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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Constitution 1,000 years ago

by T.S. Subramaniam

A perfect electoral system existed, inscriptions found in Uthiramerur reveal.
Photos: S. Thanthoni

The mandapa of the Vaikuntaperumal temple.
It may be hard to believe that nearly 1,100 years ago, a village had a perfect electoral system and a written Constitution prescribing the mode of elections. It was inscribed on the walls of the village assembly (grama sabha mandapa), which was a rectangular structure made of granite slabs. “This inscription, dated around 920 A.D. in the reign of Parantaka Chola, is an outstanding document in the history of India,” says Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, referring to Uthiramerur in Chingleput district.
“It is a veritable written Constitution of the village assembly that functioned 1,000 years ago,” Dr. Nagaswamy says in his book, “Uthiramerur, the Historic Village in Tamil Nadu.” The book, in both Tamil and English, has been published by the Tamil Arts Academy, Chennai.
Dr. Nagaswamy says: “It [the inscription] gives astonishing details about the constitution of wards, the qualification of candidates standing for elections, the disqualification norms, the mode of election, the constitution of committees with elected members, the functions of [those] committees, the power to remove the wrong-doer, etc…”

And that is not all. “On the walls of the mandapa are inscribed a variety of secular transactions of the village, dealing with administrative, judicial, commercial, agricultural, transportation and irrigation regulations, as administered by the then village assembly, giving a vivid picture of the efficient administration of the village society in the bygone ages.” The villagers even had the right to recall the elected representatives if they failed in their duty!
It has a 1,250-year history
Uthiramerur has a 1,250-year history. It is situated in Kanchipuram district, about 90 km from Chennai. The Pallava king Nandivarman II established it around 750 A.D. It did exist earlier as a brahmin settlement. It was ruled by the Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Sambuvarayars, the Vijayanagara Rayas and the Nayaks. It has three important temples, the Sundara Varadaraja Perumal temple, the Subramanya temple and the Kailasanatha temple. Plans are under way for the conservation and restoration of the Kailasanatha temple, which is in ruins.
All the three temples have numerous inscriptions — those of the great Raja Raja Chola (985-1015 A.D.), his able son, Rajendra Chola and the Vijayanagar emperor Krishnadeva Raya. Both Rajendra Chola and Krishnadeva Raya visited Uthiramerur.
Uthiramerur, built as per the canons of the agama texts, has the village assembly mandapa exactly at the centre and all the temples are oriented with reference to the mandapa.
R. Vasanthakalyani, Chief Epigraphist-cum-Instructor and R. Sivanandam, epigraphist, both belonging to the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, said that while village assemblies might have existed prior to the period of Parantaka Chola, it was during his period that the village administration was honed into a perfect system through elections. “About 1,100 years ago, during the period of Paranataka Chola, Uthiramerur had an elected village panchayat system, which was a step ahead of the modern day democratic system,” she said.
According to Dr. Sivanandam, there were several places in Tamil Nadu where inscriptions are available on temple walls about the prevalence of village assemblies. These villages included Manur near Tirunelveli, Tiruninravur near Chennai, Manimangalam near Tambaram, Dadasamudram near Kanchipuram, Sithamalli and Thalaignayiru near Thanjavur, Jambai near Tirukovilur and Ponnamaravathy near Pudukottai. “But it is at Uthiramerur on the walls of the village assembly (mandapa) itself, that we have the earliest inscriptions with complete information about how the elected village assembly functioned,” said Dr. Sivanandam. It is learnt that the entire village, including the infants, had to be present at the village assembly mandapa at Uthiramerur when the elections were held, pointed out Vasanthakalyani. Only the sick and those who had gone on a pilgrimage were exempt.

The Tamil inscriptions elaborate on the election procedure followed several centuries ago.

There were committees for the maintenance of irrigation tanks, roads, to provide relief during drought, testing of gold and so on. Sivanandam himself has written a book in Tamil called, “The Archaeological Handbook of Kanchipuram district,” (published by the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology in 2008) in which he says the original sabha mandapa’s superstructure was made of timber and bricks. After the superstructure collapsed and only the base of the mandapa made of granite slabs remained, Kulotunga Chola I built a Vishnu temple on the base towards the end of the 11th century.
The village sabha mandapa, with its invaluable inscriptions, is now called Vaikuntaperumal temple. Dr. Nagaswamy says: “The village assembly of Uttaramerur drafted the Constitution for the elections. The salient features were as follows: the village was divided into 30 wards, one representative elected for each. Specific qualifications were prescribed for those who wanted to contest. The essential criteria were age limit, possession of immovable property and minimum educational qualification. Those who wanted to be elected should be above 35 years of age and below 70…”
Only those who owned land, that attracted tax, could contest. Another interesting stipulation, according to Dr. Nagaswamy, was that such owners should have possessed a house built on legally-owned site (not on public poromboke). A person serving in any of the committees could not contest again for the next three terms, each term lasting a year. Elected members, who suffered disqualification, were those who accepted bribes, misappropriated others’ property, committed incest or acted against public interest.

