Thursday, October 11, 2007

Kamal's Dasavatharam & The story of 'Chella Pillai' Sampath Kumar from Melkote ?

The Mughals, long before they plundered and raped Srirangam in the 15th century - plundered and raped some other part of South India. It happened around the turn of the 11th century. Saint Ramanuja, one of the earliest preceptors of the Vishishta-Dvaitha philosophy, had to leave Sri Rangam (circa. 1097) under duress. A combination of circumstances made a Chozha King (nick named 'kirumi-kanda' Chozhan), drive out Ramanuja from the temple, until his son succeeded him and made amends. So as per the story Ramanuja travelled via Thondanur to a place called ThiruNarayanaPuram (now called 'Melokote' in Karnataka). There is a fascinating story during his travel, but let me get into that later. So, during his stay in ThirunarayanaPuram, he found out that the temple there had been destroyed during the Mughal invasion and the presiding idol thrown away. On temples and idols, let us briefly get into Temple Terms 101. Moola Vigraha, is the term for the main deity of a temple. It is also called Moolavar. Utsavar, is the miniature idol used for processions. While the people who could visit the temple prayed to the Moolavar. Old, sick and immobile people had to contend themselves with the Utsavar. The Utsavar is usually a small idol about 10 - 15 inches in length. You can hold it in your hand. It is usually made of gold or at least looks gold'ish in color. I hope this description benefits you, dear readers, as you near the end of this post.

Ramanuja had a standard operating procedure. He was really 'rules' Ramanujan, in the sense, he standardized temple sloka/puja processes and worship rituals in most temples he visited (For example Thirupathi follows his processes). Everywhere he went, he also, relevantly to the story I'm about to narrate, allowed low-caste people and women to enter temples. Melkote did not have a Moolavar, Utsavar and a temple. So he fought against the local chieftains, monks and sundry upper-castes to use the help of "low-caste" people to search for the missing Moolavar and Utsavar. The people helped him dig out the Moolavar from some hole (under Thulasi shrubs) in the ground that the Mughals had thrown it into. The Utsavar however proved far more elusive and that caused Ramanuja sleepless nights. Later, Ramanuja, now over 80 years old, learned that the mughals had in fact taken the Utsavar back with them to Delhi. So the old man walked to Delhi in search of the Utsavar. Upon begging to the Sultan to hand him back the Utsavar, the Sultan relented. The Sultan, who had apparently plundered several temples, could not isolate the Melkote idol, and so showed Ramanuja a huge set of idols that were brought back after the conquests. Ramanuja did not find the idol among that set. Then it was revealed to Ramanuja by the palace folks that the princess "Lachimar" had an play doll idol she loved very much. Voila! what do you know? That was the idol that Ramanuja was looking for. Legend has it that, when the princess refused to part with her doll, Ramanuja waged a bet with her. A contest where - if he called out to the idol and if the idol walked towards him, he would take the idol away with him. So he called out "Varai Chella Pillai" (meaning come loved son or come pampered son) "Sampath Kumara" (the name of the Utsavar). Some version of this story has the adverb as "Selva Pillai". The idol, it is said, walked towards him. Ramanuja took leave of the Sultan and rushed back to Melkote, anticipating that the princess may trigger a pursuit imminently.

His instinct was correct. The princess had fallen in love with the idol so much that she convinced the sultan to pursue Ramanuja. A hot pursuit followed. An army was hunting and chasing an old man. However, the proverb 'dharmam thalai kaakum' (dharma will protect your head) served one other purpose apart from being a title of an excellent MGR movie. Due to Ramanuja's positive reputation with the 'untouchables', the tribals protected him and escorted him safely back to Melkote. But the story does not end here. The princess, who was madly in love with Chellapillai pursued the idol to Melkote. Her lover followed her and acted as her body guard during her journey. Ramanuja, by that time, had installed the Utsavar in Melkote. So when the tired and almost unrecognizable, princess reached there, she could only beg Ramanuja to let her near Chella Pillai. He consented and she spent the rest of her short life near the idol. A clever legend of 'Thuluka Naachiyar' arose as a result of her story, in the hope to use this as a 'you and me are actually bhai-bhai' story to ward off invading Mughals. This legend worked to an extent and probably saved Srirangam from getting completely destroyed by the vile rapist Mallik Kafur. The procedures and rituals instituted by Ramanuja are followed even today in Melkote. Every year there is a procession of Sampath Kumaran during Brahmotsavam and guess what? 'untouchables' have always been allowed there. I visited ThiruNarayanaPuram a few years ago. A place, apart from the temple, that is extremely popular for Sarkarai Pongal (sweet pongal) and thiruman katti. However, the pertinent point for this blog post is that - I vividly remember the image of 'ChellaPillai'. And I can recognize an idol that has some similarity to it. And that brings us to something interesting.

