Sittanavasal – Ancient Jain Monastery

Some of the best cave paintings of medieval India are located in Sittanavasal Cave in Tamil Nadu. This rock-cut Jain monastery contains artwork comparable to famous murals in Ajanta Caves and Bagh Caves. Paintings were made in frescoe technique.

Sittanavasal rock-cut cave is located on prominent rock which rises up to 70 m high over the surrounding plain. This site is very rich with exciting archaeological monuments.

The name “Sittanavasal” has several explanations. One states that this is a distorted version of “chir-ran-nal-vaa-yil” meaning in Tamil language “the abode of great saints”. Another states that this was a suburb of Annalvayil (chiru-annal-vaayil – “smaller Annalvayil”.

Sittanavasal is one of important ancient Jain centre in this region of India and there are many more interesting monuments of Jains and also Hindu. Some are listed below:

  • To the south from Arivar-Koil there are Tamil inscriptions from the 7th – 13th century AD. Written sources mention 7 inscriptions, nowadays 2 could be fouond.
  • Walls of cliff at the temple are adorned with few sculpted Jain Thirtankaras.
  • In the front of Arivar-Koil in the rock floor there are several holes – some 15 cm wide and 20 cm deep. Possibly these were used to grind the pigments.
  • Between Eladipattam and Arivar-Koil, on the eastern slope of rock there is exciting monument – Navach-chunai (Jambunatha’s Cave), small rock-cut temple submerged in a small lake. Some skills in climbing are required to reach it. Near the tarn there grows old jambu tree. This is late Shiva temple with a lingam in centre. Occasionally, for the worship of temple, the water is removed from the lake.
  • At the western base of hill there is shrine of village deities including fine terracotta horses.

There are many more ancient monuments around the hill from more ancient past – megalithic burial urns, stone circles, cairns, dolmens, cists from the Iron Age, calledmudu-makkal-thaazhi. These monuments are located mainly to the south-west from the hill.

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