Courtesy: Shri Ram Varmah (varmah@yahoo.com)

Around Mangalore

Courtesy: Shridhar Shenoy
The 35 kilometer stretch of Shirady Ghat between Kappalli (Manjrabad fort) to Gundya is a nature lover's paradise. It had always been from time immemorial but the beauty could not be enjoyed due to bad roads and drivers and passengers used to be more pre-occupied with the jolts and jumps that they might get during the journey.
But with the roads now as smooth as it used to be before, people are now enjoying the 90 minutes journey, and why not? There is so much to see, the evergreen Shola forests, the huge ferns that are an endemic species to Western Ghats and the thick foliage which is a delight to watch.
But what turns Shirady into a paradise during monsoons is its numerous water falls. There are no large water falls like Jog, but there are many medium and small water falls that fills your heart and eyes. The central part of Shirady Ghat I.e, between Adda Holay and Gundya is the natural water log area. The rain water re-charges the mountainous water veins and releases through faults and folds of the mountain. But apart from the technical details of the waterfalls the beauty of water falls which is what enthrals the nature lovers. The milky surf that cascades from a great height is a sight to watch. It is stated that there are over 300 small and medium water falls.

According to Dinesh Holla an adventurer and an avid trekker the origin of the water falls in Shirady generally is located at a height of 400 to 600 feet (MSL) many of them have a circuitous course before the emerge into open and fall from a height. Many trekkers stay for considerable time at the water bodies that open into a water fall.
The ideal route to get to the water fall is the route that the Mangalore-Bangalore train takes. It is possible for the trekkers to take the railway get down at Soorikumer and pass to the other side towards Pushpagiri. There are people who have driven their motorcycles on narrow paths from Shirady village up to a certain height and walked from there.
But one cannot go into these areas as they want, they should notify the forest department about their trekking route and take their permission well in advance.
For people who just want to enjoy it on the way to their destination either ways should travel during the day time. The ideal time is to arrive at this stretch either from Bangalore or Mangalore at mid morning or late afternoon, which is when the real enjoyment of waterfalls could be felt. The immediate instinct is to stand below the cascading water, but that is where extra precautions should be taken, the rocky slopes are slippery and the water would be cold.
Various spots like Kempu holay, Yemme holay, Adda holay, Annamma holay have good waterfall sites.

Paranumismatica - Indian Token Coins

The coins appearing hereunder, relates to the Indian Token Coins of 1911 issued by Longman, presumably a British company. As is apparent from the legend, they were produced in Germany. They bear the bust of King Edward VII who died in May 1910. They are made of card board. The denominations are Half Rupee, Quarter Rupee and 1/64th of a Rupee ( 1 Paisa). Although they are not identical but imitations of the coins, having the bust of Edward VII, in circulation during that period. The tokens depict the bust facing left. While One Paisa has a copper color, the other two coins have the appearance of silver.On a reference being made to the RBI Monetary Museum and the Indian Institute of Research in Numismatic Studies, they expressed their unfamiliarity with any such tokens. Accidentally I came across an article dedicated to 'Exonumia' (Study of Tokens, Medals etc.), a term I was not familiar with, in the Coin Encyclopedia web site. The term 'Paranumismatica', however, lends more comfort. I was amused as also enthused and thought of getting my token coins published there so that they come to the knowledge of a larger number of enthusiasts in numismatics.

Longman's Indian Token Coins
We are aware of 'play money' in use in the U.S. and other countries where replicas of coins are created in plastic or metal for children to play with. They are available in any toy store. But in the Indian context, the above referred tokens do not seem to be 'play money'. During World War II there was shortage of all kinds of metal world-wide. But the World War I started only in August 1914. An important event during that year was the coronation of George V at New Delhi on the 11th December. Reasons for 'Token Coins' being introduced, through private enterprise during that period is unexplainable at the present state of our knowledge. Further more, the above tokens are not in a mint condition. They appear to have changed several hands as the wear and tear suggests.
Recently I made a reference to the British Museum as well and the response received is appended:
"Thank you for your enquiry. This is is not a token coin issued as part of the currency in colonial India, but an imitation produced either as a toy, or possibly for the collectors' market. In either case, I would guess that it was issued in, and for use in, Great Britain rather than India. While I have not been able to trace a reference to Longman's, it seems likely that they were a British company, which may well have produced other series of token coins as well. Clearly this one was intended as part of an Indian series, imitating a half-rupee of George V (1910-36).
Yours sincerely,
Gareth Williams
Duty Curator"
We welcome contributions in this regard for enrichment of knowledge about the tokens under discussion.

