Poompuhar or Kaviripoompattinam as it was known manifests the ancient glory of the Tamils. It was the chief port of the Chola kingdom during the Sangam Age. Sangam literature and the two great epics Silappadihikaram and Manimekalai give us glimpses of its glory. It was an international seaport and one could hear their many languages spoken by the merchants of various countries. The city contained separate quarters for foreigners and both day and night bazaars called Nalangadi and Allangadi were busy selling a plethora of articles like spices, gold, fancy wear, garments, liquor, pearls and precious stones and various edibles. Vast emporia were dealing on these goods. There were organized syndicates of merchants who also participated in the polity of the Cholas. Though it is reduced to a small village today, one could see evidences of its past glory in and around poompuhar.
Antiquity of Poompuhar: Foreign notice of this ancient port could be seen in the travelogues of Periplus Merris Erithroly, Ptolemy and Pliny. Pali literature like Milindapanha, Buddha Jataka tales, Abithama Avathar and Buddha Vamsakatha too mention this place. Buddhism flourished here 2000 years ago and evidences have been found out of the donation of a pillar by a Buddhist Somaya Bikkuni of Poompuhar during the second century B.C. Brahmi inscriptions dating back to 2nd century B.C. too speak of the city. The inscription at Sayavanam temple in Poompuhar also records its history. The Chola kings of the Sangam Age ruled the city with pride and embellished it in varius ways. Most of them speak of a great festival called 'Indra Vizha' devoted to Lord Indra. Evidences have been found of its continuance till the later Chola period.
The plan of the city
From literary evidences, the plan of the city has been elicaited as follows: (1) the city was divided into two well marked divisions as Pattinappakkam and Maruvurpakkam. (2) The market place of Poompuhar was sandwiched in between Nalangadi, the day market and Allangadi, the night bazaar. (3) The seashore was occur pied by ferocious undaunting fisher folks. (4) The warehouses were also located there. Artisans, merchants, sweet-vendors, butchers, potters and diamond-cutters lived in Maruvupakkam. (5) Kings, nobles elite citizens, rich traders and farmers, physicians, astrologers, the king's barracks and court dancers lived in Pattinappakkam. (6) Vellidai Murugan, Elanchi Mandram, Nedunkal Mandram, Bootha Chatukkam and Paval Mandram were located in Pattinappakkam. (7) The city also had wekk kaud-out gardens like Elavanthigai Cholai, Uyya Vanam, Champapathi Vanam and Kaveri Vanam. (8) Temples for Lord Siva, ChathukkaBootham, Indra, Balarama, Soory(Sun), Machathan, Chandra (Moon), Arugan (Jain), Thirumal (Vishnu) were there besides Buddha stupas and seven Buddha vihars, Champapathi Amman temple, brick idols and Ulagu Arivai Mandaram. (9) There were avenues and separate sacred passages for temple idols to take bath in the river. (10) There were ring wells on the fringes of the city. (11) There was a separate quarter for foreigners besides separate market-places. (12) All along the river banks, cool and shady trees were planted. This in short is the plan of Kaviripoompattinam or Poompuhar. 'Puhar' means estuary and the city was at the estuary of the only perennial river of Tamil Nadu - Cauvery.
Excavation at Poompuhar
Archaeologists have unearthed interesting evidences supporting the literary evidences. The excavations were initiated in 1910. The Archaeological Survey of India found out several ring wells near the seashore. The excavations near Champapathi Amman and Pallavaneswaram temples brought to light the existence of various buildings. Remains of a brick building and a boat jetty were discovered in Keezhaiyur. A water reservoir and the remains of several buildings were also found. Relics of a sixty feet Buddha vihar was found in Pallavaneswaram. A Buddha Marble paadha (feet of Buddha) of the size 3 1/2 *2 1/2 with holy symbols akin to those at Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. The coins that were in use during the early Chola Karikalan period were also found out. An ancient Roman copper coin too was unearthed at Vellaiyan Iruppu. Copper coins of Rajaraja Chola were also unearthed. An eighth century gold-plated copper statue of Buddha in meditation was also unearthed in Melaiyur in 1927. The Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department has discovered the remains of several buildings recently. This department in collaboration with The National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, has launched an offshore exploration of Poompuhar. This venture, it is hoped will bring out the magnificence of this erstwhile international seaport of South India.
