T emples today are oases of peace and calm in the rush of today's society. This is of course when they are not blaring music through loudspeakers in festival times!
Present day appearances can be deceptive. Sleepy villages today were hotbeds of activity in the past just as much as barren land of the past have become thriving settlements today. The walls of many such temples of the beaten track record stormy disputes of the past that have long been forgotten but give us fascinating glimpses into the legal and conflict resolution mechanisms of the past.
Temples for Vishnu and Siva
On the Madurai-Pudukottai road is Thirumeyyam that has two magnificent cave temples for Vishnu as Sathyamurthy, and for Siva. The temples nestle behind a small rock hillock that has a fort wall encircling the top. Thirumeyyam is a sleepy village today but for a few months till May 7, 1245, the place went through a bloody feud between the Vishnu and Siva worshippers. It was on this date, during the reign of Sundara Pandya II, that a settlement was reached. All forms of negotiations had failed and an erstwhile Hoysala army chief, finally arbitrated a deal that has a detailed set of clauses that even lawyers today can learn from.
The two parties in the presence of various officials from the surrounding villages agreed that two-fifths of the ‘Kadamai' would go to the Siva temple and the rest to the Vishnu temple.
The inscriptions speak of the mutual exchange of lands, sharing of tanks, habitation, demarcation of boundaries and the construction of a compound wall.
Not only was a referee appointed but an exact copy was engraved in the other temple as well with the names of all attendees. This contract was considered so important that an earlier seventh Century Pallava inscription pertaining to music was erased over!
The Pataleeswara temple at Thiruppadiripuliyur near Cuddalore has an interesting inscription from the 13th century engraved during the reign of Vikrama Pandya. The inscription relates a dispute that arose between a few brahmins of the temple who questioned the right of a Vikrama Pandya Kalingarayar to buy and gift land to the Subramanya shrine in the temple since that land belonged only to brahmins. One of the brahmins, the inscription says, even immolated himself in protest and drew the attention of the king.
The inscription mentions the process in detail and it is interesting that though the king could decide de facto, he chose to depute a team of two to conduct a detailed enquiry. The written evidence of ownership clinched the deal over claims of ‘this is the way it has been done in the past,' and the final judgment was accepted and engraved on the temple walls.
Temple inscriptions that deal with disputes may not have always involved the temple. The walls of the temple became a medium to record the judgment perhaps to impress the importance of the heinousness of the crime or because it was considered as a significant precedent-setting judgment. In this class come many judgments passed by the village mahasabha or assembly. The most serious trespass seems to have been the failure to pay dues.
In some cases, such as that of Malayamankatti Melurudaiyan Palanguran Kunran, a revenue collector who lived in 1055 AD and worked for Rajendra Chola III, being overzealous had its price too. Unable to stand his approach to collect revenue, a lady, Sendan Umayal committed suicide. To propitiate her memory the townsfolk of Jambai, a village near Thirukovilur caused him to light a perpetual lamp in her memory at the Jambunatha temple and endow the temple with 32 kasu for its maintenance.
The Thiruvottriyur Adipureeswara temple has an interesting inscription which may well be the earliest strike of temple employees. The Devadasis of the temple in Chola times went on strike demanding more wages and were finally persuaded to revert to work after a negotiated settlement.
Some temples also document judgments given between the warring castes grouped under the left and right hand castes. This division dates from the Chola times. Even as recently as the 19th century, these factions were frequently at dispute with each other for the simplest of reasons (who will say what hymn first, or which flag will fly higher or even the volume of the chants) in the many temples that dot George Town of today's Madras.
The development of the British legal system and the codification of laws gradually led to disputes of temples being settled in court and one doesn't find many inscriptions even from the Nayak times when maintenance of record on stone became less.
(The author can be contacted on pradeepandanusha @gmail.com)
Deep thought! Thanks for coigtiburnnt.