Chennai resident Nammalwar spreads awareness about ancient idols

“While the whole world is running forward, I run backwards towards our history. This is not just my work but my passion,” says Nammalwar, a retired Tamil professor from Annamalai University.

This 71-year-old resident of Porur has done a number of research on sculptures and has travelled all over the State to spread knowledge about abandoned and unique statues.

Having immense passion for Tamil, he did his M.Phil research on Thirumangai Alwar’s life history. He has also guided 25 Ph.D and nearly 120 M Phil candidates.

Other than this, he is an exponent of Bharatanatyam and plays the veena. In an interaction with News Today, Nammalwar shares about his findings on inscriptions, sculptures and more.


Asked about how his interest in Tamil began, he says, “My father was also a professor in Annamalai University. Even though he knew 14 languages, he had infinite love for Tamil and loves collecting unique and popular Tamil literary works. He had a large collection of such books. I initially started reading those books and then fell in love with Tamil. Though I studied Zoology, because of my interest, I did research in epigraphy.”


“Besides all this, I was interested in finding temple idols and sculptures. I have visited many archaeological spots in the State and know by-heart which place is famous for which kind of statue. Basically, the Cholas are best in making copper idols, Pandyas are well-known for their stone idols. My favorite spots are the Attaveerattanam (eight places where Lord Shiva did samharam). One of the best among all the idols I found was that of Thirumangai Alwar along with his wife, and another statue of Lord Perumal with Thirumangai Alwar attached to his chest and Ramanujar stationed at his feet. These are very rare to find,” Nammalwar explains.

“The works we found in areas like Vazhuvoor, near Mayiladuthurai, are very minute and intricate. The Gajasamharamoorthy sculpture is the best example for this,” Nammalwar says.

“The granite sculptures in Krishnapuram are also classic example of Pandiya era works. Every single temple in Mayiladuthurai, Chidambaram and Seerkazhi have unique statues,” he states.


He warns, “The government should allocate more funds for these researches, because these are our treasures. The recent raids and recovery of idols by a team headed by IG of Idol Wing Pon Manickavel is commendable. But still, the government has to concentrate on allocating more money for archaeological purposes. We are yet to understand the value of our ancestors’ works and protect them.”

“I have been rendering Tirupaavai Pasurams and upanyasam for over 20 years. I also provide running commentary during the Brahmotsavam in Tirupati. I have been rendering upanyasam at Varadharaja Perumal temple in Mugalivakkam for the last two years. I learnt music to make my renderings more interesting. I add interesting stories along with my upanyasam to attracting children’s attention,” he says.

 Thirunangai Alwarin Divya Desa Anubavangal, Thirunedundhandagam, Thirumangai Alwarin Vaazhkai Varalaarum Arulmozhigalum, Thiruvirutham and many more essays.


Nammalwar has been honoured with a number of titles by various Tamil firms. Notable among them are Vaishnava Seva Rathnam, Isai Tamil Nambi, Thirumangai Alwar Ponnadi.


P T Usha