This sequel to Dutch tales and the archaeology discovery of south India portrays myriad shades of religious and cultural practices of the community influenced by three religion that tags the settlement of 15th-century regime in Pazhaverkad. In the previous article, we saw the rich cultural and historical heritage of Pulicat, a bustling seaport now barely existing as a fishing village. This town embraces diverse community coexisting since the arrival of Portuguese, Dutch, and the Muslim immigrants. The rule of Vijayanagar empire regards to the oldest religion, Hinduism to thrive in parts of Pulicat.

Dawn of the 15th century, the Portuguese arrived on the shores of Pulicat seeking asylum to Vijayanagar Empire, the Portuguese subsequently leased a part of the land on the north side of the Pulicat lake and set their foothold with their fort which was later destroyed to build a Dutch fort. The Portuguese established the first church in Tamil Nadu on the Coromandel coast when they identified the statue of Mary to be the one they had lost in their voyage. The chapel was named “Our Lady of Glory” which was demolished in 2008, the present shrine located in Kottai-Kuppam was constructed on the foundations of the old “Our Lady of Glory”.

Our Lady of Glory Church (Demolished in 2008)

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture, and Environment”)

Portuguese architecture, old “Our Lady of Glory” was dominated by Gothic style, characterised by complex structural forms, stone structures but obliged to regional difference and influences, Parish church was stripped out of its true features and characteristics of the Gothic style. Traces of Gothic style of architecture were observed in the rectangular windows with pointed arch and by traditional form ultimately derived from the Christian cross (cruciform). The nave (central aisle of the church, area near the door usually at the west end) and the transepts (perpendicular arm) had a sloping roof on metal supports and the intersecting points had a flat roof with battlements on the parapet above. The bell tower on the northeastern side and the stone slab installation with Portuguese inscriptions at the entrance of the church installed by Peter Paul Flagman. These inscriptions can still be found in the new structure.

Striking blue façade of St. Antony’s church

The only surviving church of historical importance in Pulicat is St.Antony’s church, patron to fisherman located closer to the lake on the north-eastern part of the town amidst some old fishing houses, was built in 1700’s by the Dutch. The striking blue old structure facing the Western side is oriented towards East-West direction, interestingly or intentionally this church faces the Parish church, in an overview the churches face each other. Similar to Gothic revival style churches, this church rests on buttressed foundation, the Tuscan column with circular pilasters and entablature with simple cornice stands on a rectangular base on the western face.

Two pairs of paired Pilasters are adorned on either side of the doorway. The rectangular double folded door with semi-circular arch and the placement of opening draws great attention to the facade. Above the classical entablature, a horizontal plane is fragmented into three portions by rectangular pilasters with pointed arch openings, wider bay in the central portion and smaller bays in the ends. The facade reflects renaissance style, with a pyramid shaped spire above the pilasters on the ends, housing the wooden cross. This spire resembling a small obelisk adjoins the curved relief work with paired circular pilasters with a central idol in the semi-circular arched niche. The pediment above the central bay hosts a larger Christian cross.

An old obsolete TV room housed adjacent to the church.

 Although a small shrine, the interior of the Church is divided into two sections by a semi-circular arch and difference in level, into chancel and nave. One-third of the length is the Chancel that houses the Altar, the Altar is accentuated by a small podium and three dwarf walls at ascending heights which hold the relic of St. Anthony. The two-thirds of the nave is enclosed by three windows on the south side and two windows on the north side with a semi-circular arched frame. The window shutter is inscribed with a cross. The timber truss framework supports the roof tiles, sloping towards north and south.

 A picture showing interior nave of the church, with timber truss roof saw above.

Unfortunately, the importance and significance of the church are forgotten, and they are considered as ‘just an old structure with an altar and an old cross’. The overlooked churches of Pulicat with difficulty to survive try to hold its ground parallel to the diverse religious and spirituality beliefs of Hindus, their temples are in different styles suited to the location. Accounting to Vijayanagara Empire and Chola dynasty in Pulicat several temples were built, almost every street. Surviving temples from this era are Adi Narayana Perumal Temple and Samayaeswarar Temple.

