This blog is exactly what the title says it is - its an ode to history. It contains, within its hallowed premises, all the travelogues to historical places I've been to - along with plenty of snippets on history. Enter, ye all, and be right welcome!
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Friday, February 7, 2003
Our next stop was at Pazhuvur, 40 kms from GKC. It was quite pleasant, rolling over the uneven roads, enjoying the countryside in the fading sunlight. We'd almost crossed Pazhuvur before we realized it. Keezh Pazhuvur possesses a temple, but what we really wanted to see was at Mel Pazhuvur, the Avani Gandharpa Easwaram (mentioned by Gokul)- built by the great Pazhuvettaraiyars at the height of their powers. The name board specified 'Mannu Perum Pazhuvur" right in front of a grayish-black, desolate structure- it was the board that drew our attention first. Everyone tumbled out with their camera paraphernalia and stood around, exclaiming.
"Hey, this is it!"
It turned out to be the long-lost Pazhuvur-but alas! the temple was locked. The archagar arrived on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays- that day was Friday, but he hadn't come yet. It was already 6 PM and the light was fading fast. The local Pazhuvur population gathered at the tea-stall with interest, watching this group of excited (crazy?) tourists. One small group put forth the daring idea that they would bring a ladder, we could then climb it and jump into the temple complex.
Fortunately, before this could be carried out, someone appeared with the keys. A yell went up, and all of us surged up to the temple. The door opened slowly with a huge 'creak'- and we entered, to find the place full of rat/bat/ and God knew what else droppings.
The temple itself was a beautiful place. There were two 'karkoilkal' within the complex- the entrance to the first one was so small that we had to bend double to get in. Inside, the stone walls showed signs of disintegration. The musty corridor led straight to the Garbagriham, which had a solitary lingam inside it. Two pathways led outside- the second sannithi was in similar condition. There was another sannithi, which held a deity- by this time it was so dark that nothing much could be made out. The general temple structure, though, gave us plenty of clues as to how appealing it must have been in earlier days. There was an aura of serenity about it- everything was simple and peaceful. We walked around the uneven stone paths one last time, and closed the door with regret. Later, everyone voted the temple the best they'd seen so far.("ithuthaan enakku rombap pidicha koil"- Krupashankar)
We passed through Keezh Pazhuvur with a peek from the outside- night had fallen, and we had to get to Thirumazhapaadi. We reached there by 7.30 PM. Mr. SR suggested we look in at the Kollidam that flowed on the opposite side of the road to the temple- and we promptly set off.
A journey of 25 Kms saw us to Gangaikonda Cholapuram- the hallmark of Rajendra Chola I (1012 AD- 1044 AD), son of Raja raja Chola I, and the famed emperor who marched right upto the Ganges, built a capital, and called it 'The city named after 'He who conquered Ganga' to celebrate his victories. It was 2.45 P.M. when we went there- the temple wasn't open for the poojai yet. They say that the Thanjai Periya Koil is masculine in appearance, whereas GKC is feminine- smaller in size, and more delicate in features. (Someone even remarked that the temple was smaller than the Tanjore one because Rajendra Chola didn't want to build a temple that might outshine his father's).
The temple is a huge structure - towering up into the sky. (This temple was also the one we visited in September 2003, with Dr. Kalaikkovan, for some more research. We managed to climb on top of the vimaanam, and had an astounding view for miles around!) The grounds of GKC are beautiful- well maintained, green lawns and clear-cut stone sculptures. The Nataraja sculpture in the left part of the gopuram was particularly beautiful- the features were so precise, lifelike and pleasant. The smile alone would have won a beauty paegant. The Nandi also is a sight to see. Since the garbagriham would be open only by 4PM, we decided to spend time wandering about the lawns, which is what we did. We must have taken a dozen photos over there- especially the Singa-muga enclosure, which led to the temple well. By 4.30, we were ready to start on our way to another landmark in the Ponniyin Selvan magnum opus- the Pazhuvur Temples.
From Udaiyaarkudi, it was VeeraNarayanapuram next.
