Madurai massacre

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Madurai massacre
Samanatham, the site of the massacre
Samanatham is located in India
Location of Samanatham in modern India
Location Samanatham, Madurai, Pandyan Empire (present-day Tamil Nadu), India
Date 7th century
Target Tamil Jains
Attack type
Massacre, Forced conversion
Deaths 8,000
Perpetrators Koon Pandiyan

According to the Shaivite chronicles, the Madurai massacre was the killing of around 8000 Tamil Jains by the Shaivite king Koon Pandiyan in the village of Samanatham near Madurai in India.[1][2] The king, who had embraced Jainism, was re-converted to Shaivism under the influence of the Shaivite saint Sambandar. After this re-conversion, around eight thousand Jains were impaled on stakes (supposedly by their own choice [3]), after having lost a series of contests.

The massacre is not mentioned in any Jain accounts, and there is no historical record of an actual massacre having taken place.[3] The incident could be a Shaivite legend created to prove the superiority of the Shaivite sect over the Jains.[4]


In the ancient Tamil-speaking region, the Jains had come to wield immense influence by the 7th century. There were around eight thousand Jains living in Madurai at the time.[5]

The king Koon Pandian converted to Jainism. This caused immense discomfort to his queen Mangaiarkkarasi and his minister Kulachirai Nayanar, who remained staunch Shaivites.[6] The two invited the Shaivite saint Sambandar to Madurai to check the growing influence of the Jains. According to the local Shaivite legend, the Jains set fire to the dwelling of Sambandar. But Sambandar transferred the heat to the king who started wriggling with pain. The Jains tried to cure his condition, by chanting a mantra which only aggravated the king's pain. Sambandar then chanted a mantra and sprinkled some sacred ash that not only freed the king from the burning sensation, but also cured his hunched back. The Jains were then pitched against another challenge: both Shaivite and Jain mantras should be written on the palm leaves, which would be thrown into a fire. The sect whose leaf survives would be accepted as superior. The Shaivites emerged as the winners of this challenge.[6] In a similar water-based contest (punalvatam), the Jain manuscripts drowned in the river, while the Saivite script came back to the shore unscathed.[3] Jains sources believe that oil was applied on the palm leaves by Saivite thus helping leaves to float in the water.With this trick, king was influenced by the Saivites.

After coming under the influence of Sambandar, the king became a Shaivite, as did several of his subjects.[7]

Killings and aftermath[edit]

Sambandar championed the cause of Shaivism, and sought to prove wrong the Jain doctrines. When the Jains in Samanatham refused to convert to Shaivism, the king ordered their killings with the consent of Sambandar.[8] Around 8000 Jains, in the words of M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, "committed themselves to the block to keep their vow", after having been worsted in a contest.[9] It should be noted that, according to the Periyapurana, there is no indication that anyone was "impaled" against their will, as against mounting the stakes themselves, after losing the contest and refusing to convert. [3] According to one theory, the word Samanatham derives from Samanar Ratham ("The blood of Jains").[10]

Sambandar is associated with the final downfall of Jainism in the Pandya kingdom in the 7th century CE.[11] Sambandar also converted a number of Buddhists in another part of the kingdom to Saivism.[12] The torture is depicted on some carvings of the Meenakshi temple in Madurai.[13][14] The massacre is celebrated and commemorated annually at the temple.[1][15][16][17]


The Jain chronicles and inscriptions do not mention the Madurai massacre.[18] The incident is mentioned only in the Shaivite sources: the earliest account is found in Sekkizhar's Periya Puranam (1150 CE), which was composed almost 500 years after the said massacre took place. The embellished versions of the original legends appear in other hagiographies and narratives of the medieval Tamil poets (e.g. Ottakoothar's Takkayakapparani) as well as local puranas (e.g. Thiruvilayadal Puranam). While Sekkizhar downplays the role of Sambandar, Ottakoothar portrays him as an incarnation of the war god Murugan Skanda, born on the earth to exterminate the Jains.[3] It is not clear from Sekkizhar's narrative that the impalement was not suicide in keeping with the terms of the contest.

