New life into old towns …

This can be replicated in India. I can draw so many similarities to similar towns down south in India. The rich temple culture of the Tanjore district. But somehow the villages are vanishing. The temples are sometimes dilapidated. People want to go there. But there is no comfortable way to do this. They have stay in a distant town – Kumbakonam or Vaitheeswaran Kovil, or Mayavaram, and take a taxi to some of these beautiful centres of culture.

This should happen here as well. This will happen. Some day. Some day ……

(Video source: presentationzen.com)

Thirukolakka

This qaint little village is about a kilometer from Sirkazhi. You should ask for directions. And not too many will know the name Kolakka. You should ask for Osai Nayaki Temple. They will give you directions to get to a road (depending on where you ask), and then tell you, just follow the road until you hit the temple. Just do that. You need to follow the winding road for about a km, and this little temple pops out of nowhere. There is no big Raja gopuram – so do not use that as a landmark to search for.


View Larger Map

This beautiful little temple, which is the 15th in the Paadal Petra Sthalam list,  is one of the cleanest temples I have seen. Very nicely maintained. When we entered, there was a young man (barely in his early twenties), who was the Sivacharyaar. He was going around to the various sannidhis and doing Neivedhyam with one small brass vessel. From the old ages, this has been the practice. The Sivacharyaar brings the food to be given to the God from his own house. And in a lot of not-so-well-to-do Sivachaaryar families/temples, that is their food for the day/meal.

The temple itself looks super old. At the minimum proof, we know it is atleast 1300 years old (since Sambandar lived in the 7th Century). The temple existed at that time. So it should be older than that. Unfortunately, the age is showing. It looks like the temple has not had a kumbabhishekam in a while. Paint is peeling off. There are parts of some walls that are in rubbles.

The Shivan is of course majestic. Big lingam. Ambal is even more majestic. Draped in beautiful 9 yard saree, She just looked amazing. There are other sannidhis around the temple. There is Somaskandar (Muruga in kid form between Shiva-Parvathy), Saneeswarar, Suryan, and Mahalakshmi.

Sthala Varalaaru (Story of the place)

This is the first paadal petra sthalam for Gnana sambandhar, our child saint. He walked with this father to this shrine from Sirkazhi. On reaching here, he started singing on the Lord (who was then called Sapthapureeswarar). The Lord, feeling sorry for the little child (on a big mission) clapping his hands and singing, gave him a pair of Gold Cymbals (Jaalra). Gold cymbals do not produce much of a sound (due to its malleable nature). The Goddess interjected and gave it divine sound. It is due to this, the Lord became known as Thaalapureeswarar. And the Goddess as Osai Kodutha Nayaki (or Osai Nayaki, as the locals have shortened it).

The other mythological story for this temple is about Mahalakshmi. She is believed to have done tapas here to get reunited with MahaVishnu. And when that happened, the God and Goddess gave all devotees here dharhsan in Thirumana kolam (Marriage form). Hence the name of the temple as Kolakka.

Some photos:

IMG_1376

IMG_1377

IMG_1378

To be continued —

Coming up – Thirukadayur, Thirukudandai Keezkottam (Nageswara Swamy Kovil – Kumbakonam – #27), Kudandai Kaaronam (Someswara Swamy Kovil – Kumbakonam – #28).

More information about Kolakka can be found here.

 

Sirkazhi

This is part 2 of the Kumbakonam April 18-22 travelogue. Part 1 is here.

We started off bright and early at 6:30AM for our first pilgrimage. The original plan was just Thirukadayur with the whole family. The wife had been reading Abhirami Andhadi for a while, but had never really been Thirukadayur and seen the Goddess Abhirami. I was going to slug out Sirkazhi and Thirukolakka solo. But then, it looked like a better plan to do these two together. The latter two temples are 21km from Thirukadayur. And it helped that I had told the awesome sthala varalaru (literal translation: story of significance of the shrine) to her, and she was hooked too.

So back to the journey. We had hired an Indigo. We hit Sirkazhi first. The route from Kumbakonam is pretty straight forward. Take the Mayavaram road. You will pass Thirubuvanam (famous for silk sarees), Thiruvidaimaruthur (famous for the Brimhahathi gopuram – Mahalinga swami temple), Govindapuram (famous for the Vittal Krishnar temple), Adhuthurai, Madhirimangalam, Kutthalam,and you hit Mayavaram. This stretch is about 32km. The road quality is decent. But it is the typical Tanjore delta roads, where the roads meander as much as the Kaveri itself.


View Larger Map

When you get into Mayavaram, just go straight. Pass the railway station. Pass the bus station. Until you hit a T-junction. Look to the right, and you will see the third building on the left — Kaliyakudi. How can you get to Mayavaram and not have food at this place. It is a third generation run hotel. Now modernized with A/c. Food is decent as well. Just dont get there too early (like us – we were there at 7:15AM). The dosa kal (literal translation: dosa stone) was not hot enough, and hence no dosa was available. So a hearty breakfast was had.

kaliyakudi_route    IMG_1373

Once done with breakfast, take a U-turn, and head the other way down Pattamangalam Theru. This road leads to the  Chidambaram road if you dont take any turns. Just keep following the main road. You will reach Sirkazhi in about 22 km. You will pass Vaitheeswaran Kovil on the way. So in case, you want to make a quick stop you can. We did not, in this trip.


