62. The Eternal Tea Run

@Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, India.

It is the right thing to give tea an opportunity to sweep you off your feet; not just once, but again and again until a certain boundary is reached, and this boundary which is to be set at the beginning of a tea lover’s life was never set by me, as it was impossible considering the immense power and beauty of tea and its ability to enrich one’s life beyond the boundaries of all available dimensions. Coonoor is that land of tea which is often forgotten due to the popularity of Ooty as a hill station, for the latter is a place which can be called the most well-known hill stations of South India, a title which is not officially given, but is commonly talked about. But popularity doesn’t make any place better, except for the rush of tourists, which create no effect on a mind which is set on that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” knowledge passed onto the common mortal by John Keats through his ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’. All other material things should be of concern just for the people of commerce and science, as arts would deal with that beauty, as it would be known to them, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” as said by the same wonderful poet in his ‘Endymion’.

The talk about Nilgiri Hills would first bring the name Ooty to the tip of one’s tongue, and that sword-like weapon would add to the popularity of that place, but the significance of Coonoor is not to forgotten and buried in a corner. It is on the way from Coimbatore/Mettupalayam to Ooty, which makes it a good place to stop and take rest, have a look around and capture some scenery. As immensely beautiful a scenic place Ooty is, the same can be said about Coonoor, but situated at a lower altitude which would make it a little less cold and also a much needed stop before going to a higher area. Most of the things in Ooty can also be seen in Coonoor including the colonial architecture dating back to the early twentieth century as well as the viewpoints, greenery, waterfalls, gardens and surely tea. I would consider them twins, one of them just a little taller and sharper, named Ooty; and the other one as more of an extrovert who helps his hermit brother in being in contact with the people who are from outside the family, being the helper that is Coonoor – brothers in birth or brother in action; or may be both of them – they seem to compliment each other so well as if they are alive and overflowing with brotherly love and affection.

The journey from Mettupalayam to Coonoor is one of the best, not in terms of travel quality, but due to the breath-taking views one encounters. The journey by the train might have the edge in beauty, but the road travel is not that far behind, as the view of Nilgiri hills is not something which could stay hidden. The Dolphin’s Nose Viewpoint is just about ten kilometres from Coonoor, and it not only provides a panoramic view of the Nilgiri Hills but also that of Catherine Falls. Lamb’s Rock Viewpoint is on the way to Dolphin’s Nose, and about six kilometres from Coonoor, and is another vantage point to view the wonderful landscape and the tea plantations which prove to be more than just random greenery. The edges of the place would be risky, but might not be as risky as the life itself, which is more unpredictable and inconsistent than Ajit Agarkar used to be, during his time in the Indian cricket team. One should let the lambs of that world do the jumping, and not humans, as it would damage the name of the place. Law’s Falls is another tourist spot adding to the beauty of the landscape. The ruins of Droog Fort stands far away from the world of ease and laziness, as that would need another route to follow, not much taken and not followed by many.

Coonoor has the Sim’s Park which might be its most well-known tourist destination, as it is a park as well as a botanical garden, a combination which would suit a day’s rest. There is greenery and there is colour, a combination which would inspire nature poems as if powered by Lake District. The cold breeze could add to the effect and might create an army of Wordsworths, if there is art and literature in minds and the beauty of inspiration in the hearts. This tropical mountain climate would be suitable for the growth of all these trees and plants, but it would be even more suitable for the growth of seeds in the mind of a young poet; for what John Keats said about truth and beauty is of universal significance. There is no limit to imagination and inspiration, and it doesn’t matter if that path is twisted or not taken, even if it is thousands of kilometres away. Just like the blood is of the same colour everywhere, so will be the imagination, as it takes over the mind and creates that wonderful work of art even without the host knowing much about it; that is the beauty of creation by inspired imagination, and that should be where the best works should arise.

St. Antony’s Church at Coonoor would add the much needed spiritual flavour to the journey; it is that old church which celebrated its one hundred and twenty five year anniversary last year and continues to be the most attractive sight at the top once one gets down from the bus and look around. As one of the oldest churches of the diocese of Ooty, this not only have that element of antiquity, but also that of simplicity combined with beauty – painted white with some blue outline elements, not something which attracts people with its grand style, but by its location and age. The same can be said about the CSI Church even as it looks younger in age, may be due to its newer yellow paint with white outlines. Both churches have graves nearby, and the latter has Celtic crosses which would give more of the British effect. May be if it was not for the paint, the second one would have looked older of the oldest ones around. There can still be no question about its old age as it looked more colonial in nature than any other old structure which blessed Coonoor with its presence. How spirituality would contribute to the imagination of any living person inspired by God’s world, is something which needs no further description; may be a few zombies and Twilight vampires would disagree, but that is the case of dead, mindless people.

