Kolli Hills – Pristine and Pure

KOLLI HILLS

Kolli Hills is a beautiful mountain range located in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu in South India. Its altitude ranges from 1000 to 1300 meters above mean sea level and enjoys a pleasant, healthful climate round the year. The hills are spread over an area of 440 sq. kilometers. When viewed from National Highway 44 on the Rasipuram-Namakkal stretch, it appears as a flat-topped mountain range.

Remote, untouched by commercialization and retaining its historical charm Kolli Malai as it is called locally seems frozen in time.

History

  • Kolli Malai is said to be the exquisite Madhuvanam (the forest of honey) zealously maintained by vaanara king Sugreeva that is mentioned in the Sundara kandam of the Ramayana. The Madhuvanam was a protected grove where there was plenty of honey. Even today, this is a land of tropical fruits, honey and medicinal herbs just as it would have been in the Ramayana period.
  • It was a land favoured by siddars, the ancient medicine men of Tamil Nadu.

Kolli hills in the songs of the bards

In a distant past dating more than 2000 years ago, there lived wandering bards who travelled across ancient Tamil Nadu and were much respected by kings. They had the freedom to visit any kingdom and write songs on all they saw and observed. Tamil Sangam literature hence comes across as a treatise of gross truth told in a style that is at once blunt and poetical. The Kolli hills have been eulogized and glorified by many of these poets. It has a rich history as the kingdom of Mazhavar and Chera kings, It was a coveted kingdom and wars were fought and kings died trying to defend the kingdom.

Kolli hills are mentioned in these books of sangam literature:

  1. Purananooru
  2. Agananooru
  3. Natrinai
  4. Kurunthogai
  5. Pathitrupathu

Beautiful And Magical                  

Named after Kolli Paavai, the maiden goddess who guards these hills, Kolli hills still casts its spell on visitors. Much of the area is relatively unexplored and inaccessible, Myths abound and stories are told that are bizarre and spooky. Yes, it is true that a Kolli hills has a reputation. It is the favored destination of astrologers and practitioners of witchcraft and tantric practices. Scattered over the hills are small shrines where the priests will promise to remove all obstacles in your life and solve all your problems for a fee!

But there is much in the Kolli hills that is sacred and beautiful. The people who live here are tribals and are called as Malayalees – people of the mountains. They are a hard-working self- sufficient community with a unique culture that is their own. Aadi Padhinettu in July is the most important festival in the Kolli hills when people from the 16 naadus and from other places come together for week long celebrations.

A Holiday in Kolli Hills

Kolli hills is the place to go for a quiet peaceful holiday sans crowds of tourists.

On visiting the hills you realize that you have just stepped into an amazing world and first visits are always memorable. This is hill country like no other. Thick forests are interspersed with pastoral landscapes, and cosy mountain villages. The altitude and the rivers Aiyaru and Varattaru flowing across the hills, massive jackfruit trees everywhere you go, terraced fields, yes, Kolli hills is beautiful.

How to reach

Kolli hills is accessible from Salem (64 kms) and from Namakkal(24 kms) both major cities on National Highway 44(NH44). Buses ply from Salem, Namakkal and Rasipuram to important villages in the Kolli hills. It is a better idea to rent a car because many of the places to visit in the hills are not on the regular bus routes.

Hill road - Kolli malai

The drive to the hills is lovely, the roads are good. If you are travelling from Salem it is a  11/2 hour drive through a very scenic route.

Route from Salem

Take the NH 44 from Salem. Near Rasipuram, turn left onto the Rasipuram bye-pass which will take you to State Highway SH 95. Turn right on to SH 95 and drive through beautiful farming villages along the Kolli range. Turn left once more at Kaalappa-naickenpatti to go to the kolli foothills village of Karavalli. The 28 kms Ghat Road begins at Karavalli. and the most amazing drive up the mountains with  stunning views and 70 sharp hair-pin bends, a real challenge for drivers and biking enthusiasts. Enjoy the paintings of the Sendhamangalam Highways department along the way depicting stories of famous kings of ancient Tamil Nadu.

