ThiruMayilai : The Itihasa of Mylapore

Sharda Narayanan

For a long time Madras was known as the capital of Tamil Nadu, the city of traditional food, Bharatanatyam and silks, until it became Chennai, with the State Government changing its name in 1996. While Madras was the administrative capital of South India during the time of the British, Chennai has metamorphosed into a modern city in the years after Independence. In South Chennai, Mylapore (#mylai) retains its importance as the cultural capital of the city, sprawling all around the Kapaleeswarar Temple (the abode of Shiva, Kailsasa #kailai) at its centre. There is not an article of ceremonial or ordinary use that cannot be found in the numerous shops that line the temple on all sides, from incense and steel utensils to silks and jewellery.

Every year there is a commemoration of the origin of this vibrant city, known as Madras Week, marked by cultural and media events wherein the “birthday” of the city, marked by the purchase of land from the Nayaka rulers by the British on August 22, 1639 is celebrated. Note 1 Somehow, public memory prior to this date seems to have faded away; it is remarkable that few people look into the earlier history of the place and consider Madras to have begun with the British. Why did the Europeans arrive at this trading station in the first place and why were innumerable wars fought between the Portuguese, French, Dutch, Arabs and English for control over this territory? It is a wonder that several recent histories have very little to say about the importance of the old Myilai harbour that was an important sea port with trade connections up to Indonesia.

Old Myilai
S. Muthaiah, an important chronicler of Madras in recent times writes that hundreds of years before the Portuguese arrived, Mylapore was an important port town having trade connections with the islands of the East Indies. He notes that the Portuguese pushed Mylapore away from the coast, inland where it lies now. Note 2
The Government of Madras State had commissioned a book on the temples of Chennai District in 1964 by historian and Tamil scholar E. M. Subrahmanya Pillai. In the Foreword, Chief Minister, M. Bhaktavatsalam writes that temples are not only important for the religious activities of the people but also relevant for the younger generation to understand our history, culture, literature, architecture and sculpture. The book points out that from the name “Mayil-arpu” which indicates that peacocks were found in plenty here, the place has been known by several names such as Myillapulla, Myilai and Myilapuri. Sea trade was well known at the harbour at Myilai, later known as Tirumyilai and Mayilapur, which was an ancient, thriving, famed town, mentioned in the Greek writings of the commanders accompanying Alexander in the first century BCE.

“Mylapore’s Ancient Past: Ptolemy, the Greek Geographer (A.D. 90-168) has referred to Mylapore in his books as ‘Millarpha.’ It was apparently a well-known sea port town with a flourishing trade. It must have also been a place of culture, as Saint Tiruvalluvar, the celebrated author of Tirukkural, the Word-famous ethical treatise, lived in Mylapore nearly 2,000 years ago. The Saivite Saints of the 7th Century, Saint Sambandar and Saint Appar, have sung about the Shrine in their hymns.” Note 3

Nayanmars

N. Mahalingam writes Note 4 that Mylai was known by several names such as Mayilai, Myilam, Myiladi, Mayil-ar-pur, Myilappu and Mylapore. Mayiladurai in southern Tamil Nadu became known as Ten-Myilai (Southern Mayilai) and Mylai in Madras as Ton-Myilai (Ancient Myilai). Three important temples that were once on the sea-shore have been rebuilt in the past few centuries – Kayilanathar Temple in Karaikkal, Vedapureeswaram in Puducherry and Kapaleeswaram in Mylapore, which was so vibrant that there was a major festival each month of the year. Anandaranga Pillai writes that the new temple in Mylapore is even more special, with many festivals and cultural activities. J. Mohan writes Note 5 in Tirumyilai Thala Puranam that Myilai has been a prosperous, fashionable centre right from ancient times, and also regarded as a place of pilgrimage. The place was revered because Parvati in the form of a peacock had worshipped Lord Siva there and was hence called Myilai, from ‘mayil’ which means, ‘peacock’. The Pallava kings had built a temple along the shore for Kapaleeswarar, to which there are several references in the Tirumurai.

The Marina beach at Chennai is one of the broadest in the world and it is possible that it hosted shipyards, warehouses and accountants’ offices. Perhaps lamps at the top of the temple tower also guided ships to dock just to their north, serving as a lighthouse. When the Europeans beginning with the Portuguese arrived, it is reasonable that they set up their trading posts just to the north of the existing harbour, where there would have been ample space available, as the coastline is quite uniform for a long stretch along Tamil Nadu and Andhra. Further south is the estuary of the Adyar river, which must surely have been used by the local people for transport and travel.

