Buddhism in Tiruvannamalai, the ancient remnants

Ancient Buddha Statues, Tiruvannamalai
Ancient headless Buddha statues from Padavedu, Tiruvannamalai district, Tamil Nadu. Now kept in Tiruvannamalai Collectorate.

Padavedu, near Tiruvannamalai, is a scenic pastoral area consisting of many villages surrounded by the Javadhu hill forest and the Kamandala river. It is also home to two beautiful Buddha statues. Hearing about these statues, we visited there in 2019 to find details about these ancient statues. However, to our surprise, all that we could find were two brand new statues made of black stone. They were hosted in small side by side temples in the middle of farmland by the riverside. It was evident from the style of statues that present-day Mahabalipuram sculptors made them. The locals also confirmed that. They told us that there were two headless ancient Buddha statues there earlier. Since the villagers were hesitant to part with those statues, a corporate firm sponsored the new Buddha statues and temples as compensation. They did it so that the archeological department could take the original statues and preserve them.

New Buddha statue at Padavedu, Tiruvannamalai
One of the new Buddha statues that the villagers got as a replacement for the ancient Buddha statue at Padavedu, Tiruvannamalai.

There is an interesting story behind why the villagers were keen on the headless ancient statues. Typically, when Tamil Nadu people unearth some old statue, they consider it a divine boon and keep it as a local protector. Likewise, they regarded these statues too as local protectors. And a belief developed that these two statues protect their farming against drought. Whenever rain got delayed, they offered water over the broken neck of these statues. According to their belief, as soon as the ablution water poured over the statues flows back and reaches the river, clouds gather and the village is graced with an outpour. Due to this belief, they were hesitant to part with the statues till they received new Buddha statues hosted in newly constructed temples. 

Buddha Temple, Padavedu, Tiruvannamalai
Temple made to house one of the new Buddha statues that the villagers got as a replacement for the ancient Buddha statue at Padavedu, Tiruvannamalai.

It wasn’t clear to us where the original ancient statues went. Villagers only knew that the Archeological department took those away. After a lot of inquiry, we realized that they have kept these statues in front of the District Collectorate Office of Tiruvannamalai. They are waiting for their time to move into a new Museum constructed in the district HQ. So, at the beginning of 2020, before the onslaught of Covid 19, we went to Tiruvannamalai to see those statues.

New Buddha statue at Padavedu, Tiruvannamalai
One of the new Buddha statues that the villagers got as a replacement for the ancient Buddha statue at Padavedu, Tiruvannamalai.

Buried beneath the nondescript surface of padavedu is its history as the flourishing capital of Sambuvarayar chieftains who ruled the area as vassals of Hoysala kings. As the name Padavedu indicates, this would have been a land where various kingdoms waged fierce battles, leading to the massive destruction quite evident there. There is also a dilapidated temple with gajaprishta style architecture near the Jawadhu hills. This architecture is typical of old Buddhist chaitya-halls. The temple has a four-armed statue with all four hands broken, which could be that of a Bodhisattva.  This statue and other archeological remnants of Padavedu need to be explored further for their possible Buddhist connections.

Tiruvannamalai-Padavedu Buddhas
Ancient headless Buddha statues from Padavedu, Tiruvannamalai district, Tamil Nadu. Now kept in Tiruvannamalai Collectorate.

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