From the turn of the last millennium to the Middle Ages to the 21st century Namakkal has featured in many lost texts of history. Today’s urban avatar of the city lies south of Salem.
A major agricultural region in the fertile lands of the Kaveri belt, today the city is famous for Tapioca, eggs and trucks. Confused? The Namakkal region is one of India’s highest producers of eggs. Namakkal’s economy is further supported by the heavy vehicle building industry that contributes heavily too many a family’s incomes.
Since the early days, Namakkal has been mentioned in Tamil Literature with enough reference to a town on the base of Nammagiri. The Sangam literary pieces have popularised the area and the numerous temples in the region. Steeped in culture, my first tryst with Namakkal funnily happened in London.
One of my closest friends hails from Namakkal and she had only interesting things to say about it. When in London we used to discuss her childhood, growing up in a small town and about the burgeoning textile centres in the area. But then she told me about the temple and culture of the place and I was intrigued. I did a bit of a reading and here it was, Namakkal a beautiful town nestled amidst the Eastern Ghats- Kolli hills division, which did not feature on a tourist circuit. I had a reason to visit this place. So instead of bypassing it next time on a road trip in South India, I decided to drive from Bangalore to Namakkal.
Bangalore – Namakkal- Enroute a fascinating highway
The Bangalore-Chennai NH48 is famous for so many things, including burning of busses whenever things go wrong between the states. However, the road that connects the two metros is beautifully laid and is a perfect route connecting the Western to the Eastern Ghats.
Passing through Hosur we proceeded to Krishnagiri. The town of Krishnagiri is of course famous for the huge dam on River Kaveri, but also has a long deserted fort on a monolithic hill and a beautiful Jain temple. The Krishnagiri fort, built during the Vijaynagara Empire, it changed hands a number of times till Tipu Sultan ceded it to the British after the Treaty of Srirangapatna.
After a quick coffee break we exited the NH 48 and moved south on to NH 44 towards Salem. With the River Kaveri, paddy fields and rolling rain clouds for company I sure felt straight out of a Mani Ratnam movie.
Oh did I mention our driver was this really jovial and enthusiastic person who wanted us to watch a horror movie, just because the car had a back seat screen! Anyway jokes apart, we had a smooth sailing ride and reached our destination around noon.
Namakkal- A piece of history and architecture
Namakkal through history has been a land that everyone was interested in. Fortunately though, no war has ever been fought on this very land. A closely contested piece of land since the 2 CE, Namakkal has changed hands a numerous times yet has maintained its allure. Starting with the Pallavas from Northern Tamil Nadu and Telegana , the southern ruling dynasty of the Pandyas to the Nayaks of Madurai, Tipu Sultan and the British each era has left its imprint on the town.
The fort atop the hill has lots of significance to the local history. Built in the 17th Century during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak of Madurai, it is a classic example of having a bird’s eye view of the area. The fortress is imposing and is built of solid rock and has high turret walls and rocky cliffs on all sides. A steep climb, the view is worth everything.
Nestled in the rocks of the hill is an old Pallava style Vishnu temple. Accessed by rock cut steps the shrine is the abode of Lord Vishnu as Ranganatha, reclining on his snake bed. Classic medieval Pallava architecture, the roof has such intricate designs that it looks thatched than made of stone. Over 2 metres in length the idol is mix of Vishnu in his resting yet, a warrior avatar.
Lakshmi Narasimhaswami Temple
On the base of the fort on the other side is the rock cut temple of Lord Narasimha. A beautiful ancient temple, it has Dravidian style rock cut shrines for the Lord and his consort Lakshmi. As we entered I felt this rush of energy that hummed within the rock walls of the temple. The sculpted hallways and the stories in stone are a witness to change and disappearing beliefs. The inner sanctum sanctorum has a seated Lord Narasimha in a meditating pose. His consort Lakshmi has her own shrine and considered to be very powerful.
The temple is famous for the lore that Lord Vishnu after slaying Hiranayakashpu landed in Nammagiri thanks to Hanuman from Ramayana. To know more about this complex story continue reading about the next temple.
Namakkal Anjaneyar (Hanuman) Temple
A unique temple on many levels, the Anjaneyar (Hanuman) Temple at Namakkal is a sight to behold. Believed to be built during the 7th century, the Hanuman temple is a wonder to behold.A pillared hall leads to the gigantic sanctum sanctorum that houses the 18 feet high statue of Lord Hanuman.
As the legend goes, there are many versions of the story. The most popular being, Hanuman after the great war returned to the north to replace the Sanjeevini herb. During his travel, he came upon the Shaligram (a black smooth stone, representing Vishnu) which Prahalad used to worship. It is believed after slaying Hiranyakashpu, Sri Narasimha blessed Prahalad and disappeared into a Shaligram. Carrying this Shaligram with him on his way back to the south, he encountered Lakshmi meditating at Namagiri. She requested him for a glimpse of Lord Vishnu in the Narasimha Avtaar. Handing the Shaligram to Lakshmi, Hanuman proceeded to the river for his ablutions. On his return, he found that Lakshmi, unable to bear the weight of the stone had placed it down and neither of them could budge the stone. Lord Narasimha decided to stay put and Hanuman decided to stay and continues to pray till date.
The Narasimha Swamy temple at the base of the fort is on the same longitude as the Hanuman temple. This is where folklore meets geographical coordinates. Believed to be an ever growing Hanuman who want’s to be able to see His Lord across the town, the temple is actually built roofless.
Panguni Uthiram festival in the month of March is of great significance and a lot of celebrations happen during the month at both these temples. Hanuman Jayanti is usually celebrated in a grand style with special Naivedyam/ Bhog being 1 Lac and Eight Vada Malai (Garland of Vadas).
A Vaishnava town till a few years back Namakkal’s Anjaneyar, Ranganthaswamy and Narasimha Swamy are prominent examples of the great medieval South Indian architecture that the region is famous for.
Wrapping up our short sujourn in to history and culture we headed to my friend’s place for some awesome food and great laughs. The trip to Namakkal was worth every minute.
Closest Major City/ Airport: Trichy
Well connected by road and train, Namakkal is just over a 3-hour drive from Coimbatore and 4 hours drive from Bengaluru, the nearest Metro.