Monday 24 September 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage -Day 4

Chidambaram -Jayankondan-Tiruvaiyaru- Thanjavur (120km) Part - 1 

December is always special,the climate and festivities bring on an holiday mood,once such is this Cycle Tour now onto Day 4,having completed 400 km so far and bidding adieu to the Cosmic Dancer we get on to the road leading us to Kattumannar Koil an epic town located next to the legendary Veeranam Lake,we pass by this place remembering the Tamil magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan and a song from "The Floods" its first chapter "Come,oh ye young maidens, Look at the North river bubbling by! Come watch, oh ye friends, Look at the White river rushing by! Come, oh come all ye girls, To look at the Cauvery tumbling by! ..." both the lake and this town are antiquated and have references to hectic Chola's activities since 9th century AD and it is also the native place of Nathamunigal (9th AD) the founder of Sri Vaishnavam, proceeding further and passing through Meensurutty,lo behold the towering temple vimana of the UNESCO heritage site of Gangaikonda Cholapurm Temple built by Rajendra Chola 1around (11th AD) can be seen from a long distance,there are umpteen number of information material available about this temple and all most each have the same run of the mill kind of information,but Hermann Kulke in the book "A history of India" debates few theories about the causes of the expansion of Chola Empire and the sudden upsurge of construction activity especially by Raja Raja 1 and his son Rajendra 1. Did they just follow the old injunction of conquering the world (Digvijaya) so as to prove their valour as Universal Rulers (Chakravartin) ? Were they mainly interested in plunder as one American Historian (G.W.Spencer) puts it ? Were their maritime expeditions part of deliberate policy to establish monopoly of trade in S.E Asia ? reading of K.A.Nilakanta Sastri answers these questions,according to him all these motives influenced their action,transfer of Ganges Water fits well with the first theory,long list of jewels and gold donated to the temple of Thanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram by Chola Kings and Generals provide evidence for the second and lastly Chola's wanted to control Eastern Trade Route which passed through Malaca and Sunda Straits held on by Srivijaya Empire, thus peeping into Chola Kings mindset and circumbulating this living Chola Temple we pedal across and we cut across the famous Ponneri Lake (Cholagangam) built for the same purpose like the Temple to commorate victory over Pala King of Bengal by Rajendra Chola 1 (11th AD) another place to visit here is Maligai Medu witnessing the palace ruins of this once metropolis of Chola's (ironically the British used the stones of this place for building the dam at Anaikarai) we pass by Jayamkondan,the road to Tiruvaiyaru takes us through Paluvur and turning on towards Tirumanur this region contains abundant greenery and scenic beauty,while crossing Tirumanur Bridge the Cauvery here flows from the historic Kalanai, except for the occasional wayside cattle posing hindrance riding on this stretch reach Tiruvaiyaru a town located on the banks of River Cauvery,the Samadhi of Saint Thyagaraja (1767-1847) the trinity of Carnatic Music is located here,sitting and contemplating at his Samadhi on his composition "Endaro Mahanubhavalu" is a bliss in itself and soon pedaling through Tirukandiyur we reach our destination the city of Thanjavur. As we check in to our hotel rooms we have quite a lot of time to explore Thanjavur in the evening of whole Day 5 ... 

References "A History of India" Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, "A History of South India" K.A. Nilkanta Sastri, "History of Tamilnadu" N.Subramanian and "Ponniyin Selvan" English Translation Indra Neelamegham and Google Search.

At Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple (Unesco World Heritage Site)   

Monday 17 September 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage -Day 3

Tiruvanamalai-Tirukoilur- Ulundurpettai-Vridachallam-Chidambaram (145km) Part - 2 Chidambaram and Chola Bronze's

The corridors of the hotel rooms hustle and bustle with evening activity,most of the riders attired in their casuals are busy chalking out their plan of action for the evening,as the buzz gets going lets travel back to the past,this town has its name derived from the Tamil words citt (wisdom) and ampalam(atmosphere) and refers to the Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva as Nataraja, the cosmic dancer. It is entered by lofty tower gates, and its hall is supported by more than 1,000 pillars. Its history dates back to the Sangam Literature (1st-3rd AD),many kings and kingdoms patronized this temple,most inscriptions available here pertain to the periods of Cholas,Pallavas,Pandyas and Vijayanagara Kingdom.Chidambaram stands as a gateway to the "Chola Bronzes" while the stone sculptures and the inner sanctum image empowering the temple remained immovable,changing religious concepts demanded that the deities take part in a variety of public roles similar to those of a human monarch,resulting in large bronze images created to be carried outside the temple to participate in daily rituals,processions and temple festivals,a much larger and a much greater number of bronze sculptures were cast during the Chola period,these were made using lost wax technique and principle bronze alloy called Pancha Loham,the years 950-1070 AD marks their most interesting phase,among the many the most famous of all the bronze icons is that of Nataraja,in his masterpiece of essays on Chola Art "The Dance of Siva" Ananda.K.Coomaraswamy concludes "In these days of specialization, we are not accustomed to such a synthesis of thought; but for those who 'saw' such images as this, there could have been no division of life and thought into water-tight compartments.Nor do we always realize, when we criticize the merits of individual works, the full extent of the creative power which, to borrow a musical analogy, could discover a mode so expressive of fundamental rhythms and so profoundly significant and inevitable.Every part of such an image as this is directly expressive, not of any mere superstition or dogma, but of evident facts.No artist of today, however, great,could more exactly or more wisely create an image of that Energy which science must postulate behind all phenomena.If we would reconcile Time with Eternity,we can scarcely do so otherwise than by the conception of alternations of phase extending over vast regions of space and great tracts of time.Especially significant, then,is the phase alternation implied by the drum, and the fire which 'changes' not destroys.These are but visual symbols of the theory of the day and night of Brahma.In the night of Brahma,Nature is inert, and cannot dance till Siva wills it:He rises from His rapture, and dancing sends through inert matter pulsing waves of awakening sound, and lo! matter also dances appearing as a glory round about Him.Dancing, He sustains its manifold phenomena.In the fullness of time, still dancing, he destroys all forms and names by fire and gives new rest. This is poetry ; but none the less,science.It is not strange that the figure of Nataraja has commanded the adoration of so many generations past: familiar with all skepticism, expert in tracing all beliefs to primitive superstitions, explorers of the infinitely great and infinitely small,we are worshipers of Nataraja still" thus pondering on these lines a sumptuous dinner gives way to the night slumber as we ride onward into the Chola territory for the next few days.

References: "A History of South India" K.A.Nilakanta Sastri, "The Dance of Siva" Ananda K Coomaraswamy and Google Search

At Lakshmi Vilas Heritage Hotel Chidambaram

Thursday 13 September 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage -Day 3

Tiruvanamalai-Tirukoilur- Ulundurpettai-Vridachallam-Chidambaram (145km) Part - 1

