Ethical Foundations of South Indian Aesthetics: Chitharal and Tirunandikarai

The paved walkway leading to the top of a granite hillock: Chitharal/ Sitharal near Marthandam in Kanyakomari district of TN is an ancient Jain monument established in 8th or 9th century. It is also called Tirucharanathu Malai/ Tirucharanathu Pally/ Tiruchanampally etc. Now with ASI
A green Banyan growing on the top of this granite boulder. It is also the Chaitya tree of Adinatha.  The entrance to the temple complex at Chitharal. Now called Malai Kovil. It was converted into a Hindu Bhagavathy/goddess temple in the 13th century by Ay kings under the influence of Brahmanism.
The gateway to the temple through a natural cavern between two gigantic rocks. The granite hillock is around 200m above sea level and offers panoramic surround view. 23 Oct 2012
The bas-relief gallery of Thirthankaras facing north at the top of Chitharal hillock.  M R Raghava Wariar says in his recent Jainamatham Keralathil  that it was the Amana sages Achanandi, Gunanandi and Veeranandi who directed the sculpting at Chitharal.
Bas-reliefs of Mahavira, Parswanatha and Padmavathy Devi at Chitharal rock temple. Carved by dedicated artisans or creative Chamana monks themselves in the 8/9th century AD. Some early interpreters like S N Sadasivan mistook it as Buddhist rather than Jain. He rendered the female figure as Pragya Paramitha. The closeness of Jain and Buddhist iconography and ethical/aesthetic praxis are remarkable here.
Ethical foundation of South Indian Chamana art: The lion-seated Ambika or Dharmadevi / goddess of ethics at Chitharal. The grace, elegance and spiritual quality of this piece of compassionate art is the aesthetic manifestation of ethical culture in Tamilakam initiated by the Amana sages as early as 3rd century BC.
Before the Thirthankara and Ambika reliefs in the galaxy of jinas facing north. Chitharal 23 Oct 2012
9th century inscriptions in Vateluthu script propagated by Amanas. They also introduced the Brahmi script in Tamilakam in the 3rd century BC. The inscriptions here are about the offerings to the Tiruchanampally by some devotees.  Raghava Wariar has noted the name of Gunamthangi Kurathikal a lady scholar who had offered gold to this shrine in the 9th century.  Kurathikal is the female gender of guru and shows that women were also among the ascetic scholars and eminent teachers  of Jainism in the south.
Carved granites steps leading to the top of the rock. Replicas could be found in Kaviyur, Kallil and Kattilapara in Kerala. Tirucharanampally was a major Jain centre that was modeled in the smaller versions in Kerala.  Charanathupally itself was modeled on Sravanabelagola in south Kanara.
The temple and perennial pond on top of the rock at Chitharal. A Pipal and Banyan grow on this tiny top soil bed. The Digambara/clad-in-space sages used the water from this rock top pond for survival and taught ethics and letters to the people.
Western Ghats towards the east of Chitharal. A view from the top. 23 Oct 2012
A self-portrait from the top of Chitharal Tirucharanathu Pally. 23 Oct 2012
The Pandya style Vimana of Tiruchanam Pally at Chitharal. Now called Malai Kovil by local people. Built in 8th century as a Jain vestige and converted into a Hindu Devi temple in the 13th century by Ay rulers.
Youth getting on the Banyan, the Chaitya tree on top of Chitharal rock. Young people are showing considerable interest in the live and breathing  Chamana legacy of South India. Ethics is like oxygen to the enlightened young people
Tirunandikarai cave temple near Kulasekharam in Kanyakomari district of TN. Originally Jain later converted to Hindu temple in the middle ages during the violent bouts of Saivism. Veera Nandi is the founder of this Jain shrine in the 7th century. The small stream and place are named after this Jain sage as Nandiar and Tirunandikarai respectively. The current Siva temple is also called Nandiswaran temple after Vira Nandi originally. Later Siva’s vehicle Nandikeswara was tagged to provide a Brahmanical version of the place name.


