For the last two years, every night when I read a story to my 6 year old son , I would try and describe the visual beauty of the Chera, Chola and Pallava reign in Tamil Nadu. A child friendly homemade oral version of Ponniyan selviyan, Narasimha Pallavar and the realization of a great dream - Parthiban Kannavu was simply not enough to kindle the visual imagery in the mind of a child reared on picnic drives along OMR, ECR and resort hotels parading as remnants of the great heritage .
So this December , we planned a trip to the great temples of the Chola reign across Tiruchirapalli and Tanjore. Covering the prominent ones just to get a glimpse of the wonders that were created more than 1000 years ago.
My son was excited about getting on to the train.(That he is an ardent train lover would only be an understatement). I was excited about getting back with my spouse and child to an enjoyable phase of my student days - Trichy. And so we left for Trichy by Rockfort express one Thursday night.
Covering the temple towns of SriRangam, Thiruvanaikaval, Samayapuram, Tanjore, Trichy, and the musical abode of Thiruvaiyar in 3 days was indeed a farfetched cry from resort bound vacations that we were used to.
The mysticism of Indian mythology lies in the magical blend of mysticism with reality. Huge temple complexes surrounded by fort towns resplendent in their timeless grandeur exist as testimonials to tales of mythology. The feeling of could it have all really happened ? Did Andal actually marry Sri Ranganathar in this temple leaves you wanting for more out of these pilgrimage spots.
Crowds - both tourists, historians with scientific temper and devotees immersed in devotion throng the thresholds of the temple leaving the administration at sea and us with some bitter sweet moments. However the darshan of the presiding deity wipes out all the tirades you may have stood up to in seconds. Call it positive energy within the sanctum, power of the unknown, achieving what you set out to accomplish or simply bhakthi - the feeling of completeness is felt by one and all exiting the premises.
Thiruvanaikkaval, Brihadeeshwara, Trichy Rockfort temple complex, Tanjore palace stand witness to tales of shaivism sweeping the region during the Cholas reign. Mammoth gopurams standing 20-30 ft tall, perfectly symmetrical, not casting a shadow ,covered with intricate carvings of gods ,nature and common man make us ponder on so many realities that time throws at us.
Equipped with knowledge more than "modern day gadgets" the sculptors and architects breathed life into every piece of chiseled rock. I could not help but wonder while we snapped and whatsapped images , these pieces of art brimming with life from lifeless stones have stood the test of time , invasions , cultural transformations, juvenile graffiti and much more.
History says that the civilization brought artisans from South east Asia and across the country of India together which is reflected in the styles adopted and blended in perfect harmony. Marathas , took over the Chola dynasty and developed a unique identity through Saurashtrainism which thrives till date. The thread of the linkage to other cultures is evident in a number of tourists of South east Asian origin and Maharashtra visiting these parts as a part of their ancestral linkage.
The highlight of the trip was the stopover at Thiruvaiyaru - literally translated means confluence of 5 rivers. Half expecting the great saint Thiagaraja's samadhi to be closed for darshan, we were pleasantly greeted by the serene almost empty temple on the banks of the river Cauvery. This is the place where the great saint went into Samadhi. The idol of Lord Rama, who he worshipped with a showering of krithis is kept in an abode vibrating with his melodies. The annual festival that draws throngs of worshippers of music converge here in January. For now, the place had a small team of boys playing their game of cricket outside a stone structure that has given the world a religion sans caste, creed -music. Looking at the idol of Rama,I could almost hear the great saint call out to him -" Nagumomu Ganale... "
The taste of Tanjore is incomplete without a mention about the cuisine. Full three course meals laden with traditional sweets, varieties of chutneys and pickles, the hallmark of a tanjorian, was served to perfection on plaintain leaves.
Boarding the train that night , my son could now name temple silhouettes etched in the darkness of the night by their gopurams. He has his favorites now in Brihadeeshwara followed by Thiruvanaikkaval and Srirangam .As I completed the story of Raja raja chozhan 's dream run of conquests , his eyes visualized the kings of yester years across the streets of Tanjore.
Yes, there is always the issue of improving restoration , preservation and promotion of these magnificent structures. The people could be more enlightened and civic while visiting. Littering,etching their names on walls of historical significance, jostling, fighting, bribing - well we could behave better in the name of a civilized society. The administration could do with a bit more concern for preserving than merely earning. The hygiene - Oh yes could be a lot better. But the fact that history continues to silently shine through these dark spots calling out to us to relive the times blurs the line between mythology, fiction, history and time.
To more such travels in India is what we look forward to.