Mahaveer statue gives glimpse of Jain culture


Serving as a reminder of Jainism that flourished in Madurai between the second and fourth century, a nearly 1,000-year-old partly damaged idol of the 24th Tirthankar Mahaveer was found behind Mariamman temple at Velambur, in an uninhabited village near T Kallupatti in Peraiyur taluk.

Early Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions in Tamil Nadu date to the third century BC and describe the livelihoods of Tamil Jains. Over the years, caves, stone beds, inscriptions, and more than 100 sculptures relted to Jainism have been found in and around Madurai.

Pandiya Nadu Cultural Foundation led by archaeologist D Muneeswaran, who studied the statue, said it was spotted by Radhakrishnan, a farmer from the nearby Kavasakotai village, when he went looking for agricultural land.

“The idol is threefoot tall and two-foot wide. It has Mahaveer sitting in meditation on a throne, with two servants (without head as the stone was damaged) holding fans on either side. The throne is on three lion-like structures that are not clear, being eroded over centuries,” said Muneeswaran. Officials from the Madurai museum were informed about the idol found at Velambur and the officials had assured to take over the idol along with revenue department officials.

With no inscriptions to give further details the age of the idol was ascertained after consulting with archaeological expert C Santhalingam. The idol was also compared with a similar Mahaveer idol found at Kavasakotai village, a little more than two kilometres from Velambur.

The previous idol was found at Chengamedu area in Kavasakotai in May 2020. There are proofs of Jainism flourishing in that village and that it could have been a school for Jainism or to spread their ideologies, Muneeswaran said. More than a decade ago another idol had been found at Karaikeni. All three villages are only a couple of kilometres apart, and experts believe there is scope of finding more Mahaveer idols and Jain monuments in and around T Kallupatti area.

The decline of Jainism had begun in the seventh century. Keelakuyilkudi in Madurai has some well-preserved Jain beds. Keelavalavu near Melur is another place where Jain monuments are found.

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