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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ooty Trip

13 May'07 :
Guhan & I left early around 5.30 am by road for Ooty (short for Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam). Got into the Mettupalayam Rd, crossed Tudiyalur, Vellai Kinaru, Perianaickenpalam (or P.N.Palayam where the huge campuses of Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya are located)), past a series of factories including the old & established Pricol & LMW units. The mighty Western Ghats suddenly make their appearance looking bluish black in the distant mist . Both sides of the road are lined by full grown Tamarind trees standing tall like sentinels,their dense foliage providing shade & comfort for travellers. We soon reach Karamadai Rly.Station, cross the track and shortly thereafter reach Mettupalayam which is situated at the foothills of the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains. From there we start our sojourn towards Ooty. We go past Black Thunder, a popular entertainment & water sports resort, cross an old bridge erected by Jessops in 1925 & then "Anni Bridge", past the Kallar check post and enter the Nilgiri Forest Range.The climb up the hills begins. The intensity of traffic starts increasing. We see clusters of monkeys on the road & on parapet walls prancing about & begging for food. We are on NH 67 & a sign board shows that Connoor is 24 Kms & Ooty 42 Kms. We we see bamboo groves and trees with bright yellow konni flowers. Suddenly we are in a traffic jam. We are approaching the Barliaru check post & we pay the toll tax. The real steep climb towards Ooty starts now – we begin negotiating steep hair pin bends ; there are 14 hair pins in all. At the 3rd bend we have climbed 800 m above MSL. We enter the reserve forest area and we see more of bamboo & konni. There is plenty of greenery on both sides. The sky is clear, there is bright sun shine and the weather is great. The road is serpentine, keeps twisting & turning as we continue our climb. We see jackfruit & areca, exotic palms and several variety of trees . The progress is slow but steady at 25-35 Kmph. We see a tall rock face its sheer height rising steeply above us like a colossus, Grand Canyon like in appearance. We reach Marappalam where we see a sign board “Deep Valley Ahead”. As we negotiate the 10th Hairpin bend we see several new varieties of trees, plants & flowers – blue bells, yellow dahlias, myriad coloured honeysuckle, deep crimson gulmohars & mauve jacaranda. At 1500 m we enter Katary, drive past the State Horticulture Farms, Law Falls & Glendale Estate (a private tea estate). The tea gardens line the slopes like rich thick green carpets with battalions of silver oak trees standing amidst like soldiers providing solidity, protection & moisture. As we approach Connoor a series of tall fern trees welcome us to the town. We cross a railway signal, see crowded shanties on an approaching hill side, travel besides the railway track of the Nilgiri Mountain Rly, see the Connoor Municipal Bldg with its conspicuous clock tower. We go past the Connoor Rly station (built in 1897) and continue onwards to Ooty accompanied by the sounds of babblers,warblers,bulbuls, grey tits & hill mynas. We see the Boys Bridge leading to Wellington to the right, the Cantonment board office, our Lady of Health Shrine and then the Aravankadu Cordite factory (1904) on our left. We enter an eucalyptus forest containing tall towering trees. We pass Needle Industries, Ketty, Manthada & Valley View before entering Ooty Municipality at Thalayattimund. We are greeted by several nice hotels & inns – to name a few : Green Country Resorts, Moti Manor, Orchid Inn, Ooty Gate & Preeti Classic ( the last named looked majestic & impressive) We drive past Aavin Milk Parlour, ABT , The Garage (belongs to Stanes Motors) & reach the circle where you see Horticulture Information Centre as well as Floriculture Demo Centre, Flower Auction Centre besides a Sales Outlet for flowers. We stop for Breakfast of idli/vada/dosa & coffee and then proceed to the venue of the Dog Show via the Municipal Market, Madras Race Club (Derby Stakes are scheduled for the day), Ooty Rly. Station, Collectorate, Charing Cross Rd, Hill Bunk Rd, and finally into the campus of Woodside School. The show is about to begin and the owners keep the beasts in readiness for the contest. There is bright sunshine and it is even a bit warm. It is ideal weather for photography – I could take some wonderful photographs of some of the most attractive breeds that have congregated there.(My Canon Digital did a great job !). Guhan could meet with many of his friends in the Trade as well as strike up some new associations. After spending a little over an hour there we departed & partially retraced our way back. As we traveled in Ooty we took photographs of the St.Stephens Church, Breeks Memorial Anglo Indian School,Tamizhagam(a palatial government guest house administerd by Tamilnadu Agricultural Dept. Erstwhile summer Palace of Tippu Sultan) & Forest Guest House, Aramby. We see a large contingent of around 100 girl NCC cadets trooping smartly (and a little wearily) up the hill. We reach Ooty lake (Nalapad Residency is located enroute – nice but a little expensive place) which is choc a bloc with huge crowds & no place to park. You breathe in generous quantities of dust & fumes from vehicle exhaust. I could take some good shots of the lake and boats carrying tourists – some rowing,some paddling. We see the Lake View Hotel & Thread Garden. Our next destination is the Ooty Rly Station. The Nilgiri passenger train is just about to leave and passengers are scrambling in to get a window seat . Most seats are unreserved & are on first come first served basis. I took some nice shots of the station & the train. We drive past Karumariamman Kaliamman Koil, Commercial Road before pulling over at Preeti Classic for Thali meals – pretty decent stuff reasonably priced. The we leave Ooty back towards Coonoor. We stop briefly at Wax World which is just beyond Manjoor. At this point there is a fork on the road leading to Lovedale( 3 Kms) & Upper Bhavani Dam. We speed past Valley View, Ketty, Yelanahalli, Bikkaty, Aravankadu ( though prohibited I could take a quick photo of the Cordite factory) and reach Boys Bridge leading to Wellington. The bridge is closed for traffic. It has become weak & is awaiting repairs. We go to another point from where we drive into and through Wellington. We enter through a huge sports complex cum parade ground – a really awesome and impressive stadium. The drive through Wellington is beautiful – it is a thickly forested area and well maintained by the army. As we exit Wellington we find a gorgeous green Golf Course. We continue through Stanes High School into Connoor Town & the Rly.Station. We stop briefly to take some more photographs. We then take a detour through Sims Park , Elk Estate, Kattabettu, Kothagiri, Aravenu, Kizhatuttapalayam, Mammaram Check post, Kunjappannai, Mettupalayam View Point. We cross only four hair pin bends on this route. We finally reach Mettupalayam after a spectacular drive. The road is excellent and we drive through large tracts of tea gardens and breathtaking scenery throughout the journey from Cononoor to Mettupalayam. The camera kept clicking throughout the trip.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Backwater Cruise