भारतीय टोकन मुद्राएँ

एक बार मेरे एक बड़ी मूँछ वाले मित्र ने मुझसे पूछा, "क्या तुम्हारे पास चमड़े के सिक्के हैं". मैने अपनी अनभिंग्यता व्यक्त की. फिर उसने तुगलक की कहानी सुनाई. मैने कहा हाँ पढ़ा है, देखा नहीं है. उसने फिर कहा "अंग्रेज भी कम नहीं थे". मैने पूछा क्यों. कल बताऊँगा कह मुछड़ चलता बना. दूसरे दिन वह मेरे पास आया और एक डिबिया निकाली. डिबिये के अंदर से तीन गोल सिक्के नुमा वस्तु निकाली और मेरे हाथ रख कर कहा लो यह तुम्हारे लिए है. मैने उन्हें गौर से देखा. वे कार्डबोर्ड के बने थे. हूबहू अँग्रेज़ों के जमाने के सिक्कों के जैसे ही दिख भी रहे थे. एक अठन्नी, एक चवन्नि और एक एक पैसा.
अठन्नी और चवन्नि रुपहले थे तो एक पैसा ताम्र वर्ण का. अग्र भाग पर एड्वर्ड सप्तम बाईं ओर मुहँ किए हुए दर्शाया गया था. राजा के नाम की जगह गोलाई में "लॉंगमॅन्स इंडियन टोकन काय्न्स"अंकित था. नीचे की ओर "जर्मनी में बना" का उल्लेख भी था. पृष्ट भाग पर फूलों का बेल, राजमुकुट, मुद्रा का मूल्य एवं वर्ष १९११ अंकित किया गया था.
मैने थोड़ी छानबीन की तो पता चला क़ि एड्वर्ड सप्तम तो सन १९१० में ही स्वर्ग वासी हो गये थे. अलबत्ता १९११ में जॉर्ज पंचम क़ी ताजपोशी नई दिल्ली में हुई थी. ऐसी कौन सी घटना थी जिससे प्रेरित होकर एक ब्रिटिश कंपनी के द्वारा ऐसी मुद्राएँ (टोकन) निर्मित कराई गयीं. मैने सोचा, संभव है क़ि बाज़ार में धातुओं की कमी के कारण चिलहर की किल्लत रही हो. द्वितीय विश्व युद्ध के समय ऐसी स्थिति निर्मित हुई थी. परंतु प्रथम विश्व युद्ध का प्रारंभ तो अगस्त १९१४ में जाकर ही हुआ था. मैं बड़ी दुविधा में पड़ गया और अब भी हूँ. क्या इनका निर्माण बच्चों के खेलने के लिए हुआ था. यह मानने को मन नहीं करता क्योंकि व्यापार वाले खेल में नकली नोटों का या फिर अंक लिखे बिल्लों का प्रचलन मैने देखा है. ये जो सिक्के (टोकन) जिनकी चर्चा हो रही है, पुराने हैं. कई हाथों से गुज़रे होंगे. क्षरण साफ दिखता है.
मैने भारतीय रिज़र्व बॅंक के मौद्रिक संग्रहालय एवं इंडियन इन्स्टिट्यूट ऑफ रिसर्च इन नूमिसमॅटिक स्टडीस (IIRNS) से भी संपर्क कर सहायता माँगी पर उन्हे ऐसे टोकन्स क़ी कोई जानकारी नहीं थी. अंततोगत्वा मैने ब्रिटिश म्यूज़ीयम से पूछा. उनका कहना है क़ि ए टोकन सिक्के भारतीय उपनिवेश के मुद्रा के रूप में प्रचलित नहीं किए गये थे (सरकारी तौर पर). ये बच्चों के खेलने के लिए या फिर संग्रहकर्ताओं के लिए "अनुकृति" मात्र हैं. दोनों ही स्थितियों में भारत के बजाए ग्रेट ब्रिटन में प्रयोग (प्रचलन) हेतु इन्हे जारी किया गया होगा. संभवतः लोंगमेन एक ब्रिटिश कंपनी रही होगी और उन्होने दूसरे सिरीज़ (भारत के अतिरिक्त) के टोकन सिक्के भी जारी किए होंगे. उनका यह भी कहना था क़ि इन टोकेनों में जॉर्ज पंचम वाले सिक्कों क़ी नकल क़ी गयी है (जबकि हमने उन्हे टोपी पहने ही सिक्कों पर देखा है).
बहरहाल मेरी दुविधा जस क़ी तस है. मेरी समस्या यह है क़ी मैं जान ही नहीं पा रहा हूँ कि मैं और क्या जानना चाहता हूँ. यदि पाठकों में से किसी को भी कुछ भी पता हो तो निःसंकोच अवगत करा दें. टोकनों के छाया चित्र नीचे दिए जा रहे हैं.