Thirumayam (‘thi-ru-ma-yam’) (திருமயம்) is a place of historical importance. Miles before reaching the town one can see a fort atop a large hill. There are two famous rock-cut shrines, one for Siva and the other for Vishnu, adjacent to each other. The Siva cave temple is older among the two. The Vishnu temple is very venerated and considered second only to the temple at Srirangam (ஸ்ரீரங்கம்). Closer to the rock-cut shrine of Siva is a large area dressed to take one of the largest inscriptions. The famous freedom fighter S. Sathyamoorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி) was born in Thirumayam in 1887.
Thirumayam, a town panchayat and the headquarters of the taluk, is 20 km south of Pudukkottai, on the Karaikkudi (காரைக்குடி) road (Tiruchirappalli (திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி) – Ramesvaram (இராமேஸ்வரம்) National Highway, NH-210). It is the first main junction on this road from where the Madurai road takes its diversion.
The fort on the hillock is a prominent landmark for miles. Approaching the town, one can catch sight of the fort walls. There is a small Bhairavar-koil (பைரவர் கோயில்), on the outermost wall, facing the road, a favourite deity for vehicle-owners.
Immediately after this, there is a diversion to the left from the highway leading to the celebrated Vishnu and Siva rock-cut temples. They are at the foot of the hillock, on the south side. The Vishnu temple is closer to the road and one can see the temple and the octagonal tank called ‘Satya-pushkarani’ (சத்திய புஷ்கரணி) from the road itself. The Siva temple is west of the Vishnu temple.
After taking the diversion off the main road, to the right side are the steps leading to the entrance to the fort. There is a ticket counter set-up by Archaeology Department.
About one kilometer south of the fort is the old fort-entrance. It has a courtyard with pillared corridors and shrines of local deities. The sculptures on the pillars are beautiful.
Bus facility is available from Pudukkottai, Karaikkudi, Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) and Madurai (மதுரை).
The origin of the name (etymology)
The word ‘Thirumayam’ is derived from the word ‘Thiru-meyyam’ (திருமெய்யம்) which means the ‘place of truth’ in Tamil. It is from ‘satya-kshetra’ (சத்யக்ஷேத்திரம்) do the two deities of the place, namely, Siva and Vishnu, get their name, Sathya-girisvara (சத்தியகிரீஸ்வரர்) and Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி), respectively.
The earliest monument, the Siva cave temple is assigned to first half of 7th century AD on epigraphical evidences and its architectural style. The Vishnu cave temple may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century.
Thirumayam later formed part of the territories of the imperial Chozhas.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Hoysala-s ruled this place, first as the allies of the Chozhas and later of the Pandya-s. Two inscriptions here refer to Appanna, a Danda-nayaka (தண்டநாயகர், General) of the Hoysala army, who, while returning from his victorious march to Rameswaram, presided over an important tribunal, held at Thirumayam to settle a longstanding dispute between the trustees of the Vishnu and Siva temples.
In the 13th century, Thirumayam passed under Pandya rule, and there are inscriptions dated in the reigns of Mara-varman Sundara Pandya II (இரண்டாம் மாரவர்மன் சுந்தர பாண்டியன்), Jatavarman Veera Pandya III (மூன்றாம் ஜடாவர்மன் வீர பாண்டியன்), Jatavarman Parakrama Pandya (ஜடாவர்மன் பராக்கிரம பாண்டியன்), and an unidentified Veera Pandya (வீரபாண்டியன்).
The Vijayanagara inscriptions are dated in the reigns of Virupaksha I (முதலாம் விருப்பக்ஷன்) and Krishnadeva-raya (கிருஷ்ண தேவராயர்) (15th and 16th century AD).
In the 16th century, the chiefs of Chooraikkudi (சூரைக்குடி) administered Thirumayam.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the town was a northern outpost of the territories of the Sethupathi (சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்), but was directly administered by the Pallava-rayar-s (பல்லவராயர்).
