History of the Sirumalai Annai Shrine
Geographical Location of the Sirumalai Shrine:
The Sirumalai Shrine known also as ‘Amali-malai’ belongs to W.Pudupatti Parish of Srivilliputhur Vicariate – one of the seven vicariates of the Archdiocese of Madurai. The shrine is located at the cross road of Krishnankoil Stop, falling at 70 km from Madurai to Chenkottai National Highway.
History of the Shrine:
The Christians of Marava caste who were the proselytes by St. John de Britto, lived in the region of Ramnad. By then, it was ruled by Marudu Pandias who, on accunt of religious intolerance and hatred towards the British rule, started persecuting the christians. To escape from their hardship, the Christians moved to the region of Sirumalai which was under British control. Having been settled down at Sirumalai they set up a petty grotto there for the Mother who saved their lives and properties from being destroyed. At present, although these people have gone to get settled at Pandalkudi near Arupukottai, they have made it a custom to come to Sirumalai once in a year, slaughter the sheep, offer the sacrifice and enjoy feasting all the day. It is also very sentimental to witness these people praying to the Mother with tears, hitting their heads at the wall of the church.
History of the Church:
When the first parish priest of W. Pudupatti, Fr. Morier, a Jesuit from foreign country, went to celebrate mass at Nathampatti in the evening, heavy wind and rain turned to be a hurdle for his travel. The bullocks of the cart, when nearing Sirumalai, lied down without any reason. He could not further make a move of the cart in spite of many trials to wake them up. So the saintly priest happened to spare the night at the bottom of the hill. Then, Mohter Mary graciously appeared to him on his dream with a demand of unavoidable requisition i.e. ‘Would you construct a church for me that the people might be gathered and blessed?’ The priest woke up with a fret and found the bullocks standing ready for travel. He was obsessed with the thought of the vision as he returned from Nathampatti after the celebration of the mass. All the people of the village willingly seconded the idea of construction of an altar in remembrance of the Mother.
The History of the Church Location:
When the priest and others went there with a mind of finding a location where the church could be built up, a band of wolves of was found in a spot. All of them ran away into the forest. But in a particular place, one of the wolves stood in a posture of praying, lifting both the front legs up and went away. Immediately then, the priest laid a corner-stone in that cite and fixed it as a place shown by the Mother and began the work of the construction of the church.
He also easily acquired the land around the church from the rulers of the time by his political prudence. He planted hundreds of trees that bear fruits in order that the hill could look greenish. These trees served as shelter and yielded fruits for people who come seeking the blessing of the Mother.
A fount of Wonder:
It cannot but be a wonder that the gorgeous hill of Sirumalai and the place around it turned to be a mount of holiness. Right at the top of the mount about 350 meters height is found the fount of wonder. Be it a rainy season or hot summer, which the fount is always overflowing just like the abundant grace of Mother Mary, is a rare vision here. Yet another wonder is that the altar of the church at the bottom of the hill and the fount at the top is set straight on the exact line. These facts stand as witness for the kindness and glory of the mother.
Miracles and the Mother:
The devotees who come seeking the blessings of the mother leave their stories of tears as petitions in the dumb box. The happenings of miracles here are proclaimed as the witnesses of divine grace. Thus, the more the needs of the people, the greater abounds the divine grace.
A Miracle for Social Justice:
Once a family of the so-called low caste desired to come to the festival of the shrine like all other people and to sacrifice a goat. They cooked and wanted to share that with other people. But, since they were of low caste, the so-called high caste people refused to get the sharing from them. With deep sorrow, knowing not what to do, they dumped the meal on a mat, covered it and buried it to the ground. After a year when the same family came to the festival, they dug the pit and they were greatly astonished. For, the food that was buried remained not only intact but also hot! With mother, there is no discrimination on the basis of caste and religion. She accepts the food offered by the poor and the simple. The incident also signifies that all ought to share and eat it.
The Feast of the Shrine:
As the days went by, the fame of the shrine spread all around. People gathered in multitude for the festival held in the month of May from surrounding hamlets, villages, towns and cities. A grand feast was celebrated on third Saturday and Sunday in the month of May. People came to the blessed feet of the Mother from Watrap, Pudupatti, Koomapatti, Nathampatti, Srivillipudu, Rajapalayam, Sundranachiapuram, Kunnur, Sivakasi, Krishnan kovil, Gangapuram, etc. They were blessed with good health. Many realized a change in their spiritual life. As they came to Sirumalai, they could go deep into their hearts, examine their conscience, partake in the sacraments of reconciliation and the holy Eucharist and found comfort and solace of heart.