A hair pin bend in Kolli hills
A hair-pin bend in the Kolli Hills

Kolli Hills

Solakadu is your first stop and also one of the highest points in the hills. Stop for a steaming cup of the locally grown Arapalli coffee. The tribal shandy is right by the roadside and is a must visit place for buying exotic fruits and spices and other mountain produce. Just opposite the shandy, within the premises of the Highways Bungalow is a viewpoint with breathtaking views.

At Solakadu you can choose the places you want to visit from the prominently placed signpost. There are a lot of places to visit in the Kolli hills.

A word of caution – Once you exit Solakadu, there are very few signposts along the way so ask the locals for directions when in doubt to avoid going around in circles! Many roads seem the same on the hills and can get quite confusing.

Where to stay

There are very few resorts in the Kolli hills. The oldest is the Nallathambi resort. You can book cottages of the Kolli malai Panchayat in advance. These are located in Semmedu. Another place to stay is the youth hostel near the Arapaleeswarar temple.Alternately, you can stay in Salem or Namakkal and visit the hills.

Bring packed meals and snacks when you come because there are very few good hotels or eateries. If you plan to stay longer than a day the best thing would be to ask the locals to prepare food for you.

RASIPURAM KAILASANATHAR TEMPLE

Rajagopuram of Kailasanathar temple,Rasipuram

RASIPURAM

Rasipuram is a small ancient town with narrow streets and many small but very old temples. Its historical name was Rajapuram.

It is famous for the ghee that is made here called Rasipuram Nei. It has a rich and wholesome flavor.

The silk sarees that are woven here are beautiful. They are known as Rasipuram Pattu and the silk weaving tradition of this small town goes back many hundreds of years when the silk cloth made here was sent to neighboring countries.

Today in addition to the above, it is well known for the many educational institutions around it.

 Its proximity to the Kolli hills makes it an important stop enroute to the hills.

And it was part of the Kingdom of Valvil Ori.

The featured image is the stone sculpture of King Valvil Ori in the temple.

LEGEND

According to legend the existence of the temple spans four yugas. A granite slab within the temple gives us details of the legend of the temple and of Rasipuram town.

In the Krudha Yugam the town was called Indrapuram. The name of Lord Siva was Neelakandamoorthy worshipped by Indra, king of the gods.

In the Tretha Yugam, the town was called Devapuram. Siva was called Chandrasekarar and he was worshipped by the nine planet gods.

In the Dwapara Yugam, the town was called Vichitrapuram. The lord took the name of Sitteswarar and he was worshipped by siddas and rishis.

In the Kali Yugam, the town was called SriRajapuram and Lord Siva’s name was Kailasanathar worshipped by a hunter and people of the Aadhi Saivar community.

Legend of the Rasipram Kailasanathar Temple
Legend of the Rasipram Kailasanathar Temple

HISTORY

Like many old towns its history dating back to the 1st or 2nd century CE starts with the temple of Lord Kailasanathar.

King Valvil Ori ruled from Kolli malai. He was a kind and generous king loved by his people. A great warrior, he excelled in archery and the story of his killing an elephant, a tiger, a deer, a wild boar and a monitor lizard with a single arrow was told and retold in lands far and wide. His kingdom included the areas of Rasipuram and Sendhamangalam.

Valvil Ori was a great devotee of Lord Siva.

One day, while hunting he was on the trail of a Venn Panri or white pig which led him a long way deep within the forests near Rasipuram. He saw it enter a clump of bushes and shot his arrow into the bushes. Parting the bushes to claim his prize, Ori was startled to see a large Sivalingam hidden in the vegetation. Worse, he saw blood trickling down from the lingam where his arrow had hit it. He realized that it was Lord Siva who had appeared as the Venn Panri. Falling to the ground he prayed to Lord Siva to forgive him. Lord Siva appeared before the king and said that he should build a temple where he found the Lingam. King Ori built a temple for Siva. The sanctum sanctorum or Karuvarai which we see today is believed to be built by Valvil Ori. Later other kings added to and extended the temple.

