‘Shall we plan a trip to a neighbouring country this long weekend? I suppose I can take an extra day’s leave….,’ my hubby’s mind started to explore the foreign trip possibilities.
‘Why don’t we look at some places closer home? We have so many places yet to visit and see,’ I suggested and my children seconded it. We decided to go south of Chennai and zeroed in on Swamimalai in Kumbakonam district as our base to explore some parts of the region.
A frequent visitor suggested we take the Chennai-Trichy Highway route and we set off early Saturday morning. After a two hour drive, we stopped at a highway restaurant for breakfast. Just before Swamimalai at Jayamkondam, we turned to visit Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple. Rajendra Chola, built this temple to replicate the Brihadeshwara temple in Tanjavur built by his father RajarajaChola. This temple has the biggest Shivalingam in South India. The entrance of the sanctum has a beautiful image of Goddess Saraswathi. The icons of Suryapita and the Navagrahas depict the influence of the Chalukyas as well.
We reached Swamimalai at 2 p.m. After a refreshing lunch of the delectable local cuisine we headed to Swamimalai temple at 5 p.m. Lord Muruga here is called ‘Swaminatha Swami’, meaning ‘The Teacher of Shiva’ as he taught the Pranava Mantra, Aum, to Shiva. Shiva became the student and Muruga the teacher, hence Shiva’s shrine is at the foothill along with a shrine of Parvathi and Muruga’s is atop the hill which is an artificial one. The entire structure is indoors. Built by the Cholas the temple exists from the Sangam Period.
After prostrating before Shiva and Parvathi we went up the sixty steps leading to the deity of Muruga. Swamimalai is one of the six main abodes of Muruga. Fortunately for us the Maha Puja took place when we visited the temple at 6 p.m. and we returned feeling blessed at witnessing the Lord and His puja.
We retired early that night as we planned to hit the road to Thanjavur the next day.
The next morning after a sumptuous breakfast with many local dishes on the menu, we headed to Thanjavur which is about an hour’s drive from Swamimalai.
First on our list was Brihadeshwar Temple which is more popularly called as the Big Temple. The very first sight of the temple had us awed. The only thought that ran in our head was we had never seen any temple of this magnitude, either in size or area. The exterior of the temple complex is built like a fortress.
Leaving our foot wear at the entrance and having to walk a considerable distance proved challenging as the weather was so hot although it was October. We ran the distance trying to step on mats provided at scattering distances in the premises and managed to climb up the steps leading to the exterior of the temple sanctum before our blistering feet cried out in protest.
Facing the deity was a massive idol of Nandi which is estimated to weigh 25 tons and is 3.6 metres tall. The Nandi is seated in a separate ‘NayakMandapam’ has some intricately done carvings. Portraits of the early Nayak rulers can be seen on the front pillars.
The deity of Shiva Linga is 2.7 metres high and around seven metres in diameter. The inner sanctum is cool with breeze wafting in through the windows. While waiting to see the deity we admired the architecture which is in the Dravidian style and is in granite. The frescoes of Cholas, portraying Shiva in many actions givesus a peek into the mythological stories of Shiva and the Asuras or demons. The temple also has statues of Ashtadikpalakas or the eight guardians of directions.
After the darshan, we walked around in the cooler parts of the temple grounds and were awestruck by the intricate architecture of the Cholas.
The architects were so clever with their calculations and the very fact that the Vimana, which is the tower above the sanctum, is built at such an angle that its shadow never falls outside itself, is a testimony to their skills! It is the tallest in the South of India at 60 metres. The Shikharam, a tower like crown, is also said to be carved out of a single stone and weighs about 81.25 tons.
It was difficult to leave this imposing structure as there was so much more to see and discover. But a feeling of deep pride for our history, culture and traditions also existed and we walked out with heads held high and many pictures to recollect this wonderful trip.