Praise of Śiva on the Rock of Trichy

Under the aegis of the project DHARMA (ERC n° 809994), Indra Manuel has undertaken a critical edition with annotated translation into English of the Tiricirāmalai Antāti.

Detail showing the lettering engraved in the back wall of the Gaṅgādhara cave, on the way up to the top of the Rock of Trichy © Indra Manuel

A blogpost by Indra Manuel

The Tiricirāmalai Antāti is a literary work written by Vēmpai Nārāyaṉaṉ in praise of Cirāmalai, the famous Rock of Trichy. In well-shaped Tamil letters that may be of the ninth-century, this poem was inscribed in two columns on the wall of the cave temple built by Mahendravarman I in the hill in Tiruchirapalli. Even though there are stanzas of poems inscribed on stones in many places, this is the only instance where a full-length poem of a literary genre, totalling 104 stanzas has been engraved in stone. Given how much younger all our palm-leaf manuscripts are, this makes it the oldest surviving document transmitting a substantial literary work in Tamil. It was first published in South Indian Inscriptions IV. It has since been published with notes and a general commentary by M. Raghavaiyangar (Tarumapuram, 1953).

When one surveys the corpus of devotional bhakti literature in Tamil, both Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava, it is evident that two different modes are used. One can be called the pure bhakti mode: direct praise of the god. Here, the place can be praised or described and the physical attributes of the god can be woven into poems. This mode is used in about half of the poems of the present antāti. The second mode is the indirect mode of praising the god, using the love themes of ancient akam poetry as the vehicle.

Three ways of using the akam or erotic mode may be observed in this antāti. One consists in introducing the greatness of the place or Lord Śiva in the background. Thus Tiricirāmalai is the place where the lovers meet or it is the place of the hero, where they reach when they resort to uṭaṉpōkku (“elopement”). Alternatively, the action of Lord Śiva or his devotees or his abode Cirāmalai can be used in similes. About 38% of the poems fall into this category. The second mode is the nāyaka-nāyikā-bhāva, where the god becomes the lover for whom the girl pines. As a third mode, random erotic scenes, such a person appreciating the beauty of a person engaged in the temple service or a person losing his heart to a girl playing ball in the groves in the hill, are portrayed. About 5% of the poems fall into the latter two modes. Seven songs seem too damaged to be intelligible, unless we manage to decipher more letters from the face of the rock.

(Re-posted and edited from Pattrika 53, 2020)

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