Tamil Nadu

Mahabalipuram

Bangalore – Tiruvannamalai – Chennai – Mahabalipuram – 3 days (Dec 2013)

The drive to Mahabalipuram was by far the best drive of the trip. The roads were wide, and very well-maintained.  The traffic too was not too heavy, making this a very fast trip. The road to Mahabalipuram runs right along the sea-coast during the latter half of the journey, making a visually interesting sight, and definitely kept the kids occupied by making them watch out for the next peek-a-boo view! 🙂

Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is a town in the Kanchipuram District of Tamil Nadu. This was a bustling port during the time of the Pallavas (7th Century CE). However, Roman and Chinese coins dating to the 4th Century CE have also been found, making this an active port engaging in trading even during the late Classical period. The place is today famous for the various sculptures dotting the Mahabalipuram coastline that were built by the Pallava rulers. The various styles of the sculptures and their themes (varying from Shiva and Vishnu idols to Buddhist influences) display the various influences brought by the visiting traders and craftsmen. The Pallavas had also brought back craftsmen as “spoils of war” from their wars with the Chalukyas during their reign. This is reflected in some of the sculptures that seem to echo those of Ajantha and Ellora.

The town was also referred to as “Seven Pagodas” by Marco Polo who named to such for the 7 Temples that dotted the shore. Today one 1 temple stands true, and is simply referred to as The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram now. The Shore Temple along with all the sculptures have been declares as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984.

We reached the town around 1pm, and drove directly to the stone cravings and caves for which Mahabalipuram is so famous for. The caves are spread over a large area, and we couldn’t possibly cover it all, not with 2 kids in tow and a flight to catch in Chennai later in the day. So we decided to stop at the main open-air sculpture called the Decent of the Ganges.  The sculpture, made from 2 huge rocks placed side-by-side, shows the decent of the Ganga from Shiva’s tresses led by Bhagiratha. In fact there are 2 stories that seem to be connected with this bas-relief.

Bas-relief

Bas-relief

The first story is that of Bhagiratha (shown as an ascetic standing on one leg in penance) who preformed penance to Lord Shiva to make the Holy River Ganga flow over the ashes of his ancestors and release them of their sins. To break the force to the river reaching the plains, Shiva caught the river in his hair and broke it up into multiple rivulets. This was apparently displayed in a very graphic way in times part. there is a brick cistern at the top of the relief, and water was apparently let flow through the fissure in the relief to show Ganga flowing to the Plains.

Ascetic is placed on the upper portion of the rock on the left.

Ascetic is placed on the upper portion of the rock on the left.

Another story is that Arjuna from the Mahabharata performed penance to gain a weapon called Pasupata, Shiva’s most powerful weapon. Asuras had let loose a boar to kill him. Shiva took on the form of a hunter and stood next to Arjuna. Both shot arrows to kill the boar, and both claimed that their arrow was the one that killed the boar. They fought a duel to find who was superior, and Arjuna was defeated by Shiva. Shiva then showed Arjuna his true form and gave him the Pasupata weapon.

On one side of this bas-relief was a set of sculptures that depicted the agrarian life in (supposedly) the town. The sculptures were all life-sized, and were a treat to the eyes.

View of agrarian life of the time period

View of agrarian life of the time period

another view with lovely detail

another view with lovely detail

The other side of the bas-relief was an open lawn that led up to the other caves. Further along the lawn is a huge rock, seemly balancing precariously. This is commonly refered to as Krishna’s Butter Ball. It definitely makes for a great set of photos where one can pose as though they are either pushing or lifting the rock! 🙂 And no prizes for guessing who made that particular attempt! 😉

Krishna's Butter Ball

Krishna’s Butter Ball

 

Krishna's Butter Ball

Krishna’s Butter Ball

By this time it was already lunch time, and the kids were getting hungry. So we found a nice tree to sit under, and feed the kids.

The next stop was the Mahabalipuram shore. The temple was shut till evening, so that feature in our to-see list. Along the way we saw a lot of lovely stone sculptures. They were so beautiful, we couldn’t resist taking pictures. Some were idols of various gods, while a lot of the others were meant to be as decor around a house or garden. It was a wonder to see the sheer talent of the stone sculptors.

various religious idols in stone

various religious idols in stone

 

amazing detail in the sculptures, and a small table of trinkets in stone too!

amazing detail in the sculptures, and a small table of trinkets in stone too!

The path to the beach was dotted with shops selling various trinkets, stone items and sea food. The last was a bit of a problem with the over-whelming smell, but otherwise we enjoyed the (rather long) walk to the beach. The beach though felt like an anti-climax after that walk. It was really small. Being a weekday, there were not as many people as on a weekend, but it still felt crowded! We let the kids enjoy the water for 30-40 mins and then made our way back.

She sell sea shells....

She sell sea shells….

