Nallur Kanthaswamy temple

by A. Theva Rajan

(December 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The article in the daily newspaper based in Colombo has suggests that the Nallur Kanthaswamy Temple was built by Senpaka Peruumal (corrupted as Sapu Mal Kumaraya in Sinhala) of Keralam descent, and an adopted son of Parakrama Bahu VI of Kotte. (Sinhala name of Senpaka Poo is Sapu Mal)According to Chinese records, Parakrama Bahu was of Chola descent as much as his predecessor Bhuvaneka Bahu VI.. Kotte collapsed after the strong rule of Parakrama Bahu VI.

After the capture of the Jaffna Kingdom, Parakrama Bahu VI appointed Senapaka Perumal as his Yuwaraj or resident representative in Nallur. After the death of Parakrama Bahu VI Senapaka Perumal had to return to Kotte and Jaffna Kingdom became independent again. Kotte became chaos and Senpaka Perumal assumed kingship sporting the Royal Title Bhuvaneka Bahu VII but his reign was short lived.

Before going further, it is essential to know the connotation of the word Nallur in Tamil tradition. It connotes an area surrounded by Temples. As well explained by Prof. S. Krishnarajah in his book “Archaeology and the cultural antiquity of the Tamils of Jaffna” Nallur is surrounded by temples. Nallur has Saddanathar Temple in the North, Veyil Ukantha Pillaiyar Temple in the East, Veeramakali Amman Temple in the West and Kailaya Pillaiyar Temple in the South. It is further strengthened by an inscription found on a stone slab recovered from the pond in the Nayanmarkaddu Pillaiyar Temple that is close to Nallur. It says that the King Singai Aryan’s palace was in the midst of the four temples mentioned by Krishnarajah. Aryan only means the cultured . Indian scientists have recently dismissed the popular theory of Aryan and Dravidian races as myth.

Besides this Nallur, there are two other Nallurs in Sri Lanka (and aplenty in Tamil Nadu.)– one in mainland Jaffna near Poonagari and another in Panadura. Prof. P.Pushparatnam has identified the ruins of a Sivan temple bearing testimony of Chola the Nallur in mainland Jaffna. There is an old Skanda (Kanthaswamy) temple in the Nallur in Panadura. Even Panadura is a Tamil name. It means the Port of the Panars. Panars are traditional musicians still found in Keralam. Sangam literature abounds with references to the Panars. The high Priest of this temple was killed in the 1958 pogrom when mobs put him alive into a barrel of boiling tar. Even recently some vandals have stolen temple properties from this temple.

As resident representative of King Parakrama Bahu VI of Kotte and thereafter as short term King of Kotte Senpaka Perumal (Sapu Mal Kumaraya}, he supported the religion of the people –Saivism.. That is what all rulers did in those glorious days of the royal dynasties. , Duta Gamani, Vijaya Bahu I, Parakrama Bahu I and Parakrama Bahu VI the most celebrated kings besides many other kings of yonder years did much for Hindu Temples..

There are only two recorded incidents when Kings were intolerant towards Hinduism or Buddhism during pre-independence period. Mahasena (274-301 AD) destroyed the
Sivan Temple in Trincomalie (Koneswaram) and Rajasinha I destroyed Buddhist temples.

During the reign of Parakrama Bahu VI there were three separate huge temples for Lord Siva,. Skanda or Murugan and Vishnu or Nedumal. The area where the temple of Vishnu or Nedumal was, is today called Nedimale, in Dehiwala and the Vishnu temple has been renovated. The glory of the Sivan temple is attested to by the great Sinhala literati Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thero in one of his famous Sandesa Kavyas, the Selalihini Sandesaya.. The remnants of this temple, now called by locals as Gona Bendi Dewale is still in Ratmalana.. A pillar of the huge Skanda / Murugan temple with Tamil inscription about the endowments made to the temple by the King, that was at the National Museum, today supports the first culvert on the Colombo – Kandy Road – the fate of artifacts of Tamil / Hindu significance recovered from archaeology – unalloyed vandalism.. A vandal in the early eighties of the last century removed the decree issued by King Dutagamani near the tomb of King Elara which even the colonial masters did not dare to touch. It is therefore not strange that Senpaka Perumal patronized the Nallur temple.