View Larger

Before we get into the sthala puranam, I will give you two tips to soak into the local culture.

  1. Somehow get someone local to say the name Sirkazhi. Anyone local to the Tanjore/Mayavaram/Kumbakonam area should be fine. They will always say it as “Seeezzhazhii”. The ‘ra’ and the ‘ka’ are conspicuously absent.
  2. When asking for directions, or for help, address the person as ‘ayya’. You will get a much better treatment. Thats how the locals call each other. (Kinda like using ‘boss’ or ‘guru’ in Bangalore ; and ‘anne’ in Chennai).

Sirkazhi Sthala Puranam (or alteast parts of it)

In general Sirkazhi has a very rich historical lineage. It is said to be that Brahma came and worshipped in this temple. So the city at one point in time used to be called Brahmapuram. In fact the main deity is also called Brahmapureeswarar. The city is also referred to as Kaazhi in a lot of the tamil scriptures.

Back to the Periya puranam story, Sirkazhi is the birth place of one of the Naalvar – Thiru Gnana Sambandhar – the child saint. The sprightly young lad of 3 years, followed his father – Sivapada Hrudayar to the temple tank. It is also significant to note that, before conceiving Sambandhar, Sivapada Hrudayar and his wife prayed to Lord Shiva to be endowed with a son, whose sole aim in life would be to spread Shaivism and make it win over other competing principles at that time. Jainism and Buddhism was dominant at that time, and had political patronage. There were some religious fanatics of these two religions who went to great length to destroy Shaivism and prevail over. It was not too different a time than now.

So Sambandhar went to the tank with this father. While the father immersed himself in the temple tank, the child felt lonely and started crying. It is said that, on the request of Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvathi fed the child with her own mothers milk, extracted in a silver cup .The father came out of the tank, and saw the child with milk on his lips, and silver cup in his hand, and got pretty cross. On questioning the child, the child pointed to the Gopuram of the temple and alluded to the fact that, it was the Lord himself. It is my understanding this is the Sattainathar Sannidhi that we need to walk up a flight of stairs to see even today.

When the father did not believe him, the child who had barely started speaking a few words (he was 3 at that time), sang is first pathikam (decad). The father was shocked and realized instantly, that his wish had been fulfilled.

In the next 15 years, Sambandhar travelled to 100s of shrines and sang beautiful decads on Lord Shiva. It is also of note, that in almost all of his decads, there would be a venomous sarcasm against the Jains and the Buddhists of the time, in the 10th stanza of every decad he sang.

I did not take too many pictures of Sirkazhi. You can get tons of pictures on Google Image search.

IMG_1375

The Brahma Theertham – where Gnana Sambandar got Gnana Paal (Literal translation: Knowledge milk).

Note: As I had said in an earlier paragraph, most of the literature that I read on the web, does indicate to the fact, that it was not the Buddhist religion or Jainism that was the culprit, but a subset of religious fanatics, who misinterpreted a large portion of the religion to their advantage. Or, so, I would like to keep my opinion.

 

Kumbakonam Weekend (April 19-21 2013) – Part 1

I had been looking forward to this trip for a while. The wife and kid typically go to their home town (Kumbakonam) for a few weeks for the summer vacation. We had taken the Mayiladuthurai express. This is a very elusive train – the one train, the Mysore Mayiladuthurai Express that connects the Bangalore to Trichy, Tanjore, Kumbakonam, and Mayavaram (this is how the local refer to Mayiladhuturai). And it does so happen, that there are a large number of techies who are from this area. So there are only two ways of getting into that train:

  1. Book 4 months in advance (and book all the tentative dates that you want a booking) – cancel the unwanted ones later.
  2. Book even a waiting list ticket, and pray to your isht devata (Literal translation: God of your pleasing) that one of the tickets I cancel in step (1) gets allocated to you.

Of course, if you have an isht devata for whom you are his/her favourite devotee, and you enjoy special status of being granted boons by the God, then you can try tatkal as well.

So we headed off to the Majestic Railway station on a warm thursday evening. The train arrived half an hour late (it comes in from Mysore). Having lugged in our luggage into the train, we started off. The train journey was large uneventful.

Morning welcomed us with this:

IMG_1414

Woohoo. The sweet smell of the Tanjore delta. My paternal roots are in this district, and hence I get a big kick whenever I visit this region. For some reason, I get this warm fuzzy unexplainable home feeling. And am I glad, my wife is from Kumbakonam, and I can visit here fairly regularly.