Click here for an earlier post on King Valvil Ori

THE TEMPLE

 

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mahanandi

A narrow street leads to the Iswaran koil as all Siva temples are called by the local people.

Entrance to the temple is through the Rajagopuram which faces west. The beautiful Nandi Mandam with exquisite carvings has a large Nandi. Another mandapam which covers the inner prakaram leads to the artha mandapam and sanctum. The name of Lord Siva is Kailasanathar. The Sivalingam faces west which is special and only found rarely. The Swayambhu lingam is fairly large and bears the mark of a scar where it was hit by King Ori’s arrow. This scar can be seen when abhishegam is performed. The sanctum believed to be built by Valvil Ori is very old. The artha mandapam in front of the sanctum is full of the most beautiful stone carvings.

kailasanathar-photo-courtesy-dinamalar-com
Kailasanathar  Photo couresy – Dinamalar.com

An ancient doorway to the right leads to an inner prakara and another door ahead opens on the outer prakara. In this inner prakara on both sides of the door from the arthamandapam are two unique shrines. One has a rare embossed sculpture of Vikata chakra Vinayagar carved from a single stone and who has a rudraksha mala in one hand. The shrine to the right of the doorway has the idol of Lord Veerabadra with a Nandi in front.

Vinayakar,Kailasanathar Kovil, Rasipuram
Vinayakar,Kailasanathar Kovil, Rasipuram
Veerabadrar, Kailasanathar Koil, Rasipuram
Veerabadrar, Kailasanathar Koil, Rasipuram

The name of the Mother goddess is Aram Valartha Nayagi. She faces East and is very beautiful. There is a Mahameru before her. My visit to the temple was on the day after Adi Pooram which is sacred to Parvati, and so was blessed with a darshan of Ambal dressed in all her finery…truly a sight to behold. I was able to take a picture of Ambigai in this alangaram. You can see Ambal wearing two garlands made entirely of glass bangles of all colors. Beautiful,isn’t it ?!

Aram Valartha Nayagi, Rasipuram
Aram Valartha Nayagi, Rasipuram

There are two shrines for Lord Murugan. He stands alone as Dhandayudhapani in the first shrine. In the second shrine we see him as Karthigeya seated on a peacock with Valli and Deivanai standing on either side. Saint Arunagirinathar has sung a Tirupugazh hymn on the Murugan of this temple.

The first shrine on the pradakshina path in the outer prakaram starts with the shrine of Lord Kasi Viswanathar with Visalakshi and ends with the shrine of lord Ramanathaswamy with Parvatha vardhini. It reminds us of the beautiful Kasi-Rameshwaram tradition. The pradakshinam itself is truly beautiful with many old and lovely shrines. The sthala vriksham are Nelli and Vilvam trees. There are separate shrines for Sani bhagavan, Kala Bairavar, Pancha lingams, Gajalakshmi, Saraswati, Aiyappan, 63 Nayanmars and four Santhanacharyas.

Chariot shaped alcove on a temple wall, Kailasanathar koil,Rasipuram
Chariot shaped alcove on a temple wall, Kailasanathar koil,Rasipuram
Lord Krishna playing the flute, embossed image on temple wall Kailasanathar temple, Rasipuram
Lord Krishna playing the flute, embossed image on temple wall Kailasanathar temple, Rasipuram
Nayanmars, Rasipuram temple
Nayanmars, Rasipuram temple
Santhanacharyas Kailasanathar temple, Rasipuram
Santhanacharyas Kailasanathar temple, Rasipuram

The Dakshinamurthi shrine is different, almost a small temple by itself. The temple has a utsavar or procession deity of Lord Dakshinamurthy with his four rishi disciples. On the first Thursday of each month, He comes to the shrine of the main Dakshinamurthy. Yellow threads placed in puja are offered as prasad to devotees.dakshinamurthy-shrine

There is a shrine for Naagar, the serpent deity.

Naagar, Kailasanathar koil,Rasipuram
Naagar, Kailasanathar koil,Rasipuram

VALVIL ORI

A rare and unique feature of this temple is the life size stone sculpture of King Valvil Ori under a Vanni tree, in the outer prakara near the Rajagopuram.

