On a recent trip to Thanjavur, something caught my eye, apart from the fertile green all around.
Since we travelled by road, it took us through many central places in towns and cities. Many wedding halls have sprouted on either side of the roads, weddings being an ever popular activity, I suppose. There were many halls in the Pondicherry sector, too. And the day we had chosen to travel was obviously a muhurtham day, for the halls were well decorated, and as evening neared, well lit, too.
All normal, of course.
But what was arresting was the sight of huge banners /boards in front of the mandapams, announcing to all and sundry the names of the new couple, and decorated with larger-than-life photographs of the beautifully dressed and bejewelled bride and groom.
Well, one could say they are the hero and heroine of the day. And to them, it would have been a move up from merely decorating their wedding invitations - a trend in recent times.
Anyway, it made a pleasant change from the made-up faces of jaded movie stars, the CM and other politicians who normally greet us from posters and banners.
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
Saturday, 2 February 2008
The last temple we visited on this trip (earlier blogs have reports on other temples!)was Lord Airavatheeswarar Temple, at Darasuram, called so because Airawatham, the elephant of Lord Indra, is said to have worshipped Siva here.
Near Kumbakonam, this temple is a heritage monument like the Brihadeeswarar Temple, and was built by Raja Raja Chozha‘s grandson, Raja Raja II. Modelled on the older temple, this marvel of Chozha architecture is a visual delight.
But sadly many parts have been left to deteriorate, though there was evidence of renovation work going on.
Every part of the temple begs to be noticed and admired. The foot high figures on the pillars look like fretwork and seem to match the pictures of the intricate carvings at Belur in Karnataka – another place I must visit, I have decided.
The pictures speak for themselves.
And outside the temple, the grounds are immaculately maintained with lush green lawns. I was instantly reminded of Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, which we had recently visited.
More historical details can be had here -
And on the way back, after taking a quick peep at the Mahamakam tank at Kumbakonam, we stopped at the Chidambaram Temple, but the sannnidhis were not open for darisanam, and we could not wait longer.
AND A LESSON
On our visits to all the temples, I was happy that there were no crowds. Maybe it was the days we chose, or the time we went.It was a peaceful experience, but for one incident, which could be a lesson for others too.
Though we stayed at a hotel in Thanjavur, we went to different eating places for our meals. The food was uniformly good everywhere – not to mention the coffee. The eating places, one really cannot call them restaurants, were simple and clean, and the prices ridiculously reasonable. At one of these places, while we sat down to lunch, my husband placed his camera case, containing his purse and reading glasses on a chair behind him, while we ate lunch. (The camera had moved into my bag at some point!) Though he made sure it was there from time to time, by the time we finished lunch it just was not there. Somebody had flicked it. Fortunately the loss was not great, some cash and his glasses. But he was sore at having lost his address book and our granddaughter’s photo which was also in the purse.
One place clearly said on a notice board that the management was not responsible for the loss of patrons’ belongings.
We learnt it the hard way.
Friday, 1 February 2008
One of the few temples that Dr JB and Bhama had not visited during their many trips is the Sri Venkatesa Perumal Temple in Varahur. This is the temple where another great composer Sri Narayana Theertha Swami had composed and sung the Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini, about 300 years ago.
The temple is on an immaculately clean street and seems to blend in with the houses. When we reached the temple abhishekham was going on, and young boys were reciting their Veda lessons. It is said that a boar led the Swami to this place and hence it is called Varahur.
Varahur is right next door to Thirukaattupalli and Ranganthapuram, my mother-in-law’s native place – all separated by barely a few miles. Having heard her talk of all these places had sharpened my interest.
The greenery of the area simply takes your breath away.
At Ranganathapuram, which my husband has visited in his student days, we looked round for his grandfather’s house, though we knew that the cousin who looked after it was away. And we found it. It looked a bit ramshackle, since nobody lives there anymore, and was locked. But we could see it was really a large house, taking up the space of three doorways on the street. The street itself looked abandoned.
