The South Indian Temple was the nucleus around which centered the religious, social and cultural life of the people. As patron of learning and fine arts, as landholder and consumer of goods and services, as bank, museum, park and hospital and as an agent of poor- relief, the temple played a unique role. Obviously therefore, the study of every important temple constitutes an indispensable key to local history. Furthermore, a systematic survey of South Indian art and culture cannot be attempted in the absence of well-planned unitary studies of the great temples in the land, on the model of those admirely undertaken by the Archaeological Department of Java.
In this Monograph Dr. K.K. Pillay makes a comprehensive investigation into the history of the celebrated temple at Sucindram. The author brings to his writing exceptional qualifications, an intimates acquaintance with Sucindram from long residence there, a knowledge of Tamil, Sanskrit and Malayalam in which languages the original sources are found, a critical understanding of the artistic treasure of the temple, sound training in methods of historical research, and a vast experience of teaching History over a quarter of a century. A notable feature is that in his strictly objective study, he does not gloss over, much less suppress the difficulties which the investigator inevitable encounters. It is to be hoped that this work will provide a stimulus for several more similar Monographs, each devoted to a famous Temple of South India.
“He wrote, after some years of careful and exhaustive research, a Monograph on the famous temple at Sucindramin South Travancore, which, when published will remain a model of its class. It is characterized by extensive reading by extensive reading, careful local study, precision and critical and constructive power”.
“Dr. K.K. Pillay has produced a comprehensive and scholarly thesis on the famous temple at Sucindram in South Travancore… He has a wide Knowledge of History and a thorough grasp of sound methods of historical work.”
“Dr. K.K. Pillay’s Monograph is an excellent contribution to our knowledge of South Indian History and Art. He has mastered the vast mass of material including unpublished inscriptions and manuscripts of the temple, and has stated his conclusions with great care and caution. He has bought to his work a wide outlook, intensive study, critical power and balanced judgement”.
“His account of the special features in the temple, of its organization and working is interesting and his study of its architecture and sculptures, its contribution to the arts of music and dancing and his description of the modes of worship in the temple are particularly informative. He has also made a careful study of the inscription which are numerous and which from a reliable source of information for the historian. The Thesis is a distinct contribution to our knowledge of South India History and the author deserves our warm congratulations on his splendid performance”.
This monograph is the outcome of a Thesis submitted by me in 1946 to the Madras University. It is an historical study of the Sucindram temple, which affords a fertile field for investigation into different aspects of life spread over long vistas of time. A striking feature of the early history of Nancinad, of which Sucindram formed the Spiritual Capital, is that it became the cockpit of South India. Exposed to frequent attacks from outside, Nancinad fell successively under the sway of the Ay, Pandya, Cola and Venal rulers, and for a time under the Vijayanagar and Nayak Chieftains. Little wonder, the different phase of political history were reflected in the development of temple at Sucindram.
The various edifices and treasures of art, too, owe their rise to different monarchs and patrons. In India, as in Greece, art was the handmaid of religion, and the houses of the gods afforded scope for the expression of the artistic genius of the people. A systematic study of the evolution of South Indian architecture, sculpture and iconography cannot be undertaken without an intensive investigation into the features presented by all the important temples.
It is now my pleasant duty to thank those who have helped me in the preparation of this work. The Madras University was good enough to grant me in 1943 a Fellowship, which enabled me to conduct the research under the valuable guidance of Prof. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, the then Head of the Department of Indian History and Archaeology. I am deeply grateful to the University of Madras and to Prof. K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, whose help, always readily given and whose enthusiasm always infectious, have immeasurably encouraged me in my task. His critical acumen and clear judgment have been my unfailing help.
My thanks are due to the then Government of Travancore and her enlightened Dewan, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, for the kind permission granted me to take photographs of the artistic elements in the temple and to peruse the original documents in the Central Vernacular Records and Oriental Manuscripts Libraries at Trivandrum. I am also obliged to Sri R. Vasudeva Poduval, the then Director of Archaeology, Travancore, who kindly allowed me the use of his Departmental Library and permitted me reproduce in this book the photographs of the jewels in the temple.
A special tribute of gratitude is due to Kavimani Sri S. Desikavinayakam Pillai for his constant encouragement in my research. He was kind enough to spend with me several weeks at Sucindram, in spite of indifferent health, helping me study the inscriptions in situ. My debt to him is unrepayable and stands unrepaid. However, neither he nor anyone else is responsible for the views contained in this book.
Brahmasri P. Parameswara Sarma, the Vattappalli Sthanikar of the temple, has given me immense help He kindly permitted me to study the countless bundles of palm- leaf records pertaining to the temple and reproduce extracts from them in this book. He lent me the ‘Plan of Sucindram in the time of Balamartanda Varma’, which is reproduced here with his kind permission. Besides, he furnished me with firsthand information regarding the rites and ceremonies of the temple. It is a pleasure to acknowledge my profound gratitude to him.
