….second post on Tamil Nadu…. Click on photos to enlarge/reduce….
Travelling South of the Kaveri/Kollidam River
Once the Kollidam River is crossed going south, we access cities whose history is fully intertwined with it: Kumbakonam, Darasuram, Thanjavur and Tiruchirappalli.
The Kaveri River forms a delta 16 kilometres west of Tiruchirappalli where the river divides into two streams—the Kaveri and the Kollidam— which form the island of Srirangam before going their separate ways.
Kumbakonam dates back to the Sangam period (more than 2000 years ago) and was ruled by Early Cholas, Pallavas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks and the Thanjavur Marathas. It rose to be a prominent city between the 7th and 9th centuries CE when it served as a capital of the Medieval Cholas.
Kumbakonam is known for its temples and mathas (monasteries). There are around 188 Hindu temples in this “Temple Town” where the Mahamaham festival (the Kumbamela of South India), which attracts millions of peoples, is held every 12 years.
Here a sense of the old town comes alive when, walking through its neighbourhood, we find market stalls, old craft stands and small residences wrapped around each one of the many temples.
From the long list of temples we can name two very important: the Sarangapani Temple – a Vaishnavite temple built by the Nayak Kings during 15th century- and the Adi Kumbeswarar, a Saivite temple.
Although not the most important temple in town, the Ramaswamy Temple, dedicated to Lord Rama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) was one of the more memorable I visited. The 16th century Nayak structure is handsome and its decoration is simply exquisite.
From Kumbakonam it is a short distance to reach Darasuram. This famous old town is well known for the Airavateswara temple constructed by the Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century CE. The temple is an UNESCO World Heritage monument.
Going west from Kumbakonam I reached Thanjavur, a city whose history is also long and complex.
The town served as the capital of the Medieval Cholas until the emergence of Gangaikonda Cholapuram in about 1025. During the first decade of the eleventh century, king Raja Chola I constructed the Brihadeeswarar temple. After the fall of Cholas, the city was ruled by various dynasties like the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks, Thanjavur Marathas and the British Empire.
Although the town main attraction is the grand Brihadeeswarar temple, there are important non-religious buildings from which stands out the Maratha palace, originally constructed by the Nayak kingdom rulers of Thanjavur. After the Nayak’s fall it served as the official residence of the Thanjavur Maratha.
The palace complex consists of the Sadar Mahal Palace, the queen’s courtyard and the historically famous Durbar Hall. The Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall and the Royal Palace Museum are situated in the Sadar Mahal Palace. The palace includes a small bell tower and the very important Saraswathi Mahal Library.
Proceeding further west from Thanjavur I reached Tiruchy. The town recorded history begins in the 3rd century BCE when, for 600 years, Uraiyur was the capital of the Early Cholas. Tiruchirappalli has also been ruled by the Pandyas, Pallavas, Vijayanagar Empire, Nayak Dynasty, the Carnatic state and the British.
The Ranganathaswamy Temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, is located on the island of Srirangam. It is listed as the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world. Its perimeter is 4,116 metres, it occupies 156 acres, and it has 21 gopurams (towers), of which the Rajagopuram is 72 m high. Originally built by the Cholas, the temple was later renovated, between the 9th and 16th century, by the Pandyas, the Hoysalas, the Madurai Nayaks, and during the Vijayanagar Empire.
The Rockfort is a fortress which stands atop a 273-foot-high rock in the center of town. It consists of a set of monolithic rocks accommodating many rock-cut cave temples. Originally built by the Pallavas, it was later reconstructed by the Madurai Nayaks and Vijayanagara rulers. The temple complex has three shrines, two of which are dedicated to Lord Ganesha, one at the foot and the Ucchi Pillayar Temple at the top, and the Thayumanavar Temple between them. The Teppakulam tank at the foot of the Rockfort is surrounded by bazaars.
The Kaveri River is the lifeline of Tiruchi. Just west of the city the river divides into two streams to form the island of Srirangam.
My trip ended in Madurai, another very important Tamil city. The recorded history of the city begins in the 3rd century BCE and has been ruled, at different times, by the Early Pandyas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Later Pandyas, Madurai Sultanate, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Chanda Sahib, Carnatic kingdom, and the British.
Madurai is built around the Meenakshi Amman Temple, which acted as the geographic and ritual center since ancient times (although the present structure was built between 1623 and 1655 CE). The old city is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular streets around the temple. Vishwanatha Nayak (1159–64 CE), the first Madurai Nayak king, redesigned the city in accordance with the principles laid out by Shilpa Shastras related to urban planning.
The huge temple is dedicated to Parvati, known as Meenakshi, and her consort, Shiva as Sundareswarar. The complex houses 14 very tall gopurams (gateway towers), with the southern tower standing 52 metres high.