Ayyanar shrines with rows of terracotta horses of Chettinad, TN - facing decline

Painted terracotta horses, Solai Andavar shrine..alamy.com

Arungarai Amman temple.TN oabalu.wixsite.com

Terracotta horses,dedicated to god Ayyanar TN 

While travelling through the interior parts of Tamil Nadu, far removed from the urban jungle and madding crowd,  not only the green paddy fields and  groves of swaying coconut or palm trees will mesmerize you, but also  strikingly colored  stucco images of village god Ayyanar who is seated on an elephant or rearing horse with the hooves off   the ground. Also seen are his  associates, Veeran or Karuppusami along with his guards  

When it comes to horses of huge proportion normally associated with Ayyanar statues in the open or covered village landscape,  the outskirt of Ilangudipatti village in Pudukottai district takes to the world of Terracotta horses. Here the giant horses are  kept in rows of two, three or four on either side of a road, covering   a distance of up to 700 metres. You will run into a stucco elephant midway with big horses on either side.  At the end of the road  lies the shrine of Ayyanar with his regalia with the old tamarind tree forming the canopy. He is in a seated position with a sword pointing upward  in his right hand as if he is commanding an army of giant horses, including several hundred more terracotta figurines around the sanctuary.    

These  attractive and awe-inspiring stucco terracotta images are made of  fired lime, sand, mortar and other materials.  A visitor to this part of Chettinad may be wondering why so many terracotta clay horses of giant sizes  are in  one particular place. The answer is as simple as making an apple pie.  The annual grand festival known as Maha Magam held in March brings in lots of visitors, mostly village folks and they offer these colored clay horses to the deity as a token or gesture of gratitude for having fulfilled their wish.  

The local potter community is actively involved in the making of    Terracotta horses of the Ayyanar and they are made by them as per specifications, color combination, etc.  As there has been a great demand for the giant horses, they need a few months to fill in the orders.  On the festival day called  puravi eduppu , or kudirai eduppu, ritual ( puravi and kudirai in Tamil mean horse and eduppu means procession) the entire village takes part in the thanksgiving ritual. The local farmers and the potter community - Velars  believe that Ayyanar protects them and their village and land from evil forces, black magic, etc.   After regular puja the newly made terracotta horses are lined up before the Ayyanar shrine as offering  and are kept there till following year when they get replaced. They make this votive offering for copious rain and good harvest.

There are a few Ayyanar shrines nearby at  Kulamangalam Kattu Kovil is a shrine dedicated to Adheena Milagu Ayyanar, and at a place   40 m away, dedicated to Sammandha Karuppar, another village deity. In the former there used to be more than 50 terracotta horse; now there is a pair of rearing horses and an elephant facing the shrine. In the latter, it is unusual to see a blend of   a bearded Muslim warrior, a Hindu woman, and a Muslim woman wearing a scarf with terracotta figurines of Sammandha Karuppar, a Hindu warrior. Village guard Sammandha Karuppar is depicted as holding a sickle in his right hand and a club in his left, and the armed warriors are riding horses.

The Urappatti village, 6 km from Naarthamalai  that houses the Adheena Milagu Ayyanar temple  has a vast collection of terracotta horses of countless varieties, each surpassing the other in workmanship and use of mind-boggling color combination. The images include variety of horses, elephants, cows and bulls. These clay images are on par with those at the Ilangudipatti Ayyanar shrine.

Kottur has  three Ayyanar  shrines at Kottur main village, Kottur Melavasal and Kottur Keezhavasal where puravi eduppu is held annually. In the holy open abode one can see a variety of attractive images of Ayyanar; Karuppar, holding a sickle in his right hand; Pillaithachi amman, a female deity with a child; and other parivara devata 

Likewise in a sort of semi jungle area full of scrubs, nearby there are  hundreds of richly decorated terracotta horses of various sizes on both sides. Also present are  hundreds of terracotta figurines of cows, bulls, hooded serpents, large-breasted women and babies called madhalai. At the centre, Ayyanar in a sitting posture with a whip his right hand is at the center as if he is commanding the entire troop..  

According to the  archaeology department the Ayyanar shrine is temple is about 500 years old but  the age of the terracotta horses is about 100 years. As for the shrine at  Ilangudipatti built about 600 years ago, votive horses were dedicated 500 years ago. The popularity of Ayyanar worship was on the increase during the Chola period itself  and the tradition has it a  stucco sculpture of an elephant is usually set  in front of the bali peetam (a platform where food offerings are made). 

The worship of Ayyanar worship has been around for 2000 years since the time of  hero stones. Hero stones are found in many villages to honor the men of valor who became heroes after driving out cattle raiders or killing wild  animals tigers or wild boars that accidently got into the village and posed risk to the people living there. In many  case these heroes who were on the Hero stone became Ayyanar -protector of villages over a period of time. According to a pujari  the offerings to  Ayyanar are only sweet pongal (a rice dish), ven pongal, coconuts and fruits.  The Ayyanar shrine is a sanctified place and the strange looking  giant  Ayyanar God is a actually village deity (Grama Devatha) in almost every village in Tamil Nadu.The shrine on the fringe of the village is part of the rural culture and the villagers repose trust in him for his divinity protection of the villages from bad mishaps. 

The making of terracotta horses to bre made as votive offering to Ayyanar is on the decline for some reasons, lack of rain, decline in qualified potter. To make such horses they use stucco or cement. A gloom of resentment descends on the villages with votive horses because  in the past many years  there has been no puravi eduppu festival.