“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.
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”.
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.
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:
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.
“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”