The saint and poet Jnanasambandhar had visited the temple in the seventh century and Arunagirinathar in the fifteenth century CE, describing it on the seashore. Its original location was approximately near the present church in San Thom. Appar, an elder contemporary of Jnanasambandhar, is said to have traveled to Tiruvottriyur from Myilai by ship and the Periya Puranam refers to Myilai Mahanagara (great city) as on the seashore. One of the earliest references to Myilai that we have from Tamil literature is the Tirumurai hymn (2.47) of Jnanasambandhar who lived in the 7th century CE. It is interesting that no other urban centre has been described with such pomp in any of his other songs. Tirujnanasambandhar, as he is reverentially known, was a child prodigy, singing his first song on Lord Shiva at the tender age of three, said to have been blessed by Shiva and Parvati in person. Tradition regards him as an avatara of Lord Kumara, come to resurrect Tamil music and literature. He travelled to one hundred and twenty-five shrines in Tamil Nadu, singing the praise of Lord Shiva and these pilgrimage spots came to be known as “pAdal petra sthalams”; the names of the towns and villages wherein he visited the Shiva temples are prefixed with “Tiru” in recognition of the honour of his visit and being included in his Tirumurai songs. There are several pAdal petra sthalams in the vicinity of Madras, some examples being Tiruvanmiyur, Tirumyilai and Tiruvotriyur (in north Chennai now).

Sivanesan Chettiar, a pious devotee of Lord Shiva, was one of the richest merchants of his time, with a flourishing trade operating out of Myilai, his estate being located near the Kapaleeswara Temple. He is said to have arranged marquees for shade and refreshments for Sambandhar and his retinue, all the way from Orriyur to Myilai, when they visited. Sivanesan had been struck by tragedy when his young daughter was bitten by a cobra and snatched away in the bloom of youth. Heartbroken, he had preserved her ashes in an urn, and when the holy Sambandhar arrived, he presented it before him, told his story and wept. Moved, Sambandhar sang the Mattita Punnaiya patigam (song) and as he sang, the girl verily came to life before everyone’s eyes. The Periya Puranam presents a touching, beautiful account of this episode. The song describes the special festivities at the temple through the year, asking Poompavai how she could go away without witnessing them. The Punnai tree or Poon tree, Calophyllum inophyllum, is the sthala vrksha, or temple tree of Kapaleeswaram. A coastal tree that thrives on the sea-shore, it grows under cultivation throughout peninsular India. Also known as the Alexandrian Laurel, it has large, oval, dark green glossy leaves, clusters of fragrant white flowers and round brown fruits that yield an oil used in traditional medicines. It is known as the tree that heals and Lord Shiva is also known as Punnai-vana-nāthar, or the Lord of Punnai grove, here.

Tirujnanasambandhar’s song on Myilai – Tirumurai 2. 47- Mattita Punnaiyam Note 6 by Oduvar Sri P. Sargurunathan is presented here:

Sri Pa. Sargurunathan hails from Karukkadipatti, a village 20 kms from Tanjavur, the son of a school teacher. While in high school, being inclined towards music, he joined the Tevaram Pathashala run by V.S. Trust, founded by industrialist A.C. Muthaiah in Chidambaram town. He underwent training in classical Tamil and Tevaram under the tutelage of Tiruvavadudurai Sri D. Somasundara Desikar. After this, he received training in Carnatic music in Chennai from Guru V. Achyutarayan. He has been the official Oduvar at Kapaleeswarar Temple since 1998. He is an A-grade artiste with AIR and has helped record almost all the Tirumurais in CD’s and online for Shaivam.org.

மட்டு இட்ட புன்னைஅம்கானல் மடமயிலைக்
கட்டு இட்டம் கொண்டான், கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்,
ஒட்டிட்ட பண்பின் உருத்திரபல்கணத்தார்க்கு
அட்டு இட்டல் காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (1)

maţţu iţţa puṉṉai amkāṉal maţamayilaik
kaţţu iţţam koņţāṉ, kapālīccuram amarntāṉ,
oţţiţţa paņpiṉ uruttirapalkaņattārkku
aţţu iţţal kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 1

“In the beautiful Mayilai which has sea-shore gardens of punnai (mast-wood) trees that pour with nectar, in which Lord Siva residing with desire in Kapaleeswaram delights. The Rudras along with various groups of Ganas in human form, (i.e., the devoted pilgrims) who come there are served food (prasada) – do you go without seeing this wonderful sight, O Poompavay!”
Mayilai is the name of the place, while Kapaleeswaram is that of the temple. The Rudra-s, deities of various levels on the path to mokşa, are said to participate in the celebrations and partake of the temple food during these festivals, attending along with Siva’s Ganas in human form; whereas other people could only see ordinary human beings, Tirujnanasambandhar could see them in their true form with his mind’s eye.