Katary Falls, the third largest waterfalls in Nilgiris is just ten kilometres from Coonoor. That would add to the tourist attractions, but the most significant thing in Coonoor is undoubtedly tea. The town depends heavily on tea trade, as one can understand from the large number of tea gardens which blesses the photographers with its beauty, before the tea leaves make the mouth of the tea drinker sacred. The trees, mountains and the small sheds which surround the tea would make it such a combination where there is certain amount of harmony in nature and man is also part of it; forget global warming, pollution and deforestation, as this would be a moment of glory for both sides, thanks to the immortal drink that is tea. The birds seemed to agree as they were also flying in harmony. Thus the last place to visit and the right place to end the journey on a high, was Swamy & Swamy Plantations Private Limited – High Field Tea Factory, to buy all the needed tea and also those chocolates; tasting them – Masala, Chocolate, Ginger and all varieties was always fun, and this time, the opportunity was at a time when there was the most need for tea – what more can one expect, surrounded by tea and drinking the same thing like never before?

Diving out —>



61. A Few Miles to Go

@Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

It would be nearly impossible to find a reason not to be anywhere near Ooty at a time when Vulcan breathes fire like a dragon without a fire control system or the support of firefighters within a few kilometers radius. Even Volcanalia would not have the opportunity to see its own red marking on calendar in a land of working Gods if the heat would just continue to go high. This is that time of the year when the Shrine of Vulcan would love to miss its worship by its favourite element of nature. As his Greek counterpart could bring something like Talos to life, talking about it could possibly bring another reason for the people to believe in whatever to happen on December 21, 2012, which means that there is the need to stick to “Welcome to Ooty, nice to meet you” kind of stuff which would bring that superior nostalgia to the mind which rests on nothing other than that wonderful Malayalam movie Kilukkam. That would be the right thing in the absence of Jason, Medea and those Argonauts. Colossus of Rhodes would take an earthquake to rest and leave its story behind, but the same cannot be said about the man of heavenly ichor.

In the case of Ooty, this ichor should run deeper; also sharing the Greek gods’ own liquids with the beauty that is around, making the place immortal as the survivors of Mount Olympus who have not faded away into that eternal absence created by their non-existant worshippers; those people of legends currently existing only through the works of Homer and whoever followed him, as well as those allusions which came later and spread with the help of colonialisation and due to the power of that international language in which this is being written. Considering the temperature of the place, the existance of Vulcan in about a twenty five kilometer radius has to be a thing of eternal doubt, which would stretch beyond the knowledge of any mortal and his science which would find a volcano instead and wait for the end of days, always contributing to Global Warming and thinking in vain that it would help him find a solution and survive when his so-called inventions will consistently keep falling on his head even after the time for his epitaph passes by.

The thoughts of science bringing that Doomsday mentioned in the Holy Bible, the scene has to switch to St. Stephen’s Church, one of the oldest churches in the district and a good example of simple colonial architectural work. It is undoubtedly the most well-known Christian worship centre in Ooty, may be due to its longer history; ask for a church and it would be were a cab driver would stop for any tourist. Belonging to the first half of the nineteenth century, it has lived long and currently stands with yellow paint on the outside and white in the interior. Except for the painted glass in the front area on both sides, it is quite simple and small a structure even as the colonial elements make it something of further importance, along with its wooden parts. The graveyard and the celtic style crosses on the backyard gives it another view from that side. There is enough natural beauty around to add to all that exists in the house of God, and the cool breeze would continue to certify the significance of that old structure.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral is another nineteenth century structure, but of the second half of that century. Along with the peace and beauty of the surroundings, the church structure stands tall, not that far away from the famous attractions of the town. The church itself is an attraction as well as a place of spirituality, and it is a thing of religious and spiritual serenity; painted yellow and white, and seen even from a distance as a tall structure, not only due to its own height, but also due to the elevation of the ground itself. The scenic delights would surround it, especially the Government Botanical Garden and all which surrounds the same. Being in a church in this cold was something which I last experienced in Nuwara Eliya, a long distance – kilometres away from the current structure; but it was cooler during that time at that hill station of Ceylon and the situation was different; still spirituality and its side-effects were just the same. The same couldn’t be said in case of a sudden enlightenment though. The places were hallowed in both cases, and what made the difference was simply a gap of one and half years.

Coming back to all which concerns the beauty of nature, The Nilgiri Mountain Railway, one of the oldest mountain railways in India remained untouched, considering how crowded that time of the year happened to be. It was not in any way like that off-season trip to Kanyakumari to watch a cloudy sea which covered the sun; this was more of a trip right on target, even if there were too many targets which would mean that a few were in line just to be missed by a good margin. As Ooty is only about eighty kilometres from Coimbatore and eighteen kilometres from Coonoor, they provided great resting places and the need to go by any transport other than bus was completely out of the equation, and I would say it worked perfectly. It would have been great to travel by train through the scenery though, but it was still to be too slow. Well, the journey by road not anything that inferior in nature exploration, as it has its own sights of happiness which spreads and creats poems through the minds.

The Goverment Rose Garden, the largest Rose garden in India, and the Government Botanical Garden remain two of the places to be first visited, and they were indeed well-maintained places of beauty; the verses from Lord Tennyson’s Maud suited the former magnificiently, as one can see it among the roses, as if to improve its beauty by literature. The Ooty Lake with its boating facilities would be of significance to many, and what they call the highest peak in South India would be astonishing, but I found more attraction to the tea factory and museum. It was not something I didn’t see in Nuwara Eliya, but I was closer to tea this time and the chocolate factory had its role to play in making it that good an experience. The tea was superior throughout the stay at Ooty and so was the factory’s addition to it, which was the satisfaction of being at the highest elevation tea factory in India as they claimed, and being that close to tea and all those things which preceded it.

