Travel articles you can use.
Top

Exploring Southern India VI: Touring Tanjore Temple

June 21, 2014 by · Comments Off on Exploring Southern India VI: Touring Tanjore Temple 

Day 3 Continues: Evening

On day 3 of my adventures in Southern India, my two hosts and I were driven to Tanjore (Thanjavur)  in the evening. Since the temple grounds remained open until 9 pm, we went in for a short tour. Tanjore was the capital of the Chola Empire during its heyday and is now a hectic, crowded, nosy, modern Indian town. It is known for its silk, carpets, jewelry, musical instruments and art.

Big Temple illuminated

Big Temple illuminated

The Brihadishwara Temple, also known as the “Big Temple” is a UNESCO World Heritage site, built between 1003 and 1010 by Rajaraja I. This is one of the largest temples in India (you can certainly see it from a long distance) and one of India’s most prized architectural sites. A special celebration in 2010 celebrated the temple’s thousandth anniversary.

During its height, the temple maintained a staff of 1000 people in various capacities with 400 being temple dancers. Besides the Brahmin priests, there were record-keepers, musicians, scholars, and craftsman of every type as well as the housekeeping staff. In those days the temple was also the hub of business activities for the flower, milk, oil, and ghee merchants, all of whom supplied their respective goods for the temple.

I passed through two gateway towers, each with such finely chiseled statues and backgrounds they reminded me of  Lorenzo Ghiberti’s bronze doors in Florence, called the Gates of Paradise.  The first structures I saw within the inner courtyard  contained a sculpture of a gigantic bull (called a Nandi) facing the main temple. This sacred bull is second only to the largest one at the Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh, India. It was created from a single piece of rock, measures 16 feet long and 13 feet tall and weighs 25 tons. The bull has a very pleasing face and you are immediately drawn toward it. A very young priest, or perhaps one in training, was performing a ritual around the bull with a lot of incense and smoke.

 

Close up of detailed carvings.

Close up of detailed carvings.

 

 

 

 

 

All the temple structures are made out of granite, so this site remains in remarkable condition. Logistically, obtaining all this granite this must have been difficult as the nearest sources were about 40 miles west of Tanjore.  What is much more fascinating, a conundrum really, is how the immense granite bulb or cap (one solid piece weighing 82 tons) was placed on top of the temple tower. The prevailing belief is that a mud-slope was constructed and elephants were used to drag the monolith up the slope. The incline was supposed to have started about three miles from Thirukoilore (the birthplace of Rajaraja’s mother). This temple’s vimana (or pyramid shaped tower) is 216 feet high and among the tallest of its kind in the world. To say one feels dwarfed is an understatement.

Top of the Temple weights 82 tons.

Top of the Temple weights 82 tons.

Moving on, I started to climb the stairs up to the main temple which rests in the center of the quadrangle containing the sanctuary, the Nandi, a pillared hall, an assembly hall, and many smaller shrines. The most important part of the temple is the inner mandapa which is surrounded by massive walls that are divided into levels by pillars. Sculptured figures, such as Shiva in different forms and dancers demonstrating positions of classical dance, are scattered throughout. The inner most sacred sanctum santorum is the focus of the temple. Here an image of the primary god Shiva resides, a huge stone linga. Only priests are allowed to enter this inner-most chamber and interior photos are not permitted .

Nandi at Night

Nandi at Night

The temple was surprisingly busy in the evening with worshipers of all ages. We didn’t linger as we knew we would return in the morning to take photographs under better light. While leaving, I took note of the  the fort walls surrounded by a moat, and the Sivaganga Tank, constructed by the Nayaks of Tanjore of the 16th century who succeeded the  Cholas. The fort walls enclose and protect the temple complex.

Evening worshippers

Evening worshippers

Morning Light

Entrance to Temple

Entrance to Temple

Early on day 4, we found the entrance or gateway shimmering with golden rays. The structure looked like it was singled out by beams from heaven. All eyes were attracted to this spot. Once inside, I was again drawn to the large bull. During daylight I could see thousands of names inscribed outside the temple base and many paintings lining the walls of the halls.

Pilgrims struggle to climb the stairs.

Pilgrims struggle to climb the stairs.

I also watched as a group of older people struggled, but were determined to climb the temple stairs. I then followed them as they went to each of the smaller shrines. They stayed a while at the place where a number of linga were resting.

Lingams

Lingams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also ran into an extended family that had come to worship and celebrate a marriage taking place that day. The temple remains a living, active shrine and  an inseparable part of life of the people even after a thousand years. Incredible India!

Bride & Groom

Bride & Groom

Extended Family at the Temple

Extended Family at the Temple

 

Building within the main courtyard.

Building within the main courtyard.

The Nandi

The Nandi

Close-up of the Big Bull.

Close-up of the Big Bull.

Exploring Southern India V: A Stop at Airavateswara Temple at Darasuram (Dharasuram)

June 9, 2014 by · Comments Off on Exploring Southern India V: A Stop at Airavateswara Temple at Darasuram (Dharasuram) 

Day 3- After Lunch at the INDeco Swamimalai Heritage Hotel

 

Lovely grounds surround the temple entrance.

Lovely grounds surround the temple entrance.

The Airavateswara temple at Darasuram was constructed by the Rajaraja Chola II in1150 A.D. The temple is a recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the three Great Living Chola temples. I would visit two, this one just briefly.

 

The temple stands out for its intricate, beautiful sculptures and pillars. The place is bursting with art in stone carvings, statuary and painted works. The detail in the engraving is in amazingly good condition, especially the smaller spaces that were more protected.

