If there is one place that we have visited time and again and would never hesitate to visit again and again, it has to be Tamil Nadu. Having lived in TN for most part of our lives, we’ve been to the popular places in the state atleast twice, some even more and yet, when we planned for our next road trip, TN came on top of the list without any hesitation – such is the enchantment of the place !
Our trip began on 11th August, Srirangam, Thanjavur, Madurai and Kodaikanal were on the list.
NH45 – Awesome is the word !
NH45 is this amazing road that connects Chennai and Theni, passing through Trichy and Madurai. Crossing the Chennai city limits is the only hindrance, from there on, it is one hell of a smooth drive. The locales are beautiful with green fields, coconut trees, villages, hills, decent traffic – in short, a dream drive !
Between Chennai and Tindivanam, you will find a stretch of Coffee shops “Kumbakonam Degree Coffee”, serving the traditional filter coffee of Kumbakonam. There is a coffee shop every half a kilometer !! Food is never a problem on this highway, one can find very good hotels and eating joints throughout.
We started from Chennai at 10 AM, by 2 PM, we were stopping at Hotel Aryaas on the outskrits of Trichy for lunch – a distance of around 312 kms in just under 4 hours ! The South Indian Thali was superb, the Sambhar was a teeny bit disappointing but the Vatha Kuzhambu and other dishes made sure we stuffed ourselves till we could eat no more !
Srirangam – the Capital of Vishnu Bhakti
Our first destination was Srirangam, the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world ! Srirangam is about 10 kms from Trichy, while travelling from Chennai, one need not enter into Trichy, there is a road that takes you directly to Srirangam. If you take the train from Chennai, Srirangam comes first.
Srirangam is an island formed by the two rivers Kaveri and its tributary Kollidam. Trichy and Srirangam lie on either side of the Kaveri. Trichy or Thiruchirapalli is one the largest cities in Tamil Nadu, this time we were going to give Trichy a miss.
For Vaishnavaites, Srirangam is “Bhuloka Vaikuntam”, (Heaven on Earth), the earthly abode of Lord Vishnu, in his reclining form as Lord Ranganathaswamy. Srirangam is the first among 108 Divya Desams (Holy Abodes) of Lord Vishnu as listed in the Nalayira (4000) Divya Prabhandam of the Azhwars.
Interesting stories from History
The temple has been in existence since the Sangam Era as it has been mentioned in the famous Tamil Epics of the Era, so the temple has been around for roughly 2000 years, though the exact dates and history are not known, first recorded inscriptions date back to 10th Century A.D by which time the temple was a thriving place of worship. Several dynasties played a role in building and expanding the temple.
In the 1300s, disaster struck the temple during the attacks of Malik Kafur whose army looted the temple and set it on fire. It is believed that the famous Vaishnavaite philosopher Vedanta Desikan had a brick wall built in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum to protect the temple and had the idols taken out of the temple to a safe place before the attack. As many as 12000 devotees were killed while trying to defend the temple.
The idols travelled through most places in South India, they were safeguarded in the Tirumala temple until they were returned to Srisailam. In Tirumala, one can still find a mandapa named “Ranga Mandapa” as this is where the idols were believed to have been kept.
A temple town? No, a town temple !
In a way, Srirangam is not a temple. Half the town is inside the temple ! In ancient times, the entire town of Srirangam was within the temple precincts ! Starting from the 236 feet Raja Gopuram (main gateway), there are 7 Prakaaras (outer enclosures) leading to the main temple. To this day, each prakara houses shops, residential buildings, offices, business places and so on, probably the only temple in the world to have all this within its precincts ! Even after 4 visits, we have not been able to understand the layout of the temple !
We reached the temple around 3.30 PM. It being a Sunday, the temple was a little crowded, so we opted for the Rs.250/- special darshan, it took us about half an hour to complete the darshan of Lord Ranganatha. Interestingly, Lord Rangantha is not accompanied by his consorts, Sridevi and Bhudevi or Lord Brahma as is common in most other temples dedicated to Lord Ranganatha.
The interiors of the temple are massive, huge pillars, high ceilings, your mind is boggled to understand how the architects of ancient times managed to build such temples !