Diving out —>


47. To Further South

@Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, India.

Nagercoil, a former part of the kingdom of Travancore and now the twelfth largest city in Tamil Nadu, located close to the tip of the Indian peninsula, is a place which one has to visit for sure if having a journey to Kanyakumari; as they are so connected and close to each other; this muncipality being the administrative headquarters of Kanyakumari District. Nagercoil has been part of the Chera, Chola and Pandya kingdoms, this town became more important during the reign of Marthanda Varma, the king of Travancore whose capital was Padmanabhapuram, just about twenty kilometres from Nagercoil; even as the capital was later shifted to Thiruvananthapuram which is about sixty five kilometres from Nagercoil, it was still an important town second only to its capital city. Even as Travancore was like a vassal state to the British, it was still among one the best in terms of administration; with Nagercoil being an important city of the kingdom, it developed further and it was not halted by the interference of the European powers or the transfer of power from the British East India company to the British crown itself; thanks to its location and the importance it gained in the map of Travancore; even after independence, it has continued as itself; even as Kanyakumari became more popular due to its beautiful views of sunset and sunrise along with other attractions.

St. Francis Xavier’s Church, in the Kottar locality of Nagercoil is a beautiful church built in a crucifix form; not that big a structure even with an extension on the frontside, but importance due to its historic significance related to the visit of St. Francis Xavier and his friendly relations with the king of Venad at that time. The church is currently painted yellow with the roof red in colour, along with a tower; but the church bell is located in the front, at the top of the church itself. The influence of European missionaries have been pretty high and it did help Nagercoil in achieving a high rate of literacy, thanks to the foundation of several educational institutions, as it can be seen from most of those schools and colleges in the town which are named after these missionaries. The London Missionary Society (LMS) and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) have also done valuable services to the society along with the Salvation Army; the medical field also improved considerably, with support from the Travancore administration which was always concerned about the welfare of the people even from the first king itself; not to forget the time when the kingdom was just small divisions of land ruled by weak rulers.

Padmanabhapuram Palace and Udayagiri Fort are not to be considered seprate from Nagercoil, as they were all part of the same kingdom; but that would be a story of Kerala History Twist, as mentioned before in on the of the recent posts, not that far behind in time. Getting back to worship, there is also the C.S.I Home Church which is an old structure with its front going up as clock tower and in the end forming a small dome structure as well as a tower. It is a small worship place of peace and serenity and a few more kilometres from there, we can see another C.S.I church, this time on the other side of the road, with beautiful mountains on the background as if the church is part of the natural beauty, forming a situation of paradox between the religion and nature; as people of the earlier ages did worship nature, that wouldn’t come as a surprise; but with the religions being more organized, people have the opportunity to think otherwise and the option to prove it. The name of the church was written in Tamil which made it impossible to identify it other than the abbrevation C.S.I which was the only thing written in English at a place which looked more abandoned than anything else.

There was the Krishnancoil temple located within the suburbs of Nagercoil; to reach there was difficult considering the fact that there was a bridge which allowed only one-way traffic at a time and there was the need to wait for the traffic to one side to finish before getting onto the bridge; there was so much of traffic. The pond adjacent to the temple is a beautiful thing with a mandapam kind of structure in the middle, surrounded by water; there was not much of water around there when I looked, but it was still enough to keep people away from walking all the way to it. There was the same architectural beauty of the temple in that mandapam on the centre of the water body. The temple’s name was written only in Tamil while the name of the book stall on one side of the temple was written in English and Tamil, which makes people wonder which one is more important. The temple was of the usual South Indian style which one see in Tamil Nadu; the surroundings were not that clean but the temple was worth the trouble taken to reach there. There were tourists from outside India who were trying to take the best picture of the temple, but I took more photos for myself in lesser time showing that the more you take, higher is the chance of getting a better photo among the ones you have; this has been proven by me throughout m last few journeys.

Thiruvithamcode Arappally or St. Mary’s Orthodox Church is a church which is located not too far away from Nagercoil; the last of the seven and half churches established by Apostle St. Thomas. It is supposed to be built by St. Thomas and is believed to be the oldest standing church structure in India. It is a small structure made of stone in the front, with extensions towards the back which seemed as if they were new additions. There is also the St. Thomas Heritage Centre which works mostly as a museum which displays the old church related items and other historical details even as it is not really open all the time, may be due to the less number of visitors. There is also a two-storeyed church being built on the way to town from the church and it seemed to be dedicated to Velankanni Matha as the picture was seen; thus it was proven to be Roman Catholic. There was also a church of Salvation Army, with a nursery and primary school attached to it; another church was there and both of the churches of Salvations Army looked almost the same. When passing through Thucklay, there is another church, built in a beautiful manner, even if not that big, it had all the features of a monastery church even if there wasn’t any monk anywhere near it. There was a C.S.I church and a Roman Catholic church dedicated to St. Antony, both on the side of the road, contributing to the church count.

