The Lord leadeth me besides calming waters *
We were driving on National Highway#7 towards my wife’s ancestral village. About 25km after Namakkal, we broke away from NH#7 into a State Road. The road had considerably narrowed and become sinuous; I was concerned that our driver had not slowed down. As we emerged from one curve… WHAM! It hit us on our face: a stunning view of Temple perched on top of the Rock! It looked like an invitation from the Lord Himself.
Two days later, my wife and I drove from her village to Velayuthampalayam on the Kaveri banks— that was where the Rock stood. It was early morning, and the mist had hardly settled. We ran up 360 steps to reach the top and met the surprised priest. This temple does not open till 8 am, but today he opened the temple at 4 am, so that he could attend to Margazhi Puja. How did we know that, he asked? We didn’t. The Lord leadeth me, perhaps? We were the only devotees there and it was as if Lord Balasubramaniam (the deity) had invited us for a personal audience!
Our friendly priest
The priest was an affable young man. He regaled us with stories of this shrine, called Aarunaattaan Malai or Pugazhi Malai. No one knew how old this temple was, but this was almost certainly erected by Chera kings in the 12th century. There were many inscriptions (in ancient Tamil script) and icons of the original sponsors of this temple which provide clues.
By the 15th century it had become famous: we know this, because the poet-saint Arunagirinathar wrote a hymn (in the Tirupugazh compendium) in praise of the deity here. Later, Jain monks settled in a cave in this hillock for intense meditation (that cave is now a protected ASI monument). The Isha-Yoga Guru, Sri Jaggi Vasudev took a huge rock from here for his temple in Velliangiri hills— apparently because this place was full of “good” spiritual vibrations! Our friendly priest finally ended his lecture with “there’s more stuff in my Facebook, just check it out”. Wow, the Lord leadeth in many ways!
More Rock Stars
From Pugazhi Malai, Namakkal was just 25 km away, so how could we resist the temptation to go there? Even several kilometers away from Namakkal, a prominent landmark appeared on the horizon— the Namakkal Fort. Built by the Madurai Nayaks in the 17th Century on a 75 Metre Rock, it is not a big fort; but it serves as a teasing invitation to visit 2 famous temples in the town below.
The more famous of the two is the Namakkal Anjaneyar which stands 18 feet tall and is carved out of a single Rock. There is no vimana to cover the deity and Anjaneya stands completely open to Nature. (Local folklore is that Anjaneya continuously grows taller all the time). This Anjaneya’s body language is that of piety. Not surprising, when you find that he is facing the Lord Narasimha Swamy at the other end of the street.
So, after a great dharshan, we walk to the Narasimha Swamy temple. A remarkable shrine. The sanctum sanctorum has been carved out of the Namakkal Rock (atop which is the Fort). And the entire temple has been built as a structural extension from the sanctum. The sanctum sanctorum has beautiful bas-reliefs carved from the rock face: they depict scenes from the Dasavataras.
Lord Narasimha’s consort here is Namagiri Thaayar (Goddess Lakshmi). She looks serene and peaceful. As per folklore, Narasimha could not fully shed his fierce disposition even after executing the evil Hiranyakashipu. It was Namagiri Thaayar’s peaceful countenance that finally calmed him. The temple is also home to some fine carvings that are a treat to devotees.
You could cover all 3 Rock deities in half a day. One way is to stay at Namakkal and accomplish this. Namakkal is a district capital about 395 km from Chennai on the NH#7 and the roads are excellent. It is also easily reachable by train. Try to visit before summer, because temperatures can be high and the rocks can scald your bare foot!
Notes & Glossary
- * “The Lord leadeth me…” is from Psalm 23 of the Old Testament– equally applicable to all Faiths
- Margazhi Puja = Winter season prayers in Tamilnadu
- Vimana = The tower or pagoda built over the sanctum sanctorum
- Dharshan = An auspicious vision of a deity
- The author gratefully acknowledges that the photos of Namakkal Anjaneya and the Bas-Relief are from the temple website of TNHRCE. All the other photos are by the author and his wife.
In case you were expecting something about the macho movie-star, Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. “The Rock”— my apologies! I simply love that guy, but this post is about more sublime Rocks .… Another time, may be?