Kovil Theru .....was it a war machine
  • Always wondered on the use of temple theru - we always grew up
    watching the ther pulling rituals along mylapore - the thanga teru
    in tiruchendur to the elaborately carved ( one of the biggest in
    south india) - in avinashi ( you cant miss it as you drive from
    coimbatore to tirupur)

    .. the height, solid construction, huge wheels... why make
    something that is so cumbersome to move - obviously it could not be
    pulled by yoked animals - meaning it couldnt go fast. why put the
    deity at such a large height, even though you could say it gives
    everyone a view to the deity - the utsavars are normally pint sized
    versions of the mulavars. With all the decorations you would be
    lucky to get a glance of the god on top of some of the larger the'rs.

    I dont remember where, but i saw a discription that the traditional
    temple cart ( kovil theru) was infact a war machine - an armoured
    car - precussor to the tank but with height....to reach the ramparts
    of a fort giving the archers protection...with ability to pour down
    hot oil etc etc - was this what gave the cholas the superiority.
    Intersting to see the evolution of the temple carts - where they in
    vougue before the cholas.

    could it be that in peace time they were put to use in temples
  • Vijay,

    > I dont remember where, but i saw a discription that the traditional
    > temple cart ( kovil theru) was infact a war machine - an armoured
    > car - precussor to the tank but with height....to reach the ramparts
    > of a fort giving the archers protection...with ability to pour down
    > hot oil etc etc - was this what gave the cholas the superiority.
    > Intersting to see the evolution of the temple carts - where they in
    > vougue before the cholas.
    > could it be that in peace time they were put to use in temples

    pretty interesting view.
  • was it a seige tower??



    does it look like a portable shrine??


    Look at the multi tier construction



    A siege tower (or in the Middle Ages a belfry[1]) is a specialized
    siege engine, constructed to protect assailants and ladders while
    approaching the defensive walls of a fortification. The tower was
    often rectangular with four wheels and a height roughly equal to
    that of the wall or sometimes higher to allow archers to stand on
    top of the tower and fire into the fortification. Because the towers
    were wooden and thus flammable, they had to have some non-flammable
    covering of iron or fresh animal skins.[1] The siege tower was
    mainly made from wood but sometimes they had metal parts.

    Used since the 9th century BC in the ancient Near East, 305 BC in
    Europe and also in antiquity in the Far East, siege towers were of
    unwieldy dimensions and, like trebuchets, were therefore mostly
    constructed on site of the siege. Taking considerable time to
    construct, siege towers were mainly built if the defense of the
    opposing fortification could not be overcome by ladder assault, by
    sapping or by breaking walls or gates.

    The siege tower sometimes housed pikemen, swordsmen, or crossbowmen
    who shot quarrels at the defenders. Because of the size of the tower
    it would often be the first target of large stone catapults but it
    had its own projectiles to fight back with.[1]

    an helepolis


    Literally, “destroyer of cities;” the name given to an engine
    invented by Demetrius Poliorcetes (q. v.) for besieging fortified
    places, consisting of a square tower placed upon wheels, and run up
    to the height of nine stories, each of which was furnished with
    machines for battering and discharging projectiles of enormous size
    and weight
  • You might be on to something.

    Though heavy objects needs to be pushed instead of pulled if it needs
    to be near fort during war.

    But technology might have moved from one use to another as spin off.
  • Temples with large theers/where the cart festival is famous:

    Colombo, Sri Lanka.
    Kapaleeshwarar temple, Chennai
    Palani - golden car
    Periya Veerampattinam near Ariyankuppam
    Salem, Tamil Nadu
    Tiruvadamarudur near Kumbakonam

    most of them seem to be linked to chola/pandya strong holds!!
  • The long lever is to give the ther a push start. It is hoisted on both
    the rear wheels (left and right), has serrations for people to sit; 4 to
    6 people sit on it and push it down with synchronous shouts and to the
    beat of drums. The 'muttukattais' are used in front of the wheels to
    brake or steer the ther. It is a dangerous and tricky job, wiht the ther
    swinging and the man hanging on to his post holding a rope tied to the
  • Without ball bearings, how much mobile was it ? And the wear and
    tear ?

    What is/was used for lubrication ?
  • Hi
    It costs around 3-7 lakhs to have a ball bearing supported axle for a
    temple ther depending on the size of the ther it was first initiated
    by BHEL and a lot of temples have these systems.

    But more than the technology its the lack of pullers that dissuades
    a lot of temple management.
    I have observed that in Kalyar koil its a hoiday for the schols and
    local textile establishments, mainly for people to come over and pull
    the ther.

  • How did the frame withstand such heavy load and how was it
    transferred to the ground via wheels ?

    When pulled by a long rope, one has to think of centre of gravity!

    How did Tamilargal handle such things in past ?
  • Lubrication: Partially burnt rice hay (not converted to ash, like
    charcoal) finely ground and mixed with castor oil, more like modern
    graphite grease. Even today, sleeve bearings lubricated under pressure
    are used in heavy equipment.

