A rock sculpture depicting the Jain successor of the 23rd Tirthankara — known as Mahavira or Vardhamana — was recently discovered in the Tiruvallur district of India during an excavation of a temple located near Puliyur village. Based on the physical characteristics of the statue, scholars have placed it in or around the 11th century AD, but more work must be done to make these initial speculations more conclusive. Most notably, Mahavira was sitting.
Scholars also believe the statue was lost because of shifting philosophies surrounding the concept of Jainism.
The temple is known as Bajanai Koil by locals. Scholar Sridhar Appandairaj and Jain Priest K Jeevakumar made the pilgrimage to analyze the potential finding for themselves. According to locals, the statue was assumed to characterize Buddha. Sridhar said, “A senior citizen in the village would perform puja on the sculpture until two years ago. He told the villagers it was the idol of Buddha and they still believe so. The priest is no more today. We told the villagers that it’s the sculpture of Mahavira, not Buddha.”
He added, “The stylistic pattern shows it was sculpted during the later period of Jainism, say after the 10th century AD. Many ancient sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras have been found abandoned in Tamil Nadu. We have constructed shelters for those sculptures in many places. After we talked, Puliyur villagers have said they will protect it.”
The finding proves a point long argued by Indian scholars: while the country is home to over a billion people, many live in remote areas where poverty is more transparent than efforts to industrialize or modernize. That helps preserve artifacts thought unimportant before they can be discovered by scientists.
Jeevakumar said, “The image is placed on a pedestal, a reason why it remains intact. But the features on the face have been lost due to lack of care. We have district administration and we hope that they will take immediate action to preserve the sculpture.”