After Kodanad we drove to Ernakulam for lunch at Woods Manor - nice buffet spread comprising several Kerala traditional items - boiled rice, kalan,thovaran, mezhukku varatty, kootu, sambar, rasam for the die hard veggies and chicken noodle soup, meen kozhambu & kozhi curry for the those who dared to be brave ! Topped off with payasam & ice cream. Excellent stuff at moderate rates. Next we proceeded to the marine drive and drove along the sea side till we reached the tour agents office where we booked our seats for the 2.30 pm cruise. We took our seats on the top deck for an unhindered view of the harbour. There was an apology for a tour guide who confessed he has been recently appointed and he was generally uninformed & unintelligible. We could see Cochin Shipyard, Naval Dockyard, Port Trust,Marine drive with its highrise buildings and Willington Island-a man made island created with dredged material while deepening the Cochin Port. Both the old traditional and the new contemporary buildings housing the Cochin Port Trust offices are located here. So also is the staely Aspinwall House . "Kochi" is considered one of the finest and most picturesque harbours in the World. For over a 1000 years Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Chinese, Portugese, Dutch and the English have all come here for trade. With the advent of Vasco da Gama in 1498 Kochi catapulted to International fame and became a focal point for International spice trade.
During the cruise we could see several ships in the harbour - passenger liners, bulk cargo carriers & container carriers apart from a number of smaller boats ferrying tourists. We also saw several fishing trawlers and small motorised boats casting nets into the sea. We were extremely fortunate to sight several dolphins who surface briefly from time to time before pivoting back into the water. Sea gulls were flying all around making their characteristic screeching sounds and occasionaly diving into the water and magically emerging with fish in their beaks.
After about an hour's cruise in the Vembanad Lake (backwaters) we arrived at Fort Kochi (there isn't any fort there -the name is misleading like Fort area in Mumbai). The Chinese nets at the entrance of the Harbour were a fascinating sight. These nets with pivots of wood were introduced by traders from the Court of Kublai Khan. We disembarked and our guide led us to the St.Francis Church. Enroute we saw campuses of the colonial style Bastion Bungalow (now serves as the official residence of the district collector) and the Cochin Club-a typical traditional English style club where surprisingly no alcohol is served. Several shops on the street peddling fancy and quaint items - masks, sea shells, puppets, necklaces, bangles et. all and a guy with a baby python who allowed the fearless to wear it around their neck and be photographed. Guhan decided that he had a brave heart ! We entered St.Francis Church removed our footwear and spent a few minutes in silence. This Roman Catholic church was built by the Portugese in 1503 & is believed to be the first church built by Europeans in India. It has a bell house at the top housing a shiny brass bell and clock with black dial and Roman numerals in the front. The time when I captured the picture was 4.05 pm. Vasco da Gama was originally buried here after he died in 1524 before his remains were returned to Portugal 14 years later.The church was taken over by the Dutch after they captured Cochin ( Kochi ) in 1663 and converted into a Protestant Dutch Reformed Church.
We got back on board again and resumed our backwater cruise & proceeded towards Mattancherry. There we alighted and our guide took us straight to the Dutch Palace & the Jewish Synagogue both of which were unfortunately closed on Fridays. The Dutch Palace was built by the Portugese and presented to the Raja of Kochi in 1555. It became known as the Dutch Palace in 1663, when the Dutch renovated the palace and built some extensions. It features Kerala Murals depicting Hindu art, portraits and exhibits of the Rajas of Kochi. At the entrance we found this dark skinned smartly attired native woman wearing beads & bangles selling peacock feathers, old coins & stamps. She was delighted when I asked for permission to shoot her picture.
The Jewish synagogue in Kochi was built in 1568 AD. Scrolls of Old Testament and a number of copper plates inscribed in the Hebrew script are preserved in this Synagogue.The Jewish Synagogue is the oldest Synagogue in the common wealth countries. Mattancherry houses many quaint antique & spice shops which are a haven for the souvenir hunters.We got back on the ferry once again and spent the last one hour cruising leisurely and returning to shore around 5.30 pm. We were all tired at the end of the day but the backwater cruise was indeed one of the most incredible & mesmerising experiences of my life. We will all be carrying enjoyable & enchanting memories of this trip and will perhaps be returning for more cruises in this 'kayal' at every available opportunity.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Kodanad

