Monday, July 6, 2015

The Amazing Tamil Nadu Temples

If you have a desire to see the glory of Hindu Dharma, via medieval or ancient temples, Tamil Nadu is the place to go. There's no second thought about it. Luckily, most massive temples have been retained in the original shape and splendor, when unfortunately many other states in India couldn't during foreign invasions.  I made five trips in the past five years and an opportunity came for a sixth trip - a trip with lots of temples to see in TN and PY. I immediately grabbed the invitation of friend Bharath and got into the vehicle.

Let me narrate some interesting things about each place we visited last weekend.

First of all, our interest is in covering all the five Pancha Bhoota Sthala Linga or Pancha Tatva Linga. There is one major and historic temple dedicated for each of the five basic elements of nature as shown in an image from Wiki here.  Three months ago, we had seen the Agni Linga temple in Thiruvannamalai. This time we aimed at three, but ended up doing two.

So we got started, in an anticlockwise road trip, heading straight to Tiruchirapalli or Trichy, the place of our first Shiva Linga temple - Jambukeshwarar.

Once we finished eating chapati at the local restaurant, we started asking common people in Trichy. Where is Jambukeshwara temple? Five queries and no one answered properly. Then I found that we were asking in the wrong way. Made some calls and found that we should be asking for Thiruvanaikaval Kovil (Kovil in Tamil = Temple). Got the answers immediately. I must say that common people in Tamil Nadu have always been very helpful and friendly. We just have to figure out some basic Tamil speaking skills.. that's it. Kovil = Temple, Perumal = Vishnu, Siva = Shiva, Periya = Big etc...

To our surprise, we booked a hotel within half a KM from the great Srirangam Vishnu temple, which is not far from the Jambukeshwara temple. We set out to see Shiva temples. But our first visit next morning had to start with Vishnu Bhagawan! That's called divine planning.

So we were there to see sleeping Lord Vishnu (Ranga natha) in our proper uniforms :)

You will be amazed at the vast nature of this Srirangam temple complex. This is one of the Tri-Ranga (3 Rangas) along the Kaveri river. The first one being Sriranga Patnam near Mysuru, the second one at Shivana Samudra near Gaganachukki falls and the third one being this Srirangam near Trichy. There were nine massive gopuras/traditional doors from the street. There is a 1000 mantapa (pillar) auditorium. There's the (jiva) samadhi of the famous Vaishnava Guru Ramanujacharya. There must be at least 50 smaller temples within the complex itself.

It will take a full day just to pay proper visit to each deity within this massive and ancient temple complex. Our friend Nagesh chanted Purusha Sukta in one of the Rama temple and we were elated along with the local Purohit. Great darshan, great food (paid, not free) and a wonderful place to visit.

Next stop, the mighty Jambukeshwara temple for water tatva of Shiva. And to our total surprise, we entered right when the abhisheka was happening in the main temple. It was fabulous to sit outside the small garbha gudi (sanctum sanctoram) of the temple, besides small holes in the wall, and watch the pouring of liquids over this very ancient Linga, and then decorating it with various pastes and cloths.

This temple has interesting history involving an elephant and a spider worshiping the Linga.

They do very nice Gow-puja (Cow Worship) in this temple after the main abhisheka.

And of course, the thing which caught my eye was this.. We can discuss that some time later.

So our first major Shiva temple was done. Vishnu had called us even without our planning at Srirangam. Time to head east to the glorious UNESCO heritage city of Tanjavur. No surprises here. The massive ~13 feet tall Shiva Linga (Brihadeswarar) in one of the greatest buildings ever built by ancient and medieval world - the BIG temple. You have to visit this place to understand the immense technology Indians had 1000 years ago. In this Kaveri river delta area devoid of any big granite mountainous, Chola empire got a massive 81,600+ KG stone, and hoisted it above 200 feet. The total height of the gopura or vimana on the temple is 216 ft (66 m) high. Just imagine the technology to do this 1005 years to be precise? No where in the world you can find such a massive feat, which is living even today surviving tsunamis, earthquakes and of course, human invaders!

And of course, Bharat makes it look small.. really small :)
I felt like... I am witnessing 1000 years of Bharatiya history in just a few minutes.. Awesome and proud experience. Felt so good about our ancient shilpis, rajas and everyone who left us such great legacy.

If you have time, please browse through lots of pictures in here to know how happy we were during this entire trip, particularly the Tanjavur Periya Kovil (Big Temple) visit.

