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December 2014

culturama

India Impressions by Pradeep Chakravarthy

Cultural Lifelines Temples in India are outstanding works of art and architecture – sadly, however, most books on temples tend to be scholarly or focus on their mythological origins. Very few help the visitor to understand the context of the temple as an institution and how it has served the community around it. The following extract, from Road Less Travelled by historian Pradeep Chakravarthy, addresses some of these aspects. Driving to Pudukottai from Madurai to attend a marriage recently, it was hard not to be captivated by the small but impressive fort on the side of the road above the village of Tirumeyyam. The wedding in Pudukottai would not wait and promising myself that we would come back the same way, I had a quick glance at the fort as we went on. The sumptuous food needed to be burned off and what better way to do it than climb the hill? Fortunately, as I came back, the sun was obscured by a few rain clouds and a cool breeze had sprung up. The azure sky was a lovely contrast to the dusty grey and brown of the rocky terrain and the three concentric fort walls. “Which way to the temple?” The answer to this was another question! “Siva or Perumal Koil? Both are famous.” It was the village elder resting on a huge block of stone that must have been a part of the fort’s wall. I had heard of the Perumal Koil. It was one of the 108 temples sung by the azhwars. But an equally famous Siva temple was news to me. I had to see both these temples and climb up the fort as well in a few hours. The village has only around 20,000 inhabitants and the two temples are adjacent to each other. The fort

Exquisite detailing is a hallmark of the temples At Thirumeyyam in Tamil Nadu. Photos: Bhushavali (http://travel.bhushavali.com)

called ‘Oomayan Kottai’ was, I had been told, built by the Ramanathapuram Sethupathi in the 1680s. The temples should be just as old, I thought as I entered the Sathiamoorthy or Perumal temple. We paused to admire the stern-looking sculptures frozen in formal poses but decorated with jewels in amazing detail that only the Nayaks could master. These were sculptures of warriors with fantastically sharp nails kidnapping a princess and a lady with a basket that looked like the real thing frozen in stone. The light from the courtyard glinted off the small pieces of mirror inset on the intricately carved Garuda Vahana that had been consigned to the corner presumably after the temple had got an uglier, newer version. Passing on to the main hall of the temple with rows of sculptures with beautiful bas-reliefs, I sat for a few minutes near the Dasavathara shrine under the shadow of a huge, very new looking and rather ferocious Hanuman. The Uyya Vandha Thayar shrine was framed with many bangles and cradles hung from the door lintel in fulfilment of vows, on the birth of a child or the performance of a long-awaited wedding. In the main shrine, Lord Sathiamoorthy stands between the life-size images of Garuda and a king with Sathya

Culturama December 2014  

Come December, and Christmas comes to mind. We have all areas for a good celebration covered in this issue - a recipe for a rich fruit cake...

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