மைப் பயந்த ஒண்கண் மடநல்லார் மா மயிலைக்
கைப் பயந்த நீற்றான், கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்,
ஐப்பசி ஓணவிழாவும் அருந்தவர்கள் துய்ப்பனவும் காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (2)

maip payanta oņkaņ maţanallār mā mayilaik
kaip payanta nīṟṟāṉ, kapālīccuram amarntāṉ,
aippaci ōņaviḻāvum aruntavarkaļ
tuyppaṉavum kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 2

“The graceful ladies with bright, collyrium-lined (kajal) eyes are in the vast Mayilai where Siva who smears the sacred ash (vibhūti) with the hands, delights to dwell in Kapaleeswaram. The dhārmic hermits who practice austere penance come to pray at the temple during Aippaci Onam festival – do you go without seeing them O Poompavay!”


வளைக்கை மடநல்லார் மா மயிலை வண் மறுகில்
துளக்கு இல் கபாலீச்சுரத்தான் தொல்கார்த்திகைநாள்
தளத்து ஏந்து இளமுலையார் தையலார் கொண்டாடும்
விளக்கீடு காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (3)

vaļaikkai maţanallār mā mayilai vaņ maṟukil
tuļakku il kapālīccurattāṉ tolkārttikaināļ
taļattu ēntu iļamulaiyār taiyalār koņţāţum
viļakkīţu kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 3

“In the numerous streets of the vast Mayilai, where the ladies’ wrists tinkle with bangles, dwells Kapaleeswara who does not waver; on the ancient Kārtikai festival day, young girls in their first youth along with the kindly women, light plenty of lamps as evening falls – do you go without seeing them, O Poompavay!”


ஊர் திரை வேலை உலாவும் உயர் மயிலைக்
கூர்தரு வேல் வல்லார் கொற்றம் கொள் சேரிதனில்,
கார் தரு சோலைக் கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்
ஆர்திரைநாள் காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (4)

ūr tirai vēlai ulāvum uyar mayilaik
kūrtaru vēl vallār koṟṟam koļ cēritaṉil,
kār taru cōlaik kapālīccuram amarntāṉ
ārtiraināļ kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 4

“Where the rolling waves lap the shores of the great Mayilai whose lanes are full of brave warriors, expert at wielding sharp lances and whose dense groves bring rain clouds – do you go without seeing the special Ārtira festival, O Poompavay!”


மைப் பூசும் ஒண்கண் மடநல்லார் மா மயிலைக்
கைப் பூசு நீற்றான், கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்
நெய்ப் பூசும் ஒண் புழுக்கல் நேரிழையார் கொண்டாடும்
தைப்பூசம் காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (5)
maip pūcum oņkaņ maţanallār mā mayilaik
kaip pūcu nīṟṟāṉ, kapālīccuram amarntāṉ
neyp pūcum oņ puḻukkal nēriḻaiyār koņţāţum
taippūcam kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 5

“In the great Mayilai where ladies line their bright eyes with collyrium (kājal) and gather together, with sacred ash (vibhūti) applied with the hands dwells with delight the Lord of Kapaleeswaram. At the festival that is celebrated by women with straightforward thoughts by cooking the rice (pongal) dripping with ghee, do you go without seeing the Tai Poosam festival, O Poompavay!”


மடல் ஆர்ந்த தெங்கின் மயிலையார் மாசிக்
கடல்ஆட்டுக் கண்டான், கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்,
அடல் ஆன்ஏறு ஊரும் அடிகள், அடி பரவி,
நடம்ஆடல் காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (6)
maţal ārnta teńkiṉ mayilaiyār mācik
kaţal āţţuk kaņţāṉ, kapālīccuram amarntāṉ,
aţal āṉ ēṟu ūrum aţikaļ, aţi paravi,
naţam āţal kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 6

“In Mayilai where there are coconut glades with broad swaying fronds, during Māci festival, the Lord witnesses the throngs of devotees bathing in the sea, dancing in worship of the lotus feet of Siva who rides the ferocious bull – do you go without seeing the devotees’ seaside activities, O Poompavay!”


