The unexpected is an intrinsic part of travelling.
Unplanned visits to wayside shrines every so often are full of surprises. One such shrine that I visited yesterday is off the Salem- Bangalore National highway, NH 44 (previously NH 7), in Gurubarapalli, a few kilometres before Hosur.
Frequent travellers on this highway will know that this is one of the most scenic roads in Tamil Nadu, passing through beautiful Krishnagiri district with its lakes, hills and forests. The route is dotted with many hills and hillocks on both sides of the road that are mostly enormous piles of rounded smooth rocks and boulders and a delight to watch.
The temple is clearly visible towards the left from the highway as you travel from Krishnagiri to Hosur It stands out in the wilderness. Turn left on the mud road near the temple..there are no sign boards.
A twin flight of red painted steps lead to the cave temple on the hill. We started towards the steps but the priest led us to a small shrine on the left that had an idol of Durga devi. After offering prayers here, we went to the cave shrine. The priest was a physically challenged person but he climbed the steps very quickly and was at the top before us to unlock the doors of the beautiful shrine.
Inside the cave is a small idol of Vishnu. To the right of the idol is a small stone garlanded and coloured red by vermillion which is worshipped as the Suyambu Perumal.
The god of the Servarayan ranges and of the 67 odd villages in these hills, Servaraya Perumal is the guardian of the Shevaroys, and his temple is no grand monument filled with amazing sculptures. I would call it a temple of surprises and wonders, as old as these ancient hills themselves, probably dating back 2000 years or more.
The steep mountain road to the highest point of the Shevaroys makes for a very enjoyable drive. The temple is on a flat hilltop.
A modern outer façade leads to the entrance of the cave. Here you have to stoop to enter and bend down for a few feet into the cave. The cave is wider inside and you can stand up straight. This is where you see the idols of Servaraya Perumaland KaveriAmman on a rocky platform
TEMPLE OF SURPRISES
You wouldn’t expect a cave templeat this height– 5,326 feet above sea level (1,623 metres ASL)!
The goddess is Kaveri Amman. Yes, you’re right – the goddess of river Kaveri is worshipped at this highest point of the Shevaroy hills!
The idols of Servaraya Perumal and Kaveri amman are small -11/2 feet tall but adorable!
Servaraya Perumal holds the conch and discus in his hands while goddess Kaveri holds a lotus flower in her hand.
The roof above the deities is moist and drops of water fall at intervals on the idols. This flow of water dries up during the dry summer months.
In the dark recess behind the god and goddess the cave goes on. Visitors are not permitted to go beyond this point. A story is told by the local tribal people that the cave goes all the way to Thalakaveri in the state of Karnataka, which is the origin of the Kaveri river. No one knows for sure, but it is a tale that has been told for generations. Surely there must be a reason why there is a temple for goddess Kaveri at these heights but it is a reason that has been lost to us, lost in the mists of time.
There is a huge tree at the entrance, its vast trunk covered with small bags of prayer offerings.
There are just a few houses some distance away from the temple.
Across the road, there is a wishing well where you throw pebbles and make a wish.
Breathe in the exhilarating, pure, cold mountain air. The vast flat hilltop above the temple is a great place to relax, to have a picnic with your family, or just enjoy the spectacular 360 degrees views and the play of clouds in a sky that is so close that you feel you can almost touch it!
From this high vantage point you get a breathtaking view of the hills that stretch in rows upon overlapping rows into the distance. You can also see bauxite mines on the hills.
The festival in May is an important one for the tribal people called as Malayaalees -the people of the hills, when they gather here in their hundreds.
7 kms from Yercaud lake. You can go by car or take a taxi. Alternately you can hire an auto near the boathouse to take you to the temple.
The Ranganathar temple is a cave temple on the eastern face of the Naamgiri rock.The temple is about midway up the rock and you have to climb 100 steps to reach it.
Two pillared mantapams lead to the main cave shrine.
To reach it you have to climb another 10 steps. These steps and the scaffolding at the top completely obscure the original stone steps leading to the sanctum.