About the year 1686, Vijaya Raghunatha (விஜய ரகுநாதர்), popularly known as Kizhavan Sethupathi (கிழவன் சேதுபதி), of Ramanathapuram, brother-in-law of Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (இரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) made over to the latter the area of Thirumayam. Sethupathi Thanda-thevan (தண்டத்தேவன்) confirmed this cession in 1723 in return for military help that he received from the Tondaiman against Bhavani Sankar (பவானி சங்கர்), a rival claimant to the chief ship of Ramanathapuram.
In 1733, Thirumayam was the only place of refuge left to the Tondaiman when the Thanjavur general Ananda Rao overran the whole of the Pudukkottai country. Here Vijaya Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (விஜய ரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) lay besieged for about a year until Ananda Rao raised the siege and retired. In 1755, The Raja of Thanjavur (தஞ்ஞாவூர்) submitted to the East India Company a claim for Thirumayam, but did not seriously maintain the claim.
There is an unauthenticated tradition that, at the time of the ‘Poligar War’ of 1799, the famous Katta-bomman (கட்டபொம்மன்) of Panchalankurichchi (பாஞ்சாலங்குறிச்சி) and his dumb brother had taken refuge in the jungles of Tondaiman territory near Thirukkalambur (திருக்களம்பூர்). They were captured by the Tondaiman and imprisoned for a time in the Thirumayam fort. He then handed over them to the English.
During the second ‘Poligar War’, Thirumayam was a depot for Lieutenant Colonel Agnew’s army.
Thirumayam is a place of historical importance and contains three celebrated monuments. They are the Thirumayam Fort and the famous rock-cut shrines of Siva and Vishnu, hewn out of the same rock. The old fort-entrance is also a noteworthy structure.
The Vishnu temple is closer to the diversion road and the Siva temple is to west of this. The Siva temple is in the eastern side of the Vishnu shrine.
The Vishnu temple
The Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி, lord-of-truth) temple is a highly venerated shrine and is regarded by local Vaishnavites to be second in sanctity only to the temple at Srirangam. It is called Adhi-rangam (‘original-Rangam’) and is claimed to be older than the temple at Srirangam.
Actually there are two Vishnu shrines. One is the cave temple and contains one of the most complete and the largest Anantha-sayi groups in India, conforming, almost to the detail, to agamic specifications of Anantha-sayi (அனந்தசாயி). The other is a structural temple in which Vishnu is worshipped in the form of Sathya-moorthi.
The rock-cut shrine is a natural cavern modified and enlarged into a cave temple with the tall facade pillars inserted. It may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century.
The fact that the celebrated Vaishnava saint, Thiru-mangai-azhvar (திருமங்கை ஆழ்வார்), sang hymns in praise of the deity at Thirumayam Vishnu temple has enhanced its sanctity. The following are the stanzas sung by the azhvar:
2016: mayyaar kadalum
CLICK HERE to read those stanzas (available in Tamil-Unicode and English Transliteration formats).
The temple architecture
The south facing temple has a main gopuram, which has many of the features of the late Pandya (13th – 14th AD) style.
The first mandapam, as one enters the temple, has tall pillars containing sculptures. It belongs to the Nayak period (16th century). The fine, life-size sculptures are in amazing details which only Nayak-s could master. The sculptures of Madurai-veeran (மதுரை வீரன்) kidnapping Bommi (பொம்மி), Manmatha (மன்மதன்), Kuravan (குறவன்), Kuraththi (குறத்தி), a Nayak chieftain, ladies in dancing poses, etc are a few to name.
In this mandapam, to the left are three shrines facing east, containing Chakrathaazhvar (சக்கரத்தாழ்வார், the ‘discuss’ of the presiding deity, Vishnu), Andal (ஆண்டாள்) and Krishna. On the right side are the shrine of Lakshmi-Nara-simha (லக்ஷ்மி நரசிம்மர்) and the room where the vahana-s (processional vehicles) are kept.
