A photo of an intricate Hindu structure, purportedly carved out of a single rock, is doing the rounds on social media, with some users claiming it to be built 5,000 years ago. Many travel and living websites also listed the structure as a part of their ‘must-see’ landmarks in India. The posts can be seen here, here and here.
Newschecker ran a reverse image search of the picture, which led us to multiple reports and images of the Vettuvan Koil, a rock-cut temple located in Kalugumalai, Thoothukudi, which is in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. According to Heritage Daily, the temple was constructed during the 8th century AD, during the reign of the Pandya dynasty (also known as the Pandyas of Madurai) in dedication to the Hindu god Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism. “Vettuvan Koil was carved from a single granite rock, with the upper section depicting various carvings of “Parsavadevatas” (the attendant deities of Shiva) such as Uma (goddess of fertility, love, beauty, marriage, and children), Nandi (the gate-guardian deity of Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva), and various animals such as monkeys and lions,” the article read.
Taking a cue from this, we ran keyword searches for “Vettuvan Koil”, which led us to various news reports and travel blog posts, featuring similar pictures. According to a column by art history professor RH Kulkarni in the New Indian Express, “Among South Indian architectural edifices, Vettuvan Koil, a monolithic [formed of a single large block of stone] temple in Tamil Nadu’s Kazhugumalai, deserves special mention. A sculptor’s paradise, it is a monolithic temple like the Pancha Rathas in Mamallapuram and the Kailasanatha temple in Ellora…dated to around 760-800 CE, Vettuvan Koil has a Dravida vimana emerging from the rectangular rock.”
We can see the image on the right from the article is similar to the viral picture, as in it is taken from another angle.
We looked up the temple on the website of Tamil Nadu government’s department of archaeology, which stated, “It is believed that this monument [ [Vettuvan Koil]] was established during 8th century ACE by Pandya Maranchadayan king. This is a rock cut cave complex and cut out temple on the style of the Mahabalipuram Shore Temple and cave sculptures. This monument is also nicknamed as “ELLORA OF SOUTH”. The Vettuvan Koil is a monolithic structure which was formed by cutting in single rock with devotional sculptures during the Paranthaka Nedunchadaian period.”
TS Subramanian, veteran archaeology journalist and former Associate Editor, Frontline, too, confirmed that the temple is not 5,000 years old. “Vettuvankovil is dated to circa eighth or ninth century CE,” he said.
The viral image was found to be of Vettuvan Koil, a Tamil Nadu temple carved out of a single rock, and it is said to be around 1,300 years old.
Result: Partly False
Conversation with TS Subramanian, archaeology journalist and former Associate Editor, Frontline
Write-up in TN Govt’s department of archaeology website
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