It is the Featured image of this post. It depicts King Ori, tall and majestic with a sword at his hip. Hands folded he is shown deep in prayer to his beloved Siva.

Aadi Perukku is an important festival in the Kolli hills and on this day special abhishekam is performed for this king with puja.

In many old temples, we find granite sculptures of the kings, queens or holy men who built the temple or were associated with it, which is how we come to know about them besides the temple inscriptions in Vattezhuthu, which is the ancient written form of the Tamil language.

Another myth of this temple is that there is a secret underground passage from the Kailasanathar temple that leads to the Arapaleeswarar temple in Kolli Malai.

Do visit this lovely temple!

TIMINGS

The temple is open from 6 am to 12 noon and from 4.30 pm to 8.30 pm.

LOCATION

Rasipuram is 33 kms from Salem in Tamil Nadu, and 27 kms from Namakkal.

 

 

 

 

A Summer Festival in Pudhupatti

Summer is well and truly here! Soaring temperatures are touching 40 degree Celsius, somewhat unusual in April.

We were invited by friends to a gala village event in the village of Pudhupatti near Namagiripettai in Rasipuram taluk, Namakkal district.

A lovely farming village, Pudhupatti also called R. Pudhupatti, has a very popular temple for the goddess Mariamman. 

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Some respite from the sun

Pandigai is a common Tamil name for festival  and today’s festivities centered on the temple chariot.

Village Deities of Tamil Nadu

The magnificent temples of Tamil Nadu are mostly Siva and Vishnu temples. There is another category of gods and goddesses whose temples are predominant in the villages. These are the village deities called as Grama Devata and their temples may be seen in every Tamil Nadu village and town. The Grama Devata is periodically worshiped and propitiated. Village people fear the wrath of these deities but generally they are benevolent divine beings.

The villages are essentially farming communities and so the Tamil Nadu countryside is dotted with shrines to these gods.

The village deities are the guardians, the healers and the ever present help that every little village and town has. They have a major role to play in the day to day life of the people and protect them from the countless ills, afflictions and pains of everyday village life.

When calamity overtakes the village, when pestilence or famine or cattle disease makes its appearance, it is to the village deity that the whole body of villagers turn to for protection   –     Right Reverend Henry Whitehead in The Village Gods of South India.

These gods are called as Ayyanar, Muniappan, Mariamman,  Angalamman, Pidari, Karuppana swamy, Periasami and so on.

Mariamma is the commonest of them all. Her function is to bring rain and ward off and cure small pox, chicken pox, measles and rashes.

Thuluka Soodamani Amman temple in Pudhupatti

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The temple of Thuluka soodamani amman in Pudhupatti is one such village temple for Mariamman.

The mid-day journey to Pudhupatti in the scorching sun wasn’t so pleasant even in an air- conditioned car. But once we neared the temple it was a different matter altogether. No one seemed to care about the hot summer sun, and the air of celebration was catching! Folks were dressed in their best, the endless festival shops sold everything under the sun  – literally!

The whole place was action packed, with the temple as the center of all the festivities. In the courtyard of the temple women were busy with a ritual called Pongal Vaikiradhu which involved cooking the sweet rice dish named pongal in  earthen or metal pots on an impromptu stove made of three large stones and some kindling or firewood. The cooked pongal was offered to the goddess on banana leaf lined brass plates and taken as prasad. By the roadside a family gave glasses of koozh, a rice and ragi(finger millet) porridge to all. There were free buttermilk stalls with big pots of cold buttermilk. A makeshift shelter was the venue of Annadaanam where people could eat tasty meals absolutely free.There were stalls where you could have tattoos made for Rs. 15.

The Temple

The temple itself was crowded but we had a good darshan of goddess Mariamman. As I said, her name is Thuluka Soodamani amman. Long ago, the armies of the Nawab are thought to have camped in this region and the goddess blessed the Muslim commander and his men.Hence the unusual name.

