Samanarmalai cave Temple (9th CE) Keelakuyilkudi near Madurai,TN - an amazing Jain monument

 There are many Jain monuments in Tamil Nadu that bear testimony to the popularity of Jainism in ancient Tamil country where many faiths flourished through the ages, in particular around Madurai.  Samanar Hill, also known as Samanar Malai located near Keelakuilkudi village (nearest bus station)i,10 kilometres (6.2 mi) west of Madurai city is a  protected monument under the management of  the Archaeological Survey of India.

Samanar Malai, Madurai, TN.

The rugged rocky hill stretches east–west over 3 kilometers towards Muthupatti village.  The 2000 to 2500 year old Jain monument that included carved images of Jain saints or munis on the caves' rocky walls, ceilings, etc is a treasure trove and offers ample scope for researchers. This place served as a monastery and resting place for the travelers. Confirmed by inscriptions, the Jain monastery atop the hill is known as MaadeviPerumpalli. The word Samanar  derived from Sanskrit word Sramana, colloquially and commonly denotes  any ascetic tradition. In Tamil nadu, it is equated with Jain tradition.The top of the hills can be assessed through a series of shallow steps cut on the rocky slope with railings on both sides for protection

Mahavira statue,Settipodavu, Samanar hill, Madurai, TN.

Above image: This statue of Mahavira, Jain Monk is said to be the largest in Tamil Nadu........... 

The hill also known as Thiruvasagam  has several Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, a number of stone beds, and many sculptures, confirming the growth of Jainism in this region. Two noteworthy places are  01. Settipodavu (podavu from pudai, means cave) on the south western slope tip and a short climb up from the base and 02. Pachikapallam  on the southeastern slope and at higher level than Settipodavu  that has carved images of  Tirthankaras made by Jain monks in the 9th century CE where as the Settipodavu has  the image of Mahavira, the last tirthankara of Jainism. The eight sculptures, including Bahubali and Mahavira in the Pechipallamhill mostly 10th CE are nicely carved and accessible.   Mangulam inscription" is often regarded as one of the oldest Tamil-brahmi inscription, 3rd century BCE , Madurai.  The record mentions the name of great Pandyan king "Nedunchezian" who made stone beds for Jain monk.

Samanar hill, Madurai, TN.

About  2200-year-old Jain Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and Vatteluttu writings suggest that hundreds of Jain monks attained  sallekhana (‘fast unto death’) there. The flat rocks, called stone beds, in the caves were meant for the mont\ks to take rest. The findings through the Tamil inscriptions show that there was a Jain monastery at the top of the hill known as MaadeviPerumpalli.. Founded by  8th century Jain scholar Akalanka  Samanar Hills near  Madurai  became a popular Jain basadis (settlements) with a monastery. Jains flourished  here between the 9th and 12-century and Jainism was purely an ''ascetic practice,”  As for monks, they were strictly celibate and constantly nomadic. Mind, being the root cause of all sins and cycles of rebirth and suffering. to them, fasting is a way to control the ever-wandering mind. They were strong believer in Ahimsa.  The Tamil-Brahmi script, belonging to the second century BCE, dating back to 2,200 discovered at Samana malai was discovered in Sept.2016. It is engraved on a boulder in which a drip-ledge has been cut and beds excavated on the rock floor for Jaina monks to rest.
The Hindu temple at the bottom of the hill dedicated to  Karuppanasamy (Kaval Deivam)  has some idols made by Jain monks.

To a question of how Jainism that was widely practised around the Gangetic plains of Bihar in c 750 BC,had begun to take roots in this part of Madurai and Sothern southern region, Dr Kumarpal Desai, managing trustee, Institute of Jainology in Ahmedabad, Gujarat says, “The Jain community was unified but then a faction broke away and travelled south in the face of a disastrous famine around c 300 BC,” he says. “Some sources suggest that a large group of migrants was led by the famous Acharya Bhadrabahu into what is now the Karnataka state (Mysore), where they resided for some twelve years''

Reliefs in the caves,Samanar Hills near Madurai

way to Samanar Hills near Madurai

Jain carvings,Samanar Hills near Madurai

The Samanar Malai  monument under the care of  the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI),  is not well managed and is devoid of  basic information board  detailing the history and legacy of Jainism in the Tamil country.  There is no signboard to give direction to the visitors.  The caves in the hill have been damaged by illegal quarrying in the region. The path leading to the caves is littered with broken liquor bottles. People visiting Madurai have no idea about this ancient Jain monument primarily due to poor publicity. It appears neither the ASI nor the state tourism department has taken interest to popularize this site and convert it into an attractive and educative tourist spots. Local people complain, taking advantage of the remote location, ant social and hooligans come here to get drunk in seclusion.  Except on weekends, most of the week the place is deserted. 

Samanar hill (Keelavalavu caves), Madurai,

Historians and research scholars are of the opinion that this monument that is  older than Madurai Meenakshi temples and others has to be  carefully protected by the ASI because of its historical and heritage values.  .Of late some schools bring the students here on excursion to educate them about the history of this site and it shows the site is gaining popularity among the school students.  TN government and ASI together can provide special amenities and make it a popular tourist destination outside Madurai city.