The Rockfort Ucchi Pillayar Temple at Tiruchirapalli is among the most unique Ganesha temples in India. Part of a historic fortification and temple complex, the shrine is situated at the summit (ucchi in Tamil) of a rock which is about 3.8 billion years old. The small temple dedicated to Ganesha is perched on an outcrop that is reached after climbing over 400 steps, and offers a panoramic and breathtaking view of the city of Tiruchirapalli. The exhilarating climb does leave you out of breath but thanks to the many tiny windows, through which one can catch a whiff of fresh air and a glimpse of the scene below, besides other smaller shrines and a little cow shelter where one stops by. The last stretch before the Ganesha temple looks deceptively simple but fun to negotiate as one is buffeted by the winds. During peak summers, this stretch gets hot and visitors find it difficult to even step on the floor.
A charming tale surrounds the setting up of Ganesha here. Legend has it that when Vibhishana was returning from the Lanka war with an idol of Sri Ranganatha (Vishnu reclining on serpent Adisesha), he was looking for someone to hand it for a few moments. If placed on the ground, the idol would get rooted to the spot. A young Brahmin boy came by and offered to hold it but with a caveat—if he called out to Vibhishana thrice and the latter didn’t arrive, he would place it down. As luck would have it, the boy kept the deity on the ground (Srirangam). When Vibhishana returned, he was furious and chased the boy (none other than Ganesha) who ran up the rock and stayed there .
The rock is unique. Professor Hema Achyuthan of the Department of Geology, Anna University, says it is a Bornhardt in geological terms and is composed of granite and granite gneiss. It is rich in quartz, feldspar and mica. The rock provides evidence of a highly eroded landscape and must have been part of a huge surface. “The rock has very high engineering properties by virtue of which it has withstood fortification and construction of temples including carving of some of its pillars in situ,” she says. The temple was initially built by the Pallavas and redesigned by the Nayaks who leveraged on its naturally fortified position. The rectangular fort enclosing the rock (initially built by Vijayanagara emperors and their representatives the Nayaks) was witness to many fierce battles, mainly the Carnatic wars (between the British and French and their respective vassals), which helped lay the foundation of British empire in India; and the earlier battles between Madurai Nayaks who were responsible for what Tiruchirapalli is today; and the Sunni Muslim Bijapur dynasty.
The narrow lane leading to the temple entrance is filled with shopkeepers beckoning visitors. The sanctum of Manicka Vinayagar is at the rock’s foot and halfway up is a masterpiece—the rock cut shrine of Thayumanavar Swamy dedicated to Lord Shiva, worshipped here in the form of a huge Linga, and which is said to be a part of the rock itself. It is believed that when an ardent devotee Ratnavati was in labour and was awaiting arrival of her mother who was delayed because the Cauvery was in spate, the Lord himself came in guise of a midwife and assisted in the delivery. The shrine, therefore, is very popular with couples wanting children or praying for smooth delivery. The consort of Lord Shiva Mattuvarkuzhal Ammai (she with flowing hair) is also found here.
The kumbabishekam of the temple happened last December and several devotees offered to contribute liberally towards the gold plating of the vimanas.