  • hi look at it from this point of view:

    lets assume that the temple theru was built for the purpose of
    exhibiting the temple diety ( the utsavars) -

    1) i think it was only during late 9th century you come across
    utsava murthi's in temples - they were either pancha lokam or
    bronzes ( pl correct me if i am wrong) - and these were not big at
    all. so why build something so massive to display these

    2) Normally the ther passes through the main through fares ( leading
    to the names theeradi veedhi etc) - we can presume that these were
    good roads, if so how do you justify the enormous wheels - they
    would be more manageble with smaller wheels but more in number. were
    the larger wheels are needed to negotiate obstacles??

    3) If you looking at displaying an idol - you would normally think
    of a platform with the idol being at the topmost point ( ok discount
    for a rain/sun shade on top) - then how do you explain the huge
    conical construction on top of the theeru. this infact obstructs the

    4) in those days am sure the best you could have in terms of houses
    were one addnl storey ( mettha veedu) - ok at best a balcony - how
    do you justify these massive carts which tower over three/four

    5) if you look at even later day movies ( incl lord of the rings) of
    depiction of battle siege scenes - you see the best form of defense
    for those inside the sieged fort - are archers, stone throwers, hot
    oil and inflammable material. Now envision our humble temple theru
    as a seige tower - the conical top shields those inside from
    whatever is thrown from top + allows the thrown stuff to slide off
    and not accumulate, so does the large wheel base. Greek accounts of
    similar towers talk of fire proofing these with animal hides etc...

  • I will come back later to the point raised ..

    but even the evolution from siege towers to temple theru or the other
    way round does not explain the technology behind the massive theru.

    What was used for the axle? Iron? When did they get iron/bronze ?

    I am sure it is not a 19th/18th century innovation.
  • I will stick with Tamils for now as comparison with others will
    trigger war(joking).

    But to the point raised -

    Theru are more common in TN then anywhere else. Other than the places
    mentioned in the previous posts almost every other town/village has
    it, as a bustrip through TN will show.
  • dear vijay
    very well thought of
  • -Hi

    lots of our gods are connected with wars.so why not give them thers

    most hold weapons and are mounted on animals and birds

    there are specific legends of gods riding 'ther' like shiva who went
    to the thirupuram burning
    ( its notable his axle broke in acharapakkam( achu iru paakkam)
    I feel thers were a part of rituals.

  • Good point.


    The one main requirement seems to be - for the theru to be taller.

    If that is the main requirement then the base has to be thicker as
    there was not much metal in those days. If the base is thicker then
    automatically because the weight is more the wheels have to be thicker
    ( wood) to carry the weight. Slanting roof is always better to avoid
    the hassle of stagnant water.

    Now why want a taller theru ...competitive people want bigger and
    better things.

    Just thinking loudly.
  • Ther is not a new phenomenon

    the 10th century poet senthanar sang a song to start a thillai ther
    that was mired in mud

  • Hi,

    1) Now - we are looking at two the'rs - the correct word to be used
    for the ones used by our gods ( and kings - ok kings were gods those
    days) would be ratham - horse drawn chariots. I dont think our
    temple carts resemble chariots in any way..

    2) Also when you talk of large temple carts and the popular
    festivals - most of them seem to be linked with chola temples. later
    day temples could have just continued based on their formula.

    3) I have seen a couple of contemporary temple carts being built -
    they are built with solid team beams - meaning the structure is
    mostly hollow ( to allow movement inside and to keep it light).

    4) We also know that these temple carts were usually plated with
    metal ( thanga theer - velli theer) - the wood is already elaborate
    carved and it would have been easier to just paint them with bright
    colors - why go through the rigmarole of painstakingly metal plating
    the entire structure.

    5) Normally the back of the diety is not seen /shown ( for obviously
    purposes) - you are not allowed to circumabulate the inside of garba
    graham - you only do the outside. so why is the temple cart open on
    all four sides?

    6) Ok, you build a tall structure with a high pedestal to display
    the idol. common sense would be to give it a flight of steps or
    atleast some padi/foothold/hand rail on the outside. Why is there a
    complete absense of such tools to get up the theru on the ouside.
    Its almost immpossible to climb without assistance /external ladder.
    Is it built to keep people out...

    If someone can look up any temple cart ( preferably old in their
    pristine condition) and post some snaps of the internal plan of the
    base and the cone on top - we could see more..

  • "But technology might have moved from one use to another as spin off." Nice thought. I have some thoughts too. Maybe some king made a replica of his war machine and presented it to the temple to get the blessings of the lord (similar to human body part replicas given in some amman temples) to win his war. The other scenarios is he gave the replica or an actual war machine to the local temple after a successful war as a way of showing his gratification to the lord. As time passed his successors probably thought it is mandatory to present a replica of the war machine to a temple to win a war and it continued.

  • http://hindunet.org/saraswati/ratha3.htm

    check out this link - got excellant links for the evolution of the
    chariot...again none of them even come close to our theeru
  • compare with chinese seige towers!!