4 May'07 :
I had made a grand plan to visit Ooty & Mudumalai from 2-4 May'07 and accordingly had made advance reservations at Tamizhagam (Ooty) & Log House,Masinagudi. The reservations were obtained with great difficulty as this was peak season in Ooty. In fact for Tamizhagam the special suites were allocated by CM's office(Secretariat,Chennai). However this trip had be cancelled owing to Bhavana & Rohit having to remain in Cbte to establish contact with their respective employers (Market Live & Intel) on some pressing issues by e-mail. After this we decided to make a one day trip some place-the alternatives considered were Top Slip (Anamalais), Munnar orYercaud. But all these were dropped in favour of a trip to Kodanad & then to Ernakulam and a boat cruise in the back waters.
We left Cbte around 5.30 am and stopped over at Aryas Vadakkancherry for breakfast. Then we continued onwards in our journey, turned left at Angamali into Kalady Rd. Just before Perumbavoor we took a left turn via Koovapady (my grandfather hailed from here) passed the Ganapathy Temple and reached the Elephant Kraal at Kodanad.Kodanad, a beautiful and charming semi-rural village situated on the south bank of river Periyar and popular for eco tourism. Kodanad is known for it famous 'Elephant Kraal', the mini zoo and its easy access to the seasonal pilgrimage centre Malayatoor St.Thomas Church,both placed opposite on the beautiful banks of the river Periyar. Kodanad was very famous for elephant capturing and training. Elephant capturing started in Malayatoor reserve forests in 1895 and a Kraal was erected during that time. Newly captured elephants were kept in the kraal till they are sufficiently trained & disciplined to carry out forestry works. The present 6 room kraal was constructed in 1965. This kraal is now only sparingly used and serves more as a monument of the good old days.
We saw two cute baby elephants in the kraal perhaps a couple of months old. Behind the kraal in a separate enclosure we saw 6 elephants of varying ages. The mini zoo had a good collection of animals like monkeys including a lion tailed macaque, a python, several Brahminy kites,Large groups of Sambhar & spotted deer, peacocks. A group of school children had arrived in a bus and were excitely viewing the animals. I obliged them by taking a photograph of the group and promising to send the same by e mail.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mira in T.Nagar

