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Travelogue:Srirangam and Malai Kottai temples

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[Photography was not allowed in many parts of Srirangam Temple and the Thayumunaswamy temple in the MalaiKottai complex,Trichy]

Part-1 can be read here

I was not done with praising the Cholas. The Big Temple hangover lingered somewhere inside my head. After sleeping over the Shaivite era, I headed to Srirangam, the temple town situated about 7km from Trichy. Enough of Shaivite thoughts,over to Vaishnavites.
I knew I was moving towards the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, spanning over 156 acres;yes! you read those digits right.
I stood in front of the first Gopura.A sense of deja vu; that sight took me to Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Trivandrum.
I was slowly being ushered in by huge wooden gates not just in to a temple, but to a different era, a different civilization. A civilization where everything revolves around one person,  the Lord Sri Ranganathaswamy himself.

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam

When inside the temple, it takes time to hit you that you are inside one and you are there to pray. You are inside a complex with a multitude of granite structures and enough space for a town to assemble in. You get a feel of what innumerable is when you attempt counting the myriad of gods and goddesses inside the complex.

7 rectangular enclosures/Prakarams(courtyards),the towering Gopurams for each of these Prakarams,those streets with shops and houses,many Mandapams and many many gods. That’s Srirangam Temple for you. Slowly the fact sunk in ; it is not easy for me to cover every nook and corner in a day. I walked inside the complex with my eyes popping out in surprise, mouth agape in astonishment, mind traveling to another era, body trudging from one structure to another.

The temple looked ancient and majestic. The finest examples of South Indian stone sculptures could be seen in the 1000 pillar Mandapam,the Shesharaya Mandapam and the Thirumamani Mandapam. It was here that I saw war/hunting scenes sculpted on pillars with the King,elephants,tiger warriors along. I did notice some Chinese figures in some of the scenes; not sure if they were enemies or they worked for any of the kings’ armies.
The giant enclosure housing the Garuda(inside the 4th parakram) was one of the many structures that would leave your eyes riveted on.

One should appreciate the effort that has gone in maintaining these structures. The scars of time make them look old; they are mute spectators: of the vagaries of nature, of a tumultuous past, of conquerors and wars. This structure witnessed the vicissitudes of time and enjoyed the munificence of the Pallavas,Cholas,Pandyas,Nayaks,Vijayanagara,Hoysala and Marathas. That makes these buildings easily over 1100 years old,at least.

Can you spot the Chinese?

Ruins of a wall-Srirangam Temple

Every pillar,every stone, every sculpture effused so much energy. So much that they had a tale to narrate, not that I could understand what they spoke. After about two hours of waiting in a queue that meandered, I had my 4 seconds of darshan. Unlike the 3 door-ed Ananthashayanam at Trivandrum, here a single door was all that was needed to have a glimpse of the lord, in entirety.

I did not like the fact that some parts of the complex were painted; equally loathed the idea of having a white gopuram, that looks white washed. Why would someone clad a beautiful gopuram with white paint?
I could find parts of the temple wall in ruins in one of the corners. Some parts were repaired many more times than I could imagine. I should not be complaining. When it was built, no one would have thought about a structure to stay for eternity.

I am not writing much about the architecture, since there is way too much to cover.Though the earliest inscriptions talk of Parantaka Chola’s grant to buy camphor for the temple,the antiquity could be much dated; to the Pallavas, and much much beyond that.

The Namam symbol was left indelible in my mind for many days. Happens, if you see hundreds of them in a few hours’ span. :)

Did I say I had heavenly curd rice inside the temple complex? Don’t miss that counter. :)

Our next stop was the Uchi Pillayar(Ganesha) temple or the Rock Fort(Malai Kottai), Trichy. An inconspicuous entrance from a busy street takes you through a lane buzzing with street vendors to ManickaVinayagar temple. From here begins the climb up; 420 steps. After a few minutes of brisk climbing, we reached a landing. On the left was the Thayumanaswamy temple and on the right the way to the Uchi Pillayar temple.

Thayumunaswamy temple is inside a hillock, 83 m high and 3800 Million years old. What? That makes it older than Himalayas! (Oh, ya Himalayas are relatively new. Tethys Ocean , remember school geography?). The dark alleys of the Thayumunaswamy temple refreshes you and gives an out of the world experience. The inscriptions here seemed to be written in a strange convoluted melange of the South Indian languages. The oldest of these inscriptions date back to 3rd C BC; some of them are from the relatively recent 7th C AD Pallava era. The minimal lighting brings in a surreal feeling but does not much help in enjoying the impressive painting of Parvathy on the ceiling. The massive Linga and the wondrous rock architecture is enough to leave you awestruck.

