Malai Mandir On The Hill

A Slice of South India on a Delhi Hill
Vasant Vihar is one of my favorite colonies in Delhi. When we had first moved to the city as a family, my office was located here and I spent many happy hours exploring its restaurants and hangouts over lively office lunches with colleagues.  Some years later, we rented a lovely flat in this neighborhood and discovered for ourselves the pleasures of Vasant Vihar’s greenery and graceful living.
For me, a defining landmark for this colony has always been the distinctive Malai Mandir, the temple on a hill, which straddles the arterial road between Vasant Vihar and the adjacent neighborhood of RK Puram. Nowadays the splendor of its location is somewhat diminished by a labyrinth of flyovers that whisks you past it. But earlier, Malai Mandir was visible for miles as it sat in majestic grandeur, like a crown on the crest of a rocky hill.

Inside the Malai Mandir Compound; Colorful Flowers for Puja Offerings

Malai Mandir means “Hill Temple” in Tamil. This is the Tamil community’s very own temple in Delhi, with construction starting in 1965 in typical south India temple architecture style, to cater to the growing Tamil population in the capital. The main shrine is dedicated to the deity Sri Swaminatha Swamy (Lord Murugan), and over the years a number of smaller temples have been added to the complex. As per the tradition for all temples dedicated to the God Murugan, this too is situated on a hill.

My visit to Malai Mandir was on a winter afternoon when the complex was bathed in mild sunshine. It was a Sunday, and the temple was busy, with the sights and sounds being distinctly Tamil; the outer walls painted in bold white and red stripes, women devotees dressed in traditional saris with flowers in their hair, and priests standing by the temple doors in pure white veshtis.

I joined a line of devotees at the main gate, taking off my shoes and handing them to a caretaker, before entering a neat compound flanked with colorful flower stalls. There was a ticket booth in one corner from where I could buy the worship offerings in an orderly way. I paid for the “archanai” puja – offerings of coconut, bananas and betel leaf, which came neatly arranged in a small basket.

Small Temples Ring The Internal Courtyard, Built in the Pandya Style of Tamil Architecture
Carrying my offerings in hand, i entered a larger stone-paved courtyard. The swish of outside traffic was immediately drowned out, replaced by an atmosphere of peace and calm and quiet reflection. On three sides of the square patio were intricately carved temples and an open-sided kalyana mandapam (wedding hall), while on the fourth side, wide stone stairs led up to the main temple on the hill.

The air was heavy with the sweet smell of incense. Devotees moved from temple to temple, stepping past the traditional white rangolis painted on the floor in front of the temple entrances. They spoke in low voices, their murmurs mixing with the occasional peel of temple bells. I entered each of the temples, joining in the prayers and paying my respects, thanking God for all the privileges I have been given in life.

Intricate Carvings and Color on the Temple Walls

By now dusk was beginning to settle with the last of the daylight fading away. Instead, the twinkling flames of hundreds of shimmering diyas, lit by devotees, brightened up the courtyard. I was sitting close to an elderly lady and her daughter who were patiently painting rangoli patterns on the ascending stairs. We began talking. They had been doing this for a few weeks, mother and daughter visiting together in the winter evenings.

The Painted Kalyana Manadapam; For Conducting Religious Discourses and a Wedding Hall

The Shimmering Diyas Begun to Get Lit, Making Up For The Fading Sunlight
As darkness set, I began climbing the stairs up the hill to the main temple of Lord Swaminatha. I’m glad I had waited for the dark. As I climbed higher, the bustling Palam Marg came in to view with its endless stream of busy traffic. Pinpricks of ruby red tail-lights rushed away from me while sparkling diamond-colored headlights drove towards me.  It was almost poetic, standing in the serene calm of the temple compound and observing the ebb and flow of traffic below me.
The steps up to the top were broad and comfortable to climb with railings along the side and a covering to keep out the rain. On the way were smaller shrines by the stairs where people occasionally stopped to pray.

Smaller Shrines Dot The Stairway To The Top
The main temple at the top of the hill was constructed from solid granite. Heavy wooden doors were wide open, leading to the inner sanctum where tall bronze stands laden with diyas cast light on the main idol. Bare chested priests were carrying massive brass plates laden with Chandan ashes and holy Prasad, chanting hymns as they assisted disciples with their offerings. Devotees stood in silence, thinking their private thoughts.
Due to the rush of worshippers, I could not stay here for long. After circling the temple once I came on to a wide open-air platform where dozens of families were sitting, chatting and taking in the winter breeze. Red and yellow streamer lights had been switched on, keeping away the dark and giving this area a festive feel.

The Main Temple At Dusk ; Yaamirukka Bayamain
The atmosphere was light, like an after-darshan get together of families bonding, taking selfies and enjoying the panorama below them. I could see a group of boys energetically playing cricket on a small playground below, but like in a silent movie there was no sound reaching me here on top.
Behind me, Lord Swaminatha’s motto was visibly illuminated in Tamil “Yaamirukka Bayamain” ; Why Fear When I Am There.

How to get here:

    1. Malai Mandir is in RK Puram, on the main Palam Marg.
    2. The closest metro station is Vasant Vihar.

Information (for Malai Mandir) :

  • Located in RK Puram, entrance from Palam Marg.
  • Free Temple parking is available.
  • Open 7am-12noon, 5pm-9pm.

Adil Ahmad

India Heritage