''Yanaimalai'' near Madurai - A protected site of Jain-Hindu rock cut temples of great antiquity

Yanaimalai, on the Madurai-Melur High Way,  about  10 km from Madurai Mattuthavani bus stand of Madurai district  is a not a tall hill (height 300 ft), but it  stretches  over 3 km,  looking like an elephant in sitting posture, hence the name Yanai Malai (in Tamil Yanai means elephant and Malai means hill) which has been in use for several centuries. 

Jain sculpture, Yanaimalai, Madurai, TN upload.wikimedia.org/

Jain sculpture, Yanaimalai, Madurai, TN upload.wikimedia.org

rock-cut temple, Anaimalai. tnarch.gov.in/

rock-cut temple, yanaimalai, upload.wikimedia.org

Once in a while this site, a state protected monument, appears in the media   catching the attention of the people including historians and monuments lovers.  Invariably, the state government in the recent past got into controversy by suggesting a project involving  tampering with protected heritage and monument sites (under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. With no referendum on them, they earned the ire of the public. 

Yanaimalai near Madurai, Facebook.com

 In Feb 2018, the people in this part of Madurai district  were furious and angry when the state's tourism department was keen to start  sculpture  park on Yanaimali by breaking open  the rock outcrops at many places, which might  disturb  the terrain and geomorphology of this area.  They might use controlled explosion several times  to  open up the rocky terrain  and the minor tremors will positively damage the monuments on the hill. 

Yanaimalai, Jain temple, Madurai. 

What is weird is how could the state tourism department come up with such a proposal in this protected historical  site that has  Jain sculptures,  a Shaivite temple, and a Vaishnavite  temple besides Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating back to first century A.D?  This place has a continuous history for 2000 years without any break and is the most important historical asset. In 2010 PIL was filed in the High Court by an organization and finally the government  withdrew their proposal.  In 2013 students of Lady Doak College adopted the monument and vowed to work towards its protection. The department of history signed a memorandam of understanding with  DHAN Foundation, a non-government organization to protect the monument.

Tampering with historical sites is not at a good proposition and the  stakes are high when it comes to loss of connectivity with the past. Regardless of monuments, their relevance with the past should never be abused  or trampled upon. 

According to some heritage enthusiasts, this project was the handiwork of the mining lobby and using the tourism department in the front they want to quarry part of the hill. Here the  is is made of old rocks of Archaean age containing lots of granite related rocks  containing colored minerals including gneissic rocks with a myriad of texture.  

In Madurai district, quarrying of various terrains rich in granite has been going on for a long time and the  quarry owners had their eyes glued on Yanaimalai to produce high quality textured granite slabs for construction purpose. Already people were quite disturbed over   rampant mining activities going on near the ancient Jain abodes at Keelavazhavu near here. People are of the opinion that these mining companies have political connection and the district officials are unable to take action against them.  Men's greed has reached a new height and now they are not afraid to lay their hands on heritage and historical sites no matter how historically important they are. They are chasing money trampling upon the social norms  midway. This cultural onslaught will lead to calamity and perpetual loss of vestiges of past era.    

Some interesting facts about Anaimalai: 

01. According to the  Archaeological Survey of India,  prehistoric people including ascetics  in particular ,Jain Munis made use of  the natural caverns in the hills around Madurai for  residence and  religious purposes.

02. Many stone beds are also cut out of the rocks with pillow lofts and it suggests the existence of human habitation  more than 1500 years ago. 

03. It is likely, it was  a sacred place for the  the Tamil Jain monks especially for who lived  during the Pandyan Dynasty. Caves containing Jain bas relief sculptures of Mahavira, Gomateshwara, and other tirthankaras carved  by Jain monks bear testimony to the flourishing Jain community in that region along with Hinduism. 

04. The Jain temple is a state protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.

05. Yanamalai has a natural cavern measuring 22 feet long and 28 feet broad. 

06. Tamil Brahmi inscriptions found in the cavern  are very much similar to  those of Pali inscriptions in Brahmi script found in the Sri Lanka rock caverns.  Also present on the hill  are  Tamil-Brahmi and Vattelettu  inscriptions.

07. This place is referred to as  Ivakunram’ meaning elephant hills in the ancient Tamil-Brahmi scripts.

Yaga Narasimhar temple at foot hill Anaimalai hill. tripadvisor.com

08. The laden caves have two interesting cave temples in the foot hills  built  by the Pandyas, in the 8th century - one dedicated to  Muruga  and the other to Sri Vishnu - Yoga Narasimha. The latter at the foot of the hill in Narasingam village is an interesting one, built  in 770 A.D. by Madurakavi alias Marankaari who was the minister of the Madurai King Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan. The image of the deity is carved out of the rock.  The temple has ancient Tamil Vattalethu inscriptions.

09. V. Vedachalam, in his book ‘Enperunkunram,’ mentioned that a Jain stone statue  in Yanamalai is being worshipped by the locals as Muniyandi. To  countless people here Yannaimali is an abode of divinity - god's divine creation associated  with many legends.

10. In Australia there is a hillock almost similar to Anaimalai  called Ayers Rock and it is protected monument there.