Malai Kottai-Rock Fort Temple

Uchai Pillayar-Rock Fort Temple

Inscriptions at Kudaivarai Koil, Rock Fort (Malai Kottai)

Climbing towards the Uchai Pillayar temple, a nondescript Mandapa like structure on your left, the Kudaivarai Koil has Siva,Parvathi and river Kaveri personified. For a moment I wished I could decipher the inscriptions from the Pallava era (9th C AD). Further up, a panoramic view of Trichy beckons you. The gushing wind caressing your face, swaying your hair. The town lighting up to welcome the twilight. The beautiful Kaveri flowing with her full might. A few steps uphill from here is the Uchai Pillayar temple.

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1 AmruthaNo Gravatar { 11.15.09 at 8:23 pm }

Chinese in the Srirangam temple?? I tried looking at the photo from every possible angle…but couldn’t find a single Chinese face or character…
But anyway…fantastic post with even better pics…part one was much better though…
And yes…agreed abt the namam bit…it does tend to get a bit much!

2 Saurabh NaikNo Gravatar { 11.16.09 at 11:42 am }

Brilliant post!been to srirangam, couldnt have added anything else to your exhaustive coverage. Thanks for the info on Malai Kottai

3 NirmalaNo Gravatar { 11.16.09 at 11:46 am }

Nice writeup Nikhil! :) Your writing is so vivid and expressive that it makes the reader take the journey with you! Keep going!

And here’s why Thayumanaswamy got his name

4 BharatNo Gravatar { 11.16.09 at 12:16 pm }

Good one bro!

5 SwapnaNo Gravatar { 11.16.09 at 3:42 pm }

Loved the post and the narrative. It felt as though I had personally seen every pillar,every stone, every sculpture. The pics were beautiful too.

I too don’t like white painted gopurams. It spoils the visual impact and feel, completely. It’s a valid point that you’ve raised. It felt sad to see some temple ruins. I wish something can be done to restore it.

6 SwapnaNo Gravatar { 11.16.09 at 3:46 pm }

Great post, loved the commentary and the pics. Felt so sad to read about old ruins and wish they could be restored. It felt as if I was journeying too as you gave such a detailed narrative. I am curious about the Chinese characters that you’ve mentioned. Wondering who could have contributed those so long ago? Temple history, because we have documented so little, is a big mystery.

7 TheAnandNo Gravatar { 11.16.09 at 9:04 pm }

I was there last week and I saw a lot of inscriptions in the walls in tamil. Dad was not able to read a single word on the walls….but when we were walking on the outsides of the temple (picture 2 here), we decided that the temple was recently renovated seeing cement between those blocks, and people misplaced the stones making it nonsensical tamil!

I think this 156 acres includes the starting from the first gopuram which has houses and all tht, right?

Plus, i think the reason it is well maintained is tht special darshan fees which give good revenue for the temples and it is something that the communists in Kerala stopped it from coming here :)

8 AbhiNo Gravatar { 11.18.09 at 12:46 am }

Awesome write-up anna. You’ve really described the structures in very very nice way and I just feel like I’ve been there. Perfect Travelogue :)

9 CSNo Gravatar { 11.19.09 at 2:57 pm }

It’s good to see pictures of malakottai .Looks like you are in my part of the world which I ‘d left many many years back to follow my husband’s amrikan dream : ).
Have very special attachment to that temple. I used to visit my fav god malakota pillaiyar often I can while studying and living in trichy. always look forward to go my fav place when I travel to trichy on holidays.
I was not able to climb the the top thanks to a 9 month son who bears your name :). They offer banana fruit as “thulabaram” to thayumanavar after the birth of male child .


10 | Balu |No Gravatar { 12.01.09 at 7:14 pm }

Been there done that. The rock fort temple took me by surprise, it looked pretty easy when I looked from the parking lot, but once we started he ascend, it felt like it went forever. We reached the top just close to sunset, so the view was {put any adjective of fantabulous here}.
I’m surprised they haven’t renovated the walls of the Srirangam fort.. I mean the towers. They looked like they might collapse any second! =p

11 uberVU - social comments { 12.02.09 at 9:12 am }

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This post was mentioned on Twitter by nikhilnarayanan: From my blog: Srirangam Temple and Rock Fort Temple #travel #history…

12 Indian History Carnival – 24 | DesiPundit { 12.15.09 at 9:07 pm }

[…] visited the old Chola capital and has a two part travelogue (1,2). Inside a walled fortress, this temple will take your breath away. I stood in awe, astonishment […]

13 ShriramNo Gravatar { 01.21.10 at 10:48 am }

Nice one. and I am from Tiruchy as well :)

14 ramyaNo Gravatar { 04.19.10 at 2:44 pm }

pretty pictures

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