A glance from the hotel room window exquisitely exposes the call of Annamalaiyar and bustling early morning activity of this temple town,getting into the scheme of things the day begins with cycle check up,loading up the requirements for the ride since today the heritage sites to pass by are few and so its just going to be cycling all the way.Pedaling onto the State Highways that leads us to Tirukoilur,we reach this historic town located on the banks of River Pennaiyar,This was called the Nadunaadu and Chola's inscription's mention this place was located in Madurdaka Chaturvedhimangalam a subdivision of Kurukkai in Maladunadu,this place was under the Atiyaman Chieftains and was the capital of Malayaman as mentioned in Purananuru (2nd AD) through the writings of Avvaiyar (1st-2nd AD,incidentally an intimate friend to Atiyaman) and Paranar,the Satyaputra Inscription at Jambai near to this place mentions the ruler as Atiyaman Neduman Anchi. The Tiruvikrama Perumal Temple here is very ancient,the first three Alvars (Mudal Alvars,6th AD) met each other here according to the Vaishnava pantheon.It contains numerous inscriptions one is by Vira Rajendra Chola (1057-58) it mentions that Narasimha Verma a feudatory of Maladunadu reconstructed the central shrines of the temple with granite,it witnessed many activities by the on coming kingdoms till this place was used by the British as a fortress during the Carnatic Wars.Another historic place here is the Veerateshwarer Temple.But the most important information available is this was the birthplace of King RAJA RAJA CHOLA the Great (985-1014) also called as Arulmozhi Varman (remember Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan),this is vouched by Tiruvalangadu Copper Plate Inscriptions which mentions the Chola Lineage,also according to the pioneer in Tamil History K.A.Nilakanta Sastri his mother was Vaanavan Mahadevi daughter of Malayaman Kaari dynasty of Tirukoilur.King Rajaraja Chola built the famed Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur,he accomplished many overseas victories,he was one of the best Chola kings (titled Mumudi Cholan) who established a powerful Chola Empire.Other important sites include Kabilar Kundru a mini hillock temple for Saint Kabilar on the river,nearby places include Killur,Manampoondi and Anthilli Temples,the first Danish Missionary Siloam Arcot Lutheren Church (1869). After a brief halt we next proceed towards Ulundurpettai,the Konenkuppam Periyanayagi Madha Shrine constructed by the great Jesuit priest Father Beschi (Viramamunivar) (1680-1742) is just few kilometers away,the most important place nearby is Koovagam where the Koothandavar Temple famous for its annual festival of transgender and transvestite individuals in the Tamil month of Chitrai (April/May).this festival has close association with Aravan Cult in Mahabharata,another landmark place is famous Parikal Narasimhar Temple,now crossing over the National Highways we reach Vridachallam one of few towns with a Sanskrit name in Tamilnadu,this route takes us through a few landmarks located in the nearby vicinity notable are Sethiyathope closely associated with Tamil Saint Vallar (1823-1874), ancient temple's of Srimushnam and Kattumanar Kovil,Veeranam Lake biggest in this part of the world are near to this place ... thus pedaling around 140km we reach the town of Cosmic Dancer the Thillai Natarajar of Chidambaram.Its mission accomplished, the evening sojourn to Chidambaram Temple is something to look forward ...

References: K.A.Nilakanta Sastri " A History of South India", N.Subramanium "History of Tamilnadu" and Google Search

On the way to Chidambaram 

Monday 10 September 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage -Day 2

Kanchipuram- Gingee-Thiruvanamalai Part-2 Thiruvanamalai

After "a date with Gingee Fort" and a soothing shower,hit the road again but by walk to have a glimpse of this historic temple town known to have been the sanctuary for Siddhars since the days of yore,Ramana Maharishi being the most remembered, catching up with the history of this place we come across the Annamalaiyar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva the present masonry structure and towers date back to the 9th century A.D.This has been determined from an inscription in the structure made during the reign of Chola kings who ruled during the 9th A.D it was also under the Pallava Kings who ruled from Kanchipuram before the 9th A.D,the 7th century nayanar saints Sambandar and Appar, have mentioned the deity in the poetic work Tevaram.Many dynasties have contributed to this temple but notable being the Vijaya Nagar Empire.The temple is famous for its Massive Gopurams,the 11 tiered East Rajagopuram towers to a height of 217 feet, while the fortified walls pierced with 4 gopura entrances offer a formidable look to this vast temple complex.The 1000 pillared hall and the temple tank were built by Krishna Deva Rayarar of Vijayanagar. Each of the prakarams(outer courtyard) has a huge Nandi and several towers such as the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram and Kili Gopuram. Karthigai Deepam is great grand fest of Thiruvanamalai this great grand fest reaches its high spirituality by lighting Mahadeepam at Arunachala Hill which is 2900 feet high and this festival is celebrated for 10 days. Every full moon night, tens of thousands of pilgrims worship Shiva by circumambulating the Annamalai hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a distance of about 14 km is called "Girivalam".Thus after a quick walk around this place return to the hotel to enjoy the dinner and later view the captures of the day from few co-riders camera's before getting to bed and begin to ponder about the Day-3 Ride which promises to be fascinating ...

