Tamil Tribune

Indian Government to Demolish Ancient Hindu Saivaite Sivan Temple in Tamil Nadu 

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2012 (ID. 2012-06-01); Updated 2013-12-01
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OUTLINE

1. Introduction

2. Religious Significance

3. Historical Significance

4. Discussion

4.1. From the Top
4.2 Ignorance of and Indifference to Religious Sentiments outside the Hindi Belt
4.3 Ignorance and Negative Attitudes to Tamil History

5. Final Comments

News Update (added on 2013-12-01)

1. Introduction

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has recently marked for demolition an ancient Hindu temple in Tamilnadu in order to widen the Vikkiravandi –Thanjavur National Highway. This Tirupuravar Panankateesvarar Temple is located in Panaiyapuram village, Villupuram District. This Saivaite Temple for Lord Sivan (Siva, Shiva) is 1,300-years old.

We present the importance of this temple in the next two sections and discuss why the Indian Government controlled National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has no hesitation to demolish such a significant religious and historical landmark in Tamilnadu.

2. Religious Significance

The Tirupuravar Panankateesvarar Temple of Panaiyapuram village is 1300 years old, one of the oldest temples in Tamilnadu. Poet-Saint Tirugnana Sambandar sang about this Saivaite Hindu temple, dedicated to Lord Siva (Sivan, Shiva). Tirugnana Sambandar is a key figure in the history of Hinduism in Tamil Nadu. He is one of the sixty-three Nayanars, Tamil Saiva Bhakti saints who lived between 
the sixth and the tenth centuries. The fact that Sambandar sang about this temple makes it special in the eyes of Tamil Hindus. Sambandar lived in the seventh century at which time Jainism was widely followed in Tamil Nadu. Tirugnana Sambandar was one of those who played a major role in reviving Hinduism in Tamil Nadu. He was a stalwart of Saivaite Bhakti Movement and three hundred and eighty four of his poems are included in Tirumurai, a compendium of songs in the praise of Siva considered an important work in Tamil literature. Thus the Tirupuravar Panankateesvarar Temple of Panaiyapuram is an important temple worth protecting.

A little interesting note: Siva, the reigning deity of this temple, is also called Panankateesvarar here because the area is full of palmyra trees (a type of tall palm trees). The Tamil phrase panankkaatu means palmyra trees jungle. So Panankateesvarar means god of the palmyra tree jungle.

Another interesting note: The temple is constructed such that sun rays fall on the Siva statue in the temple sanctum on the first day of the Tamil month Chiththirai, an auspicious day in Hindu calendar. 

3. Historical Significance

In addition to the religious importance, the temple has also historical significance. The temple has a number of inscriptions belonging to some important kings who reigned during one the most glorious periods of Tamil Nadu--years of the Imperial Chola Dynasty-- and the Pandya dynasty that followed it for a brief time. Inscriptions in this temple include those from Chola kings Rajendra Cholan I, Rajendra Cholan II, Adhi Rajendra Cholan, and Kulotunga Cholan, and from the Pandyan kings Sundara Pandyan I and Vikrama Pandyan. Some of these inscriptions are about a thousand years old and other go back to about 700 years (range from around 1020 CE to 1300 CE).

These kings are among the most notable rulers of Tamil Nadu and key figures in the history of Tamilnadu. Years of the Imperial Chola Dynasty were one of the most glorious periods in the history of Tamil Nadu. Tamils were at one of their military peaks. Chola army defeated kings who ruled parts of today's South India, North India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Maldives. Among South Asian kings, only Cholas had mighty enough navies to conquer overseas kingdoms. Cholas also had extensive trade overseas. They traded from Baghdad to China. Chinese records show that Cholas had an embassy in China around 1077.

We shall not allow inscriptions from this golden era be destroyed or relocated to widen a highway. This is our heritage, this is our history. Hindi dominated Indian government may not have any interest in preserving the remnants of Tamil Nadu history or may even want to destroy them to project their ancestral history as the history of India, but we the people of Tamil Nadu have an interest in preserving our historical sites and shall protest their destruction or relocation.

4. Discussion

4.1. From the Top

Why is the Indian Government agency National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) bent on demolishing this temple instead of re-routing the highway? Cost of re-routing is minimal compared to the religious and historical significance of the Thirupuravar Panankateesvarar Temple.

You have to understand who calls the shots at the helms of power at the Indian Government. Hindi politicians set the general directions and tone of the policies and actions of the Indian government. The Prime Minister, ministers and Indian central government employees follow this general direction or they would be removed or sidelined. I had given several examples of the political supremacy of Hindi belt politicians in the article "Who Rules India?" [Reference 1]. With this in mind, let us discuss the plan to demolish this ancient Saivate temple in Tamil Nadu.

4.2 Ignorance of and Indifference to Religious Sentiments outside the Hindi Belt

Most Hindi people, including the politicians, have scant knowledge of most Hindu religious sites outside the Hindi belt unless Hindi Hindus have some emotional relationship or attachment to it. Many Hindi-belt Hindus and thus their politicians know of Tamil Nadu's Rameshwaram because it has connections to the Hindu epic Ramayanam which was centered in the north. On the contrary this ancient Tirupuravar Panankateesvarar Temple has no ties as such to Hindi belt, although it is dedicated Lord Siva. Very few Hindi people, if any,  have heard of Poet-Saint Tirugnana Sambandar, Nayanmars or Tirumurai. So the very fact that he visited this temple and sang about it means nothing to them although Sambandar played a key role at a critical juncture in Hinduism in Tamilnadu. Ignorance and indifference are the reasons for the planned demolition Thirupuravar Panankateesvarar Temple of Panaiyapuram village. It seems that in the eyes of Hindi politicians Tamil Nadu Hindus are children of lesser gods and their religious sites are unimportant.

