A tour of ancient temples down south – Part 1

Last week we went on a tour to famous temple towns – Chidambaram & Kumbhakonam. We covered a number of ancient vaishnavite temples in several villages located in and around these two temple towns. Entire tour took us 5 days as we covered close to 35 to 40 temples. Not being accustomed to this kind of whirlwind tour to so many temples, I was initially very sceptical as to whether I would cope with the strain and enjoy the tour. However,leaving behind all negative thoughts of scepticism, I decided to venture out and experiment. This was partly inspired by highly passionate accounts of experiences narrated by some people who had earlier undertaken such trips.

Except for the onward journey and the return ticket,our travel was largely left unplanned. This meant that we were quite free to take any mode of travel on the 5 days of our temple tour. On certain days we hired a private taxi while on a couple of other occasions we experimented with bus travel.The ride around Seerkayi as well as Kumbhakonam was simply superb. There is so much of greenery all around. We drove through roads which were flanked on both sides by well irrigated lands of rice paddy, sugar cane and banana plantations. Obviously this part of Tamilnad is highly fertile. And quite interestigly,fertile lands have also produced fertile minds. We drove through villages made famous by the great people who lived there. For instance Semmangudi, Manakkal, Sikkil,Singalipuram are all well known names among people who are familiar with music,art or philosophy. These villages are known for the famous musicians Semmangudi Srinivasa iyer, Mankkal Rangarajan and Sikkil sisters. Anantharama Dikshitar, well known for his spiritual discourses, belonged to Singalipuram.
To this list I should not forget to add the illustrious names of three great music composers Thyagaraja, Dixitar and Shyama Shastri. The trinity belonged to the famous town Thiruvaroor near Nagapattinam. The houses where they lived are still preserved. We also visited Tiruvayyar(near Thanjavoor) where Thyagaraja’s ‘samadhi’ took place. Visiting these two places(Thiruvayyar & Thiruvaroor) was indeed a spiritual journey back to the 19th century. It is an amazing experience to walk through the very streets frequented by the saint Thyagaraja in Thiruvayyar. These were the streets where the saint walked across singing bhajans and collecting offerings of rice (This simple way of life is referred to as UNCHAVRITTI).

Some of our destinations were covered by bus. A couple of experiences of travel by bus are worth narrating. In one instance, we covered a distance of 20km from Chidambaram to Kattu Mannargudi temple by bus. The roads were good. The weather was nice. We had cool breeze throughout the journey. There were lovely green fields all around. To top it all, we were also treated with fantastic old tamil ‘hit’ songs of Kannadasan. With such a combination of visual and musical treat accompanied by nice monsoon breeze, we didn’t know the passage of time. Honestly I would not have minded even if we had taken more time than usual to reached our destination! And can you believe that all this incredible treat comes at an unbelievable bus fare of mere 9 Rs per ticket! You can’t beat that experience.

Of course I can’t say the same thing about our bus travel on another day. We took a bus from Nagapattinam to Kumbhakonam passing through several villages. It took more than 2.5 hours for a mere 35 kms. The day was hot. There was no music and the only deafening noise was that of the bus honking all the way to get right of way. (These mofussil buses seem to be equipped with special horns meant to produce high decibel irritating noise to keep away buffallos and humans on the road). The bus would stop at three places in each village. There would invariably be one more ‘privillege stop’ at the house of a VIP of the village. We must have passed through at least 30 villages before reaching our destination in the sweltering heat. I vowed not to undertake any more bus travel.

On the spiritual side, did I become more enlightened after the trip? My thoughts on this are reserved for the next post.

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Published in: on October 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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