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Sittannavasal Monuments
by Subramanian Swaminathan

February 2008


There are a number of natural caverns with polished stone- beds in this hillock where Jain ascetics performed austerities.

a few hundred meters south of the cave-temple is the beginning of the path that leads to Ezhadippattam

The Ezhadippattam is the name given to a natural cavern where over more than a thousand years since 1st century BC, Jaina ascetics practiced severest penance such as kayotsarga (meditation till salvation in standing posture) and sallekhana (fasting unto death).
There are innumerable inscriptions here. But all these inscriptions are barely visible now, due to vandalism within the last 50-60 years.

Entry to the Cavern  

The Cavern

The cavern is near the top of the centre of the hill and on its eastern side. But the only approach is from the west, over the top of the hill. It is said that, originally this path to the cavern, along a narrow ledge in which precarious footholds are cut in the rock, was difficult and dangerous. Proper steps have now been cut, and an iron railing provided.

The stone-bed

Tamil Brahmi script of the 1st century BC


There is also a passage to reach the hill
through a very narrow cavern, now under disuse

stone beds & inscriptions nearby

Presently the ASI had installed an iron barricade at the mouth of the cavern to stop vandalism. The cavern is roomy but low. The floor is marked out into spaces for seventeen beds, each with a sort of stone pillow. They are highly polished. Similar arrangements can be found in other parts of India like Lomas Rishi cave of Gaya, Khandagiri- Udayagiri caves of Bhuvanesvar and many places in Tamilnadu like Anamalai, Alagarmalai, Tiruvallam, etc. In Pudukkottai itself, similar beds are there in Aluruttimalai of Narttamalai hills and Kudumiyamalai.

Most of the beds here are inscribed. One of them, the largest, is perhaps the oldest since it contains an inscription in Tamil in the Tamil Brahmi script of the 1st century BC. This is one of the oldest lithic records of South India.

The inscription reads as follows:
eriminatu kumizh-ur piranta kavuti-i
tenku- cirupocil ilayar
ceyta atit-anam.

It mentions that one Ilaiyar of Tenku-chiru-posil made this seat for Kavuti born at Kumuzhur in Erumi-naadu. It is believed that the Kumuzhur in Erumi-naadu refers to a place in the present Vellore district. By the other beds, names of other Jaina ascetics practiced sallekhana are inscribed. Thus, there are number inscriptions of 7th to 10th centuries AD. These inscriptions show that for about 1000 years from the 1st century BC this cavern was a resort of Jaina ascetics.