Jain Cave Temple Complex, Yanaimalai, Madurai
Jain Cave Temple Complex is Jain religious complex consisting of Jain Cavern and Jain Sculptural Cave Temple located in Yanaimalai Hill in Madurai District of Tamilnadu. Yanaimalai (Elephant Hill) is a protected monument and tourist attraction in Tamil Nadu. The hill stretches over 3 Kms (1.9 mi) and is 90 metres (300 ft) high. It has Jain sculptures, a Shaivite Temple, Ladan Cave Temple, and a Vaishnavite temple, namely the Narasingam Yoga Narasimha Perumal Temple. The hill is of rich in granite, and has been damaged by illegal quarrying. In 2010, the government of Tamil Nadu tried to set up a sculpture garden on the hill, but backed out after locals and activists protested against the idea.
The hill derives its name from the Tamil word Yanai, meaning "elephant", and malai, meaning "hill". The hill looks like an elephant in a sitting position. The site has had this name for over 2000 years.
The Thiruvilayadal Purana, written by Perumbatta Puliyur Nambi and later amended by Paranjothi Munivar, says that the Chola king, who could not win the battle against the Pandya ruler, sought the help of Jains. They created a giant elephant using their mystic powers and directed it to kill the Pandya king and destroy his capital. But the Pandya prayed to Lord Siva to save him and his capital. The Lord sent to him the "Narasinga Asthram" (the eight-lettered word Namo Narayana), which turned the elephant into a hill. To commemorate this event, a stone elephant was installed in Madurai near the Vaigai facing the north, which is found near the Yanaikkal bridge even today.
Yanaimalai is considered a sacred place by the Tamil Jain. Jain monks lived here during the Pandyan Dynasty. Yanaimalai has been historically important with its historical monuments and other sources of cultural ethos since the Sangam age, which is about one thousand and eight hundred years old. This hill is fondly called by the people as Yanaimalai (elephant hill), from very early period, as it looks like an elephant. The hill is the historical source as it has early caves with epigraphical records and sculptures and inscriptions of the Early Pandya, Later Pandya, Chola and Vijayanagar – Nayak rulers.
The top of the hill has Tamil Brahmi inscriptions of the 1st century A.D. This historic hill was sung by one of the three great Saiva Nayanmars, Tirugnanasambandar, as the dwelling place of the Jains. Paranjothimuni, in his Thiruvilayadal purana, mentions that this hill was originally an elephant incited by the Jains to destroy Madurai. When Lord Siva threw an arrow at it, it became a stone elephant and thus is called Yanaimalai. The Jains believe that the Saints who authored one of the Sangam classics, Naladiyar, lived in this hill.
The Jains reverentially consider Yanaimalai as one of the eight Jain centers located around Madurai. Though the Jains, Vaishnavites and Saivites were competing each other to promote their respective religions in this region, in due course, they seem to have maintained toleration to each other. This is evident from the records available at Yanaimalai. It has the credit of accommodating the historical monuments from Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Jainism.
Jain Cave Temple Complex
Jain Cave Temple Complex consists of two parts namely; Natural Jain Cavern and Jain Sculptural Cave.
Natural Jain Cavern (1st century A.D):
There is a natural cavern of the Jains located at the top of the hill’s southern side (Nose of the hill). It was established in the 1st century A.D. for the dwelling of the Jain monks. A Tamil Brahmi inscription of this period found here mentions that it was set up along with rock beds by one Eri Aarithan Aththuvayi Arattakasibhan and it was called as “Ivakundram”. There are also stone beds used by the monks for resting. Tamil-Brahmi and Vatteluthu inscriptions can be found on the hill.
Jain Sculptural Cave (9th - 10th Century A.D.):
The bas-relief sculptural panels of the Jain Thirthankaras, Yakshi and Yaksha are seen at the façade of a natural cavern located on the western side of the hill at a medium height. They belong to the 9th - 10th century A.D. The names of the donors of these sculptures are engraved in Vatteluthu script under the images. These sculptures also show early paintings on them. At the top of the hill can be found caves containing Jain bas relief sculptures of Mahavira, Gomateshwara, and other Tirthankaras fashioned by Jain monks. An individual Thirthankar statue worshipped as “Lord Muniyandi” by the local people.
The Jain Cave Temple Complex is located at about 2 Kms from Othakadai Bus Stop, 6 Kms from Thirumohur, 6 Kms from Thirumohoor Kala Megha Perumal Temple, 10 Kms from Madurai, 12 Kms from Madurai Periyar Bus Stand, 5 Kms from Mattuthavani Integrated Bus Terminus, 12 Kms from Madurai Railway Junction, 11 Kms from Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple and 22 Kms from Madurai International Airport. The Jain Cave Temple Complex is situated on Madurai to Melur Road. At the Othakadai Junction take a left and reach the temple. The Hill is visible from all around. Take a mini bus from Mattuthavani (Madurai Central Bus Stand) bus terminus to Othakadai. Take an auto-rickshaw from Mattuthavani Bus terminus or Madurai Central Railway Station to Othakadai. Mini buses are available for every 10 minutes from Othakadai.