Marugalthalai jain beds – Search for Jain history down south

Somewhere close to home I came across a place called Marugalthalai. I visited this place and this place triggered a lot of interest in me to know some history about this place and made me read and travel more. What about this place made me travel and read more?

Marugalthalai is a small village in Tirunelveli district of Tamilnadu. It has a small hill with two Tamil Brahmi inscriptions and a few stone beds. One of the inscription mentions “Venkasipan kodupidha kal kanchanam” which mentions the name of the person who sponsored for the stone bed. It is believed that these stone beds were used by the Jain monks somewhere in the 8th century.

Why did this trigger my interest in history? I grew up in a small village in the same district, with not knowing a lot of the outside world. The first Jain I came across was a friend in my college days in Coimbatore. He was a Rajasthani settled for a few generations in Madurai. Few of my friends even visited Rajasthan for this particular Jain friends wedding. So the image I had of Jains was that they were from the North India and these people migrated and settled down south. At that point in time, I was not aware of the South Indian Jains. I knew of my Jain friends eating habits and how it was different from mine.

Fast forward few years, I met few other Jain friends in Bangalore. In Bangalore I got to see Jain sweet shop, Jain college and Jain builders. Even then I was thinking there were never Jains in Tamilnadu. And then when I visited Marugalthalai, I was shocked to learn that there were Jains down south in the 8th century. But then what changed? How did they disappear from Tamilnadu?

My search continued. This search took me to other places in Tamilnadu Singikulam, Kalugumalai and Chitharal. The common connect with these places is their Jain connection. And this search also made me read Tho. Paramasivan and few other Tamil literature. I learned how much Jains have contributed to the Sangam Tamil. There is even a theory that the first written Tamil scripts are found in Shravanabelagola a Jain temple in current day Karnataka.

Thiruvalluvar, the poet who is celebrated across Tamilnadu is a Jain. This is the guy standing in Kanyakumari as a 133 feet tall statue. Manimegalai and Sivaga sinthamani two epics from Tamil which are compared to Mahabaratham and Ramayanam are Jain literature.

And then slowly their downfall started. When discussing this with a friend, he mentioned that he had remembered a song he heard in a Shiva temple which translates to “Praise to the lord who persecuted Jains.” (Samanargalai kaluvilyetiya sivanae potri).

And then Tho. Paramasivan mentions about Samanar kaluvettam (Impalement) by a Pandya king instigated by the Shaivite Sambandar. This historical event is known for killing around 8000 Jains by this torturous method. The numbers differ by different accounts. But the fact stays. Jains were persecuted.

To understand how Kaluvettam is done, one has to read Gopallapurathu Makkal. In the novel, a thief is persecuted in this manner (கழுவேற்றம்). The author gives a detailed explanation of how the persecution is done. Multiplying this scene with 8000 Jains, man that is disheartening.

Fast forward to the current time, with the current political scene in India, there is a story being circulated how Muslims persecuted the so called Hindus. But no one talks about the persecution done by Hindus. Also when you bucket a whole lot of religion as Hindus, one erases the history of conflict between Shaivites and Vaisnavites. Now both the religion along with many other is grouped as Hindus and some part of history is left out.

I would just like to end the blog post with the starting line from The communist Manifesto.

Religion is the opiate of the masses.

Karl Marx

If you believe one religion is better than the other one. Think again.

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