மலி விழா வீதி மடநல்லார் மா மயிலைக்
கலி விழாக் கண்டான், கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்
பலி விழாப் பாடல்செய் பங்குனி உத்தரநாள்
ஒலி விழாக் காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (7)
mali viḻā vīti maţanallār mā mayilaik
kali viḻāk kaņţāṉ, kapālīccuram amarntāṉ
pali viḻāp pāţalcey pańkuṉi uttaranāļ
oli viḻāk kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 7

“When noble ladies swarm the many streets of bustling Mayilai and there is great singing at the bali (sacrifice) festival during Panguni Uttaram, do you go without enjoying the grand music, O Poompavay!”
(Even today the main annual festival celebrated in Mylapore – the 10-day Brahmotsavam – is at Panguni Uttaram.)


தண் ஆர் அரக்கன் தோள் சாய்த்து உகந்த தாளினான்,
கண் ஆர் மயிலைக் கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்,
பண் ஆர் பதினெண்கணங்கள்தம்(ம்) அட்டமிநாள்
கண் ஆரக் காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (8)
taņ ār arakkaṉ tōļ cāyttu ukanta tāļiṉāṉ,
kaņ ār mayilaik kapālīccuram amarntāṉ,
paņ ār patiṉeņkaņańkaļtam(m) aţţamināļ
kaņ ārak kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 8

“With exalted lotus-foot, Siva subdued the powerful shoulders of the obstinate and mean king
(Ravana); He delights in dwelling in the picturesque Mayilai. When the eighteen groups of devotees,
expert in classical music, worship on the Ashtami day, do you go without feasting your eyes on the
beautiful spectacle, O Poompavay!”


நல் தாமரைமலர்மேல் நான்முகனும் நாரணனும்
முற்றாங்கு உணர்கிலா மூர்த்தி, திருவடியைக்
கற்றார்கள் ஏத்தும் கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான், பொன் தாப்புக் காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (9)

nal tāmaraimalarmēl nāṉmukaṉum nāraņaṉum
muṟṟāńku uņarkilā mūrtti, tiruvaţiyaik
kaṟṟārkaļ ēttum kapālīccuram amarntāṉ,
poṉ tāppuk kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 9

“The god with four faces (Caturmukha Brahmā) on the many-petalled lotus and Nārāyaņa could not fathom the form of the Lord whom the learned praise and who dwells with delight in Kapaleeswaram. Do you go without seeing the golden swing festival, O Poompavay!”

உரிஞ்சுஆய வாழ்க்கை அமண், உடையைப் போர்க்கும்
இருஞ் சாக்கியர்கள், எடுத்து உரைப்ப, நாட்டில்
கருஞ் சோலை சூழ்ந்த கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்
பெருஞ் சாந்தி காணாதே போதியோ? பூம்பாவாய்! (10)

uriñcu āya vāḻkkai amaņ, uţaiyaip pōrkkum
iruñ cākkiyarkaļ, eţuttu uraippa, nāţţil
karuñ cōlai cūḻnta kapālīccuram amarntāṉ
peruñ cānti kāņātē pōtiyō? pūmpāvāy! 10

“Amanars who lead a life without wearing clothes and Cākkiyar-s of darkness slander loudly in
this land surrounded by dense groves with fragrant trees where Siva dwells with delight in
Kapaleeswaram. Do you go without witnessing the grand finale (great bath) at the end of the
festival, O Poompavay!” This festival may refer to the Pavitrotsavam held annually in the month of Āņi or Āvadi (July to August) in the present schedule of the temple.


கான் அமர் சோலைக் கபாலீச்சுரம் அமர்ந்தான்
தேன் அமர் பூம்பாவைப் பாட்டுஆகச் செந்தமிழான்
ஞானசம்பந்தன் நலம் புகழ்ந்த பத்தும் வலார்,
வான சம்பந்தத்தவரோடும் வாழ்வாரே. (11)
kāṉ amar cōlaik kapālīccuram amarntāṉ
tēṉ amar pūmpāvaip pāţţu ākac centamiḻāṉ
ñāṉacampantaṉ nalam pukaḻnta pattum valār,
vāṉa campantattavarōţum vāḻvārē. 11

“With reference to Siva who dwells with delight in Kapaleeswaram which has lush gardens, the songs about Poompavay which are as sweet as honey in exquisite Tamil by Jñānasambandhan, describing the festivals which bring auspiciousness, if sung in entirety (all ten stanzas) by those learned in Tamil, would lead to eternal bliss along with those who have attained salvation.”

