Tamil kings who went to the Himalayas – III
by Jayasree Saranathan on 23 Jul 2021 2 Comments

The historical information contained in Tamil Sangam texts and even the later day texts like Silappadhikaram and the devotional verses developed during the Bhakti movement synchronize well with each other. They give better leads to get the correct interpretation of the epigraphic findings and other sources.


For example, the presently available oldest inscription on Sri Parthasarathy temple near Marina beach in Triplicane, Chennai, is dated to the 8th century CE, during the reign of a Pallava king, Danthi Varman. This states that Pallavas had taken care of this temple. The history of the temple constructed on the basis of inscriptions point to a beginning with the Pallavas in the 8th century and patronised by other kingdoms later.


But a verse by one of the Azhwars, Thirumangai Azhwar, says that this place was developed by Thennan (olden name for Olden Pandyans) and Thondai rulers (Periya Thirumozhi: 2-3-10). There is no mention of patronage by Pallava rulers by this Azhwar in any of the ten verses on this temple.


In another verse, sung in praise of the Lord at Ashtabujakaram in Kancheepuram, he invokes the name of Thondai king as one who worshiped the deity here (Periya Thirumozhi: 2-8-10).  But there are other verses on other temples in which he specifically mentions Pallavan kings as having patronised or worshiped those deities. All these temples are in the same region of Kancheepuram or what was earlier known as Thondai naadu.


Chronologically, Thondai rulers preceded the Pallavas. A Thondai ruler, Ilamthirayan, was sung in one of the Sangam texts called Perum Paanarrup Padai. Sometime in the early centuries of the Common Era, Thondai rule was usurped by the Pallavas in the Kancheepuram region.


Parthasarathy temple and Ashtabujakaram temple must have been patronised by Thondai rulers, as understood from Azhwar’s references. A discovery to prove this was unexpectedly made in the 1980s when workers were digging the ground within the Parthasarathy temple complex for renovation work. They recovered a silver statue of a king with folded hands with the name “Thondaimaan” inscribed on it. That this was buried under the temple complex shows that Pallavas who renovated or built the temple made sure that no traces of connection with the earlier Thondai rulers existed.


This discovery proves the authenticity of historical information that the Azhwar had given. Before the Pallavas, the Thondai rulers had patronised the Parthasarathy temple. Even before them, this temple was patronised by Thennan Pandyan who built the city of Mylapore. The Azhwar gives this information on Mylapore in his verse. Thus we find the literary references to be authentic and therefore reliable.


Three instances will be discussed here to drive home the point that Tamil literature of yore has been helpful in putting together the missing pieces in archaeological, epigraphic or cross referenced inputs from other texts and other parts of India. The first instance deals with the expeditions made by Tamil Kings to the Himalayas.


Reference to expedition to Himalayas


The Tamil king who made an expedition to the Himalayas is Cheran King Senguttuvan. He wanted to build a temple for Kannagi who lived during his times. From Silappadhikaram we learn that the images of Gods were made from rocks cut out from Pothigai hills and bathed in river Cauvery before carving out the image (Silappadhikaram: Chapter 25, lines 116 to 125). Kannagi’s life and impact was extraordinary so it was decided that her image must be carved out from rock taken from the Himalayan Mountain and bathed in the Ganges. It remains a big mystery from which part of the Himalayas the rock was procured.


Senguttuvan was not the only king to have gone to the Himalayas. The kings of all the three dynasties of Tamil kingdoms (Chera, Chola and Pandyas) had gone to the Himalayas in times before Senguttuvan. They did not make simple visits but went with huge armies accompanying them. Anyone who opposed them was vanquished and who accepted their supremacy was spared. They reached some part of the Himalayan Mountain and engraved the emblems of their dynasties as a kind of ‘Tilak” on the forehead of the Himalayas.


Two questions arise from this information. One is the location in the long range of the Himalayan Mountain where they engraved their emblems. Is it the same location or did they go to different locations? Whatever it was, what was the rationale behind choosing a specific location? These questions further lead us to wonder what actually made them go the Himalayan Mountain all the way from their kingdoms.


The second question is why there is no reference to these Tamil kings and their expeditions in any north Indian records. The search into Tamil texts to find answers for these questions gives us some leads which bring out many hidden events and ideas of the past history of India. Before proceeding to answer these questions, let us see a brief note on the kings who went to the Himalayas to engrave their emblems.


Tamil kings who engraved their emblems on the Himalayas


Cheran King


A Cheran king, Nedum Cheralaadhan, got a title “Imaya Varamban” meaning “Himalayas as the boundary” owing to his expedition to the Himalayas where he carved out the image of his emblem the “Bow” (Padhitrup patthu: 2nd group of 10 poems).