There is another church on the way from Nagercoil to Trivandrum, where there is a water fountain which is believed to have quenched Devasahayam Pillai’s thirst; someone who was executed by the king and is believed to be martyred and the Tamil Nadu branch of the Catholic Bishops’ Council in India has already recommended him for the process of beatification to the Vatican; there is a small new church with a statue of St. Michael on its top, built right next to an even smaller church which seemed to be ready for demolition or may be it is in a bad state and will be renovated. There was nobody outside there to ask any questions about the place though. There was a church on the top of a hill as recongnized from the cross on the top of the building which was visible from a long distance; but the taxi driver knew not much about it, or may be I just understood him wrong as he spoke too much Tamil. There was Christ the King Church which was white from the frontside and was dark on all the other sides as if it was not just one structure; adding to the number of white coloured churches I saw in Tamil Nadu. Nagaraja Temple was a significant part of the trip and just as the name suggests, there are many images of snakes on the structure and for a change, it didn’t look like the other temples of the area from the entrance itself; it had more Keralite character; may be it was more of the old Travancore style; as the temple gives its name to the city, its significance is clearly visible.

Diving out —>


46. For Those Blessings

@Velankanni, Tamil Nadu, India.

A journey to Velankanni is always a spiritual tour which is planned for a long time and sometimes accompanied by relatives or friends. But this one was so quick that even I had doubts about what I was planning to do; but not all the trips work according to the plan, and in my case most of them has deviated from the original route on many occasions leading to not too bad results, not much of any catastrophe to boast about. Even this trip would deviate on the way back, even as going to Velankanni was fixed as we booked tickets in a bus due to the difficulty of getting tickets so soon and also for reaching there straight; there was no railway station at Velankanni at that time and one had to stop at more than one place to get there in case the journey started in a train. It was a journey of more religious character to that small town located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal three hundred and fifty kilometers south of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu and twelve kilometers south of Nagapattinam, the nearest railway station. There was no time for preparation though; except for charging the batteries of the digital camera and mobile, and there were also books taken to read on the way even as reading while travelling in a bus is still considered bad by many people, but not by me.

The most important Roman Catholic shrine dedicated to Our lady of Good Health; the most popular Marian pilgrim centre had been in the list of the places to visit for too long, even as I had visited the place before and a few photos were taken, but that was very long ago and everything was so different at home and also at Velankanni years after that visit. Considering the fact that I visited three hundred and ninety four churches in those two years, also calculating this one, and the list was already too long at that time, there was the need to include Velankanni to the list; otherwise it wouldn’t be fit to be called a list, as there is no other Christian pilgrim centre in India which attracts so many visitors, as it stands as the most popular Christian shrine in South India. The other famous Marian pilgrim centres would be Vallarpadam, Koratty and Kuravilangad, but Velankanni’s popularity is unmatched, with three attributed miracles; the apparition of Mother Mary with Infant Jesus to a shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the rescue of a group of Portuguese sailors from a violent sea storm. It is fit to be called the ‘Lourdes of the East’ considering the frequency of visits from the devotees even during a time when it is not the season and the temperature is nearly unbearable.

The journey to Velankanni was pretty much horrible. There was that air-conditioned bus which was not of that good condition, and for which there was the need to wait so much that they kept telling every minute that it is coming in five minutes which would total to more than fourty five minutes or so, and considering the fact that we reached there early, it was such a bad decision to make an early exit from home. The bus had a problem with its air conditioning right where I was supposed to sit. It got so cold that I felt the need to be a polar bear or a penguin; even an abominable snowman would have been enough, no matter how bad or fat it looked. They never even understood Malayalam and kept shaking the head as if everything was so clear that I won’t have to worry at all. After eating not that good food at some random restaurant, there were Tamil movies, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa and Kovil, not the type of movies which I liked, and not really interesting for me, but they were quite easy to understand; may be because there was not much story in it except for the usual Romantic nonsense; they were not that bad, but still they lacked truth and these mindless Romantic movies were never my type. But still, I could say I watched two more Tamil movies as I slowly fell asleep watching the latter one.

The night in the bus was more horrible than a night at the museum in Kerala where the exhibits would not be taken care of. The person sitting right at the front of mine had his seat set in such way that I was like being caught between a rock and a hard place; or I would say the devil and a crocodile – doesn’t make that much sense, but for some reason, that came to my mind and I hope it got nothing to do with his face. I was stuck for such a long time until I was able to get out during a point when they stopped for taking some parcels out of the back of the bus. It was a great relief and an escape from the torture of being sandwiched between the seats of the bus and getting frozen at the same time. The double trouble was to continue very soon, but that break brought enough strength to me and I could continue being stuck between two seats. The life became good only when the bus reached Velankanni after enough delay and I could jump out of the evil place at which I was being held a prisoner like Jonathar Harker in a Dracula castle, without all the good things in it. The end of that bus ride made me decide something; not to travel in a bus for a place which is more than five hours away, especially not in an air-conditioned bus, not at all in a bus with people not speaking Malayalam or English.

