As the electric train was approaching the 137-year-old Thanjavur Railway Station, the co-passenger told the story of an old British railway chief engineer. He was sleeping when the steam loco which was going at 40 miles per hour speed. Suddenly he felt that something wrong on the track. He immediately pulled the chain to a stop. And with the help of hurricane lamp walked about two furlongs ahead, there he saw a wide crack on the broad gauge rail. That was around 1870. South Indian Railway Company (GSIR) operated a broad gauge rail service in Thanjavur between 1861 and 1875. When the present spree is to convert meter gauge top broad gauge, in 1875, the broad gauge was converted to meter gauge.
As promised, Bala was at the station to receive me. In fact, we met during a marriage in Palakkad, a city in northern Kerala which is 300 Kilometers away from Thanjavur. He is from Tanjavur but now the foremost catering expert in Palakkadu. After the hearty meals, I went to appreciate him of his culinary skill. I asked his name; he said Ra. Balasubramanian Inke. Ra stands for Ramasubramanian is father and Inke a word of respect inTamil. In fact, there are many Brahmins from Tanjavur have settled in Palakkad creating a mini Tanjavur there with Kalpathy (stone walkway), Agraharam (village). These houses typically are having high and small windows depriving the residents the very necessary Oxygen. Hence many of these villagers are anemic, and their teeth are protruding.
Once brimming with human drawn rickshaws, horse carts and cycle rickshaw Thanjavur is now high tech with internet based cab services, taxis and auto rickshaws. Bala managed to arrange one, now almost extinct, Cycle rickshaw. On the way to the UNESCO hereditary site famous Brihadeeswarar Temple, the Rickshawallah Subbu stopped at the Schwartz Church, a historical monument located in the palace garden. This was built in 1779 by Serfoji II as a token of affection for Rev. C.V. Schwartz a missionary of the Danish Mission. Yes, Thanjavur is highly tolerant towards caste and creed and religion where the communal clash is almost none so far. St.Peter's Higher Secondary School at Thanjavur was established by Rev. C F Schwartz during 1784. Originally founded as a college, it was the first school in South India which taught English to the local people Thanjavur is known as the rice bowl of Tamilnadu. Thanjavur is a combination of three Tamil words –Than (cold), Chei (farmland) and oor (city). Thanjavur is the land of wet paddy fields. Lord Neelamegha (Blue Cloud) Perumal, an Avatar of Vishnu killed a demon called Tanjan, and the name Tanjore came is another explanation.
The great living Chola temples are the Brihadeeswara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram and Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram. Brigadeeswara temple is a UNESCO heritage site and is the most visited tourist attraction in Tamilnadu. Peruvudaiyar Kovil is the third temple of the same architecture. Peruvudaiyar Kovil is also known as "Thanjai Periya Kovil and RajaRajeswara Temple Rajarajeswaram Temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.The temple stands amidst fortified walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The Vimana (temple tower) is 198 ft (60 m) high and is one of the tallest in the world. The belief is that the shadow of the Vimanam never falls on the ground. But I cannot vouch this as I was under the shadow of the great Vimanam.
(Vimanam has another meaning in Tamil- aeroplane. The demon king Ravana abducted Sita Devi in one such contraption. Strange this is much before Leonardo da Vinci drew the picture of an Aircraft or Wright brothers flew one) The spherical shaped Kumbam (the apex or the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple weighs around 80 tons. The statue of Nandi Devi, carved out of a single rock measuring about 16 ft (4.9 m) long and 13 ft (4.0 m) high adorns the entrance. The rock is Krishnasila ( rock of Krishna, black in colour ) is from a quarry say 60 miles from Tanjore.
The emperor, Rajaraja Chola I, alias Arulmozhivarman had a dream with a vivid image of the temple to be built at the beginning of the tenth century. Unlike the conventional structure, trigonometrical axial concept was used in construction. The omnipotent proximity to of Lord Shiva and the king is reflected in the structure. The Chola dynasty used bronze sculpture extensively.
Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Rama Perunthachan was the architect and engineer ( peru= great. thachan =carpenter). Stone deities cover the entire floor above the 16 feet basement of the temple. Shiva's dance is a major theme. In earlier days Devadasis were part of the culture similar to Kumari culture of Nepal. Yearly Bharatanatyam dance contests were indispensable ritual here. Water and sanitary engineering within the compound is another engineering marvel Juggernaut temple in Puri and temples in Tanjore have a lot in common. The chariots or temple cars are of same structure, the permission from to tree is sought by the main carpenter before felling it to make the Radham (temple car) Access to the Karuvarai in the shape of a Vimanam means "womb chamber" from Tamil word care for the foetus is only for the priests.Garbhagriha for circumambulation (pradakshina) is a holy ritual. The inner Mandapa leads out to a rectangular mandapa and then to a twenty-columned porch with three staircases leading down. Sharing the same stone plinth is a small open mandapa dedicated to Nandi, Shiva's sacred bull mount. Besides Siva, enormous statues of the Koshta Moorthigal like Dakshinamurthy, Surya, Chandra are all placed strategically. The eight powerful guardians of the eight directions -Ashta-Dikpaalakas namely Indra, Agni (Fire), Yama ( God of death), Nirṛti (dancer), Varuṇa (Sun), Vāyu (Air), Kubera (Rich), and Īśāna are in place so that no demon can enter. The double walled structure also meant to thwart the intruders. To take the capstone to the top of the Gopuram would have been done by inclined cantilever structures. The white elephant transporting a devotee right up to heaven is a fascinating masterpiece of a mural. (Incidentally, the white elephant is an insult meaning unnecessary luxury).
