Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Travelogue:Srirangam and Malai Kottai temples

Guess you are new here!Why don't you subscribe to this blog?Free for a limited period!RSS feed. (Ya,Right!!!) I tweet too Twitter

[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.

Srirangam_Temple
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.

Add to Del.cio.us RSS Feed Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble It! Digg It!
    www.sajithmr.com

Google Buzz

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

November 15, 2009   14 Comments

Kerala Trip Roundup

My recent trip to Kerala was a site-seeing marathon.I visited forts,temples,beaches,backwaters and caves.I had read through a lot of websites and a few books to know the importance of these places before I visited.

DTPC Kannur and Kasargode sites gave some basic information to decide the places to visit.More in depth information was sourced from various publications by Kerala Tourism.So, over to the trip.

Rajarajeswara Temple,Taliparamba

This temple is situated at about 25km North of Kannur on the National Highway 17.Like many ancient temples,this temple also has a set of customs and rituals that make it unique(Including the absence of kodimaram/flagstaff and entry for women only after 8pm).Though I was told that the temple was built thousands of years(kodanukodi) back,I decided to tie some loose ends of history.

During the times of Raja Raja Chola-I (reign 985 – 1014 CE.)and his son Rajendra Chola-I(reign 1012 C.E. – 1044 C.E.), the Chola empire consisted of the whole of South India, Ceylon, Malaysia and beyond. The Chola-Chera war went on for a hundred years and the Cheras accepted the hegemony of the Cholas after their defeat. Later, the Chera kingdom split up into pieces and marked the end of rule of Kulasekhara(Chera)(Kerala) as a single entity.(A Survey of Kerala History,A Sreedhara Menon,page 117)

At a time(10th and 11th centuries) when Jainism’s strength was on the decline, a massive Shiva temple built by a powerful Chola ruler would have added to the fall of Jainism. Like they say, the religion of the king is the religion of his subjects. The Chola period saw the revival of Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions in areas under them.Temples of Kannur(S Jayashankar) says that the temple was renovated by Rajendra Chola-I. It is quite possible that an existing Jain temple was converted and rebuilt as a Shiva temple by the Cholas during their conquest of Chera kingdom.It was very common during those times to convert Jain and Buddhist temples into Hindu temples.

Just as kings and emperors are seen only by offering a kazhcha(gift),the Lord here can be “seen” only after placing neyamrith(ghee) on the sopanam(steps leading to the sanctum). It is said that the Lord of Taliparamba is the King of Kings. This status may be connected to the power associated with Rajaraja Chola-I and the influence he had as a ruler. Incidentally, the name of the temple is closely related the king’s name.

The Namaskara Mandapa is out of bounds even for Brahmins. The story connected to this says that, Rama on his way back from Lanka prayed here and his chest touched the floor. A Kshatriya’s chest touching the floor made the Namaskara mandapa impure for Brahmins.The real reason, I believe, may be different. The area where this temple stays could have been a Jain temple and Rajendra Chola-I could have either demolished and rebuilt or converted it into a Shiva temple. In many instances where a Jain temple is converted to a Hindu temple, Brahmins stay away from the temple for centuries.( A Survey of Kerala History,Sreedhara Menon,page 84, similar to Matilakam)The Namaskara Mandapa may have been an important part of the earlier Jain temple and so it still remains out of bounds for Brahmins.

Madayi Kavu Temple

Maravel or Madayi (off the NH17 near Payangadi in Kannur district, 25 km from Kannur)as it is known today was once a prosperous center of trade and fishing. Sreedhara Menon makes a cursory mention of the Jew Tank in Madayi.(A Survey of Kerala History,page 95). This mention reinforces the trade relations that Madayi had with the west. Duarte Barbosa’s works have also mentioned the Jewish trade connection of Madayi.I somehow missed to add the Jew Tank to my itinerary.

