Thanjavur, Kumbakonam and thereabouts.

A non-pilgrim’s pilgrimage trip!

“Which is your native place?” This is a question I’ve always hated. As a kid, it was a reminder that I had no ooru to visit during the summer hols. As a supposedly grown up person, it is a reminder that the city I call home is a 1000kms away. But more importantly, it has always been a question of not being completely aware of my roots. Precisely the reason why when Thanjavur beckoned me in the name of a family trip, my bags were already packed.

I’d like to believe that I possess traces of Thanjavur in my blood; which is the native for both my parents, it’s an idea I endlessly romanticise. And yet sadly the only memories I have of the place are 1 – losing my golusu as a kid in Konerirajapuram, my maternal native if I can call it that, 2 – the first time I was shown the Kallainai Dam, and
3 – walking down to a small Ramar kovil on the banks of Cauvery river, with the cold water soothing my feet on a hot afternoon. The only 3 vivid scenes.

Cut to Feb 2016 and I found myself standing in front of the house where my dad grew up a kid. The house, I’ve heard only in stories narrated by appa and athais. That very house in its true form, diagonally opposite the Periya Kovil as promised, stood there locked and sullen in the morning light. I pictured my loud and lovable family fill the quietness of the house. It was perfect. Especially the thinnai for a board game-carrom nighter. Is this what is called a sense of belonging? I chided the doctor dad for leaving the town and possibly what could have been his clinic space today.

DSCN1340
Can you spot the vimanam at 60.96m?

The first stop of our trip was without a doubt the Thanjavur Periya Kovil or the much famed Brihadeeshwara Temple. Years ago, back in school, the textbooks taught me that the shadow of the vimanam in this temple does not fall on the ground. The wide-eyed kid, quite bad at physics, could never comprehend this. But seeing the tower in all its grandeur validated the fact for me. The vimanam soars to a height of 60.96 m, and makes you gape endlessly despite the fact that it is impossible for the human eye to take in all the details. We spent a good two hours at the temple, leisurely walking around, with amma, appa and athai being nostalgic about the days when the kovil pragaram served as their very own humongous playground.

 

After a night’s halt in Thanjavur, we headed out to Kumbakonam, with a short halt at Mannargudi en route. Again here I found myself gaping at another towering kovil gopuram, definitely not as majestic as Periya Kovil, but surely more colourful.

 

If Thanjavur was the family native, Kumbakonam was always some relatives’ native. Calling it a temple town is an understatement. The town is essentially made of sandhus, found in between an unfathomable number of temples, where humans have managed to set up shop. This is not the first time I’m visiting Kumbakonam, and definitely not the last. My family is never quite satisfied with the number of temples they’ve visited around here. Not to mention the urge to revisit. But only this time around, I came to know about the kumbham that came southwards of Kailash, post prahlayam, to spill the amirtham that resulted in Lord Shiva’s Kumbeshwaran form at the Adi Kumbeshwarar temple (sheepishly grins for not knowing before :P)

 

The day was spent visiting temples around in and around Kumbakonam – Uppiliappan temple, Sarangapani temple, Adi Varahar temple, Thirunaraiyur, Thirucherai, Swami Malai, Kabisthalam, Mandangudi and Pullamboodhamkudi. Of the few temple stories I’ve heard, here is one I will always remember – At Nachiyar Kovil, Thirunaraiyur, the goddess – Vanjulavalli Thayar stands a step ahead of her husband, Lord Vishnu. In fact, while you view the moolavar sannidhi from outside, you spot the goddess first and only then the Perumal. “Appove Perumal aathukaari ku avalo importance kuduthurkaar, namma society la ippodhan nadakardhu”, the archakar mama points out. The massive Kal Garudar in this temple is also considered to be a powerful deity, so powerful that his weight multiplies as he is carried farther away from the temple, where his powers are not overshadowed
by Perumal. 

Here I must also narrate to you the marakamudiyadha Mandangudi episode. So we were heading to this place by the name Pullamboodhamkudi, another one of the divyadesams. We asked our way around, checked the maps and ended up in a small temple only to realise it was Thirumandangudi. A chatty old archakar welcomed us saying, “Enna andha kovil pordha irundhela, but perumal ungala inga aayashinduvadhutaana?” This archakar was like no other, not only was he friendly and chatty, he sure was a rebel in appa’s words. “Ullaye poi photo click pannalaam, I have no problem. Photo phone la irundha perumala nenakarche paathukalam.” This Mama’s philosophy is quite simple – God is to be worshipped, rules that deter people are useless. He rightly states that all are equal in god’s eyes. “Once, one of the visiting devotees hesitantly asked me if he can step into the sannidhi to worship, I told him he can even hug the perumal and worship. Afterall isn’t that why he was here, to wholeheartedly worship the Lord? Who am I to stop him?” Uncomplicated no? A strong thought that will continue to stay with me. In the wake of all the intolerance, discrimination and politics going around, simple people like these very easily define the essence of religion, god and the philosophy therein.

So that’s how we wrapped up Kumbakonam and were all set to head back to Chennai. But wait! how can we not visit Gangai Konda Chozhapuram? A photoblog soon to follow 🙂

If you’ve stayed through this long blog post, thank you for your patience. And most importantly if you are one of the well-versed in hinduism,vaishnavism,shaivism types, I humbly bow down to your knowledge. Do correct me if you find any factual errors in this post. I am young, ignorant and I’ve written this out of sheer love for culture, heritage and travel 🙂

 

Translations:

Ooru : town, village, golusu : anklet,
appa : father, amma : mother, athai : paternal aunt,
kovil : temple, Periya Kovil : Big temple, gopuram : temple tower
vimanam : tower on top of the sanctum sanctorum, pragaram : corridor,
sandhus : streets, gullies, kumbham : pot, prahlayam : dissolution, amirtham : nectar
moolavar sannidhi : main shrine, archakar : temple priest
Perumal : Almighty, in this context referring to Lord Vishnu
“Appove Perumal aathukaari ku avalo importance kuduthurkaar, namma society la ippodhan nadakardhu” :  God himself has given so much importance to the wife in the ancient period. In our society, the change is happening only now.
marakamudiyadha : unforgettable
“Enna andha kovil pordha irundhela, but perumal ungala inga aayashinduvadhutaana?” : Were you all planning to head to the other temple, but almighty has brought you here instead?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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