Tiruppudaimarudur, Narumpunatha Temple
The village of Tiruppudaimarudur lies at the confluence of the Tamraparni and Ghatananadi rivers some 25 km west of Tirunelveli. Its main attraction is its temple, dedicated to Shiva as Narumpunatha, Lord among fragrant flowers, and to his consort, Gomatiambal. Probably an early Pandya foundation, it was substantially enlarged during the Vijayanagara and Nayaka periods.
Its five-tiered east gopura houses remarkably well preserved paintings and wooden sculptures. The tiers, accessible through a narrow and steep staircase, occupy the principal longitudinal area of the gopura and are flanked, in the centre, by two projections – to the east and the west – provided with a small window.
The first floor is the largest, 11 m long and 4 m broad, the dimensions of each tier decreasing gradually from the first to the fifth. The latter is capped by a barrel vault supported by elegant wooden rafters. The walls of all the five tiers are covered with fine paintings, some of which, especially in proximity of the windows, are faded, whereas those on the interior walls of the chambers have fared marginally better. On each tier sets of wooden pillars bearing fine carvings support elaborate coffered ceilings. Sadly, in the past decades some of the murals have been wantonly defaced by visitors, and in order to avoid further damages, the gopura is now closed to the public. The murals’ dating is uncertain, however, a date around the mid-17th century seems the most probable.
The paintings show an amazing variety of themes: narratives inspired by local legends, puranic and epic literature. Most important, however is the wide range of depictions focusing on everyday activities: courtly receptions, commerce, in particular horse trading with Arabs and Portuguese – a case in point is the famous mural showing a ‘stable ship’. Historical events such as the victory of the Vijayanagara ruler Achyutadeva Raya (r. 1530-1542) over the Tiruvadi ruler – occupy the whole second tier of the gopura. These murals are an invaluable, and probably the largest, source of information on mid-seventeenth century material culture of southern Tamil Nadu.