 

Bull Engraving

Bull Engraving

Temple Columns

Temple Columns

The shrine takes the shape a chariot with large stone wheels that are pulled by an elephant and horse. The temple starts with a mahadwara, or main entrance on the eastern side. Inside this are 108 pillars, each with exquisite sculptures depicting a historical event or a dancing moment. There is also an entire sequence of yoga positions.

 

Stone Chariot

Stone Chariot

A fleet of steps made of stone in the palipeeda (another building) are said to produce musical notes. I somehow missed this.
The temple was originally dedicated to Lord Shiva. According to legends, Airavata, the mythical white elephant, worshiped Shiva here and hence the temple gets its name. The temple has a tank whose waters are believed to have curative powers.

Brahmin Priest

Brahmin Priest

The Archaeological Survey of India is maintaining the temple with lush green lawns in front and illumination, thus making the temple a tourist spot.

Art abounds in statues and paintings.

Art abounds in statues and paintings.

More statues and paintings.

More statues and paintings.

 

Detailed carvings on the top of the temple.

Detailed carvings on the top of the temple.

Watching California Chrome Win the Preakness

June 6, 2014 by · Comments Off on Watching California Chrome Win the Preakness 

Last year I was able to attend the Belmont Stakes; this year I was invited to the Preakness. On both occasions, I found myself out of my comfort zone as I mingled with owners and breeders of thoroughbred elite.

 

California Chrome Wins the 139th Preakness

California Chrome Wins the 139th Preakness

The Preakness is held in Baltimore, Maryland, at Pimlico Race Course. The big race runs near the end of the day, pitting top three-year-old racehorses against each other on a mile and three-sixteenths dirt track. The winner receives prize money, a replica of the Woodlawn Vase, and a name in racing history.

 

The story behind the official Woodlawn Vase is fascinating. According to race history it was “Created by Tiffany and Company in 1860 as a trophy for the now defunct Woodlawn Racing Association. The Woodlawn Vase stands 34 inches tall and weighs 29 pounds, 12 ounces and is presented each year to the winning Preakness owner. In 1983, its value was assessed at $1 million, which easily makes it the most valuable trophy in American sports.

 

Woodlawn Vase

Woodlawn Vase

Until 1953, winners were awarded possession of the vase until the following Preakness. That all changed when A. G. Vanderbilt’s Native Dancer won it but his wife did not want to take on the immense responsibility of keeping the solid silver vase safe. Now the winning owner is awarded a $30,000 sterling silver replica while the original is on display at The Baltimore Museum of Art and brought to Pimlico under guard for the annual running of the Preakness.”

 

This year the 139th running of the Preakness on May 17, 2014, was warm and breezy. California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby, was the talk of the crowd. Should he win again, he would be entered in the Belmont and attempt to achieve the elusive Triple Crown title.

 

Preakness Hat

Preakness Hat

I entered the Clubhouse wearing a hat, as most women do. The tables were decorated in yellow and black, the official colors of the race and the state of Maryland. As the afternoon races proceeded, I bet a whopping $5.00 on each race and was actually ahead. We dined on a scrumptious meal featuring Baltimore crab cakes- my favorite. Everyone sipped the official drink, a Black-eyed Susan, in official Preakness glasses. But, honestly everyone was just waiting for the big race.

 

 

The Black-Eyed Susan Drink

The Black-Eyed Susan Drink

 

Seated at my table were breeders of the number 7 horse, Kid Cruz, running in the Stakes. How cool would it be to watch their faces and see their horse win?

 

I placed two exacta bets on what I hoped would be the one-two finishers. My first bet was on Kid Cruz to win and California Chrome to come in second and my second bet was the opposite. If Kid Cruz wasn’t  going to win, I wanted Chrome.

 

Kid Cruz

Kid Cruz

 

The pageantry commenced, Maryland, My Maryland (the state song) was sung, the majestic horses entered the track and paraded around. Then they entered the starting gate, the announcer called, “And, they’re off,” and the race began.

 

Early in the Race

Early in the Race

California Chrome, wearing the nasal strip, got off well–running in second place as he passed my windowed view. He stayed just off the pace as he did in the Kentucky Derby, running in third. He made his move at the three-quarter mile mark, and then pulled away from Social Inclusion down the stretch to win in 1:54.84. Not the fastest race, but the spectators went crazy.

 

California Chrome Heads for a Win

California Chrome Heads for a Win

California Chrome stepped into the winner’s circle and was draped in a blanket of Black-Eyed Susans. Trophies were awarded.

 

I watched as a painter was lifted up to the top of the replica Old Clubhouse copula by a cherry picker crane. He began to paint the weather vane in the colors of the winner’s silks – purple and green. They will remain until the 2015Preaknesswinner is crowned.

 

Painting the weather vane

Painting the weather vane

So, now California Chrome hopes to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Race records indicate that 12 other horses have won the first two races since then, but failed to dominate the long course at Belmont. Let’s face it: It is really tough to win the Triple Crown. Winning the Kentucky Derby, coming back in just two weeks and winning the Preakness, and then going 1 1/2 miles three weeks later, a distance few if any horses will ever run again, is no easy feat.

 

California Chrome

California Chrome

But, California Chrome is not a typical million-dollar racehorse. Owners Perry Martin from California, and Steve Coburn of Nevada, named themselves DAP Racing, standing for “Dumb-Ass Partners.” It’s ” a tongue-in-cheek response to those who questioned their wisdom in purchasing the horse’s dam, Love The Chase, an $8,000 mare and mating her with a $2,500 sire.

Can he do it? I hope so. Can’t wait to watch the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes – 4:30pm on Saturday, June 7, 2014.

 

Disclosure: Attendance at this event was made possible by the generosity of a good friend.

 

Bottom