Chennai, Sep 4 (IANS) — Jain caves and temples all over the state are being vandalised and converted into temples for Perumal (Vishnu) or Adinatheswara (Shiva) or Muneeswara, says community leaders.
Panchola, or five-metal idols, from Jain structures are regularly stolen, they say. There is no mention of Tamil Nadu’s Jain past in history books, they point out.
“It is as if history is being rewritten. Now there is a deliberate attempt to show as if Jains were an insignificant community in Tamil Nadu and did not contribute to its heritage at all,” one of them said here.
They have sought heritage site status for their monuments and blamed the Tamil Nadu government’s policies for the destruction of Jain sites.
The London-based Hashad N. Sanghrajka, secretary of the board of trustees of the Institute of Jainology, has filed an application with Unesco for heritage status for a 2,500-year-old Jain temple at Thiruparathikundram.
The temple, with trees and weed growing on its cupola, is located just 80 km from Chennai, and is the only remaining site out of the eight Jain monuments that once existed in Kancheepuram.
Legend says the banyan tree at its entrance is a thousand years old.
The abode of the thirthankaras — the Jain religious leader — is frequented by bats, though it is under the protection of the state archaeology department.
In Tamil Nadu, the Jains are known as samanars, or saints, who lived in natural caves in ancient times. From among 1,000 recorded sites, today only 100 exist.
“There are still in Tamil Nadu about 40,000 families of Tamil Jains who were uprooted from what was their roots in Madurai in the 6th and 7th centuries“, says M.K. Jain, an official of a Jain body.
They relocated to Tindivanam, Arcot, Vindavasi, and Thrivannamalai regions and these people are extremely poor, with almost no political clout today, he said.
A temple now known as Pandikovil was a Jain site where now Dravidian castes offer animal worship, though Jains shun violence. At the Pogaimalai cave site, bloodstains and vermilion are apparent.
The first known Jain religious leader in the subcontinent is believed to be a tirthankara called Rishabha. The last and the 24th Tirthankara was Mahavir in 527 B.C.
In Tamil Nadu there exist sites and inscriptions related to Adinatha, one of the early thirthankara. Some inscriptions are 3,000 years old.
But ask any tourist visiting Tamil Nadu, and no one has heard of the exquisite Kazhugumalai carvings near Kovilpatti.
No one can guide you to Konkarpuliyankulam to see the defaced thirthankara. In Chittannavasal, the rock beds of the monks are invisible. In Yanamali, trekkers don’t get to see the Jain caves.
In Thruparamkundram near Madurai, anti-social elements hog the rock art site.
In some places, the temples are completely covered by jungles and finding them can take days.
In Mahal, about seven kilometres from the temple town of Madurai, is a hill known as Samanarmalai where on the rock face were carved Jain thirthankaras, dated to be works of 2nd century A.D.
The archaeological officer of Mahal area, C. Skandalingam says: “The mining department people floated tenders recently and the entire hill was put to explosives for granite.”
As a result, on August 12, on a rainy night, the 2,000-year-old artwork turned into rubble.
Politicians and miners are in league, say villagers who revere these “sacred hills“.
Papri Sri Raman
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.