There are three doors to the sanctum in the manner of the Padmanabha Swamy temple in Tiruvananthapuram. Only the central door is opened daily for devotees to enter the artha mandapam. However, on VaikuntaEkadasi, the central door is closed. On this day, bhaktas enter the sanctum through the first door and leave after having darshan through the third door.
Lord Vishnu here is in Karkotaka sayanam unlike the anantha sayanam seen in most temples. During the Deeparadhanai, the Battar will point out to you the five faces of the serpent king Karkotaka. Each face is that of a roaring lion or Yali, and not the usual face of a snake. He will tell you that the very breath of the snake king was highly poisonous. The Lord granted the prayer of this highly venomous serpent king which was that He should recline on him in this Kshetra.He will also point out two large Asuras standing near the foot of the Lord, one of them holding a bundle in his hand and tell you a charming tale of the Asuras whose names are Madhuand Kaidapa .
THE STORY OF MADHU -KAIDAPA
They came here to steal the jewels of the Lord. Thinking that the Lord was asleep, they steal all the jewels. Just as they are about to leave with the bundle of jewels they accidentally touch the foot of the Lord and are immediately absolved of all sins. As realization of the true nature of the Divine hits them they pray for and are granted the privilege of being in the service of the Lord. The lesson to be learned is that the smallest contact with the Divine is enough to awaken souls to the greater Truth which is the Lord and in the process , the sins of generations are washed away.
There is a lovely carving of Ulagalandha Permalin a stone panel to the left of the artha mandapam and a unique carving of Sankara Narayanato the right. Another carving shows Bala Narasimhar.
When you climb down from the shrine you can see a carving of the divine architect, Visvakarma who is thought to have built these cave temples.
The Battar shows us the stone roof of the cave outside the sanctum which is carved to resemble a roof made of bamboo poles. Truly awe- inspiring!
The name of Thaayar is Ranganayaki. There is a separate shrine for her outside the main temple.She is as beautiful as Naamagiri Thaayaar.
At this altitude it is surprising to see a small pond next to the temple. The priest says it is only the rain water that has collected there. It is full of fish and a few snakes.
Stone Inscriptions found in these temples refer to Namakkal as “Thiru Aaraikal”.They speak of two cave temples called as Adiya navaya Visnugrha which is the Narasimha temple and Adiyendra Visnugrha, the Ranganathswamy temple.
They are temples of great architectural beauty coupled with genius! It is truly amazing that the Lakshmi Narasiha Swamy temple is built in such a way that Lord Hanuman in the Namakkal Hanuman temple in the next street can be clearly seen from the the peedam below the Garudalwar sannidhi.!
This small peedam in the inner prakaram has a small gopuram. There is a small opening in the gopuram and another one in the back wall of the Garudalwar shrine.
The wonder of this darshan is that the gaze of Hanuman standing some 250 feet away is fixed on the paadham (foot) of Lord Narasimha. These openings are strategically placed so the gaze of Hanuman is not obstructed. Talk about architectural genius!
The inner prakaram looks more like a spacious courtyard with small shrines all around. There are sannidhis for Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, a Udayavar (Ramanujar) sannidhi, Nammalwar sannidhi, one for Sri Krishna, Bama and Rukmini and a Desikar sannidhi.
When I was taking photographs here a devotee led me to the big wooden doors that opened into this prakaram and pointed out myriad carvings on wood panels on the doors depicting scenes from The Ramayana and Dasavathara.
How often have I passed through these ancient wooden temple doors without noticing the treasures it contained! I realized what it is “to see with unseeing eyes”.
A few pics of these exquisite wood carvings.
This panel shows Sita giving bhiksha – alms to Ravana who has taken the form of an ascetic.
The one next to it shows Rama slaying the Maya maan or pon maan –golden deer.
Hanuman and Sita in the Asokavanam
This panel on another door shows Rama breaking the Siva Dhanus at Sita’s Swayamvaram. Sage Visvamitra stands behind Rama.
I think this one shows Ahalya emerging from the stone as the curse leaves her when Rama’s foot touches the stone. Again Sage Viswamitra looks on.
Outside in the outer prakaram is a sannidhi for Lord Laskhmi Narayana and the madapalli or temple kitchen.
