A team of experts from Accenture IT company in The Netherlands here to study human resource development, business development and health programmes took time off to explore Madurai’s cultural heritage.

What is sallekena? Why the Prince renounced life? Why they remained naked and walked for hours together? And, is this the place that witnessed the suicides of hundreds of Jains?

When retired professor S. Venkataraman brought to life the history of Jains with his descriptive lecture, he was bombarded with these questions from the enthusiastic travellers. He patiently explained to them sallekena means ‘starvation until death’, undergone by Lord Mahavira, who from a prince converted into a Jain monk on the on the rocky terrains of Settipodavu.

Settipodavu, a natural cavern that has the images and inscriptions belonging to 9th Century A.D is in Keelakuyilkudi village on the west of Madurai, boasts of a history of 2,000 years. There are also vestiges of Jains, the Pechi Pallam and Maadevi Perumpalli – atop the hillock. The sculptures and the talk visibly impressed the visitors, who were also accorded a vibrant welcome with performances of Karagattam, Thappaattam, Oyilattam and Karupasamiyattam. After one hour of non-stop dance programmes, the team was treated to a drink made of pearl millet and sweet paniyaram. The delight did not end there.

After their visit to the cave, Iyyanar Temple and the lotus pond, the team was in for a surprise. Simple but traditional dinner was served to them that consisted of Thinai payasam, ragi roti, varagu briyani, paal curry, varagu curd rice, and red banana.

“It is amazing. I have a lot to discuss and discover. Madurai is colourful, culturally rich and a friendly place,” said Mashad.

“The concept of co-existence is stunning,” pointed out Ruben Moses after seeing both bullock carts and BMWs running on the same road. “The 2000-year-old history and contemporary life, the rich and the poor blending into the same society is worth a study,” he added.

To give a glimpse of Madurai and its centuries-old culture and tradition, DHAN Foundation also organised a heritage walk for them from Meenakshi Amman Temple to Tirumalai Naicker Palace for them and a visit to Chettinad palace where they were exposed to the indigenous architecture.