Next stop.. Kumbakonam. A city of temples where there are 188 temples within the municipal limits of a small town of 1,40,000 people. And if you include smaller temples, they say over 1500 temples are there in and around this city of temples!! Of course we wanted to visit a lot, but had time for only one.  The big Adi Kumbeswarar temple. We had a wonderful time here watching many unique things. The pujari showed us the place within the temple where the great Raghavendra Swamy had sat and meditated. They also showed the Devi (Durga) with nandi in front of her, not lion/tiger. They showed us a slight tilt of the main Linga and told that it's because of this kona (angle) of the kumbha (one above linga), it is named Kumbha Konam. You also have 9 temples around Kumbakonam, for each Nava graha (nine planets in Hinduism). We surely needed a week, just for this temple town!

We had to then drive into Puducherry enclave within TN, near Karaikal beach in the night. Our next stop was Tirunallar Saniswaran Temple at Tirunallar in Puducherry Union Territory. The specialty here is that 1000s of people come to take a dip in the pond, and leave their wet cloths on the banks of the pond, to get away from Lord Shani's wrath.
Image: Wiki

We followed what 1000s do. A proper bath in that pond, giving arghya to Surya deva early morning from within water, leaving our cloths, and then heading to the ancient temple in the town.

Just like the 100s of other big temples in Tamil Nadu, we had walk past many arches (gopuras) and finally get a beautiful darshan of Shani Deva. And to get a bonus, we were allowed to do a full Rudra abhisheka at a Shiva temple behind the Shani temple. Our Nagesh, the knowledgeable purohit, made us do abhisheka on the spatika Linga that he had carried from Bengaluru. It was a divine experience chanting the Vedic Rudra and Chamakam at this ancient temple. We loved every moment of it. Best part, I could do this on Ekadashi day, which is now my fasting day :)

Now overwhelmed with temples after temples, we took some beach breaks. It was emotional visiting the Karaikal Tsunami memorial, remembering the 1000s who perished during the 2004 mega Indian ocean Tsunami. 

Now time to head north. Next stop Chidambaram mega dancing Shiva temple. But since it opens only in the evening, we had time for some fun trip through the mangrove filled backwaters of Pichavaram. Our "vocal" skills and funny hand movements came handy when going inside the shallow mangrove backwaters :)
Even our boatman started off ->

Playing in the backwaters, climbing up some mangroves and paddling the boat was really fun. I am told that this is the world's second largest mangrove wetland!

And our boatman told us that this is the same mangrove area where the famous Kamal Hasan song from the movie Dasavataram was shot.

Next stop, the great Chidambaram temple. This great Hindu temple of South India that has held its prominence for over 2000 years is a must visit place for any temple enthusiast. The Shiva in here is associated with the Akasha (or sky/ether) tatva (essence) among the pancha bhootas (five basic elements sustaining life). This holy temple has been built and repaired by Pallava, Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara and Chera kingdoms over the past 2000 years.

And, I insist that you learn more about the significance of Chidambaram temple's design.  Focus on why the roof has been laid by 21,600 golden tiles with the word Shiva nama inscribed on them representing 21600 breaths!!

Around the 9th minute of this famous video of Carl Sagan - Cosmos of India, you can see the description of Nataraja (Dancing Shiva), for whom this Chidambaram temple is dedicated to.

All I can say is... Srirangam, Jambukeshwara, Tanjavur, Kumbha Konam, Tirunallar Shani and now Chidambaram Nataraja. Overwhelming architecture, significance and puja tradition for millenium.
Incredible trip!! How can I forget the awesome tender coconut water in Kadalur, to break the Ekadashi fast? :)

Lastly, how can we end up such a fabulous trip without some fun in water? That too when we are close to the Goa of the east coast, Puducherry? We stayed at a nice resort right on the beach, danced in the beach at midnight, saw sun rise at the beach, offered arghya to Lord Surya after a swim, and then had super fun in the resort pool.

Lastly, visited the pious Aurobindo Ashram at Puducherry.. A small and silent zone in the French legacy town.

While returning via Tiruvannamalai, another great Shiva temple (Agni link) which we had seen 3 months back, we had some nice fun on the road trip too.. like watching this crazy scooter driver ->

Overall.. great fun. If you want historic temples, amazing Dharmic puja traditions in Sanskrit and Tamil, and fun beaches, head to these places I have listed. You will have a great time.. guaranteed!

Now that 3 of the 5 Shiva Tatva temples covered this year, hoping to do the other two - Kanchi (in TN) and Kalahasti (in AP) soon. Om Namah Shivaya!

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