TAMILNADU

Where stories never end

Overview

Covering an area of 130,058 sq km, Tamil Nadu is the tenth largest state in India. The bordering states are Kerala (west), Karnataka(north-west) and Andhra Pradesh (north). To the east of the state is the Bay of Bengal, and the state encircles the union territory of Puducherry. The southern most tip of the Indian peninsula is in Tamil Nadu

The summer in Tamil Nadu starts in March and ends in May.The temperature may rise up to 40°C, but the hill stations in the state are the best places to visit to escape the heat of plains. The monsoon season is from June till September. The weather will be humid due to heavy downpours and the temperature will hover between 24ºC and 30ºC. The winter in Tamil Nadu stretches from October to February. This season is favorable for sightseeing trips and the temperature ranges from 21ºC to 30ºC during this period.

Tamil Nadu is the land of festivals and the easiest way to understand the culture of a region is to attend a local festival. Some of the popular state festivals are International Yoga Festival (Puducherry), Pongal(statewide), Thyagaraja Aradhana (Thiruvaiyaru), Teppam (Float) Festival(Madurai), Natyanjali Dance Festival (Chidambaram), Chithirai Festival(Madurai), Karthikai Deepam Festival (statewide), Chennai Festival of Music& Dance (Chennai) and Mamallapuram Dance Festival (Mamallapuram).

Rich in history, literature and culture, Tamil Nadu isstrongly rooted in its heritage despite progressing by leaps and bounds. The state has five World Heritage Monument sites certified by UNESCO, 48 Centres declared as Heritage Towns by the Government of Tamil Nadu and Innumerable Heritage Monuments declared by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Archaeology Department, Government of Tamil Nadu. 

The shining example of Tamil Nadu’s legacy is in its architectural heritage.The rock-cut caves to intricately carved temples in the state reflect the skills of the craftspeople who lived here centuries ago. Mahabalipuram, which is a short drive from Chennai, is a living example of the rich heritage of the state. The Shore Temple and other monuments in the region were recognized as aWorld Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. These rock-cut cave temples, monolithic temples and sculptures were built between the 6th and 9th centuries during the time of Pallava rulers. 

In 2004, UNESCO awarded World Heritage Site status to what is collectively known as the Great Living Chola Temples. They were built between the 11th and 12th centuries. It consists of three temples – the Brihadeeshwara Temple atThanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. 

In Thanjavur, we cannot miss the renowned art and craft that flourishes here which includes the bronze statues, especially that of Nataraj (Dancing Shiva)and the unique Tanjore paintings (known for their gold-coated finish). 

The meter-gauge Nilgiri Mountain Railway, running between Mettupalayam-Conoorand  Ooty, is also part of the UNESCO Heritage.

The temples of Tamil Nadu serve as torch-bearers for much of the state's unique culture and traditions and are as vibrant and richly varied as the state itself. This isbecause every dynasty that ruled over the land brought its own values and influences into its infrastructural endeavours

The Royal Cholas of South India had a magnificent reign that dates back to the 3rd century BCE and held strong until the 13th century CE.The later Chola kings were not only great warriors and capable administrators,but also prolific architects, which is evident from the numerous exquisite temples that dot the landscape of Tamil Nadu.

The great Chola king, Rajaraja II (1143 CE –1173 CE), built the Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram, which is ranked only third after the two famed Chola temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. Despite being smaller than the other two, the Airavatesvara temple contains artistic marvels that set it apart, exemplifying the Chola dynasty's remarkable achievements inthe fields of art, sculpture, and architecture.

According to legend, the Airavatesvara temple was named after the white elephant who prayed in this temple, Airavat, who belonged to the king of heaven, Indra. One myth says that Airavat was cursed by the rishiDurvasa during the Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean by the gods and demons together) such that its white skin became black. Then while praying andwashing in this temple’s tank, the myth says that Airavat regained his lost white colour. According to another myth, Yama (the god of death) was cursed byarishi to have a never-ending burning sensation but by praying here and bathing in the temple tank, he was able to free himself from the curse

According to various records, the temple once had seven walled tiers that were destroyed during invasions by the Delhi Sultanate armies led by Malik Kafur (1311 CE), Khusrau Khan (1314 CE), and Muhammad Bin Tughlaq(1327 CE), the remnants of which can still be seen in bits and pieces among thescattered ruins. When entering the temple, one notices a big gopura a little distance from the Nandi mandapa and baali-peetha, the upper portion of which has been completely damaged. Its magnificence, however, can be imagined basedon the smaller gopura that stands inside and has been preserved in its entirety.

While Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram temples make an impression with their sheer enormity, this one compensates for its diminutive stature with its intricacy. The smaller gopuram that serves as the entrancewayhas a row of pillars with beautiful ganas, surasundaris, and other motifs. A big Nandi mandapa and a smaller bali-peetha with magnificent lotus-petalcarvings stand in front of it. To prevent people from walking on thebali-peetha's melodic stairs, they have been locked and covered with an irongrill. The baali- peetha's staircase blends in with the temple's sculptedpanels, which are embellished with miniature dancing figures. The fundamental concept of this temple's embellishment is a condition of everlasting joy and enjoyment, which is expressed through music and dancing.

Beautifully sculpted couchant bulls can also be seen from outside the temple's gate on the prakara, or outer wall. On the inside of the prakara that runs around the paved courtyard and surrounds the temple, thereare pillared cloisters with cells in between for deities. These cloisters havebeen enlarged and transformed into mandapas in each of the four corners. The famed 'Rishaba Kunjaram' sculpture, which depicts the conjoined heads of a bulland an elephant with distinct bodies, is carved on the railing of one of the staircases leading to the pillared portico.

Another remarkable aspect of this temple is the miniature panels with inscriptions that narrate stories about the 63 Nayanmars (Shaivasaints), further demonstrating the strong connection of the Cholas to Shaivism.Surprisingly, some of the panels even include scenes from everyday life, suchas ladies in yoga poses, a lady giving birth to a child with the assistance offemale attendants, and so on. A separate sanctum for the Devi (Devanayaki Ammantemple) was built subsequently.

At this point, it must be apparent that we’ve only touched the surface in terms of the various intricate embellishments and stories covering every inch of this mythical, magical temple. Not only is it a placefor spiritual convergence but it is actually a storyteller’s paradise with its various depictions of mythological stories and contemporary lifestyles from that era which, if observed with a keen eye, could keep one entertained forseveral hours easily. You could assume you know what you’re missing out on ifyou haven’t visited this temple yet or you could come here to write your own stories as you set out to interpret & uncover the innumerable stories etched in stone here from a bygone era of Chola power & prosperity.​

 

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