Other murals to represent Rajaraja and his guru or Chola frescoes wit =thSiva in different dancing poses are done magnificently. Images of beautiful Asura women with majestic movements are seen carved in there. There are damages on the walls, murals, paintings and statues due to weather, oil, soot and wind. Poor maintenance is apparent in everywhere. But using de-stucco process, a few of the art replaced by Nayak dynasty were restored. Once brimming with 1000 staffs, 400 artists, many Brahmin priests, scholars and scores of musicians, should have been unique in Thanjavur. The 108 poses of Bharatanatyam is fabulous. Peruvudaiyar Kovil popularly known as the 'Big Temple ' turned 1000 years old in September 2010. The gold-plated kalasam (copper pot or final) for the final consecration to crown the Vimana, the 59.82-metre tall tower above the sanctum was a special presentation by the king. The streets were narrow; there was serpentine queue on both sides of the roads. On the right was a bank and on left an ATM; the aftermath of demonetization by the Modi Government is taking the toll. A lone policeman was monitoring the crowds often crisscrossing the road.
Bala has an amusing anecdote to tell me.
Rupee 1000 currency note released by Reserve Bank of India on 1 April 1954 to honor the historic Peruvudaiyar Kovil, a UNESCO World Heritage site. But that was short lived as Indira Gandhi demonetised the same in 1975.A ₹ 5 Special Commemorative coin also was to mark the millennium year While I was engrossed on the architectural marvel. On 26 September 2010 (Big Temple's fifth day of millennium celebrations), as a recognition of Big Temple's contribution to the country's cultural, architectural, epigraphical history, a unique ₹ five postage stamp featuring the 216-feet tall giant Raja Gopuram was released by India Post. Mumbai Mint issued Rs 1000 Commemorative Coin with the same picture as on the Rs 5 coin. It was the first 1000 Rupees coin to be released in the Republic of India coinage. This coin was a NonCirculative Legal Tender In 2010, the then Tamil Nadu chief minister, M Karunanidhi renamed, a type of high productivity paddy variant, as Raja Rajan-1000. To mark the millennial year of the construction of the temple, a new hybrid rice variety – Raja Rajan 1000- was introduced. There is a rice research institute in this rice bowl. Tanjore painting, a canvas style unique to the region is seen everywhere. Besides, Tanjavur dolls & plates are outstanding products. At Kovil Venni, a battle ground situated 15 miles (24 km) to the east of the city is also worth visiting.Chola king Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014) constructed the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur is temple is considered to be one of the best specimens of South Indian temple architecture. The southern side of the Marata palace third quadrangle of the palace has 190 ft (58 m) tower like building, called the Goodagopuram.the five museums show the history of Tanjavur vividly. Tyagaraja Aradhana, a Carnatic music festival held annually at Thiruvaiyaru, located 13 km (8.1 mi) away from the city is worth attending. Sambhar is most hot liquid edible dish in South originated in Tanjore. But the credit of inventions goes to Samba, son of Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji. The story is that Samba was looking for a good dinner, but his cooks took leave that day. So Samba tried to make Dal Curry (Pulse), but he could not find the Cocoon (Tamarind ) famous in Maratha. Hence he was forced to use Puli (South Indian tamarind) instead. And he was surprised to taste this miracle gravy . and the name stuck Sambhar made by Samba. Musical shops selling instruments like veena, tambura, violin, mridangam, travel and kanjira is spread over the city.
Tanjore is also known as Gateway of Delta. The Tamil University, It is the only one of its kind for the Tamil language doing higher research in Tamilology and advanced study in various allied branches like linguistics, translation, lexicography, music, drama and the manuscript log is an ideal place for scholars. As I was bidding farewell to the majestic city with a Thanjavur paintings, sarees, large copper plates and of course a small musical instrument. No, I also carried the famous Tanjore Dolls as well. Alas, the Tanjavur Bommais (dolls) are not as famous as the Chinese Dolls. Both do acrobatics and boomeranging movements for time immemorial. We had a good South Indian meal at a vegetarian restaurant. All ingredients spread on tender plantain leaves. Bala was telling that the healthy digestion is better is eaten by sitting cross-legged- lotus poses as per Yoga. At the position the taste will be ten folds, according to him Had to agree as he is a master chef himself. The spread included Dal (pulse), Ghee, Kottu (side dish, sambhar, rasam, rice among many. Before winding up, the way to fold the leaf is critical. If you enjoyed the food, fold it from your side to other side and vice versa. The initial laying of the leaf is also necessary, keep the top to your left. And eating or touching food with the left hand is a bad omen or ill manner. The influx of not-vegetarian hotels conventionally called Military hotels are gaining popularity in this temple town,
And the broad gauge train took me away from a slice of history where Marathas, Cholas, Bhonsles, Pandyas, Naiks, Dutch, English and Cheras found solace. And the journey from the land where Sambhar was originated created mixed feelings. The waving hands of Bala and Subbu were vanishing. But the oil lamps of those temples seem becoming brighter.