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Uphill, for history’s sake

PIRANMALAI Unaided and unequipped, SOMA BASUdid not venture up the rain-swept, slippery hill. But its past haunts her

PHOTO: SOMA BASU

YESTERDAY’S SPELL Piranmalai’s past holds many interesting tales

First, the confession. This turned out to be a failed RLT. But I recommend it to all the daring and adventurous souls, eager to learn about old places steeped in history. Piranmalai is a unique fortified hill at an elevation of over 2,000 feet. This last outcrop of the Eastern Ghats, with a Piravar temple and five peedas in the rocks of the hill called the pandava teerthams, is also sacred to the Muslims with a dargah of Waliullah Sheikh Abdullah Shaheb on its peak. At the foot hill, there are traces of a moat and Fort Marudhu, which was pulled down in early 19th Century.

One of the seven Vallals, Parri lived and ruled this area. The barren hill is believed to have been covered with dense jungle in the days of Maruthupandiars rule from late 17th Century to 1801. It was part of a large jungle that extended from the Eastern Ghats to the Palk Straits.

I hadn’t done my homework, and to top it, rains played spoilsport. But lucky me, I came across a group of friendly locals from Piranmalai, a town at the base of the hill.

I had planned to climb to the peak, as the locals do, and pay obeisance at the dargah. But, unaided and unequipped, I was afraid to scale the rugged Piranmalai Hill. Besides, the ground was wet and slippery. I, therefore, huddled up in a local tea shop, listening to a retired school master and a group of local youths recount the tales of the land. Piranmalai peaked out in full view against a dull grey sky. Paddy fields, coconut and banana groves, wild shrubs and prickly overgrown grass, encircle this brown hill at the base. The gentle banter at the tea shop gradually turned cacophonic with more people eager to chip in, with their bit of knowledge.

During the Sangam Age, Piranmalai was called Parambu and was the capital of Vallal Pari. The hill and its surroundings have several fading remnants of many fierce battles waged by the Maruthupandiars, the erstwhile rulers of Sivagangai land, against the British and Arcot Nawab alliance during the 18th Century. It is said that a war was declared when Chinna Marudhu Servai gave refuge to Umai Durai, younger brother of Katta Bomman, without consulting his elder brother, Periya Marudhu Servai. The two brothers then hid Umai Durai in an inaccessible cave in the summit of the hill, which is now known as the “Umaiyan Kudambu” (“kudambu” is a cave that opens at the top, and tunnels downwards). This kudambu has a wide platform, “Umaiyan Seat”, which can hold a large congregation. From this platform you have to descend along a precariously hanging rock, clutching on to creepers, roots, small tree trunks and rock projections to reach a cave deep down, cut into the rock. Slip, and you will come crashing down a 1,000 feet since this southern side of the hill is steep for half of its height.

A little away from the “Umaiyan Kudambu” is the “Kasi Sunai”, a natural fresh water body which, locals said, has never dried up even when rains failed for more than a decade. The cool waters supposedly contains minerals and herbal essence. What is amazing is that the source of water is not known.

History records that the Sivagangai country was ruled by the Marudhus as a proxy to Queen Velu Nachiyar whom Periya Marudhu married after her husband Muthu Vaduga Natha Thevar was killed. The Marudhus saved her and took her to Dindugal where they were helped by the Mysorean Hyder Ali. With his help, the Marudhus recaptured Madurai and Sivagangai. Later when the British captured Marudhus, many relatives and followers of Marudhu brothers were hanged in the south-western bastion of the Fort of Tiruppathur. Their families were reduced to poverty with their property confiscated and handed over to the new king. The British, it is said severed Periya Marudhu’s head and buried it in front of Raja Gopuram of Kalaiyar Temple which he had built. The body was buried in jungles bordering Thiruppathur because the British were afraid that people would start worshipping Periya Mardhu as a guardian deity.

I could not take the trek, nevertheless, it was an interesting session in history. History apart, Piranmalai will surely interest a rock climber.

How to reach: Piranmalai is 80 km from Madurai on Tiruchirapally-Tirupathur Road. It is 24 km, north-west of Thirupathur, 58 km from Sivagangai and 194 km from Rameswaram.

SOMA BASU

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