Tirunandikarai rock-cut Jain vestige: Exactly like Kaviyur, Kallil and Kattilapara in Kerala. Carved into a gigantic granite monolith in the 7th century by Vira Nandi and disciples. The Vateluthu inscriptions talk about Vikramadithya Varaguna the Ay king and Raja Raja Chola who celebrated his birthday here.
Traces of 9th century murals inside Tirunandikarai rock temple. One of the earliest rudiments of Kerala style of murals. Originally Chamana later Hinduized after the violent conversion in the 9th century following the Saivite and Vaishnavite upheavals.
Footprints of the Jain sage Vira Nandi on top of the rock. Now considered by Hindus as the footmarks of Siva. The Chamanas were worshipers of the footprints of their gurus. Place name Kalady meaning the feet of the enlightened ones occurs from Trivandrum to Thrissur in Kerala.
My backpack on top of Tirunandikarai rock with the back drop of Pechy Parai and adjacent peaks. 23 Oct 2012. Let me salute the phenomenal pioneering Amanas who walked throughout the peninsular India and created wonders in nature and culture of the subcontinent as early as 3rd century BC.
The spectacular cloud formations towards the west. A view from the top of Tirunandikarai rock. 23 Oct 2012
Reclining on the top of Tirunandikarai rock after a day long exploration. Pechy Parai peaks in the backdrop. The air is incredibly sweet here. 23 Oct 2012: 6pm
The Chaitya tree: A Pipal growing by a rock pool on the Tirunandikarai rock.  Pechy Parai peaks in the horizon
At the end of the day: Another self-portrait atop the Tirunandikarai rock. 23 Oct 2012. 6pm
Wisdom of Tiruvalluvar and Tirukural: The next morning in Kanyakomari 24 Oct 2012
Sunrise at land’s end: Confluence of three oceans at the Cape Comerin. Ancient Kanyakomari or cape of the lady oracle later Sanskritized as Kanyakumari. As Kanya and Kumari are the same it is an absurd tautology that exposes the redundancy and epistemological violence of Brahmanical appropriation of south Indian place names. Bye from the Cape!
But a threatening presence in the horizon: Nuclear reactor at Kudankulam emerging some 40km east of Kanyakomari. A zoomed shot in the haze from the Cape. The struggling people and their leaders say that it is going to affect the lives of the people in the whole peninsular India; TN and Kerala in particular.  The fight for survival is on in south India like this sailing catamaran in a tri-sea.

Kutichira: Ancient Pally by the Pond

Mishkal Pally, Kutichira, Calicut. View from the west. Originally five-tiered. Reduced to four stories after the 1510 attack by the Portuguese resisted by the naval force of Kunjali Marakar.

The place is named after the Chira or big pond.  Kuti Chira literally means the pond of a Kuti.  The words Kuti, Kottam and Vattam refer to a Pally or a non-Hindu holy place.  In Kerala places related to Jain, Buddhist and other Pallys are tagged with the term Kuti.  Kutipuram, Kanjirakuti, Karukuti, Kutikal etc. prove the Pally connection.  Kutichira is a south western suburb of Calicut city or Kozhikode close to the Arabian sea.

Chira or the great pond of Kutichira. Mishkal Pally in the backdrop. 15 August 2012

The place houses ancient mosques or Pallys that attract admirers from all over the world.  There are at least three monumental mosques around the big pond or Chira of Kutichira.   Some of them like the Koonan Pally have lost the old charm in restructuring.  The four-tiered Mishkal Pally is the biggest and tallest.  Juma Pally to the south of the tank is exquisite with its wood carvings and arches.  Muchundi Pally south of Juma Pally is an architectural marvel in itself with a tall facade, raised verandah and big pillars.

Juma Pally, Kutichira, Calicut

The Pallys are built in 14th century according to legend and inscriptions.  The architectural style of the middle ages with elaborate wooden work and carvings is distinct on all these monuments.  The proximity of these heritage buildings to the Jain temples are also remarkable.  The Jain temple complex is slightly north to Kutichira and that region is known as  Trikovil lane.

Juma Pally, Kutichira, Calicut.

It is interesting to note that the places south west of the Valiyangadi is associated with the Pallys of various non-Hindu religions.  It can also be assumed that Jewish and Buddhist Pallys also adorned this coastal region up to the middle ages.  Place names like Trikovil and Kutichira articulate the non-Hindu antiquity of the place, and Calicut itself.

Carved wooden panels in Juma Pally, Kutichira

It is also important to remember here that Muslims are also called “Baudhar” in certain texts and literary discourses in Kerala.  This convention significantly connect them to the Chamana tradition before the coming of Islam to the west coast of India, chiefly through the pioneering efforts of West Asian traders and early missionaries like Malik Dinar.  Mishkal Pally itself is named after the Arab trader who constructed it. In this perspective it could be assumed that before the 8th century Kutichira and its Pallys could be of Chamana origin.  The place name undoubtedly record this Chamana antiquity forever.  After the ruin of Buddhism by infiltrated Brahmanism in the 6th to 8th centuries the Chamana people embraced Islam that provided security and equality to them from the parasitic and casteist hierarchy of the twice-born obscurantism.

Muchundi Pally, Kutichira, Calicut

It is also apt to remember here that Kozhikode itself  is a colloquial form of Kovilkode. People still say Koyikode in common speech.   It means the corner land of the Kovil as Kasarakod is the corner of Kasaram or Kanjiram trees.  The word Kovil was also used to refer to the Chamana Pallys in ancient Tamil.  The Pallys of Kutichira face east like The Kodungallur Cheraman Pally, Kasarakod Malik Dinar Pally and Thazhathangady Jumath Pally in Kottayam.

Mishkal Pally, Kutichira, Calicut. View from the south. Built in the 14th century by an Arab trader Mishkal according to legend.

The ancient mosques of Kutichira that are more than 700 years old must be preserved for posterity and the futuristic legacies of Kerala.  It is indeed a great enlightening experience and pilgrimage in the holy month of Ramadan to visit Kutichira as I was fortunate enough on 15th August 2012.  Devotees gather here from all over Malabar to break their fast and find peace and solace in the soothing evening breeze from the Arabian sea.

Doorway of an old Muslim house in Kutichira