The story of the nAstIka attack on rAmeshvaraM

An exchange with my acquaintance SRA on apotropaic rites related to temples prompted me to record this brief note. The light of the theravAda bauddha-s, the mighty king parAkrama-bAhu the Great (i.e. parAkrama-bAhu-I), came to power in Shri Lanka around 1153 CE. Few years after he came to the throne, he sent emissaries to other theravAda bauddha kings in Asia to announce his devote support for the sangha. narAthu, the king of Myanmar scorned the Lankan messengers and tortured them. He also imposed economic sanctions on Lanka. In the meanwhile parAkrama-bAhu was busy in local wars in course of which he conquered the whole of shrI-lankA and unified it under a single bauddha banner. In 1164 CE parAkrama-bAhu decided avenge the insult of the Lankans and launched a massive attack on Myanmar with a formidable fleet equipped with an year’s supply of grain for his large navy, an amphibious landing force of war-elephants and uniquely crafted long-range poisoned arrows. Despite cyclones and loss of multiple ships parAkrama-bahu’s fleet under admiral nagara-girI and chera mercenaries established a bridgehead at Kusumiya and captured the city with the amphibious landing force. Then the Lankan sea-borne army invaded Myanmar and penetrated as far as the capital Arimardhanapura. The Burmans resisted with much fury but parAkrama-bAhu ordered his navy and army to keep pressing on till they destroyed the killed the king of Myanmar. The ports were blockaded by the Lankans and their army finally stormed Arimardhanapura and killed narAthu.

This successful adventure tempted parAkrama-bAhu to invade and conquer south India. He found a great excuse for this program in the form of the internal struggle between two pANDya contenders for the throne and the choLa allies of one them (kulashekhara). He claimed to act in support of the other party (vIrapANDya) against choLa-s and kulashekhara. parAkrama-bahu dispatched his powerful admiral lankApura to deal with the Tamil kingdoms. lankApura conquered Ramanathapuram near the setu and built a heavily fortified camp named parAkramapura after his king. From here lankApura brought in a large lankan land army and sent it towards Madhurai, where he besieged and defeated kulashekhara. Then the Lankan army placed vIrapANDya as puppet in Madhurai and controlled it from a fortified camp they built named paNDuvijaya. They used this fort in tandem with parAkramapura and continued the war on the choLa-s, inflicted many blows on them, and even sent Tamils captured in India to build monuments in Lanka. Around 1171 CE parakarama-bAhu probably filled with bauddha zeal ordered the conquest of rAmeshvaraM. The lankan navy blockaded the temple city and an amphibious landing force with elephants launched a direct attack on the temple. They first uprooted the huge temple doors and carried it away. Then finding their way to the temple treasury they seized all its treasures and took control of the shrine and prevented the worship of shiva.

The choLa king rAjadhirAja-II was shaken by the desecration of the temple and called upon a learned tAntrIka of the Urdhva-srotras, j~nAnashiva to perform abhichAra rites to destroy the lankans who had desecrated the jyotir-li~Nga. j~nAnashiva began an elaborate abhichAra prayoga invoking the terrifying 5-headed, 18 handed form of shiva, who wears a garland of 108 skulls. An image of shiva in this form is also found in the chandella fort near Kajuraho where they routinely invoked him before doing battle with the turuShka-s. j~nAnashiva performed the rite unfazed for 28 days. The choLa army had been hammered by the lankans in multiple battles till that point, but is said that the fury of mahAdeva entered them. rAjAdhirAja-II’s army fell upon the desecrating bauddha-s in rAmeshvaraM and smashed them in a quick assault. The lankan admiral lankApura himself was leading the desecration and was struck by an arrow. The choLa-s beheaded him and nailed his severed head on the gates of the pANDuvijaya camp as a befitting offering to mahAdeva.

The details of this event are recorded in the ArpAkkaM inscription 18 Km from Kanchi.

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