The Samanar Hills of Madurai

Madurai is a 2,500 years old ancient city located in the southern part of India. It is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu and finds mentions in old scriptures like the Maha Bharata and Ramayana. It is known as the temple city and was once the thriving capital of the Madurai Nayak and Pandian kings.

This beautiful city of art and culture is also famous for its many fantastic tourist destinations like Kodaikanal, Suruli, Megamalai tea estates, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kumbakkari waterfalls, etc. The fragrant jasmine flowers are cultivated abundantly here and adorn most Tamil women’s hair; they are also a major export commodity.

This historical city was very well protected from enemies from all sides by eight hills; today however, it’s only three hillocks that are of significance with interesting legends related to them. These are the Yanamalai (elephant hill), Nagamalai (snake hill) and Pasumalai (cow hill).

The Samanar hill lies opposite the Nagamalai and is of historical significance as it’s believed the Tamil Jains lived here. The hill is riddled with numerous caves, most of which have been inhabited by insectivorous bats for past thousands of years and form an integral part of the ecology of this agricultural terrain. The caves also house numerous archeological treasures including sculptures and carvings made by the pious Jain community that lived here. It’s also an archeologists dream location with so much information to be found here; they have found inscriptions dating back 2000 years ago that reveal that hundreds of Jains performed ‘sallekena’ or fasting unto to death here. They have also found flat stone beds that the monks used for resting as well as a central cavern where the monks lived. There is even evidence of a school where monks and nuns studied to attain higher spirituality.

An ancient natural fountain can also be found flowing down one side of the hill and its waters are believed to very pure. You have to do quite a bit of walking on rough terrain to get to the various carvings and engravings on the top and sides of the hill, so go well prepared with proper walking shoes and a bottle of water. Exploring the hill comes as an unexpected adventure amidst our urbane life and worth the leisurely climb!

The Keelakuyilkudi village is nestled at the base of this hill, and can be accessed from Madurai, which is barely 12km away; and getting to Madurai is easy by rail, road or air. Just book into one of the numerous hotels in the city and from there go explore the hills and enjoy an enlightening trip through history!