The beautiful Basilica with Gothic style of architecture, painted white; that was not too far away and the pilgrimage started right after a cup of tea. As the Holy mass is conducted in many languages many times, there was the confidence to attend at least one of them and fortunately in was English. As the church is open from early in the morning to late in the evening, there wasn’t really the need to rush into it instead of looking around and enjoying the beauty and peace of the world around the Basilica. Even when it was not the season for pilgrims, there were still so many of them and it would have been so difficult to be there at the right time of pilgrimage; surely not for me who is not into that much of a crowd which prevents even a glass of tea at the time of need. There are also three shrines, some distance away from the Basilica, as well as pond and a fountain. A new church is also coming up near the Basilica, named the Morning Star, which is so different from any other structures seen in India, as it is not only huge, but one of its kind; almost fit to be called an architectural wonder. The need for the new church always existed, considering the fact the Basilica is filled even during the time when less people are expected; it can be imagined how difficult it would be during the fest and other celebrations.

It was the hottest time to visit the place, but the desire to visit was what kept me going, along with enough tea on regular intervals. The beautiful Basilica, the peaceful environment along with the inherent beauty of the sea and its coast was enough to make it a good day and the trip a great one. When the belief is as strong as the pillars of the church and faith as powerful as the sea, along with everlasting hope, makes life wonderful at Velankanni. For a place which was so severely hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the tsunami which followed, there had to be faith, belief and hope; with the blessings of Our lady of Good Health, the world around will only get better. As September 8 is commemorated as the feast of Our Lady of Good Health and the celebration starting on 29th August and ending on the day of the feast, blessed will be those crowded days. This is definitely a unique place of worship, and the belief of the people is stronger than the tempest and whirlwinds; all the storms which comes from the sea shall pale in comparison to the strength of faith, for it is the ultimate power; it is the route to salvation right here on Earth as well as in the afterlife.

Diving out —>


45. A City of Temples

@Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, India.

Wandering through the city of Kanchipuram will take one back to the time of the Pallava kingdom which ruled the northern Tamil Nadu region and the southern Andhra Pradesh region along with some parts of Karnataka and a very little area of Kerala. The Pallavas captured Kanchipuram from the Cholas somewhat around the reign of the fifth king of the Pallava line and it was elevated to the status of the capital even as the best examples of Pallava architecture is seen at Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram which could be visited on the same day of visiting Kanchipuram even if both are on different routes; both are accessible from Chennai itself and when Mahabalipuram is more historical than spiritual, Kanchipuram works the other way around; but both elements are present in these two cities in a tale of two cities which one will make up while visiting both on the same day. The Pallava kings ruled Mahabalipuram from Kanchipuram; therefore the latter should have been more important in a historical manner, but the roles have been twisted here with Mahabalipuram being a place which became popular for the architecture of Pallavas and it became the place of high significance of Tamil History; attracting so many tourists even from outside India as it gave rise to such an archeological interest. But Kanchipuram has taken a route which has more pilgrims than random tourists.

As some of the Pallava architecture, especially those of Mahabalipuram are modelled on the Buddhist viharas or monasteries, there has been discussions about the Pallava king bringing the sculptors and artisans back to Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram as spoils of war. Compared to Mahabalipuram, Kanchipuram has more of the South India architecture, basically Tamil. The Cholas drove the Pallavas away from Kanchipuram during the tenth king of the Pallava line, but the Pallavas re-captured Kanchipuram during the fourteenth king of the Pallava dynasty and held on to Kanchipuram till the end. After the fall of Pallava dynasty, the Kadava dynasty also claimed descent from the Pallavas; such was the fame of this dynasty which ruled in the South. Ever since gaining prominence after the eclipse of the Satavahanas who ruled most parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashrashtra stretching upto the north of Tamil Nadu, Pallavas used to be that great a dynasty that they are still considered among the greatest of them all in South India, along with Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. All the early Pallava royal inscriptions are either in Prakrit or in Sanskrit language though. The governance of Kanchipuram has been much studied by the later historians as the Pallava administration also had its own specialities even if not too different from the later kingdoms which came later.

As the word Pallava means “branch” in Sanskrit, while Chola meaning “new country”, Pandya meaning “old country” and Chera meaning “hill country”, the Pallavas are considered to be later offshoot of Cholas, who made Kanchipuram their capital and its glory was that it was the capital of the largest kingdom in South India of that time. When the major cities of Cholas were Cholapuram and Thanjavur, that of Cheras with their ancient capitals which were less known, followed by what is now Kollam and Kodungallur in Kerala, and that of Pandyas happened to be Madurai and Korkai, Kanchipuram had to be that wonderful a capital as the Pallavas were too strong a force for the Southern world around them. None of those big dynasties which preceded them gave that much importance to Kanchipuram before Pallavas; even the Kalabhras had their capital at Kaveripattanam which is not known as Puhar. Kanchipuram is one of the oldest cities in South India, and was a city of learning for Tamil, Sanskrit, and Pali even before the Pallava rule, but it was during this rule that the city came under the spotlight and most of the big temples which symbolize the city and gave it the name temple city, were built during the reign of this dynasty even as there were changes made to those complexes later.