The Madayi Kaavu temple (Sree Thiruvarkadu Shiva Bhadrakali Temple) is the abode of the deity of the Kolathiri rulers. I have not been able to find any reference to the find the exact age of this temple. S Jayasankar in Temples of Kannur writes that the idol is made of Kadusarkkarayogam and no abhishekam is done on it. For archanas, a panchaloha idol is used. The deity was originally installed by Parasurama at Rajarajeswara temple of Taliparamba and later moved to this temple. Toddy and meat are offered at athazhapuja. The temple has strong connections with the Travancore Royal family and traces the link to AD 1305 when two daughters (later Attingal Ranis) from the Kolathunad(Kolathiri dynasty) were adopted to create Attingal Swaroopam.

I have heard a story of travelers who came via the sea who installed the deity here; they installed the idol looking westwards to protect them (their route). I wonder if this has to do with the spread of mother goddess cult. One of the office bearers of the temple told me that it would take a lot of time to explain; may be next time.

The tourist brochures spoke about the ruins of a fort built by Tippu Sultan in Madayi. This was a total disappointment with nothing but the ruins of the boundary wall and a few stones remaining. In case you would want to have a look at the remains of this fort, it is situated near the college and next to a KSEB property. There is a deep dried up well and a couple of tombs(?) inside the fort. The only solace was the view of the town and the river from the fort, fascinating it was.

From Madayi, we set ahead Southwards to Tellicherry(Thalaserry).

Tellicherry Fort:
This fort is an imposing structure built by the British in 1708.The square structure built of laterite has massive walls and strong flanking bastions that overlook the sea.The fort is well maintained by the ASI.An old British Cannon is on display close to the entrance.
This fort was used by Lord Wellesley against the Pazhassi Raja’s rebellion.Behind this fort,next to the sea, lies the St John’s church,built in 1869 with funds from Edward Brennen, the master attendant who established the Brennen College at Tellicherry.Brennen’s tomb is located in the church premises.

Telicherry Fort Entrance

Tellicherry Fort's Entrance

After our visit to the fort,we headed in search of the Gudert Bunglow in Illikkunnu close by; the bunglow where the German missionary and lexicographer Herman Gundert lived for 20 years from 1839.You can give this place a miss as it is now a private property owned by NTTF.I was shocked that the bunglow that witnessed the birth of one of the first Malayalam dictionaries and one of the first Malayalam newspapers Paschimodayam, is now in private hands.We were told that entry is restricted but that did not deter us from entering the compound and clicking some pictures.The only saving grace was that while searching of Gundert Bunglow,we passed some beautiful scenic spots near Gundert colony.

Our next stop was Muzhuppilangad Beach.

Muzhuppilangad Beach(8 km North of Tellicherry,15 km South of Kannur)
On our way back from Teliicherry to Kannur, we hit Muzhuppilangad Beach.This was in my list for quite some years.
This is a 4 km long drive in beach with shallow waters.Must visit place if you like driving on the beach and in sea waters with no clue of what is happening in front of you.Make sure you have the windows rolled up.Water splashes from all the sides and all you can see is frothy water in front of you.Tiny little birds,starfishes and live shells(or were they predator Hermit crabs)could be spotted on the beach.

We were really hungry but the enthu to visit more places helped us stay on track.Next stop was Arakkal Museum,near Kannur.Arakkal Dynasty was the only Muslim dynasty that ruled any part of Kerala.There are various stories on the origin of this dynasty;Logan of Malabar Manual traces the origin of the dynasty to a minister in the Kolathiri’s court in 11/12th century who was converted to Islam.Dutch historians say that the origin goes back to a relationship between a Kolathiri princess and a lower caste man.The girl was married off to a rich Arab trader and thus was born the dynasty.Keralolpathy says that a Muslim couple was invited from Aryapuram by the last Cheraman Perumal and that was the birth of the dynasty.The family records reveal yet another story.The last Cheraman Perumal’s sister Sreedevi was a resident of Dharmapatanam(Dharmadam).Her son Mahabali,later became Mohammed Ali(as asked by the Cheraman Perumal who left for Mecca) and started the dynasty.Whatever their origin be,they had an eventful history through the ages(from 11th century). (Info from The Alirajas of Kannur,Dr. KKN Kurup)

Arakkal Insignia

Arakkal Insignia

There is a lot of scope for improvement in this museum. I was told that they are still collecting exhibits from the royals and others related to them.I hope the entry fee collected at the museum is utilized in developing the place to the fullest.I would still say,visit this place to have a look at the opulent lifestyle of the Arakkal Rajas.

