The best way to go on an adventure is to fuel up and go on a long drive in your own vehicle with no time restrictions and no particular direction to head to! But do keep a phone and GPS handy anyway…
You might have heard of hills shaped like tortoises or horse faces, but have you seen one that’s elephant-shaped? It’s a marvel to see and just in case you are interested, it’s called the Yanaimalai hill and is located in the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu, about 10km away from the Mattuthavani Bus stand; don’t be too worried about finding it as it’s easy to locate with its majestic height of 300 feet and a long stretch of almost 3 kilometers; there is no way you can miss it. You could even be forgiven for calling it the Great Wall of Madurai as it rises like a giant fort wall along one side of the city!
The hill derives its name from the Tamil word ‘yanai’ meaning elephant and ‘malai’ meaning hill; this name has been in existence for more than 2000 years and represents the hill looking like an elephant in a sitting position. It has two rock-cut temples and Jain caves and sculptures cut into the rock face. You can even see some flat rock beds that the Jains used to rest on…how comfortable they were would be anyone’s guess though! Currently it is a protected monument under the Tamil Nadu government and is revered by the local villagers; every shop and home has a picture of the yanaimalai hill placed in a prayer space as the villagers consider this rock their god. They are staunch believers in maintaining the wealth of nature and fought hard to prevent the government form building a sculpture park on this hill.
The hill provides great trekking opportunities for the enthusiasts to go discovering historical signs of the earlier Jain monks’ lives here. The serenity and tranquility of the location beckon to the adventurer to spend some quality time here. Sadly some parts of this hill have been damaged by illegal quarrying of granite with which the hill is richly endowed.
An interesting legend regarding this hill goes that the Chozha king sought the help of the Jain monks to help him win the battle against the Pandya ruler; so using their mystical powers they made a giant elephant to kill the Pandya ruler. But the Pandya ruler prayed to lord Shiva to intervene and save him, and the lord is believed to have used his own divine powers and turned the giant elephant into a hill…which is what we see today! Of course you are free to believe what you want…
Mohamed Imranullah S.
MADURAI: “History is a living whole. If one organ be removed, it is nothing but a lifeless mass,” said Frederic Harison, a British historian. His thought would apply even to historical monuments and more aptly to Yanaimalai, a striking hillock in the shape of an elephant in a sitting posture, near here.
Activists interested in preserving the historical remains of this region in their pristine form and people residing near Yanamalai are in a state of shock with the State Government recently constituting a committee to look into the feasibility of cracking the hillock for creating a sculpture park intended at promoting tourism.
T. Lajapathi Roy, a lawyer and author of ‘Madurai Mathirai,’ feels the “hidden object behind the proposal to crack the hillock is to help the mining lobby.” After plundering the granite wealth from various places in the district, the miners had been eyeing Yanamalai for long and this announcement has come as a windfall to them.
Madurai abounds in isolated hills. Of all, Yanaimalai boasts of a unique history. Though considered to be in existence since time immemorial, Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating back to first century A.D. are sufficient proof of its antiquity. It has the distinction of retaining its name without any change for over 2000 years.
In her book, ‘Madurai Through the Ages,’ based on a doctoral thesis submitted in 1957, D. Devakunjari, former Special Officer in the Archaeological Survey of India, states that prehistoric men as well as ascetics appear to have made use of the natural caverns in the hills around Madurai for habitation and religious purposes.
Yanamalai has one such natural cavern measuring 22 feet long and 28 feet broad. Many stone beds are also cut out of the rocks with pillow lofts. Tamil Brahmi inscriptions found in the cavern match with that of Pali inscriptions in Brahmi script spotted at similar caves in Sri Lanka, the author says, quoting the Epigraphia Zeylanica (Vol. I).
According to the Madurai District Archaeological Guide published by the Department of Archaeology, two cave temples carved out of the Yanamalai hillock, one for Narasinga Perumal and another for Lord Murugan, boast of a special place among the cave temples constructed by the Pandyas, the ancient rulers of this region.
Jainism existed side by side with Hinduism in ancient Madurai.
The sculptures of Mahaveer, Parsavanathar, Iyakki and six others on the western side of the two cave temples on Yanamalai stand testimony to the growth of the sect which witnessed a downfall here in seventh century A.D. and revived later.
V. Vedachalam, in his book ‘Enperunkunram,’ states that a Jain statue chiselled out of the rock in Yanamalai is being worshipped by the locals as Muniyandi. This was in addition to the belief of many others who consider the entire hillock to be a divine creation and associate it with many legends.
A. Mahaboob Batcha of SOCO Trust, a voluntary organisation here, feels the present move to crack the hill is nothing but a cultural onslaught. He had earlier filed a public interest litigation petition against rampant mining activities near the ancient Jain abodes at Keelavazhavu near here. He now plans to file a case to save Yanamalai too.