References : Wikipedia on Tiruvanamalai and Tiruvanamalai Temple.

Tiruvanamallai Temple (Pic:

Friday 7 September 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage -Day 2

Kanchipuram-Gingee-Thiruvanamalai (130km) Part-1

Awakened by the devotional songs from the cone speakers which reverberate the early mornings around Tamilnadu during the month of Margali,getting done with morning chorus and munching the lavish spread of breakfast the riders assemble at the starting point,after the briefing set of to what will be called "a date with Gingee Fort" thus bidding adieu to Kanchipuram crossing the Palar Bridge and on to the road which takes us to Vandavasi the ride zips past quite a few historic places located in the nearby vicinity like Ayyangar Kulam, Uthiramerur (known for Inscription on Local Self Governance by Paranthaka Chola,970 AD),Mamandur Cave Temples and Thennangur. Crossing Vandavasi here took place the historic "Battle of Wandiwash, 1760" the British defeated French and gained the supremacy of India, passing the St.Lourdes Shrine (1890) Chetpet,built on a small hillock incidentally this is one of the biggest Church in Tamil Nadu,we reach Gingee ... the opulence and grandeur of this place is such it was called "Troy of the East" by the Britishers.This Fort contains three hills the pivotal Rajagiri,the Krishnagiri and Chandragiri, even though some stone carvings point to Jaina activity in these hills during 2nd-6th AD and later to the Pallava's,evidences are available only from Chola's (9th AD) advent and thus begins the battle for the possession of this fort,it changed hands from Vijayanagar Empire, Nayaks, Bijapur Sultans, Marathas, Mugals, Carnatic Nawabs, French and finally to the British. It was a neighbors envy and owners pride but of all the chronicle's the ballad of Desingu Raja stands tall midst the ruins,but the most interesting observation about this impregnable fort comes the Frenchman Jean Deloche and his epic work published in 2000 "Sengi (Gingi) Ville fortifie du pays Tamoul" (Sengi the fortified town of Tamil County),he mentions that for a student of military architecture,it is the only one in India where a full sequence of the defense systems used in the subcontinent, from the Vijayanagar period to the European conquest, can be observed. It is also the only one where we can follow, for at least four centuries, the adaptation of the defense to the progress of artillery, he also glorifies the water management for the availability of water thought the year in this fort as something outstanding.Getting into elements with the past for a brief time we ride to reach our destination Thiruvanamalai ... after a soothing shower at the hotel now awaits the Day 2 (Part -2) the walk in the park at Thiruvanamalai.

References: "A History of South India" K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, "History of Tamilnadu" N.Subramanium and "Sengi (Gingi) Ville fortifie du pays Tamoul" Jean Deloche and Google Search

At Gingee with Doctor Sahab 

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage -Day 1

Chennai-Mahabalipuram-Kanchipuram (120km) Part -2 Evening Promenade of Kanchipuram