A short drive brought us to the banks of the renowned lake, where the story starts. When we drove to the banks- we saw a huge cement bank on one side, with a vast shrubland stretching away into the distance. A few goats grazed on the plains, and a small dog was splashing about in shallow water:-). But what good is traveling without imagination? We supplied the mathagus, the overflowing water, pathinettaam perukku all by ourselves- so it was quite allright. The road was awful, though. The next stop was the temple.
On one side there was the lake sloping downwards, on the other side the land itself dipped sharply. The van lurched forwards and backwards, all of us hanging on for dear life. We were wondering if our wish to see the lake had been granted in a peculiar fashion by the Gods- by dipping us headfirst into the lake, and affording us a 'different' view! But our therotti proved to be an expert. We wrenched away from the road, towards the temple.
Veera naarayanpuram Koil proved to be an interesting place-in another respect. When we entered, there was a 'Panchayathu' going on, very seriously. It was a pity we couldn't stay and listen to the meeting agenda, but from the way everybody was squatting around, we felt sure that it was something quite serious (just like the films!). We wandered around, gazing at the inside of the temple, spent some time and finally made our exit.
Our next stop was Udaiyaarkudi - another temple with a good deal of historical interest.
We arrived there about 11.30 AM, after retracing our steps from Kadambur- and we were so famished that we decided on a food-break. Brunch (a combo of lunch and breakfast, which we missed) was at Hotel Selva's. By 12.15, we were finished. With the sun on our heads, we walked around the temple, which were undergoing repairs (most temples seemed to). It was quite deserted, and we spent a pleasant few minutes walking around the place, admiring the sculptures.
I guess, in comparison with the Periya Koil and other renowned spots, these smaller temples looked rather faded. Worse, they had been painted over so completely and thoroughly( 'Asian' paintings, as Mr. Vijayakumar remarked:-) that one couldn't make out the original features at all. For all that, we managed to see plenty.
Udaiyaarkudi, for instance, is the site of the most startling inscription-one that condemns Ravidasan, his brother Parameswaran, and other conspirators, their families, those who married into them, the whole set-up, in fact, to an exile outside Chozha Nadu. The inscription says 'Throgigalaanaa...Ravidasan...' and that sparked off a whole new thread. Throgigal. If RD and the rest of the caboodle had been Pandiya naattu aabathuthavigal, wouldn't they have been named as such? Why call them betrayers at all? Could there possibly be something behind that? One particular theory is that Ravidasan and Co., weren't Pandiyan citizens at all, but were part of the Chozha regime itself. Apparently, they had been assigned by 'someone inside' to put away the crown prince...it appears, however, that Raja raja Chozhan couldn't find enough evidence to support it.
Unfortunately, the 'kalvettu' that bears this inscription is so chock-full of paint that we almost raved in desperation:-) What wouldn't we have done to read a bit, just a tiny bit of those revolutionary words? No amount of scraping over the stone, or feeling our fingers along it could define them. It seems the writer Balakumaran went through the same fit of desperation. One part of the inscription was clearer than the rest- the paint had been rubbed off. The archagar remarked that the writer had painstakingly scraped off the paint over the inscription himself. In the end, we had to content ourselves with photographing it.
We got an unexpected bonus here- the archagar provided us with excellent, enchanting music. We were standing in the garba griham, waiting for the deepaaraathanai, when a voice rose suddenly, singing His praises. In the dark, confined room, it sounded pure and unearthly. There was complete silence for a while after he finished. It was only after he appeared with the vibuthi did we shake ourselves out of the trance.
Day 1 saw us starting on the trip from Maayavaram at 7.30 AM (with a wake-up call at 6 AM that got us tumbling out of beds). I'd like to express my thanks to Mr. Seetharaman, the GM of Hotel Prince Towers, Maayavaram, on behalf of all the people who participated in the trip, and those of the e-group. He was a great guide, and he provided us with excellent accommodation at a discount. Thanks Mr. SR!
