Saturday, July 2, 2011

Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Orukkamalai

A View of Orukkamalai from Thiruchengode
Orukkamalai is about 40 kms South-West of Salem and about 5 kms from Sankagiri. This hill stands out majestically in this area, and what makes it unique is the Varadaraja Perumal Temple. 

During my visit to my friend's farmhouse last year, she showed me the hill from her terrace and spoke about Lord Varadaraja with a lot of devotion. She mentioned that the genuine prayers to the Swayambu God on top of the hill were always answered. However, the promised offerings had to be given, else he would not tolerate. I became what were the offerings that were normally made? I asked. The answer she gave me made me vow to visit the temple and see it all for myself. The other friends with me warned against praying to the Lord since there was no roadway or steps up the hill and one had to climb all the way through rocks and thorny bushes and it was just a casual visit and who knew when we would come back to that area.
But I had made up my mind. If He wanted me to come to him, he will find a way. So I prayed for my daughter's examination results. Needless to say, the prayers were answered. As soon as the results were published, I called my friend excitedly and asked her when we could visit the temple. She was extremely happy that I was keen on fulfilling my prayer and so immediately made arrangements. We spoke to our friends and most of them were willing to join.
My friend's Farm!
She then spoke to her relatives in Sankagiri about appropriate day and time to climb up the hill and the answer she got came as a pleasant surprise to both of us. Someone from nearby had bought a new JCB and as a token of gratitude, had created a rough roadtrack till about half way up the hill. Therefore time and effort to climb up would be reduced to half. Not just that, the proposal to pave a cartrack all the way up had also been sanctioned by the Government and work is expected to start in three months time. This was so exciting - as I had strongly believed if you had a genuine desire, He will make the way!
The Beginning of the Journey to the top!
So the day dawned and we set out excitedly. Our car took us up till the end of the dirt track and from there we started climbing. In all our excitement, we forgot to take the banana bunches as planned. Why do we need banana bunches? If you do not know the answer already, keep reading.
The crude path up the hill
Well, the path up was definitely not very structured or senior citizen friendly, but the eagerness to reach the top egged even the not-so-young among us to move ahead with determination. I had heard several stories in the meantime about the offerings made at this temple that I was so anxious to get there soon. It was a saturday and we had been warned that the temple remained extremely crowded through the day. The poojari at the temple reached there in the morning by tractor and stayed till dusk, accepting offerings of "Thirukkodi (திருக்கோடி)"made by the devotees whose prayers had been answered.
The wilderness on the way up
So what was so special about this temple? What was "Thirukkodi"? To whom was the offering made? Enough questions for a reality tv show. To quickly find out, let us move on. We soon reached the top of the hill. For a moment, I caught my breath. In front of me, was a rock, closely the size of Krishna's butter ball in Mahabalipuram, under which was this small concrete structure which housed the shrine of Sri Varadarajaswamy. I tried my best to capture the entire rock and the temple through my camera, but the space I had ,to work from was limited, and this was the best I got with my humble camera.

