Day-3, Nellaiyappar Temple, Tirunelveli

We reached the massive Nellaiyappar temple in the afternoon. The temple was imposing and huge. This temple had an arch before the main Gopuram and there was a road which offered a straight line approach to the temple from about a kilometre or so. On entering the temple there are intricate works in wood, of copulatory postures. They were varnished brown and hid their time because of the heavy polish on them. There were postures which seemed to be mastubratory too. Was tough to recognise the intent of the carvings. What is interesting is that this was present in the entrance of the temple, on the sides, starting above eye level and continued to the roof. Sex, or rather understanding of sex seems to have an important place in Hindu religion and spirituality.

We continued inside and there was the familar detours to reach the Sanctum-Santorum. The reduction in the roof height, the gradual darkening was more marked in this temple. I saw something in this temple which has kept me in awe of the workmanship of these temples till this day. There were two huge pillars which had been carved out of one stone-monoliths. Each pillar had many vertical sub-pillars in them of varying diameter and finish. They varied from a smooth finish to a ribbed finish like a candy bar. When you tap these sub-pillars they emitted music. To the untrained hands, all that possible was crude notes. When the same pillars were struck by a local priest, they emitted notes which were astounding. The priest first elicited the basic notes of Carnatic music. Then the priest moved from pillar to pillar and elicited music which was reminiscent of a Ghatam ( musical pot which is quite common in carnatic music), Drums and the Jalatharangam. I just shat. One because, they were moniliths and second because of the knowledge base which had evolved for these structures. As we moved further into the temple, I saw some more such pillars which had protective frameworks on them. They had 33 sub-pillars each and were supposed to be much more sophisticated musical instruments. I felt so small. I mean here are these guys who have twisted the entire logic of specialised materials for different musical instruments and have decided that all that they will use is stone and they have made these structures which have not changed their notes in over 1300 years.

Going further into the temple, there were sculptures of Nayanmars lining pathways or rather aisles inside the temple. There were some minor deities all around. Maintaining the buzz, in marketing speak. I also noticed some sculptures which had pointed beards. It would be worthwhile to note that it is a muslim tradition to have pointed beards with no moustache. I was surprised by this finding because South India, particularly Tamilnadu did not have muslim rulers in it’s history. The closest it ever got to it was the Nizam of Hyderabad and that was after the 17th century. I hypothesise that it must have been a muslim saint or scholar who might have impressed the patron King in that particular phase of construction of the temple. Cultural influences leave their mark on temples because temples take a long time to construct. Temples come across to me as books, we can learn so much about the dynasty and consequently the time represented by the patron King.

I left the temple with a deep sense of awe. Mastert over one’s art was what remained in my mind when I exited. A few minutes of meditation and I was off. There is one more thing which Tirunelveli is famous for-‘Iruttukadai Halwah’. In Tamil, ‘Iruttu’ means dark and ‘Kadai’ means shop. It literally translates into dark shop. The point is that this shop, which has been around for decades, opens only after sunset. It is the shop which made Tirunelveli famous for it’s halwah. This shop has not expanded one inch, has not changed one iota and still opens it’s doors only after sunset and the sale is over in an hour or so. Such is the demand for it’s produce.

I need to read some more temples.


A Crush & some tradition.

arab_by_xxdalxx.jpgThe mind is faster than the wind, or so Birbal said.

Was seated in the conference hall of a top class 5 star hotel in preparation for a marketing workshop. Was moving along in a characteristic uncomfortable fashion as has been my wont for quite some time. A good mix of people of varying backgrounds and age groups. Knew a few people and did not know the majority of the populace. Some women caught my attention for predictable reasons and some did for reasons which will float to the fore in some time. Patience dear.

The meeting started with the most unexpected statements made up of generalisations. I was soon drifting in and out of exhaustion and sleep due to the overnight flight to Bangkok. This was an interesting phenomenon because I was not able to keep myself awake for more than 5 seconds in a stretch. My mind would go on and off in clockwork precision. Never felt guilty though.

Soon my eyes began to wander. The mind was on a scent. The object of desire was new, but the scent was not. Eyes would wander in the direction of a figure dressed in black. The scent lasted until the tea break. I had a strong coffee and was totally attentive for the next hour or so. The scent was faint this time. Fingers traced graphite in two or three places.

Returned to my room with exhaustion of enthusiasm and a bit of fatigue in my body. Picked up a dvd of a old tamil movie that I had brought by mistake. It was in a non-descript crypt in my laptop bag. Was a movie which had been released in the 1980s. The movie on one side and the view of the Bangkok skyline was an interesting contrast. The scent was renewed from the depths of my mind. The scent morphed into questions of identity between contrasts thrown up by life. On one side I was allured by the etiquette and sophistication exuded by the woman in black. On the other side, the quintessential simplicity and natural flow embodied by the South Indian woman dressed in a half-saree was making me nostalgic and reminiscent of my deep roots somewhere in a small village in South India. Where was I?

I had to make a clarification-where do I belong? This was a repetitive feeling for quite some time. Between the villages of my native place in Madurai and the modern skylines of cities. Between women in modern clothes and the traditional half-saress of my village. Between unabashed diplomacies during twelve hour worklife in swank offices and the illiterate, but educated emotional dramas played out in my village.

I choose both as a fine balance between both worlds as there are never two worlds, but two approaches. There must be a unity between the best of both. Easy words,…difficult actions. Words,…and some more.

Day-2. Courtallam, Tirunelveli

We reached Courtallam at around three in the morning. Checked into a resort which belonged to one of my friends, Ponraj. The resort was nestled in a lane which had a decent black topping on it. Not too many pedestrians,…not too much traffic and a good view of the western ghats, situated in the district of Tirunelveli.

The main falls was mobbed by Sabarimala devotees yet again. Would like to avoid the tirade of how they pay very little concern to the resources being used and the kind of after-effects in the wake of their departure. The falls was a sight to see. The water is supposed to have medicinal properties. On closer observation, there are numerous lingas which have been carved out of the rockface and were camouflaged by the flowing water. This reminds me of an observation by someone I knew. He said that the linga is a representation of the male organ within the female organ. The conversation then moved on to how hindusim recognised copulation as a basis of spirituality. This needs to be expounded because the word ‘basis’ does not mean an underlying template, but rather a starting point for understanding our sexuality. It would be an interetsing observation that various sculptures in temples are carved with well endowed features with great attention to the female anatomy. To see these figurines in a place where attention is supposed to be on the deity is interesting. There must be an innuendo to a basic cognisance of sexuality here.

People who are familiar with the mystical chakras of the body will also be aware that the first chakra is centred around the copulatory organs. Too many co-incidences,…nah,…there must be an underlying thread. Will collaborate with many more observations at other temples.

 Had a refreshing bath at the falls and hogged on sumptous idlis, dosas and coconut chutney. A good bath and a stomach full of food is the perfect recipe for a good afternnon siesta. Thought about it for a while and we decided to sleep in the car while we were travelling, courtesy, our driver who had mischievously reminded my mother about a temple in the city of Tirunelveli which was supposed to be an experience in itself.