The Mylapore Shiva Temple
The present Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore, nerve centre of culture in Madras, is around 350 years old. It is not the structure in which Sambandhar and the other Nāyanār-s sang their hymns. The official website records the following: Note 7
“Mylapore fell into the hands of the Portuguese in A.D.1566, when the temple suffered demolition. The present temple was rebuilt 300 years ago. There are some fragmentary inscriptions from the old temple, still found in the present Shrine and in St. Thomas Cathedral.”

History of Portuguese in Madras records the following: Note 8


“There were Portuguese settlements in and around Mylapore. The Luz Church in Mylapore, Madras (Chennai) was the first church that the Portuguese built in Madras in 1516. Later in 1522, the São Tomé church was built by the Portuguese. They had also looted the treasures and destroyed the original Kapaleeswarar Temple.”


In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Portuguese and Dutch arrived, establishing their colonies from the Fort area expanding along the Marina, demolishing houses and temples of the Indians, to be followed by the English. As the European colonies expanded towards the south, they pushed Myilai inwards, away from the seashore and further inland, where the ‘black’ or native people lived beyond a mud wall. The Portuguese were known for their aggressive proselytization and cruelty towards the natives. In the middle of the sixteenth century they razed the ancient Kapaleeswarar temple and looted its treasures. It was much later when the Vijayanagara-Nayaka kings waged war with the Portuguese simultaneously in Goa and Mylapore and won, that they made arrangements for the construction of the present temple, using some of the ruins from the original structure.

It is said that carved stone columns from the ancient temple have been found in the premises of the San Thom Church, which is situated a kilometre away from the present temple on a straight line to the seashore, and also in a seminary built on St. Thomas Mount. An old map of Madras of 1814 illustrates that the same locality was known by both names, St Thom and Milapoor even as recently as two hundred years ago. Note 9
K. M. Balasubramania Mudaliar writes that there is a reference to Myilai as “Malliarpha” by Ptolemy, a commander of Alexander as recorded in Vestiges of Old Madras, Vol I by H. D. Love. In the account of the many battles for territory in Madras between the French and Arabs (Moors) in 1672, the French are reported to have taken shelter in the present Kapaleeswara Temple in Mylapore by hiding in the sanctum. This indicates that after demolition in the middle of the 16th century, it had been rebuilt in about a hundred years.

Some years ago, circa 1923, many stone sculptures and inscriptions had been excavated in the premises of the San Thom Cathedral. Government officials have recorded some of the inscription stones, numbering them from 215 to 223 in the Museum. Stone # 215 refers to endowment for lighting lamps in the Nataraja shrine, stone # 216 mentions Raja Raja Chola and # 217 refers to Poompavai, whose father Sivanesan Chettiar, was one of the most important merchants of his time. Many stones from the old temple have been used in the construction of the present temple, but as they have been rearranged, it is not easy to trace the continuity of the inscriptions, which refer mostly to donations made by various traders to the temple as Myilai was an important harbour and trading hub. Note 10 Subrahmanya Pillai also writes in Chennai Mavattu Kovil Varalaru (History of Temples in Chennai District) that the original temple had been demolished by the Portuguese and that when some excavations had been done below the Church in San Thom some fifty years earlier (to 1964), pillars of a Shiva temple and other stone carvings had been found. Note 11

The tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle in Mylapore

While historical records indicate that the person named as St. Thomas the Apostle never travelled beyond Syria, there is an established belief among the Church in South India that he arrived in Tamil Nadu. An official announcement by the Pope some decades ago had stated that in fact St. Thomas never travelled to India but due to protests by the Church in India, that statement was withdrawn, leaving the official position on the matter vague. Note 12 A different person known as Thomas of Caana, is believed to have come to the Malabar coast fleeing Palestine in the early centuries CE, who converted many people in Kerala. The Portuguese may have taken advantage of this earlier event to declare that the apostle had been buried at a site adjoining the Kapaleeswarar temple and capture the spot in the sixteenth century. In the decades that followed, their power increased to such an extent that they razed and ransacked the temple. Marco Polo who travelled to Mylapore in the thirteenth century makes no mention of St. Thomas there but does mention that a Christian, Thomas was buried along the coast somewhere between India and Ceylon.The missionaries now also propagate the narrative that a Brahmin murdered St. Thomas, to instigate hatred towards Hinduism and aid conversion. Note 13

