Temples in and around Madurantakam

by B. Mekala | 2016 | 71,416 words

This essay studies the Temples found around Madurantakam, a town and municipality in Kancheepuram (Kanchipuram) District in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Madurantakam is one of the sacred holy places visited by Saint Ramanuja. It is also a region blessed with many renowned temples which, even though dating to at least the 10th century, yet they c...

Temples contributed much for the economic life of the people. They provided employment opportunities next to the state. With the growth of temples, their rites, rituals and festivals and the economy due to the munificent donations arid endowments of immense value, temples required the services of a large number of people to look after their various activities. Accordingly, they provided employment to a large section of the people of different communities directly or indirectly. The former refers to those servants who were employed permanently as regular staff while the latter were the casual labourers employed to cultivate the temple lands or to look after the livestocks donated to the temples or providing various services like the oil mongers. weavers, washermen and others. A number of skilled and unskilled persons were employed while the temple was under construction, and even before its consecration. Different categories of servants were employed to look after the various functions of the temples. They were categorised as administrative staff, spiritual functionaries, quasi-religious functionaries and menial and manual labourers. In all these categories, people of various castes such as the Brahmins, Vellalars, Mudalis, Kaikkolas, Kammalars or Panchalars, Kusavars, Konars, Chettis, vaniyars. barbers, washermen and others were utilised who led a honest and peaceful livelihood. The employment of persons in different categories from various castes which shows beyond doubt that the temples became a major source of employment to the people of different walks of life and different areas.[1] During the rule of the Pallavas and early Pandyas, temple had only limited staff members. In due course, the staff strength of each temple increased, but varied according to its size, the number of pujas and festivals and above all the income and source.

The entourage of servants in temples was commonly known as koyll parivaram, taliparivaram[2] or tirukkoyiludaiyar.[3] Appointments in temples were made on a hereditary basis. The priest or his family member was appointed to a temple for generations together. The land and other donations made over to the temple were bestowed with him the hereditary right of enjoyment for the conduct of the pujas and festivals or other matters as stipulated in the deed. Some land allotted for meeting the expenses of puja was bestowed with the hereditary right on Brahmin priests.[4]. However, this hereditary principle was not strictly adhered to in certain places. The sabha of Uttiramerur fixed three years tenure for one brahmachari brahmin to perform offering and to receive remuneration[5]. But, in case, the temple servant died or migrated, then, his immediate descendant or relative may be posted in his place, provided that he or she should be qualified for that post. Qualifications and gotras were keenly taken into account for appointment as priests in temples. It is known from a record that one llaya Nayanar Tandai Tandasvamibhattar of kasyapagotra who had mastery over bodhayana sutra was granted the right of worshipping in temples.[6] The priests held a responsible position. Mostly Brahmins alone were employed to perform the divine service in the sanctum sanctorum.[7] They were assisted by several tavasigal and koil paniseiyum manigal in washing the vessels and lamps; preparing garlands; bringing holy water for sacred bath showing dhupa (perfumes) and for sounding the bell during worship. However, in certain temples, non-Brahmin priests generally known as pandarams were also engaged in performing worship.[8] Several records inform that the Brahmin priests were repositories of high learning.[9] But, when qualified persons were not found among the descendants, competent persons could be selected from among their relatives.[10] This system introduced a bond of union among the successive generations to serve in the temple. Besides, they served in temples as executive staff. They were appointed as sthanattar, sri—bhandaratta,, devalcanmis, kanakkar, sri-kariyamseivar and other quasi-religious positions related to temple affairs. They discharged different functions according to their status. In some temples, these servants performed identical works which shows their collective endeavour. Various superintendents known as kankanis were appointed to supervise the proper management of temples But Saiva and Vaishnava Brahmins were appointed to look after the respective temples. One peculiar feature existed in those days was that local people were preferred for certain categories of appointment. A bhatta (priest) should be a native of the village indicates this.[11] Even for the cultivation of temple lands and breeding of livestocks. local people were preferred. By employing local people, the temples exercised an effective control over the local population.

On some occasions, people from distant areas were also posted to some categories. A group of Brahmins from North India were appointed to guard the temple treasury.[12] Even Reciters were appointed from various parts of the country.[13] The non-availability of qualified persons in the local areas was probably the reason for such a measure. Furthermore, the creation of brahmadeyas in the Madurantakam region by inducing the Brahmins to settle near the temples is also in support of the above fact. Thus, people of various areas got an opportunity to mingle with others, absorbed their culture and in course integrated themselves.

In addition the priestly and administrative functions in temples, a large number of quasi-religious functionaries were employed to look after each and every aspect of temples. One such a category of servants was the devadasis who performed different duties.[14] They were employed to dance and sing in front of the deities during worship. procession and festivals; fanning the idol with fly-whisk (chamara); carry everywhere the tirunirrukkappu (sacred ash plate) and pushpataligai (flower plate); fetching flowers and stringing them into garlands for worship; examining the lamps and changing the wicks in the sanctum and tirumandapam and decorate the floor with kolam.

