The Palaniappar temple on Koovai malai, a hillock in the foothills of Kolli Malai, near Belukurichi near Rasipuram, in Tamil Nadu stands out against the beautiful green backdrop of Kolli hills.
The name Belukurichi is derived from the ancient Tamil words Velavan Kurinji.
Velavan, another name for Murugan is the patron deity of Kurinji which is one of the five different landscapes categorized by the ancient Tamil people. Kurinji is the mountainous and hilly regions of the land. It is inhabited by Veddar, Kuravar and Kanavar tribes who are hunters.
Koovai malai is also called Koogai Malai. Koogai is the ancient Tamil word for the Owl. The Kolli hills as viewed from this hillock does look like a giant bird with outspread wings.
The people of the Kolli hills were hunters in those ancient times and they worshipped Murugan as one of their own, a hunter like themselves.
In the popular legend of Murugan’s courtship of Valli and their subsequent marriage Murugan goes to meet Valli in the guise of a handsome young hunter, Valli being the daughter of Nambirajan, chief of the Kuravar tribe which is also a hill tribe. It is this form of Murugan as the handsome hunter that we worship in the Palaniappar temple.It is said that Murugan set out from here to Valli malai where Valli lived.
The temple is believed to have existed since more than 3000 years ago.
Saint Bhogar who lived 3000 years ago is believed to have visited this temple after which he went to Palani and created the idol of Palani Murugan.
Thus the name Palaniappar means Palanikku appar,’the one who came before Palani’.
The Tamil poetess – saint Avvaiyar is said to have worshipped here.
King Valvil Ori worshipped Palaniappar here before visiting three other temples in the region. While talking about the history of the temple, the archakar thiru. Sendilkumar said, “Come, I will show you the statue of Valvil Ori with his queen”, and led the way to a block of granite at the entrance to the temple with carvings of Valvil Ori with his queen. Valvil Ori is shown holding a bow in one hand.
As I visited temples in the regions ruled by Valvil Ori in Sangam Age Tamilagam I found that people still spoke proudly of this king who was celebrated as one of the kadai ezhu vallalgal. The power of folklore that kept alive the name of a famous king of 2000 years ago is amazing!
FOOTPATH TO KOLLI HILLS
It is significant that the images of the king and queen face the ancient footpath/bridlepath down the mountains.
Coming down from the mountains on this ancient path which is 10 feet wide, the temple is the first stop in the foothills.
This path is still used by the Palangudi indigenous people of Kolli Malai. When we visited, the archagar’s wife, pointing up the hills asked me if I could see a man going up the mountain path. Looking where she pointed I could indeed see a moving white speck way up the mountain! It was a man on his way up and further up there was another climber! I asked her how long it took to reach the top. “It may take more than two to four hours for us,” she said, “but for them (the hill people) it is a climb of 30 minutes or 45 minutes at the most”. The Pazhangudi people use this path to bring mountain produce such as honey, spices, jackfruit, pineapple and so on to the Belukurichi sandhai ( weekly market), mostly as thalai sumai, meaning they carried their goods on their heads! A sturdy people they are too! The Belukurichi sandhai is very famous and is held on all Saturdays.
A forest ranger who joined in the conversation said that from Belukurichi village the distance to the temple is 3 kms. And the distance from the temple via the footpath to Othakadai village in the hills was 3.30 kms. Since the new Nariangadu- mullukurichi road was opened in the kolli hills, some of the hill people now chose to use this road after climbing down part way down the hills.
This footpath is also used by trekkers.
Palaniappar temple is the only Murugan temple in the world where Murugan is worshipped in the form of a Veddan or hunter in the sanctum sanctorum.
The way to the temple is up the flight of steps leading from the base of the hillock. This way is now closed for renovation. There is a stone- built mandapam at the foot of the hill that was probably used for resting and for utsavams and festivals. Behind this mandapam the old temple car is kept.
A short distance up the steps is the Yaanai Paali(யானை பாலி),a perennial spring on the hill. There is a colorful life- size image of an elephant and the entrance to the sunai (spring) is between the feet of the elephant! The archagar said that the spring used to be called as Pillaiyaar Paali. Later when the elephant entrance was built it came to be known as Yaanai Paali. The spring never dries up even in summer and the waters have healing, medicinal properties that are used to treat skin ailments.
Further up the hill there is another spring. I asked the archagar about it and he answered, “That spring is for the Aadu, maadu, paravaigal ( the cattle,goats and birds) that come up here to drink from the spring and the yaanai paali is for the use of humans”. An amazing but lovely tradition that taught peaceful co-existence with all living creatures!
A good motorable road goes around the hill right up to the back entrance of the temple, which in the olden days was the front entrance. The other entrances came much later.
A short flight of white washed granite steps lead to the temple. A spacious courtyard/prakaram leads to the Deepastampam and there are some more steps to the pillared maha mandapam.
