Sipping some tak at Pratapgad with Shivaji Maharaj

FeaturedSipping some tak at Pratapgad with Shivaji Maharaj

The movie for the day was ‘The Great Wall’, a Chinese film starring Matt Damon with the script revolving around a fantasy-war fought by the Chinese army stationed atop the Great Wall against a horde of mythical creatures. The warriors fight valiantly using the brilliant blue crane corps and black powder to their advantage, but the wall itself has several secrets inbuilt to defend the land of the red dragon. Battles and ancient architecture – a much-needed trigger to make me sit down and pen this long-pending piece.

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The Royal Entrance

Cut from the Great Wall to India. Pratapgad, Maharashtra to be precise. The first trip for the year saw us heading to Mahabaleshwar with a couple of friends for some good weather and fresh strawberries. Of the routine sight-seeing spots, Pratapgad was the only one that held our interest. And so there we headed.

When I first shifted to Pune, all the frenzy around Shivaji Maharaj was very amusing for me. The city comes alive on Shivaji Jayanthi with the saffron flags and Jai Bhawani Jai Shivaji chants and some youngsters even march up the famous killas of Shivaji to hoist the flags. But none of this really enthralled me, until I found myself climbing up the Pratapgad with Sandeep, a descendant of the Shivaji army who doubled up as our guide. Generations have gone by, but the pride and loyalty remain. Generations of the army family continue to live inside the fort, carrying out the many rituals, “The doors are closed at six, and our day comes to an end, we don’t step out after that,” says Sandeep. The fort is a private property, maintained by the heir of the erstwhile Satara princely state.- Udayanraje Bhosale, an MP. One hell of an ancestral property to inherit no?!

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Oil Chutes

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Cannon posts opposite the  entrance

 

History textbooks have taught us that Shivaji Maharaj was known for his use of guerrilla warfare to one up the Mughals. This visit to Prathapgad truly brought alive those chapters. The fort is a standing testimony, illustrating some of Shivaji’s tricks. The structure is built in two parts, the lower fort, and the upper fort. The lower fort walls are lined with bastions with a narrow hidden entryway, making it difficult for big armies to navigate through. The main entrance itself is surrounded by hidden posts to shelter soldiers and cannons, ready to raise hell.  The fort walls beyond the main entrance are lined with chutes carved to spill hot oil on the attackers.

 

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Restrooms with a view!

The hilly terrain has been used as an advantage to store the flowing waters in tanks for during long battles. The architects even had the presence of mind to build restrooms, humble stone structures, for the soldiers.  Once an army enters the fort, there is no alternate route for retreat, as there is only one entrance. The upper fort is at a higher altitude giving enough time for the army to shield the fort from the attackers, and the only exit at the summit is more of an escape route than an exit, allowing soldiers to escape back to the base to lock the attackers inside the fort.

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A water storage pond/tank midway through the fort.
This is just one of the many.

 

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The escape route entry on top, now restricted, and rectangular escape route that
opens into the hills below

The most famous battle of Prathapgad was fought between Shivaji Maharaj and Afzal Khan, the braveheart commander of the Adilshah dynasty. The story goes that Afzal Khan was desperate to bring Shivaji down from the mountains to the plains to gain an advantage. But Shivaji used his cunning & strategy and sent word through an emissary to inform Khan of his reluctance for a battle and an agreement for a peace meeting with the commander unarmed, barring personal guards. Afzal Khan knew this was an opportunity to outwit the Maratha warrior, and arrived at the base of Prathapgad with his guards and a dagger. The commander least expected Shivaji to be armoured and carrying a sword. A battle ensued among the guards and ended with Shivaji Maharaj beheading Afzal Khan. A little away from the fort, looms the tomb of Afzal Khan, but the structure after several mishaps has been closed down for public entry.

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Afzhal Khan’s tomb

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The Statue of Shivaji Maharaj

Exploring the fort takes about half a day, including a visit to the Bhavani mandir built by Shivaji in response to a dream and the majestic statue of Shivaji Maharaj on a horse. The handicraft emporium is quaint and also has information booklets on the fort and its history. Along the length of the fort, several refreshment stalls are lined up serving cool tak, soul kadhi, kokam juice and nimbu pani, in pretty terracotta lotas. We even managed to purchase a few to carry back home as a solace for the scorching summer days ahead and as a keepsake from this well-spent afternoon.

What was… what is… Gangaikonda Chozhapuram

Women, beautiful and silk-clad. Children, curious and chattering. Men, proud and vociferous. The entire town, alive and excited, awaits the arrival of the mighty King. Perhaps it was Mahashivarathiri. The puja would soon begin. Hundreds of litres of milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar, all set to drench Lord Shiva in his linga form. Devotion meets celebration. Fervour meets festivity. All this, suddenly interrupted by trumpets and drums, loud and thunderous. Enter Rajendra Chozhan, the Mummudi Chozhan, with his crown that could overshadow a thousand suns. The crowd erupts into a cheer, loud enough to douse the sounds of the instruments. They shower their love for him in the form of flowers. A rain of petals colours the scene.  If this wasn’t prosperity what could be? Ivan Gangaiyaikondan, thammakkalin anbaiyum kondan. (He won over the ganges, he  also won over the love of his people.)

Such are the scenes evoked by Gangaikonda Chozhapuram as you walk into the gates of what remains today of King Rajendra Chozhan’s capital city. What follows is a time-warping experience you can’t help but surrender to.

 

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The massive Nandi at the entrance, facing the towering vimanam
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The face of the Nandi, carved with simham, bells and leaves.

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Coronation of Rajendra Chozha by Shiva & Parvathi

 

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Simhakeni or the Lion Well

 

My visit to Gangaikonda Chozhapuram was preceded by a trip to Thanjavur and Kumbakonam. Read the travelogue here.

 

 

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.

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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?