We bundled ourselves into the van again and started out on the real journey through Chozha Naadu. The countryside was waking up as we drove through it. Soon we'd left 'civilization' behind, and were driving through shrubbery, canals with water and sand alternating, and huge stacks of hay dotting the roads. The breeze was fresh, the sky was a sparkling blue. Lavanya had brought along an apt tape- a tape of songs Kalki had written-both on-screen and off-screen. Favorites were "Maalaip pozhuthinile..." and "Kaatrinile varum geetham..." Listening to his songs, driving through the lush fields and groves was an extremely pleasant experience. Kalki would have been pleased, I think. :-)
SR informed us that it would take us 45 minutes to reach Kadambur- our first stop. (yes, yes, the same place where the 'Sathi thittam' takes place at midnight right at the beginning of the 1st paagam).
Abruptly, we left the 'tar' roads, and turned onto a muddy track that seemed to wind endlessly along the banks of a wide canal. There were deep cart-tracks etched onto the surface, that reminded one forcibly of the tracks of a huge 'ratham', driven a 1000 years ago:-)- and we promptly converted our tempo-traveler into a huge 'ther', with our driver Murugan as the 'Therotti'(He didn't seem to enjoy the designation- wrestling with the wheel took up most of his attention). After a few minutes of meandering through ruts and potholes that shook us all up terribly (Mr. Sharma kept commenting that if we'd had breakfast, it'd have been digested in double-quick time)- we came to a cross-roads -one track led over the canal, the other vanished into the shrubbery. We asked for directions, and one villager told us helpfully that we'd come on the wrong road to Kadambur, that we should have driven into another road before this cart-track, so would we reverse?
There were groans all around, and the therotti turned the van around (a difficult task, but nothing compared to what happened later, at the Viranam Eri:-), and we bumped our way towards an intersection we'd missed earlier. Another villager pointed out that this road was a 'nalla rodu'- and we found it a nalla rodu too- it was filled to the brim with good, fresh hay. The van plunged through bundle hay, towards Mel Kadambur- the first of the two villages into which the once-prosperous original county has now degenerated. It's about 30 kilometers from Chidambaram. We came from Maayavaram, passing through Panthanallur, Manalmedu, etc. It had taken us more than two hours totally (it was close to 10 AM when we arrived)- and according to the van, we had traveled 62 kms.
A blue board placed at a turning to the temple sported the words 'Ponniyin Selvanin Nigazhkalam'- that was the first thing that caught our attention. It went on to list the temple's name, where it was located etc.. When we came to a stop, the temple arose before us- a rather dilapidated structure, painted in recent years, with an agraharam of sorts lining the street- elaborate, empty and lifeless. No living being seemed to be in the general vicinity except us.
Kamal started with his handy cam, and all of us 'armed' our cameras:-). Mel Kadambur had a good-sized temple (nothing huge)- with pragaarams and a few sculptures- but on the whole, it was a rather simple structure.
The garba griham was not open- a localite appeared and told us that poojai was over by 10 AM. He then favored us with a 'thala varalaaru' of ‘Amirthakadeswarar' and 'Vithyu Jothi Nayaki', and about the 'Kadamba maram' -the 'thala virutcham'. We took a few snaps, and made our way back to the van, on our way to Keezh Kadambur, about a km from Mel Kadambur.
We stopped at an intersection that was little more than an 'othaiyadi pathai'- the van could go no further. We walked along the shrubbery (with curious villagers peeping out of their huts). The road suddenly widened out into a clearing. A gatepost stood in a corner, devoid of any gates- and there, standing forlornly in the middle of the clearing, were the ruins of what must have been a fair-sized temple- the "Rudrakodeeshwarar" temple of Keezh Kadambur.
Fields and thorny fences dotted the area. Localites informed us that a few people had come there a couple of days ago and done a general cleaning up because someone was visiting there- whom, we didn’t know.
The lingam was standing right in front of the temple- the garba griham (which was all that was left of the temple) had fallen in. Stones and pillars had fallen all around the places, and the area had a look of destruction. One got the feeling that something had ‘gone wrong’ there…there was a distinct aura of destruction - and yes, something like…sorrow. (“Mayaana boomi maathiri irukku...- Sathya) A lot of discussion went on about what part this place could have played in the Aditha Karikalan murder.
We gave a last glance at the clearing and retraced our steps back to the van.
