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.

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2 Responses

  1. Infact, this is quite common in Indian temples I guess. I have been to one in Assam – it was the birthplace of Shrimanta Shakardev (a great saint). There in the entrance I saw Garuda (the mythological bird) copulating a horse in the entrance of the temple. Infact I’ll upload the photo in my blog…

    I guess sex was considered a holy ritual as against what we perceive in today’s society. This is mys urmise and tell me if I am wrong – if you look at any action, in metaphysical terms it is energy … for example the famous saying – whatever goes around comes back has a very good correlation with conservation of energy. Hence everything we do – think, feel, hear, see is energy …. Now after establishing thisa fact, I can say that sex is some sort of playing (exchange/transformation of/with) with energy … . So my point is Sex, which has so much to do with energy, forms a vital point in religion. Feng Shui suggests us to put all positive energy giving elements in our entrance – so I can safely presume that Sex is a positive energy form and hence it finds a major place in temples …. … will write more on this on my blog … but very good topic to discuss … Sex is not cheap!!!!

  2. […] photograph(s) above is tht of the musical pillars tht I had spoken abt in the previous entry on the same […]

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