Just outside the town was a large Adyar Ananda Bhavan restaurant. We had a quick lunch, and left for Chennai at around 3.30-ish. We finally reached the Airport at Chennai around 4.30 pm in the evening. After seeing off my Sister-in-law and the kids, we started off for Bangalore at around 6pm. The evening traffic on the Highway was pretty heavy, and we finally got home at 12.30 am.

The trip holds great memories of amazing locales and fun-filled memories, and was an amazing end to 2013!

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Categories: Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, Tiruvannamalai | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chennai

Bangalore – Tiruvannamalai – Chennai – Mahabalipuram – 3 days (Dec 2013)

We reached Chennai around 5ish in the evening. We had to reach T. Nagar for our hotel, and a rather long drive we finally reached it.

Sree Devi Niwas is a pretty nice place, and reasonably priced given its location. It is just off North Usman Road, on a small road/lane called Griffith Road (or Giriffith Road as some boards say) which boasts of being The place for clothes/sari shopping. The dinner fare here was mainly North Indian cuisine, and the waiters speak Hindi, which was a great thing, since none of us spoke Tamil.

The nearest restaurant that we noticed on the way was Murugan Idli Shop. We also noticed Adayar Ananda Bhavan on the way in. So we decided to try out Adayar Ananda Bhavan. But after going some distance, we realized that it was actually a lot further than we thought! It was right at the beginning on the flyover on Usman road, and we were near the end. Also there were just too many shoppers on the road taking advantage of the holiday season and discounts. The roads we so packed there was no space for people, let alone vehicles. So we turned and made our way to Murugan Idli Shop on South Usman road.

Having enjoyed a hearty dinner, we made our way back, and decided to take a short walk around on Griffith Road. Here we came across Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, where there were some classical dance and music programmes being performed. It felt so good! We didn’t go inside and watch the performance, but the very fact that there is so much importance given and appreciation shown towards Fine Arts felt good.

After a short stroll, we called it a night.

The next morning, my Sis-in-law and her kids joined us, and we all enjoyed a heavy lunch at Murugan Idli Shop.

Post lunch, and some sleep ;), we decided to take the kids to Marina Beach. The place was packed as it was a Sunday, and there was hardly any space to pack the car! The driver dropped us off at the start, and asked us to call him when we were done. We all had a great time playing in the water, and were all pretty unhappy that we had to return back to the hotel as it got dark! 🙂

The lighthouse at Marina Beach

The lighthouse at Marina Beach

Dinner at the hotel was a pretty nice affair, where they were quite accommodating towards every request we had, especially regarding food for the kids. The food was hot, and tasty.

The next morning we had a late breakfast at Hotel Saravana Bhavan, an all-time favorite! Since it was “only” 11 am, Hubby decided that we should go to Mahabalipuram right then. So a quick call was made to the hotel to have the kids’ lunch ready, and off we went!

Hotel Saravana Bhavan

Hotel Saravana Bhavan

Categories: Chennai, Tamil Nadu | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tiruvannamalai

TiruvannamalaiChennai – Mahabalipuram 3 day trip (2013)

This trip was literally one of combining work with pleasure. We had some work at Chennai, so we decided to check out some places that we can cross off our ever-long list of Places To See. Tiruvannamalai was suggested by a friend, and as it had relevance to our religious history, we decided to include it into a trip.

The itinerary we laid out was Bangalore – Tiruvannamalai-Chennai-Bangalore. We had 2 night’s stay at Chennai to complete our work, so hadn’t really planned much for Chennai itself.

We set off on Saturday morning at 6 am, so that we would have ample darshan time at Tiruvannamalai. The route we took was the same as to Chennai from Bangalore along NH 7. However, the road turns off at Krishnagiri towards Tirvannamalai.

The road here is supposedly AH 45 / NH 46. There is no evidence though that this is highway. The road is HORRIBLE. There are no signboards to show us where we were. That fact was especially sad, since Tiruvannamalai is such an important destination. The least the State Government could do was encourage travelers to reach their destination! The trip from the time we turned off at Krishnagiri till Tiruvannamalai was ~122km long and was supposed to take us about 2+ hours to cover. However, the truth was that it took us close to 4 hours to cover this distance. The blame for that can be solely laid on the road. If in places entire sections were dug up for “road work”, then other places didn’t seem to have a road at all. Right until we reached Tirupattur and we turned onto SH 18A. From here on, the patches where the road was dug up were lesser, though not entirely gone.

poor roads along the way

poor roads along the way

note the good road is blocked and the mud road is the only option

note the good road is blocked and the mud road is the only option

lovely small lake filled with lotus flowers along the way

lovely small lake filled with lotus flowers along the way

lots of trees having been uprooted for "road widening"

lots of trees having been uprooted for “road widening”

We finally reached Tiruvannamalai at 11 am. We entered the temple through the Ammani Amman Gopuram or North Gate.