I am also indebted to Dr. V. Raghavan for helping me study several Sthalapuranas, to Sri P.K. Panikkar and Sri V. Kalyana-sundaram for assisting me prepare the Maps and Plans, to Sri R.S. Desikan for making valuable suggestion when the book was under print and to Sri K. Parthasarathy for preparing the Index. To Dr. James Cousins I owe special thanks for honouring me with his kind Foreword to the book.
Sri C.T. Nachiappan of Kalakshetra took the photographs and Sri K. Srinivasulu of the Besant School, Adyar, prepared the sketches. Both of them enthusiastically accompanied me to Sucindram in this connection and I am greatly beholden to them. Lastly, I have much pleasure in recording my appreciation of the services rendered by the G.S. Press, the Associated Printers and Klein & Peyrel, the Block-makers, in the production of this book.
In my wanderings, as Ari Adviser to the State of Travancore from 1934 to 1948, up and down the naturally beautiful and artistically affluent area that had been brought into administrative unity by the genius of Balamartanda Varma in the 18th century, I had been stirred many a time to cry out for the coming again of a race of artists at the level of inspiration and achievement of the past. As a help towards this end I earnestly desires that scholarship would turn its attention to the detailed study and exposition of the arts and crafts of Kerala either in the unite manner as it gathered around one or other of the great centres of devotion, or in the comparative manner that is so fruitful of historical knowledge and artistic ideas.
Thirty years ago Dr. A. K. Coomaraswamy wrote of knowing of only one example of Dravidian painting in Travancore, that of Siva in Errumanur temple. Within the last fifteen years a large number of mural masterpieces have been brought of light in the temples and palaces of the states, and true copies of a selection of these have been preserved in the Sri Citralayam in Tribandrum.
One centre of such art, that in the cave temple of Tirunandikakarai goes back to so early a period as the 8th or 9th century A. D. A considerable amount of portrait sculpture has also been identified. Much speculation and discovery as to origins, movements and variations are involved in these. Dr. K.K. Pillay, in his monumental thesis, has given a fine indication in this direction by his cross references to objects of art elsewhere than in the Sucindram temple; and it is to be hoped that he, or some other students of Indian culture and knowledgeable and mentally alert as himself, will follow up these offset from his base line of survey and make similar studies of such superb units of artistic achievement as the handsome temple of Tiruvattar and the immense temple of Sri Padmanabhasvami at Trivandrum.
In the present until study of one of the world’s masterpieces of architecture and sculpture Dr. K. K. Pillay has most admirably fulfilled one of my dreams that someone would arise with the knowledge requisite to demonstrating the history, philosophy, character and skill that aspiration and genius had brought together in one or other of the wonderful syntheses that have made Travancore one of the richest areas of art-creation in India, the study of which has the possibility of contributing towards the understanding and ultimate solution of the tragic and inartistic problems of today.
As Shellly wrote, in “A Defence of Poetry” “We have more moral, political and historical wisdom than we know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical knowledge that can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies”. If this were so in his time over a century and a quarter ago, it is many times more so in our day. And if, as many believes, including the writer of this Foreword, the understanding and enjoyment of the principles involved in creative art- unity of conception, community of parts, rhythmical vitality, static form- can encourage the carrying over of these characteristics into life, then surely such studies as that of this thesis are of more than ordinary value in the raising of the cultural tone of life, since it makes available in an intelligible and enjoyable form the wisdom and knowledge of which shelly speaks.
This would be so in regard to any considerable unit round which the influences of history and art have gathered. I say this from experiences as it fell to my lot to lay down the lines of such a thesis on the former centre of rulership in Travancore, Padmanabhapuram Palace, which, like Sucindram temple, as Dr. Pillay has pointed out, combined characteristics of the Keralan and Tamilian variants of the Hindu culture out of which they both arose. But, while such impartation of the characteristics of art of life is true of “secular” centres of synthetical cultures, there comes from sacred centres, such as Sucindram, a special double exaltation of the creative spirit in that it is not only concentrated on decoration or expression but is devoted to devotion.
A refreshing feature of Dr. Pillay’s monograph is its freedom of mind and its exercise of the critical faculty. I am specially interested in the correction of an error of my own in allowing enthusiasm over an artistic discovery to obscure my own critical faculty and to accept from others an interpretation which I was soon to realize as erroneous. I am entirely in agreement with his explanation of the Visvarupam; and am happy that a cast of so superb an example of stone relief was installed in the Government Museum of Trivandrum for all to see..
It is much to be hoped that a work of such dimensions and historical and artistic value will find a large number of readers both inside India and outside, and will take its place as a book of permanent reference in University and Art Libraries.
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