Connecting Histories - Tiruvannamalai Temple Through the Ages

Tiruvannamalai is one of the most venerated places in Tamil Nadu. In ancient times, the term "Annamalai" meant an inaccessible and unreachable mountain range. The word " Thiru" was prefixed to signify its magnitude and enormity, and coupled with the two terms it is called Tiruvannamalai.

The Temple town of Tiruvannamalai is one of the most ancient heritage sites of India and is a centre of the Saiva religion. The Arunachala hill and its environs has been held in great regard by Tamils for centuries. The Temple is grand in conception and architecture and is rich on tradition, history and festivals. The main Deepam Festival attracts devotees from far and wide throughout South India. It has historic places besides Tiruvannamalai; Arni, Vandavasi, Devikapuram connected to East India and French companies. In the late Chola period this District was ruled by the Cholan of Sambuvarayar.

The Antiquity of the Temple
The history of this town dates from the early Chola period. The Chola dynasty was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of Southern India. The earliest references to this Tamil dynasty are in inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE left by Ashoka of the Maurya Empire.

The period of Chola king Aditya I and Chola King Parantaka I (A.D. 871-955) when the Chola Empire had expanded northwards to include practically the whole of Tondaimandalam. After Chola King Parantaka I and until the reign of Chola King Rajendra I, Chola rule over the region is not attested by the Tiruvannamalai inscriptions, possibly on account of the Rashtrakuta invasions and occupation of this area by Krishna III. This is perhaps indicated by a single inscription of Chola King Kannaradeva found in this Temple. The recovery of this region by the Cholas was a slow process and reached its successful conclusion only towards the close of Chola King Rajaraja I's reign i.e. A.D. 1014, for even Chola King Rajaraja is conspicuously absent in the inscriptions of Tiruvannamalai. While the rule of Chola King Rajendara I and Chola King Rajadhiraja I over this area is attested by their inscriptions once again a fairly long gap of over a hundred years is indicated by the absence of any Chola inscriptions till the beginning of Chola King Kulottunga III's reign (A.D. 1183).

Large scale activities in the period of Chola King Kulottunga III and Chola King Rajaraja III are indicated by a number of records in the Temple. Further, the frequent references to a number of Chola feudatories of this period also shows a gradual ascendancy in their power and importance till the final establishment of independence by Kadavaraya chieftains in the second quarter of the 13th century A.D. In this connection mention may be made of an interesting inscription at Tiruvannamalai, which records the agreement entered into by a number of feudatory chieftains to support one another and swearing allegiance to the ruling Chola King (Kulottunga III - A.D. 1210), pointing to a period of great political tension under the late Cholas. The Chola dynasty went into decline at the beginning of the 13th century with the rise of the Pandyan Dynasty, which ultimately caused their downfall. During the Pandya period by the inscriptions of the Pandyas of the second empire such as Jatavaraman Srivallabha and Tribhuvanachakravartin Kulasekhara in the 13th century A.D. during Hoyasala period - the Hoysalas under Vira Ballala III also exercised sway over this area, indication that the Hoysala power continued to influence Tamil politics even after the Muslim invasions of Malik Kafur.

During Vijayanagara Period
After the Hoysalas, Tiruvannamalai passed into the hands of the Vijayanagara rulers, whose southern invasions under King Kampana are well known and led to the establishment of Vijayanagara authority over practically the whole of Tamil Nadu. Vijayanagara inscriptions in this Temple are fairly large in number and range from the period of Harihara II to the late Vijayanagara ruler Venkatapatideva Maharya i.e. late 14th to the 17th centuries A.D. Following them, the Nayak feudatories of Tanjur, established their independent sway over this region and under the famous Sevvappa Nayaka, carried out large-scale renovations and building activities in the Temple.

During French Governship
France was the last of the major European powers of the 17th century to enter the East India trade in a significant way. Six decades after the foundation of the English and Dutch East India Companies and at a time when both Companies were multiplying factories on the shores of India, the French still didn't have a viable trading company or a single permanent establishment in the East.

Mr. Dupleix succeeded Dumas as Governor of Pondicherry. Then, in 1748, British reinforcements, intended for the recovery of Madras, arrived with a new fleet. Pondicherry in its turn was besieged, but French enterprise was successful in securing a French triumph. Due to the war between Dupleix and La Bourdannais in 1748, Madras was restored to the English and it maintained this status. But the restoration revealed a profound change in the politics of South India. Three taluks adjoining Pondicherry were handed over to Dupleix as reward for his kind assistance, during the Ambur battle in 1747. Thus the regions of Tiruvannamalai came under the regime of the French East India Company by 1750.

Dupleix refused to admit defeat and with infinite resource continued the struggle. He even besieged Trichinopoly a second time in 1773. The triumph of Arcot was followed by more victories over the forces of Chanda Sahib and the French. The campaigns continued throughout the year 1753, but early in 1754, Dupleix was forced to open negotiations with the British. Meanwhile the French Company had decided upon his recall. Due to hostilities between the English and the French in 1756, neither Madras nor Pondicherry was properly garrisoned. D'Auteuil, one of the officers of Dupleix captured Elavanasur. The French then took Tiruvannamalai and other forts and threatened and attacked Fort David. After Nayak rule, this region gradually passed into British hands except for a brief period of subordination to the Mysore Wodeyars.

Thus the Temple city of Tiruvannamalai has a great antiquity of its passage from days of historicity to that of colonial rule. The City witnessed many vicissitudes from time to time. There were many regimes controlling the area and the very nature of this antiquity was passed from spirituality to colonialism but it did not lose its divinity all through its passage from olden times to modernity.

[By: Smt. Lakshmi]