The North Gate

The North Gate

Beautiful sculpture near the North gate

Beautiful sculpture near the North gate

Beautiful sculpture at the North Gate

Beautiful sculpture at the North Gate

Tiruvannamalai is one of the Pancha Bhoota Linga, the Lingas that embody the 5 elements. The Linga at Tiruvannamamali is called Arunachaleshwarar and embodies Agni/Fire. The other temples are Ekambareswarar (Prithvi/Earth) at Kanchipuram, Thiruvanaikaval (Water/Appu) at Trichy, Natarajar (Sky or Ether/Akasha) at Chidambaram, and SriKalahasteeshwar (Air/Vayu) at SriKalahasti.

In Hindu mythology, Vishnu and Bramha argue about who is the greatest between them. Shiva then appears as a great column of fire, and challenges them to find the start and the end of this column. Vishnu takes on the form of Varaha or boar and seeks the base, while Bramha turns into a swan and flies towards the top. Bramha on the way sees a mogali puuvu or fragrant screw pine that fell from Shiva’s crown. When asked the flower states that it had been falling for forty thousand years and had yet to stop falling. Bramha, realizing he would never be able to reach the top, convinces the flower to act as false witness. When both Bramha and Vishnu return, Vishnu claims defeat as he was not able to find the base, while Bramha, with the mogali puuvu acting as false witness, claims to see the top. Shiva, in anger, banishes the mogali puuvu from his worship and declares that Bramha would not have any temple to worship him on Earth. The place where the column of fire appeared is said to be the Annamalai mountain.

The temple is located at the foot of the Annamalai Hill. The Karthigai Deepam is lit atop this hill during the Full Moon of the Hindu Month of Karthika. This huge beacon is visible for miles away, and signifies the place where Shiva’s Lingam of fire met the sky. Hundreds of devotees circumnavigate the hill and temple, a tradition called Girivalam. “Annamalai” itself means inaccessible mountain. “Thiru” is suffixed to signify its greatness.

The temple itself is built over 24 acres, and is the largest Shiva temple in India, and is second only to the Vishnu temple at Srirangam.  The temple is truly majestic to view.

Life-like model of the temple complex at display within the premises

Life-like model of the temple complex at display within the premises

As we got there a little late, we first rushed inside to get darshan. We stopped outside the North Entrance, one which is possibly the closet to the main temple. There is an option of free darshan here, and a paid one. We decided to go for a paid one (which costs Rs. 20) and were able to have a very comfortable darshan. While the attendent keep yelling at everyone to move on, they let us stand there for a moment longer, and were nice about letting us view the Lord to our heart’s content.

We moved out to the back of the main sanctum sanctorum, where the Utsava Vigraha of The Lord and his consort, Parvati as Unnamulai Amman, are placed, and all coconut and flower offerings as well as archanam are performed here. The next temple here, is that of Lord Vishnu, and them of Subramanya Swamy. We turn towards the exit and reach the temple of Unnamulai Amman. Here, she is in standing form and has a peaceful countenance. The main offering here is ghee deepams. There is a table nearby where they are placed and lit, and offered to the Goddess in prayer.

View of Arunachala Swamy temple of the left, Unnamalai Amman on the right, and the Annamalai mountains as the backdrop

View of Arunachala Swamy temple of the left, Unnamalai Amman on the right, and the Annamalai mountains as the backdrop

We stepped out of here and made our way to the main courtyard where we first started. There is a shop here which sells prasadam that is dry and can be carried, while another sells fresh prasadam to be consumed right there. After buying some prasadam, we made our way toward the East Gopuram. Here we found a second outer courtyard which was just as (or more) magnificent as the main temple courtyard!

We were first faced with a huge Nandi facing the steps. With a huge temple doorway as a backdrop, this Nandi is truly awe inspiring.

Huge Nandi

Huge Nandi

Nandi temple with East Gate in backdrop

Nandi temple with East Gate in backdrop

After crossing the Nandi, we came to the Patala Lingam to our left. This Lingam is where Sri Ramana Maharishi lived and worshipped during his stay at Tiruvannamalai. Next to this temple is the 1000-pillared hall. This hall was closed off, so we couldn’t take any pictured inside. Further up towards the Main East Gate entrance, there was a temple dedicated to Lord Subramanya Swamy to the right. After paying obeisance, we made our way back to the main courtyard. On the way we saw 2 major tanks, one right there in the outside courtyard, and another inside the main courtyard.

1000 pillar mandapam on the left with East Gate

1000 pillar mandapam on the left with East Gate

Satisfied with our experience, we made our way back to the North entrance and started off from Tiruvannamalai to Chennai. The roads on this route were relatively better, and we covered the 180km in approximately 4 hours.

Categories: Tamil Nadu, Tiruvannamalai | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments