Stone cutters of Tamil Nadu and the Story behind Madurai Temple (Post No.3520)

Incomplete Raya Gopuram of Madurai in Tamil Nadu

Compiled by London swaminathan


Date: 6 January 2017


Time uploaded in London:-  17-14


Post No.3520



Pictures are taken from different sources; thanks.







The village stone cutter belongs to the five artisans of the village. He generally lives where there is solid rock which will suit his purposes. He opens his workshop under the burning sun on the open rock. He has a few chisels of different kinds and some iron hammers. With these simple tools he turns out some really good and useful work. He makes the stone for grinding curry materials; the mortar in which to pound rice and the mills– which are primitive in style– for grinding the flour. He can also make stone steps, pillars, beams, doorposts, jars, stands, troughs for watering the cattle and other useful articles that are required for domestic use.


He is not a monthly or annually paid artizan, but he receives suitable payment from the people for all the articles with which he supplies them. He does not go about to collect grain and vegetables from the villagers. If any villager chooses to give him a gift in the form of grain or fruit, of course, he is only too happy to accept it.


The skill of the famous Indian stonemasons has been displayed in the erection of the temples of India. The remarkable way in which groups of animals and human figures are carved out of the solid rock in some of the most famous ancient Hindu temples, speaks volumes for the skilfulness of the Indian stonemason. There is a temple (consecrated to the Hindu god Subramanian, the second son of the god Siva) at Kalugumalai, in the Tinnevelly district of Southern India, which is noted for its singular situation under a solid rock. The cave itself is well worth a visit and the carvings in solid rock are simply marvellous.


In the temple of Srirangam, in the Trichinopoly district, there are several indications of the skill of the stonemason. There are many beautiful pagodas, which shoot up into the sky to a lofty height, in the midst of hundreds of palm-trees and mango-trees, between the two great rivers, the Kavery and the Kollidam. The beautiful and attractive stone pillars, which stand in some of the temple mandapam(cloisters) were first conceived in the mind of the stonemason and then fashioned into shape by his skilful hands. At the bottom of the pillar is the figure of a bear ten feet in height; in the middle of the pillar is a horse about eight feet in height; on the back of the horse there is a hero holding a long spear in his hand, which is passing through the bear that holds up the pillar. On the top of the pedestal there hangs different kinds of Indian fruits. There are several pillars of this kind, and they differ only in the form given to the animals.


The stonecutters also make innumerable gods and goddesses for the people. They make gods with human bodies and animal heads, or with animal bodies and human heads. Their fingers have formed images of all the living creatures of India and placed them in the sacred buildings of the Hindu community.


It is a general complaint that the ancient Indians did not leave any proper record of the history of their land. The stonecutters have to some extent made up for this deficiency. They have told the histories and mysteries in the works of their bands. The inscriptions carved by them in various temples some two to three thousand years ago are still read with interest, and they are often used in deciding the disputes as to the rights of the peasants, the priests, and the princes of the land.

Story behind the Madurai Temple Tower

There are many stories connected with the scientific knowledge of the stonemasons. There is a beautiful and even magnificent temple in the historical and ancient city of Madurai. This temple was built by the founders of the Pandyan dynasty, and afterwards much improved by Terumal Naick (Thirumalai Nayakar), the latest Hindu ruler of Madura. In this temple there is a royer gopuram (the great pagoda) which was built by Terumal Naick. There are two large stone pillars in this royer (Rayar) gopuram. A certain stonemason, by order of the king, brought the stones from the mountain, and placed them in the pagoda, and then died. His son came, and attempted to follow in the footsteps of his father in erecting the royal monument to the goddessMeenatchi, and then he died. By-and-by his son came to the temple to pay his vows. As he entered the royer gopuram saw the great stone pillars. As he looked at them he thought that his grandfather had made a mistake in bringing of the stones and placing it in the sacred place, and he gave expression to his feelings while he was standing in the temple, saying that the temple was polluted according to building science, inasmuch as in one of the two huge pillars a frog was still alive at a certain spot towards the top of the pillar. This statement was brought to the notice of the king, and the man was summoned at once into his presence. The king asked the stonemason, “Have you said that my temple is polluted on account of one of the pillars being placed in the main entrance of the temple?”

“Yes, Your hHghness,’”politely said the man.

“If you cannot prove your statement to be true, remember your head will be severed from your body,” said the king in a very severe tone of voice.


Having placed his life as the pledge for the truth of his the stonemason boldly asked the king to follow him to the temple. The king and his courtiers went. The stonemason requested one of the servants of the king to place a ladder beside the pillar and to go up to the top, and break off a certain portion of the pillar with a hammer. When several small pieces had been broken off a stone frog actually fell down to the great surprise of the king and the advisers. The king immediately ordered his servants to bring gifts from the palace, and these be presented to the stonemason, and he even bestowed upon him royal honours.


Source: Indian Village Folk, T B Pandian, London Year 1897

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