Revival of Poompuhar's Ancient Glory
Dr. Kalaignar Karunanidhi, the illustrious statesman cum litterateur and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu who evinced keen interest in reviving the past glory of Poompuhar gave a crystal form to the lost city on the basis of literary evidences and through his initiation and efforts rose Silappathikaram Art Gallery, Ilanji Mandram, Pavai Mandram, Nedungal Mandram and Kotrappandal, in this place, with artistic splendor. Streams of visitors pour in every day.
What to see in Poompuhar
Silappathikaram Art Gallery: It has a beautiful seven-tier building of exquisite sculptural value. The first storey is 12' high and the following storey each has a height of 5' atop of which is erected a kalasam with a height of 8' the total height being 50 feet. The art gallery depicting scenes from one of the five major epics of Tamil 'Silappathikaram' was opened in 1973. These lovely scenes are lovingly immortalized in stone on the walls of the gallery. It is in short a treasure-house of Tamil Nadu.
The Makara Thorana Vayil at the entrance of the Art Gallery gives an imposing look to the whole structure. It has been designed on the model of Magara Thorana Vayil found in Surulimalai Mangala Devi temple and rises to a height of 22 ⅟2'. There is an anklet-shaped tank in the art gallery with statues of Kannagi (91/2) and Madhavi (8') on both sides of it.
Ilanji Mandram, Pavai Mandram, Nedungal Mandram and Kotrappandal have been reerected here and they remain here attracting the public with their artistic splendor. All these public places have been mentioned in Silappathikaram, the epic poetry of the Tamils. They served various purposes besides being ornamental. For instance, Ilanji Mandram is a place of beauty with a miracle tank which cured all illnesses. Nedungal Mandram is a pillar of splendor and those affected with mental disorder or those who have been poisoned or bitten by snake, if they go round and worship they will be cured. Pavai Mandram is a place of Justice and if injustice is done the Pavai (idol) there would shed tears. Kotrappandal was the ornamental shamiana presented by the king of the Vajjra country.
One can also stroll along the Bay of Bengal which appears to be washing the shores in repentance of its cruelty devouring this glorious land. The estuary where the river Cauvery enters the sea could also be seen.
Other Places of Interest around Poompuhar
Thirusaikkadu is Situated 2km away from Poompuhar estuary is this Siva temple of Thiru Sayavaneswarar and Kuyilinum Inia Nanmozhi Ammai. The Saivaite Saints or Nayanmars have sung hymns in praise of this temple. Chola inscriptions are also found here.
Thiruppallavaneswaram: This is an ancient and beautiful temple in Poompuhar. Iyarpagai Nayanar and Pattinathar and the hero and heroine of Silappathikaram, Kovalan and Kannagi were also born here. This temple was built by the Palllavas. The inscription of Vikrama Chola calls this place 'Puharnagaram' - Puhar city.
Melapperumpallam and Keezhapperumpallam
These two places are situated very near to Poompuhar and Thiruvengadu. The Valampurinathar temple at Melapperumpallam has Chola inscriptions. Nayanmars have sanctified this temple in their hyms. Keezhapperumpallam is at a distance of 2km from Poompuhar and one of the Navagrahas, Kethu (serpent's tail), has a separate sanctum here.
A famous Siva temple is here. It is constructed on Madakkoil (Storeyed Temple)pattern. Nayanmars have sung hymns on this temple. Sirappuli Nayanar, one of the 63 Saivaite saints, was born here.
A temple of historic significance, it is called Thirusemponpathi in Thevaram. It is near Poompuhar on the bus route to Tranquebar (Tharangambadi).
Punjai is near Semponnarkoil. A beautiful Siva temple sung by Nayanmars. It is hailed for the architectural wonders of the Cholas.