Bhavana & Mira spent 28th night/29th morning with Thatha, Patti,Minakshi & Siddhu at T.Nagar. Guhan went with friend Hari 29th morning. They had breakfast in a nice South Indian restaurant and then went off for a noon show. Shobha & I went to T.Nagar for lunch after which we all left for shopping to RMKV,Panagal Park to buy a Pattu Pavadai for Mira. Onwards for a brief visit to Geetha/Viswanaths (Mira successfully tampered with Viswanaths laptop and all images were coming upside down !) before returning to Woodlands for some well earned rest. Bhavana,Shobha & Mira went out briefly to Arumugams house (Shobha carried gifts for Arumugams daughters) and then to Aswins (Subbis son) to see the new born baby. At Woodlands we had visitors in the evening-Padmini&Ramani and Gopalan&Minakshi. After this Bhavana & Guhan went out for dinner to Hot Breads and then to Madras Central to receive Rohit who was arriving by Shatabti from Bangalore.
On 30th morning Bhavana & Rohit left early for the US Consulate for their Visa interviews. Arumugham came to the Hotel to see Mira. B&R returned by noon after which we all checked out and went off to T.Nagar for lunch. After lunch B&R went off to meet uncle Xavier at St.Thomas Mount while Guhan & I relaxed in the upstairs room (where a new air conditioner had been recently installed) cooling off with thatha (my father). In the evening Shobha & I visited the Saradambal Vidyashram as well as the Venkatachalapati temple (TTD Information Centre) located nearby on Venkatanarayana Rd. Sri Saradambal Vidyashram is built on land donated by a mridanga vidwan (42 years ago) to the then Sringeri Acharya Sri Abhinava Vidya Teertha. His Holiness built a temple and consecrated Sri Saradambal & Sri Ganesha. The foundation stone for the expansion of this temple was laid by Sri Bharathi Teertha the present Acharya and the construction was carried out under the superintendence of Sri Sivasailam, Chairman of Amalgamation Group. Pratishta Kumbabhishekam of Sri Vidya Ganapathy, Sri Saradambal & Sri Adi Sankara was done on 19 May 1995 by the present Acharya. Upanishad & Sloka classes are conducted, Lalitha & Vishnu saharsanamams parayanam takes place and all festivals & pujas are conducted in the same manner as in Sringeri.
The TTD information centre has a Venkatachalapati Temple and an auditorium. The temple is in a large hall and has Utsava Murthy at the centre of the hall and the Moolasthanam at the rear with idols of Lord Srinivasa and Padmavathi Thayar where you receive teertham. Then you partake of prasadam and exit throught he rear where you see a Vainkuntha Perumal in Ananthasayanam posture in the Alamelu Manga Hall.
We were treated to some supremely divine music in the air conditioned Auditorium - a superb violin recital rendered by maestro Sri Chandrasekhar (blind from birth ?) who was playing enthoro mahanabhavulu one of the Pancharatna Keertanais of Saint Theagaraya.

