The Smiling Buddha of Ulagiyanallur
Hearing about an ancient Buddha statue in Ulagiyanallur, a remote village in the Kallakurichi dist of Tamil Nadu, we visited that place at the beginning of 2020. Reaching there, we found that it was not easy to locate the statue in the vast paddy fields around. We asked many people around, and they hadn’t heard about such a statue there. Fortunately, a farmer lady who was passing by knew about the statue, and she kindly volunteered to help us. Meandering through the paddy fields, she took us to a thick mound of shrubs and creepers, right in the middle of the fields. She parted the creepers to the sides, and a beautiful smiling Buddha around 4 feet in height came into sight.
She told us that the villagers have intentionally camouflaged the statue and kept it there for safekeeping until a secure temple structure is made. Earlier, the locals didn’t know what it was. For some, it was just a big piece of granite. They even used it to tether cattle. But once the awareness was spread that it was a Buddha statue, their attitude changed, and they started venerating it and protecting it.
The statue is still partly buried in the ground. It can be stylistically dated to be from the 9th-10th Century period or before.
Dilapidated Vihara (monastery) in Ulagiyanallur
We did some exploration in the surrounding area. There, we came across a temple-like structure, dilapidated and half covered in undergrowth. It has a dome and lotus medallions on the pillars. The base structure and the hall is made up of granite walls and pillars, whereas the dome is a terracotta brick structure. Those bricks looked ancient and resembled the ones used in the viharas of the first millennium. This structure is most likely the vestige of the Buddha Vihara in which the statue was originally enshrined.