When work takes you to 12th Century Samburavayar dynasty

I wonder when was the last time I was in the midst of lush green paddy fields surrounded by mountains and smell of tilled earth. It had just stopped raining when I reached Padavedu, the capital of Sambuvarayar dynasty during 12th Century Chola period and four hours from Chennai.

The small town under the scorching sun was almost blinding. Santhavasal the road through which we entered Padavedu was busy with the commercial activities. It was humming with people who came to sell and buy vegetables, fruits and flowers on either side of the road. It was a town that is slowly catching up with the big development and I had gone there to do a story on that.

Field Director Krishnan of a trust that does social work in Padavedu was knowledgeable. He explained the demography of this small town that has 29 hamlets and population of 17,000 people and the trust’s development initiatives.

“Did you know the history of Padavedu?” he asked me. Without waiting for my response he began to tell me the story of how Padavedu came to be.

Padaiveedu or Padavedu the way it is called now was a thriving city and a hub of commercial and religious activities during Sambuvarayar period. Sambuvarayar kings ruled Tondaimandalam that in present time consists of Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, Kancheepuram, Cuddalore, Tiruvallur, Nellore, and Chittoor and Padaiveedu was their capital. They were vassal reigns under the Chola kings Rajadhiraja Chola II and Kulothunga Chola III.

Though I’m not all familiar with history of ancient Tamil Nadu, I have come across the chieftains when I was reading Ponniyin Selvan. It was in Sambuvarayar palace a covert operation to overthrow the current sickly king Parantaka Chola II and reinstate the his brother, Gandaraditya and Sembian Mahadevi, son Maduranthakan as the heir to throne. Even the final moments where Aditya Karikalan was murdered happens in the palace, then ruled by Kadambur Sambuvarayar. The heir in line Aditya Karikalan was deemed unfit due to his excessive love for Nandini, the antagonist and also for his radical ideas.

Chieftains of Sambuvarayar clan were saivites that considers Lord Shiva the supreme being. It was said that during their period, they built 1008 Shiva temples and 108 temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Though I’m unsure about veracity of these accounts, long standing Renugambal temple, which sees over lakh people during Tamil month Aadi stand to say that they were indeed built during their period.

Pointing to the temple on a small hillock, which was being renovated, Krishnan said, “Have you ever see a Shiva temple with Shiva and Parvathi in human form instead of Linga?” It is hard to find non-Lingaa form of Lord Shiva in India. The temple on the hillock is the only of those rare temples where Shiva and Parvathi are together in the human form.

Of over 1000 temples only 20 such are remaining, including the two mentioned. Rest of them were destroyed when succession took place first by Vijayanagar kings and rest that followed.

Krishnan said, “It is hard finding such temples because they go into ruin beyond repair or there are hardly anything remain. The fact that at least 20 remains itself is a miracle.”

The famous Renugambal temple was getting ready to handle the enormous crowd it draws during every Friday of Tamil month Aadi. “It is really hard handling the crowd during that time,” Krishnan said.

Temples had always been an important part of any dynasty not because it was a religious symbol but for the reason that it gives communities in and around the area opportunity to get together and celebrate. Temple festivals are times when commercial and cultural activities were at its peak. It was an occasion to flaunt your new products and form business partnerships. These festivals were necessary for communities to survive.

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