Heritage trip to Arunkundram, Thirupanmalai and Thirumalai

Reach Foundation has arranged for a heritage trip. The plan was to cover
1.Arunkundram alias Arungundram
2.Thirupanmalai alias Tirupanmalai alias Panchapandavarmalai
3.Thirumalai alias Tirumalai

All of them are in the Arcot Arani belt of TamilNadu. This time we were fortunate to have two experts with us. Shri A.S.Ramachandran Epigraphist and Shri. Varadharajan Archaeologist.


Arunkundram is a village about 15 kms from Arcot. Dr.V.N.Chandrasekar who belongs to this village and now in Chennai has done immense development here. With the help of villagers several ancient sculptures have been excavated and brought back to life.

A beautiful temple has come up on top of a small hillock. It is now called Hari-Haran kundram. It is beautiful and well maintained. The old sculptures recovered are now kept in this temple.

Hariharan Kundram Temple

First striking thing is the statue of Aditya i.e Surya. Both Shri.Ramachandran and Shri.Varadharjan agree that it belongs to transition period from pallavas to cholas, around 850-900 CE. It is really fantastic. Except for very minute damage in the nose it is well preserved. The captivating charm of the statue has to be seen, difficult to describe.




A linga also belonging to the same period was recovered. It is currently under worship in the temple and bowing to sentiments no picture was taken.

Another piece a  Chandigeswara belong to earlier period -may be around 7-8th century is kept inside the temple.


One of the Sapta Matas is another piece that was excavated. Unfortunately it is kept very close to and facing the wall, so photographing is difficult.


A separate temple is being built for Amman on the lower reaches of the hillock. Near this an excavated piece of lower portion of a sculpture is kept. This one is in sandstone. The villagers thought  it is statue of Amman, but Shri.Ramachandran is of opinion that it should be Vishnu.

Sandstone Image

They told us several lingas have been unearthed nearby.

After visiting the hillock Dr.Chandrasekar took us around the village. First we noticed a headless statue buried among bricks. Upon clearing the bricks it was found to be that of Jesta devi – clearly early pallava one.

Jesta Devi

Near this lies a linga.

We moved little further where three figures are kept outside a temple. Two of them were easy to identify – Dakshinamurthy and Chandigeswara. The third one (one on the left side in the picture) took some time to identify. Shri. Ramachandran concluded that is should be Shiva as Kapala maalai could be seen. All three should belong to very early period.


An inscription belonging to 19th century could  be seen on a rock adjacent to the road. This village needs special attention from heritage lovers to excavate more such wonders.

We visited the Primary Health Centre recently constructed by the State Government and by the effort of Dr.Chandrasekar.


From Arunkundram we moved onto Thiupanmalai also known as Pandavarmalai. This hill should be about 100m tall. This is an ASI controlled monument. We climbed the hill. First we noticed inscription from Rajaraja period – given by Lada Raja. The ‘swastisri’ is written separately on the left hand side of the inscription – looks like it was fortgotten and written later.

Rajaraja inscription

On another rock over a small ‘sunai’, the Yatchi is etched.


An inscription on a rock above this belongs to Nandivarma Pallavan.

Nandivarman inscription

A figure of Theethangara is also etched on the rock about 20 feet above.

At present this place is used by Muslims.

On the eastern side of the hill Pallava a cave temple is found. This looks strikingly similar to Mandagapattu. But this one has seven enclosures. The depth should be about 12 feet. It is massive. Unfortunately it seems to have been abandoned at the early stage itself. Hence, no ornamentation or figure or inscription found. Shri Varadharajan said that this place was used by Arcot rulers during war time as residence for their womenfolk. He pointed to the hooks that have been provided to fix curtains. The whole cave is really enormous. Had it been completed it would have been fantastic. The hill and the location is a feast to the eye.

Pallava Cave

Pallava Cave - closer view

One of the enclosures

Semi finished walls

The poles - later addition

The hooks


From Thirupanmalai we moved on to Thirumalai, which is near Polur. We had our lunch (at 3.30pm !!) in the Jain Trust which runs schools and colleges here. Very nice and simple lunch. The buttermilk is worth remembering for ages – probably from the milk of their own gosala. The buttermilk reminds me the negative side of Science – loss of tasty and fresh food (planning to do a post on this).