***

Valiyaparamba Backwaters

Situated in Kasargode district at about 5 km from Thrikkaripur,this place is a recent addition to the tourist map of Kerala.The view from here is breathtaking. The place is not much explored for tourism(the DTPC office seemed to be waiting for inauguration?)If marketed properly, this place could be the next Kumarakom.Kerala State Water Transport Dept.operates boats from here to the nearest towns.Since the boat service timings were odd, we decided to take a ferry .

Valiyaparamba Backwaters

Valiyaparamba Backwaters

The ferry took us to the other side,which had an islet(or was that a strip of land).We walked through the paddy fields and coconut groves to a a secluded beach.Very typical of such areas,the place was heavily populated and had sandy soil.After spending sometime in the beach,we headed back to Valiyaparamba.The ferry rides can give the water ways of Aleppey a run for their money.

A sacred grove(kaavu) at Edayilakkad was our next stop.Situated close to Valiyaparamba,the groves could be counted as a sign of early human habitation in this area.At a particular spot,monkeys come out of the grove to be fed by visitors.The way they accepted food clearly indicated how simians mannerism were close to that of humans.

On one of the evenings,we drove to Umichupoyil,a place 20km NE of Nileswar(Kasargode District).
Some years ago, ASI had done excavations in the Megalithic rock cut caves here and found pottery and urns.The caves,said to be 2000 years old, are in a private property owned by a local feudal.There were six strikingly similar caves in the vicinity.This place was a different experience in itself.We had to explore the place on our own.In such a place,it is easy to lose one’s sense of direction as all the sides look the same with no particular landmark except a few tribal hamlets here and there.The caves had rectangular entrances and a semi circular base.Their roofs had a circular vent for light to come in.One had to stoop to get into the caves.Apart from these caves,there were two natural caves.One of them had a natural spring inside where the locals collect water from.This cave was wide enough for many to walk around.Since I am no expert on Megalithic caves,I can’t comment if these caves were burial grounds or not.

A cave in Umichupoyil

A cave in Umichupoyil

We reached Umichupoyil via Choyamkod and Koyithatta.Almost no one we asked about Umichupoyil had any clue on this place;not even DTPC.My 2 paisa: It is better to set for such explorations in early mornings/afternoons.Post sunset,suddenly time became a precious commodity.We walked for 20 odd minutes with a group of tribal women who had come down to buy households from the PDS shop down hill.They were very helpful in directing us to the caves.They themselves had not visited these caves more than once or twice.

***

We drove to Bekal Fort on the day of Christmas.Bekal Fort,a grandiose laterite structure situated 16km SE of Kasargode town, is the largest fort in Kerala.It is maintained by the ASI and a lot of effort has gone into building brand Bekal;which in fact could be seen by the number of tourists.The place has been done up a lot in the past 15 years or so.(My last visit was around that time).I doubt if the renovation work maintains the same aesthetics the fort had originally.I could spot tiles which officially mentioned the year of renovation,but again not much happy about that.

Inside Bekal Fort

Inside Bekal Fort

The fort overlooks the Arabian sea and there were ways to escape into the sea in case of an attack, including tunnels that take you straight to the beach.The entry to the beach is restricted and the cops send people in groups to the beach.The view of the coastline is awesome.Surprisingly,the origin of the fort is still not clear.The observation towers and the places to aim canons at the enemy(who would come by the sea) are eternal symbols of a tumultuous past the fort has had.

Suggested reading:

1)A Sreedhara Menon: A Survey of Kerala History,Cultural Heritage of Kerala

2)William Logan: Malabar Manual

3)Dr.KKN Kurup:The Arakkal Rajas

4)S Jayasankar:Temples of Kannur

5)http://www.hindubooks.org/temples/kerala/rajarajeswara/index.htm

and if possible get a Handbook of Kerala-Part I and II (Even I need to get these two books)

(This is a humble attempt at writing history and travel.Never knew writing history needed this much research.I have verified all the facts.Do let me know if you feel I have missed something)

Add to Del.cio.us RSS Feed Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble It! Digg It!
    www.sajithmr.com

Google Buzz

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

January 25, 2009   39 Comments