The magnificient entrance to the temple
There were several people waiting for the offerings to be made and the Thirukodi to be lit. My friend guided us into the shrine crowded with people jostling in the small space available between the rock and the sanctum sanctorum. The Sanctum Sanctorum was small and dark and we could see idols of Lord Varadaraja Perumal with Rama and Lakshmana covered in Silver Kavacham. The Priest was extremely busy attending to the several devotees.
The Sanctum Sanctorum inside the cave
When he came out, I asked him about the history of the temple, and the reason why the place was called Orukkamalai. He went on to briefly narrate the story. About 100 years ago, this area used to be primarily used by cowherds to graze their cattle. One such cowherd discovered that there were naturally formed Vaishnavite Symbols (Sanku, Chakram and Naamam) inside a cave and a naturally formed Hanuman (it looked too perfect to be natural!) on the rock outside the cave. He then spread the news to his friends, who started worshipping these shrines every day.
The figure of Hanuman found on a rock outside
On one such day, a cow came to the temple area and lay down refusing to get up. The cowherd who was in a hurry to take the cow back to its owner, tried all tricks he knew to make the cow get up, but did not succeed. He then prayed to the Lord Varadaraja Perumal, that he would give One Paise ( ஒரு காசு ) as offering if the cow got up and reached its destination. The cow that had been so obstinate till then, got up without a whimper when called, and went along with the cowherd. The Cowherd was happy that his prayers had been answered and went home.
A View of the massive rocks outside the temple
He forgot all about his promised offering and went about his daily chores. One day passed, and then two and another, till it was almost a week after he had promised the Lord about offering a coin. The same cow, which was grazing outside the temple, came and lay down in front of the sanctum sanctorum. Any amount of coaxing or disciplining by the cowherd, did not make it budge from there. It was then that the cowherd remembered his promise to the Lord, and offered the coin. As soon as he did so, the cow got up and started walking. The Lord would not tolerate failure of promise of even one coin - which is why the place came to be known as " ஒரு காசு பொறுக்கா மலை" (Oru Kaasu Porukka Malai) which abbreviated to "Orukkamalai".
A view outside the Sanctum Sanctorum
 People pray here for various things and once their wishes are answered offer "Thirukkodi". "Kodi" is the term used for new clothes in tamil and Thirukodi is a new dhoti that is used a wick to burn oil in a huge lamp that is placed on an ancient lamp post outside the cave. Several Thirukodis are lit in a day depending on the number of offerings made. For every thirukodi, there is a pooja and offering of food. 
The lamp post on which the Thirukodi is lit
The food that is offered to the Lord is cooked within the temple. A huge cake of steamed rice, with bananas mashed and placed over it are offered for each Thirukodi that is lit. The size of the wick and the amount of oil used depend upon the money that the devotee has promised to offer to the Lord. We wanted to watch a Thirukodi being lit, but the previous one had just happened a few minutes ago,  and the Poojari said that we had to wait atleast for an hour before the next one. So we gave him the money that we had promised to offer to the Lord and asked him to perform the ritual on our behalf .
Food being cooked inside the cave to be offered to the Lord
Several questions were buzzing in my mind - The poojari had mentioned that the idols of Varadaraja Perumal, Rama and Lakshmana were installed subsequently, and the silver Kavachams (armours) covering them were removed and taken away to the priest's house for safeguarding every evening. So, why was there no idol of Sita or any other goddess? What was the significance of having Rama and Lakshmana with the Varadaraja Perumal? Why did he come to be called so? Well, he was too busy to answer and none of the localities seem to know. There were a lot of figurines lined up along the rock in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Possibly a King? or a Chieftain?
Who is this?
Some of them seem to believe that it was the idols of Ponnar - Sankar, while the others do not know who it was. The idols have been decorated with flowers with Kumkum applied on the forehead, but their identities are yet to be strongly established. We now move out of the temple with the rice cake with mashed bananas in our hand, in order to complete the offering that was promised. This according to me is what sets this temple apart from any other that I had seen or heard.

There are supposedly around 3000 monkeys on the hill. These are considered as an incarnation of Hanuman and any offering of food that is made to the Lord is shared with these monkeys. It is an amazing sight to watch several of them on the huge rock in front of the temple, waiting patiently for their share of the food. The localities say that they seldom attack visitors (unlike in other temples) and snatch away food, but wait till they are offered. Several people bring bananas, fried gram, groundnut and other produce from their fields as an offering to these monkeys so that their next yield is productive. The localities also say that the monkeys eat only prasad and they would often go without food during rainy season when it is difficult for people to access the temple.

This to me was the most satisfying thing about this temple. Feeding so many animals, who come so near you, but are so well behaved was really exciting. In fact, they say that the Poojari comes every day and feeds the monkeys even if there are no offerings made by the public, which I think is a really compassionate act. He says they wait patiently till the abhishekam and the pooja are over before moving close to the temple to claim their food.
I still had several bits of information about this temple missing, but we had to move on, to keep up with our schedule. If any of the readers of this post can provide more information on the history of this temple it would be extremely useful.
I had shot several pictures of the monkeys but just sharing a few here. It was a delight watching them, so serene, absolutely uncompetitive,waiting to be served!