Adi Narayana Perumal Temple

The temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Adi Narayana Perumal Temple owe its presence to Balavandakulu, 18th King of the Vijayanagara Empire, although the exact date of its construction is unknown. The red laterite blocks have withstood the test of time housing three shrines. The less well-known material of Coromandel coast but found abundance in Malabar and Konkan coast, transcending geographical boundaries and made this laterite temple a phenomenal piece of architecture. Along with rare laterite blocks, stones and bricks were used with lime plaster.

Recreated model of Adi Narayana Temple by AARDE Foundation

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture, and Environment”)

The main shrine of Adi Narayana Perumal (Lord Vishnu) is in the center. The entry to three main shrines in the complex is through a pillared mandapam (hall) over transitional space Antrala (a small antechamber between the shrine and mandapam). The mandapam leading to the main shrine has the most interesting inscription depicting the story or Ramayana in the central aisle beams, these figurines are like a comic strip contained within 8 inches in height. Carved square stone column supporting the stone structure holds the Thaayar Sannadhi (‘Shrine of Holy mother’) on the southwest and the wooden structure supported by the wooden columns leads to Aandaal Sannidhi (Devotee of lord Vishnu) on the northwest. The temple follows the traditional layout of Hindu, featuring the house of Garuda (lord of eagles), the vehicle of lord Vishnu facing the main shrine. The Dwjasthambam (flag post) with beautifully carved Balipeetam is housed on a raised platform between the gateway and the house of Garuda.

The structural system of the temple follows the same protocol with the stone column, beams, and ceiling slabs. The Vimana above the Garba Grihas are made of brick moulds and lime plaster to plaster over the surface of laterite block.

The glorious gateway to the Adi Narayana Perumal temple stands ruined. Resembling an entrance

to the fort, it is difficult to decipher if the gateway had a Gopuram.

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment”)

 

The intriguing outer surface of the main shrine created with Laterite moulds and moulded niches.

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment”)

 

The concept of Visual illusion on column inscriptions: seems like two monkeys eating fruits,

but truly, its four monkeys facing different direction.

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment”)

 

Entrance to Samayaeswarar Temple

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment”)

Drawing attention to Samayaeswarar Temple, is an interesting and unique feature that are most commonly found only in north-western India and arid regions, although parts of Tamil Nadu is semi-arid, unlike the grand Chand Boari stepwell of Jaipur, it is hard to speculate the construction of step wells were utilitarian or an architectural statement in Pulicat. The complex houses an abandoned well with small steps leading to it. Defying the geographical traditional consideration for temple entrance, the entry to this temple is on the southern side rather favouring east. The main wooden door withered and deteriorated has become inaccessible hence, a small new door was created adjacent to the main door, the doorway is adorned below highly ornamented wooden beams on carved wooden brackets above the wooden column leads to the mandapam. 

The southern mandapam leads to another mandapam on the northern side, the shrine, the Garbha Griha dedicated to Lord Shiva is on the western side and the Nandi and Dhwasjasthambha on the eastern side, typical of a Hindu temple. The sanctuary is set in the open ground and has interesting inscriptions, figurines on the column narrating stories of the past. Permanent and unusual changes have changed the characteristics of the temple, the reconstruction of the main Vimana, additional figures and statues in an arched niche above the mandapam altered the style of 15th century Chola temple. Evidently, they were not able to withstand the test of time. There are three shrines in the temple complex including the Shiva Shrine, the other shrines have crumbled down necessitating to remove the deity. What’s left of it, is a shrine with a wooden support system and a brick shrine with a vaulted roof.

Mandapa of the main shrine, Nandhi shrine, Balipeetam & Dwajasthambam

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment”)

Pulicat has diverse religious practices, fading religious differences they have communal harmony. The ruined temple shares its wall with a mosque. The Keela Pallivasal, a century old, colonial influenced mosque abuts the Samayeswarar temple. An inclusive society, Muslims have resided in Pulicat since the Chola period.