Namakkal is a beautiful town in Tamil Nadu and headquarters of Namakkal district. An important stop on NH 7 and on all routes leading to South Tamil Nadu, it is also a pilgrimage centre, well known for the famous Namakkal Anjaneyar temple.
This ancient town is built around a massive monolithic rock called as Naamagirifrom which the town gets its name. The rock is 65 metres high and more than a kilometre in circumference. Namakkal Fort on top of this rock was built by Ramachandra Nayak in the 16th century. It is believed that Tippu Sultan hid himself in the fort for a brief period of time to escape from the British. Later the British captured the fort.
In this massive rock, two cave temples were built in the 7th century.
The Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy cave temple at the foot of the Naamagiri rock on the west, and
The Ranganatha Swamy cave temple, built about midway up the rock on the east.
HISTORY OF THE CAVE TEMPLES
They were built by King Gunaseelan of the Adhiyamaan dynasty in the 7th century CE. Although the cave temples resemble the architectural style of the Pallava dynasty and the lesser known Pandya rock-cut temples, they belong to the period of the Adiyamaan dynasty which was one of the ancient ruling families of Tamil Nadu. They are known to us from Tamil Sangam literature dating to the early centuries of this era. One of the most famous kings of this dynasty was Adiyamaan Nedumaan Anji, patron of the famed Tamil poetess Avvaiyar.
The Adiyamaans ruled from Thagadur, which is present day Dharmapuri and their domain was northern Kongu, which included the present Salem district.
LAKSHMI NARASIMHA SWAMY TEMPLE
A charming story is told of how the rock called Naamagiricame into being.
Prahalada the son of King Hiranyakasibu had absolute faith in god. He believed that Parabrahma exists and exists everywhere. His father did not believe in God and challenged him to prove the existence of Parabrahma. Prahalada’s reply was that God exists in all creation, even in an atom. His father asks him if God is in the pillar nearby. Prahalada replies that God is not only in the pillar but also in the words uttered by Hiranyakasipu and also in the sound of those words. Enraged Hiranyakasipu strikes the pillar with his mace to break it, Lord Vishnu takes the form of Narasimha, the angry half man and half lion and comes out of the pillar and kills Hiranyakasipu. He took this avatara in ugra (angered) form to prove that absolute faith should not be failed. The rest of the avatars were taken after due deliberation but the Narasimha avatar took place in a kshana (micro-second) and even before Sri Devi came to know of it. Prahalada prays to the Ugra Narasimha to calm down and the Lord acquiesced.
Goddess Lakshmi did not get to see this avatar as it happened and prayed to the Lord asking to see it. Lord Vishnu told her to go to the place which is present day Namakkal and that in time she would get to witness the avatar there. So the Goddess began a long tapas (penance) on the bank of the Kamalalayam tank as she waited for the sacred darshan.
Time rolled on. The events of the Ramayana were taking place. The battle between Lord Rama and the demon king Ravana was being fought. Lakshmana faints on the battlefield and is revived with the herbs from the Sanjivi hill brought from the Himalayas by Hanuman. The hill is returned to its rightful place. Hanuman bathes in the River Kantaki in the Himalayas in which he finds a Salagramam. A Salagramam is a fossil stone found in the River Gantaki in the Himalayas and it represents Sri Hari in pujas.
On the way back to Lanka, Hanuman stopped at the Kamalalayam tank to bathe before his evening sandya-vandanam. Seeing Goddess Lakshmi meditating on its bank he gave her the Salagrama to keep until he finished his rituals as it was important that the stone was not placed on the ground. The stone grew heavy in Her hand and She placed it on the ground. Meanwhile Hanuman returned after his prayers. As they watched, the Salagrama grew in size until it became an enormous rock. It is believed that on the face of the Salagrama, Lakshmi and Hanuman witnessed the Narasimha Avatar and that Salagrama stands today as the Naamagiri in Namakkal town. To prove the tale the shrine of Naamagiri Thaayar faces Narasimha Swamy as does the idol of Namakkal Hanuman.