Thirumalai is a Jain Temple complex both at the foot and atop the hill. This medium sized hill about 100-120meters tall houses what is called Kundavai Jeenalayam. Kundavai, the famous sister of Rajaraja Cholan has made grants to this place.

At the foot of hill there is separate sannidhi for  Mahaveera. This seems to have been done during Vijayanagara period. There are paintings at the back of the main deity – which probably belongs to Vijayanagara period – possibly later.


Kundavai inscription

Little above in the hill lies the most interesting place in this journey – the caves with paintings. It is amazing place with breathtaking paintings. The paintings on the walls were supposed to be from Vijayanagar period. The ones on the ceiling are from Chola period. The outer side of the cave is about 6-7 feet high but inner side it’s about a foot. It consists of three or four compartments. The larger one had entire ceiling painted with beautiful pattern, which when lying on the floor and looking up gives the feeling of a carpet above us. The patterns are fantastic, colour combination apt. The smaller compartment also sports beautiful paintings on the ceiling. What is amazing is that they have taken effort to paint even where ceiling is no more than two feet high. I cannot do justice to the beauty by describing them – you should see to realize it.

Adjacent to the paintings, just below there are carvings of  Ambika Yakshi, Gommateshwara, Parshwanath and Adinath all belong to Chola period. The place is pretty narrow, photographing is difficult.

After seeing these we moved to the northern side of the hill. Just below the summit there is an 18 feet tall Neminatha statue engraved on the hill. It belongs to late Chola period. It is enormous, simple and plain. There are no ornamentation, unlike the one at the lower caves.

Atop the hill is a small sannidhi for another theerthangara. Three Jain monks have done what is called ‘vadakiruthual’ on top of this hill. Their padams are engraved here. The hill has many ‘temple trees’ which withers sweet smelling flowers regularly, giving a serene atmosphere. There are few inscription near the padams,  all belonging to very late period. There is one inscription by ASI itself done in the year 1932 or around that.

The villages told us that there is a Rajaraja statue below the hills adjacent to the road. But it doesn’t look like Rajaraja. It clearly belongs later period may be vijayanagara or naik. It should that of some local chieftian.


Thus ended our heritage ‘thedal’.

On the whole a fantastic trip, covering early pallava to vijayanagara period. Thanks to Reach Foundation and specifically to Chandrasekhar the PR man of Reach foundation.


8 Responses to Heritage trip to Arunkundram, Thirupanmalai and Thirumalai

  1. vj says:

    nice post Mr Raman. I would like to know more about the date of the aditya sculpture – to me its defn post pallava and even later chola is doubtful. can discuss


    • ramanchennai says:

      Vijay thanks for visiting my blog. I am no expert . But one thing is sure it is an excellent piece. Both Varadharajan and Ramachandran agreed with approximate period. It is a piece that was excavated along with many other pieces.

  2. injamaven says:

    Thanks so much for translating, and taking photos of so many murthis!

  3. Thank you so much for photographing all the murthis at these sites. May I add them to our great sculpture database? [injamaven.com]
    still just getting off the ground

    • ramanchennai says:

      Thanks for your encouraging comments. Please add the pictures you like to your database. In fact I am feeling honoured by this.

  4. vijayan says:

    அருகுன்றதுக்கு ஆழமான வரலாறு உண்டு.
    பஞ்ச பாண்டவர் மலை , சமண பெண் துறவியர் வாழ்ந்த இடம்.
    திருமலை பல்வேறு வரலாற்று பெட்டகங்களின் சங்கமம்.
    Good collections.

  5. K. Baskaran says:

    How to go to Thirupanmalai from Chennai. whether it comes under Tiruvannamalai District or Vellore. Kindly let me know

    • ramanchennai says:

      I am not sure about the district where it is. I went in a trip organised by REACH. We went from Arani.

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