To train the devadasis, able dance masters namely nattuvanars were also employed in temples. They were well-versed in the arts of music and dance, in the technique of phoneography and art of recital and had a thorough knowledge in all technical aspects of bharatanatya and its sastras. Above all, their pronunciation must be perfect and should have a keen sense of tala and raga. Improper speech and poor sense of timings were their disqualifications. According to their proficiency and mastery over this art, the nattuvanars were given the title nrittamarayan and nrittaperayari. As music is one of the important upacharas offered to gods and goddesses, the singers too found a respectable place in the temple establishment. Singers proficient in Sanskrit and Tamil were employed to chant Vedas and recite ‘Tamil hymns. A number of drummers, pipers, nadasvara. vidwans, vinal vasippars were recruited to provide music during temple services. The drummers who formed a troupe in the temple handled a variety of musicals instruments.

To enact dance dramas kuttars were appointed. In simple, every big temple had a number of workers and servants to look after diverse a functions. All the temple functionaries were aware of their responsibilities and nature of work. Servants like cooks and watchmen rendered their services very carefully. Skilled teachers and doctors were appointed in the educational institutions and hospitals attached with the temples.[15]

The temples provided employment to various other communities. Every big temple in Madurantakam region possessed vast landed estates, either purchased or gifted. While endowing lands or villages to the temples, great care was taken to protect the rights of the previous occupants. Generally, the occupants were not evicted. Instead, they had to pay the customary tax or to render service to the temple. If evicted, they were provided with suitable other sites or compensation.[16] As landed magnates. or landlords of the locality, the temple officials could not cultivate all the dry or wet lands directly. For the temple lands were scattered in different and distant areas and were not found at a single stretch. Therefore, the temples needed a number of tenants to cultivate the devadana lands. For this objective, the temple lands were leased out to its own servants or private parties on permanent tenure or short term tenure on specific conditions. As such they were to render service or to measure out the stipulated quantity of every class of produce free from dust, chaff and unripe grains. But the cultivators had no right to alienate their holdings by mortgage or sale.[17]

Even when there was famine, flood or other natural calamities, the temple land should never be sold. Moreover, the tenant was directed to pay the prescribed quantity of produce even during flood or drought by which there was no crop. Proper irrigation facility was also extended to the temple lands even to cultivate the tail end lands. By this way, by all means, the temple services were conducted regularly. Though this measure was a harsh step, it induced the tenant to bestow proper attention to cultivate the land by all means which avoided negligence from responsibilities. If a registered tenant failed to pay the fixed share to the temple, he was punished by selling his house and fields forcibly.[18] While cultivating the temple lands, the tenants moved together freely which in turn helped them to integrate. Thus, the cultivators who belonged to various communities developed a binding with the temple. By this process the temple united the people of various caste and creed of the distant and different areas. Not only that, it motivated a spirit of unity to promote the cause of the common institution, temple.

Similarly, the livestock donated to the temple were left under the safe custody of the local shepherds. They were to measure out the stipulated quantity of milk, or ghee or oil to the concerned temple by maintaining the total number of animals at a cost. The gift of sheep once made becomes an enduring or permanent one by means of propagation of the species. This is referred to in the inscriptions as sava muva peradu, which literally means ‘the sheep that never gets old or die”.[19] Thus, the gift of animals not only helped the temple authorities in maintaining divinity of the temples but enabled the people of the konar community to earn their livelihood from this sort of employment. Besides, the temples encouraged cottage industries like spinning, weaving, pottery, goldsmithy, carpentry and oil trade. Weavers were encouraged to establish their looms near the temples. The temple treasurer permitted some weavers to settle near the temple on condition that they were to supply the required cloth to the temple.[20] When twenty families of weavers migrated from a brahmadeya village, they were directed to do service to the temple by supplying cloth for the sacred banner and other purposes during festival.[21] In some places, tax-free habitation land was given to the chettis and chekkars on condition that they were required to supply oil to the temple.[22] For all such people, various concessions were given in the form of tax-exemption. The kammalars were given jobs according to their efficiency. A carpenter who lost his life injured by a stone when he was repairing the mandapa, tax-free land was given to the temple in memory of his service.[23] The services of masons were utilised to erect the vimana, the installation of Sivalingam and the building of the temple kitchen.[24] Besides, the services of goldsmiths. blacksmiths, washermen, barbers, brazier, tailors and similar other professionals were utilised in the temples. The services of goldsmiths were utiliseci to make ornaments, polish the used ones and to repair the broken ones. The blacksmiths prepared and maintained the wooden temple cars and other vehicles with their vast net work of bolts and nuts and supplied solid ironblocks to be placed in front of the wheels of the car in order to stop it at various places from moving. The washermen were required to supply washed cloths and waste cloth or cotton for making wicks to burn the oil lamps and torches. The braziers polished and repaired the brass vessels and the tailors stitched the garments for the deity.