Once upon a time, when my husband’s grandfather lived there, he owned a lot of land, which were then left to his sons. Over the years the acres have dwindled.
But I can imagine a time when there would have been green fields everywhere and children coming home from school at Thirukaattupalli, the nearest town, and playing and calling out to one another.
I have been recently reading my mother-in-law’s autobiography again, which she wrote for her family, and the chapters came alive for me there.
When we set out on this trip, I had nothing else in mind except the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur. For everything else, we left the decisions to our companions Dr. JB and Bhama. They are veterans at making trips to temples, and we felt we would be guided well by them. Two previous trips made in their company had already proved this to us.
Driving through the lush green districts of Thanjavur was a delight. For as far as the eye could see there were paddy fields, some rich green , and some golden, where the harvest had just been completed. On the roadside at several points there were villagers manually threshing the rice, and at other places we could see what I assume were threshing machines.
Upon reaching Thanjavur, our first visit was to the Brihadeeswarar Temple, locally known as Periya Koil. Built by Raja Raja Chozhan in the 10th century it took six years to be completed. The temple stands within a fort, surrounded by a moat, now of course dried out, and is vast. Unlike other temples where the towers at the gates are higher than the one over the shrine, here it is the central shrine that stands tall and high.
And what a tower - it can be seen from any part of the town.
It is unique, because it is a square tower, constructed in such a manner that its shadow never falls on the ground. Its sides are decorated with many beautiful sculptures, as are also the walls around the sanctum sanctora – all painstakingly sculpted. One could gaze on these marvels for ever and ever, I felt. Inside, the Siva lingam is a huge one. The Nandhi facing the deity is also one of the biggest I have seen.
This temple is a heritage temple - part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Renovations are ongoing. Many websites give the physical proportions of the temple, and have photographs.
But to describe the feeling of elation at seeing the temple is impossible – history has been chiselled in every stone here.
Our next stop that day was the Bangaru Kamakshi Temple, where Syama Sastri the composer used to worship. The idol is golden – hence Bangaru meaning gold. His ancestral family had been the priests of the Kamakshi Amman temple in Thanjavur.
Though I did not know it at the time, his descendants are still the priests at the temple.
More pictures of this temple and others can be seen at http://picasaweb.google.com/rajimuth/TanjoreTrip
TWO TEMPLES AND TWO PHENOMENONS
My husband had read earlier this year that Sri Vasishteswarar Temple, very near Thanjavur, is the place to visit this year. And so we went there, too.
Sri Vasishteswarar Temple is a very ancient temple – the priest said it is 1800 years old. This temple is a Siva temple, and is also known as Guru Sthalam, because there is a special shrine for Guru. It is called Sri Vasishteswarar, because the sage Vasishta is said to have worshipped Siva here.
In the main shrine, the priest showed us that drops of water dripped from the ceiling at regular intervals – seemed like 45 seconds to me – on the shivalingam. He told us that this temple 'gopuram' was encrusted with a Soorya kantam stone and a Chandra kantam stone, under the kalasam, which attracted the moisture from the atmosphere, and allowed it to fall in drops over the deity, to keep it cool. I cannot find an appropriate translation for the stones. We saw the dollops of water dripping, and there was nary a cloud in sight that day!
The ceiling of the temple in front of the Amman sannidhi, had the 12 'rasi' symbols carved on it – and the ceiling too is made of karungallu. A beautiful water tank in front of the temple is filled to the brim. The people there told us that it never dries out, and it serves water to the little town where it is -Then kudi thittai
Another temple we visited on this trip was the Sikkal Singaravelan temple, where Lord Muruga is worshipped. At this temple every year during kanda sashti, when soora samharam is enacted, Devi Uma, called Vel Nedunkanni Ambal here , hands Lord Muruga the vel (spear) to kill the demon. At that moment, the deity perspires, said the priest there. He perspires all over, and outside his kavasam – and this happens only on the one day of the year. Doctor JB said that a friend of his has witnessed this phenomenon.