The kattiyam recited during festival poojas runs thus –

Gajavalli Mahavalli sameta Subramanya paataaravinta janaatiroota Sotasa Mahadaana - Surriyavamsotbhava Sri Sangabodhi Bhuvaneka Bahu …….
Here, Gajavalli and Mahavalli refer to Devasena and Valli, the consorts of Lord Subramaya (Skanda / Murugan). It is a salutation to the King for his services to the temple. It does not mean that Bhuvaneka Bahu VII built the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple.

We have evidence of the existence of this temple during the Chola period. There is an oral tradition in Jaffna which claims that the Portuguese in 1620 after destroying the Fort in Nallur and the Nallur Kanthaswamy Temple used the material found there – the stones, pillars and bricks to build the Fort near the Esplanade in Jaffna and some houses in (Paranki Theru) what is now the Main Street area. In a book published in 1915, A.Mootathambi Pillai, a scholar, lexicographer and historian has referred to this.

Prof. K.Indrapala in 1969 in his search for epigraphs in Jaffna stumbled on a limestone built into the floor of what then was Central Café on the Jaffna Main Street (Periya Kadai). From what was available on the stone, all that could b gathered is that that epigraph was caused to be inscribed by Parakrama Bahu VI. (1412-1467). Indrapala quotes from Mootathambi Pillai –

“Later, the Portuguese destroyed the Nallur Fort as well and with those stones (from the fort) they built several houses and mansions on Paranki Street (modern Main Street).
Of these stones from the fort, some stone inscriptions have been built in as steps in some
of the old houses on Paranki street and some have been built into the rampart of the (Jaffna) Fort. Of these, the one at Pajananantar’s house is notable.” (Epigraphia Tamilica, K.Indrapala, June 1971, p.30)

Indrapala taking the clue from here went to the Jaffna Fort and examined the rampart for any old stones with inscriptions. This is what he says :

“ .. and discovered a pillar inscription of the time of Rajendra Cola I and another record. The latter is inscribed on a stone brick which is built into the outer rampart of the fort and could only be partially seen. It appears to be written in Grantha characters of about the tenth century.” Indrapala, p 30

Having examined the text he says :

“Although the inscription on the face B is badly preserved, the few words that could be deciphered indicate that the purport of the inscription was to register the grant of some live stock , probably to a temple.

The portion of the inscription giving the name of the institution receiving the gift and its location is very illegible, partly because of the lime plaster covering it. The final part of the name of a village, evidently the place of the receiving institution, can be seen faintly in line 12 of Face B. It is possible to read this part as – nallur. If this reading were correct, we may find here .the earliest reference to the medieval city of Nallur.
This record was in all probability set up in a Hindu temple”.(Indrapala, op. cit. p.53) Queyroz in his historic work The Temporal and Spiritual conquest of Ceylon, says the Portugues forces led by Philipe de Oliveyra moved to Nallur on 2 February 1620 and razed the large Pagoda to the ground. Here Pagoda is a common term they have been using to denote Temples. Here it obviously means the Nallur Kanthaswamy Temple.

The inscription found in the Jaffna Fort was caused to be indited by the Chola King Rajendra I.. His reign was in the eleventh century and this inscription is dated between 1018 and 1022 by Indrapala. It is also clear that during their expedition into Ceylon, the Cholas brought the Tamil Kingdom also under their suzerainty. It is further very clear the huge temple of Nallur Kanthaswamy existed with magnificent glory in the eleventh century and was probably built by the Arya Cakkaravartis. However, one thing is clear. It was not built by Senpaka Perumal alias Buvaneka Bahu VII though he patronised the temple.
The text of the Jaffna Fort inscription (Face B) runs thus – (transliteration)-

The illustrious Lord Rajendra Cola Tevar ……..I…an Cattan,
…of…(granted) ten{?}….,that neither die nor age , for (obtaining)…. Ghee….,….till the sun and moon last, …..for …. Lamp….set up….(at)…nallur,……(in) Ilam alias mum….”

When the Jaffna Fort was destroyed during the war this particular inscription was retrieved and cleaned and the place name Nallur was clearly identified in line 12 of Face B of the inscription. Prof. S. Krishnarajah has published this cleaned up inscription in his book “Archaeology and the cultural antiquity of the Tamils of Jaffna” at p 110. and is given below..

The text of the Jaffna Fort inscription (Face B) runs thus – (transliteration)-

The illustrious Lord Rajendra Cola Tevar ……..I…an Cattan, …of…(granted) ten{?}….,that neither die nor age , for (obtaining)…. Ghee….,….till the sun and moon last, …..for …. Lamp….set up….(at)…nallur,……(in) Ilam alias mum….”

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