The Tale Of Tenkasi: How This 'Varanasi Of Southern India' Came To Be
The month long Kashi Tamil Sangamam has rekindled the historical and cultural bond between the Punya Kshetram of Kasi and the Punya Bhoomi of Tamilagam in multiple ways.
There are references right from the Sangam period about Varanasi in Tamil texts. Centuries after centuries, the connection is strengthened due to cultural, historical interchanges between the two places. One such historical reference worth remembering during this time is the Tenkasi temple built by a Pandya king.
Pandyas who ruled from Madurai are predominantly Shaivites be it Palyaka Salai Muthukudumi of Sangam period or Nindra Seer Nedumaran, one of the 63 Saiva Saints of medieval period.
Post the Islamic invasions from the Delhi sultanate during the early fourteenth century, they were driven to South of Tamil Nadu. Pandyas regrouped few decades later and started ruling from Korkai (Tuticorin) and Tirunelveli as their capital cities.
Notable among them was Jatavarman Parakrama Pandiyan who started his rule from Korkai during 1422 CE. He was also called as Ponnin Perumal and Mana Kavachan. He defeated some of the Chieftains and Chera kings and brought the south Tamil Nadu under his control.
He was a Shiva Bhakta from the beginning and given a number of grants to the Siva temples in that region. Important among them is the grant he made to Tirunelveli Nellayappar temple Arthajama Pooja.
During the period he was ruling, the Kasi Viswanath temple in Varanasi suffered damages due to invasions. Lord Siva appeared in his dream and asked him to build a temple in the northern banks of Chitra river, as the Kasi Viswanath temple got destroyed. Parakrama mentions this incident in an inscription.
Accordingly, he had started to build the temple on the day of 6 May 1446. While the construction activities are underway, he also desired to build a tall Gopuram like the ones built in Madurai by his ancestors.
Hence, he started the Gopuram construction during 1457. While the temple construction was completed early, Parakrama Pandiyan could not see his dream of the Gopuram completed during his lifetime.
He attained the lotus feet of Lord Siva in 1463. It was his brother Kulasekara Pandya who had completed the construction of the Gopuram and did the Kumbhabhishekam.
The Humble King
Parakrama Pandiyan changed his capital to Tenkasi, as that place was to be called after the temple construction and started ruling from there. He was a scholar in both Tamil and Sanskrit and capable of writing poems.
He had written a number verses about the temple constructed by him and inscribed them in the temple Gopuram. The verses are great examples of how humble and devote the great King is and how he had revered the Sivan Adiyars (Siva Bhakts). Lets look at few of these verses.
The first verse mentions the day in which this temple construction was started:
Aṉpiṉudaṉ sakātta māyirattu munnūṟṟaṟupat theṭṭiṉmēl
vaikasi thingal maṉtiyati yīraintiṟ pūruva pakkamaruvu
dasamiyil velli vārantaṉṉil miṉtikaḻ uttaranāḷ mīṉattil vākaivēl ari kēcari
parākkirama makipaṉ theṉtisaiyiṟ kāsinātar kōyil kāṇacheṉṟu niṉṟu tarilsaṇaitāṉ seivittane
The temple construction was started on Saka era 1368 (1446 CE) Vaikasi (Rishaba Masa) tenth day Purva Baksha Dasami and Uttira Nakshara.
The next verse says:
Paṉṉu kaliyuka nālāyirat taiññūṟ aimpattheṭṭiṉ mēlevarum paṇintu pōṟṟa cheṉṉel vayaṟ teṉkāsi
nagaril narkarthigai thingal tiyatiyaintiṟ chempoṉ vāramaṉṉiya mārkaḻi nāḷil madurai vēntaṉ vaṭiveḻu toṇāta
parākkirama makipaṉ soṉṉa varai pōṟ tirugōpura muṅkāṇat tuṭiyiṭaiyā upāṉamutal tudaṅkiṉāṉē
This mentions that the construction of the Gopuram started right from Upana on the day of Karthigai 5, Kali era 4558. This corresponds to 1457 CE.
It must be also noted that he mentions Tenkasi as a Nagar in this verse, which means he had also created a town around the temple by that time.
Sēlēṟiya vayal teṉksi ālaiyam deyvacheyalālē samaitta thiṅkeṉ seyalalla
ataṉaiyiṉṉa mēlē virivu seithe purappāraṭi vīḻntavar tam pāl ēval seytu paṇivaṉ parākkira pāṇdiyaṉē
By this third verse, Parakrama Pandya says, it is not due to his effort that the temple was constructed. It was done completely due to Deiva Seyal, by the grace of God. Further he says, If someone expands the temple later, I will fall on their feet and be a servant to them.
Perhaps the virtue of the king and his Bhakti is coming from this particular verse:
Yaara yiṉumintha teṉkāsi mēvu poṉ ṉālaintu vārāthōr kutram vantāl
appōtaṅku tantataṉai nērākavē ozhithu ppurap pārkaḷai neethiyurdan pārār aṟiyap paṇintēṉ parākkirama pāṇdiyanē
“If some mistakes happen in the daily rituals or transactions of the temple and if someone comes here, rectify the mistake and save the temple, I bow to them now and fall on their feet in front of the entire world”.
Here Parakarama shows his inner desire that the temple need to last long without any disruption whatsoever.
He had also given a number of grants to the temple and mentioned that till Surya and Chandra are there in the universe these grants need to be protected.
He had not only inscribed the verses in the temple tower, but also kept his vigraha near the step in the gopura so that he can bow to the feet of everyone who is entering the temple.
Even today, the grand temple and the great Gopuram stands testimony that such a humble and devote king lived and built the temple which is one of the bonds connecting the Tamilagam and Kasi.
One of the concluding verses say:
kothatra bakthi yal arupattu mūvarthaṅ kūṭṭathilo theethatra veḷḷi silampagattō
sem poṉṉambalattō vedathilo sivalogathilo visuva nātaṉirupātattilō cheṉṟu pukkāṉ parākkirama pāṇdiyaṉē
This verse, written by someone after Parakrama attained the Sivaloka, says that Parakrama Pandiya could have joined the Arupathu Moover (63) Saiva Saints or the silver anklet of Siva or the Ponnambalam in Chidambaram or the lotus feet of Lord Viswanatha. A befitting place for the great king.
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