memories of family outings.....

Sunday

In the dark womb of a Rock hill , a stunner !

Melakkovil or Thiru Mer(t)rali 

The sprawling complex of the The  Kudumiyanmalai Temple ( Shikhanathaswami), situated at the foot hill of a large bald rocky outcrop , is made  up of two parts . The medieval structure in the front  and the more ancient rock cut shrine at the back , demarcated by a wall , with a locked door . An ASI guard holds the key to unlock this wing , called Melakkovil  , which seems to be menaced by honeybees .



The  neatly angled garbhagriha , the large lingam and the ardhamantapa are all cut into the rock, in situ ,  at the foot of the rock hill . It is thought to be a Pandyan structure of early 7 thCentury , though a Pallava connection ,through the agency of their  feudatory Muttharayars , is also suspected by some . 

The rockcut shrine is fronted  by a Chozha mahamatapa put up by Kulotthunga ( in 11 CE ) and a mukhamantapa by Raghunatharaya Tondaiman ( of Pudukottai ) in 17 CE . 

( The Sayana griham ) 

The midday light reaches only upto the chozha mantapa . Then it gets to be very , very dark and you amble behind the ASI guard like a blind mole, deep into the cut rock . His feeble torch is just about enough to illuminate the large  lingam on its pedestal , rising from the ground . To think that those ancients had carefully chiselled away prodigious amounts of stone to leave the shivalingam they visualised inside that solid rock ! What cant Faith achieve ! 

The two massive , beautifully  cut , pillars in the ardhamatapam are said to be of unique design, found in no other  rock cut shrines of TamilNadu . 



The door frame of the sanctum is quite businesslike , but the surprise is on the lintel . Four rolypoly ganas float above , in flight , the two on the ends turned away from the center . Possible for the eyes to see , impossible for the camera  to click . 

The helpful guard keeps aiming his little torch high and around, encouraging us to concentrate so that our eyes get adjusted to the poor light . By and by the Lingam gets clearer . And we spot  a Ganesha carved on the rockwall ......The weak light also picks out some loose standing sculptures in the hall . A chandikeshwarar . 

And a general dark mass the guard says is shivaparvathi .


 Suddenly breath catches as the torch lights up an eerily smiling face slightly above line of vision . A dwarapala . what a jaunty figure, leaning on a stout club , one hand on hip ! And on the other side , his companion in the same attitude , but without that smile . Photos ? Sad to say , very poor . Inspite  of using all available sources of light .....





The highlight of Melakkovil is the large surface on the rock outside  , lateral to the sanctum . It is covered with inscriptions in Pallava Grantha script which are musical notes for seven and eight stringed instruments , which were called Parivadini . It is said  to be the oldest  record where the notes sa,re,ga,ma etc .appear . 

On the stone page next to this notated page is carved a large Ganesh fitted into a neat frame, like an illustration   . The whole thing really looks like a giant open book ! 


The musical notations ......impossible to go closer , because of the beehives encrusted above .
View of the music sheet from inside the shrine , through a window. 

 

High above the rick cut shrine , carved into the vertical rockface is a long ribbon of figures , spotted  with difficulty from certain vantage points in the  outer walkway between the old and newer wings of the complex. It is an amazing linear gallery of the 63 Nayanars , arranged on either side of a central icon of Shiva and Parvathi on Rishabha mount . Both the concept  and the execution are unparalleled . Perhaps there is a way  to go up there for a closer look , but the idea seems daunting . Reportedly , On the bald rock has the cherry topping of a Murugan temple . Could not see it from below . 

The row of Nayanars seen from below . Can be discerned slightly if the picture is zoomed fully . 


 

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