Triplicane-Mylapore

Pathasarathy Temple : 28 April'07
From Mangadu we drove straight to Triplicane to visit the Parthasarathy Temple.
Originally called Thiru-alli-keni, Triplicane was once a suburb of Mylapore. Dominated by a temple Triplicane was for many years a Brahminical stronghold. Today it has a mix of Hindus,Muslims & Christians.The temple and its environs retain the traditional flavour. The four streets around the temple still have old-world houses and in spite of the invasion of modern gadgets like TVs, cars and dish antennas, something of the old Triplicane remains intact.
This temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna, was built in the 8th century AD under the patronage of the Pallavas, housing the idols of the five avataras of Sri Vishnu. It has a small temple shrine dedicated to Vishnu's consort called Vedavalli Ammai. While dedicated to Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna, the Parthasarathy Temple at Triplicane enshrines images of the five incarnations of Vishnu including that of a wounded Krishna. Parthasarathy literally means the 'charioteer of Arjuna'. Partha is another name for Arjuna and Sarathy means charioteer. Lord Krishna served as the charioteer of the Pandava Arjuna in the Great War of Mahabharatha. It's one of the oldest surviving temples in Chennai. It was built by the Pallavas and later renovated by the Vijayanagar rulers. The main shrine is for Venkatakrishnan with Rukmini, Balaraman, Satyaki, Anirudha, Pradyumna - in a standing posture facing east. There are shrines for Ranganathar in a reclining posture with a separate sanctum for his consort Vedavalli. There are shrines facing the east for Rama along with Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Shatrugna and Hanuman, Varadarajan seated on the Garuda, and Narasimhar in a seated posture. Apart from these, there is a separate shrine for Andal. Amongst the 108 Divya Desams this is the only deity where the Lord is depicted sporting a moustache.
The Teertham "alli-keni" (lily pond) comprises five holy teerthas namely Indra,Soma, Agni,Meena & Vishnu. It is so sacred that there are no fish to be found in this pond.This teertham is used for the Lords Tirumanjanam (Abhishekam)
Among the 12 Alwars (the great saints in Vaishnavite tradition) three of them namely Peyalwar, Thirumazhisai Alwar and Thirumangai Alwar have sung about the deities of this temple.
The annual Bhrammotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chittirai. Vaikuntha Ekadasi celebrated in Margazhi is one of the important festivals. The float festival is held in the month of Feb-Mar. There is a beautiful glass palanquin. The Utsavar is Parthasarathy. The image of Krishna bears the scars from Bheeshma's arrows.
Kapaleeswarar Temple,Mylapore :
This ancient Siva temple, situated at Mylapore is little more that 350 years old and is considered by Hindus to be one of the most sacred Hindu, sites in Southern Part of India. The temple is the biggest in the city and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It contains inscriptions dating back to the 13th century AD, and is a fine specimen of the Dravidian style of architecture. The 37 metre gopuram is especially noteworthy for its intricate carvings depicting tales from Hindu mythology.
The original temple was submerged under the sea and the current temple structure was a later construction. The Moolavar is Kapaleeswarar and Amman is Karpagambal. You enter the temple from the East gopuram(Raja Gopuram) and the first Sannithi is Narthana Vinayagar where you offer prayers. As you go around clockwise you see sanctums of Annamalaiyar & Unnamulaiammai. There is a niche with peep holes in the wall on the South side from where you can see Unnamalai ammal. Next is the Singaravelar sannithi along with consorts Valli & Devayanai. To the left of this is the Kolu Mandapam. Beyound the Mandapam facing North are the Sannathis of Palani Andavar & Vayilar Nayanar ( whose birth place is Mylapore). Then you come to the Dwaja Sthambam with a large stone Nandi facing Kapaleeswarar. You enter the Mahamandapam from where you enter the shrines of Kapaleeswarar facing West (considered special) and Karpagambal facing South. There are several other deities such as Durgai, Brahma Chandikeswarar,Lingeswarar,Dakshinamurthy located around the Kapaleeswarar Sannithi. You also see the Palliarai, bronze idols of Natarajar & Sivakami, Somaskandar,Chandrasekarar. There are moolavar stone idols as well bronze utsavar iodols of the 63 Nayanmars, the saints who were devotees of Lord Siva are placed in the Kapaleeswarar Sannadhi. After offerring prayers to the deities you emerge and walk again westwards and circumambulate again from the Dwaja Sthambam. On the West side outer prakaram you find sanctums to Arunagirinathar, Gnanasambandhar & Angampoompavai. The Large Temple Tank is located outside the West Gopuram. To the North side prakram is the sthalavriksham and a shrine where ambal in the form of a peacock is offerring prayers to the Lord. The go-shala is also located in an enclosure behind the sthala vriksham. There are about a dozen cows housed there and they provide all the milk required for the temple poojas. On the North East corner is the shrine of Saneeswarar facing West. On the Eastern side prakaram are the Navagrahas & shrine to Jagadeeswara.

The famed 'Arupattu Moovar' festival is held in the month of Panguni. The Teppam or float festival in the large temple tank during Thai masam and the biweekly Pradosham festival also draw huge crowds here.
Parvati (Karpakambal) in the form of a peacock, Mayil is said to have worshipped Shiva (in a legend similar to that at Mayiladuturai), hence the name Mylapore. According to a legend Thirugnanasambandar brought a dead girl,Angampoompavai, back to life in this temple. This event is enacted on the 8th day of the annual festival in the month of Pankuni. This ancient Shiva temple shrine is a must-see pilgrimage spot for visiting devotees.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Tiruverkadu-Mangadu

