Sunday, March 29, 2009

Origins of Ashtasahasram Iyers

I have recently been interested in the origin of Tamil Iyers. There are several subgroups among Iyers - Vadama, Brahatcharanam, Ashtasahasram, etc. I pursued further research on the Ashtasaharsam subgroup. They are divided into 4 subdivisions Attiyur, Arivarpade, Shatkulam and Nandivadi. These are the villages where they settled down initially when they arrived into Tamil Nadu. 

Ashtasahasram means 8000 in Sanskrit. Interestingly there is a village near Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu called Ennayiram (meaning 8000 in Tamil). Right next to this village is another village called Nandivadi and another village closeby called Attiyur.

I made a trip to this village - Ennayiram - to find out more. I was pleasantly surprised by the archeological remains there! I found 5 temples - 4 Shiva temples and one Vishnu temple. The 4 Shiva temples point to the 4 different directions (Brahmadesam, Ennayiram, Esalam and one more) and are age old - different from the usual temples of Tamil Nadu which has a Gopuram. 

These temples seemed like community gathering places apart from being places of worship. There were stages for artists to perform, small homes for probably the temple priests to live in and a series of nearby structures as opposed to a central structure dominating the scene. The Vishnu temple in the village of Ennayiram actually was a 2 storied temple! The local villagers told us that there were 500 brahmin families living there and that there were vedic schools for all 4 vedas there. There were writings on the walls of all temples in Grantham script several thousands of lines long.

Unfortunately they are not that well preserved. ASI has just started some work there. But plenty of sculptures and artefacts are strewn around in the road. Valuable historical writings have been used to build houses by the locals. These represent the best evidence of who and what the Ennayiram brahmins (Ashtasahasram Brahmins) are. I am posting several pictures I took of the place. 

I also started looking for the other villages - Arivarpade and Shatkulam. I never found them. They probably have been lost to time. But may be they still are around and if anyone knows about these, do post comments. Likewise, if anyone else has info on these writings or know more about this subject, kindly post your comments. 

Ennayiram Siva Temple pictures

Ennayiram temple performance stage
Ennayiram Siva complex entrance

Brahmadesam complex

Main Idol Brahmadesam
Inscriptions at Brahmadesam
Remains of a house like structure
The 'Gumbaz' of the temple (clearly added later on since mortar has been used)

Sculpture lying by the road side at Esalam
Inscriptions at Esalam

Nandi at Esalam Siva temple

Esalam Temple
The second story of the Alagiya Narasinga Peruma Temple at Ennayiram