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Source: The post is based on the article “Sittanavasal, a Jain heritage site in Tamil Nadu, battles the elements” published in The Hindu on 25th September 2022.
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At least three-fourths of the art in Sittanavasal is either damaged or vandalised. This is due to unrestricted public access and general exposure to the elements.
Located in: Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu
It is considered by historians to be one of the oldest inhabited areas in the district and a major centre of Jain influence for 1,000 years just before the Christian era.
Sittanavasal is the name used synonymously for the hamlet and the hillock that houses a) The Arivar Kovil (temple of Arihats – Jains who conquered their senses), b) ‘Ezhadipattam’ (a cavern with 17 polished rock beds), c) Megalithic burial sites and d) The Navachunai tarn (small mountain lake) with a submerged shrine.
This is the only place in Tamil Nadu where one can see Pandya paintings. The site is administered by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). ASI has undertaken conservation measures and also introduced digital checks to track public access.
The artwork on the ceiling of the sanctum and the Ardha mandapam of Arivar Kovil is an early example of post-Ajanta cave paintings of the fourth to sixth centuries. It is done using the fresco-secco technique (a process that dispenses with the preparation of the wall with wet plaster).
The ceiling paintings show ‘bhavyas’ (exalted souls who work to achieve moksha or spiritual liberation) enjoying themselves in a pool, full of blooming lotuses.
The colours are a mixture of plant dyes and mineral elements such as lime, lamp black, and clay pigments such as ochre for yellow and terre verte for the greyish-green tints.
The Sittanavasal has inscriptions from Brahmi and ‘vattaezhuthu’, from the third century AD. Early Tamil inscriptions from the ninth century AD of the Jain monk Ilan-Gautaman were also present here.