Entering the second mandapam, the visitor turns to the Amman shrine to the left.
Uyya-vandha-thaayar (உய்ய வந்த தாயார்) or Ujjivanith-thayar (உஜ்ஜிவனித் தாயார்), the Amman, is believed to be very propitious. To the right is a long narrow shrine containing sculptures of the Vaishnava Acharya-s, Ramanuja (இராமானுஜர்), Madhura-kavi (மதுரகவி) and others and the azhvar-s. The pillars in front of this contain the Dasavatharam (தசாவதாரம்) of Vishnu carved in bas-relief. There is a dhvaja-sthambham (கொடிமரம்) in front of the entrance, in this mandapam. Behind this is the maha-mandapam of the Sathya-moorthi shrine, of which the south and west side have walls.
Palli-konda-perumal (பள்ளி கொண்ட பெருமாள்) of Thirumayam
Taking the pradakshina path from the Amman shrine, through the corridors of this mandapam, one reaches the sannidhi of the Yoga-sayana-moorthi (யோகசயன மூர்த்தி, ‘God-in-a-recumbent-posture’) or ‘Palli-konda Perumal’ (paL-Li-koN-da-pe-ru-maaL) in Tamil.
There is a sort of maha-mandapam (மகா மண்டபம்) in front of the shrine. It has two dvara-palaka-s (துவார பாலகர்). Beyond this mandapam is the rock-cut shrine, which may be ascribed to a date not latter than the first half of the 8th century. It consists of an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and the garbha-griham (கர்ப கிரகம்). The floor of the garbha-griham is about 3 feet above that of the ardha-mandapam. It has got two pillars and two pilasters.
The main idol lying on a serpent couch is an imposing sculpture. It is about 15 feet long. The five hoods of the serpent, which covers the God’s head as a canopy, are half drawn backward. The God has two arms, one stretched behind him over the serpent Adisesha (ஆதி சேஷா), and the other folded at the elbow and held above his breast. All around the main idol, there is a wealth of sculptures, including Garuda (கருடன்), Chitragupta (சித்திரகுப்தன்), Markandeya (மார்கண்டேயன்), Brahma, the Deva-s, the Vasu-s, and the Kinnara-s (கிண்ணரர்கள்). Near the eastern wall are two demons, and, sheltered near the God’s feet, is the figure of Bhumi-Devi (பூமி தேவி), the Earth Goddess.
The legend that is associated with this group of sculptures is that when the demons Madhu (மது) and Kaithabha (கைடபர்) approached in an aggressive attitude, Brahma, Lakshmi and Bhumi-Devi were frightened. Adisesha, in his sudden wrath, spat poison, which consumed the demons, but was immediately stung with remorse at his hasty action without so much as asking his Lord’s permission. However the God comforted him with an assurance of his approval of the act.
To the right of the corridor leading to the rock-cut shrine, is the maha-mandapam of the Sathya-moorthi shrine. It contains a shrine for Garuda, on the southern side. This mandapam is a structure of the late Pandya (13th-14th century AD) period. The recess to the north is called Sundara-Pandya Kuradu (சுந்தர பாண்டியன் கூராடு) (Kuradu = annexe), and leads to the main shrine of Sathya-moorthi.
The shrine consists of a garbha-griham and an ardha-mandapam in front. They are surrounded by another covered hall. The garbha-griham, which adjoins an overhanging cliff, belongs to the late Pandya (13th-14th AD) period. In the shrine, Lord Sathya-moorthi stands between the life-size images of Garuda and a king with Sathya-rishi (சத்யரிஷி) and his wife kneeling in front. There is a narrow path between the rock cliff and the covered hall of the shrine, behind the shrine.
