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 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 !
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 .