MATERIAL: Copper Plate
TYPE: Plaque
DIMENSIONS: 49 x 31 cm
ITEM ID: 4275
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A Copper Plate from a Merchant Community of Kāñcīpuram

DATE
Century: 18th (1701-1800)

This plate refers for its internal dating to the rule of the Nāyaka ruler of Ceñci named Varatappaṉ (17th century). As the figure of the year is missing, it is suspected that the plate is in fact later and ascribed to this ruler’s period to add authority to the narrative and transaction it records.

The plate is inscribed on both sides (54 lines on the recto, 67 on the verso). Except for the very first 1 ½ line, which is in Sanskrit, the text is in Tamil interspersed, however, with many Sanskrit loan words.

The recto of the plate bears at its top the figure of a seated Goddess, accompanied by the god Gaṇeśa and a Śiva-Liṅga. Below the three gods is a series of 24 smaller human figures. From the text it appears that the Goddess is the famous Kāmākṣī of Kāñcīpuram and that each human figure represents one among the 24 maṉais (households) of a merchant community, who issued the plate.

After an initial benediction, a description of the god Śiva and a list of yugas (cosmic cycles), we are explained in a first narrative that the 24 maṉais of Kāñcīpuram subsist on the trade of certain commodities through the divine sanction of Ekāmbaranātha and Kāmākṣī of Kāñcīpuram. A list is next given of the 24 maṉais and of the honours (virutu) that they are entitled to. Then we are told another narrative involving the 24 maṉais and an unnamed Cōḻa king, who wants to marry girls from their families. As the 24 maṉais refuse they have to fight the Cōḻa king. They defeat him, but their women, because of a misunderstanding, commit suicide. The 24 maṉais afterwards take all the girls from the Cōḻa king. Then follows a long description of Varatappaṉ, ruler of Ceñci, under whose rule the following transaction was settled, i.e. conferring to a Brahmin the office of purohita (domestic priest) for the 24 maṉais. The date for the issuing of the plate is given, with astronomical details but no figures for the year (space is left blank). Various specifications concerning the office of the purohita are then made explicit (annual fee, wages when officiating at marriages, etc.). The text ends with blessings for those who will protect this transaction, imprecations against those who will make obstruction to it, and final benedictions.