To the east of the Sathya-moorthi shrine are those of Vishwak-senar (விஷ்வக்சேனர்) (also called Sena-mudhali, சேனா முதலி) and Rama. Both these sub-shrines have ardha-mandapam and a small maha-mandapam in front. In the maha-mandapam of the Rama shrine is a portrait sculpture of a chief, probably a Nayak. Behind these shrines, close to the rock, are varieties of Naga images.
Further east is svarga-vaasal (ஸ்வர்க வாசல், ‘gate-of-heaven’) the holy gate through which the principal processional idol is taken out on the Ekadasi (வைகுண்ட ஏகாதசி) day in Margazhi (மார்கழி) (December-January).
The Sathya-pushkarani is a fine octagonal temple tank in the east side of the temple. It is in a reasonably good state of preservation with granite steps and walls.
The utsava-moorthi, (உத்சவ மூர்த்தி, processional bronze idol) of Lord Sathya-moorthi is a fine example of Pallava-style sculpture, and one of the Amman statues is an early Chozha bronze.
Another interesting point to note is that all the celebrations in this temple are for the Sathya-moorthi, even though it is much later than the ‘Palli-konda Perumal’.
At the southern end of the street leading to this temple is a shrine to Vedanta Desika, the famous Vaishnava saint and founder of the Vadakalai sect of Ayyangar-s.
The Siva temple
The Siva rock-cut temple, dedicated to Sathya-girisvara (சத்திய கிரீஸ்வரர்) is the earliest monument in Thirumayam. It is to the west of the Vishnu temple. This cave temple, from its architectural style and epigraphs, is attributable to the 7th century AD, in the same way as the cave temples of Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை), and Thirugokarnam (திருக்கோகர்ணம்).
The temple architecture
The front gopuram is modern, but it is a fairly good imitation of a late Pandya (13th century) structure. Immediately after the gopuram, to the left is the shrine of Lord Ganesa. It has an ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) in front. Behind this is the way to the temple tank.
The first pillared mandapam, as one enters the temple, contains the shrines of Bhanu-uma-pathisvara (பானு உமாபதீஸ்வரர்) facing east. It has an ardha-mandapam in front. The sub-shrines of Vinayaka, Durga, Gaja-lakshmi, and Murugan are at the western side of the mandapam, behind the Bhanu-uma-pathisvara shrine. In the eastern half of the mandapam are the shrines of the Goddess Raja-Rajeswari (ராஜராஜேஸ்வரி), and Bhairava (பைரவர்), facing south. Both of them have ardha-mandapam in front. There is one Nava-graha (நவக்கிரகங்கள்) shrine also. Apart from this there are one recumbent nandi (நந்தி), Surya and Chandra, and a dhvaja-sthambham (கொடிமரம்). This group of shrines is known as the Keezha-koil (கீழக்கோயில், ‘lower-temple’) and probably belongs to the Vijayanagara period (15th century). There are a number of inscriptions on the floor of this mandapam.
Further up is another mandapam which can be reached by a flight of steps. Here is the shrine of the principal Goddess, Venu-vanesvari (வேணுவனேஸ்வரி, ‘Goddess-of-bamboo-forest’). The east facing shrine has an ardha-mandapam and two lady dvara-palaka-s (துவாரபாலகர்). It is a late Pandya (13th century) structure, recently renovated. The two pillars in front of the shrine have sculptures of vilakku naachchiyaar (விளக்கு நாச்சியார், ‘lady-with-lamp’). A number of bronze idols are kept at the southern side of the mandapam.
The northern wall of this mandapam is the living rock. It is on this wall, are the obliterated musical inscription (இசைக் கல்வெட்டு) and the Appanna Danda-nayaka (அப்பண்ணா தண்டநாயகர்) tribunal verdict inscribed. This is one of the largest inscriptions in South India. It records a settlement of a long-standing dispute between the trustees of Siva and Vishnu temples for the share of the produce of the temple lands. The special tribunal was presided over by the Hoysala general Appanna Danda-nayaka.
