S. S. KAVITHA
Jainism had flourished around Madurai and this can still be seen in the caves and inscriptions that abound there.
Madurai is a city of confluence where different faiths flourished through the ages. One religion was Jainism. Evidence to its presence and reach are found in stone inscriptions and sculptures found on the hillocks around the city.
The history of Jainism can be traced to Bihar, where Mahavira established the religion during the sixth century BC. But the names of Jain monks and their principles find a mention even in the Rig Veda. These monks preached non-violence. According to tradition, during third century BC, Badrabahu, guru of Chandragupta Maurya, predicted a 12-year famine in Bihar. Following this, the King and Jain monks migrated to south India and settled down in Sharavanabelagola in Karnataka.
Later, during the third century BC, another group of Jain followers, under the leadership of Visakaacharya, travelled from Sharavanabelagola and found hillocks around Madurai suitable for their cloistered life. They settled down in about 14 centres around Madurai and enjoyed the patronage of the Pandya kings, nobles and traders.
In and around Madurai there are about 60 inscriptions attesting the presence of Jain monks between 300 BC and 300 AD. Most caves have bas-reliefs of Tirthankaras and the inscriptions that tell the tale of people of all walks of life from chieftains to the common man and how they patronised Jainism.
In some places, the inscriptions throw light on the Jain schools that existed during the period.
On the Elephant Hill
The first stop on a tour of Jain caves is Aanaimalai. This elephant-shaped hill, is located on the Tiruchi highway approximately eight km away on the north side of the city. The hillock has a cave with rock cut beds and Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating back to first century AD. In the middle of the hill, there is a series of Jain sculptures on the rock boulder and sculptures of Mahavira, Parsvantha and Ambika Yakshi. These sculptures, belonging to ninth – 10th century AD, have inscriptions revealing names of the persons who had carved them. Next is Arittapatti village that lies 25 km away from the city. A natural cave there are two early Tamil Brahmi inscriptions engraved by Pandya chieftains dating back to third century BC. Besides, the cave also has a bas-relief structure of Mahavira made by a Jain saint Accanandi during ninth -10th century AD.
Though Alagarmalai is known as a Vaishnavite centre now, it served as an abode of Jain monks with the presence of a natural cave near Kidaripatti. On the face of the rock, there are 13 Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating back to second century BC that have the details of the village name as “Mathirai.”
Ovamalai or Kazhugumalai at Meenakshipuram near Mangulam have five natural caverns with rock beds. Six Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating to third century BC are found. The inscriptions have the name of Nedunchezhiyan, a Pandya king and his officials, who patronised these shelters. These records are considered as the earliest Tamil records found so far.
The western side of the Tirupparankundram hill, near Madurai, has more than 20 stone beds with three Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating to first century BC. At the top and foot of the rock some Jain sculptures are carved belonging to ninth-10 century AD. On the southern side of the hill, the rock cut temple of the Jains was converted into a Siva temple during 13 century AD.
Samanamalai near Keezhakuyilkudi village has three monuments in the hillock. They are Peccipallam, where a galaxy of Jain sculptures is found and a dilapidated structural temple dedicated to Jainism. This temple is the remaining evidence of Madevi Perumpalli. On the other side of the hillock, a Jain cave named Settipodavu is found.
Muthupatti, more popularly known as Karadipatti alias Perumalmalai, has two bas-relief structures of Tirthankaras, a separate, beautiful but ruined Tirthankara sculpture, three Brahmi inscriptions (belonging to first century BC), Jain beds and two vattezhuthu inscriptions (belonging to 10th Century AD).
On the western end of Nagamalai range lies the Kongarpuliyankulam. A spacious natural cave is seen with more than 60 chiseled beds and three Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating to second century BC. A bas-relief sculpture of Mahavira belonging to ninth-10th century AD is found.
Varichiyur lies 15 km away from Madurai on the Sivaganga road. The Udhayagiri hillock has a very spacious natural cave with three Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating back to second century BC. There are many more like Poyyamalai at Kuppalanatham and Puthur malai.
Jain monks have left behind a rich legacy in the form of sculptures and inscriptions.
The 14 Jain monuments are: Mangulam, Arittapatti, Aanaimalai, Keezhavazhu, Thiruvadavur, Varichiyur, Alagarmalai, Thiruparankundram, Muthupatti, Kongarpuliyankulam, Nadumudalaikulam, Vikkiramangalam, Mettupatti and Karungalakudi.
* During 470 AD, Jain monk Vajranandhi established a ‘Dramila Sangam’ (Dravida sangam) and spread the religion
* They preached non-violence, imparted education, provided medical help and established asylum for the poor and the needy
* In Perumalmalai, the inscription narrates the history of a residential school that functioned on the hillock during 9-10 century AD.
* Jainism met a setback and lost its royal patronage with the advent of Bakthi movement from Thiruganasambandar, the first among the Thevaram trio. *Koon Pandyan alias Nindra Seer Nedumaran (650-700 AD) was converted to Saivism by his wife Mangayarkarasi and minister Kulasirai.
* Revival of Jainism happened around 750 AD under the next Pandya ruler.