The Sangam verse on this king compares him with Akrura of Mahabharata times. The verse describes Akrura as a courageous one in having gone as an emissary to the Kauravas. The verse says that this Cheran king was like Akrura in his courage and also in charity (Padhitrup patthu: Verse 14). This information on Akrura as an emissary is found in Srimad Bhagavatam when he was asked by Krishna and Balarama to go to Hastinapur to gather information on the mood of the Kauravas. (SB: 10-49 http://bhagavata.org/canto10/chapter49.html)


One might tend to dismiss the comparison with Akrura as a poetic way of tribute to the king. But why the poet chose Akrura of all people is a matter worthy of analysis. Even Krishna himself had gone as an emissary on behalf of the Pandavas. The poet could have compared the king with the more popular Krishna if glorification was his sole aim. That he didn’t do so gives the impression that there was some parallel between Akrura and the Cheran king in some way. The comparison with Akrura in particular gives a hint on a similar mission that this king might have undertaken in the past which is not known to us.


The other reference to Akrura as a charitable one in this Sangam poem is also true as we find a reference to him as a charitable one, ‘dana pate’- in Bhagavatam. (SB: 10-36-28 http://www.vedabase.com/en/sb/10/36/28/)


In the Tamil encyclopedia, “Choodamani Nigandu”, Akrura is mentioned as the first among the second set of seven Philanthropists (idai ezhu vallal). The Sangam text making the comparison with Akrura for his philanthropy and courage in entering the enemy’s den as an emissary is indicative of similar events and traits in this Cheran king. This shows that the story of Akrura was popular in Tamil lands and people had chosen to view their king in the likeness of Akrura.


Another interesting connection with Akrura is when he was addressed by Kamsa as Master of Charity (dana pati). Kamsa conducted a Bow Sacrifice (Dhanur yaga) for which he wanted Akrura to invite Krishna and Balarama. [In that conversation Kamsa addressed Akrura as the Master of Charity; SB: 10-36 http://bhagavata.org/canto10/chapter36.html)


Krishna breaking the Bow at Bow-Sacrifice


Bow is the royal emblem of the Cheran dynasty. More than anybody else from any part of Bharat, the Cheran king was the right candidate to have conducted a Yaga for Bow. But a sacrifice for bow was done by the Bhojas in Mathura who were basically known for expertise in wrestling.


It raises some questions: whether the Cherans were originally connected with Bow sacrifice. Did Kamsa invite the Cheran king of that time for the Bow-sacrifice? Did the Cheran kings get acquaintance with Akrura on that occasion of the Bow sacrifice? Cheran kingdom had existed during the times of Kamsa as there is reference to Cheran army in Mahabharata as having taken part in Kurukshetra war.


There is also a verse in Sangam texts on a Cheran king who offered food for the armies of both sides in Kurukshetra war. In fact the Cheran king under discussion in these passages had come in the lineage of that king who served food in the Kurukshetra war!


Further information about this king, with some hidden history, pertains to the description of a garland he was wearing. The same verse that compares him with Akrura says that the king was wearing a garland made from the gold of the crowns of seven kings defeated by him. Their names are not known; perhaps some future discovery of a coin or inscription might give their names and help us understand the links with these sources in Sangam Tamil.


All the above details on the Cheran king indicate that he was skilled and charitable as Akrura and invincible in war. He crossed many countries on the way to the Himalayas. He would have made an impact throughout his path either by fear or friendship. This expedition could have given scope for Tamil people (his army men) to mingle with the people of different regions. Some of his army men could have stayed back or brought people back to Cheran land by marriage or friendship. Thus the probability of mixing among people from Tamil lands with those in other parts of Bharat till the Himalayan ranges had existed during expeditions such as these.


Cholan King


Among the Cholan kings, Karikaal Chola went to the Himalayas to engrave the “tiger” emblem of his dynasty on the side of the mountain. This king was credited with having built the Grand Anicut across the river Cauvery in Trichy. A Sangam verse sung on his death recounts how this king followed Vedic life by doing yajnas, one on the Eagle shaped homa kunda (Purananuru – 224).


There exists a verse on this king in the copper plate inscriptions unearthed in Thiruvalangadu on how he got the name Karikaala / Kalikaala. This is contrary to the popular belief that this king got the name Karikaal owing to a fire accident in which his legs were affected and turned black. The reason given in the inscription is more appropriate:


(V. 42) In this (king’s) family was born he, the leader of all the lords of the earth, the foremost of the great on account of his virtues, the king who renovated (the town of) Kanchi with gold, who had established his glorious fame by constructing embankments of the Kaveri (river) and whom (people) called Kalikala because (he) was (the god of) death to the elephants (kari) (of his enemies) as also to the Kali (-age).


