Buddhism in Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu

Ancient Buddha statue at Thirunellikaval, Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu.
Ancient Buddha statue at Thirunellikaval, Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu.

Buddhism in Thiruvarur District

There was widespread presence of Buddhism in the Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu for a very long period. Large-sized stone statues of the Buddha were discovered from various parts of the district. They date from 9th to 11th Century CE (AD). A Bronze statue of Tara from the 13th Century CE was found in Kiranur, Nannilam Taluk. A large collection of Bronze and miniature stone statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as Stupas were obtained from Sellur village, Kodavasal Taluk, Thiruvarur. Those range from 11th to 14th Century CE. The present article narrates about the Buddhist statues from Thiruvarur other than the Sellur collection. The details of the collection from Sellur are available at “Ancient Buddhist statues unearthed in Sellur, Tamil Nadu” .

A grand statue of the Buddha in Thirunellikaval

In Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu, further to the south of Thiruvarur by about 19km is a small railway station called Thirunellikaval. It is in a place named Pudur. There, very close to the railway station, by a short walk through the field, we arrive at a small pond and a Bodhi tree. There, beneath the Bodhi tree is a Buddha statue from the 9th-10th Century CE (AD) period. Sometime in the long past, this statue, 4’6” in height was abandoned front-side down in the pond. It was later discovered by the locals. The people in the nearby house told us that they didn’t initially realize that it is a statue and were using it for washing clothes. Later, they realized that it is a Buddha statue and then got it lifted and installed beneath the Bodhi tree. The statue is mostly intact, except for some damage at ushnisha. An elderly lady in the neighborhood is taking care of the statue since then. 

Ancient Buddha statue at Thirunellikaval, Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu.
Ancient Buddha statue at Thirunellikaval, Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu.

Though the statue and the bodhi tree are just about 400meters from the railway station, not many people were aware of it in that vicinity. As we were enquiring around, finally one person confirmed that there was one such statue beneath a bodhi tree. But he felt that probably the tree had fallen in the Cyclone Gaja that hit that area about 2 months back (2018). Most of the trees in that area had been uprooted in the cataclysmic cyclone. As we finally spotted the statue, we were glad to see that the Bodhi tree and statue are both intact. Only some branches of the tree were affected by the cyclone.

Ancient Buddha statue at Thirunellikaval, Thiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu.
Ancient Buddha statue at Thirunellikaval, Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu.
Ancient Buddha statue at Thirunellikaval, Thiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu.
Ancient Buddha statue at Thirunellikaval, Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu.

Presently, the family staying in the adjacent house is taking good care of this statue. As they are not familiar with the teachings of the Buddha, they make offerings to the Buddha on special days in their own way.

The Buddha Statue from Valangaiman

A metal statue of Buddha, about 1ft in height was found from Valangaiman village to the south of Kumbakonam (Thiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu). This is presently kept in Gangaikonda Cholapuram Museum in Ariyalur district.

Ancient Buddha statue from Valangaiman, Thirvarur, Tamil Nadu
Buddha Statue from Valangaiman village, presently preserved at Gangaikonda Cholapuram Museum

The Buddha Statue from Kodavasal

A 5ft tall Buddha statue in stone was found from Kodavasal Taluk, Thiruvarur District. This is close to Sellur from where the 45 bronzes were unearthed. This statue is currently kept in Thyagaraja Temple Museum, Thiruvarur as an elegant reminder of the grand presence of Buddhism in Thiruvarur during the early part of the last millennium.

Buddha Statue from Kodavasal Talul, Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu
A Buddha Statue from Kodavasal Taluk, Thiruvarur Dist, Tamil Nadu. This is presently preserved at Thyagaraja Temple Museum, Thiruvarur.

A Bronze Statue of Tara from Kiranur, Nannilam

A Bronze Statue of Buddha Tara was obtained from Kiranur in Nannilam Taluk, Thiruvarur Dist, Tamil Nadu. This is currently kept in Chennai Museum. Archeologists assess this to be from the 13th Century CE.

Bhagavati Tara from Kiranur, Nannilam Taluk, Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu
This bronze statue of Tara, obtained from Kiranur in Nannilam Taluk, Thiruvarur is now preserved in Chennai Museum.
Yogi Prabodha Jnana & Yogini Abhaya Devi

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