Monday, February 29, 2016

Thiruchendur Murugan Temple - Dutch Adventure of 1648-53

Thiruchendur Murugan Temple - Dutch Adventure of 1648-53
Local Folklore:
A familiar local tradition runs to the effect that about 1648 AD, a race of seafaring men, identified later as Dutch, descended upon Thiruchendur and carried away the idol Shanmukha and ┼Üiva Natarajar, thinking that they were made of gold. Their attempt at melting it proving futile, they tried to carry them away by sea. But the sea suddenly grew boisterous, and rocked the ship violently, so the sailors threw the idols into the sea.
The loss of the idols was discovered and duly communicated to Vadamalaiappa Pillaiyan, the local administrator of the Nayakkan ruler at Tirunelveli. A great devotee that he was, Pillaiyan was sorely affected and didn’t know what to do. He ordered for a similar idol to be made in panchaloka. As the duplicate one was ready, and was on its way to Thiruchendur to be installed, in 1653 Vadamalaiappa Pillaiyan had a dream.
Acting to the advice conveyed to him by the God, he put out to sea and following the instructions that the idol was to be found at the spot where on a lime fruit would be found floating, and the place marked by the circling overhead of a kite, the bird of Vishnu.
Vadamalaiappa Pillaiyan recovered the original idol and reinstalled it in the temple in the year 1653. The replacement idol was then consecrated in the shrine of Tiruppirantîsvarar alias Venku Patcha Kovil situated east of Palamcottah (known as Murugan Kurichi).
Vadamalaiappa was greatly struck by the Lord's grace in giving him this great relief, in memory of which he erected a mantapa at Thiruchendur in his name and endowed it largely for the performance of a Kattalai Abhishekam and pujas for Subrahmaniyam on the seventh days of Masi and Avani festivals. An inscription at the mantapa relates the incidents referred to.
Among many others, kirtanas composed by Venri Malaik Kavirayar, are sung at this mantapa at the time when Shanmukha is brought here for Ubaya Mandakapadi on the seventh day of the Masi and Avani festivals. The poem relates the incidents and their rejoicings at the Lord being got back again. "Vadamalai Venba" is another poetic panegyric on Vadamalaiappa Pillaiyan.
M. Rennel, the French author of A Description, Historical and Geographical, of India (published in Berlin, 1785), gives a picture of the temple, which, he says, he got from a soldier in the service of the Dutch Company. He relates an incident which offers a reasonable explanation of the Thiruchendur tradition. "In a descent made by the Dutch off the Coast in 1648," he says, "the Dutch halted in the temple and on leaving did their best to destroy it by fire and by a heavy bombardment. But they only partially succeeded and the tower defied all their efforts." Possibly the capture of the idol was one of their achievements.
As a matter of fact M. Rennel calls the place Tuticorin, but from the picture and an accompanying sketch-map it is clear that Thiruchendur was meant. The Dutch were incessantly at war with the Portuguese on the coast.
Dutch Version of the Incident:
Thirumalai, the greatest of the Madura Nayaks ruled over the South of India from 1623 – 1659 A.D. The Portuguese were the earliest European traders to land at Cochin, and Thirumalai eager to have foreign trade relations concluded a treaty with them in 1639 A.D. The pearl fishery which employed the Paravas of the coast brought them enormous wealth. The pearls were the wealth of the Pandyas, and now that of the Portuguese.
Notwithstanding they were not enterprising enough, and Thirumalai was in consequence inclined more towards the progressive and prosperous Dutch who had large settlements along the Malabar, Ceylon and Chola mandala coast with factories and forts.
Accordingly a treaty with the Dutch was concluded in 1646 by terms of which they were allowed to build a fort at Kayalpattinam. This brought them into conflict with the Portuguese. They seized a Dutch boat laden with goods and drove the Dutch out of their fort and destroyed it.
The Dutch sought the aid of their Governor at headquarters in Ceylon. He came over to the mainland in ten boats, landed at Manappar, seized the Portuguese Church at Virarampattanam, occupied the Temple at Thiruchendur and fortified the latter with guns.
The people were sorely distressed and they appealed to Thirumalai Nayak. The Nayak sent word to the Dutch to vacate the temple and reimburse their loss at Kayalpattinam. The request was unheeded. The Dutch nevertheless marched on Tuticorin, ravaged the country all around it, and demanded 40,000 rials as a ransom to quit the place. The amount was also pressed for payment but only a small amount could be got together.
In the meanwhile the people at Thiruchendur gathered a force consisting of four elephants, 50 to 60 horses, and 500 to 600 men to oust the Dutch out of the temple. The attempt was unsuccessful with the loss of 50 men of the Nayak forces. The people were utterly helpless and sorely tried.
In 1648 the Dutch left the country taking with them all the temple idols, and demanding an enhanced ransom of 100,000 rials. The Nayak and his agent Vadamalai Pillaiyan sent an embassy of four men to the Dutch to demand the return of the temple idols. The Dutch Governor referred the demand to Dutch Government at Batavia, who directed the return of the idols to the temple at Thiruchendur, accepting however whatever amount they were offered.
Accordingly the idols were brought back to Thiruchendur in January 1651 and re-installed at the temple after consecration. And the inscription of Vadamalai-appa Pillaiyan mentions this incident.
As against this historical background of the event, the popular tradition goes that the Dutch as marauding pirates plundered the country, carried away the temple bronzes and thrown them into the sea to escape a divine retribution, and it was given to Vadamalai Pillaiyan to rescue them from the ocean's keeping. History and tradition, though different, have abundant morals to the discerning and the devout.