Deep-South Indian Temples
If you are interested in Hoysala (11C-14C) temple architecture, then Prof. S. Settar’s The Hoysala temples is indispensable (or use Foekema's A complete guide to the Hoysala temples). Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur are too well known to even mention, but some of the lesser known temples at Dodda Gadavalli, Javagal, Basaralu (see 1990 photo) and Hosaholalu (just off KR Pet in Mandya district) allow a better appreciation of the principles of Hoysala temple architecture, and the formal patterns of the number of deities (trikuta--three deities as in Somanthpur, or chatuskuta--four) and of the sculptural ornamentation. Mysore would be a good base to cover the temples in Mysore, Mandya and even Hassan districts; Basaralu is fairly difficult to access--on the Mandya-Nagamangala road. A car would help immensely.
There is no dearth of information on temples and temple architecture of the medieval Tamil Kingdoms. However, for an introduction to the history of the Cholas, Nilakanta Sastri's 1934 work The Colas (reprinted by the University of Madras in 2000) is a useful though traditional account of the Chola empire and its skirmishes with neighbouring kingdoms. What will be of interest to history-oriented visitors to Tamil Nadu will be the Buddhist and Jaina influences that were fairly strong up to the 11CE. The Tamilian Jain community is called samanar (shramana) in Tamil. Jain influence in Karnataka (through emperor Chandragupta Maurya and his guru Acharya Badrabahu, and the Sravanabelagola site) is better known. In Tamil Nadu the 3CE to 9CE was a flourishing period with Kanchipuram being an important centre of intellectual discourse. The modern Tamil word for school, 'palli', is said to derive from the term used to describe early medieval Jain schools. (The name of the modern town Dindigul is also said to derive from the sleeping habits of Jain monks, who used kal-stones for dindu-pillows or bed.) Madurai is a good base to visit some of the rock-cut caves.
Madurai has the largest number of the early Jaina caves identified up to now. Other districts include Tiruchi and Pudukottai, the former South Arcot and North Arcot districts (now subdivided into new districts). The eight hills surrounding Madurai have a number of Jaina caves, with rock beds (pillow lofts) and temples. Most of these could do with better care and protection—some of them are full of litter and vandalized (the Sittanavasal beds are now protected by iron grilles, it may not be a bad idea to use such protection elsewhere; many caverns also have overhanging lips with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dated to the 2nd century BCE to 3C/4C CE—some of these, example Kongarpuliyankulam have been written on with chalk—not chalk which
epigraphists may have used for tracing the inscriptions, but coloured chalk). Unconfirmed and unverified local reports also indicate that at least one cave in the Samanamalai area has been lost to quarrying. The point is, though these sites are protected, they could do with more care and protection. Tourism to these sites is negligible, but local people and students do visit on weekends.
Kongarpuliyankulam has eight caves in a single hill. The Tamil Brahmi inscriptions on the lip of the upper cave are dated to 1 and 2C BCE. There are more than 40 beds, most of which are in some disrepair. On one side of the complex, on the side of the hill, is a relief sculpture of a Tirthankara, dated to the 9C CE (see 2005 photos). It was commissioned by a Jaina monk teacher, Acchanandi, who was also responsible for icons in Azhagarmalai and Arittapatti. Above the caves is a Vishnu/Perumal temple—not a rigorous climb, used by the locals. Nearby is the Muttupatti complex (also in Tirumangalam block of Madurai) with stone beds and a free-standing Mahavira—obviously fallen off and now placed as a stellae, and Tamil Brahmi inscriptions (very clear and not as bold as the 9C CE inscription of Kongarpuliyankulam) on the roof of the cave (see photos below). Also there is a separate bed in an adjacent cave, which may have been meant for a monk elder. At the end of the range blasting and quarrying are on. At the top there is a rock-cut tank, presumably for the monks.
Azhagarmalai (Adinath, Mahavira and Neminath), Vikramangalam and Tirupparankunram are better known. Others (photos to be loaded later) include Samanamalai (Keelakuyilkudi) and Karadipatti in the Nagamalai range, Arittapatti (the famous Indra Vihara mentioned in the Silappadhikaram) and Anamalai (very close to Madurai).
Sittannavasal is well known; the Raja of Pudukottai got its frescoes restored about a century ago. The famous frescoes are in the rock-cut temple facing west and facing east on a neighbouring hill (a gentle 10 min climb) are the beds. The 17 beds have the characteristic “dindu” (pillow-lofts) and are now behind a grille. These beds are believed to be later Jaina beds, and provide the names of many monks who spent their lives here. The resonance inside the square sanctum of the cave temple (after a meditation sound is produced) has to be experienced.
(Note that some of the sites are difficult to access, and one has to be in reasonably fit condition, especially when there are no steps cut into the rock. Some of the smooth rocks, as in Nagamalai range, become very slippery in wet weather. I last visited some of the minor caverns in the early 1980s and am not aware of their current status.) In all, the Jain caves in Tamil Nadu cover a period of about 1000 years (approximately 200BCE to about 8/9CE).
Photos (2005): From top to bottom: Muttupatti: Monk elder's bed(?) and Tamil Brahmi inscription on lip, taken from the floor; Stellae; Stellae (another view) and beds cut into rock Kongarpuliyankulam: Beds (with inscriptions and graffiti and litter); 9C CE rock relief of Tirthankara commissioned by Elder Acchanandi; top cave's overhang with bold Tamil Brahmi inscription Sittannavasal: Monks' beds (taken through grille) and cave outside neighbouring hill