Tirukkalukkunram, "the sacred hill of the Eagles" are also called 'Pakshitritham' near Mamallapuram in Tamilnadu, is one of the sacred Saivite centres sung by the Tamil saints of the 7th century and later times but also known for its temples of remarkable architecture, sculptures and iconography. It has a rock-cut temple of Narasimhavarman I Pallava (7th), the picturesque Vedagirisvara Temple at the top of the hill and the magnificent temple complex of Bhaktavatsalesvara in the heart of the town.
The temples contain numerous inscriptions belonging to the Pallava, Chola, Pandya and Vijayanagara periods attesting to the remarkable historical continuity and change for more than 1200 years. The role of these temples in the social, cultural and religious traditions and heritage of Tamilnadu is presented here by the author with his scholarly insight.
The illustrations of the splendid Gopuras, the ornamental Kalyana-mandapa, the exquisite sanctum types, the finely planned spacious tanks like the Sangu-tirtham are bound to invite the admiration of the art-historians and town-planners.
Dr. K.V. Gopalkrishnan had his education in Sri Ramakrishna School, Chegalpat, Madras Christian College, Chennai. He was awarded the post-graduate research degree of Master of Letters (M. Litt.) for his thesis on Tirukkalukkunram and its Temples in 1961, carried out by him as a research scholar in the Department of Indian History and Archaeology, University of Madras. In 1983, he obtained his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree from the university of Mysore for his thesis on the Language Politics of Tamilnadu. He distinguished himself as a dedicated teacher and researcher during his long service, first in the Gazetteer Unit of Government of Tamilnadu and later as member of the teaching faculty of the Vivekananda College, Chennai. An active participant in many seminars, he has several research papers to his credit. A fine sportsman, he was trained cadet in the National Cadet Corps (NCC).
The present work is based on my research work (for two years
1958-60) on the subject for Mutt. degree in the Department of
Indian History and Archaeology, University of Madras. I am
thankful to the University for permitting its publication.
I acknowledge my deep sense of gratitude to my esteemed
teachers. Dr. T.V. Mahalingam, Dr. K.K Pillay and Dr. M.
Arokiaswami, former Professors of Indian History in the
University of Madras for their valuable guidance and advice.
I thank the Archaeological Survey of India and especially the
Chief Epigraphist for providing access to the unpublished
inscriptions and supplying a few photographs. My thanks are
also due to Mr. Patrick Gassie of Boulogne, France and the H.R
& C.E. Department, Tamilnadu for lending me a number of
photographs included in the volume.
My hearty thanks are due to my parents K V. Parthasarathi
Iyengar and Smt. janaki and my wife, Smt. Rajam for their
encouragement and support. I should record my special sense of
gratitude to my elder brother, Dr. KV. Raman, former
Professor of Archaeology, University of Madras for his
guidance and the keen interest in my work. I thank Shri Shakti
Malik of Abhinav Publications, New Delhi for publishing the
volume so well.
his work presents a historical study of an important
pilgrim-centre of South India namely Tirukkal ukkunram,
also known as Paksiti rtham or "Sacred eagle hill". The
importance of the study of local history in a vast country like
India need hardly be emphasized. Particularly South India,
where there are numerous temples of great antiquity, affords a
fertile field for research into local history. Often, these temples
have gone through a long evolutionary process, documenting,
as it were, the history of the locality and the activities of the
people therein, through the ages. Inscriptions found in the
temples are valuable source of information for the historical
vicissitudes through which the locality passed. They also throw
much light on the religious, economic and social life of the
people of the locality. It is well-known that in South India the
temples were important centres of cultural and social life. Their
importance extended beyond the purely religious and spiritual
realms. They were indeed the nucleus round which the village
developed and the hub of all activities, social, economic and
artistic. A study of architecture of such temples is also very
revealing. Often, the temple-complex, as is present, today, is the
product of centuries of growth and evolution. The various
structures of the temple were added to the main shrine by stages.
A close study of the architectural features of the structures gives
us an insight into the different styles, prevalent in different
times. Artistic excellence reached by the ancient people of the
locality is also borne out by the sculptures and bronze images in
These facts amply illustrate the importance of temples in the
study of local history. Tirukkal unram am is no exception to
this general rule. It contains three ancient and venerable
temples which in many ways symbolise the religion, art and
culture of the area. Though, politically, Tirukkal ukkunram was
of no particular importance, yet by virtue of its situation
between the capital city of Kanci and the chief port of
Mamallapuram, it has received the patronage of Pallava Kings.
The inscriptions found in the temples of Tirukkal ukkunram
belong to many a dynasty like the Pallava, Chela, Rastrakuta,
Pandya, Vijayanagara, Kadavarayas and Sambuvarayas. This
clearly shows the many-sided political vicissitudes through
which this place had passed.
The influence of the temples over the place in its economic
and social life is striking. They have played the role of an
employer, consumer, landlord, an educational centre and a
centre of culture and, to a great extent, shaped the economic and
social life of the people.
The role of the temples in the religious history of the place is
also of great interest. Throughout the eventful history,
Tirukkal ukkunram has remained an active centre of Saivism
and the great Nayanmars of Tevaram fame were associated with
the place. Other great Saiva apostles like Manikkavacakar,
Pattinattu Adigal, Arunagirinathar visited the place and were
greatly inspired by it. The place is also, rich in religious
traditions and practices which have made it an important holy
place of South India. Most remarkable, is the regular visit of two
eagles at about 11 a.m. every day to the Vedagiri Hill to take the
sacred food offering prasadam, Hence the name Paksitirtham.
According to popular tradition, this practice has been going on
for ages. People from all over India and abroad visit this place to
see this wonderful sight. Added to this, is the importance of the
Sankutirtham where a conch is said to be 'born' once in twelve
years. This is a unique occasion which draws thousands of
people. Many other traditions and festivals have made this place
worthy of study from the point of view of religious and social
history of this place.
From the architectural point of view, Tirukkal ukkunram is
also of considerable interest and importance. The Orukal
Mandapa, the rock-cut temple half-way up the hill was the
creation of the illustrious Pallava King Narasimhavarma I or
Mamalla of Marnallapuram fame. The hill temple for
Vedagirisvara, eulogised by the Tevaram hymners and other
saints, also has many architectural features of the Pallava
period. Down the hill, in the heart of the town is the large and
magnificent temple complex of Bhaktavatsala with impressive
gopuras or the four gateways in four cardinal directions besides
beautiful sub-shrines and multi-columned halls (mandapas).
We also have here representations of other styles of Dravidian
architecture - early Cola, late Cola, Vijayanagara and post-
Vijayanagara - which afford ample scope for the study of
architectural evolution at the place. The temples of
Tirukkal ukkunram am also contain remarkable sculptures and
bronze-images of rare beauty and symbolism which deserve a
Sources for writing the history of Tirukkal ukkunram and
its temples are many. Traditions, literature, religious and
secular, inscriptions and architectural evidences, which are set
out in detail in the Appendices of the thesis, come to our help.
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