This should have been posted about 6 months ago. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. One of the major reasons of that is facebook. I had already put some of the pics from the trip there, hence never got through to actually penning down the details in a blog. Damn you FACEBOOK.
Anyway, here i am – now. Putting my thoughts together of a wonderful trail in Tamil Nadu, and showcasing some of the most beautiful temples of the state. Fortunately, the travel happened in November last year, hence weather did not play spoilsport at all during the period.
I stayed in Chennai for 3 years, but never saw anything apart from Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry. And a state famed for its temples could not be completed without visiting some of them. As one of my mentors used to say, “the route to heaven is through Tamil Nadu”. Need i say more. 🙂
An interesting mix of people decided to do this journey. The only commonality was that we were all working in the same company in November 2014. And what is even more interesting is none of us are in the same company anymore. Another common string was that we were all in Chennai then. Now, we all are in different cities across the globe (Rio, Guangzhou, Chennai, Delhi).
This journey covered 900kms, across 3 days, touching 4 cities, and visiting about 8 temples and a church. So much for religion diversity. We started off on a cool and sunny November morning at 5am. Our first stop was to be Tiruvannamalai, which has a temple dedicated to Lord Siva. On the way, we passed the ruins of Gingee Fort which was constructed by Kon dynasty and passed hands to multiple dynasties before coming under French and British rule.
Fellow travellers in front of Gingee Fort ruins
We reached our first stop – Arulmigu Arunachaleswarar Temple. As i mentioned, its dedicated to Lord Siva and is one of the temples in Panch Bhootha Sthala, and is dedicated to the Fire element. It is one of the largest temple complexes in the country, and is a revered site for Hindu followers of Lord Siva. I claim to be a Siva follower (sort of), and i had not even heard of this temple till i visited it. It has beautiful architecture with the tallest gopuram reaching up to 66m in height.
Arunachaleswarar Temple – Fire reaching out to the sky
We tried breakfast in the city. Considering all of us love food at Murugan Idli and Saravana Bhavan in Chennai, we assumed this would be right up our alley. Clearly and utterly disappointed. Would not comment much on the food, but would just suggest you to avoid some of the traditional south Indian breakfast places around the temple.
Next stop was Trichy. One of the oldest cities in South India, and capital of the mighty Chola dynasty, the city has a lot to offer in terms of places with cultural and religious context. However, our plan was to only spend the night, we had to be quick on finding the places to keep in our itinerary. We started off with the Sri Ranganathaswamy Templed in Srirangam. It is a Vishnu temple and counted among the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Vishnu. The temple has about 21 gopurams and is supposed to be the biggest functioning temple in the world (Angkor Vat is not considered a functioning temple). The deity in the temple is a reclining one facing southwards towards Lanka. Although we reached around lunch, there was a long queue to get in the sanctum sanctorum. Another interesting fact to note was that non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple. From religious equality point of view, this doesn’t seem right. Moreover, that could also be one of the reasons why Hinduism is practised in a very few countries across the world whereas Christianity is much more open, thus widespread.
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple – in front of Doorway to Heaven
We checked-in in our hotel at about 4pm and headed for lunch at the hotel’s terrace restaurant cum bar. I have to admit, i did not expect such hospitality in Trichy. The hotel was neat, clean, hospitable, with nice staff helping us in our choice of food. Brilliant. Such little things create WOW after a long day. We enjoyed our supper against the setting sun.
When we thought we could retire early, JC came up with the idea of visiting another temple in Trichy – Thiruvanaikal Kovil. It represents Water as one of the Mahabhutha elements. Another one of Siva temples, this one. Since we reached late evening, it was quiet and a very few people in the temple. At the entrance, there is a small pond which was lit up with thousands of candles, and looked very very pretty. I also realised that Siva temples are a little more forgiving than Vishnu temples. Although there was a board on this temple as well stating entry rules for non-Hindus, but it was not being strictly followed and our friends could enter the sanctum sanctorum easily.
