The first time we had gone to Marudhamalai temple (my first and R’s second), we had taken a taxi to the foot of the hill and from there, the bus up the hill. This time I was determined to pay my respects to Lord Muruga the traditional way, by climbing up the steps.
It was not too hot a day. R did his best to dissuade me in his usual manner – by saying I could climb the steps next time and take the bus this time. He should have learnt by now that when I have made up my mind in some things I can be as pig-headed as his Taurean self. A. tried to persuade me that it was not wise to make the attempt without knowing how difficult or easy it would be. But then I wouldn’t know that unless I tried it. So I marched ahead leaving them both with no option but to follow. Nike would have been proud of me.
The hill derives its name from the herbs it is rich in. What was Marundhumalai became Marudhamalai. Actually the sthala vriksha or tree is the Marutham tree. The climb was not steep and there was a parapet wall along the steps and trees and shrubs on the hill which made it a pleasant and balmy hike. But for someone like me who is patently so unfit, it was difficult to climb more than a few steps before having to rest. Even R. was breathing heavily and resting just as often. A. stood by, offering us a drink of water each time we perched on the parapet.
Thaanthonri (Swayambhu) Vinayagar was first on the route to whom we prayed, and halfway up was the shrine of Idumban where the priest splashed cold water on our faces to relieve our fatigue. Going up by the bus we would have missed these shrines which are part of the Marudhamalai temple. After thirty minutes we were on the hilltop and reached the main temple which is more than 800 years old. The deities of Muruga with Valli and Devayanai are Swayambhu and the Dandayudhapani Murugan in the main shrine (holding a danda or stick) with a turban on his head is very beautiful. He is Bala Dandayuthapani or a boy Murugan and his name itself means “very beautiful”. There are shrines to Siva and Ambal as well and a large Ganapati under an ancient panchavriksha or five intertwined trees where several Siddhas are said to meditate unseen.
Behind the shrine several more steps took us down to a spring and the Saptha Kannimar or Seven Virgins shrine and down to the Paambaati Siddhar cave where the Siddhar or saint used to meditate. He was said to have complete control over snakes and even now a snake crawls into the cave through an underground opening and offerings are made to it. It is very cool and peaceful inside and many sit there in meditation. It is said that there is a passage through the hill from the cave to the main shrine and we could see the narrow opening at the back of the cave.
The temple is not too crowded unless it is a day of festival so it is possible to pray in peace. For the record, the steps were not 300 as I had thought, but 837 going to the top, and at least a hundred going down to the cave. But we will be making the climb again, even so.
But, we took the bus down.