Yanaimalai or Anai malai (Elephant Hill) is a protected historic monument and tourist attraction that is about 10 km from Madurai city. Tamil word Yanai, meaning “elephant”, and Malai, meaning “hill” evolved as the hill looks like an elephant in a sitting position with the silent background of paddy fields. The site has had this name for over 2000 years. It has Jain sculptures, a Shaivite temple, and a Vaishnavite temple, namely the Narasingam Yoga Narasimha Perumal Temple.
The hill is of rich in granite, and has been damaged by illegal granite quarrying. Not sure if our future generations will get to see this monumental rock mount.
Yanaimalai is one of the very few single rock structure that stretches about 3 km long and 300 feet tall boulder. Yanaimalai is considered a sacred place by the Tamil Jain monks who lived here during the Pandyan Dynasty. At the top of the hill can be found caves containing Jain bas relief sculptures of Mahavira, Gomateshwara, and other tirthankaras fashioned by Jain monks. There are also stone beds used by the monks for resting.
There are a lot of mythological stories about the hill. There are references in `Thiruvilaiyadar Puranam‘, which says that evil demons sent destructive forces to raze the city. These evil forces took the form of an elephant, a cow and a snake and attacked the city. But Lord Shiva protected the city by converting the evil forces into stones. This is how the hillocks Yanaimalai, Pasumalai and Nagamalai came into being. But it is also said that the city always had these hillocks as natural boundaries. Around eight hills including `Velli Malai‘ (Natham-Dindigul highway), `Pasumalai’, `Nagamalai’, `Yanaimalai’ and `Samanamalai‘ have been the protective armour guarding the city from external forces from time to time.
The Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam (64 sacred sports of Lord Shiva), written first by Perumbatrapuliyur Nambi and later by Paranjothi Munivar, says that the Chola king, who could not win the battle against the Pandya ruler, sought the help of Jains. They made a giant elephant using their mystic powers and guided it to kill the Pandya king and destroy his capital. But the Pandya king worshiped Lord Shiva to save him and his capital. Then Lord Shiva sent to him the ‘Narasinga Asthram’ (a divine power), which turned the elephant into a hill.
To celebrate this event, a stone elephant was installed in Madurai near the Vaigai facing north direction, which is found near the Yanaikkal Bridge even today. Inscriptions in the cave temple say that Marankaari, the minister of the Pandya king, started the construction of the temple in 770 A.D., which remained unfinished, either due to his death or due to some other calamity, and was completed by his brother Maran Eyinan later. He also built the Muka Mandapam and consecrated the temple. There is also a belief that Samanars sent elephants,snakes and pigs to assault Lord Shiva. But Lord Shiva cursed them to become stones. According to “Thiruvilayaadal Puranam” when elephant was used as a weapon to attack Lord Shiva, he killed it with a bow called “Narasinga”(Narasinga Ambu). Vaishnavites captured Yaanai Malai from Samanars and made them quit Yaanai Malai.
Sri Narasingam Perumal Temple – The Cave Temple
According to the inscriptions seen inside the main Sannidhi of the temple, Yanaimalai Sri Narasingam Perumal cave temple may date back to 770 A. D . It was built by Madurakavi alias Marankaari who was the minister of the Pandya king Jatila Varman, also known as Komaran Sadaiyan. According to the legend, during the Madurai Thiruvalaiyadal Puranam (64 sacred sports of Lord Shiva), Lord Indra sent his white elephant to Madurai. At the end of the event, it is believed that they found a huge elephant in a sleeping posture. This is said to be the elephant rock we see today off the Madurai-Melur highway.
Romasa Maha Rishi performed a Sathra Maha Yagna to invoke the blessings of Lord Narasimha, who pleased with his prayers appeared before him in a Gigantic form in an Ugra Kolam (angry appearance). Because of the angry appearance of Lord Narasimha in Ugra Kolam, all the Devas (Gods) went to Brahma for a solution. Brahma transformed Shiva into a Saraba form. This Saraba Pakshi had Brahma as the head, Surya (sun) and Chandra (moon) as the eyes and small boys as the legs. However, Lord Narasimha refused to cool down. In fact his anger grew after seeing this form, leaving the Devas running for protection. They invited Prahalada (son of Hiranyakashyap) to come to this place and try to cool down Lord Narasimha.
Finally the story goes that it was the presence of Goddess Lakshmi that cooled Narasimha down and the two of them are said to have blessed Romasi Rishi with a child.
According to another legend, Lord Shiva was cursed by Brahmahathi Dosha after he cut off one of the five heads of Lord Brahma. He was relieved of it after he took bath in the holy water source here, known as Chakra Theertham (temple tank), and he worshipped Lord Narasimha. It is believed by the locals that taking a dip in the Chakra Theertham (temple tank), which is near the temple, relieves them from all the sins.