This is why we want major and minor decision about Tamilnadu be made by Tamil Nadu government and NOT the Indian government. But more and more decision-making power is taken away from the state government and concentrated with the Indian (central or union) government.

4.3 Ignorance and Negative Attitudes to Tamil History

As we stated in Section 3, the Thirupuravar Panankateesvarar Temple also has historical significance to Tamil Nadu. Again, most  Hindi people, including the politicians, know very little about Tamil Nadu history (or, for that matter, history of the South or Eastern India). History books endorsed by Indian government controlled National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have very little information on south Indian history. So Hindi people seem to think that all of Indian history revolve around Hindi lands and others do not have a rich history or heritage. Because of this lop-sided attitude towards South Indian history, even the Twenty Ninth All-India Conference of Dravidian Linguistics (February 2002) passed a resolution urging the Government of India to give South India its rightful and legitimate share in history books. So Chola inscriptions of a time when "Tamil glory" was at a peak do not mean anything to Hindi people or politicians.

Also, there is a definite move on the part of the Indian Government to cover up the glorious past of South and East India and only propagate the history of the Hindi belt region. The case of history books endorsed by Indian government controlled the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have very little information on south Indian history is one example. Another example is that of Indian Government's refusal to allow a Raja Raja Cholan statue in the Tanjore Big Temple (Tanjavoor Periya Kovil) compound or near the entrance to the compound (Tamil Nadu government did not want to install it in the temple but only on the temple grounds outside the temple). By the way, Raja Raja Cholan was the one who built the Big Temple. It is discussed in detail in the article "Why is Emperor Raja Raja Cholan Standing outside the Thanjai Big Temple?" [Reference 2] and will not be repeated here. We refer readers to Reference 3 for more Indian Government attempts to hide and bury Tamil Nadu history.

Ignorance and attempts to hide the history of Tamil Nadu and project a Hindi-India are also reasons for the planned demolition Thirupuravar Panankateesvarar Temple of Panaiyapuram village. This is why we want major and minor decision about Tamilnadu be made by Tamil Nadu government and NOT the Indian government. Let us manage our own affairs.

5. Final Comments

Need for decision making by the Tamil Nadu government, instead of the Indian government, has been noticed at the highest levels in Tamilnadu. Here is a quote from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's speech on April 16, 2012.

"There can be no uniform pattern in policing in the country as each State has its own distinct cultural, communal, social and economic aspects." [Though the Chief Minister made this statement in relation to police powers, this view is equally applicable to decisions such as demolishing religious site important to Tamil Nadu and other matters also.]

Unless Tamil Nadu government is given the power to make decisions on relevant matters, more heritage sites would be destroyed intentionally or because of ignorance, and Tamil Nadu history would be forgotten in couple of more centuries under Indian rule.

A Footnote: Local people have protested the demolition of the temple since early 2012. As of this writing (late May 2012) the demolition order is not withdrawn. If more protests follow and the heat is on, Indian government may withdraw the demolition plan and spare the temple. Our question is why do we have to protest it at all. If the decision making power rests with the Tamil Nadu government, there would have been no demolition order at all because we know our religious, cultural, historical, social and economic aspects.


UPDATE(2013-12-01):

Here is the News Update: Villagers protested the demolition and petitioned the Villupuram Collector, NHAI officials and Indian government ministers. According to The Hindu newspaper (January 22, 2013), "The State government’s land acquisition 
officer feared the issue would lead to a law and order problem"; that is, the protests may turn violent. Finally NHAI relented, and issued a letter on October 6, 2012 saying that it would acquire land only up to the existing compound wall of the temple and thus averting the temple demolition.

While we are happy that this historical Tamil Nadu temple would not be demolished, we have to ask the question why did this Indian Government agency NHAI did not know of the importance of this religious site, and why did it not change its decision when its importance was brought to its attention, why only the warning of a potentially violent protest spared the temple? So much energy, money and hours of work over a period of some six months were spent to save the temple from NHAI bulldozers? We could have spent that time, money and energy in more productive ways like publicizing the religious significance and importance of this temple and village throughout India or even abroad where Hindus live.

If the decision making power rests with the Tamil Nadu government, instead of the far-away Indian government that has no affinity to Tamil Nadu, there would have been no demolition order at all because we know our religious, cultural, historical, social and economic aspects. (See Section 4 of the article for a detailed discussion of this aspect.)


Tamil names are spelled differently by different people. Here are some variations:

Cholan - Chozhan, Chozan

Pandya - Pandyar, Pandyan, Padia, Pandiar, Pandian, Pandiya, Pandiyar, Pandiyan

Sambandar - Sampanthar

Siva - Sivan, Shiva, Shivan

Thanjavur - Thanjavoor, Tanjore

Tirugana -Thirugana, Tirugnana, Thirugnana

Thirugana Sambandar - Thiru Jnanasambandar, Thiru Gnanasambandar

Tirumurai - Thirumurai

Tirupuravar - Thirupuravar

REFERENCES

1. Who Rules India? (Part I) (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2000 (44 KB)

2. Why is Emperor Raja Raja Cholan Standing outside the Thanjai Big Temple? (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 2001 (16 KB)

3. Health of the Tamil language: A French Perspective (by Nathalie Dedella), TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2004 (17 KB)

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