Tiruverkadu :
After Tiruvidendai we proceeded to Vandalur where we stopped for lunch at Sri Padmam. Then we reached Tambaram & took the bye pass and reached the Poonamallee high Rd. and turned left. Road widening was in progress and the Arch on the Highway (just before Velappan Chavadi) leading to Tiruverkad had been demolished. Our next stop was the Karumariamman temple at Tiruverkad located approx. 6 kms from the highway. The Karumaariamman temple is one of the most revered and visited temples in the vicinity of Chennai. It enshrines an image of Karumaariamma, discovered in an anthill.
This shrine was enlarged and rebuilt in the middle of the 20th century. There are shrnies here to Vinayakar, Subramanyar, Surya, Chandran, Maduraiveeran, Vaattavaraayan, the navagrahams and Perumaal. A tank is located in front of the temple entrance. The stalavriksham here is the neem tree, or the Veppa maram.
As per legend Devikarumari approached the Sun as an old nomadic lady. He ignored her and Devikarumari became angry and immediately vanished. The Sun realising his mistake begged Devikarumari for forgiveness. The Sun requested Devikarumari to celebrate Sunday and she accepted this. He also got permission from Her to pour on her the Sun rays twice in a year in the month of Panguni and Purattasi.
Once Vinayagar performed Abishekam on Devi Karumari using Valampuri Conch. So She blessed him that the first pooja would be done to Him only.That is why only after offering prayer to Vinayagar at the left side of Dwaja Sthambam we should go round the temple corridor.
While Lord Siva was ruling Thiruverkadu along with Balambiga, Devas who were tortured by demons rushed to Lord Siva for help. Lord Siva told Uma Devi alias Thiruverkkani that he is going to the kingdm of Devas until His return He empowered Thiruverkanni to perform all the five sacred duties ( Creation, Protection, Destruction, maintain and bless) and gave her ashes from his body. Goddess Verkkani ordered Agasthiar to select a place at north eastern side to rule the world. Agasthiar heard an auspicious voice , "Agasthia! the place where you are standing itself is going to be a sacred one". As Agasthiar turned, Goddess came near him and said this place would remove all sins. She performed five sacred duties with the help of ashes given by Lord Siva. At that time she appeared in the form of seven divine powers.
Thaipoosa Latcharchana and Poornima Latcharchana are very auspicious. Other important festivals are. Masi magam, Tamil new year, Panguni uthiram and Garudaseva. Sundays are very special.
Vedapureeswarar Temple : Also situated in Tiruverkaudu. This an ancient temple dating back to the Chola period as per stone inscriptions. Behind the Shiva Lingam, Ambal Balambikai & Lord Shiva are depicted in Kalyana pose for the benefit of Sage Agastyar. He is also called the Lord of all the Vedas hence the name Vedapureeswarar. The four Vedas stood in the form of 'vela' trees hence the name Verkadu. The white Vela tree is the sthala Vriksham. This is also the birth place of Moorkanayanar one of the 63 nayanars. After killing of Asura Soorapadman, Muruga worshipped Shiva here hence there is a Shiva Lingam in the Murugar Sannithi. He also created a well with his Vel called Velayutha Theertham. This Ambal is also worshipped as Karumariamman at Turuverkad.
Mangadu Kamatchiamman :
Sri KamakshiAmman Temple is situated at Mangadu off Ponnamallee High Road. Kamakshi or Parvati is enshrined here celebrating her austere penance and meditation. This temple is believed to have been in existence during the peirod of Aadi Sankaracharya. Sri Adi Sankara came here and installed Ardhameru (Sri Chakra) which is rare of its kind in India. The sanctum here enshrines Kamakshi, and a Sri Chakram. Legend has it that Kamakshi performed severe austerities in a grove of mango trees. The utsava murthy here is referred to as Raja Rajeswari.
The image of (idol) Sri Thapas Kamakshi in Vamapadangushta pose in the midst of Panchagni resting the left leg on Agni and folding the right leg. Her left hand is raised above her head holding a Japamala. It is said that Sri Kamakshi performed her Tapas (penance) and got married to Sri Ekambareswar at Kanchi (Kanchipuram). If any unmarried girl comes and worships to Sri Kamakshi she will also get married.
The other temples situated in this place are Sri Velleswarar and Sri Vaikunda Perumal. Saint Suryachariar got back his eye sight by worshipping Sri Velleswarar. It is also said that Sri Vaikunda Perumal came to this place with gifts and ring for the marriage of Sri Kamakshi with Lord Sri Velleswarar, we can see the ring on Lord's right hand of the moolasthana vikragam (idol) of Sri Vaikunda Perumal.
AUSPICIOUS DAYS: Fridays are very special in this Temple.

Arumugam, a well known & popular retired Superintendent from HR&CE (and a loyal subordinate who had worked with devotion & dedication under Shobhas father) had also accompanied us on these visits. Due to his presence special 'raja maryada' was conferred on us by the Archakas. For Shobha this was reminescent of her early days when she had frequently accompanied her father (who is a retd. Dy.Commissioner from HR&CE) on temple visits and recieved awesome respect befitting his position & status.

