Kapaliswarar Gopuram lit up for the Panguni Uthhiram

It has long been rumoured that the old Kapaliswarar Temple, which stood by the sea, was demolished by the Portuguese. The finding of temple pillars during excavations all of which were stopped to make way for the church’s vault only buttressed this story. The time period of the demolition however remains a subject of debate. Now a reading of Robert Sewell’s A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar), A Contribution To The History of India, first published by Swan Sonnenschein & Co Ltd, London, in 1900 and republished by Asian Educational Services (16th reprint in 2016) gives some further clues.

As per this book, Aliya Rama Raya, the son-in-law of Krishna Deva Raya and de facto ruler of Vijayanagar thanks to the real king Sadasiva being kept a virtual prisoner, was invited in 1558 to “Meilapor or Mailapur near Madras,where was an important establishment of Roman Catholic monks and the Church of St Thomas.” Sewell then quotes a passage from the summary given by Senhor Lopes in his introduction to the Chronica dos Reis de Bisnaga – “The poor fathers of the glorious Order of St Francis having seized all the coast from Negapatam to San Thome, they being the first who had begun to preach there the light of the Holy Gospel, and having throughout that tract thrown down many temples and destroyed many pagodas, a thing which grieved excessively all the Brahmans, these latter reported the facts to Rama Raya, king of Bisnaga, whose vassals they were, and begged him that he would hasten to their assistance for the honour of their gods.”

The italic emphasis is mine. Perhaps Kapali’s temple was one of the many?

Sewell goes on to relate what happened next –

“They succeeded in persuading him that the newcomers were possessed of enormous riches, and he proceeded against the place, but afterwards finding that this was not true, and that the inhabitants were loyal to him, he spared them and left them in peace.”

Perhaps Rama Raya was bought off with some gifts? Anyway, seven years later he was dead in the battle that destroyed Vijayanagar.

You may want to read

The Men who Built the Kapali Temple parts 1 & 2