Spirituality is not concerned about an individual rather it is a collective effort. The festival also instructs the very thing. It creates a greater opportunity for social relation. That they start together, travel together, stay together, cook and eat together is a very good custom seen among them. Human person is not an individual but a social being we can see an expanded community here on festival days. It is a society with no discrimination. There is none among them as high or low, the poor or rich, the master or the slave.
Benediction would be held at night, followed by midnight mass and then ensued the car procession. People would rest in the moonlight and enjoy sweet breeze. There were also people who stayed in the caves of the hills. There would be a mass celebration in the early morning at the grotto of the hill. In order to attend the mass, the people would wake up early in the morning, complete their habitual duties actively. They take bath in the common water tank. For, bodily cleanliness is also necessary for the Dharshan of the Mother.
Mass at the grotto was very special. It could enable people to visualize the apparition of the Mother at the cave of Masbiel in Lourdes. In the beginning the festivals were celebrated only in lantern lights and later by generator lights. Now with the connection of electricity festival is luminously celebrated.
The Shrine of Social Celebration:
They have the custom of making tonsure to offer to the mother. To offer hair means to handover one’s power to God. The crown symbolizes authority of a king to reign. The personality of the present generation is marked with their hair. Hair style decides the beauty, the appearance, and the youthful charm of an individual. Offering of hair is an external symbol of the attitude of complete submission that God is the source of all and to him everything belongs. Making complete shave of head at one’s birth or at the death of someone close has been a traditional practice of the Tamils. Besides this, the people who make ear-hole on their ears also go for tonsure.
The custom of making stud-hole also prevails here. The devotees praise the same thing here in the shrine. These rituals play a vital role in the growth of the children. They stay in the rooms, dine in the refectory available here and go home happily. It is a great pleasure as they stay; dine at the foot of the Mother.
Not only the Christians but also the people of other religions have made it a custom to come and celibate their home-celebrations here. The newly-wed couples come and exchange garlands in front of the Mother and start their family life. The shrine has become part and partial of the people’s living and the land.
During the festival the holy articles like portraits of the saints, statues, rosaries, candles etc. are sold. Along with this, there are variety of fun games set up to entertain the kids. There is so much of ballons, pipes, and kinds of candies. The merchants for flowers and fruits like mangoes, guauas, tender-coconut, and variety of other fruits, set up a mini market on days of the festivity.
The Present State of the Shrine:
The grotto and tower for the Mother was built by Fr. Morier in the year 1926. But the construction of the tower was not complete. Fr. M.P. Alphonse restarted the construction work of the shrine in 1993. The construction of the tower was completed during the tenure of Fr. Albin Justus. The house for priests was built when Fr. Siluvai Michael was here. By his onerous efforts, they started praying way of the cross on the hill way. The shrine began to shine when Fr. Lukas served as parish priest. It was he who constructed the cave-temple at the place where the apparition of the Mother took place. Chapel for the Blessed Sacrament also was built by him. In the year 2002 he began the construction work of road-side grotto dedicated to the mother in the name ‘good health’.
With the contribution of R.C. School teachers, the works of the grotto was finished. In the year 2010, the way to the cave temple containing 33 steps was laid. These steps were set-up to remind the people of the earthly living of Jesus.
The holy cross was established at the top of the hill on April 10, 2011. The stations of way of the cross were also set up on the way toward uphill. The practice of praying way of the cross with celebration of mass at evening of every Sunday began during the lent of 2011. Houses for the pilgrims and lavatories will soon be constructed for their convenience.
Events at the Shrine:
From 2008, the holy Eucharist is celebrated at 11.30 in the morning on the first Sundays. From December 8, 2009 onwards the mass is celebrated at the routine of 8 days. On the first Saturdays of every month a decorated car procession with recitation of Rosary begins from the good-health grotto on the road side and the mass continues. From July 17, 2011, onward the mass is celebrated at the altar established on the hill. Third Sunday of every month, the mass is celebrated on the hill top altar at 5. 00 p.m in the evening.