Xuanzang or Huan Tsang, the famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and a highly skilled translator who travelled to India is supposed to have visited Kanchipuram too; how could someone forget this name which was always in those history books? Even in the Malayalam movie ‘Malappuram Haji Mahanaaya Joji’, there is mention for him which would remind so many people who studied History from Kerala syllabus about him, as he is one of the most seen figures in the text books who is from outside India, along with Napolean, Abraham Lincoln, Mao Tse Tung and George Washington along with those leaders on both sides during the First and the Second World Wars. But for some strange reason, South Indian History never had so much importance during the school days; they were so much ignored, and thanks to universities like Annamalai university which teaches the South Indian History as they added the History of Tamil country to the syllabus. It is the lack of this awareness of our history which keeps the sites like Kanchipuram unnoticed except for religious purposes; it is the same reason why people outside India come to visit Mahabalipuram more than the people of the same nation; they are even eager to know the history and culture of this part of the world rather than the local residents, which is a clear fault from the parents who hesitate to send their children to study arts; it is as if they have found a method in science to take all their wealth to the other world when the die.

While Huan Tsang is comparitively more known, the less known fact is that the founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma was born here, and so was the famous Sanskrit writer Dandin who wrote Dashakumaracharita, a Romantic prose in Sanskrit. The former might more known these days, with the movie 7aum Arivu, which is too fictional a story though; that would be something I call preverting history upto such an extent that the history would no longer be proud of you and your ancestry will abandon you. The mixture of science with history is the worst thing which can happen, considering it from a viewpoint which is free from all these influences of modernity. History has the soul which science lack, the soul which is related to religion, spirituality, literature, art and architecture; the combination will clearly remove that soul of history and make it just foolishness which will benefit science in return, but will drain history of its essence. History and Literature has to operate separate from science; they can have actresses who can’t act and talk about DNA, TNA or whatever they want to, but I wish they left history alone as it is; let the dead people live in peace being whatever they used to be, lets not make them a laughing stock just for the sake of some inferior entertainment which last only about two and half hours, as history is forever; when they exist as clear literary works and also when they surround you.

Varadharaja Perumal Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu was the first temple we visited and the most interesting of them all, as confirmed by the taxi driver himself. This one was originally built by Cholas as extended during the ages. The second one was Kanchi Kamakshi temple dedicated to Kamakshi, one of the forms of the goddess Parvati; the structure which looked kind of same for me even if smaller in comparison; to be honest almost every temple looked somewhat similar from the outside except for the size. Sri Ekambaranathar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was the third, looking similar from the front once again, but almost as big as the first one and the surroundings were better too. Considering the large number of Vaishnava and Shiva temples which existed there and after looking at their architectural similarity, I would refrain from describing them as it was a complicated procedure. There was actually the need for closer examination to enjoy the true beauty of ancient architecture, but as the temples were many and the time was limited due to a visit to Mahabalipuram earlier on the same day, it was an impossible task and should be left behind. There were two churches on the road between the two cities Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram too, but they were just white structures which were not that huge, just like those usual one one see around Tamil Nadu. There were also some mosques and Islamic shrines which were build when Kanchipuram was under the Islamic rule. A special mention has to be made for the Kanchipuram silk sarees, but that is not of ay use to me; but it is still a silk city too.

Diving out —>


43. More of Chola Effect

@Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India.

Being at Thanjavur or Tanjore was more of a result of the travel in local buses of travel in a journey from Velankanni back to Cochin which had more stops than one could ever imagine. Most of the Tamil Nadu was covered with this trip and another one which featured a return from Chennai which was part of a Kolkata trip; all these journeys interlinked in such a manner as to confuse myself too. This one actually interested me more than the other important stop at Thirchirappalli or Trichy due to the historical important which was hidden behind Thanjavur, a municipality and the headquarters of the Thanjavur district. Thanjavur is one of the ancient cities in India having a very long and varied history dating back to the Sangam period, the Golden Age of Tamil Art and Literature. The town was actually founded by a Mutharayar king Swaran Maran and rose to prominence during the rule of the Later Cholas when it became the capital of the Chola Empire which stretched it arms to such an extent that when it fell, it was that much of a loss to the Tamil country. After the fall of the Chola dynasty, the city was ruled by various dynasties like Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks, Thanjavur Marathas and finally annexed by the British East India company to later come under the British crown until India gaining independence and Thanjavur being part of the Southern state of Tamil Nadu.

This city had a major role in making me watch the Telugu movie ‘Magadheera’, even as it was later known it had no role in Tamil history and it was more based on some random kingdom in the North West of India which came under Islamic conquest; that was disappointing even if the flashbacks of the movie were pretty interesting, making the movie overall a good one. But they still mentioned the word ‘Chera’ in a song in its Malayalam translation which was what misguided me and made me travel eighteen kilometres just to watch this movie; there was no better movie running in any theatre at that time any way and this might have just been the right excuse to watch that movie, adding a Telugu movie to my list even as it was the dubbed version in Malayalam which I watched. It also made me watch some parts of ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’, which seemed pretty good from the part which I watched. As it was more related to the Chola-Pandya conflict which go back to the approximate centuries, it had to be more fun; when I watch it completely, I am hoping to relate with history at such a point which will make the study of Tamil History easier for me leading to a good knowledge of the South Indian History which has more roots in the Tamil nation than anywhere else. I would like a sequel too, and from what is heard, there is a possibility considering the end.

