Tamilnadu is one of the high yielding states of antiquities such as sculptures, bronzes, copper plates, coins etc. Recently, a few Jain images have been discovered from different parts of Tamilnadu dating from 3rd – 4th centuries A.D. to 13th century A.D.

As far as Tamilnadu is concerned, the spread of Jainism appears to have taken place form 5th – 4th century B.C. as a considerable number of ancient Tamil inscriptions mentioning the donation of rock beds to the Jain monks are found engraved either on the rock beds or at the surroundings of the natural caverns of the mountains lying in various districts of Tamilnadu. But no sculpture of a Jain image or the Jain monks of the period have so far been found. The earliest specimen of probably a Yakshi of Jain origin is assignable to 3rd – 4th century A.D. while the Tirthankaras found carved on Thirunathar Kunru near Chenjee in Villupuram district, are assignable to 5th – 6th century A.D. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Tirthankaras of Tirunathar Kunru belong to the 8th century A.D. From 8th century onwards, there are a number of Tirthankara figures, located especially in Pandyanadu.

Hence, it can be firmly said that the advent of Jainism first appeared in Tamilnadu during 5th – 4th century B.C. and slowly spread in the subsequent periods in spite of stiff opposition from Shaiva Nayanmars and Vaishnava Alwars, during the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries and blossomed in full form the 8th century onwards.

Since the Jain monks lived in isolated hillocks, it seems that they could not preach their doctrine freely among the people during the pre-Christian eras. But in the post Christian era, they were able to penetrate into the populated interior area and compel a section of the population, especially the merchant community, to embrace Jainism.

This religious impact influenced them to build a number of Jain temples and produce many sculptures and bronze images. It seems that wherever the merchant community lived, they either carved exquisite panel sculptures or produced beautiful sculptures in the round or cast elegant bronze images for worship. The existences of such outstanding figures are being discovered year after year in Tamilnadu. The following are the recent invaluable discoveries:

Unique Yakshi Sculpture

An outstanding sculpture of a Yakshi was discovered in the first week of January of 1999 at Kadaimalaipputtur, a small village on Kanchipuram district1. It is a colossal image measuring 1.50 metres in height, installed at the side of the road which leads to Vandavasi (Wandiwash) from Toluppedu. This remarkable figure is worshipped as Korravai by the local people.

Standing in samabhanga pose, she wears a crescent shaped jatabhandam with a bell like coiffure over it. The long bow like eyes with almost closed eyelids, protruding nose, tight lips, handling ears wearing something like ornaments help the jug shaped face to look calm and serene. Having two hands in proportionate thickness, the left is held in lola hasta position and the right in abhya mudra. Both the hands are found wearing bangles on shoulders and forearms and with spread out fingers. The round big breasts, the triangle shaped stomach, the broad hip and the banana-trunk like legs give a crude or, suggesting its antiquity to an earlier period. The undergarment she wears extends up to the foot, having a single knot at the centre of the hip with a tassel hanging up to the knee. The foot portion is broken.

A lady attendant is seem standing in either side. The attendant who stands by her right side carries a box on her head, with a cushion in between her head and the box, probably symbolising the wealth. The attendant on her left is also in standing position, bearing a pot on her head. She also has an ornamented cushion below the pot, which may represent the auspicious object of kumbha. These attendants are also have only two hands each. The right hands of both the figures appear to be in disproportionate length while left hands are shown as if they are supporting the objects that are on their heads. All other features are quite in consonance with the main figure of the Yakshi. The attendant on the right is little taller than the left one.

This Yakshi sculpture is unique as far as Tamilnadu is concerned, as it is the earliest among Yakshi figures so far noticed. It is assignable to 3rd – 4th centuries A.D. by comparing the characteristic feature of the Amaravati Yakshi figure, which is dated to the 2nd century B.C.

Yakshi worship appears to have been quite familiar in Tamilnadu from the post Sangam age as we have a reference to Yakshi as Pujkan Iyakki (i.e., Yakshi who has flowerlike eyes) in the Tamil literary work Silappathikaram2, assignable to 1st to 3rd century A.D.

The spot where this Yakshi was found is also significant as Kadaimalaiputtur is not far off form Kanchipuram, where a famous Jain centre Paruttikkunru was in existence since the post Christian era. An authentic reference to this effect comes from a copper charter known as Pallankoil copper plates of Simhavarma Pallava period3. It was issued in his 6th regnal year i.e., 556 A.D. Anandamangalam about 10 km west of Kadaimalaipputtur was also another flourishing Jain centre in the 10th century A.D. Jinagirippalle4 was the name of this centre. Hence, it is apparent that Kadamalipputtur and its surroundings should have nurtured Jainism from a very early period i.e. at least from 3rd century A.D. onwards.

To be continued…

Natana Kasinathan
Director of Archaeology (Retd.)
Government of Tamilnadu.

Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, March 2002.

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