Yanaimalai has been historically important with its historical monuments and other sources of cultural ethos since the Sangam age, which is about one thousand and eight hundred years old. The nearby village was once called as Narasingampatti. Now it is shortly named as Narasingam. The hill is the historical source as it has early caves with epigraphical records and sculptures and inscriptions of the Early Pandya, Later Pandya, Chola and Vijayanagar –Nayak rulers. The top of the hill has Tamil Brahmi inscriptions of the 1st century A.D. This historic hill was sung by one of the three great Saiva Nayanmars, Thirugnanasambandar, as the dwelling place of the Jains. Paranjothimuni, in his Thiruvilaiyadal purana, mentions that this hill was originally an elephant incited by the Jains to destroy Madurai. When Lord Siva threw an arrow at it, it became a stone elephant and thus is called Yanaimalai. The Jains believe that the Saints who authored one of the Sangam classics, Naladiyar, lived in this hill. The Jains reverentially consider Yanaimalai as one of the eight Jain centers located around Madurai.
Dr.V.Vedachalam writes; this historic hill was sung by one of the three great Saiva Nayanmars, Thirugnanasambandar, as the dwelling place of the Jains. Paranjothimuni, in his Thiruvilaiyadal purana, mentions that this hill was originally an elephant incited by the Jains to destroy Madurai. When Lord Siva threw an arrow at it, it became a stone elephant and thus is called Yanaimalai. The Jains believe that the Saints who authored one of the Sangam classics, Naladiyar, lived in this hill. The Jains reverentially consider Yanaimalai as one of the eight Jain centers located around Madurai. Though the Jains, Vaishnavites and Saivites were competing each other to promote their respective religions in this region, in due course, they seem to have maintained toleration to each other. This is evident from the records available at Yanaimalai. It has the credit of accommodating the following historical monuments.
Natural Jain Cavern – 1st century A.D.
There is a natural cavern of the Jains located at the top of the hill’s southern side (Nose of the hill). It was established in the 1st century A.D. for the dwelling of the Jain monks. A Tamil Brahmi inscription of this period found here mentions that it was set up along with rock beds by one Eri Aarithan Aththuvayi Arattakasibhan.
Jain Sculptural Cave – 9th-10th century A.D.
The bas-relief sculptural panels of the Jain Thirthankaras, Yakshi and Yaksha are seen at the façade of a natural cavern located on the western side of the hill at a medium height. They belong to the 9th-10th century A.D. The names of the donors of these sculptures are engraved in Vatteluttu script under the images. These sculptures also show early paintings on them.
Narasinga Perumal Cave temple – A.D. 770.
The Narasinga Perumal Cave temple was excavated by Maran Kari and Maran Eyinan, the chief ministers of the Early Pandyas. On the two sides of the cave door way there are Tamil Vatteluttu and Grantha ( Sanskrit) inscriptions indicating the excavation of the cave. The Mandapa in front of the cave was constructed by the officials of the Vijayanagar ruler Krishnadevaraya. In addition to the Early Pandya records, there are also the epigraphs of Later Pandyas, Cholas and Vijayanagar-Nayak found in this temple.
Murugan Cave temple ( Ladan Koil) 8th century A.D.
To the south of the Narasinga Perumal temple there is a cave temple dedicated to Murugan (Lord Karthikeya). It was excavated in the 8th century A.D. , as per the Vatteluttu inscription found here, by one Vattakkurichi Nambiran Pattasomaji. Murugan is seen seated along with his consort Devayanai in the sanctum sanctorium.
Veda Narayana Perumal temple 13th century A.D.
Veda Narayana Perumal temple is located at northern most corner of the Yanaimalai hill. It belongs to the 13th century A.D. This area is called Thungavanam. There is a lotus tank called Brahmatirtha. A thirteenth century epigraph ( Kulasekara Pandya, A.D. 1288) engraved on the rock by the side of the tank mentions about the existence of a temple garden in the name of Alagiyamanavalan. It was here during hunting festival Kalamega perumal used to visit this place and took part in the celebration.
(Credits – Dr.V.Vedachalam)
The `Vattezhuthu’ inscriptions also say a lot about how the Vedic Brahmins and revenue department officials patronised the Hindu cave temples. The sculptures are painted with limestone mortar base and natural colours. Inscriptions found on the `Yanaimalai’ also has references to the rule of the Chola, Vijayanagara and Nayak Kings. With plenty of historical references and rock-cut beds of Jains, `Yanaimalai’ sits as a potential tourist centre.
The State Department of Archaeology has spent a lot towards renovation work and declared `Yanaimalai’ as a historical monument and treasure.