A view of the temple
A view of the temple

The temple is famous for cures relating to skin ailments and vision problems. Therefore people with skin and eye maladies come from afar to offer prayers to the goddess.

Outside the temple  the Ther (chariot) was all decked up and ready to go. As usual the villagers joined together and pulled the beautiful Ther.

TEMPLE CHARIOT OF THULUKA SOODAMANI AMMAN IN PUDHUPATTI
TEMPLE CHARIOT OF THULUKA SOODAMANI AMMAN IN PUDHUPATTI
Pulling the Ther
Pulling the Ther

FAITH

Behind the ther, I saw something very unusual.

Angapradakshanam
Angapradakshanam

Men and women, wearing garlands of flowers indicative of their vows and holding bunches of neem leaves sat in two rows  on the paved street in the hot sun. People brought pots of water which they poured on them, the drenching with cool water being necessary to offset the effects of the noonday sun. When the ther with the idol of Mariamman started to move, they lay on the ground and rolled along behind the ther with hands folded in supplication above their heads.

This ritual is called as Angapradakshanam and it is done for answered prayers, usually within the precincts of the temple around the main shrine.

For the first time I saw it being done on a hot paved street and following the ther.

Such devotion is a humbling experience and I felt respect and admiration for all the men, women and children who kept their vows that day. It was a personal interaction between each of the participants and the mother goddess.

Taking part in these rituals involves a period of fasting prior to the festival. It usually means a single meal a day at noon or in the evening and strict abstinence from meat, taking liquor or smoking. It is a purification that conditions the body to the rigorous process of Angapradakshinam.

 Rituals like these have been followed by the villagers traditionally and vary from village to village and from temple to temple. For instance, in Pudhupatti village, our friends said that it was the custom that no palagaram (Tamil for sweetmeats) that required deep frying in oil may be made for the duration of the Pandigai (festival) which usually lasted for two weeks.

Photos of the festival.

Welcome drenching with cold water
Welcome drenching with cold water

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This Matriarch is happy to give water in a brass pot to the devoted.
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Young participants. Its the summer holidays anyway!

WHERE IT IS

The temple is 5 km from Namagiripettai near Rasipuram.

The distance from Salem is 43 km ,roughly an hour’s drive.

The route from Salem is Salem- Rasipuram – Namagiripettai- R. Pudhupatti.

 

Is there a festival in your village or town? If so,do share your views.

 

 

 

 

A Temple for Safe Journeys

METTALA  ANJANEYAR  TEMPLE

As you travel on the Attur- Rasipuram road in Namakkal district, after Namagiripettai, you pass by a charming temple to Lord Anjaneya.

This is the famous Mettala Anjaneyar temple.

It is set in sylvan surroundings,  against a backdrop of thickly forested hills that reach down to the road.

Mettala Anjaneyar
Mettala Anjaneyar

Mettala is the name of a pass between these hills and a village of the same name.

The temple is along the lines of a cave or rock-cut temple (more like a cavern).

The image of Hanuman  carved on the rock is small. On the rocky ceiling above  are carved images of the fish icon that identifies all temples built by the Pandya kings whose emblem was the fish.

Anjaneyar temple,Mettala
Anjaneyar temple,Mettala

The priest explains that the temple is more than a 1000 years old.

It is the only Anjaneyar temple where the Thee-midhi ritual (walking over live coals) is carried out every year in which hundreds of people participate.

Befittingly, there are a large number of monkeys all over the place. It is very amusing to watch them! They accept food or fruit or puffed rice from visitors.

A view from the road
A view from the road

This lovely temple is highly popular among motorists and truckers who unfailingly stop here to offer prayers.

Amazing is the fact that the temple is kept open throughout the day and night so that drivers of vehicles that ply on this route can obtain the blessings of Hanuman for a safe journey.

Equally surprising are the innumerable foot-high figurines of monkeys and Anjaneyars that line the back of this rocky temple!

The drive through this segment of the Attur-Rasipuram road is very enjoyable with forests hugging the road interspersed with villages and more hilly forest.

The temple is 8km. from Rasipuram and 6km.from Namagiripettai.