Public discourse today never addresses these issues nor refers to the old history of Mylapore; most people born and raised in Chennai are not aware of these events. Some people who have visited the Museum in the San Thom Church premises say that there were a number of stone sculptures in the gardens in earlier times but now they have all been removed. There are others who promote the notion that the old temple may have been swallowed by the sea (as is reported to have occurred in Mahabalipuram) for the reason that anything is possible and that we do not know what happened in the past. But three hundred years in recent history is not such a long period in time and if in fact such a great monument had been swallowed by the sea, it would have been a spectacular event known with certainty. No exploration with divers or submarines in the ocean near the cathedral is ever envisaged to settle the matter. The location of the present cathedral and St Bede’s Academy behind it is on a raised portion of land, unlikely to have gone below the ocean and is in fact an ideal position for the temple, the shore being narrow and rocky below it. We have clear records by Portuguese historians that they demolished the “pagodas of Melliapore”.


Bibliography

  1. Mohan, J. (Ed.) (2011) Tirumylai Thala Puranam of Sri Amurthalinga Thambiran (Tamil). Chennai. Sivalayam.
  2. Muthiah, S. (1981) Madras Rediscovered. Chennai. Westland Publications.
  3. Sharan, Ishwar (1991) The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (Fourth Revised Edition). Delhi. Voice of India.
  4. Subrahmanya Pillai, E. M. (1964) Chennai Mavattu Kovil Varalaru (Tamil). Madras. Government of Tamil Nadu.

Endnotes

Note 1 Accessed on Oct 16, 2020:
a) https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/madras-week-2019-know-your-chennai/article29220752.ece
“August is an exciting month for Madras, now Chennai. It was 380 years ago that the British East India Company purchased Madrasapattinam from an Indian. A sleepy hamlet that the British set their sights upon is now a bustling metropolis, always in a state of flux, and yet, by all accounts retaining its original character, even as the old gives way to the new.”
(The HINDU, August 22, 2019)
b) https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-madras-day-chennai-turns-380-years-old-2783964
“Founded on August 22, 1639, the city Chennapattinam was later renamed as Madraspatanam and soon people began calling it as Madras. British East India Company purchased Madrasapattinam village in 1639 which marked the founding of the Madras.” (DNA, August 22, 2019)

Note 2 Madras Rediscovered (page 261)

Note 3 Official website of Kapaleeswarar Temple accessed on 24 May 2020 –
http://www.mylaikapaleeswarar.tnhrce.in/history.html Also E. M. Subrahmanya Pillai in Chennai Mavattu Kovil Varalaru (Tamil) (page 89)

Note 4 Preface, Thirumylai Thalapuranam of Sri Amurthalinga Thambiran (Tamil) (page 14)

Note 5 Introduction, Thirumylai Thalapuranam of Sri Amurthalinga Thambiran (Tamil) (pages 30-35)

Note 6 Lyrics of song taken from Shaivam.org (All Tirumurai lyrics available for free download)

Note 7 Official website of Kapaleeswarar Temple accessed on 24 May 2020
http://www.mylaikapaleeswarar.tnhrce.in/history.html

Note 8 History of Portuguese in Madras accessed on June 11, 2020
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_India

Note 9 Mylapore Map of 1814 with Mylapore temple and tanks visible , https://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/44194/chennai-the-environs-of- madras-surveyed-in-1814-latitu-faden accessed on 5 June 2020
“The routes of the European influence in Madras date to 1522, when the Portuguese set up a colony which they called Sao Tome de Meliapore (illustrated on this map). The Portuguese monopoly continued relatively unabated until 1612, when the Dutch took power from the Portuguese and established a base near Pulicat.”

Note 10 Thirumylai Thalapuranam of Sri Amurthalinga Thambiran (Tamil) (page 432)

Note 11 E. M. Subrahmanya Pillai in Chennai Mavattu Kovil Varalaru (Tamil) (page 92)

Note 12 https://m.rediff.com/news/2006/nov/22pope.htm?src=whatsapp&pos=news accessed on
18 October 2020.

