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Tevaram references from 7th century confirm Chennai is ancient

Updated by admin on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 08:48 PM IST

Chennai:
The Shaivite Nayanmars provide plenty of evidence on ancient Chennai. The famous Tevaram trio, Thirunavukkarasar also known as Appar, Thirugnanasambandhar and Sundarar, who lived in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D., visited and sang about Mayilapur, Thiruvanmiyur (5 kms south of Mayilapur) and Tiruvottriyur in north Chennai. These temples are known as Hymned Temples (Paadal Petra Sthalam). Mayilapur must have been a wealthy town of first grade importance during the period of the Alvars and the Nayanmars, as everyone who refers to it speaks of it in glowing terms about the buildings, the beautiful streets and the general prosperity of the town (Appar’s Koilpakka – Thiruttandakam I, 1) and Sambandar’s Pumpavai Padhikam, verse – 8). 
 
Sambandar calls it ‘Maadamayilai, beautiful Mayilapur in his famous Poompaavai Padikam, sung in the Kapaleeswarar Temple, Mayilapur. Besides, he also lists a number of festivals that were held in the temple on various occasions. In verse 6, he narrates how the people of Mayilapur, during the Maasi Magam festival, a large number of people would go to the sea to have a bath, which custom is still followed in Mayilapur today. Mayilai was the familiar word for Mayilapur in those days. Sambandar used the word Mayilai; Thirumazhisai and Thirumangai Aazhwars also used the word; Nandikkalambakam, a work composed during the rule of Nandivarman III in 9th century A.D., also describes Mayilapur as Mayilai (verse 44 and 51). 
 
Kalingattuparani, a work of the 12th century, too did the same (Vandai  etc….Kalingattuparani, verse 534, edited by P. Palanivel Pillai, - The South India Shaiva Siddhanta 
Publications, 1954).  Arunagirinathar in the 15th century and Sekkiyar in his Periyapuranam call the town as Thirumayilapuri. Appar refers to Mayilapur as Mayilappil.  Some 
inscriptions also refer to it as Mayillapil and as Mayilarpu. An inscription belonging to Kampavarman, one of the last Pallava kings of the 9th century, refers to it as Mylarpu (the cry of the peacock).  A few other inscriptions of the 12th century mention the town as Mayilarppil. Mayilarpu refers to the majestic strut of a peacock. 
 
Tradition attributes the Tamil saint poet Thiruvalluvar to Mayilapur and also mentions the saint-poet’s friend Elelasinga as a leading merchant prince who indulged in trade across the seas from Mayilapur.
 
A 12th century Tamil work Periyapuranam by Sekkizhar refers to Pumpuvai’s father Shivanesan, who resided in Mayilapur and carried on trade through shipping and became 
wealthy (Periyapuranam verse 2932).
 
Historical literature also confirm that Mayilapur was a busy and important port from where goods were exported and imported. Nandikkalambakam and Kalingattuparani, works of the 9th and 10th centuries A.D., respectively, make a reference to Mayilai along with Mallai, and suggest that Mayilai was almost as important a port as Mallai (Mamallapuram). 
 
Foreign travellers have given detailed account of the importance of Mayilapur as a port in medieval and modern times. In the 14th century, John de Marignolli wrote that ships from China would visit Mayilapur occasionally (Yule: Cathay and the Way Thither; II 1, p 251).
 
In 1923, the Archaeological Department of India undertook a survey of San Thome and carried out a few excavations near the San Thome Cathedral. (Archaeological Survey of India, 1922-23, pp 120-121).  
 
The Epigraphical Report for 1923 mentions about more inscriptions found at San Thome. A slab found lying in front of the verandah of the Bishop’s House, Santhome, contained a fragmentary Tamil inscription which mentions goddess Thirupumpavai at Thirumayilappur.
 
Some slender pillars with Hindu carvings were discovered in the Santhome area and these were kept in the Bishop’s Museum. A broken idol of Subramanya, leaning on his 
peacock ‘vahana’ was found near the Santhome Cathedral and this has been kept in the same museum. 
 
The inscription which refers to Poompaavai is considered extremely significant because the Periyapuranam mentions that Poompaavai was a great devotee of Shiva living in Mayilapur. She was bitten to death by a snake but was brought back to life by Thirugnanasambandar who made a fervent appeal to the Lord at the Kapaleeswarar temple. This inscription must have also been part of the old Kapaleeswarar temple where there must have been a shrine for Thirupumpavai. Late C S Srinivasachari believed that the old Kapaleeswarar temple was located close to the sea and that it must have been abandoned as a result of sea encroachment. The strong tradition in Mayilapur regarding the sea encroachment has a place in Jaina tradition also as an old manuscript which says that a Jaina temple had to be abandoned due to encroachment by the sea (Taylor’s Catalogue Raisonne of Oriental Mss. Vol III, p. 372). 
 
Arunagirinathar, the author of the classic Tiruppugazh, makes a reference to the Kapaleeswarar Temple as located close to the sea shore. The inference is that till the Arunagirinathar period, that is, the 15 CE, the old Kapaleeswarar temple must have been situated near the sea shore.
 
The Tevaram references from the 7th century confirm that Chennai is truly an ancient city and not 380 years old as falsely claimed by some.  This is a special report released by Chennai 2000 Plus Trust as part of the Chennai Maadham programmes throughout the month of October.  
 
By R. Rangaraj, President, Chennai 2000 Plus Trust 98410010821 rangaraaj2021@gmail.com

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