Tag Archives: India

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)

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.

Adventures in Southern India IV: The Swami Temple

Day 3 : Way Down Upon the Swami Temple

Names in India are tongue twisting words. I have declared the Arulmigu Swaminatha Swami Temple, in Swamimalai simply the Swami Temple. My group visited this ancient site the day after we left Pondicherry.

Swami is a Hindu temple near the city of Kumbakonam and the Cauvery river. The temple is one of the six holy shrines of Murugan. The temple has three gopuram, those huge gateway towers covered with hundreds of figures, three courtyards and sixty steps. There is also a large pool or water tank, formerly used in temple rituals.

When we entered we found a large group of people on the floor organizing mounds of paper money that I assume had been dumped from the collection containers. Another group was sorting coins.  Seemed odd that this was done in such a public space, but as I said over and over on my trip, “Things happen differently in India.”  Just observe.

Young Girl
Young Girl

We ran into a young girl who was celebrating a special day with her entire family. My apologies, but I really didn’t understand the meaning of her celebration. Anyway, the multi-generational family meandered through the formidable stone structure lined with hundreds of intricately carved pillars. The pinnacles were painted in bright almost neon colors as were sections of the ceiling. The family group stopped for short prayers at some of the statues. I just lingered behind.

Attached to the temple was a market area where vendors sold statuary, trinkets, flowers, fruit and treats. The ceiling of the collanade between the buildings was also brightly painted.

This temple, like Chidambaram seen in the morning, is ancient.  The website claims in is from the Sangam period during 2nd century BC and is thought to have been modified by Parantaka Chola I, during the 900’s AD. Also like  Chidambaram Nataraja Temple, this one was damaged during the Anglo-French war between Hyder Ali and British in 1740. Today the temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu.

We didn’t stay that long, just meandered around taking photos. Therefore, I believe the best way for me to present it, is simply to show my pictures.

Swami Temple Walkway
Swami Temple Walkway
Stone Pillar
Stone Pillar
Entering the Swami Temple
Entering the Swami Temple
Pillar Details
Pillar Details
The Temple Interior
The Temple Interior
Money Counters
Money Counters
Extended Family
Extended Family
The Temple Grounds
The Temple Grounds
Marketplace
Marketplace
Temple Ruins
Temple Ruins