The residences of traditional Muslims on the street leading to the Periya Jamia Pallivasal(Mosque) built around 17th century AD still possess their character and the perpendicular street on the western side leads to Chinna Palivasal(Small Mosque).

 Entrance to Periya Jamia Pallivasal

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment”)

 The Periya Jamia Pallivasal is at the end of the street with the Muslim quarters of the village, this layout is much like temples at the end of Agraharam. The rectangular entrance gateway structure is a wooden doorway with criss-cross jalli work and above that, is the parapet which holds the small Terracotta minarets with crescent and star symbols at the top. The rectangular roof has a traditional support system with timber logs, providing shade to the traditional resting/sitting area (Thinnai) and on the inner side the asbestos sheet roof slopes down. The roof of the entrance structure is supported by intermediate square stone columns and circular brick piers in the edges, now painted white. The facade of the mosque has a sloped chajja above the columns and top of the chajja is the parapet with small minarets at regular intervals.

Recreated model of Periya Jamia Pallivasal by AARDE Foundation

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment”)

The layout of the mosque was oriented to align the prayer hall (the Qibla, a modified compass indicator points towards the city of mecca) at an angle to the adjacent street. The rectangular walled enclosure houses the main prayer hall, the adhan (call for prayer) structure, the Ablution tank, the Khabristan (graveyard) and the toilet block.

The prayer hall is on the western side of the complex. The entry to the prayer hall is marked by a small well-proportioned Adhaan tower. The tower is raised over a square structure platform for the Muezzin supporting a small dome on the four columns with foliated arches in between them, which is accessed by seven steps. The colonnaded mosque is then divided into main inner prayer hall and the outer Verandahs (also used for praying). The three outer verandas are situated in the North, South and East direction of the main prayer hall. The verandas are secluded from the main hall by thick walls, three entrance doorway leads into the main prayer hall from three different sides. The main prayer hall is divided into five rows and five columns by the colonnades (16 columns). These columns support the roof system at different heights, with the central portion being the highest. As observed in every mosque, the hall has a Mimbar and Mihrab on the western wall toward kiblah. A small arched corridor opens to the southern veranda directly connecting with the open ablution tank.

On the eastern side, the complex house a graveyard. The Graves are marked with intricately carved gravestones; these gravestones stand vertically on the northern side. Interestingly the carvings on gravestone reveal, Mustafa Maraikkyar is the founder of the mosque and as claimed by the local Muslims.

The structural system of the mosques is similar to the temples of that time, but the architectural characteristics of the mosque are different and by large based on Islamic laws. The main support systems are strikingly unique, the columns are square at the base and at the top, but interestingly the central part of the column is divided into two parts with the lower portion being octagonal and the upper lengthier portion being hex-decagon (16 sided). All the inscriptions on the columns and the beams are adorned with floral pattern. On the eastern side entry, the columns in the veranda are distinctively ornamented. These two columns have an added square portion with detailed carving. This probably would have been done to mark the entrance. It is uncharacteristic of Islamic mosques there is no dome on top of the mosque.

Chinna Pallivasal

(Source: “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment”)

The Chinna Pallivasal planned muck alike to the Periya Jamiya Pallivasal has an inner prayer hall, the Adaan tower and ablution tank in a similar layout. The inscription reveals the mosque was constructed in 1708 AD. It’s fascinating, that in bright sunshine the sundial casts a clear shadow. This shows the correct time, reading the shadow cast by the sun. The sundial was installed in 1914 AD. However, a marker was used to find time before the sundial was installed.

Pulicat has more to offer than historical past, marvellous architecture. It showed the world humanity and nationalism in a community of people from different caste, religion and different beliefs harmoniously live together.

Our earnest gratitude to Ar.Xavier Benedict and AARDE Foundation for their insights and invaluable information. Illustrations and maps courtesy of their book, “Pulicat and Sadras – Confluence of History, Culture and Environment)”

2

Pin It on Pinterest