The story of a Thanjavur visit had to start at Brihadeeswarar Temple, also known as Rajarajeswara Temple and Peruvudaiyar Koyil; is the world’s first complete granite temple and with no doubt, we can say that it is a brilliant example of the major heights achieved by the Chola Empire and Thanjavur as the one of their capitals and major cities. This magnificient structure was built by Raja Raja Chola I, also known as Arunmozhi Thevar and one of the greatest kings of South India fit to be called ‘the Great’. He established the powerful Chola Empire by conquering almost all the kingdoms of southern India expanding the Chola Empire as far as Sri Lanka in the south, and Kalinga or the present Orissa in the North East. He fought many battles with the Chalukyas in the north and the Pandyas in the south to achieve this feat and soon there was not any other kingdom left in the South which was not under his influence as he had Thanjavur, Kanchipuram, Madurai and Vengi under his rule and also extending his power to the island nations of Sri Lanka; this incident reminding me of the various conquests of Britain by the various Germanic tribes, but this one was by a powerful Empire and thus it might be comparable to the Roman occupation of Britain as this empire also fell like the Roman Empire and the island was free only to be conquered by others later.

The invasion of Sri Lanka and the destruction of its capital Anuradhapura was a huge achievement for the king, even as the island was to be lost in the later ages and Cholas had to fight many wars in attempt to reconquer Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese monarchs were allies of their arch-enemies, the Pandyas. Raja Raja Chola commemorated his conquest of northern Sri Lanka by constructing a Shiva temple at Polonnaruwa which has survived to the present day, but Brihadesswarar Temple at Thanjavur is still the masterpiece of his powerful rule. The administrative system of Thanjavur and the other divisions of the Chola Empire as well as his devotion to Lord Shiva are quite interesting topics of discussion. It was his successes which enabled his son Rajendra Chola I to extend the empire even further, making the empire something which extended it arms beyond all expectations of any king of that time. His empire extended not only to Ceylon, but also to Maldives, Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. He defeated the kings who ruled the current areas of Bihar, West Bengal, Bangladesh as he went through the North East defeating everyone on the way to Burma. Malaysia and Singapore as well as parts of Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and Vietnam had to become his subordinates; that powerful was the Chola Empire.

The Shiva temple built by Rajendra Chola at Gangaikonda Cholapuram also has to considered along with this temple, as it also shows the magnificience of Chola architecture at a time of their peak. Coming back to the temple from these magnificient kings is a tough task, as history always take you into that imaginary world which is more accessible than the ‘Night at the Museum’ movies and the reality which they show in that unreal manner is far little a thing comparable to what you read and imagine out of it. As the temple had a patron as great as RajaRaja Chola I, it had the power to beone of the greatest monuments of Indian architecture; just like the kings who were close to the church in Europe and those who built mosques from the middle east to the Indian subcontinent; there should always be a powerful patron king for every religion to reach the zenith of its glory and here, Thanjavur had one. There is a big statue of Nandi, carved out of a single rock, at the entrance and when inside, its like being in a world so different; more like being in a fort of spirituality; it was incredibly hot though, and the legs were burning, every step without the chappals did drain all the spirits out of my spirituality and it did shorten the visit by some time. What impressed me the most was the gateways to the temple though; it was built like a fort as if to prevent the invaders from looting the temple and it was surrounded by defensible areas making it more of a religious fortress.

It was interesting to see so many foreign tourists at the place and most of them so much interested in the elephant which was standing right at the entrance. I was more surprised later to find that Thanjavur had a Roman Catholic Cathedral; my first impression was that it was just a fine and neat church. Sacred Heart Cathedral Church was a fine structure which was not that huge and painted white, which is not what I would want; it looked as if new, but from the inside, it seemed as if renovated from a small church; its been a cathedral since 1953 and under this docese comes the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health at Velankanni and Our Lady of Lourdes Basilica at Poondi, both of them painted white too. I rarely see a Roman Catholic Church in Tamil Nadu which is not painted white, and it is somewhat applicable to those of Church of South India too. Thanjavur is also well known for its education. But nothing matches the tourism which is mostly centered around one big temple; it is estimated that about fourty percent of the tourists from Europe and North America traveling around South India visit the Brihadeeswarar Temple which shows how important a structure it is, even for the foreigners; as history lives in those walls and spirituality is alive throughout the area inside the complex.

Diving out —>


42. The Junction Function

@Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India.

The visit to Coimbatore was in no way related to it being the second largest city in Tamil Nadu or it being a major commercial and industrial centre which a few people did dare to compare to Manchester and Leeds. It was not a history trip either, even as the region was ruled by the Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Empire and also the Madurai Nayaks and even became part of the kingdom of Mysore until being liberated by the forces of British East India company who ruled the place as a part of their vast Empire which existed all over the world, thanks to their naval power and the ideas of Renaissance which goes back to the classical antiquity. Even as the software field, education and healthcare has improved, the city still remains known more for the textile industry on which it has capitalized. It has served as the eastern entrance to the Palakkad Gap, the principal trade route between the west coast and east coast as well as the whole Tamil Nadu. As the gap is the lowest pass through the Western Ghats and also the only break which occurs in that stretch of the continuous Ghats which separates Kerala and Tamil Nadu which has resulted in the difference in the language and traditions of both states as well as prevented many invasions which could have happened, but didn’t even come into the picture, Coimbatore is of further importance to both states.

