A good friend’s wedding brought us to Chennai once again in February. We took a train to Chennai after a very long time, getting down at Chennai Central brought in a flood of memories and almost had this writer get a tad bit emotional remembering childhood days of returning to Madras from holidays. For us, it will always be Madras Central !
We took a cab and reached Hotel Vijay Park Inn near Koyambedu Bus station, the wedding event was supposed to be in evening and we had the whole day to chill. After a not so great complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we took an auto to the famous Vadapalani Murugan Temple. Despite living in Chennai for more than 2 decades, this writer never really visited the temple. The temple has a 200 year old history. A special mention for the Puliyodharai and Sweet Pongal at the temple !
Opposite the Vadapalani temple, we stopped at Hotel Saravana Bhavan for some delicious Madras style coffee !
Then, we hit upon the idea of going to yet another legendary place, Nalli. This iconic cloth store has been in business since 1928 and for anybody in Chennai and beyond, when you think of sarees, Nalli is what comes to the mind first. We took a cab to T.Nagar and walked down the Ranganathan Street, that is no longer recognisable with a flyover and all the platform shops missing. Ranganathan Street minus the platform shops and the chaos seems alien.
We walked to the old Nalli shop and bought a few sarees as a memorabilia. This writer’s memories of Nalli are about tagging along with mom and aunts to Nalli and watch them select sarees, running around, the annoyed stares of the strict salesmen and drinking cold water from the water dispensers in the shop ! Even the smell of the new textiles that fills the shop has not changed.
As lunch time was approaching, we decided to head to Thambi Vilas and walked all the way through Pondy Bazaar and T.Nagar, with waves of memories flooding the writer, Five Star Fancy Stores, Rathna Stores for steel utensils, Alankar for readymade clothes, the entire stretch was full of memories, one really wished they could go back in time !
At Thambi Vilas, we didn’t have to think too much before ordering – Vegetable and Chicken Biriyani, full meals, Paneer Soda, Ginger Soda and Elaneer Payasam ! Here are the vintage soda bottles !
If we ever had a boon that we could eat one thing non-stop without having our stomachs feeling full, this writer would ask for Thambi Vilas Veg.Biriyani, hands down !
Unfortunately, we do not have such a boon and had to hoist our heavy selves into a cab and go back to the hotel.
More than a Bus station
We took some rest at the hotel and as evening was setting in, two of us wanted to explore the twin temples of Koyambedu, the rest of the guys were too exhausted after the 3 km walk from Panagal Park to Thambi Vilas in mid afternoon “Madras veyil” (Madras heat), they did not want to step out until it was time for the reception !
Everybody knows Koyambedu for CMBT or the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus, the largest in Asia. If you lived in Madras in the pre-CMBT era, you would know Koyambedu for the vegetable market. Until this trip, we did not know that beyond the vegetable market and the bus station, Koyambedu has ancient temples – the Kurungaleeswarar and the Vaikundavasa Perumal temples.
Kurungaleeswarar temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, according to legends, the Shiva Linga was installed and worshipped by the sons of Rama – Lava and Kusa and was also known as Kusalavapuri. The temple’s inscriptions go back by 800 years to the Chola era of Kulothunga Chola III. One can also find the architectural style of the Vijayanagar reign. It seems the Thiruppugazh, a collection of hymns in praise of Lord Muruga, written in the 15th Century A.D. by the poet saint Arunagirinathar, refers to the area around this temple as Kosai Nagaram, eventually, the place came to be known as Koyambedu.
The antiquity and the beautiful sculpture can be seen as you walk along the circumambulatory passage around the temple. No photography is allowed near the main shrine, we could only click this one from the outer prakara.
It was time for the evening harathi when we visited the temple, it was a spectacle to see the harathi lighting up the dark Sanctum and the Shiva Linga. At the end of the harathi, someone sang the traditional Tamil hymns in praise of Lord Shiva, we savoured the rich cultural experience.
Beside the main shrine, is the shrine for Goddess Dharmasamvardhini – what a powerful name, the Goddess who protects Dharma ! The left foot of the idol is slightly stretched forward, one of the ladies offering her prayers told us, it was symbolic of the Goddess being ever ready to step out and destroy the evil forces that threaten to disturb Dharma ! We were quite in awe of the temple, its stories and the heritage.
Then, we visited the Vaikundavasa Perumal temple adjacent to the Shiva temple, this one was also built around the same time as the Kurungaleeswarar temple and has similar architecture, except that this one is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. When you visit Vaishnava temples, don’t miss the theertham or the Sacred Water, the camphor and tulasi flavoured water is so good, though you are given only spoonful, sometimes you would shamelessly want to go back for a second time !
There is a quite a bit of information about the legends of these temples on the internet, do read them. We had about an hour before the reception, so our’s was a quick visit, especially to the Vaikundavasa Perumal temple. We couldn’t get a better picture than this one as the light was fading.
Though the whole purpose of the trip was to attend a wedding, we were overjoyed that we made the best use of the day and converted it into a “temple tour of Koyambedu” !
The evening was spent having a memorable time at the friend’s wedding. Early next morning, we were back at the Chennai Central to take the Jan Shatabdi train to our hometown Nellore, if you happen to travel anywhere within 200 kms radius of your hometown, you wouldn’t miss a chance to visit it, would you?
- Both the temples are about 1.5 kms from CMBT, take a leisure walk and try some coffee at the various hotels on the way.
- The temples are open from 7 AM to 12 Noon and 4.30 PM to 9 PM.
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