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The erotic sculptures in Chinnaiyampettai village have been featured in media but this tank is not a one-off occurrence, researchers say. They add that there are many tanks in villages that are 300 to 400 years old and feature such explicit art.
But first the Chinnayampettai tank on the Tiruvannamalai-Dharmapuri district border where farming is the main occupation. It has more than a hundred erotic sculptures engraved in stone.
The sculptures depict sexual intercourse between man and woman, one man and several women, one woman and several men, as well as bestiality. Researchers believe these belong to the 15th century. Though there are oral histories behind these sculptures, they are not verified.
Local lore has it that an armed conflict was in danger of breaking out between Chinnaiyan, the local king, and the chieftain of nearby Padavedu. To avert this, Chinnaiyan wanted to get his daughter married to the son of Padavedu king.
The daughter was too young and had not yet reached marriage age. But he did make the marriage happen, averting war. But the daughter was too scared when her husband wanted to consummate the marriage, and she returned home to her father.
The concerned king tried to teach lovemaking to his daughter through her friends. But she didn’t understand, apparently. So he consulted his minister who told him to make these sculptures that would instruct his daughter when she went to bathe. This is the story villagers like to tell.
Yet another story is that Chinnaiyan’s daughter refused marriage despite many suitors proposing. Chinnaiyan’s minister then told him to order the making of the sculptures to kindle his daughter’s interest.
But such stories cannot be considered factual history, says Balamurugan, coordinator of Tiruvannamalai District History Research Group. Today, the tank with erotic sculptures is maintained by the Tamil Nadu archaeological department.
Besides Chinnayampettai, another tank with erotic sculptures engraved on the bathing ghats is in Vadaseri village in Tirupattur district near Vaniyambadi
On the tank steps as well as in the compound walls, there are sculptures of local flowers, animals, birds, and deities worshipped. Scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata are also engraved here. Along with these are the erotic art as a depiction of lifestyle.
Experts aver that such sculptures were being made during the Nayak era. The 120 sq ft tank was probably constructed some three hundred to four hundred years ago.
Another tank with such sculptures engraved on the bathing ghats is in Vadaseri village in Tirupattur district near Vaniyambadi. Though similar to the Chinnaiyampettai tank, this one has a well in the middle.
In Keezhravanthavadi near Thandarampattu in Tiruvannamalai district, there is a tank on a 45 cent land area. Here too sculptures describing procreation are engraved. But these sculptures are in a bad state and on the verge of breaking apart. The archaeological department has taken control of the maintenance of the tank.
During the Vijayanagar and Nayak era in Tamil Nadu, tanks with such sculptures were constructed, says K Mohan Gandhi, assistant professor at the Tirupattur Sacred Heart College. The bathing ghats in these tanks are novel, he says. Sculptures depicting man-woman relationships in temples had been a part of Tamil tradition. They were, however, not sculpted with clarity.
The sculptures on tank steps such as in Chinnayampettai are forthright and clear, says Mohan Gandhi. But there doesn’t appear to be social reasons behind the making of these, he adds.
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