After being annexed to the Madras Presidency which stretched from Tamil Nadu to Malabar, the region of Coimbatore played a significant role in the Indian independence movement and after independence, there has been rapid growth of the city due to industrialization. As it is surrounded by the Western Ghats mountain ranges on the West and the North with reserve forests, the city is more green compared to the other cities which are situated further away to the centre and the coasts of Tamil Nadu. It also gets lots of rain, and there are times when there was more rain than what was on the other side of the Western Ghats; still the heat sometimes gets a little too high. The linking of Palakkad district of Kerala with Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu has been a boon more to this city which is still developing at a good rate. The Palakkad Gap has played a major role in enabling migrations into Kerala from other parts of India, especially Tamil Nadu, rather than the other way around. It also helped the Chera Kingdom to rule parts of both states together, especially Coimbatore, Erode, Karur; also due to their proximity to the border and Coimbatore’s similarity to the regions on the other side of the Western Ghats. Even if not proven, it could have always served as a border town.

The strategic importance of this gateway to Kerala would have been concerning the invaders from the other side of the Ghats, as it is in Kashmir during an Indo-Pak war; back in history the tactics would have been further simple though. The city has a large number of Keralites and also resident Malayalam speakers. Most of the people from Kerala are students who are studying for medicine or engineering in the colleges which are located close enough; Coimbatore is a place with easy access to almost every side. There are also people working, especially with the software boom which has been a steady process until recession and is coming back up. The city is the second largest software producer in Tamil Nadu, next only to Chennai, thus making it not just a garment manufacturing city. There are wind turbines on the outskirts of the city and the textile industry has made sure that the clothes are cheaper and of better quality compared to the rest. The 1998 Coimbatore bombings would be the worst chapter in the city’s history when fourty six people were killed and more than two hundred citizens injured. But the city has never stopped growing and continued to be what it has been.

Colimbatore Junction is a major railway station and junction in South India and also the second busiest railway station in Tamil Nadu in terms of passenger movement. Due to its strategic location so close to Kerala on its border and also because of the restriction imposed by the Palakkad Gap, almost every train passes through this area and it has become a medium through which Kerala and Tamil Nadu are connected, as well as some of those trains which pass through many states of India. But still there are cries for more trains and the number of passengers are always increasing due to the rising number of students and workers from other states who temporarily live in Coimbatore and go back home on regular intervals; sometimes so often as once in a week or so. Coimbatore Junction also yields the second highest revenue as long as Southern Railways is concerned. As a continuation to what was mentioned in the first paragraph, what got me to that city was the inability to get a direct train from Chennai to Cochin. There was the need to return on that day itself, as the trip could not be pre-poned unless there was the presence of a time machine or any random time travelling device or at least a teleporter. This made being at Coimbatore a necessity, as most of the trains went through there and the chance to find the right train was more.

There was also the chance for bus travel, but that would be a little jerky and the time consumed would be so variable. The train proved to be the right form of transport as there came the Bangalore-Ernakulam Intercity Express with an almost empty chair car which came as the biggest blessing ever; that was just my fifth or sixth journey in a chair car and for the first time in a semi-empty compartment. The train even managed to reach the destination in time. But the journey was not just about staying at Coimbatore or waiting for the train in that railway station itself, as it evolved into a tour all by itself even as there was always this backup plan in my pocket which I would call the right plan at that moment. There was a quick journey through the churches of Coimbatore, which started with a few CSI churches which proved to be big enough, and may be bigger than all the other churches which were to be seen later. May be the Church of Christ the King came the closest to breaking that record. There was surely the huge Bethel City Cathedral of the Indian Pentecostal Mission which eclipsed the rest; but that would be more of a hall though. Our Lady of Fatima Church was beautiful enough and added to some shopping, it was all good; there was not enough IPL jersies there which bothered me at that time, but not any more as IPL is semi-dead for me with the termination of Kochi Tuskers Kerala.

There was also the stylish mall which had its name written only in Tamil which made it impossible for me to figure what the name was. It was huge and some part of it was still under construction; it had KFC and they made me realize that my Shopper’s Stop card which a few people from Kolkata gave me was of no use for discounts. Even the chicken popcorn was not good enough and adjusting with Krushers ended up as the best option. St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church was also there, built beautifully in a perfect Kerala style, but didn’t open at that time. The best church of Coimbatore, in my opnion was St. Michael’s Church in the name of the leader of the army of angels, also known as ‘Sancto Michaeli Archangelo’ as written on the top along with ‘Sanctae Mariae Immaculatae’. The church was surely old and beautiful, but in a bad condition with no maintenance as one could see that both the paint and the cement looked as if drained away to a good extent. Fortunately, the interiors were better maintained and it looked fantastic from the exterior as well as the interior side; with some maintenance job, it would look perfect and be a better monument to the archangel. The sad condition of the church tormented me for sometimes until getting caught in that natural beauty which surrounded the train route on the way back to Kerala.

Diving out —>