“Palani is a city and a municipality in Dindigul district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Palani is pronounced using the special ‘L’ used in Tamil and is also spelt as “Pazhani” in English. It is located about 60km from the city of Dindigul. It is a famous pilgrimage town and every year more than 7 million devotees visit the Palani Murugan Temple and offer their prayers to the Lord Muruga. This temple draws the largest number of devotees in Tamil Nadu.


As of 2001 India census, Palani had a population of 67,175. Males constitute 51% of the population and females 49%. Palani has an average literacy rate of 75%, higher than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 81%, and female literacy is 69%. In Palani, 10% of the population is under 6 years of age. The most prominent festivals of Palani temple are ” Thaipoosam ” and ” Panguni Utthiram “.


A most impressive back-drop to the town is formed by the picturesque slopes of an offshoot of the Western Ghauts, the Palni Hills, whereon lies the esteemed hill-station of Kodaikanal. The ranges extending east-west, to the south of the town, frame the town presenting a most inimitable sight. The view within the town is dominated by the two hills, Sivagiri and Sakthigiri, on the former of which lies the famous and much resorted to temple of Lord Subrahmanyan as Bala-Dhandaayudhapaani (translated as, the young lord wielding a mace).

At the foot of the hills lie several lakes, the largest of which, the Vaiyyapuri Kolam, used, in days past, to serve as the primary water reservoir to the inhabitants of the town. At its greatest expanse during and immediately after the monsoons rains, the lake drains to the Shanmughanadi, a short distance from the town. Though shrunken in expanse due to encroachments and overgrown with weeds, the lake still remains an extensive water sheet during the rainy season.

The Shanmughanadi, a tributary of the River Amaravathi, takes its source on the slopes of the Palni Hills and runs not very far from the town. On this river, a few short kilometres from the suburbs, in the lower reaches of the Palni Hills, is built the Varadhaman Nadi Dam, which supplies the town with its supply of fresh water.

Although Palani lies in a geologically stable area, construction of a dam at Idukki, in neighbouring Kerala State, has been known to cause tremors occasionally.

Of the various forms of the Supreme Godhead, that of Sri Muruga, the Lord Subrahmanya of the puranas (epics), is the most popular in Tamil Nadu. Like the Ayyappa legend of Kerala or the Srinivasa legend of Tirupati, Tamil Nadu has its own legend: Muruga.; The Lord Subrahmanya, son of Shiva, who was born to kill Taraka Asura is worshipped as Muruga (the boy form of Subrahmanya), in all splendour and great romance found perhaps nowhere else. Hundreds or perhaps thousands, of temples all over the world offer worship to the Great God Muruga, but nowhere else he is worshipped with more fervour than in Tamil Nadu, whose natives consider Him as one among them.; The love and respect that they bestow on Him is so great that they even gave a daughter of theirs, Valli in marriage to Him! To them He is almost human.; His divine attributes do not frighten them. Muruga is called Tamil Kadavul, Tamil God. It is said that the word Murugan is synonymous with Tamil. Being a non-Tamil speaking person with only a limited knowledge of the language, I do not venture to elaborate on this.; I should mention that the knowledge of Tamil itself was imparted to the sage Agasthyar by none other than Muruga!”  (Palani
I noted in my journal, that after the peace and quiet and the beauty of the hills in Kurishmala, leaving there and taking a bus and travelling again in the area between there and my next stop, was a bit tiresome and it made me appreciate my arrival n Palani even more.

The address I was given came from a Holy Cross priest, originally from Quebec and a family member of the head of our House of Prayer in Canada.  This priest, Fr. Philippe Payant was a man of prayer and while he visited his family on vacation from his post in India, he came to pay us a visit and also to take a little week-end retreat. I promised to visit and so here I was at the door step of his little home called “Assisi ashram”.

It was a small modest home and the larger room was used as a chapel where we had prayers and mass each day. He told me that when he arrived in India he asked God to make him ‘Indian’ and so he learned the language, he observed how the people dressed and what they ate and he adopted the style for his ‘ashram’.
He said prayers and mass in the Tamul language, his food was vegetarian and he dressed very simply in white cotton robes. He sat outside and so he could wish greetings to his friends of the village who passed and also it welcomed those who wanted to speak to him or to ask his prayers and blessings. He had two young lads in training and they also spoke good English.

On the Saturday evening he asked me if I would accompany him to the temple. I thought it rather original of this priest but he explained to me that this temple was there many years before he arrived and for these people it was not only the center of their country but also it was one of the most important holy shrines of all India.

To go to the temple we took a cable-car which drove us up the hill which was quite steep.
Already some people were greeting him and he said, “Here I meet many of my parish”. When we got to the top, we joined the line of pilgrims who were going into the temple to have the blessings of the “Lord Moruga. He told me, “I want you to be totally free. If you want to go inside and see the statue of the Lord Moruga, you can go, if not you may stay outside.”  I thought to myself, why come so far and not go in?

When I saw the statue of Moruga, I thought he looked like one of St. Anthony. I told that to Fr.Philippe and he smiled. When we read the life and the journal of Fr. Henri Le Saux, we see how he also had not only great respect, but he explained and prayed in Shiva temples and yet he was a Catholic priest all his life and at one time he wrote:

“It was odd……..It was as if there were two men in the depth of me, one a Hindu, who finds happiness in the Rig Vedas and the  Bhagavad Gita and delights in the recitation of Sanskrit and in Tamil music; and then another “being”, another “self”, who bears in himself a whole experience, literary and social, from a western country.” (F.December 29, 1950 Life, 25)

I spent almost a week there in Palani and then I was on my way to a Seminary where I was also advised by Fr. Bede Griffiths to visit. It was a place way out in a farming area and the men there were being trained to be priests.

They were mostly from overseas and they were studying certain principles of Ghandi. They lived in the same building sharing not only studies but also did work in the village and some did work helping the farmers in planting rice etc.
I met a student from England by the name of Phillip. He was quite an original personality. I was able to recontact him last year. He is now an Anglican minister, married and in charge of a parish and very active and I can see, using some of the skills he learnt in India.
One evening he invited me to attend a village movie and we had to walk our way through the rice paddies. Of course we had to take off our sandals and walk on the little mud banks and I was amazed at how able he was. I also remember my stumbling and falling and he saved me from ending face fully into the water. We corresponded over the years and I kept one of his letters because it was so beautiful and also because he wrote something very interesting.
He said:
“One evening after watching the final traces of pink leave the sky, I walked back to the hermitage. Ahead of me was a strong light which was intended to help people but as I approached it from this angle, I found it to be more of a hindrance. I had to shade my eyes to pick out the way. I wondered whether, perhaps I had stumbled across a picture to illustrate this stage in my own pilgrimage, for the Light which came into the world remains at the center but at times I have to veil my eyes in order to move on to what is hopefully, a fuller vision of that Light”

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