Tiruvidanthai

Tiruvidandai is located at a distance of 42 km from Chennai, enroute to Mamallapuram.
Lakshmi Varaha Perumaal in a standing posture facing east and the Utsavar is Nityakalyana Perumaal; Taayaar(Goddess) here is Komalavalli or Akilavalli Naachiyaar. The Moolavar Aadi Varaaha Perumaal is portrayed as a 9 feet high image, with his consort on his left thigh; Aadi Seshan and his consort are seen supporting him. The temple faces the east; it is considered to be one of the few Vishnu temples retaining the features of early Chola temples.
The niche images around the sanctum include those of Vinayaka, Achyuta, Satya, Purusha and Vishnu Durga. This temple covers a 2.5 acre area. Tirumangai Alwar (8th century AD) has sung of this shrine. The present structure dates back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Inscriptions from Kulottunga Chola I's period (1070-1120) here speak of the existence of the Kalichchingan Mutt, to which endowments were made. Earlier during the period of Vijayendra Chola (early 11th century), gifts were made by the Cholas for the upkeep of the temple. Inscriptions speaking of Raja Raja Cholan's ,contributons are also seen here. The mahamandapam in front of the sanctum has several carved pillars from the 15th century.
The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chittirai. Other festivals include Vaikuntha Ekadasi in the month of Margazhi; Garuda Sevai is held in the months of Aani, Aadi, Thai and Maasi. The ivory palanquin here is of great workmanship.
Legend has it that a sage by name Galavamuni had 360 daughters, and he offered them in marriage to Vishnu, who appeared in front of him as a Bhrammachari of the Kasyapa gotram. One after the other was given in marriage to him each day. On the final day, Vishnu appeared in the form of VarahaMurthy, combined all the 360 brides into one person, Akilavallinachiyar, and placed her on his left side (ida vendai), in contrast to Mamallapuram Aadi Varaha temple, where the goddess is to the right of Aadi Varaaha (Tiruvalavendai). The processional image came to be known as Nityakalyana Perumal, and the village Nityakalyanapuri. Komalavalli the first of his brides is enshrined in a separate sanctum. The vimanam here is called Yagna vimanam, or Kalyana Vimanam. Markandeya, Mahabali and Galava rishi are believed to have worshipped Vishnu here.

Mira in Chennai

28 April'07 :
Shobha,Guhan,Bhavana,Mira & I arrived Chennai by Cheran on 28th morning. The ever reliable driver from Bala Tourist was waiting near the engine with a placard. We drove straight to Woodlands at Dr.Radhakrishnan Salai and checked in. After a wholesome breakfast we dropped Bhavana & Mira at her friends place in Gandhipuram and proceeded to the Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple there. This is a contemporary temple built in 1962 on land donated by His Highness Chitra Thirunal. As you enter the outer prakaram you see the Ishta Siddhi Vinayakar on your left and the Navagrahas sannithi on your right. Then you enter the inner sanctum to find a Garudar Sannithi. The inner sanctum contains the idol of Vishnu as Anantha Padmanabha swamy as in Trivandrum. There are three doors through which you can view the head, body and feet of the Lord who is reclining on the divine snake Adisesha with its hood protecting the Lords head. The right hand is touching and worshipping the Siva Lingam and the feet are resting on a lotus. Springing from the Lords navel is a stem carrying a lotus flower on which Brahma is seated. Hence the name Padma(lotus) nabha(navel). There are large granite idols of Diwakara Muni, Kountinya Muni and Bhodevi & Sridevi and also utsava murthys made of panchaloham. There are myriad devas in the background worshipping Vishnu - as per legend there are 33 crore devas ! The deity is richly decorated with gold crown, ornaments and kavacham- partly funded by a hefty donation from cricketer Srikanth.
Outside the granite walls of the sanctum you find idols of Sudarsanam, Narasimhar & Asta Dashabuja MahaDurgai. There is a magnificent Golden Chariot which is parked in a glass covered enclosure. Devotees can pay Rs.1000/- for the chariot to be drawn around the sanctum with the utsava murthy placed on it. On Shravana Nakshatra day however the larger wooden chariot (parked in the outer prakaram) is used instead and the rate is Rs.3000/- This is a privately managed temple but under the superintendence of the Hindu Religious & Endowments Board.
Guhan was so enchanted by this lovely and sparklingly maintained temple that he expressed a desire to spend the entire day there. We however had several other plans for him.
Next we hit the East Coast Road (ECR) a scenic coastline built along the coast of the Bay of Bengal.This corridor connects Chennai to Cuddalore through Mahabalipuram & Pondicherry dotted with innumerable fishing hamlets and tourist resorts enroute. The ECR starts at Thiruvanmiyur & is a part of the Chennai City limits till Uthandi from where starts the scenic beachway section which is a toll-road. The speed of the vehicles on this road is restricted to 80 kph. Enroute you travel through Neelankarai ,Prarthana open air theatre, Injambakkam, Cholamandalam Artists Village,VGP Golden Beach (amusement park). After paying toll tax at Uttandi you pass through Dakshina Chitra, MGM Dizzy World, Mayajal Multiplex, Crocodile farm (of Romulus Whittaker fame), Muttukadu Boat house, Fishermans Cove, Covelong before crossing a large casuarina grove and turning right for Thiru idaventhai Temple - listed among the significant holy places for Vishnu or the 108 Divya Darsanams.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Mira in Cbte

