CHENNAI: A 3ft-high rock sculpture of Mahavir, the 24th and last Jain Tirthankara, has been discovered in Vayalakavur, a remote village near Uthiramerur in Kancheepuram district. After inspecting the sculpture, Jain scholar K Ajithadoss said it dated to the 10th century AD, adding that the stylistic pattern shows it was sculpted during the later period of Jainism in presentday Tamil Nadu.
The sculpture of Mahavir in sitting posture was found in the backyard of a private property in Vayalakavur, 26 km from Uthiramerur, by Jain priest Jeevakumar. “The sculpture was lying neglected and covered under the bushes. I went to the site after a villager told me about it. The three umbrellas on the sculpture have been damaged. As the villagers were not aware of its significance, they did not preserve it,” said Jeevakumar, who has discovered many sculptures of Tirthankaras in the Kancheepuram region. This is the 10th sculpture of Tirthankaras discovered by the priest at the Jain temple in Thirukalukundram whose devotion to Jainism made him survey the stretch with funds from his own pocket.
Many sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras have been discovered from Uthiramerur, showing it was once a main centre of Jainism. “Buddhism and Jainism flourished in present-day Kancheepuram during the 6th century. Chinese scholars Fa Hian and Hiuen Tsang also visited the town. They have recorded the significant influence of Jains in the Pallava kingdom particularly in Kanchi. The nearby Jinakanchi-Thiruppruththikundram was a very famous centre of Jainism and had a highly celebrated mutt called Jina Kanchi Mutt. It was shifted to Mel Sithamur near Tindivanam,” said Ajithadoss.
Even though a number of Jain sites have been excavated by heritage enthusiasts and scholars in the state, they are not being given adequate attention by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) or the state-owned department of archaeology. “Jainism once flourished in the Uthiramerur stretch. Ancient sculptures of Tirthankaras found at many places here testify to this. But there has been no proper documentation or study so far to establish this, which is unfortunate,” said Ajithadoss.
“We plan to make a shelter with the help of villagers to preserve the sculpture,” he said.
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