We'd planned to start from the TTD Temple on Venkatnarayana Road, which was our meeting point. Sathya, Lavanya, Anuradha, Mr. Srinivasan Mr. Vishwaksenan Krupashankar and I were meeting there, while the rest would join us in Tambaram. After duly paying our respects at the TTD (for the success of the trip and all that:-), we waited for the tempo-traveler and it arrived in a few minutes. All of us got in and made ourselves comfortable. That was around 8.20 PM.
All of us had met fleetingly at the Kalki office- but that was a rather rushed affair, with discussions of the route map, travel plans and introductions. So the van-ride was our first opportunity to get to know each other, which was what we did in detail:-). We settled into the plush seats and sat talking until Tambaram, after which Kamalakkannan, Viji ma'am (his wife), Mr. Seetha Ram Sharma, Mr. VijayaKumar and his daughter Radhika got in. It became a bit of a squash then, because we were one seat short. It resulted in five of us squeezed in the four-seater in the back, with the rest spread out all over the van- but we didn't mind that- everything was too new and exciting:-). Kamal had brought along his Handycam, and a good many of us had brought along cameras with bundles of rolls- so we had every expectation of covering everything in detail.
By 9 PM, we had really started. We lurched out towards the outskirts of Chennai, towards Mayavaram, our first destination. The route map specified Chidambaram as the first night's halt, but Mayavaram was decided upon, because one Mr. Seetharaman, a friend of Mr. Sunder Bharadwaj (the person who supplied us with all the valuable info for the current route map, friend of Mr. Balakumaran, the writer), had informed us that we could stay in Hotel Prince Towers, his own home ground. We didn't realize, at that moment, just how valuable Mr. Seetharaman would prove to be. That would come later.
In the meanwhile, all of us PS Trippers (what a word) had plenty to catch up on. Aside from those of us who'd met at the Kalki office, there were a few newbies, like Mr. Vijayakumar and his daughter- and then there was the speech made by Mr. Balakumaran, especially for us enthusiasts. It was a masterpiece in its own way- it really set the tone for the trip.
"Yogi Ram Surat Kumar Yogi Ram Surat Kumar Yogi Ram Surat Kumar JeyaguruRaya. Ponniyin Selvan rasigargalukku..."
It began, and then followed a detailed and (sometimes) emotional description of the places we *must* see, what we must look for, about Raja raja Chozhan, about his life, the people he worked with, the temples he built, the conditions they were in...his voice worked its own magic. Sitting there in the semi-darkness, we felt ourselves slipping away into the magical world of the Cholas a 1000 years ago, where kings and queens raised huge temples, gave away numerous lands, fought enormous battles and won huge respect and loyalty from their people. If it were this way just thinking about it, what would it be like, actually visiting them? It would be a walk inside history, no less.
After a couple of hours of film songs and conversation, everyone began dozing- it was after midnight. At 2.20 AM, our van lurched to a stop outside a building with vehicles standing about in a garage-like place. A few dogs ran about here and there, two or three people with shawls thrown over their faces appeared. We dragged out our suitcases and marched into the Hotel Prince Towers. Maayavaram had arrived.
On February 14th, 2002, an article appeared in the Indian Express, about the fans of 'Ponniyin Selvan' - a remarkable historical novel written by Kalki.Ra. Krishnamoorthy- one of the greatest Thamizh writers of all time. I and Ram were two of the people mentioned in the article. The latter hit upon the notion of forming a group- he contacted me and a friend for that purpose. (God knew we'd been searching for like-minded people). And so, the 'Ponniyin Selvan' egroup, formed for the express purpose of gathering PS fans all over, came into existence on March 10, 2002.
Membership sky-rocketed, and sometime in October 2002, we decided to find out about the places mentioned in the novel- what condition they were in, and could they be visited? We referred books and maps, and found out that they could. A three-day trip was decided upon. Another article appeared in the Express this time, sending an open invite to the public, and a great, gaggling mass appeared on the Marina beach on Jan 26, 2003. The Kalki office people, surprised and curious, arrived with the Editor and a few crew people in tow, along with people from Ananda Vikatan. A tour map was finalised, accomodations arranged, and we started out on February 6, 003. The historical novel-writer 'Vishwaksenan' went with us on behalf of 'Kalki', to cover the trip.
Three fun-filled and extra-ordinary days later, we came back home, and I summarised our experiences and wrote them up as a Travelogue.