Pudukottai (Tamil Nadu)
Pudukottai, 60 kms from Tiruchirapally, is replete with historical evidences. Pudukottai, ruled formerly by a dynastic family known as Tondaiman Rajas, was founded in 1686 by Raghunatha Raya of Tondaimandalam who played a leading role in South Indian history. This former princely state is rich in ancient temples due to its natural caves in the hills. Primitive tribes had their dwelling places in most of these caves. Later, Jain monks, attracted by the remote peacefulness of these caves, made their homes there. Many Pandya and Pallava kings of those times were Jain and hence the monks enjoyed their patronage. The region of Pudukottai has some of the outstanding temples renowned for beautiful architecture and many cave temples of the ancient days. The Rajas of Pudukottai took considerable interest in preserving these monuments. There are many worth visiting places of tourist interest in and around Pudukottai.
Museum: Situated in the town is the Government museum started originally by the Rajas of Pudukottai. The Pudukottai museum has a large collection of art and sculpture. In the historical section are found a large number of stone sculptures of deities dancing figures, bas reliefs and models of temples and shrines. The photograph depicts the style of architecture of those days. There is a very good collection of bronzes also which relate to the temples existing as well as those which have been destroyed. This is an excellent place for study of ancient history.
Tiru Gokarnam: Merely 2 kms from Pudukottai and on the outskirts of the town is an ancient Shiva temple dedicated to God Gokarnanatheshwarar. Originally, a cave temple, excavated by the first Pallava king Mahendravarman during 600 A.D., considerable additions have been made to the shrine. Today, it is a lovely temple with a vast area of covered monuments, corridors and halls. The large corridor in the front was constructed by the Nayakas of Madurai. The pillars supporting the corridor have beautiful sculptures of various deities and full size statues of the kings who constructed them. The majestic tower in the front and the background of cave temple with the hillock present a beautiful view. The Rajas of Pudukottai were great patrons of this deity and called themselves as the servants of Gokarnanatheshwara.
Narthamalai: Narthamalai is hardly 18 kms away from Pudukottai. The place is of great antiquity. Narthmalai was originally known as Nagarthamalai, meaning The Abode of Merchant Guild. A series of eight hills encircle the village and the valley below presents an enchanting view. Today, the place has become famous for its Mariamman temple patronised by the surrounding villages. In the past, it was known for a number of rock-cut cave temples and splendid monuments on one of the hills called Malamalai. The earliest of these is known as Vijayalaya Cholishwaran, the oldest of the Chola temples in Tamilnadu. There are two other cave temples nearby which have good specimens of sculpture of those days.
Thirumayam: Thirumayam, only 25 kms away from Pudukottai, is an ancient town and finds mention in various ancient books, stories and poetry. This place has been celebrated in a song by Tirumangai Mannan, one of the Alwars. It lies at the foot of a hill, crowned by an old fort. Nearby is Adirangam, a place which became popular even earlier than Srirangam itself. It contains a rock temple with twin shrines of Shiva and Vishnu. Built in the 7th Century, the monuments contain characteristic features of the early Pallava cave temples of Mamallapuram. Some of the inscriptions here contain musical notation.
Sittanavasal: Near the village Annavasal is a cluster of rock caves, which can be termed as the 'Ajantha of the South '. Megalithic burial sites near Sittanavasal caves, about 18 kms from Pudukottai, testify their hoary past, while the rich sculpture and paintings adjoining the caves are similar to the famous Ajanta caves. In the past, these caves were the abode of Jain Tirthankaras who fled to this place from Madurai. The mural paintings provide glimpses of the early Jain cult and life.
Kodumbalur: 42 kms from Pudukottai, this village has three ancient shrines popularly known as Moovar Kovil, built by the Irukkuvel chieftain, Bhuti Vikramaditya. They were all for each of his two queens and one for himself. These monuments relate to the 10th century and the style and moulding of the structures resemble the Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) cave temples. Decorating the niches in the walls are some of the finest sculptures in our country. The architecture of the temples is unique.
Tiruvangai Vasal: 5kms from Pudukottai and not far from Thiru Gokarnam, a suburb of Pudukottai, is an ancient temple dedicated to Venkatanathar or Vyaghrapurishwarar. True to its name, the Linga in the shrine gives the facial expression of a tiger. There is an interesting local legend connected with this deity and the divine cow Kamadhenu. The temple is full of finely carved sculptures and some rare representations of the deities. The temple has twenty one inscriptions which throw light on the history of that time.
Tirukkattalai: 12 kms from Pudukottai, this small village has another Shiva temple dedicated to Sundareshwara. Mentioned in the inscriptions as Karkurichi, this temple has the tower at the entrance which is square at the base and pyramidal in design. This rare architecture is embellished with finely carved figures of deities. The walls of the shrine are decorated with exquisitely sculptured figures. The village has another temple dedicated to Sundara Mahakali, which is also worth visiting.
Kunnandar Kovil: 27 kms from Pudukottai, this ancient cave temple has a Shiva shrine which goes back to the 8th century. The inscription records the name of the place as Kunru-Andar-Kovil which means the Temple of the Lord of the Hill. This temple was built by a Muttrayar chief who was probably a vassal of Nandivarman Pallava Malla. The temple combines the features of the late Pallava and early Chola styles and has a beautiful hundred pillared Nritya Mandapam. The deity is called Parvatagirishwara. The walls are decorated with a number of rock-cut sculptures. Excellent bronze images of deities are preserved in this temple. State buses operate up to Kunnadar Kovil village.
Avudayar Kovil: 45 kms from Pudukottai, this prosperous village is noted for its ancient Shiva temple dedicated to Atmanathar. In the ancient days, this place was known as Tiruperuthurai. It is believed that this temple was founded by Saint Manickyavachagar in the 8th century. The temple is unique in spiritual concept, design and architecture. The shrine of Shiva has no Linga. There is only the Avudayar (Base) with a metal cover which symbolises the deity. Similarly, the Amman shrine called Shivayoga Nayaki, also does not have any idol; the worship is done only to the Holy feet displayed symbolically. However, the front hall has a wonderful display of life size idols of exquisite sculpture of deities, nowhere found in this part of the country. Every pillar of the hall is profusely carved with fine figures. The village can be reached easily by bus or from the railway station Aarantangi.
Karaikudi: 36 kms from Pudukottai, this place has become famous for its temple dedicated to goddess Koppudai Nayaki Amman, who is known to be a manifestation of Durga. It is believed that the original idol was discovered in a nearby forest about three hundred years ago. Devotees offer toy cradles to this deity in fulfilment of their vows.
Kannakkudi: 14 kms from Karaikudi, this village has two cave temples dedicated to Subramanya and Shiva on the top of a hillock. Both the temples have many sculptured figures which are very interesting to study the features.