The title as Kari-kaalan is understandable from the many victories he scored. He subdued both Pandyan and Cheran kings and many other kings of smaller regions. This king had no enemies on the west or south of his territory. (His country was on the east with his capital at Poompuhar in the eastern shore.) So he wanted to go to the north to check whether there was anyone in the north to challenge his supremacy. And his sojourn kept going endlessly in the north with no one to stop him until he was stopped by the Himalayas. This made him hit the mountain by chiselling out the emblem of his dynasty. This is the poet’s description of the expedition to the Himalayas (Silappadhikaram: Chapter 5, lines 93 to 98).


In reality, he did plan to go to the Himalayas to carve out his emblem as expression of his success. This is known from later day texts on him which say that he went to Kancheepuram to get an instrument called “Chendu” with which he could cut the rocks.


[The hidden history here is that the first ever stone-cutters in Tamilnadu came from Kancheepuram or Thondai region. Stone inscriptions appeared in Tamilnadu thanks to these stone cutters. Their first contribution is the construction of Grand Anicut across Cauvery which they did in return for Karikaalan having spared them from his wrath (discussed later).  Pallavas were their patrons and it is possible that they took their skill as far as Angkor Wat under the influence of Pallavas].


Silappadhikaram gives information on the kings he met on his way and the tributes he received from them. This list consists of the king of Vajra country near river Son, king of Magadha and of Avanti. It is apparent that these kings either wanted to avoid war with Karikaala or were in good friendship with him. Somewhere in North India and in North Indian chronicles, Karikaalan might have left a trace of his travels. As of now, the Tamil texts stand as the only source to cross check and look for more information where it does not seem to exist.


An important feature of Karikaalan’s expedition is the description of the architectural value of the gifts given by the three kings mentioned above. Their architecture was traced to none other than Mayan who built Indraprastha for the Pandavas. That again opens another window into the historicity of Mahabharata and Mayan whom Arjuna saved from forest fire in return for which Mayan built him the palace at Indraprastha (Silappadhikaram: Chapter 5, lines 94 to 110).


Pandyan King


The name of the Pandyan king who went to the Himalayas has not been mentioned openly in any of the texts, though many texts speak of this expedition. This king engraved not only his own emblem (fish), but also chiselled out the emblems of Cholas and Cheras on both sides of the fish. A verse to this effect is found in Silappadhikaram (Silappadhikaram: Chapter 17, lines 1& 2).


The same information is found in the copper plate inscriptions of the Pandyans discovered in a place called Sinnamanur. They say that a Pandyan king engraved all the three symbols on the Himalayas. Though the name of this Pandyan king is not outwardly mentioned in any text, we are able to zero in on the name from Periyazhwar’s verses on Vishnu.


In two places Periyazhwar speaks about a Pandyan king, one of which mentions the place in the Himalayan range where he engraved his emblem. It is “parupapdatthu kayal porittha pandiyar kula pathy” (Periahwar thirumoazhi 5-4-7). This indicates the place as “Paruppatham” in the Himalayan range.


The second verse mentions the name of a king as Kon Nedumaaran: “Konnavil koor vEl kOn nedumaran” (Periahwar thirumoazhi 4-2-7)


Scholars think that this king was the contemporary of Periyazhwar. But the cross reference from another Tamil text called “Paandi-k-kovai” establishes that this king belonged to the olden location, and it was he who engraved the Pandyan emblem on the Himalayas. The verse in which the above line by Periyazhwar appears narrates a victory of the king which was attributed to none other than Lord Vishnu. The same narration is found in Pandi-k-kovai thereby establishing that Periyazhwar was indeed making a reference to this king of an olden time.


A puzzling feature in the ten verses of Periyazhwar in which this appears is that he speaks about Thirumalirum Cholai (popularly known as Azhagar malai situated near Madurai) of the South!


Wherever the Pandyans settled, there they established an abode for their patron couple, Meenakshi-Sundareswar, and for Vishnu who had helped them. When those abodes were lost in waters, they created them again in the places where they settled. That is how there exists the possibility of a then Thirumalirum Cholai (of the south) which Azhwar praises in ten verses. The olden Pandyan Kon Nedumaran was connected with THAT southern Thirumalirum Cholai.


Today’s Meenakshi temple and Azhagar temple of Madurai are recent versions of the sunken temples in what was known as Kumari-k-kadal (Kumari ocean) which was the original name for the Indian Ocean.


(To be continued)



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