So Kamal Hasan released a new set of photos for his upcoming movie Dasavatharam. Photos which to a Chella Pillai symbologist, as I'd like to call myself now, suggests a rather obvious connection.


Arvind said...


Btw, I hope you are documenting all of these legends and historical facts somewhere!! Get a wikipedia account and start adding :)

Krishnan said...

Quite informative. There is a shrine for Thulukka Nachiyar in Srirangam I guess.

Karthik Sriram said...


Kalakiteenga... ANd yeah, it seems Dasavatharam is taken in the same way as Tempus Fugit, a spanish telefilm, where the protagonist has the ability to do time travel - from what that guy, senthil kumar (the guy who sued Kamal over Dasavatharam plagiarism) and Kamal's lawyer said on tv, it seems Kamal goes back into history every now and then in a different getup to trace the silai and finally manages to re-install it....

BTW, unga sondha oor edhu? I'm making a guess its somewhere near in the Thanjavur - Kumbakonam area


Vetty Max said...

The Ramanuja and the Delhi Sultan contradicts a few "facts" of history.

1) Ramanuja lived from 1017-1137, much before the first Sultan of Delhi, Mahmud of Ghori in 1192.
2) The only other Muslim Sultan around India at that time was Mahmud of Ghazni, but there is no history of him coming to South India.

Also Ramanuja's time in Melkote coincided with the time of Vishnuvardhana, who was the greatest Hoysala king and he became Ramanuja's disciple.

Seems more of a legend than history to me. It might be true that Ramanuja had to go and get the Utsavar idol from somewhere north from an enemy king, but there surely have been extra fittings added later to this story.

Anonymous said...


Have been a regular visitor to your site for a past few blogs now.
happy to open my comment innings ;)
Yoga Narasimha@Melukote is our "kula thaivam" (Family deity).And its my grandma's native tooo...
Had a fair idea about the history of this place...ur post was very interesting & even more, informative...
Ramanujam was the one who remodeled the temple town/village...He did go up north to get the "Chella Pillai" from the muslim ruler(Not sure who it was)...As the Princess could not part away with it,she followed it to "Melukote"...Hence her idol as "Bibi Nachiyaar" is also in the temple

what amazed me was that, just by the few "Dasavatharam" pics and seeing the Chella Pillai in his hand, u have connected many dots and drawn a bold line.

Parting shot..."Temple Terms 101" was tooo cool..

- Kunta Kinte

Hari N Iyer said...

in these days of million blogs , there are very very few posts from an author where i read every single word from the beginning to the last ( not necessarily in that order ) .. yours is surely one of them ...

keep up the good work...

very very interesting and informative post

i am happy every time google reader says there is a new post in lightning !

I said...

asin akka thakkara irukanga.

Anonymous said...

Adhellaam sari, I saar, "Thamizhan anga nikkaraan, inga nikkaraan" 'nuttu, adhenna maha prana style payanpaduthareer, takkar'nu sollayila...

P.S.:- Hoping that Hawkeye annathe won't mind.

I said...

maha prana apdina enna ba artham?

Satish said...

My name is Satish.R and preparing to apply for B-Schools for fall'08. I read your blog posts related to this and have some specific doubts related Ross and general things. I could not find your email id on your blog. Your inputs will be really helpful in this regard. Can you please let me know your email id at satishr[at] so that i can send my queries. Appreciate your help regarding this.

Thanks & Regards

Gasquet Fan said...

Wow Hari. Such shameless display of self indulgence?? Show some tact man!

Agarkar is still the best. Look at how badly india lost without Agarkar.

Hawkeye said...


all these are probably getting argued over and over again in wiki talk page


yes there is.


your guess is only sort of correct!

vetty max,

somnathpur temple was raided by mughals before 1192. the mughals raided here and there from 1100 onwards.

/* but there surely have been extra fittings added later to this story. */

could be true. i mentioned in my post the reasons for such extra fittings. some times the reasons for extra fittting is worse than the impact the fitting itself tries to deliver.

kunta kinte,

kamal hasan borrows now and then from old hindu legends. so tried to connect the foto to this story. i visited the yoga nrihasimha temple too. thanks for your comment.

hari iyer,

thanks for your very kind words


athaane. this mara thamizhan is using thackrey thakur kind of thakkar words.


asin andrum, indrum, endrum sooper.


my email i.d is published on this blog profile. its


ya! you r rite. australia badly needs agarkar.

Anonymous said...

have been wanting to write about Thulaka Nachiyar myself, but you have done so cool a job correlating...

edhu paddikka poriyya:

'The Indian Clerk' Who Changed Mathematics

pavitra said...

