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Travelling back in time

A SPOT FOR MEDITATION The Jain caves at Aarnaataan Malai

A SPOT FOR MEDITATION The Jain caves at Aarnaataan Malai   | Photo Credit: PHOTOS: K. ANANTHAN





For a glimpse of the lives led by the Jain monks of 1-2 AD, says SUBHA J RAO

Six hundred steps to the top, lots of greenery and a temple at the top. The real action starts a hundred steps below the no-frills place of worship, which finds a place even in saint Arunagiri Nadhar's compositions. Prickly vines criss-cross a beaten, meandering path that leads us to caves peopled by Jain monks in 1-2 AD in Aarnaataan Malai (mountain of 6 revenue villages) or Pugazhi Malai (a mountain with fame), as it is locally called.As we trudge along the path, dotted with shrubs and jagged stones, a steady buzz draws our attention. A mammoth beehive sways dangerously, sending out a colony of angry bees. Mani, our guide, pauses to let the bees calm down, before he takes us through rocks and then some more. A pair of vertical rocks stand sentinel as they have been doing for centuries. The shrubs abruptly disappear, allowing us a glimpse of a fast-developing city. Silver smoke spirals out of a sugar factory. Suddenly a pink-brown cave, which looks as if someone has carved it out of the rock face, zooms into view. It is not very big, but nonetheless daunting because of the enormous rock face that doubles as its roof.

The speciality

So, what's special about this? I wonder. Palaeontologist A.R.K. Arun points to the raised slabs chiselled on the smooth rocks. "Stone beds," he informs us. The Jain monks, who lived here in seclusion worked on the naturally formed granite caves to create a dwelling. According to lore, they would venture to the plains only to showcase their yogic skills they had learnt in the intervening period. The beds are nothing more than an elevated headrest and a slightly depressed length of rock to rest on. I try sitting on one of the slabs in an attempt to connect with a person who lived and died here centuries ago. An inexplicable emotion grips me. Locals, who come here to meditate, insist the vibrations here are all-powerful.You can also spot Tamil Brahmi inscriptions on the walls, some of which have bowed to the ravages of time and are not discernible. Modern-day carvings by desperate lovers jarringly co-exist. The Archaeological Survey of India protects the caves and until some decades ago, one could travel from one cave to the other. In the passageway, used to be the feted ` Ramar Paadam', an impression said to be the feet of Lord Rama. Then, the passage was closed.To enter the second cave, which used to be peopled by a group of monks, one has to walk around the hillock. I pass by the dwelling of another ascetic. He found a corner of the hill where the hot sun did not penetrate. You have to climb a couple of rocks and heave yourself up with the aid of a hardy tree nearby to reach his abode.A rock lizard guarding its pearl-like eggs scampers past sensing human movement. It is difficult to not succumb to the temptation of sitting on the stone bed. The feldspar-embedded stone is ice-cold to touch, maybe why the monk chose it in the first place.

Watch your step

I then walk towards the second cave, passing by a moss-covered pond. It is said that the monks went there to bathe. This is windy terrain and walking on the rocks is a delicate exercise. It is best to go barefoot so that you feel your next step. The local administration had put in place an iron fence on the way to the second cave, to help people get a better grip, but miscreants have left just a portion behind. This stretch is slippery and the short walk an arduous exercise. The breathtaking sight from the cave makes up for all the trouble. You can see the nearby villages, a sea of green and enjoy the cool breeze. Inside, the air is laced with the odour of ammonia, courtesy a bat colony. A meditation plank has been chiselled in the centre, possibly for the senior-most monk, with space reserved around it for the others. The ASI board at the entrance lists certain names carved on the rocks. Like three generations of Chera kings, Sangam-era names like pittan, kotran, keeran and oori and the names of gold and textile merchants of that era. How to go thereAarnaataan Malai is part of Velayudhampalayam and is 18 km from Karur and 30 km from Namakkal.







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