Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Orukkamalai, Salem
Varadaraja Perumal Temple is located on top of the Orukkamalai hills, about 5 km away from Sankagiri. It is located at Sankagiri to Konganapuram Road. 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.
Naturally formed Vaishnavite Symbols:
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 (Sankhu, 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.
Legend behind the Name Orukkamalai:
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 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. 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 “Oru Kaasu Porukka Malai” which abbreviated to "Orukkamalai".
Temple & its Practices
People pray here for various things and once their wishes are answered offer "Thirukodi". "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 food that is offered to the Lord is cooked within the temple. Huge cakes 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.
There were a lot of figurines lined up along the rock in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum. The idols have been decorated with flowers with Kumkum applied on the forehead, but their identities are yet to be strongly established. There are supposedly around 3000 monkeys on the hill.
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.
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 don’t 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.