To a trekker like me, a trip to the heavenly bode of sacred monks is a blessing indeed. I hired a guide to take me to the Samanar Hills, seeing how I needed someone to explain to me all the inscriptions I might find in Tamil or about their history. We had to travel about a rough15 kilometers to the village Keelakuyilkudi to reach the base of the hill rock formations.
The Archaeological Survey of India has declared the hill as a protected monument and is taken very good care of. These hills have caves, which were inhabited by Tamil Jain monks. I came across many Tamil Brahmi inscriptions, which my guide did a good job of translating for me, and several stone beds, indicating the authority of Jainism in the Tamil state of India.
The Proof of Jainism in Tamil Culture
Samanar Malai though filled with inscriptions and sculptures, is very famous for two of its most important sculptures. The Settipodavu and Pechipallam. These depict the images of Jain Tirthankaras, which were sculpted by the Jain Monks in early 9th Century BCE. I have here for you a beautiful click from my SLR as the sun captures the Settipodavu- An image of Mahavira Jain, the last Tirthankara of Jainism.
The Pechipallam shows eight sculptures that include ones of Bahubali and of Mahavira. See how the Monks have artistically carved their lives into these rocks for us to see and live through our eyes. My guide informs me that archaeologists found 2000 yr old Tamil Brahmi Inscriptions and Vatteluttu writings indicating that the monks took a Sallekena, meaning a fast unto death, right here in these caves. Gives you goodebumps, don’t they? Well, I am terrified for one, I can tell you.
Isn’t it amazing how one story leads on to another? The Tamil and Kannada inscriptions on these rocks have also a story that tells about a Jain monastery that was here once atop the hill. Maadevi Perumpalli, an educational academy that taught both Jain monks as well as nuns. History has several lessons for us to learn form indeed; and no other better place, than from the very rubbles of the Madurai City.
I now bid adieu to the small Karuppanaswamy temple at the foothills and head back to my hotel room.