Trip to Tiruchirappalli, Thanjavur, and Kumbakonam – Part 1
Posted on: July 6, 2018.

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The foundation for this trip was laid by one of my overseas relatives who had landed in Chennai for their kids’ summer vacation and planned a four-day, multi-city pilgrimage trip. When I enquired them about why they wanted to visit temple-towns specifically, I was happy to learn that they intended to introduce to their children the art, architecture, history, culture and tradition of their homeland, as they wanted to give their children—who had been brought up outside India—the opportunity to “keep connected to their roots” and “understand the significance of their ancestral heritage”.

With the premise set, we’d planned to travel by car—a round trip from Chennai to Tiruchirappalli first and thence to Tanjore, Kumbakonam, and back to Chennai. We started early in the morning—a little after 6:00 am on a Thursday—and arrived at our first stop in Trichy—the Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple in the island town of Srirangam—at nearly noon.

Before entering the temple, the first person to welcome us was “Gulabi Bhagavathi”, the 56-year-old temple elephant that offered to sit the kids, one at a time, on its back, for Rs.50 each. The mahout explained that they had to spend Rs.2500 per day to take care of Gulabi. The two children—one a 11-year-old and the other a 7-year-old—were thrilled to be hoisted on top of the elephant and actually sit on top of one.

But once we entered the temple, the first thing about it that impressed us most was its vastness. Consequently, we decided to make only a cursory tour of the temple premises first, and head out to the famous Ucchipillaiyar Temple atop Malakkottai in Trichy, thence to the 1,000-year-old “Kallanai” stone dam built by Karikala Chozhan, and then return to the Srirangam Temple, as we would need all of two hours, or maybe even more, to do justice to our Srirangam temple visit.

We arrived a little after 7.00 pm at our lodging’s restaurant as we all needed a quick snack—ice-creams(!)—and then headed straight to the Ranganatha Swamy Temple for a darshan of the presiding deity. We looked for a guide who could present to us the facts about the temple, but unfortunately there was none. It was only during our visit to the “Big” Temple the next day, that we actually got to know more about the Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple.

However, due to the mercilessly long queue of devotees, a time crunch, and two too impatient little boys who wouldn’t be able to wait long hours in line, we were pressed to purchase special darshan tickets—against our principle of “not having to pay for divine grace”—and made our approach towards the deity. Though each of us was given only seconds to stand before the Lord, I had a fairly satisfying darshan of the reclining Sri Ranganatha Swamy, a form of the Hindu God Vishnu.

Subsequently, we walked around in circumambulation (“pradakshina”), stopping to worship at the sub-shrines “sannidhis” on our way. By the time we finished, it was more than two hours, the time was well past 10 pm, and all of us, kids and adults alike, were truly famished. We had dinner, and retired for a good, long sleep. The next day we headed to Tanjore to visit the Brihadeeswara Temple, and the Tanjore Palace and Saraswathi Mahal Library.

…continued in the next part

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