Above this mandapam is the rock-cut shrine of Sathya-girisvara. It consists of a rectangular ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்), cut with its long axis east to west. There are two massive, short cubical pillars and two pilasters on the southern facade of this ardha-mandapam and four other corresponding pilasters on the north.
The garbha-griham (கர்ப்பகிரகம்) faces east. It is a cubical chamber cut into the western wall of this mandapam. Its floor is reached by short flight of steps. The lingam and the yoni-pitham (யோனி பீடம்) inside the garbha-griham, as well as the recumbent nandi on the floor of the ardha-mandapam, are carved out of the living rock.
In the eastern wall of the ardha-mandapam and opposite the shrine is a colossal Lingod-bhava (லிங்கோத்பவர்) cut in relief. This is one of the earliest Lingod-bhava sculptures, reaching from floor to ceiling.
The niches flanking the entrance of the garbha-griham contain relief sculptures of dvara-palaka-s. They appear to be portrait sculptures. They are unconventional for each one is different from the other in pose, ornaments and dress. The one on the north has its cloth reaching down to the ankles, wears a yagnopavita of rudraksha beads and a peculiar hairstyle, and holds up his right hand in adoration. The other dvara-palaka rests one of his hands on a club.
The northern wall of the ardha-mandapam contains a short inscription in the Grantha script that reads ‘parivadhinidhaa’ and a mutilated Tamil inscription, which are ascribed to 7th century AD.
The Manual of Pudukkottai says ‘the walls and the ceiling (of the ardha-mandapam) were once covered with stucco on which were paintings. All that is left of them is a small patch on the ceiling with conventional carpet design. This patch of painting covered with the dirt and soot of centuries was recently cleaned”. Presently it is almost lost.
The Thirumayam fort is situated on and around a rock hillock. On the Pudukkottai-Karaikkudi (புதுக்கோட்டை-காரைக்குடி) Highway, it is a land mark for miles. Approaching the town, one can catch sight of the fort walls. Presently there are three concentric walls and the one adjacent to the road is the outermost one. There is a small Bhairavar-koil (பைரவர் கோயில்), on this wall, facing the Pudukkottai road.
Locally it is known as Oomayan Kottai (ஊமையன் கோட்டை, ‘fort-of-the-dumb’). The dump (Oomayan) refers to the younger brother of Katta-bomman (கட்டபொம்மன்), who fought against the British and was executed by the British. Local stories claim that Oomayan and his brother, Katta-bomman, during their escape from the British, constructed this fort in a night! According to the Statistical Account (1813), it was built in 1687 by Raghunatha Sethupathi (இரகுநாத சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்).
The fort is said to have been originally a ‘ring’ fort with seven concentric walls and a broad moat all round. The lines of the old outer defences are now marked by occasional remains of the works and ditch.
The walls above the rock, which enclose the main citadel, are comparatively well preserved. From the remains one may judge that the walls were surmounted by parapets of strong brickwork, serrated by machicolations and pierced by musketry vents.
Nearly half way up to the top, to the right, is chamber that was used as a magazine. Opposite to this, on the western slope of a boulder, a little below the top of the fort, is a rock-cut cell containing a lingam placed on a square yoni-pitham (யோனி பீடம்), cut out of the living rock. To the left of this cell, is a Grantha inscription of the 7th century AD reading ‘Parivadinidaa’ (பரிவாதினிதா). It is held by many that the word ‘Parivadini’ refers to a variety lute. The label ‘Parivadinidaa’ is also inscribed in the Siva cave temple in this town, and also in Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை) temple.
On the top of the citadel is a platform on which a canon is mounted. To the south of the platform is a tarn.
The citadel and the walls of the fort on the hilltop provide an excellent perch for a view of the houses in the town with their tiled roofs, the tank and the surrounding countryside.
Presently there are three entrances, on the north, on the south and on the south-east. Originally the main entrance to the fort was from the south side.