The impalement is also depicted on the wall frescoes of the Golden Lily Tank of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, but these frescoes were created only in the 17th century, around a thousand years after the incident. Even after the alleged massacre, the Jains continued to be concentrated in Madurai during the 8th and the 9th centuries. The Jain authors in Madurai composed several works during this period, including Sendan Divakaram (a Tamil dictionary of Divakara), Neminatham, Vachchamalai and two Tamil grammars by Gunavira Pandita.[4]

For all these reasons, a number of scholars doubt the historicity of the incident. Ashim Kumar Roy, in his book A History of the Jainas, concludes that the story was made up by the Saivites to prove their dominance. According to him, such stories of destruction of one sect by another sect were a common feature of the contemporary Tamil literature, and were used as a way to prove the superiority of one sect over the other. There are stories about a Jain king of Kanchi persecuting the Buddhists in a similar way.[4] On similar grounds, K. A. Nilakanta Sastri argues that the story is "little more than an unpleasant legend and cannot be treated as history".[19]

Paul Dundas writes that the story represents the abandonment of Madurai by Jains for economic reasons or the gradual loss of their political influence. He mentions that alternatively, the massacre is "essentially mythical": the Jains in the Shaivite legend represent the demonic forces while the impalement stakes represent the yupa (the stake of wood used in the Vedic sacrifices).[18] John E. Cort supports this view, stating that "the legend (at some point in the tradition the number of Jains who were impaled got fixed at eight thousand) might well be a representation of the triumph of Agamic Shaivism's triumph over Jain asceticism".[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Raman Varadara (1993). Glimpses of Indian Heritage. Popular Prakashan. p. 9. ISBN 978-81-7154-758-6. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  2. ^ Steven Paul Hopkins (25 March 2002). Singing the Body of God : The Hymns of Vedantadesika in Their South Indian Tradition: The Hymns of Vedantadesika in Their South Indian Tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-19-802930-4. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f John E. Cort (1998). Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History. SUNY Press. pp. 180–182. ISBN 978-0-7914-9985-6. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Ashim Kumar Roy (1984). "9. History of the Digambaras". A history of the Jainas. Gitanjali. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  5. ^ B. S. Chandrababu; S. Ganeshram; C. Bhavani (2011). History of People and Their Environs. Bharathi Puthakalayam. p. 70. ISBN 978-93-80325-91-0. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  6. ^ a b "The Temple At Thirunallar". District Administration, Karaikal. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  7. ^ "Staunch devotion". The Hindu (Chennai). 2009-05-15. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  8. ^ James Hastings (2003). Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 9. Kessinger Publishing. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-7661-3680-9. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  9. ^ M. S. Purnalingam Pillai (1994). Tamil Literature. Asian Educational Services. p. 171. ISBN 978-81-206-0955-6. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  10. ^ Understanding Kannagi and her credo
  11. ^ S. Krishnaswamy Aiyengar. "Augustan Age of Tamil Literature". In Pandit. D. Savariroyan. Tamilian Antiquary. Asian Educational Services. p. 62. ISBN 978-81-206-1752-0. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  12. ^ Klaus K. Klostermaier (1994). A Survey of Hinduism. SUNY Press. pp. 302–. ISBN 978-1-4384-0933-7. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  13. ^ Charles Eliot (1 September 2007). Hinduism and Buddhism, Vol I. (of 3). Echo Library. p. 144. ISBN 978-1-4068-6295-9. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  14. ^ Murkot Ramunny (1 January 1993). Ezhimala: The Abode of the Naval Academy. Northern Book Centre. p. 13. ISBN 978-81-7211-052-9. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  15. ^ Burton Stein (4 February 2010). A History of India. John Wiley & Sons. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-4443-2351-1. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  16. ^ James Hastings (1 January 2003). Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 9. Kessinger Publishing. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-7661-3680-9. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  17. ^ Steven Paul Hopkins Associate Professor of Religion Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania (25 March 2002). Singing the Body of God : The Hymns of Vedantadesika in Their South Indian Tradition: The Hymns of Vedantadesika in Their South Indian Tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-19-802930-4. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  18. ^ a b Paul Dundas (2002). Jains. Routledge. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-415-26606-2. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  19. ^ K. A. Nilakanta Sastri (1976). A history of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar. Oxford University Press. p. 424. Retrieved 23 May 2013.