2000 years ago, a poor cowherder boy saw couple of well to do people walking in the forests and listening to some naked monk.
“Every human being and plant and animal has divine in them and anyone can realize it”… Thats a possibility he never thought.
In a devastating forest fire, he risked his life to protect the cows and also an ancient manuscript hidden in a tree. Blessed to be on the path of enlightenment by the ascetics, he took permission of his parents and came down to the deep South in these hills and started doing his Sadhna (austerities) at the age of 11.
With time his fame grew far and wide. He was able to give an explanation to the deeper metaphysics of Jain philosophy which no other saint after Mahaveera (the last Tirthankara – enlightened soul in Jain tradition) could do.
They say once to understand a hidden mystery of the metaphysics, he transcended to an alternate realm (many parallel realms coexist in the universe according to Jain philosophy. Even similar concept is there in Hindu mythology as well) and understood its meaning from the existing Tirthankara (the enlightened Guru) of that realm.
He composed the greatest works on Jain philosophy and wrote as many as 84 scriptures on topics like story of the real self, path to salvation, essential substances which make universe. As per Digambara Jain traditions, he is considered the man of highest stature after the Tirthankars.
It’s interesting to note that while all the Tirthankars had blessed the northern part of the country with their birth, enlightenment , discourses and salvation, this cowherd turned sage brought the balance in South.
Consider his life’s profound impact or the patronage which local Kings started giving him (King of Kerala also joined his Sangha), there was a great Jain intelligentia which came up in these times in Tamilnadu. 2 out of 5 great Sangam Epics (famous epics of 1st century in Tamil) were written by Jains. Thiruvalluvar the renowned master of Tamil literature is also considered to be Jain.
Following eighth century, when the state religions went back to Shaivism and Vaishnavism partly due to renewed interest in Vedanta and partly due to persecution, a Jain community still continued to thrive in the nearby region.
No wonder Rajaraja Chola’s sister chose this region to consecrate a Jain Temple despite her brother being a staunch Shaivite.
Today we call this cowherder turned sage as Kumdakund Acharya (after his birthplace) and the place of his enlightenment is Ponnur Malai