About Tanjore Maratha Marvels
Maratha Marvels himself a teetotaller. In a glass showcase are several minor
antiquities including small copper coins minted by the Tanjore Marathas.
On the advice of the Prince, we visited the Maratha royal graveyard at the
periphery of the town. The memorials erected here, in honour of the
different kings and queens, are elaborate structures resembling a typical
After Tanjore, we stopped at Orattanad. A Maratha chattram, named after
Muktambal, one of the queens of Sarfoji II, is located here. Shaped like a
chariot, it displays a profusion of religious sculptures in stucco and wood.
After Orattanad, we halted at a few obscure hamlets including Rajamadam and
Sethubavachattram. Each of these places possesses a typical Maratha
chattram. Many of the chattrams consisted of pillared dormitory halls
enclosing open courtyards or flowers gardens. One could imagine that these
chattrams would have been, during the pre-motor car age, veritable oases for
the weary traveller during the scorching summers.
Tourists attraction of Tanjore Heritage
As we trekked along the endless coastline, cursing the unbearable afternoon
heat, we suddenly found ourselves in a grove of coconut trees. The
atmosphere around the trees was unbelievably cool; a strong breeze wiped off
the perspiration on our foreheads. And, hidden between these trees, right on
the beach, is the tallest and the most historic monument built by the
Tanjore Marathas-the Manora, an eight-storeyed miniature fortress, hexagonal
in shape and skirted by a moat, all well-preserved by the State archaeology
Department. The structure was constructed by Sarfoji II in 1815 in honour of
Britains victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo.
We climbed up the fortress through narrow spiral stairways and from the
top, one could see miles and miles of the serene, sun-kissed beach. The
place is free from maddening crowed mainly because very few seem to know
that the Manora is a unique specimen of architecture and is the only
structure outside Europe erected in honour of the British. To us, Manora was
the most memorable of our experiences. It was worth the long hours of
Imperial, Yet Secular
The Chola dynasty, in the medieval period, which ruled for about 430 years
(850-1279 A.D.) brought glory to the rulers and the ruled in more ways than
one. It is true that the Cholas were staunch Saivites. But that did not
deter them from fostering other beliefs. They were truly secular in their
outlook. While waging wars and occupying enemy or conquered territories,
there were some excesses. These acts of aberrations have however to be
dismissed as over-enthusiasm or as an attempt to leave a mark of their
belief, rather than acts of vandalism or imposing their faith on other or
trying to convert people from one faith to another.
Mr. S.R. Balasubramanian in his book Early Chola temples says that
according to tradition, there were 275 Siva temples and 108 Vaishnavaite
temples in the ninth century A.D. in Tamil Nadu. Of these, 230 temples were
in the original Chola Desa (Page XV). This statement alone could make the
Cholas the greatest single dynasty, which had built the largest number of
temples in India perhaps in the world.
Thirumangai Alwar one of his hymns (Thirunaraiyur Pathikam-8) says that
Kochchengannan built 70 temples along both banks of the Kaveri. Thirumangai
Alwars period is reportedly mid 8th century A.D. Appar in one of his songs
mentions 78 temples but does not mention the kings name. Appars period is
about 7th century A. D.
There is no reason to doubt the veracity of the statement in these two
songs of the Saints; one thing is obvious, namely, both during the time of
Thirumangai Alwar and Appar, there were many temples. As they focus that
they were not made of granite; it may also be true that they were not as big
as they are now, or that they did not have such beautiful sculpture or
painting. But, one thing is certain, that is, above all, there was temple
worship and people had faith in a Supreme Power. People preached good
conduct, love and affection for one another for better living.
That the temples in the pre-Pallava days were made of mud, bricks, wood,
mortar, etc. is well known. Sembian Madevi, the grand old lady of the Chola
dynasty, mother of Uttama Chola and queen of Kandaraditya Chola, had a large
number of such temples renovated and rebuilt with granite stones (late 10th
century and early 11th century A.D.).
Similarly, the temple heritage prior to the Pallava period and during the early
Chola period were not as big as we see them today. Except those like
Brihadishwarar temple, Tanjore, Gangai Konda Cholapuram temples and such
masterpieces, many temples were renovated, expanded by succeeding rulers.