After several months of eager anticipation Bhavana & Mira finally arrived in Cbte on 19 th April. Bhavana was on a 4 weeks vacation and arrived in Bangalore the previous day along with her in laws. Guhan in particular was very excited as he was meeting Bhavana after a gap of 3.5 long years & meeting his niece Mira for the first time. It was a joyful reunion. Mira was bit reserved at first and was sticking to Bhavana like a satellite. But within a day or two she became more sociable. The Den with its sprawling smooth floors provided Mira with plenty of exercise and exploration opportunities. In no time she was expertly negotiating(on all fours) from room to room and able to reach hitherto undiscovered nooks,corners&crevices successfully unearthing pieces of dirt, dust & scrap and triumphantly holding them aloft and trying to pop them into her mouth. She had to be continuously kept under closed circuit surveillance - monitoring, chasing and thwarting her gave us all good exercise too. But Mira managed to outwit us many a time.
At night Bhavana & Mira slept on the floor - Bhavana was afraid to sleep on the cot for fear of Mira falling down. Mira usually woke up around 4.00 am and that was the time she was most energetic and made maximum noise. Her usual practice was to stand near our cot and tug at my fast disappearing strands of hair.
During Bhavana's stay (phase 1) most of the time was spent indoors - resting & relaxing, enjoying home cooked meals and chatting. Some mornings Bhavana spent plucking flowers and playing with the dogs with Guhan pushing the stroller with Mira in it. We had a few outings too- we saw a movie(Mozhi), dined at Hot Kitchen, went shopping for clothes & gifts. Twice we went for morning walks around the Race Course with Mira on the stroller. Mira's presence brought enthusiastic smiles to the faces of many usually dour & tight lipped early morning walkers.
Every day some time was set apart for chasing & eliminating mosquitoes-with the electric tennis racquet. The racquet is swished around in the bedroom and a series of forehand & backhand strokes are executed-aces,volleys,passing shots,smashes,lobs, slices & top spin. On successful contact the mosquito is caught in a high voltage web and immediately perishes- terminated in a flurry of sparks.

Kizhillam & Perumbavoor

26/4/07 : I had to make another quick trip to Kottayam to attend a meeting. This time I travelled in a hired Toyota Quallis and the route was the same as the one I took on the previous visit on 13th. I forgot to mention in the last blog that the road from Angamali via Perumbavoor upto Muvattupuzha has been now expanded and the drive of around 25 Kms is superb & smooth and you can cruise comfortably at 75-80 kmph.
after finishing work I left Kottayam around 5.00 pm. It had started to rain but it wasn't the typical high intensity Kerala downpour-Edavapadi was still some weeks away.The progress was slow upto Ettumanoor due to heavy traffic. Thereafter the traffic eased a little. I continued the journey in light rain,ascended the ghat section, crossed Kuruvalangad & Koothatukulam and reached Muvattupuzha. Thereafter the sky cleared and there was no further rain. I continued onwards till Kizhillam (19 Kms before P'voor) and stopped there to visit the little known Mahadeva temple located on the highway. A small but beautiful temple (reported to have been built about 300 years ago) with four entrances and a small stone deepasthambam at each entrance. The archakas and volunteers were a friendly lot and I engaged them in conversation. I had reached just in time for Deeparathanai and a small group of devotees had gathered to witness this. First there was Sanku Oothal (blowing of conch) and then chendai.Then the sanctum doors opened and deeparathanai for Lord Shiva was performed. It was truly a very enchanting sight. I experienced goose pimples in my flesh and my hair stood up as if electrically charged.
I reached Perumbavoor at 7.00 pm and decided to visit the Sastha temple there. To my good fortune 'pushpanjali' was being performed there when I arrived. I entered the temple to accompaniment of nadaswaram & thavil. Lord Ayyappa was submerged in a sea of multi coloured flowers. One of the devotees was performing Puspanjali and his entire family had gathered there. Two young boys were bringing in flowers in small cane baskets and handing them over to the Archakas who then showered the lord with the "Pushpams". This was an absolutely magnificent and awe inspiring sight I have never witnessed before. I stood in quiet obeisance and prayed blissfully to the Lord. After this the nadai was closed for a while then reopened for Deeparathanai.
Outside the temple stood an tall aal vriksham with a tarai around it. It is reported to be carrying three varieties of aal leaves.