by Subramanian Swaminathan
Sittannavasal is a small village
in Pudukkottai district and is world famous for its fresco paintings in
the rock-cut Jaina cave temple.
Sittannavasal has an important place
in the history of Tamilnadu. The megalithic monuments such as stone-circles,
urn burials and cists spread in the plains of this village testify that
this area was inhabited by pre-historic man. Sittannavasal is known primarily
for its mural paintings in the Jaina rock-cut cave temple called Arivar-koil.
These paintings are second only in importance after Ajanta paintings in
the art history of India. There is a natural cavern, called Ezhadippattam,
with polished rock beds of Jaina ascetics. These rock beds contain Tamil
inscriptions. The oldest is a Tamil Brahmi inscription, the oldest in the
district, and was being considered till recently as belonging to the 3rd
century BC. According to the recent study by Iravatham Mahadevan, it is
dated to the 1st century BC. Sittannavasal is perhaps the only place where
you can find inscriptions in Tamil from the 1st century BC to the 10th
century AD. The Navach-chunai, with its submerged cave temple, would interest
those who are adventurous.
There are a number of explanations
or interpretations about the derivation of the name. One of such explanations
says that Sittannavasal is a corruption of ChiR-Ran-nal-vaa-yil ('abode-of
great- saints'). Another explanation says that this hill, once a part of
a suburb of Annalvayil, could have come to be called Chirrannalvaayil
(ChiRu-annal-vaayil - 'smaller-Annal-Vaayil'). Yet another version
interprets that the name could be a derivation from Siddhaanaam-vaasah,
a word of northern origin, becoming Siddhannavaasah and then Sittannavasal.
In the Tamil Brahmi inscription mentioned before, the name of this place
is mentioned as 'ChiRu-posil'.
Paintings in other places - Ajanta, Kanchipuram, Thanjavur
places of interest