The sculpture also underwent a progressively more beautiful form. There is
a wide difference between the sculpture and painting of early centuries of
the Christian era to the medieval period. The growth is breathtaking. The
engineering and architectural skill also showed considerable improvement. If
some of the temples are still intact after about a thousand years, it is no
mean achievement. The range and the skill were such, that the knowledge and
experience were used to build a network of storage tanks for irrigation in
Chola Nadu. The Kallanai (grand Anaicut) near Trichy is about 1000 feet long
and measures about 60 feet at the base and about 18 feet on top. This help
in regulating the excess flow of water in the river Kaveri and permits
diversion to Kollidam (Coleroon)- a surplus drain. British irrigation
experts who had occasion to study the tanks-embanked reservoirs, frequently
commented upon the near completeness with which surface irregularities had
been exploited for irrigation long before their time and found no scope for
any improvement or expansion. (Pesant State and Society in Medieval South
India-Burton Stein page 24).
Thus, while acknowledging the lact that the Cholas built grand temples,
bestowing their personal attention, wealth and all other resources at their
command, they were equally tolerant about other faiths. Raja Raja Chola-I
built temples not only for Siva but also for Vishnu. He permitted a Buddha
Vihar to be built at Nagapattinam and also donated large grants. Some of his
chieftains donated money to build Jain temples (ibid-page 194).
Rajaraja Cholas time and thereafter during Rajendra Cholas rule, there have
been expeditions across the sea. Ceylon was under the spell of Chola rule
during the 11th century. During this period, the Chola rulers damaged the
Buddhist worship places particularly at Anuradapura.
The Chola also built a
Siva temple at Polannuruva, in a place where there was a Buddhist Vihar.
Such indiscreet acts of religious Vandalism heritage cannot be directly ascribed to
the Cholas or their policies. These were actions undertaken by over-zealous
subordinated, perhaps, to please their Kings.
Kundavai, Raja rajas daughter, built a Jain temple at Tirumalavdi in
Tiruchirapalli district. Kulottunga-I is reported to have donated land to a
Jain temple at Kuhur in Tanjore District. Like these, scores of references
are available to indicate that the Chola Kings, their family members, and
senior officers of the King had donated gifts to Jain and Buddhist places of
worship. This was the position despite the fact that the Hindu revival
movement was already gaining ground and Buddhism and Jainism were on the
wane in South India at that time.
Kandaraditta Chola (950-957 A.D.) was a devout Saivite. But, his faith in
Saivism did not stop him from patronising Jain and Vishnu temples. There was
a Jain temple in his name at Pallichandal (South Arcot District, Tamil
Nadu). Similarly, there was a Thirumal temple known as Kandaraditta
Vinnagaram (page 76-Cholamandalathu Varlarru Nayakarkalin Sirpankalum,
Oviyankalum Kudvayil Balasubramanian, Tamil University.
In spite of the striking differences between the various religions of that
time, there was a general attitude of tolerance and mutual respect. This is
evidenced by the fact that Jains authored a good number of great Tamil works
like Sivaka Sinthamani. But for a cordial atmosphere, such literary work was
not possible. Also, it indicates that the society was willing to accept and
promote such literary works from any quarters without reservation.
The Society being what it was in those periods, it shows that the ruling
kings were favourably disposed to such religious tolerance. On the other
hand, if the Kings did not show any neutrality or tolerance in such matters,
one can hardly expect the people to follow suit. Thus, Cholas in Particulars
were secular in their religious outlook. Compare this with later-day Muslim
rulers who imposed tax on non-Muslims, and built mosques near temples just
to harass Hindus.
Ghola Kings were followers of Saivism. But, they had no ill will against
other beliefs. Kulothunga Chola-III (1178-1218) who ruled for 40 long years
encouraged Vaishnavism as well. He donated a village for the Vishnu temple
Sudamani Varman began building a Buddhist Vihar at Nagapattinam and this
was completed by his son Maravijayathunga varman of Kadaram. This Vihar was
known as Sudamani Vihar. But Rajaraja Chola did not mind this Vihar to be
named as Rajaraja perumpalli and donated Anaimangalam Village-with a
potential yield of 8943 kalam of paddy (about 450 tons) from 97 veli wet
land (about 646 acres).
It is not as if the Cholas were found to be secular in their homeland
alone. They were so even in foreign countries, which were part of their
kingdom. When Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was annexed to the Chola Empire, a lot of
Change took place in the Island-nation. It is true that the marching army
had destroyed the Anuradhapura palace and other buildings including some
religious edifices. This must have been due to both the military compulsions
and over-zealous local commanders of the king. Otherwise, Tamil inscriptions
dating 9th and 10th Centuries which register donations to Buddhist
institutions do not make any sense. (A concise history of Ceylon-University
of Ceylon Press Board (page 173).