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Pre-Pallava plaque of Kuravai Koothu - varnamvarnam
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Pre-Pallava plaque of Kuravai Koothu

In Kalki’s novel, Ponniyin Selvan, the hero Vandiyathevan happens to see a performance of Kuravai Koothu while visiting the Kadambur Palace. The performance starts with the arrival of nine girls on stage. They sing and dance praising Lord Murugan’s fame and valor, the skill of his victorious spear which killed the demons, Gajamukhan and Soorapadman. They also praise many of his qualities and his charities.

Now a terracota plaque depicting five women performing the kuravai koothu have been discovered near Mamallapuram. The location for this plaque is the oldest temple in Tamil Nadu which was discovered in post-tsunami archaeology. The original temple made of brick and dedicated to Muruga was built during the Sangam era (200 BCE to 300 CE). This temple was destroyed and the Pallava kings rebuilt it as a granite temple during 800 – 900 CE.

T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle, said the terracotta plaque depicting the dancers “is one of the fabulous collections that will enrich the archaeological wealth of the State.” It is a 13 cm by 12 cm bas-relief panel that shows the women with headgear and prominent eyes. Their mouths are open as if they are singing. The plaque belongs to circa second or third century A.D., he said.

“It is an important find because it is difficult to find terracotta figurines of the pre-Pallava period,” said P. Shanmugam, Director, Institute of Traditional Cultures of South and South-East Asia, University of Madras. “This is the first time in Tamil Nadu that such a group dance plaque has been found,” he said. `Kuravai koothu’ performed in Muruga temples find mention in the Tamil epic Silapadhikaram. [Rare artefacts found]

This particular Murugan temple, at Thiruvizhchil, which is the present-day Salavankuppam has been mentioned in a few inscriptions which give more details on the temple’s history.

All spoke of the gift of gold for burning a perpetual lamp at the temple. One inscription on a pillar belongs to the Pallava king, Kambavarman (of 9th century A.D). Another was issued by the Rashtrakuta king, Krishna III, in his 21st regnal year of 971 A.D. The third belonged to the Chola king, Rajendra III, of 13th century A.D.

During the earlier excavation from July to September 2005, the ASI had discovered the sanctum sanctorum built of bricks of the Muruga temple of the late Sangam age or the pre-Pallava period. According to archaeologists, a tsunami or tidal action damaged it. The Pallava kings subsequently converted into a granite temple in the 8th or 9th century A.D. It too collapsed because of a storm surge or a tsunami. The temple had a third phase of re-construction under the Cholas.

During the excavation last year, the ASI had unearthed two pillars with Tamil inscriptions of two Pallava kings, Nandivarman II of late 8th century A.D. and Dantivarman of early 9th century A.D. They also spoke of donations to the Muruga temple at Thiruvizhchil [Rare artefacts found]


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