Refreshing ourselves after what had been a hectic day,the evening stroll across this Temple Town takes us to the past,considered one of the oldest towns in India,its earliest mention come in the Sanskrit Text of Patanjali (2nd BC),in Tamil mentions from Purananuru(2nd AD),in Perumpanaru Patai (Pathu Pattu) and Tamil Epic Manimekhalai (4th AD),this town had strong Buddhist connections apart from Bodhidharma, Emperor Ashoka (3rd-2nd BC) built many Buddhist Vihara's here and Chinese Traveler Hiuen Tsang (7th AD) visited this town,thus the history goes on ... but one thing for certain that must be mentioned is the Pallava Art & Architecture both in Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram,they are constituted by cave temples, monolithic rathas (chariots), sculpted reliefs and structural temples like the Arjuna's Penance.the Pancha Pandava Rathas and the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram and in Kanchipuram apart from the Kailasanathar Temple,the Vaikunta Perumal Temple built by Nandhivarman the Second (8th AD),this is a Multi Tiered temple and is a jewel built in Sandstone.The uniqueness of the temple is its circumambalatory passage each pillar carved with lions and the walls profusely carved with the king's coronation and numerous inscriptions which later led to writing of Pallava's Chronology."The Body of God An Emperor's Palace for Krishna in Eighth-Century Kanchipuram" by D Dennis Hudson is a book which speaks volume about this Pallava's tryst with Stone and this temple monument ... and rejoicing on a visit to this temple the evening gives way to the sumptuous dinner,checking up the bicycle once again and an early sleep to catch up with Day-2 Ride to Gingee and Tiruvanamalai brings the curtain down of Day-1 ...

References "A History of South India" K.A.Nilakanta Sastri, "History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to the Present Day" P.T.Srinivasa Iyengar,"The Body of God An Emperor's Palace for Krishna in Eighth-Century Kanchipuram" Dennis Hudson and Google Search.

Explaining history of Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram

Saturday 1 September 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage -Day 1

Chennai-Mahabalipuram-Kanchipuram (120 km) Part-1

The start of the tour is always exciting new jersey,group photo session,meeting new co-riders,new routes and flag off. With all set and done the peddling begins,the road bikes,the hybrid's,the MTB's and followed by support vehicles.On to the new route breezing past the hustle bustle of City Traffic we take on the ECR Road also called as "Vadagaperuvazhi" by the Cholas since this road facilitated trade with S.E.Asia. Crossing Kovalam and Tiruvidaventhai Temple were our first blushes with Heritage begin,this temple has some oldest inscription dating back to 11th Century,one mentioning about a gift given to temple by a Kerala Merchant of Kondungallur to feed and support the Brahmins. Moving on across further we zip past the Alavandar Shrine in Nemmeli,the Tiger's Cave a Theater for performing arts according to historian Pradeep Chakravarthy,we reach Neer Per Thurai (Mahabalipuram) the first of many Pitstops,this place was an important trade center for Horse imports and had a thriving trade with Kerala.The ancient Tamil Text "Pathu Pattu" 2nd Century AD,mentions this place as an happening city with free flow of Liquor and also of Drama's in the evenings.This place was an hub for Pallava's Art and Architecture and their fascination with stone,this port city contains the best of them that mentioning all requires another extensive page.The Vaishnava Saints called Alvars have sung about this place it is also the birth place of Bhudhat Alvar.This place witnessed large scale destruction due to sectarian clashes during the 10th Century between Saivas & Vaishnavas.Bidding adieu to Mahabalipuram for few a more days we cross the temple of Tirukazhikundram and reach Chengalpattu.Crossing the National Highway we are received by the vast expanse of the Palar River bed on one side of the road and towards Palayaseevaram a small hillock with an ancient Narasimha Temple from where the a beautiful panoramic view of the region is possible,we pedal towards Wallajah and reach the outskirts of Kanchipuram the sight of the ancient Western Gopuram of Lord Varadaraja Perumal Temple welcomes us and basking in the glory of the Fortress like Walls of this temple we reach our destination ... soon refreshing ourselves,the evening promenade of this Kanchipuram Temple town continues with the Day-1 (Part-2) of our Prelude.

  • References to the above content : Pathu Pattu (Peruvanatu Padai 9.11.31), Tirumangai Alvar (Periya Tirumoli),South Indian Temple Inscriptions ASI Publications, A History of South India K.A. Nilakanta Shastri and Google Search. Also from the lectures by Historian Pradeep Chakravarthy on ECR Road

  • At the Flag Off - Tour of Tamilnadu (Heritage)