Unlike Kulithalai and Iyermalai which are both on the southern banks of the Akhanda Cauvery, Thiruingoimalai is to the north. This is the temple that is to be visited in the evening, after worshipping at Kulithalai in the morning and Iyermalai in the afternoon. It is only after making the mistake of going there midmorning that you realise the logic behind the practice of evening worship – the steps up the hill are exposed and by 9.00 am becoming baking hot. You need to climb up and down barefoot and the experience is tortuous in the extreme.
Among the three shrines, this is perhaps the most picturesque – the temple, as befitting its other name of Maragathachalamis always green with plenty of foliage. Unlike at Iyermalai, the river here runs practically below the hill and so presents a lovely sight when full of water. And as you ascend, you can see Iyermalai, majestically rising in the distance. Though this hill is much smaller than Iyermalai, the ascent is just a little less arduous, chiefly because the steps are all worn out. Dholiservices are available for those who wish to be carried up, but prior arrangements need to be made, for the bearers come from Iyermalai.
The sthala puranam links it to Iyermalai for this is where the emerald-laden peak of Mount Meru in the combat between Adi Sesha and Vayu fell (ref the previous episode of Sangeetha Sthalam-s on Iyermalai for further details). The hill is therefore known as Maragathachalam and the Lord here is Maragathachaleswarar. The other story is of Lord Agastya coming here late in the evening after worshipping earlier in the day at Kulithalai and Iyermalai. It is almost closing time and he realizes that there is not enough time to make it by ascending the hill. He therefore uses his yogic powers and transforms himself into a fly and makes it to the top. Hence the name Thiru Eengoimalai.
Unlike Kulithalai and Iyermalai, this is not a shrine that receives many visitors and you have the Lord and His consort to yourselves when you reach the top. Lord Maragathachaleswara faces east, thereby complementing Kadambavaneswara in Kulthalai who faces North and Ratnachaleswara at Iyermalai who faces West. The linga itself is large and is said to be a greenish stone though this cannot be made out in the general darkness of the sanctum. The Goddess, Maragathambikai, is tall and four-armed, more or less of the same contours as Mutrilamulai Amman (Balakuchamba) in Kulithalai and Surumbar Kuzhali(Aralakesi) at Iyermalai. There are separate sanctums for Ganesha and Karthikeya. The absence of processional icons is striking, and we are told these are stored elsewhere for safety.
This is a Paadal Petra Sthalam in that it has received a set of ten verses from Gnana Sambanda. He must have been struck by the natural beauty of the place for there are repeated references to this. If in the first verse Sambanda says Ingoimalai has wild boar frolicking about, in the second he says the fragrance of cinnamon and cloves pervade the hill. The fourth says bees remain entrapped by the flowers here. The last verse describes Thiruingoimalai to be a place with lakes and orchards. Several lines of this thevaram describe the frenzied dance of the Lord. Sambandar also describes the consort as She of the honeyed and milk-like speech, doe-like eyes and soft fingers. But he does not mention Her name as Maragathambikai.
It is generally accepted that Muthuswami Dikshitar visited this shrine after worshipping at Kulithalai and Iyermalai, and composed Maragathalingam in Vasantha here. The song however does not feature in Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini. It also does not contain any of the puranic or sculptural details of this temple. It also states that the consort of Maragathalinga is Manikkavalli, which is not the name of the Goddess here. Lastly, the song describes the Lord as being in the middle of Mahavilva forest, which this hill assuredly is not. The sthala vriksha here is the tamarind. It would appear that the kriti, if a genuine one of Dikshitar’s, is wrongly attributed to this shrine.
There are not many references to Thiruingoimalai in prose and poetry apart from Sambandar’s verses. In the 20th century, Dr TSS Rajan, a well-known medical practitioner and freedom fighter from Trichy, who also served as Minister in the Rajaji Cabinet of 1937, bought land here and practisedfarming. His autobiography has some interesting details about the place. For instance, he states that the hill’s base spans 300 acres, the village of Thiruingoimalai spans 300 acres and the area of the river attached to Ingoimalai is also of the same spread! He also writes that Lord Maragathachaleswara has plenty of fertile farmland in His name, but these were not generating any revenue for the temple even in the 1930s. The situation has not changed much since then. The village in his time appears to have subsisted by providing services to the temple and Dr Rajan has it that there were four families of priests, 32 nagaswaram and tavil exponents and 30 Devadasi-s. Being a western-educated man, Dr Rajan has nothing but contempt for the last named but when we read BM Sundaram’s Marabu Thantha Manikkangal, we find a more sympathetic account. He writes of Chandravadana, born in 1864 and who was well-versed in dance and performing on the veena. She died in 1952. Among her disciples was niece Seetha, who was born in 1897 and apart from Chandravadanalearnt from Viralimalai Guruswami Nattuvanar. She performed for more than 35 years at various places and passed away in 1978.
Today there is nothing but silence at Thiruingoimalai.
This article is part of a series I wrote for Sruti magazine on the triad of Shiva temples along the Akhanda Cauvery. You can read the other parts here –