Siva in the form of Water at Thiruvanaikaval
Finally, we were done for the day, with a nice candle-lit dinner in our beloved hotel with a glass of beer. Cheers!
Day 2 – started early again. Reason being, we needed to travel to our next destination Tanjore after visiting Ucchipillayar Temple in the heart of the city. This is a Ganesha temple on top of a hill from where there is a bird’s eye view of the city of Trichy. It has an interesting folklore attached to it, which i have obviously forgotten. These are the times, when Wikipedia comes to one’s rescue. Hence i won’t narrate the story here. Getting down from the hill, there is another temple on the steps which looked pretty as well. Walking further, we entered Lourdes Church, which is on the main Trichy road. Beautiful church, which is over 150 years old. Looks similar to some of the churches we saw in Germany. (that could be my limited architectural knowledge speaking). And JC again comes up with yet another temple in the city to be visited. This one is dedicated to Parvati, One of the very few temples which does not have a roof directly over the deity. As per the history of the temple, every time a roof was put on top, it came crashing down or got burnt by the power of the Goddess. The temple also had a wishing tree of sorts. You could buy paper and put down your wish on that paper, and tie it to one of the many flagstaffs in the premises. Morning time happened to be a good time to visit the temple, with less crowds and beautiful darshan.
Temple at a distance. Not a very pretty sight.
In front of Vekkaliamman Temple. Notice the sun shining on the deity (if you can).
Finishing up Trichy, we started towards Tanjore (or Thanjavur). I was eagerly looking forward to this town as I had read, heard a lot about the place in our books, as well as the place is known for its famed Tanjore paintings. What I did not know, till the time i started researching the itinerary was THE BRIHADEESHWARAR TEMPLE. I had read somewhere that this temple needs to be visited twice – sunrise and sunset, to get truly mesmerised by the beauty and grandeur of this 1000 years old Chola temple. And boy, we certainly were enamoured by the temple. It happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, popularly known as Big Temple.We reached just before the sun was setting, so got a chance to see the temple in all its glory in pristine sun. The complex is HUGE, and the temple is intimidating. It happens to be yet another Siva temple in our trail. There is a giant Nandi statue as well, in front of the main temple. We did not visit the sanctum sanctorum in the evening as were totally captivated by its beauty from the outside itself. Moreover, we had plans to be there again at sunrise, so it would have been even better to visit then. We left the temple premises after clicking a zillion pics on our phones, point-and-shoot cameras and the DSLR. Amazing memories!
Captivating, Enamouring, Grand
Day 2 ended in a not-so-decent hotel, which served sad food (both at dinner and then at breakfast).
Day 3 starts beautifully with visiting the deity of the Big Temple, and we were fortunate enough to spend a good minute in front of Lord Siva. (money talks, even in temples). Our day had had a perfect start. A lot of black-robed men were to be seen in the temple, and they seemed to have particular liking towards the Chinese and Brazilian with us. None of them had any problem with the attention being showered by the men who are supposed to show restraints during the sacred month (totally forgotten what it is called).
Last destination of the trail was to be Chidambaram, to visit Natarajar Temple. Yes, it goes without saying that it is another Siva temple. This temple represents Sky of the 5 elements. It is not as grand as the ones visited earlier, nor kept as clean as the others. I wonder why! We just about managed to reach the temple before its closing time during lunch hours. The good part was that we could attend the noon arti, right inside the sanctum sanctorum. Took time, but was truly well worth it.
Under renovation. Sad state of affairs.
That ended the temple trail, and we reached Pondicherry for a fantastic lunch at one of the famous French cafes near the beach (forgotten the name already).
If there is a chance to visit 1 temple in India, and not for blessings, but for the architectural marvel and the grandeur, it has to be The Brihadeeshwarar Temple in Tanjore. Take my word for it. I might not have seen all the temples in India, but whatever I have seen, it truly provides bang for your buck (as they say in capitalist economy). And why i say it might not be the one for the blessings is because there are many others vying for that top spot. Hoping to visit it again with family.
Until next time. Travels and trails of another city, another state, another country. Signing off!