Lord Palaniappar in the garba graha is one of the most beautiful deities. Facing west, about 31/2 feet tall, Murugan is in Veduvan kolam and a handsome young hunter he is! His hair is piled in a knot on the right side of his head in a hairstyle called as kondai. We can see a string of konrai (golden shower) flowers worn around the kondai. On the holy forehead can be seen the vibhuti (sacred ash) pattai and kumkum in the middle, symbols of Siva and Parvati. Malas or strings of beads, perhaps rudraakshas grace the chest.There are amulets on the arms.The Vastra worn from the waist has strings of Vilva ( bael) leaves adorning it. We can see a pichua kathi(பிச்சுவா கத்தி), a small dagger worn at the waist as well as the dagger case! In his left hand Palaniappar holds a plump rooster(சேவல்) while in his right hand He holds a long Eeti (ஈட்டி)or lance. Ornaments called thandai(தண்டை) adorn the ankles while footwear called paadha kuradu(பாதகுறடு) are worn on the beautiful holy feet. All these details are etched in stone, on this rare and beautiful idol. The beautiful face and the divine smile are enchanting.
On the ceiling of the Artha Mandapam an engraving of two serpents swallowing the Sun and Moon can be seen.
The temple faces west, and on a good day the Tiruchengode Hill can be seen from the Maha mandapam.
There are small shrines for Vinayaka, Koogalingeswarar and Kumari Nayagi ambal. There is a separate shrine for Vishnu, with lord Krishna with his flute on one side and Aadhi Seshan on the other. All these are later shrines consecrated in the last century. Koogalingeswarar and ambal were consecrated by the archagar’s maternal grandfather.
Pournami pooja at midnight on full moon nights is a famous ritual of this temple attended by large crowds of people. The first pournami pooja was started on 28. 3. 1983 on a Monday in the month of Panguni of Thundhubi varusham (year) when the archagar’s maternal uncle served as temple priest. That same year, Sri Kripanandha Vaariaar, popularly called as Vaariaar Swamigal, visited and held a Sotrpozhivu or religious discourse at this temple.
Saint Arunagirinadhar composed two Tirupugazh hymns on lord Muruga of Kolli Malai. In the second hymn starting with the words Thollai tharu.., he says that Murugan went to court Valli who was guarding the millet field and that he took a gift of leaves as was the custom in those days.
In the line,’Koydhu thazhaye kondu sellum mazhava’, Murugan is called as Mazhava, or member of the mazhavar tribe.History records the fact that the Mazhavar clan ruled the Kolli and surrounding areas for many centuries. Valvil Ori was also a Mazhavar king.
கல்லுருகவே யின்கண் அல்லல்படுகோ வம்பு
கல்வருக வேநின்று குழலூதுங்
கையன் மிசையேறும்பன் நொய்யசடையோ னெந்தை
கைதொழமெய் ஞானஞ்சொல் கதிர்வேலா
கொல்லைமிசை வாழ்கின்ற வள்ளிபுனமே சென்று
கொய்து தழையேகொண்டு செல்லும் மழவா கந்த
கொல்லிமலை மேநின்ற பெருமாளே
Song 607 – Thollaimudhal (kollimalai)
kalluruga veyinkan allalpadu go am pu
galvaruga venindru kuzhaloodhum
kaiyanmisai yerumban noyyasadai yonnendhai
Kaithozha mei nyaanam sol kadhirvela
kollaimisai vaazhginra valli puname sendru
kollaikollu maaran kai alaraale
koydhu thazhye kondu sellum mazhava..kandha
kollimalai menindra perumale
These lines allude to the legend of Murugan meeting Valli as a young hunter and it is believed that they refer to Vedduva Murugan in this temple.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Renovation work is being done. The temple will wear a new look when it is completed. The peaceful isolation may become a thing of the past. When the breeze blows from the mountain in the evenings bringing the healing fragrance of the hundreds of herbs which Kolli malai is famous for, there is apprehension that all this may be lost to change. But the grace of Palaniappar will be bestowed on all who seek him.
The temple is open continuously from 7 a.m to 5.30 p.m.
Since it is 3 kms from the village there are no crowds except on special days like the full moon day and weekends. There are no houses or even shops near the temple. Offerings for pooja like flower garlands, coconuts, bananas, betel leaves and areca-nut can be bought in Belukurichi.
The temple in idyllic surroundings is the perfect place for a picnic or to spend some quiet time away from it the bustle of the city.
Koovai malai is part of Bail nadu in Kolli Hills Taluk.
Located in Reserve forest area of the kolli range, the temple can be reached by road from Belukurichi, a fairly large village right below the kolli hills, 13.6 km from Rasipuram and 13.8 km from Sendhamangalam.
Belukurichi is accessible from Salem, Rasipuram or Namakkal which have good hotels. The temple is an hour’s drive from Salem.
Sri Palaniappar Aalaya archakar
Koovai malai, Bail nadu
Kollimalai vattam, Namakkal district, Tamil Nadu
Mobile nos: 95244 49931, 96980 18876