Today is the jayanthi of one of the greatest Tamil kings, Perumpidugu Mutharaiyar who was born on Sadaya nakshatra in the 7th century. He is believed to have ruled the Thanjavur-Trichy-Pudukkottai region in the period between 7th to 8th century CE. The inscriptions in the temples built and patronised by him sing his glories as a king who never faced defeat in the 12 wars he fought.
Some historians put him on the same pedestal as the great Raja Raja Chola I and Maravarman Sundara Pandian both of whom are considered the greatest of their dynasties. He ruled from Vallam in Thanjavur and so went by the name Thanjai Kon and Valla Kon (Kon means king in Tamil). An 8th-century stone inscription in a temple in Thanjavur hails him with these names. Perumpidugu is his title and Mutharaiyar is the dynasty name. His actual name was Suvaran Maran.
The inscriptions on the 4 pillars of the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple in Senthalai, a village in Thanjavur, give details about his ancestors and the temples he built. They say that he was born to Elangovathiaraiyan alias Maran Parameshwaran and succeeded him as the king at the beginning of 8th century. These pillars are believed to be originally from a temple he built for Pidari Amman, his Kula Devi. He is believed to have been a Shaivite, but Mutharaiyars patronized Vaishnavism and Buddhism as well. He also patronized Tamil poets to a great extent. Inscriptions tell us that poets Pachilvel Namban, Acharya Aniruddha, Kottatru Ilam Perumanar, and Kuvavan Kanjan graced his darbar.
These four poets have sung paeans about his valor which are inscribed on the four pillars. Inscriptions say that he fought 12 wars in Kodumbalur, Manalur, Thingalur, Kanthalur, Azhunthiyur, Karai, Marangur, Pugazhi, Annalvayil, Sempon Mari, Venkodal, and Kannanur. Many of these are historic places and are known by the same name even today. An epigraph in Kanchipuram Vaikuntha Perumal temple says that a Mutharaiyar king was received by Nandivarman II during the latter’s coronation. It is believed that it was Perumpidugu Mutharaiyar II.
He is believed to have fought against Pandyas and Cheras alongside Pallava general Udayachandra. He went by the epithets Chatru Kesari, Abhimana Dheeran, Chatru Mallan, Kalvar Kallan, Athi Sahasan, Cheru Maran, Vel Maran, Chatthan Maran, etc. The usage of Maran points to Mutharaiyar’s association or perhaps origination from Pandyas, historians think. The origination of Mutharaiyars and the details of other rulers of the dynasty are not clear. But Perumpidugu Mutharaiyar II has left ample evidence in the form of inscriptions informing about his valor.
The inscriptions in the Senthalai Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple talk about the wars he fought. One of them says that his flag was Vel (lance, also the divine weapon of Skanda) and that as a result of the war he fought in Azhinthiyur, the earth turned red and he used elephants to plow the blood-drenched land. Another one talks about Perumpidugu Mutharaiyar II defeating a Pandya king whose wife entered the fire with him.
In the 9th century, the Mutharaiyar dynasty was thrown out of power by Vijayalaya Chola who brought back the glory of Cholas and established what is now known as the medieval Chola dynasty. Now the great Muthuraiyar dynasty and the great king are remembered only for their caste vote bank.
Despite being revered as great as Raja Raja I, Perumpidugu Mutharaiyar doesn’t even find a mention in the history books. When no one except his own community knows about him, instead of spreading his glory by including him in the curriculum, political parties build statues to show their opportunistic respect. They bank on him to garner votes of the community and pay respects to him on his Jayanthi as mere symbolism.