  • Siege Tower


    A device used during the Middle Ages ( Medieval period ) in siege
    warfare. The Siege Tower was designed to to protect the soldiers
    attacking the defensive walls of a castle, town or fortress

    Description and Siege Tower Design
    The Siege Tower was designed to to protect the soldiers attacking
    the defensive walls of a castle, town or fortress. It was also
    designed to hold soldiers and siege weapons. The siege tower was
    usually a tall, rectangular construction with four wheels and a
    height roughly equal to that of the wall or sometimes higher. The
    siege tower mechanism carried scores of soldiers, who climbed
    ladders to move between the different levels of a siege tower.

    Siege Tower Coverings
    The relative safety offered by the Siege tower from missiles or
    fire was due to the cover that it offered the soldiers. The
    framework of the siege tower was covered in animal hides. At the
    last minute when the siege tower was about to be rolled or wheeled
    into place the hides were soaked in mud and vinegar to add further
    protection. There were even iron plates which could be added to the
    siege towers, although this was an extremely expensive option.

    Siege Tower Objectives
    The objective of a siege tower was to allow soldiers to mount a
    direct and close attack on a fortification - castle, fortress or
    town. Siege Towers were usually constructed with wheels and reached
    3 stories in height. A siege tower was a multipurpose machine which
    could hold men, their weapons and even small siege engines from
    close-range positions of relative safety. Mangonels were sometimes
    placed at the top of the siege tower.

    Siege Tower Variations
    The relative safety offered by the Siege tower from missiles or fire
    led to a series of siege tower variations. A horizontal version of a
    siege tower was developed to provide cover for a battering ram.
    Conventional siege towers were also known to have a battering ram
    built into the lowest level of the structure. Each siege tower was
    designed to suit the requirements of the wall it was required to

    Siege Tower History
    Siege Tower history dates back to antiquity. The Siege Tower is
    believed to be an ancient war engine which was used in China and by
    the Romans and Greeks. Records of major English sieges of the Middle
    Ages mention the use of siege towers. It was not uncommon for the
    defenders also to build siege towers to directly oppose those of the
    attackers. A siege tower was used at the siege of Kenilworth Castle
    in 1266. Records show that the siege tower held two hundred archers
    and eleven siege engines.

    Preparing to use the Siege Tower
    Many preparations had to be made before using a siege tower. Many
    castles and fortresses were surrounded by moats and ditches so
    before the tower could be moved near the walls the moat or ditch had
    to be filled with rubble and earth. The ground leading up to the
    required position had to be chosen to allow for easy transportation
    of the siege tower.

    Attacking with the Siege Tower
    When all was ready the siege tower would be rolled, pushed or
    wheeled into into place next to the wall. Men were positioned on all
    levels. The drawbridge on the top deck was lowered, like a
    gangplank, enabling the soldiers to rush forward on to the wall of
    the fortification. As men departed from the siege tower
    reinforcements moved upwards from the lower levels which added
    weight to the initial assault. Not all the soldiers left the Siege
    tower. They were often were defended by archers shooting through
    arrow slits.

    Building a Siege Tower
    Building a Siege Tower required the design and building skills.
    Siege weapons, such as the Siege Tower, were made to order! They
    were far too cumbersome to move from one place to another. In a
    siege situation the commander would assess the situation and the
    siege weapons design requirements to break a siege.
  • The inside structure is mostly hollow with cris crossing wooden beams.
    One can go below the wheels and climb up from inside. As kids, we used
    to playhide and seek, or even compete to see who reaches the top first.
    The upper part is a temporary structure constructed with bamboos, cloth
    and decoration every year before the festival.

  • > >
    > > During the British colonial era, Christian missionaries
    > a
    > > fallacy that Hindu devotees of Krishna were lunatic fanatics who
    > > threw themselves under the wheels of these chariots in order to
    > > attain salvation. Such a description can also be found in the
    > popular
    > > fourteenth-century work "The Travels of Sir John Mandeville."

    Ra.Ki.Rangarajan's 'Naan Krishna Deva Rayan' has a climax which is
    spun around this concept of throwing oneself under the wheel of theru.
    Did RaKiRa bought this idea from this promulgation or did he got any
    evidence for this???
  • Hi,

    am interested to know which cultures are credited with the following:

    1. the war drum ( por murasu)
    read that mongols are credited with this ( they called it Naccaras)

    2. the battle horn ( we see krishna/arjuna all using the counch to
    annouce the start of battle)

  • When you hear thirupugazh song of Muthai tharu, you will hear the lines
    'Kothu parai kottum kalam isai' , I believe Arunagiri had visions of these scenes prior to documenting them, hence the Parai and conch etc belong to us.
  • Hi

    Arunagiri was much later in history during the hoysala period perhaps
    16th century.these instruments of war were much older intamil history.

    when historians look to literary sources to support other evidence
    arnagiri is vey useful
    whereas the devaram and other thirumurais were written around 8-10
    centuries arunagiri wrote after the muslim invasion.

    in fact his poem on mylapore temple is often quoted for santhome
    church being on the site- of the erstwhile kapali temple.
    as late as 500 years back he insists the sea laps the door ways of
    the kapali temple.
  • Hi

    The great saint was from 1400 AD. however, his visions are not, they rope back into the real time of both kaumaram and cover the entire yugas in his mystical and incomparable works of thirupugazh.

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