Murugan, Skandan, Kumaran, Kuzhanthaivelan, Shanmukhan, Swaminathan, Saravanan, Kumaraswamy, Karthikeyan-these are the many names that devotees call Subramanian. The son of Siva and Parvathy, described as the general of the army of the gods, is the most popular god in Tamil Nadu. Not surprisingly, the most popular names in the state are all synonyms with Muruga.
Tamil Nadu has six important Murugan temples: Thiruthani in Thiruvalloor, Swamimalai in Thanchavoor, Palani in Dindigul, Pazhamudircholai and Thiruparankundram in Madurai, and Tiruchendur in Thoothukudi. These temples are also known as garrison homes, or padai veedu, in reference to the belief that the gods’ pitched camps at these places during their war with the demons. Among these, Palani is the most popular among Keralites and also the nearest to the state. Palani has two Murugan temples: Thiru Avinankudi at the bottom of the hill and Palani Subramanian temple at the top.
Pazham Nee or Palani
Legend has it that sage Narada once presented a divine fruit to Siva, who gave it to his wife Parvathy. She wanted to give it to her sons but then Narada said the divine fruit should not be cut. Siva then told his sons Subramania and Ganapathy that the first among them to circumnavigate will get the fruit. Subramania immediately climbed on his peacock and started on the journey. But Ganapathy, who is fat, realized it was no easy task; he smartly took a circle around his parents and demanded the fruit. His logic was that since they were the creators of the world, by circling them he had circled the whole world. He got the divine fruit.
When Subramania returned and found out what had happened, he gave up all luxuries, walked toward the south from Kailasa and took up his abode at Thiru Avinankudi. Siva and Parvathy tried to console him, saying he was the essence of all knowledge, and telling him "Pazham Nee" or you are the fruit itself. That is how Palani got its name.
References to Palani can be found in Tamil literature from 3 BC. Siddhas like Alwar and Avvaiyar have written that they got Murugan's darshan at Palani. Arunagirinathar has written many kirtans about Palani Murugan. References to the temple can also be found in Sangam literature. The temple is situated at a height of 1,068 feet and devotees have to climb 693 steps to reach it. The belief is that devotees should start the climb after a bath at Saravanapoyka or Shanmukhanadi at the bottom of the hill. Devotees usually offer coconuts and camphor at the Ganesha temple at the bottom before starting the climb. Those who find it difficult to climb the steps can take the comparatively less steep path running on the left, through which elephants climb up to the temple during festivals. Those who cannot do this can either take the winch-rail or the rope car to the top. The ticket for the rope car costs Rs 50 during peak season; the temple makes about Rs 50 lakh every month from this.
The myth about the temple's origin goes like this: sage Agasthya was once gifted two hills by Siva. Agasthya asked the demon Hidumba to bring those hills to his ashram and left. On the way, Hidumba put the hills down to take rest but could not lift them up later. He found a boy wearing a loin cloth and armed with a stick on one of the hills. The boy told Hidumba that the hill was his, and the demon was killed in the fight that ensued. Agasthya came to know of this through is divine sight and sought Subramania's mercy. Murugan then resurrected Hidumba and, as per the demon's request, made him the temple guard; he also said that those who bring puja offerings as kavadi- a bow shaped wooden object- will be blessed. Hidumba's temple can be found half way up the hill.
Nine Poisonous Stones
From 6 am to 8 pm, seven daily pujas are held at the temple. Devotees can take the free queue or pay Rs 20 to take an easier route inside the temple; or they can buy a place in the VIP queue for Rs 100. But all queues come together at the temple door. The rates for the queue tickets double during peak season.
The temple architecture is a mix of Chera and Pandya styles. Influence of Kerala-style temple architecture can also be seen. The temple tower is made of gold, and the chariot in which the god gives darshan every evening is made of 63 kg silver and about 5 kg gold.
The main idol is carved from rock and is about 4 ft high. Murugan here is depicted as a boy monk and is seen holding a stick is his right hand; he wears a loin cloth but no ornaments. The ears are a little big, and devotees believe it shows the god hears all their prayers. There are also not too many oil lamps inside the sanctum sanctorum as in other temples. The belief is that Bhogar, the great Siddha, built the idol out of nine types of poisonous stones known as 'navapashanam'. The sandal paste applied on the idol is given as prasad in the morning, and devotees believe taking it for 41 days can cure many diseases. Abhishekam on the idol is done only during the special Kala puja.
Tonsuring one's head is an important offering at Palani. The belief is that by shaving off one's head hair, the devotee is removing the ego and gaining spiritual wisdom. Many devotees get the first head shave of newborn children done here; many women also come here for this offering. There are hundreds of barbers at the temple premises, many of them appointed by the temple administration, to cater to the rush of devotees.
The right to conduct puja at the temple belongs to people from the Gurukkal caste; those from the Pandaram caste are the helpers. After the evening puja, the lord is moved to a special room, where a bed has been set, to retire for the night. The temple closes by 8.30 pm.
The main festival at Palani is Thaipooyam. Thousands of devotees, garbed in yellow clothes and wearing flower garlands, congregate here with various kavadis on the day. Some even pierce their lower lips and cheeks with copper and brass rings or small lances as a show of devotion. The Panchamratam here, made from bananas, resins, ghee, honey and rock sugar in a specific proportion, is world famous. The banana used is a special variety with a low water content grown in the villages nearby, allowing the prasad to stay fresh for months.
The Kerala Connection
Historical records say the seventh century Kerala king Cheraman Perumal arrived at the foothills of Palani during a hunting expedition. While taking rest, he got a dream about the temple, which was covered by jungle growth, and rebuilt it. The Kerala temple architecture influence here is traced to this incident, and the belief is that Cheraman Perumal installed the idol facing west to bring prosperity to his kingdom. Devotees from Kerala like to think that the west-facing idol continues to shower his blessings on the state.
How to Get There
There are bus services to Palani from all major cities in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, Palani services are run from Palakkad, Eranakulam, Cherthala, Changanassery and Kottarakkara depots.
From Palakkad via Udumalpet - 112 km
From Thiruvananthapuram via Nagarkovil, Madurai, Dindigul - 414 km
Via Kottayam, Kumali, Kambam - 294 km
Trains to Palani run from Chennai Central, Pollachi, Madurai, Dindigul and Tiruchendur. The temple is about 2 km from Palani railway station.
Coimbatore is the nearest airport. There are flights from Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kozhikode, Chennai, Kochi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Sharjah. The temple is about 100 km by road from Coimbatore.
An important temple here is the one dedicated to Bhogar, one of the 18 Tamil Siddhas. It is believed that the Siddha, who lived around 3,000 BC, took his samadhi here. The belief is that a tunnel once connected the samadhi and the main temple's sanctum sanctorum.
Information for Devotees The guest house run by the temple administration offers rooms at competitive rates compared to the other hotels here. You can get ordinary or AC rooms and even deluxe cottages here. Devotees should avoid buying puja offerings from roadside vendors who charge exorbitant rates, and buy them only from stalls run by the temple administration. They should also avoid those offering to conduct pujas, jumping the queues; most of these people are conmen. It is better to hand over the puja offerings to the temple priests directly.
The monkeys here are generally not aggressive but are known to grab bags and shiny objects. Going to the temple on a full moon day would offer a beautiful view of the valley below, bathed in moonlight. Devotees consider that circumambulation of the hill, a distance of 2-1/2 kiometers, will bring the lord's blessings.