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Jain vestiges

After taking you through the Tirumalai Nayak Palace and the Mariamman Teppakulam last two months, this time around we chose to arouse your interest in archaeology and ancient history by visiting the Jain vestiges in and around the city.


MADURAI IS the linguistic capital of South Tamil Nadu. It boasts of more than a dozen popular Jain abodes situated in picturesque locations with cave inscriptions in Tamil Brahmi script dating back to 300 B.C. Samanar Malai in Nagamalai Pudukottai, Anaipatti, near Sholavandan, Arittapatti and Mangulam Alagarmalai and Yanaimalai, are places of interest to students of history and commoners as well.

To reach Anaipatti site one has to trek almost two kilometres from the Vikkiramangalam- Usilampatti Main Road. The place at the top of the hill has an enormous cave sheltering hundreds of Jain beds with Brahmi scripts carved on it, prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. The origin of the name of the city, Madurai, can be traced from those writings. `Madurai' is referred to as `Mathirai' or City of Walls.

Samanar Malai is located about 8 kilometres from Madurai. The 8th Century A.D. rock cut figure of Mahavir is one of the beautiful rock carvings in Tamil Nadu, which has to be seen during sunset in its full glory. The rock cut sculptures of the Jain Thirthankars in Nagamalai remain with minute details of carvings, surviving adverse weather conditions.Linguists can have a wonderful time at Nagamalai, which contains Kannada and Tamil `vattezhuththu' inscriptions. One of the inscriptions describes a Jain monk from Karnataka who died at Madurai because of snakebite.

For reaching Mangulam, one has to deviate from the Madurai-Melur Road near Othakadai. It can be reached by a 45-minute climb on the hillock in the middle of fluttering pea fowls. The stretch is rewarding. It is an ancient burial site and an important abode of Jains.Epigraphist Iravadam Mahadevan describes Mangulam as a step stone breakthrough in his research work on Tamil Brahmi inscriptions, which was later published as a valuable book.

Alagarmalai Jain site is hardly two kilometres away from Alagarkoil. It is to the east of Alagarkovil but rarely visited. There are rock cut figures of Jain Tirthankars in addition to Jain inscriptions. A small pool at the eastern edge of the cave is still in use for the shepherds and rare visitors.

A trip from Anaipatti to Alagarmalai is certainly revealing and one cannot escape the feeling of pride of ancient culture.

T. LAJAPATHI ROY

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