Though Chemmanur is known for the Maleeswarar kovil, it is the mountains, river and greenery around that do all the talking, writes Pankaja Srinivasan

The Adivasis have exercised wisdom and kept the temple unpretentious and simple. After all, they know it is foolish to try and win against Nature. Bricks and mortar won’t stand a chance. So, the Maleeswarar temple at Chemmanur, about 30 km across the border in Kerala, may not make the visitor gasp in wonder.

It has no splendorous architecture to offer. It is small and painted pink, blue, yellow, lavender and orange. It leaves it to the mountains, mist, trees, birds, butterflies and a heavy, silver river to provide the wow factor. A big Shiva and Parvathi smile a colourful welcome as you enter. In the olden days, says the Irula pujari whose family has been tending to the temple for generations, the gods were out in the open, in the midst of a bamboo grove. But, over the years, devotees decided to give them a pucca roof. Hence, their pink home.

The temple is revered and run by the Adivasis. Its beginnings are uncertain, but what everyone knows is that there was a love story involved. A Mudugar lass, Malli, and an Irula boy, Mallan, met there and fell in love. But as they were from different tribes, the elders frowned upon this. So, the two fled to the top of the neighbouring mountain. The tribals soon realised that this was no ordinary romance and that the two young lovers were, in fact, Shiva and Parvathi.

Two temples were built. One the Malleeswarar temple on the banks of the Bhavani river; the other, on the top of the mountain that rises next to it. The mountain, they say, is Lord Shiva, and the river Bhavani, Parvathi.

The slumbering temple comes wide awake during Shivarathri. Thousands of worshippers camp on the banks of the river for the festivities. It is carnival time. A marketplace springs up. There is music and dance. A delegation of Mudugar tribals trek up to the top of the mountain, where they light a big wick and swing it around. Like the deepam of Thiruvannamalai and Sabarimala, the light is visible for miles around. Those who cannot be at the temple wait in their respective homes in the mountains with coconuts and flowers ready. The minute they sight the deepam, they break the coconut and commence their puja at home. When the Mudugar priests return, they carry back water from a holy spring there in hollow bamboos, to distribute to the faithful gathered below.

The drive to the temple is spectacular. It falls in the Silent Valley. And indeed, it is silent. An odd vehicle or two rumbles past, but otherwise it is so quiet that you can hear the water lapping as Bhavani escorts you right up to the temple. On the way are stalwart institutions such as SACON, Karl Kübel Institute for Development Education Studies, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam and ashrams, missions and hospitals devoted to tribal welfare. One passes several schools for the Adivasis on both the Tamil Nadu and the Kerala side. Fierce-looking demi-gods in vibrant colours guard villages.

“Snake bites treated here” announces a board hanging on a rain-weathered building. It makes one think about the kind of lives the inhabitants of this place lead. Thick forests cover the mountain slopes and elephants, gaurs, wild boars and the occasional bears are common. But from within the comfort of the car, it is easy to overlook the difficult existence of these folk. All we take in are greenery, birdsong and the occasional windmills that stick out, all arms and awkward, like gangly school girls amidst gracefully swaying trees.

GETTING THERE

Chemannur is on the Coimbatore-Anaikatti-Mannarkad road. From Coimbatore, the drive to the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border is approximately 40 km. Once you cross the check post, drive for another 30 km to Chemmanur. On the way are towns such as Agali and Goolikadavu, where you could stop for tea.

WHERE TO STAY

Stay in Coimbatore and drive up for the day. It takes just about an hour-and-a-half.

WHAT TO SEE

Nature at her best, along with other colourful temples.