I had an agenda this time though. More recently, I have started reading the Periya Puranam (and also listening to some tapes of lectures on this by Shri RBVS Manian). Needless to say, that I have been captivated by this single piece of Tamil literature. Couple of reasons (actually three) stand out for me liking this scripture so much:

  1. The scripture is in beautiful Tamil. I did not study Tamil in school, and I cannot make out very complicated classical Tamil. But it just sounds so sweet. It really is.
  2. It has proof of a very rich cultural heritage in the Southern parts of Tamil Nadu.
  3. And of course, the main reason has got to be that, most of the tales and historical anecdotes happen in this beautiful Tanjore region.

So, with this new found interest of mine, I had decided to seek out as many temples as I can, that are referenced in Periya Puranam, in this area. These are also called “Paadal Petra Sthalangal”. Literal translation: Places where songs had been sung. Songs sung by the great moovar (the three apostles of Tamil Literature) – Appar, Sundarar, and Gnanasambandhar. Manikkavachagar does not figure in the Periya Puranam Compilation, though he has given us some fantastic works. Sometimes, they are also collectively referred to as the Naalvar (the great four).

Of course, Kumbakonam, being the temple city, I will visit other incidental temples, and document my visits to those as well. One more observation to make is that, being a Smartha (neutral towards Shaivites (Shiva worshippers) and Vaishnavites (Vishnu worshippers), I have a greater variety on my plate to go discover.

This post is the first of many, which will document my visits to several of the temples in this historically significant area. I will try and provide as much data about how to get there, and as much historical/mythological data that I can garner.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – for the temple visits to actually start, where I visit Sirkazhi, Thirukolakka, and Thirukadayur.

Road trip : Bangalore to Kumbakonam and back

Trip details:

  • Distance = 443 km (one-way)
  • Road until Namakkal is awesome (4-6 lane National Highway). I keep referring this to as Vajpayee Road – lest we forget the great man who kicked off the Golden Quadrilateral Highway project.
  • Speed will drop while approaching Salem though. Even though it is a bypass, several roundabouts and a lot of traffic will reduce your speed.
  • After Namakkal, it is 2 lane highway. Road quality is pretty decent though.
  • I was told that the last stretch to Musiri is really bad. So my brother-in-law had asked me to take the Kulithalai bridge just before reaching Musiri. The Kulithalai to Trichy road runs parallel to the Musiri Trichy road – just on the other side of the River Cauvery. The road however is decent.
  • Once inside Trichy, there are two ways to reach Kumbakonam.
  • First way is through Kallanai (Grand Anaicut) -> Thiruvaiyaar -> Kumbakonam.
  • I took this road on my onward journey. This is typical country road. Single lane. The road quality is OK, not spectacular. There are patches of good and bad roads. I am told however to avoid this road during rainy season, since the road quality invariably deteriorates.
  • Second way is through Tanjore -> Kumbakonam.
  • I took this road on the way back. From Trichy, take the road towards Samayapuram. You will see the road leading to Nagappitanam. This is a national highway connecting Nagappatinam->Coimbatore. Extremely good road. This road leads you to Tanjore outskirts. Take the Tanjore bypass toward Papanasam. You will hit Ammapettai, Papanasam, Swamimalai and then Kumbakonam.
  • Tanjore to Kumbakonam is typical of all Tanjore district (tanjavoor jilla roads :)) roads. Single lane. Winding roads with trees and fields on both sides. THe road will pass through every village/town on the road. Crazy bus drivers. Watch out for unmarked speed breakers too.

More Tanjore Pictures

Shot during my trip to Kumbakonam over the weekend. This was a bus trip. Caught these mostly on the way there – early morning Tanjore district pictures as usual.

One of the hundreds of temples that line the sides of the winding roads of Tanjore district.
One of the hundreds of temples that line the sides of the winding roads of Tanjore district.
One of the many tributaries of the Cauvery river, brimming with water - a beautiful sight to see.
One of the many tributaries of the Cauvery river, brimming with water - a beautiful sight to see.
Can there be a green, greener than this ? Almost flouroscent green. No post processing done.
Can there be a green, greener than this ? Almost flouroscent green. No post processing done.

All pictures shot using my Nokia 7210 Super Nova mobile phone.

No post processing done, except for addition of borders.

Thanjavur on the move …

I am a big fan of the Thanjavur delta region (Tanjore for the more anglicized name oriented) – probably because of my ancestral roots from that region. But the lush greenery, the temples, the railway stations, the winding roads, the canals from the cauvery – everything about this region, brings out some very warm emotions inside of me – makes me all fuzzy inside. I am also a big fan of motion blur photographs. So here, for your viewing pleasure is a combination of both — The Thanjavur delta region seen from the window of a train (the Mayiladuthurai express), on my way back from Kumbakonam to Bangalore.

Image0019
Crack of dawn - just crossing Tanjore station (on my trip from B'lore to Kumbakonam)
Image0020
Lush green fields
Image0021
More paddy crops ...
Image0023
Ready for transplanting ...
Image0024
More cultivation ...

Its a pity, I could not get any nice pictures of the Cauvery river. Maybe in my next visit, I will get some.