Soma Basu loses her way only to find hidden history on Guhanparai hillock

I was on a different assignment all together. I lost my way in a village with a tongue twister of a name and found this quaint cavern instead lying in oblivion and neglect. It all happened one afternoon in Sattur when the blazing sun suddenly hid behind the clouds and the weather turned unbelievably pleasant. Elayarampannai village was not on my day’s route. And neither was Guhanparai, eight km from there. But perhaps the centuries-old history hidden in the rock was.

Bewildered children and young adults surrounded me when I landed amidst them having accidentally deviated from the road map that I was following. It was obvious this tiny hamlet in the deep interiors of Virudhunagar district rarely got a visitor. The young boys wanted me to see their school. The women wanted to take me to the village temple. An old man advised that I go up the small hillock called Guhanparai and spend some moments in solitude watching peacocks. “You will find lots of them,” he said.

Luckily, all the three requests put me on the same muddy track to the foothills of Guhanparai, a shapeless brown mass jutting out in the middle of nowhere. With a trail of excited kids behind me, I walked to the small village school first, then to the Amman temple by its side. Finally one college student stayed on willing to walk up the hill with me.

Indeed there were quite a few peacocks perched on the rocks at various elevations. The hillock was not very difficult to scale. There was a small Perumal temple midway which obviously gets visitors regularly going by the burning incense sticks, earthen lamps and strings of flowers. Steps are cut into the rock by the side of the temple and this made the climb easy.

Guhanparai is an ideal spot for beginners in mountaineering or trekking. But what very few know is it is also a historian’s and an archaeologist’s delight. It didn’t take much time to reach the top where you get a panoramic view of the surroundings covered in alternate shades of green and brown. Some of the flat boulders make a perfect platform to roll out your mats and rugs for a family picnic. But you need to go fully prepared.

It was while climbing down that the surprise awaited us. At the foot of the hillock, we saw a small natural cavern, too small in fact. On one side of the rock, there was an inscription. The cavern could have been used as a shelter by Jain monks centuries ago. Few steps further, there was a damaged stone image of a Jain thirthankara.

I checked with retired archaeological officer, C. Santhalingam, who confirmed that on the rock is a 10th Century A.D. vatteluttu inscription which states the existence of a monastery named ‘Munnurruvarperumpalli’ which means 300 big schools. It was established by Munnurruvarkovilpillaigal, i.e, servants of the palace. The monastery perhaps served as a residential school.

History has it that Jainism earned royal and rural patronage in the early Christian era. But sometime around the 7th Century A.D., during the rise of the Bhakti Movement, it suffered a setback. However, the religion did not lose its roots and re-emerged a Century later when it was rejuvenated under the Pandya Kings. Every settlement of the Jains was worshipped again by the local devotees and their sculptures were reinstalled as the inscriptions indicate.

Guhanparai is one such untouched spot soaked in history.

GETTING THERE

Guhanparai is located on the road to Kalugumalai from Vembakkottai. It is 22 km from Sattur town in Virudhunagar district and 80 km from Madurai.

WHAT NOT TO MISS

The cavern may be difficult to find unless you spot the inscription on the rock. Its painted in white and lies hidden behind trees. branches.

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