Even today there are some beautiful structural remains of this old fort-entrance, about one kilometer south of the fort. The structure of this fort-entrance is like a courtyard with pillared corridors on all sides and majestic entrances. The entire structure is decorated with a number of beautiful sculptures all along. There are shrines of Hanuman, Sakti-Ganapathi, and Munisvara, all protecting deities of the fort.
History of the fort
The fort was built in 1687 by Raghunatha Sethupathi (இரகுநாத சேதுபதி) of Ramanathapuram (இராமநாதபுரம்). It was handed over by the Sethupathi to his brother-in-law, Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (இரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) (1686-1730), the first Tondaiman raja, along with the area of Thirumayam. The cession was confirmed in 1728.
The value of the acquisition of the Palayam (பாளையம்) and fort must have been fully realised by the Pudukkottai king, when in 1733 the Tondaiman was left with this bit of territory alone after Ananda Rao, the Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) general, had overrun the whole of the Tondaiman country. Here, Vijaya Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (விஜய ரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) lay besieged until Ananda Rao had retired.
There is an unconfirmed tradition that Katta-bomman and his brother the Oomayan were for a time detained at the fort before the Tondaiman handed them over to the British. (Hemingway in the Gazetteer of the Trichinopoly District mentions only Oomayan as having been lodged at this fort).
Other worshipping places
There are a number of minor shrines, which include one to Ayyanar (அய்யனார்), locally called Kaliya-perumal (கலியபெருமாள்), and another to Pidari (பிடாரி). The site where a Vaduga (Nayak) woman is said to have performed Sati (சதி) is held sacred.
The Muslim places of worship includes a mosque, with a tomb close by. Adjacent to the Pilla-mangalam (பில்லமங்கலம்) road, to the south of the mosque, is the tomb of Hazarat Quadri Ibrahim Alim. On the bank of the Thamaraik-kanmai (தாமரைக் கண்மாய்), just to the west of the fort, is the tomb of another Muslim saint at which offerings are made both by Hindus and Muslims. In the water spread of the Alan-kanmai (ஆலங்கண்மாய்) another saint lies buried.
There is also a Roman Catholic Chapel.
There are nineteen inscriptions in Thirumayam, five in Siva temple and fourteen in Vishnu temple. Some of them are already mentioned.
Closer to the rock-cut shrine of Siva, on the living rock are the mutilated letters denoting music terms like shadja, Gandhara, dhaivata, etc. in the Pallava grantha script of the 7th century AD. These certainly indicate that once the entire area was inscribed with musical treatise containing notations similar to, or a replica of the famous one in Kudumiyamalai (குடுமியாமலை). But it was obliterated in the 13th century, while recording the adjudication of the dispute between the priests of Siva and Vishnu temples for the share of the produce of the temple lands, by the Hoysala general Appanna Danda-nayaka (அப்பண்ணா தண்ட நாயகா) tribunal mentioned above. It is in Tamil script.
Another copy of the same document is inscribed on the rock to the north of the Siva temple tank.
Two more inscriptions in the Siva cave temple belong to reign of Mara-varman Sundara Pandya (மாரவர்மன் சுந்தரபாண்டியன்) (13th century AD). They are regarding grants to the temple.
The earliest inscription in the Vishnu temple is on a slab, which is now placed in the western prakaram of the Sathya-moorthi (சத்தியமூர்த்தி) shrine. This slab must have once formed part of a parapet to the steps leading to the cave-temple. It may be ascribed to the latter part of the 8th century or the early years of 9th century AD. It mentions a renovation of the cave temple and an endowment by the mother of Sattan Maran (சாத்தன் மாறன்), a Muttaraiyar (முத்தரையர்) chief (contemporary vassal of the Pallava Nandi-varman II and Danti-varman).
There are two Pandya inscriptions belonging to 14th century. Also there are four Vijayanagara inscriptions (15th and 16th century). Other inscriptions are by local chiefs.