraharam limits. Sastha is a deity beloved on both sides of Western Ghats. The great composer Muthuswami Dikshitar has sung about Hariharaputhra as 'Pandya Keraladi Desha Prabhakaram'. In this temple an annual festival called 'Sasthapreethi' is conducted. Along with this festival, the annual general body meeting of a socio-economic cum religious society, known as the 'Karanthayar Palayam Samooham' is also conducted.  The general body meeting used to be conducted after the Sastha rites are over. At this meeting, representatives of all the 18 Agraharams would be present. The executive secretaryship of the Samooham for the ensuing year used to be elected by an agreed turn system.

This Karanthayar Palayam Samooham, was an association of Brahmin merchants of Kallidaikurichi, who were engaged in banking and other mercantile activities in Kerala, Tamilnadu and Ceylon. They used to finance local and external trade, by using payment-on-sight hundies, of 90 days and 120 days and longer durations. They also used to assist in trading the finer count varieties of cloth from Pandya country, in return for the hill produce of Kerala. In the course of their  mercantile activity, the brahmins of Kallidaikurichi used to travel a lot in convoys of bullock carts, often carrying goods and passengers with escorts of armed retainers. They need to halt at every 15th or 20th mile. Sathrams of caravan serais were therefore necessary with trustworthy staff stationed at each place. The Samooham used to arrange for these services being provided to all the brahmins of the village, at a reasonable cost. These satharms had local properties in places like Kottarakara, Kayamkulam, Cochin and other places. The Samooham provided these services under the facade of religion. It was a multipurpose organization, similar to the ancient merchant guilds like 'Anjuvannam' and 'Arunootuvar' etc. Today these economic purpose of the Samooham has disappeared, but the cultural and religious aspects remain.

We have to consider the history of 'Manenthiappar Temple' at Talachery on the northeastern corner of the village. This temple also has an epigraph of Veerappa Nayaka I. Its actual age may be more, for it used to be the headquarters of the heir appararent to Thiruvaduthurai Matt's Mahant. The Adheenam's headquarters is at Tanjore district. But it had extensive properties in Tirunelveli district, particularly in Kallidaikurichi, Vikramasimhapuram and Javantipuram. Therefore, the Junior Madhathipathi was stationed here and the temple was under their control. The Matt buildings are quite close to the temple. The Matt had played a notable part in fostering Tamil Shaivaite religious literature and the preservation and publication of ancient Tamil handwritten manuscripts of oriental lore. The brahmins of Kallidaikurichi used to take the paddy lands of  the Matt on auction cum lease basis for stipulated period until recently. The Matt also used to encourage all the performing  arts. The temple Talachery was well known for its Troop dancing girls, who used to be dedicated for service in the temple at a tender age, in the past. Our music and dancing have survived to this day because they have been safeguarded and fostered by our temples. Like every other temple in South India the two surviving temples of Kallidaikurichi have also played their part in this respect.


Though people of Kallidaikurichi have reputation for commercial activities, they have not neglected literature and the arts. They had the necessary wherewithal for paying the literate and artists, they played the role of patrons to the artists and craftsmen. Prior to the British rule, Kallidaikurichi was able to attract qualified brahmin immigrants from all over south India. Poets and musicians and other artists came to the village regularly to display their talent and some of them did settle down. The most famous visitor was Muthuswami Dikshitar. He must have come some time early in the 19th century before he finally settled down at Ettayapuram in 1835. He found Kallidaikurichi very prosperous and rewarding. His composition 'Shri Lakshmi Varaham' in Abhogi Raga is very well known. An unknown Tamil poet of the Nayak period has composed a piece of  Tamil poetry known as 'Varukhkovai' in praise of the Lord Varahaperumal of 'Thirukkaranadai' which is literary abbreviation for Karanthayar Palayam. The poem consists of 101 stanzas and it is an exquisite little masterpiece of classical Tamil poetry.

British rule, advances of western and secular education, powerful penetration of western practices and concepts of business and technology, development of transport and communication and our own national resurgence, have all created a  profound change in the very mode of our lives and our thinking. This change has been profoundly felt in Kallidaikurichi also. Instead of inward migration from outside as in the past, today there is evidence of an outward migration from Kallidaikurichi in search of economic opportunities. The style and functioning of the mercantile houses in the village has changed towards investment in modern industry and joint stock company operations. The national revival under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi has also changed our conceptions of caste and community and profound changes and happenings in our social structure. In this intellectual, social, religious and economic ferment, the temples of Kallidaikurichi are not exempt. They are also changing. But they point to the roads of change with caution so that we may not forget and fail to make full claim to our national heritage.


This article by Sri K C. Sankaranarayanan I.A.S. (Retd.),  appeared in the Souvenir released on the occasion of Mahakumbhabishekam of Sri Adivaraha Swami Temple, Kallidaikurichi on 7th June 1987. 



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