Thirukkaidaiyur is one the road to Tranquebar from Mayiladuthurai, It is one of the eight temple (Atta Veerattanam) glorifying the heroic victories of Lord Siva. Siva released Markandeya from the clutches of Yama, the God of Death and made him a perpetual youth. A beautiful bronze representation of this event could be seen here. The lingam here bears the rope marks of Yama. This place is also known for its fame in patronizing Bharathanatyam as evidenced by the inscription of Kulottunga Chola III. It is also a famous Sakthi Sthalam. The holy hymns of Abirami Anthathi was sung here by Abirami Bhattar, whose devotion made the Goddess brig the full moon on a new moon day. The Lord of this place is known as 'Amirthagateswara' (Lord of the nectar pot and people select this place to celebrate their 60th birthday so that they be rewarded with longevity by the grace of this god.
This place near Thirukkadaiyur is famous for its 'Das Bhuja Veera Anjaneya' (Ten headed Hanuman).
Eleven of the 108 holy places of Vaishnavaites are near Nangoor. The Nangoor Vishnu temples were sanctified by Thirumangai Alwar, one of the 12 Vaishnavaite Saints. The stucco figure of Nara Narayana in one of these temples is an architectural marvel. Some of them are Madakkoils (storeyed temples) and date back to the early Chola Paranthaga, 907 AD. Evidences are available in Siam for its flourishing as a centre of trade in those days.
This temple nearby contains an interesting inscription prescibing rules for the election of the village assembly. Those who were not members for the previous ten years and above 40 years alone are eligible to contest an election.
Tharangampadi is on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, south of Poompuhar. It is the place where the first Tamil Printing press was erected and casting of Tamil alphabets were done. The Christian missionary brought out The Bible here as the first printed book in Tamil.
It was a site of Danish settlement and has the remains of the Dansborg Ford built by Ore Godde, the Commander of the Royal Dutch Navy in the 17th century. This fort was constructed in 1620 with two storeys and the top echelons of the Dutch officials resided here. Tough the ramparts are ruined, the rest of the buildings are in good condition.
The Church of Zion
The Church of Zion was built in 1710 in the corner of King Street and Queen Street. After several modifications in 1782, 1784, 1800 and 1839, the church as it stands today has an impressive vaulted roof.
The Town Gateway
The Town Gateway is 200years old and has historical and architectural values.
Even today it exhibits Danish architecture and is under the control of Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department and has an archaeological museum open to public on all days except Fridays.
Masilamaninathar Temple was built in 1305AD by the Pandya king Maravarman Kulasekara. Its outstanding architectural beauty spellbind the onlookers, despite the front portion damaged due to sea erosion.
Rehling's Gaid is named after Johannes Rehling who was the Danish governor and owned this house between 1830 and 1841. It is the biggest building in Tranquebar. Presently St. Theresa's Teachers Training College is functioning here and it is well preserved.
British Collector's House
British Collector's House is on the eastern end of King's Street opposite the Dansborg Fort. It is another important landmark 150 years old with beautiful round columns, a central courtyard and a garden.
Buses ply frequently from Poompuhar, Sirkazhi, Mayiladuthurai and Nagappattinam to Tranquebar.
How to get there?
Poompuhar is in the Sirkazhi taluk of Nagappattinam district. Tourists have to alight at Mayiladuthurai Junction and proceed to Poompuhar by road. Those who come from Chennai have to alight at Sirkazhi and proceed by road. Poompuhar is linked to Mayiladuthurai as well as Sirkazhi by road, the distance being 24km and 21km respectively.
Tourists from Chennai to Poompuhar by private carriers can take route via Tindivanam, Pondicherry, Cuddalore and Sirkazhi. Those coming from Madurai, Ramanathapuram and Tirunelveli may proceed via Melur, Tiruppattur, Karaikudi, Tharangampadi and Akkur. They can also come by Pudukkottai, Thanjavur and Mayiladuthaurai.
Distance by rail route is as follows
Chennai-Sirkazhi 260 km; Chennai-Mayiladuthurai 281km; Thanjavur-Mayiladuthurai 70km; Trichy-Mayiladuthurai 120km.
One can also travel by bus to Mayiladuthurai or Sirkazhi from anywhere in Tamil Nadu and reach Poompuhar from there.
Poompuhar Distance Guide
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