Note 13 The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, accessed May 29, 2020:
a) Dr Koenrad Elst in the Preface:
This is not the place to discuss the unflattering picture painted of Thomas in his own hagiography, which credits him with many anti-social acts. The point for now is that the text never mentions nor describes the subcontinent but merely has the apostle go from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are “Mazde” [Zoroastrian] and have Persian names. This is definitely not lush and green Kerala. Not only is there no independent record of Thomas ever coming near South India, but the only source claimed for this story, doesn’t even make this claim either.”(page 13)While the belief that Thomas settled in South India came about as a mistake, the claim that he was martyred by Brahmins was always a deliberate lie, playing upon a possible confusion between the consonants of the expression “be ruhme”, meaning “with a spear”, and those of “brahma” (Semitic alphabets usually don’t specify vowels). That was the gratitude Hindus received in return for extending their hospitality to the Christian refugees: being blackened as the murderers of the refugees’ own hero. If the Indian bishops have any honour, they will themselves remove this false allegation from their discourse and their monuments, including the cathedral in Chennai built at the site of Thomas’s purported burial (actually the site of a Shiva temple).” (page 14)
b) Ishwar Sharan in Chapter 10:
Prof. Jarl Charpentier, in St. Thomas the Apostle and India, writes, “There is absolutely not the shadow of a proof that an Apostle of our Lord – be his name Thomas or something else – ever visited South India or Ceylon and founded Christian communities there.”
Note 37. This nineteenth century Gothic cathedral is built on a high point of the Mylapore beach and replaces the sixteenth century Portuguese church that was built on the same site. Both the church and bishop’s house beside it, are built over the area of the original Kapaleeswara Temple demolished by the Portuguese. The church, now designated a minor basilica, is dedicated to St. Thomas and contains two of his tombs, two sets of his relics including the bit of arm bone from Ortona, Italy, and the metal spearhead that is said to have killed him. Other churches in Madras that are associated with St. Thomas and are identified as having been built on temple sites are Luz Church in Mylapore, Our Lady of Health Church on Little Mount at Saidapet, and Our Lady of Expectation Church on Big Mount at St. Thomas Mount. (page 83)
c) From Chapter 16: “The best evidence for a Shiva temple on the Mylapore beach is offered by the Tamil saints. Iyadigal Kadavarkon, the sixth century Shaivite prince of Kanchipuram, Jnanasambandar and Arunagirinathar, the sixth and fifteenth century Shaivite poets, consistently mention in their hymns that the Kapaleeswara Temple was on the seashore. Jnanasambandar writes, “The Lord of Kapaleeswaram sat watching the people of Mylapore – a place full of flowering coconut palms – taking ceremonial bath in the sea on the full moon day of the month of Masai.” (Verse 6) Nine centuries later, and one century before the arrival of the Portuguese, Arunagirinathar writes, “O Lord of Mylapore temple, situated on the shores of the sea with raging waves….”
கயிலைப் பதியரன் முருகோனே
கடலக்கரைதிரை அருகே சூழ்
மயிலைப் பதிதநில் உறைவொனே
மதிமைக் கடியவர் பெருமானே !

Both saints show in these verses that the Lord was on the seashore, and Jnanasambandar marks that He was watching His devotees in the sea – that He must have been facing east. This is not the case today. The seventeenth century Vijayanagar temple is built inland and the Lord faces west, with the all-important flag pole and image of Nandi in the western courtyard before Him. This arrangement indicates that the present temple is a second temple, as the Agama Shastra does not permit a temple that has been moved from its original site and rebuilt to face in the same direction as its predecessor.” (page 108)


Dr. Sharda Narayanan
Dr. Sharda Narayanan

Dr. Sharda Narayanan is a Ph.D in Sanskrit (from JNU) , holds Master’s Degrees in Physics and Sanskrit from Bangalore University. She has several books, papers, presentations to her credit. Published at various national and international seminars. She currently teaches Indian Philosophy and Aesthetics.

13 thoughts on “ThiruMayilai : The Itihasa of Mylapore”

    1. MURALI RAMALINGAM

      Grea depth of knowledge with a delightful way of presenting the details in a easy to understand manner.
      Truly a must read.

  1. Thaira Subramanian

    The first time I heard this story a few years back I was shocked. I actually went back to the thirumurai and found the seashore descriptions in them. But in TN if you talk about these things you are a hindu fanatic.

    1. Sharda Narayanan

      True. Public awareness even about the Tirumurai is quite low. We need to know more about our heritage and history.

  2. Very informative. My blood boils whenever I come across attrocities commited on my people and my Temple .
    I dont understand Tamil, but still enjoyed the song and the katha behind that song.