We started our descent. This place is indeed special and a must visit if you have the inclination and physical ability. Orukkamalai is on the Salem Erode National Highway NH 47, after you cross Sankagiri, you will find Ashok Leyland and MRF Retreads SLUS Building on the right, turn left opposite this building and it will take you to the foothills. Caution: There is a Sign Board on the Highway indicating this left turn which mentions Orukkamalai as Korukkamalai, so dont be misguided. Try to carry some food for the monkeys if you are going on a day other than Saturday, when the temple is less crowded and there are less Thirukodis lit. 
I request readers of this post to share any additional information about the history of the temple that they are aware of.


  1. Hello Padmapriya,
    Nice visit presented. Keep it up.
    Are u visiting Kalakad on July 14th for the Kumbhabhishekam of Sri Satyavageeswarar and Gomathi ambal temple?
    I wish you and Mr Saurab Sexena visit.I will talk over the phone to u on this and another temple about which I talked to Saurab at Bangalore.
    DR V thanumoorthy

  2. Very interesting indeed and what an admirable tenacity in you to visit this temple. Thank you for letting us share your experience. Congratulations. The origin of the name is very interesting too.

  3. Interesting place which I never heard of. Thanks for letting us know.

  4. Dear Dr.Thanumoorthy, Thank you so much for your feedback , invitation and phonecall. I may be able to come over the weekend. Will mail you.Regards Priya

  5. Dear Dr.Krishnan and Raju Sir,

    Thank you so much for your valuable feedback.All credit goes to my friend Mrs.Kasthuri Prakash and her family members for inviting me to this wonderful temple and making all the arrangements.

  6. Impressive account. Statues looks to be of Vijayanagara/Nayaka period, but as you mentioned, Rama, Lakshmana and Varadaraja Perumal, what makes these three to be combined and placed into one shrine? Is there any inscription there? How was the cave, it is natural or man-made?

  7. Dear Saurabh, thanks for the feedback. I could not see any inscriptions there. The cave is natural and not very deep and the sanctum sanctorum is placed inside it. Originally, the Vaishnavite symbols have been found naturally inside the cave and then the idols have been made and placed there for worship. I could not get any information on why Rama, Lakshmana and Varadaraja Perumal are placed together as also the identity of the statues. I am planning another visit soon on a day other than saturday to see if any more interesting information can be obtained. But I am sure, someone with the knowledge of temple architecture like you will be able to decipher more out of the place. It is not very far from Bangalore. May be you should visit some time :)

  8. Priya
    Your coverage are very much impressive. Can u cover the southern districts also.

  9. Dear Mr Kalliboss,

    I will definitely do so when I get an opportunity
    Thanks Priya

  10. New location.. the path looks green.. Will add to my list.. Unique location ..!

  11. Thanks for your post. I have been two times to this hill. you can also visit Tiruchengodu hill also which is famous for Arthanareeswarar Temple

  12. Thank you Sir...I have had the opportunity to visit Tiruchengode also...

  13. very attractive Tirtham. So many to see!. . . .

  14. It is a lovely place indeed and very powerful temple Kathie!

  15. Namaskaram,
    Sir, can you post a seperate label for Sri Rama temples, because this one is missing in your account.


  16. It is intresting.I'm planning to yatra some temples near Salem. If there is important temples, kindly let me know the information. Please send me informations to

  17. for the first time i am hearing about this hill is very nice to get maximum info from ur post ..keep doing ...

  18. First time hearing about this hill..nice to have maximum info .. keep posting ..thanking u...i am very happy if u able to cover pathinen siddhar jeeva smadhi and the tepmles ...

  19. Hi...interesting write up...the contact number that you have mentioned appears to have changed....i would be grateful if u can give me some other contact number, if available.....thank you...