Tanjore, Thiurvarur et. all

Dairy Entry

 There are 2 things that struck me the most during the trip to Thiruvarur and surrounding places last week. One is the fact that poverty and hunger do not confine themselves to slum dwellers on the banks of sewage canals, but equally exist in the village masses, struggling for a living on the once fertile river basins. Probably a direct impact of the fact that profits from farming and other professions of the country side have not kept pace with inflation rates. One can spot infinite number of ailing old men and women, pestering tourists for alms everywhere - in the temples, shops, roads, etc.

The other is a politically motivated obsession with the Tamil language and an effort to promote it as the primary language of worship in ancient temples. Unlike my previous visits here, this time i saw that there was deliberate effort to address deities only with a Tamil translation of their names and not to mention anywhere their original Sanskrit names. It can take considerable effort for you to figure out that 'Perunthirupiraatiyaar' in Lalgudi is 'Pravruddha shrimati' or that 'Paalinum nan mozhiyaal' in Thiruvaimur is 'Kshiropavachana naayaki'. Well, it does sound very poetic to address the goddess in Thiruvarur in chaste Tamil as 'Alliyankothai', but only if we do not loose the more traditional name 'Neelotpalaamba' in the process.

It would take too much of my effort and the reader's time , if i were to write a detailed account of all places i visited and things i experienced. I'll just mention three incidents that happened on the evening of the second day of our tour, which i think will make an interesting write up.

The route from Vedarnayam to Thiruvarur was at it's scenic best. The huge backwaters from the ocean brimmed and so did the paddy fields, from the recent showers. The sunset added an orange sheen to the entire picture. We took a turn at Thalaignayiru to proceed towards Thirukuvalai. The road got narrower and narrower as we moved. Thiruvaimur (One of the Sapta vitanka kshetras or 7 places on earth where Siva is worshipped as Tyagaraja) was a part of our itinerary, but we knew nothing about the place except that it was near Thirukuvalai. Hence we were elated when we saw the board 'Thiruvaimur' on the left side of the road.Everywhere on the road, people had spread the freshly harvested paddy for drying, before husking it and our car slowly ambled over it. The sky's golden hue was reflected on the huge lotus pond outside the temple.

The temple was pretty small and neat, with no one around. The inside of the temple hardly had any space to walk as all the space was taken by huge mounds of paddy crop dumped everywhere. We realized that the farmers had offered a certain measure of their harvest to the temple, as is the tradition. Standing there inside sanctum, i was transposed to a bygone dreamy era - When the unfailing waters of the Kaveri brought with it abundance and prosperity, When the cows roamed the villages with filled udders, even after the people had taken the milk they needed and When no one had imagined rice being sold for money.

From there we went to Thirukuvalai and it was already dark when we entered the temple. There were a handful of priests and others. We were received by an old man in his eighties, with sacred ash smeared all over him. He was not a priest. Probably a farmer from the village. He escorted us to each deity and sang Tamil couplets in their praise. At the goddess's shrine, he sang a hymn from the Abhirami Andhadi that addressed the goddess as 'Poonkuzhalal', which was apt considering the goddess's name here was 'Vandamarum Poonkuzhalal'. Upon our query, he mentioned Sanskrit name as 'Bramara Kuntalaamba'. When we crossed the navagrahas, he quoted Gnanasambandhar from the first Thirumarai, on why they were standing in a straight line (Unlike other temples). We knew, he was doing this for a five or ten rupee note that we might offer at the end of everything. It made me feel bad for the fact that his great knowledge and devotion were on sale for such a petty amount. As we walked out of the temple, i saw a notice calling for devotees willing to pay the temple's electricity bill, which they were finding hard to afford !

The last temple we visited that day was Thirukaaravaasal. The diversion that led to the temple from the highway was pitch dark. Probably the reason why the temple had just 3 people - a priest and 2 villagers. The priest was elated to see us. In the entire course of our visit, he repeated at least 20 times that, he knew the goddess would send someone to sponsor his expenses that day. The expenses included 4 coconuts, a dozen bananas, camphor and oil for the lamps. All this was arranged as it was a special occasion - the first day of Skandha Shashti. It was quite possible that he repeated the same words to any tourist who visited. And that it was all a preplanned scheme to earn the maximum. However i couldn't ignore the possibility that, he may have been genuine that we were there that day only by divine will. When the pooja was over, he made us sit inside the temple and served curd rice, offered to the gods, on a piece of dry banana leaf. It tasted divine. We handed over a hundred rupee note to the priest, which he was delighted to receive and ten rupee notes to the other two. One of the villagers has his face etched in my mind - Dark as coal, he looked extremely simple, with a vest and dhoti in sparkling white, ash smeared on the forehead and a pleasing smile. He just looked too happy and well dressed to ask for alms !


Day 1

Train to trichy, Bus to Tanjore, Visited main temple, Reached Thiurvarur by bus in the night.

Day 2

Took a cab for sight seeing, Temples in order of visit - Thiruvarur, Keevalur, Thirukkanankudi, Nagapattinam, Sikkal, Enkann, Kuzhikkarai, Vedaranyam, Thiruvaimur, Ettukudi, Thirukuvalai, Thirukkaaravaasal.

Day 3

Bus to Mannargudi, Visited temple, Bus to Trichy, Bus to Lalgudi, Visited temple, Visited rock fort temple in trichy and boarded train.

Tips :

You don't need any tips as long as you can speak tamil.  We intended to visit the sapta vitanka kshetras.  (Thirunallaar was skipped as  we had already visited).  Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam are easily reachable by bus., while others are not. Taking a cab is the preferrable way to reach these remote villages. Click on the image below for more information on the route we took


Tanjore temple tower

Kamalaalayam (Thiruvarur temple tank)

Painting of Thyagaraja

Sanctum of Goddess (Thirukannankudi)

Dvarapalaka (Soundararaja temple, Nagapattinam)

Temple at Vedaranyam

Temple corridor (Mannargudi)