As an employer, temple was a state within the state fulfilling the aspirations of the people in general. Sculptors enjoyed an honoured place in the temple service for they were truthful and upright and knew vedas, agamas and silpasastras. The sculptors and stone masons were entrusted with the task of making sculptures or structural additions or alterations and renovations and to engrave the records on temple walls. Unskilled labourers too find a due place in the temple establishment. Many female servants were posted for sweeping and smearing the temple premises with cow-dung paste, bringing water, making garlands, husking the paddy and other allied works. But their service was banned in some temples. Manual and menial servants were recruited to look after the temple garden known as tirunandavanam.[25] They tendered the plants plucked flowers and stringing them into garlands. In addition, the temples required the services of various royal officials, revenue staff and the military personals too. They made royal enquiries, assessed the land revenue and guarded the temples. Thus, on the whole, temples provided employment opportunities to large number of men and women. Temples created selfemployment opportunities too. Trade centres were sprung up in the vicinity of the temples which enabled the devotees to purchase different items needed for pujas and other house-hold articles. Many traders engaged themselves in supplying large quantity of different articles needed for worship in the temple as well as to the devotees. Consequently temple cities became thriving commercial cities.

In recognition of their services they were remunerated either in the form of land or cash or commodities. In some temples, they were provided with cooked rice balls and clothing too. But, their remuneration varied from temple to temple and cadre to cadre according to the economic position of each temple. On special occasions and festival seasons, the temples provided double wages to the employees,[26] probably for their hard labour. From several records it is known that t vritt!s such as vedavritti,[27] puranavritti,[28] pulamaivritti[29] and vaidhya vritti[30] were created for their livelihood. The land bestowed to the temple servant was called as bhogam and jivitam. But they had no right to sell or mortgage the lands and they possessed the right to enjoy the income or revenue from the said land. Most of them were given quarters in the tirumadaivilagam (streets around the temple) itself. Separate charts were created for the residential purpose of devadasis. New colonies were built exclusively for them called talichcheri and allotted one house for each dancing girl.

The temple staff had a enviable position and enjoyed a high status in society. The priests of the Temples in Madurantakam region had the privilege of honouring the land lords.[31] However. for their lapses and malpractices, they were punished severely, A temple accountant who was guilty of gramadroham was dismissed from service.[32] In fact, temples provided large scale employment opportunities which was a striking feature in the economic activities of the people. People of various communities who served in the temples not only earned their daily bread but enabled them a peaceful coexistence which is a good symptom of unity as well as community development. People from different communities in Madurantakam region attended to various types of work in the temple.

This created a perfect and harmonious relationship between the divergent people. They carried out their allotted duties with joy and dedication. Thus the scattered people were united under the roof of the temple. This induced a sense of involvement of all members of the society in the affairs of the temple. Needles to say, it was a co-operative effort of all, for the good of all, who believed in the temple as an institution for the promotion of the material, moral and spiritual welfare of the people. During pujas and festivals, all these employed people served together and stood for the promotion of temple culture. Temple welfare was the welfare of the people. As long as temples flourished the employees too lived happily.

Footnotes and references:


S.I.I., Vol. II, No. 66.


A.R.E., 303 of 1901.


S.I.I., Vol. V. No. 709.


Thirty Pallava Copper Plates, p. 51.


S.I. I.. Vol. XII. No. 55.


T.A.S., Vol. I. pp. 265-266.


Minakshi, C., Administration and Social Life under the Pallavas, University of Madras. Madras, 1977, p. 210.


Samuel Mateer, Native Life in Travancore, London, 1883, p. 110.


S.I.I., Vol. XVII, No. 170.


T.A.S., Vol. III, Part. I, p.71.


Krishnaswami Aiyangar, S., ‘Bhattavritti’ in The Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. XVI, Calcutta, 1940, pp. 382-383.


Hari Rao, V.N., (ed.), Koil Olugu, Madras, 1981, pp. 86-87.


S.I.I, Vol. V, No. 421.


Ibid., Vol. II, No. 66.


E.I., Vol. XXV, p. 155.


T.A.S., Vol. III, Part. I, p.30.


A.R.E., 1911, Part.II, para. 39.


Ibid., 122 of 1912.


S.I.I., Vol. XIV, No. 82.


Ibid., No. 221.


A.R.E., 1922, Part.II, p. 105.


S.I.I., Vol. XVII, No. 583.


I.P.S., No. 411.


Ibid., No. 132.


S.I.I., Vol. V. No. 419.


Ten Pandya Copper Plates, p. A 18.


A.R.E., 1917-1918, Part.II, para 48.


Ibid., 45 of 1918.


Ibid., 248 of 1929-1930.


Ibid., 47 of 1930-1931.


Narayana Ayyar, C.V., Origin and Early History of Saivism in South India. University of Madras, 1974, p. 181.


S.I.I., Vol. XVII, No. 629.

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