Extremely interesting post :)

Anonymous said...

great post as usual.. one minor thing.. are you using the word "Mughal" when you mean "Turk" ? i thought we used the word Mughal for thee dynasty starting from Babur
(a turko-Mongol descendant). The sultans at the time of Mallik-Kafoor aren't called Mughals, rather they are central asian Turks.

- Charu

Anonymous said...

Nice write up.

My native village happens to be Kooram...a few miles off Kancheepuram. Kamal Hassan tried to contact a few leanred old men from Kooram to know about Koorathazhvan for his film Dasavatharam, I heard. Koorathazhvan (you must be knowing) is Ramanuja's disciple.

So, the connection you've established is perfect!

APALA said...


Excellent post! I had goose-pumps reading it! Being an ardent fan of GREAT KAMAL HAASAN, I knew that Kamal-sir borrows from old hindu legends quite often, this has every possibility of being true! Also, he bought the remake rights for Tempus Fugit long back (and it also pains me that some one would sue him claiming that this is his story and divert & waste Kamal’s energy to that act of total stupidity). It sounds like we would have a terrific, thrilling ride in Dasavataram!!!

samant.scorpio said...

NM group of Institutions best Engineering Colleges in Orissa,Colleges in India, Education in India,Educational Institute in Orissa India

Anonymous said...

So, you wont comment on that mughal-turk screw up you made?
It is difficult to accept that you made a (genuine, understandbale) mistake, right?

Anonymous said...

Ramanujar left Srirangam in 1097. Sounds dubious to me. Ofcourse, you are the "inge yaarukkavadu nuclear physics theiryuma?Theiryadha, oh appa naan adhile expert" types - just like your friend Gaurav Sabnis. So facts wouldnt matter to you, would they?

Hawkeye said...


don't take yourself too seriously.

i've stated the temple's version of their history. you have stated your theory. that is it. we both arent historians. we go by 2ndhand info. it is obvious that what i stated could be wrong. i don't need to say it again.

ramanuja left srirangam when he was 80 years old.

Anonymous said...

Super Awesome. And going by the fact that the trailer shows Rangaraja Nambi as a Thenkalai Iyengar, the Ramanujar link is super evident !!

Hawkeye said...


what is the connection between ramanuja and thenkalai/vadakalai?

Arthi Rangaraj said...

Am an ardent fan of KAMALHASAN.I never read these blogs and stuf usually,but this one is seriously an exception.........Damn interesting-short and crisp....Cant believe that iv read the whole thing patiently without missing a word.My family is a staunch Vaishnavite family and iv heard stories of Chella Pillai from my granny when i was a kid.......i bet we are not gonna miss this movie at any cost.Reading those facts there was really amazing.Something new and different....Awesome effort..HATS OFF TO U.....So am not gonna miss this movie.One for my Chella Pillai and the other of course ULAGA NAYAGAN KAMALHASAN.....HE ROX...........

Anonymous said...

Kamal haasan is a known atheist & hindu baiter. Here he has fabriated a story of rangaraja nambi & shown him & other devotees of Bhagavad Ramanuja as veera vaishnavas.

Actually there is no such thing as veera vaishnavas, but only Sri Vaishnavas.

It is actually an insult to Ramanuja - the Greatest Mahapurusha ever to have set foot on earth.

But with an arsehole like kamal, U cannot expect anything else.


Sudhakar said...

Hi, I just happened to read this blog today. Good one. As mentioned, there may be few differences between various versions of the story.

One thing, may not be very important. You have mentioned the invaders as Mughals, may be interchangeably with Muslims. They were Muslims but not exactly Mughals. The period of Mughals started in 16th centure only with Babur. Prior to them it was other Muslim dynasties Tughlaks, Khaljis, Lodis, etc. As said in one of the comments the earliest Muslim ruler in India was Mohammad of Ghazni and he too did not found any dynasty in India. Later, Mohammad of Ghor left his representative to rule from Delhi starting with which, we had Muslim rulers in India. I may be wrong here.

Bullet Tooth Tony said...

Blighter, you cannot be more wrong there mate.

Sri Ramanujar lived in the 12th century. The first Muslim invasion in India happened in 1192 in modern-day Sindh, and that is how we came to be dubbed as 'Hindu' due to the absence of S in Arabic. The story of Thulukka nachiyar is completely different and is about Sri Renganathar of Srirangam. here is the link-

If your read it, you could see that the bloody eunuch Malik Kafur literally raped Srirangam twice and not as you had mentioned.

The story of Kamal Hassan is that of Ramanujar's time, and if you cared to visit Govindaraja Swamy Temple, opposite to the Tirupati Railway Station, you can see the idol that Kamal had depicted in the movie, that which had been sourced away from Chidambaram.

My humble request, please care to verify historical facts before posting as it might erode your credibility in other posts too.

And BTW, your blog is dashed funny.