Monday, August 6, 2012

Eclectic charm of Ancient India…

It was one of those days when you go home for a holiday, and your parents decide to surprise you with the dreaded ‘wonderful temple trip’. Alas, being the youngest in a rather large family (fifteen is a rather large number don’t you say) you don’t have much of a say really. So as the only one on vacation I had to tag along. After all the last minute dropouts, nine of us head out in a car (rather large one of course!).
Coimbatore to Tiruchy was uneventful, largely because most of us slept throughout the wee hours of the morning (that’s my dad’s thing; start traveling before the world wakes up!). After spending the day with my wild cat of a nephew, we head off to Thiruvarur a town in the Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. As ones who enjoyed a long ride we took the winding route. The route from Tiruchy took us across some of the oldest roads, that weren’t too different from the equally dilapidated new ones.  Tiruvarur was one amongst the oldest cultural centers of the ancient Chola kingdom. It is world renowned for its chariot festival. It is also famed for being the birthplace of saints Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Deekshadar and Sama Shastri, often referred to as the trinity of Carnatic music.
We reached a friend’s house late at night. Tired from the arborous journey, we crashed almost immediately. The next morning I woke up surprisingly early. As I got outside the house for a walk, I was stunned. In front of me rose a wall about twice my height, and atop this was a gopuram; it was built on a square base. It easily dwarfed the wall near it (and of course me next to it!). Every inch of it was covered with figurines. The exquisite artistry of the gopuram is something I cannot do justice through words. Entering the temple through the doors, it seemed almost like going back in history; I could almost imagine sitting on a palanquin atop the royal elephant with guards and the trumpets and all other royal paraphernalia. And mind you this was just the doorway. The wooden doors... (I've now officially lost my sense of measurement!). Swallowing hard I brushed aside my daydreams and entered.

What hits you first when you enter the temple, through the doorway fit for the gods was the sheer vastness of the temple. As I stood transfixed, an old man informed me that this temple was one amongst the largest in India. The actual origins of the temple are unknown. Mentions of its existence have been sighted in manuscripts dating back as earlier as 30th century BC. 

The Chola kings renovated the temple and built a few extra shrines inside the temple. The temple boasts intricate Chola style carvings atop an entirely different style of architecture. Amongst the smaller shrines, I was amazed to find entirely different styles, while one of the shrines was rectangular and dome shaped, with a plain top, the other had an exquisite gopuram reminiscent of the Cholas. Some of them looked visibly older than the others.
As I bugged the old man to give me a tour of the temple, he agreed. On one of the walls, I found a rather strange symbol, it was like the vernacular Tamil script but I was not able to read it. He explained to me that the script was ‘grandam’ an ancient Tamil script prevalent during the Chola period. 

As we went deeper into the temple, the attention to detail struck me speechless (and mind you I always have something to say!). The temple did not entirely seem ‘Chola’, as they renovated it but they did not completely alter the initial look of feel of this ancient marvel it. There was something magical about the beauty of it all that leaves you transfixed. I mean I am agnostic, yet I never could manage walking past a mast or a pillar or just a stone, without having to tear my gaze away from it and dragging my foot past it. As the sun rose higher more people started coming by. What surprised me is the alarming speed with which they went by to the sanctum and out they were walking like griddles horses oblivious to the sheer magnificence that surrounded them.  They’d peep in and out they went as though checking if the deity was still there. Thoroughly amazed I finally brought myself to enter the main temple (yes! I was touring the corridors so long).  I was no longer allowed to use my camera. The presiding deity is Thyagaraja.  Before being mesmerized, what made me furious was the sheer disregard for such craftsmanship. Here was a relic a piece of history like a tear on the fabric of time, that withstood all the ravages of time, a silent spectators to raise and fall of civilizations. And yet there is none so low as to sweep it clean. The floor is littered with plastic covers, packets of oil, all kinds of remnants from the daily rituals from dried up flowers clogging the ancient drainage, to oil and dirt dripping across the pillars.  When finally the surge of annoyance began to subside, I caught sight of a set of murals on the ceiling, showing the royal family paying their respects to the presiding deity. The life-like rendering captivated me completely. If the beauty of the temple did not make me forget myself, this certainly did. My group caught up with me finally and snatched me away from my epiphany. As we began exploring the wonders of that rustic marvel, we chanced across another mural that only managed to survive partially the greedy hands of the ignorant population. It was a perspective drawing of the entire town, ‘theru veedhi’ it was called. It was a representation of the four streets that was the main town back then. Half of the mural was obscured by a sprawl on a layer of plaster covering the original painting (Sadly, I could not get a picture).
The beauty of the temple was so enthralling that I could go on for pages and not have described half of what I wanted to. So I shall post another blog about the remainder of our journey where we walked down the kingdom of the Cholas.

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