CHENNAI: Over the last three months, two rock art sites, two caverns with Jaina beds, and dolmens have been discovered within a radius of 25 km on the hillocks behind the Gingee fort in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district.
Members of the team that found the sites, said the discovery of Jaina beds confirmed the earlier view that present-day Villupuram district was once a prominent centre of Jainism. The presence of the rock art sites and dolmens showed that the area had been under continuous human occupation for 3,000 years, they added.
On June 1, K.T. Gandhirajan, an explorer who specialises in art history, T. Ramesh, a researcher in archaeology, and others found a big cavern with Jaina beds and rock art on a hillock called Pancha Pandavar Kal, near Vadagal village in Gingee taluk.
The hillock, located 15 km behind the Gingee fort, forms part of a chain of hills in the area. The team found a series of Jaina beds on the floor of the cavern and pre-historic paintings on the boulder surface opposite the beds.
“The beds are of primitive nature. They are not evolved. They are about 2,000 years old,” said Mr. Gandhirajan.
Raised “pillows” had been hewn out of the rock-floor at one end of the beds. Channels were cut to drain out rainwater from the beds or the floor was scooped out to collect rainwater.
The rock art consists of a painting of a deer done in white kaolin with outlines in red ochre. “This is really rare,” Mr. Gandhirajan said. While this figure of a deer is about 3 feet by 3 feet in size, there are tiny drawings of deer and lizard (udu mbu in Tamil) on the adjacent rock surface, as if to contra-distinguish their size. He estimated that the paintings might belong to circa 1000 B.C.
“These paintings were done by pre-historic men — by hunter-gatherers who used to live in this cavern. Much later, the Jain monks occupied them,” Mr. Gandhirajan said.
Three months earlier, the team found about a dozen port-holed dolmens on a hill near Devadanampettai, on the way to Tirukovilur, about 15 km from the Gingee fort. While most of the dolmens were found disturbed, a few were intact. About 2 km away, the team discovered a small rock art site, with drawings in white kaolin of marching men or men with raised hands.
About 25 days ago, Mr. Ramesh and Mr. Gandhirajan found 11 Jaina beds on a hill near Kanchiyur village, 28 km from Gingee.
According to T. Arun Raj, Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, Chennai Circle, Jaina beds had been discovered recently at Thirunarungkondai near Ulundurpet, Paraiyanpattu and Melkudalur. There are remains of the structural Jaina temples at Tirunarungkondai, Melsithamur and Thondur near Tindivanam and Melmalayanur near Tiruvannamalai. All these places are in Villupuram district.
On the hill at Sirukadambur, there is a bas-relief of 24 Jaina tirthankaras. “Adjacent to this, we have an inscription about a Jaina monk who went on a fast-unto-death. This inscription belongs to the transitional period from Tamil-Brahmi to Vattezuthu,” he said.
There are rock art sites in the district at Sethavarai and Kizhvalavu. “In addition to these relics of Jainism, we have now discovered these Jaina beds in two places. All this show that the present-day Villupuram district was a prominent centre of Jainism,” Mr. Arun Raj said.