The Grand Gopurams of Srirangam
The must see of Srirangam temples are the Gopurams (Temple towers). There are a total of 21 Gopurams in Srirangam.
The most important one is the 236 feet Raja Gopuram (main Gopuram). This towering structure can be seen a few kilometers away as you reach Srirangam. If you get on top of the Rock Fort at Trichy, 10 kms away, you can still see this Gopuram.
It is difficult to fit the entire Gopuram in your lens unless you crouch on the road, that is exactly what this photographer did much to the amusement of passersby ! But, what a Gopuram it is !
The structure as it stands today was built in 1987. The base though is several centuries old and remained incomplete until 1987. The base is so colossal, it covers the breadth of the entire street ! The original builders must have grown exhausted after building the base alone !
When you go right under it, the sheer gigantic size is sure to give some heart stopping moments !
The next big one is the Vellai (White) Gopuram on the east side of the temple. This one too seems to touch the sky !
There are several legends associated with it, you can read all the interesting ones on the internet. Adjacent to this gopuram, there is a 1000 pillar mandap which has some beautiful sculpture and art, however, it is currently being renovated.
Gopuram View point
Just as you enter the temple through the main entrance, there is a viewpoint from where you can see all the 21 gopurams, spread on all directions. The ticket to the viewpoint is Rs.20/-. A few steps lead to the top of a nearby official buildings from where you can see all the gopurams. Do not miss this, the view is breathtaking !
The gopurams on the South side with the Raja Gopuram.
The Vellai Gopuram and other gopurams on the East.
The gold plated Sanctum Sanctorum and the gopurams on the North.
There are a few small gopurams on the West.
Feasting on Prasadam !
The best part of Srirangam is the Prasadam – the Puliyodarai (Tamarind Rice), Sweet Pongal and Curd Rice ! Trust us, you cannot find such heavenly food anywhere else, not even in heaven ! You cannot stop with just one round of prasadam ! Thankfully, you can buy the prasadam how many ever times you want, each serving is Rs.10/-. There were times when we skipped dinner and had only prasadam ! This time we limited ourselves only to Sweet Pongal because we had a very heavy lunch. But, it is worth a trip all the way to Srirangam, just to taste the Prasadam ! May Lord Ranganatha forgive us for saying that !!
Goddess Ranganayaki Temple
There is a separate temple for Goddess Ranganayaki, you reach this temple after a long walk between one prakaara and another, you won’t even know which direction you are headed unless you follow the sign boards ! It feels like walking in your locality from one temple to another !
Photography is allowed only outside the main temple area and we couldn’t click too many pictures. Here is a cross section of the temple, somewhere near the Goddess’ temple !
The Goddess’ temple has paintings on its high ceiling.
If building temples with such lofty ceilings and pillars is one thing, painting on those ceilings in another remarkable feat !
Walking through the largest of temples, we finally sat down to take some rest after nearly 3 hours inside the temple. If you want to see every bit of the temple, it could take another 2 hours !
You cannot say much about these temples, except being thankful that one got a chance to visit these wonders !
– Srirangam temple is open from 6 AM to 1 PM and 2 PM to 9 PM.
– The Viswaroopa Darshan at 6 AM is a nice time to visit the temple. The early morning pooja has the temple elephant, a horse and bull being taken inside the Garbha Griha to awaken to the Lord. We attended this pooja once and the huge elephant walking out of the Garbha Griha scared the hell out of us !
– Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the Garbha Griha, with due respects to the religious customs and beliefs, God belongs to everybody and all are equal before God.
– Hop over the Kaveri to Trichy. This bustling metropolis is a must visit for the Rock Fort. The gigantic rock jutting out of the landscape is considered one of the oldest formations in the world. There are rock cut caves belonging to the Pallava Era, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva known as Thayumanavar temple and the Uchipillayar temple at the top of the rock dedicated to Lord Ganesha. The top of the rock can only be reached by foot. We had visited this place in our earlier trips. Not to be missed.
– You wouldn’t need your own vehicle in Trichy and Srirangam, public transport is available aplenty along with cabs and autorickshaws.