memories of family outings.....


NANDAANKOIL.......ruin and resurrection

I am nuts about Dravidian Religious Architecture and Iconography. Not for me the modern jazzy marble and vitreous tiled, neonlit shrines with the gods decked up like filmstars in rhinestone and sequins-ed polyester costumes......There is something undeniably comforting about an ancient stone monument, holding in its dark, oil stained , echoing interiors the accumulated energy of centuries of reinforced faith and prayers. The sculptures, both inside the sanctum and in the circum-ambulatory corridors , seem to attain an august benevolence only if lit by softly glowing oil lamps.

There was this period of obsession with visiting old temples once. Read up on various categories of temples in the Cauvery belt of Tamil Nadu , made notes, set out on trips to take in as many on the list as possible. For each one had some unique feature, even if it conformed, over all, to a set pattern.

Mama, ever enthusiastic, ever obliging agreed to be co-traveller and off we went in his LPG powered Fiat on grain-drying mud-roads and pebbly cartways, deep into the countryside around Kumbhakonam, hopping out where ever a gopuram had sprouted.................

One particular name in my list was : Thirunthudevankudi, near Suryanaarkoil in Kumbakonam district. My notes said it was a huge complex ( 72,000 Sq.ft) situated in an expanse of paddy fields, surrounded by a moat filled with lotus and lillies.
" Thirunthu...what ?" said Mama and my heart sank. He had lived within 10 Kms. of Suryanaarkoil all his life and he hadn't heard of a place that sounded so wonderful ? Confused, i pored through my notes again and came up with helpful clues. Sambanthar had sung about it. The ancient brick edifice was rebuilt in granite by Chozhan Kulotthungan I ; the Sivalingam was worshipped by a Crab. Unusually, there were two Amman shrines here. It has inscriptions of 1117 AD and is the focal point of a hamlet fully occupied with ayurvedic practitioners...................

Mama only grew more wide eyed and quickly became obsessed with the place too. We Had To Find It. We motored the stretch between Thiruvidaimaruthur and Suryanaarkoil twice, up and down, flagging down every cyclist and cartman who crossed us , calling out the name : Thirunthudevankudi ?
Blank stares ; and helpful suggestions that maybe we should go try near Thanjavur . oh yeah, or near Kathmandu ! we were starting to despair that perhaps my sources were all wrong,
perhaps the blessed place had vanished from the face of earth , zapped up by some UFO, perhaps it has been rechristened by some local politician as Periyarnagar or Annathuraimangalam or something......
" Hullo sir ! Hullo sir !....." the voiced chased us to a halt on our third round by the north route. " ah, this crackpot" muttered Mama and called out aloud " Hullo Saambu ! How's life ? Long time no see ! " Saambu came over, made polite conversation and when he heard about our quest, suggested it could be Thiruviyalur.( ie , Thiruvisanallur )  
" No no ! I know that temple well. " said Mama " in fact we were there just this morning. Theres no report of any crabs worshipping there ever".
" Crab, Sir ! " Exclaimed Saambu " That's Nandaankoil ! "
" NO .not that Saambu ! " said Mama patiently " Nandaankoil is a one street village with no....."
" Theres a big decaying temple there Sir " Insisted Saambu. .....
Ok, final try, anyway we were headed home, no harm taking a peek for what it was worth.

Peek in we did...................and found it !

A huge ancient complex falling apart, trees growing through its walls and lurching gopurams, carved stone slabs scattered around like there had been an earth quake, wonderful black sculptures , off their pedestals, leaning against crumbling the fading light we could see a tin board with Sambanthar's Thevara Pathikam ( which sanctified the temple as a Paadal Petra Sthalam)....and close to the locked sanctum, a pillar with a bas relief carving of a crab worshipping the Lingam ! 

Hurray !...But, no hurray, really. It tore the heart to see a once- majestic edifice in such a sorry state......
We jumped across fallen pillars and inscribed rubble, discovering small treasures of a carved lintel here, part of a jeweled Nandi female goddess ( vishnudurgai ) , huddling in a niche precariously , with nicely carved adornments. 

A shepherd boy who had seen our car, had run to the village beyond the paddies to fetch the priest, a bent old man, the sole caretaker of the dilapidated temple. He had the key to the only part of the temple that was totally intact, the garbhagriham.
A lamp was waved around, a couple of wild flowers offererd.

When he spoke, it was full of sadness for he had seen the temple going from somewhat decent to total ruin within his life time. The bronzes of the temple were kept in safe deposit in Thiruviyalur, but there was no one to protect the exquisite stone images of the prakarams. He told us some parties from Bangalore had shown interest in renovating the place and hoped God would deign to put His House in order before it was totally flattened..........................
We returned with great sadness in the heart. Why do people build new temples when there are treasures like this that are crying for care and upkeep ? Did gods too face lean days ?

Exactly two years after our visit, Mama gave me the good news that Thirunthudevankudi ( Nandaankoil) had been saved - renovated and , in a new improved look, open to pilgrim- tourists.
The old priest will now sleep well, i guess. But somehow i have never felt impelled to re-visit the place. I want to always carry in my mind the image of the Shivalingam, with a wild red flower on its head, standing solid , supremely detached and in self sufficient bliss and contentment, amidst the rack and ruin all around it.

( Name of Presiding Deity : Karkateswarar. Consorts : Arumarunthunayaki, Apoorvanayaki )



Visited Thottiyam , while on a visit to Seeplaputhur . The temple is sort of old, renovated in parts. Liked the gigantic figures in the courtyard . Fearsome ! Tried to sketch them :



Somewhere near Thottiyam. Pretty old temple.Lonely too. The main deity is Vedanarayanaperumal, a reclining vishnu.
Liked the small, doll like amman ! Here's  my sketch of the utsavamurthy : 


Dibs said...

At least its resurrected...
Similar situation with Hayagriva Mahadeva temple in Hajo near assam!!! The small 'pukur' (lake) at the base of the hill on which this temple resides, has many tortoises which are believed to be Lord Vishnu himself.

I wonder why old granite deities appeal more to us than marble and plaster of paris!

BTW - Sydney has a Muruga temple it seems.. every puje can be 'booked online'!! Thinking of visiting!


saambu- is he govindapuram mr.sambu?

YOSEE said...

To: Aalayam Thozhuvom : Thank you for visiting the blog. No this is not Govindapuram Sambu. This person was a caretaker type ( Kanakkupillai) who used to live in a village near Thiruvisanalloor)