This was in my mind for quite sometime now. The Chola tour. Finally, when we packed our bags to leave, my paati got sick. Okay, I should put it as ‘she thought she was really sick’ because her ECG and other reports said she was too healthy for her age. So, my mum decided she’d stay back to give Paati some moral support. And, finally, it was my dad, brother, children and me who headed down South.
Mukkombu dam was our first stop (apart from my Perimas’ places, that is!) where the kids had good fun. Like in all other tourist places, my complaint was the same – lack of any maintenance. Thankfully, there was some water in the dam which made for a good viewing. The parapet wall over the dam was pretty short even for adults like us which made me keep a hand over the kids lest they trip and fall over. The park was huge and I believe was constructed with good intent. However, half the swings were missing and the rest of the equipment were rusted. There was one big slide which lead to a big tank – apparently, that must’ve been intended as a water slide but now has no water at all. Toilets – well, I don’t even wish to talk about it.
Then, we visited my most favorite historical landmark in the whole wide world. The periya kovil in Tanjavur. What can I say about this temple that I’ve not said already? Every time, I step into the temple, it gives me goosebumps to think I am stepping into a place which was once inhabited by Arunmozhi varman, Panchavanma Devi, Kundavai nachiyar and Vandiyathevan Vallavaraiyan. The sheer magnitude of the effort to build a marvel as that just amazes me. I’ve been meaning to get to know the inscription which talks about Vandiyathevan but in vain! The script there is in ancient Tamil which needs translators help to get them deciphered. We wanted to see the ThEr, which ran after a hundred year gap, but it was kept closed. Sigh. **Alert – Photo excess coming up!**
We also visited the Tirvaarur temple which was spread over such a vast area that we got lost in between. The temple seems to be under renovation.
Our next stop was Udaiyalur, which is about half an hour’s drive from Kumbakonam. This is the place which brings a lump in my throat and my eyes are already watery thinking about the plight of a the once most powerful man in the entire South Asia. Udaiyalur is the place where Raja Raja Cholan spent his last days and his body was buried there. Imagine how much we should celebrate this man who was the first one to cross the seas and conquer overseas? Imagine how much we should celebrate this man who built the first ever navy fleet in the whole world? Imagine how much we should celebrate this man who built the massive temple and the Chola empire like none of his forefathers have ever done? But you know, what is left of this man? This fallen Lingam!
When our driver (one of Appa’s friends) stopped near a board which said that this was Raja Raja Chola’s last remains, I expected something more; a tad little more. Slowly, I was led into a small mud path (a othai adi padhai) which was inhabited on both sides by thatched huts and poor people. A few steps into it, on the left was a small gate made out of bamboos. As we entered inside, there were four pillars, an asbestos sheet and a Lingam that had fallen during the 1962 floods, as per the very old Thatha who does some Pooja and keeps the place intact. He informed us that there was only a thatched roof till about six months ago and one ‘vellai kaaran’ has helped build this shelter for the Lingam. I wanted to die of irony. A foreigner has built a shelter for a man who lived and ruled Tanjai. Everyone is scared to bring back the Lingam to normalcy fearing some grave consequence. Stupid superstitions.
About half a kilometer before Udaiyalur is the Pazhaiyaarai village. If you’ve read Ponniyin Selvan, you will recognize that this is the place from where the entire epic begins. Arunmozhi Varman, Aditya Karikalan and Kundhavai were actually brought up here, according to PS. The palace in Pazhaiyaarai is where our man Vandiyatevan meets Kundhavai and falls in love. You want to see what is left of that place? Here..
The palace has been completely demolished informs one of the locals there. All that is left is the temple inside the fort which is in tatters nevertheless. Some renovation is supposedly due to begin because we found some stuff there but I doubt it will get completed before the entire structure falls off. What are we doing to our save our history? Why are we not showing care? Our ancestors deserve so much more. If this is the plight of the most powerful people of their times, what are we but a mere speck of dust in the vastness of this mighty universe!
From there, in about ten minutes drive on the way back to Kumbakonam is the Darasuram temple, built by Raja Raja Chola II. Beautiful architecture adorns the entire temple just like his grandfather’s in Tanjore. Apart from a few photographers and us, there was no one to appreciate the architectural grandeur of the place. A few locals knew only so much to call a foreigner and get himself photographed with him. Yes, we do not appreciate our own ancestors but want to photograph ourselves with a foreigner. Sigh. There was a small fleet of stairs made out of granite which apparently makes the sound of music when stones are rolled on them. However, it is kept locked as of now.
In between, my dad wanted to visit Oppiliappan kovil. But, the kids and brother, who were already on a templing overdose, didn’t want to join us. So, I accompanied dad because I needed all of Oppili’s blessings now that I am at a crossroad like no other. Sigh.
On the way back to Chennai, we visited Gangai Konda Cholapuram. Built by another mighty Chola and the worthy successor to Raja Raja, Rajendra Chola made sure ‘his’ temple is more an ode to his father’s and doesn’t really surpass the glory of the original in Tanjore. Which, you can easily appreciate while comparing both of them. Yet, this Brihadeeswara Temple is not any normal temple. It has enough (stand alone) architecture to bowl you over. Thankfully, all these three, the Tanjore Temple, GangaiKonda Cholapuram and the Darasuram Temple are all taken over and maintained by the Archeological Survey of India and hence have retained some of its charm intact. Here, see it for yourself –
After this, we spent sometime in a nearby village house eating breakfast and exploring the podalangai and paavakkai farms and flicking some vegetables from there. The kids had a super time with the cows, calves and hens. One day, when my hair turns completely grey and my kids’ responsibilities are off my droopy shoulders, I shall spend every day of my life in such a house. Because, what’s the point of all this city buzz and running around when, even if you are the Greatest of the Great, all you will end up being is a nameless person beneath a fallen Lingam one day?