    1. Yeah yeah. These same “very much Hindu” tamil dogs, especially chettiar, mudaliar, pillai, etc…the most hinduest of the tamil dogs are the ones who have been naraka-vedanai for brahmins for one hundred years. Your blood boils when you see that. My blood boils whenever these chettiar-mudaliar and now increasing hordes of tamil dogs talk about “hinduism”. India, and the world sees only that half. They dont see and know the half that brahmins in TN have had to face, at the hands of these demons. Just because there was no violence doesn’t mean nothing happened. Brahmins have had to face hellfire in TamilNadu for one hundred years, and these very same “very much hindu, devout” nattukottai chettiars, and the various vellalars are behind it. India does not know that half. They are quickly trying to bury it, and plant a rose there. The hindu tamils are much bigger criminals than invaders. You will never even have imagined that it is possible for somebody, some peoples to be so malicious and evils. That is tamils.

      My blood boils when tamil dogs own up Hinduism. Only I know the other half.

      1. Sharda Narayanan

        Luckily your comment is qualified with “in the past hundred years.” It is true that separatist politicians, western Indologists and media have played the caste card to whip up hate, usually for gain. Fortunately the supposed hatred between Brahmins and others has never been a reality in real life, at the ground level. It is high time Hindus rejected these divisive notions and focused on the contributions made by all communities. Mudaliars, Chettiars and others helped build our temples, especially this one, after much strife between the Nayaka rulers and Europeans. It is time for all Hindus to view themselves and each other with pride and unity. Missionaries take advantage of these supposed divisive tendencies within Hindus to achieve their ends, pretending that there is no discrimination on their part, which is false.

        What is alarming is that these historic facts are overlooked by modern people and even official publications ignore them, giving false information by suppressing facts.

    2. Sharda Narayanan

      It is great that you enjoy the song even without knowing Tamil, with an open outlook! Thank you!

      1. What do you mean “Hindus must reject”, Ma’am? Must reject whom? You are looking at “Brahmin” through the lens of the scriptures. Im trying to show the reality from a socio-political, class+caste perspective, and that is closest to reality. Why are you superimposing an inexistent identity onto the masses? It’s true that British cooked up anti-Brahmin forces to quell freedom struggle of the Congress. But that was a small portion. I invite you to read my blog entry here https://thethiravidiantruth.blogspot.com/2020/08/after-hundred-years-of-dravidam.html very quickly detailing about that British part.

        The visceral, albeit non-violent 100 yr old, hatred was solely Nagarathar-Vellalars’, Ma’am. You are refusing to look at that. You are superimposing “Hindu” identity on the masses, and on them. The problem is…the snakes in TN know the half you are holding to to, very well!!! They are the most hinduest castes. You dont have to force them to be Hindu. Like you mentioned, they are the very groups that built vedic paraphernalia, maintained temples, etc. But look at their other half!!! Nobody has to speak about that but Tamil Brahmins. They alone had to bear the fire of the Nagarathar-Vellalar, and tamils. If you attack at Nagarathar-Vellalar (Dravidian) forces with “you are anti-Hindu”, they will face trial, if at all, for much much less than what they actually did.

        There is no equivalent to Brahmin hatred in Tamil Nadu in the 20th century. Minus the violence, looking at the hatred alone, the institutionalized hatred that permeated the air; TV, politics, interpersonal relations, magazines, newspapers, everywhere..the comprehensiveness, and the intensity…Brahmin hatred of Tamil Nadu was 10 times more intense than Nazi Germany, and lasted four times as longer.

        The forces behind this were the most “Hindu” groups of TN: -Nattukottai Chettiars, Kaikolar Mudaliars, Tuluva Vellalars, Saiva Pillai’s and Balija Naidus, the naickers. By calling them merely “anti-hindu” in the fairytale style of north india, you are letting them escape.

  3. WhAt an amazing body of research work. We are indebted to you for opening our eyes which were blinded by foreign rulers.

  4. Wonderful work. Information such as this needs to open people’s understanding of the actual history which has been hidden from us for so long.

    1. It is very great biographical notes of mylapore all informations are gathered very exactly and tremondos effort if you are publish in next volume in the same topic you can add about our Sanskrit college is also celebrated centenary and it is the great institution of our Sanskrit learners we may give thanks to founder of Indian bank amalgamation group owners

  5. Akshara Venkatesh

    Thank you so much for the detailed and well constrcuted articel about the Itihasa of Mylapore.I feel proud , humbled and grateful to Lord Rudra as for years I reside in Tirumyilai and this article makes me beam with Joy and more pride to reside in Tirumyilai.

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