Another tale tells of how Narasimha’s fury could not be controlled and it was only after seeing Thaayar that He calmed down.
This is the myth of Naamagiri.
At first glance this temple does not look like a cave temple at all. It looks imposing against the backdrop of the Naamagiri rock. The worship protocol here is that you must worship first at the Naamagiri Thaayar shrine, go on to the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy sannadhi and finally to the Anjaneya temple across the road.
Goddess Mahalakshmi is worshipped as Naamagiri Thaayaar. She is extremely beautiful. The large evocative eyes and the smile on her face can make you feel that she is listening intently to your requests. It is not uncommon to find people who have come here to leave many a pressing life problem to Naamagiri Thaayaar. She is divine mother, friend and guide to the people of Naamakkal and all those who worship Her.
The Mathematics genius Srinivasa Ramanujan whose family goddess was Naamagiri Thaayar found guidance from the goddess throughout his life. He has said that the goddess whispered mathematic formulae in his ear which he then verified and committed to writing. He was the first Indian Mathematics Fellow at Cambridge University. In an age when it was heresy for Brahmins to cross the oceans to go to foreign lands, Goddess Naamagiri appeared in a dream to Ramanujan’s very orthodox mother telling her to send her son to Cambridge. Ramanujan went to the Naamagiri temple prior to his departure seeking permission to go. It is said that he stayed for three days in the temple precincts and prayed to the goddess, sitting in the four pillared mandapam in front of the Naamagiri thaayar shrine. The goddess gave her permission in a dream.
His mentor at Cambridge G.W.Hardy, later wrote of Ramanujan’s theorems and formulae, “A single look at them written down by a mathematician of the highest class. They must be true, because, if they were not true, no one would have had the imagination to invent them.”
Even on his death bed he scribbled down revolutionary mathematical formulae – gifts he said from this Hindu Goddess. He spent his final year furiously writing out pages and pages of theorems as if a storm of number concepts swept through his brain. Many remain beyond today’s best math minds.
A flight of steps leads to the prakaram which is on three sides of the temple against the imposing backdrop of the Naamagiri rock.
You climb a few more steps to the cave temple above.It is spacious with a high ceiling carved out of the rock, almost like a cathedral.
The presiding deity Lord Narasimha is huge. He sits with his left leg placed on the right thigh. The right foot is placed on the floor of the cave. He holds a conch in his left upper hand. There is a Prayoga Chakra in the right upper hand. The lower left hand is placed on his knee while the right hand shows a mudra.
Behind him on the wall of the cave are carvings of deities. During the deeparaadhanai the priest will explain that this is a Kudavarai koil,and Lord Narasimha is in ugra kolam after Hiranya samhaaram. He is also called as Yoga Narasimhar as He sits in meditation to control His anger. Behind him, the sages sanaka and Sanatana are seen whispering the happenings of the world in the ears of Narasimha Swamy.On either side of the sages Surya and Chandra fan the Lord with a Chamaram to cool his anger.On the far left Brahma and on the far right Shiva look on in awe at this wonderful avatar of Vishnu as Nara-simha.He will show you the red hue of the rock on Narasimha Swamy’s right palm and the sharp finger nails.The red hue shows the bloodstains from slaying of Hiranyakasipu.. The priest will tell you that as Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are depicted equally within the single shrine, it is known as a Trimurthy sthalam and that there is no separate temple for Shiva at Namakkal.
The artha mandapam walls have large panels of with exquisite stone sculpures. The pane to the left of Narasimha Swamy shows the Varaha avatar with Bhu devi and the panel to the right shows the hiranya Samharam. Another panel shows a rare sculpture of Vaikunta Narayana with Surya, Chandra, Siva, Brahma, Markandeya and Bhu devi.
The cave wall on the opposite side shows a beautiful sculpture of Vamana Murthy getting dhanam from King Mahabali and MahaVishnu as Trivirama measuring the earth and sky. Sukracharya is punished by Garuda for disturbing the dhanam as Jambavan looks on.
Outside the cave temple, is a shrine for Garudawar.
A flight of steps descend to the three-sided prakaram below. There are many shrines here.