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Friday, August 22, 2014

Gunduperumbedu Paleobotany site (Kanchipuram - Tamil Nadu)

Two things happened... One, ever since I visited Thiruvakkarai, my mom was telling me about a similar site much closer to Chennai. Two, I was taken by a some friends to a ultra-modern temple close to Sriperumbudur. When I was there, I opened my phone's GPS to find where I was exactly. My map showed close by, like within 3-4 km, the place that my mom told about - Gunduperumbedu! So I went back to the location again to see just Gunduperumbedu.
Infact I didn't have to go to Gunduperumbedu village at all. Even before reaching there, just after crossing the previous village, I asked the locals about 'Pookkal', as they call it. Poo in Tamil means Flower and Kal in Tamil means Stone. Since this is a Paleobotony site where the stones have fossilized on them, they are called Pookkal. That's coining of new word. Sensible, right? 
The locals told me to look for a small pond on the road side and a church beside it. Near that area, on the either sides of the road, would be several broken stones and the 'Pookkal' we're looking for would be among them. I looked for the pond, but I really couldn't find any pond in site. Then I tried to look for a Cross among the buildings to find the church, and I found it. Tried to get into the little lanes and yup, I did manage to find what the pond was. It was a bit on the drier side and I had earlier thought it was just a pit. 
After parking the bike there, I started to hunt for the 'Pookkal'. The stones there were pretty interesting. They pretty much reminded me of Thiruvakkarai. I think quite a few stones here are actually paleo-neolithic wood that's petrified, coz I could see images like annual rings on the stones.

After quite a bit of searching, we did find a few stones with print of leaves. But the real treasure if finding stones with impression of leaves and I did manage to find a few. They were everywhere on the road sides.
The location & geography was pretty much similar to Thirupporur & Siruthavur megalithic burial regions.
By the time, the a couple of locals came to see what I was doing and one of them went back to his home and brought in the treasure trove. A huge plank of about 5" x 10" with the impression of a long single fern leaf. Well, that piece has been requested by the Botony dept. of Pondicherry University. 

Anyways, the sad factors also cannot be ignored. First, the breaking of rocks.I dunno for what? But the rocks in this regions has been broken recklessly. Can you see how the rocks look perfectly cut, like they were detonated. May be they cut it for the construction of road or may be the buildings. In any case, several rocks have been destroyed. Its upto us to protect the rest. Second, this place really really has to be taken over by GSI (Geological Survey of India) before it becomes permanently damaged.
Btw, on a totally different note, did you know Madras just celebrated its 375th birthday??? If you don't know, Madras is presently called Chennai. But for the people of Chennai who've been living here for years together, as we always call it "Chennai is a City; Madras is an Emotion". Its been 375 years, since the British Raj had developed Madras. And as a dedication, Murugappa Group came up with this awesome song. Check it out!!!!

TO GET THERE:
In Chennai
From Tambaram: 16km via Mudichur Road, Manimangalam towards Sriperumbudur.
Buses go upto Kolathur on this road. A left turn at Kolathur leads to Vellarai vilage. Just after Vellarai, even before reaching Gunduperumbedu you'll spot this location.

Dedicated to Venkat

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pon Vilaindha Kalathur Temples (Kanchipuram - Tamil Nadu)

Last Ram Navami, mom & I set off to this temple in the outskirts of Chennai of Lord Rama. It was located near Chengalpattu, in a place called Pon Vilaindha Kalathur. 

The first temple we went there was called Pattabi Ramar aka Kodhanda Ramar. But that's not where we concentrated. Our area was behind this. It was the Sethuramar shrine. He's called the Dharba Sayana Sethuramar. He is in a sleeping posture. 
At his foot was Samuthira Rajan (King of the Oceans) and just behind him at his hip was Lakshmana. An awesome factor here is the inscription on the forehead of Rama. It says Dhanushkodi Ramar. 
The temple as it is, is a new construction. But the age of this Dharba Sayana Sethuramar is unknown. Its believed that the sculpture was found while digging up for a well.

From there our next stop was Lakshmi Narasimhar temple. This is an older temple than the previous one. The bronzes of Lord Vishnu here is called Vaikunta Vasa Perumal and his consort here is Ahobila Valli. 
An interesting house just opposite this temple! Very similar to the one we saw at Thirunindravur.
From there our next stop was Munkudumeeswarar temple, a Shiva temple in the locality of Chola Era. This one is under ASI (Archaelogical Survey of India). The architecture is Gaja Prashta Sivalayam similar to Madambakkam & Redhills. Other shrines here are of Chandrasekarar, Meenakshi, and a Kootruvanayanar in the place of Chandrikesar. 
That one depicts Thirukazhukundram with 2 eagles & a Shiva temple atop a hill.

Kannappanayanar

Ekapada Nayanar

Nanmuga Lingam (Siva Lingam with 4 faces)
This was the temple I spent the most time more than the other 2 temples. One reason is the pillar reliefs. Here are some that were interesting.

Another is the inscriptions around. I dunno what is in it but I did spot Rajaraja in it followed by a year, which I couldn't decipher. 

TO GET THERE:

Dedicated to Mom.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Armenian Church (Chennai - Tamil Nadu)

Long back when I was designing a tee depicting 6 different icons of Chennai, like expanding an abbreviation i.e 'MADRAS'. And to depict one of the 'A', I depicted Armenian Church. Sadly I've never been there, when I designed that. Recently when I got a chance to go there with some people who know very well about its history, how would I say no???????? So, here's more on the place.
Armenians originally belong to the Armenia region (present day Turkey, Iran regions). Christianity was spread here by the apostles of Jesus St. Thaddew & St. Bartholomew. And this was the first ever country to declare Christianity as state religion in the year 301 AD, followed by Ethiopia in 324. Only after these 2 countries, Vatican declared Christianity as state religion. Followers of Armenian Christianity later on spread all over the world and that includes India too. 

The Chennai population of Armenians had their own church and that's this Armenian Church. The church was built in 1712 and was renovated in 1772.
The most important feature of this church is its bells. These are heavy, huge, iron bells, 6 in number, cast in different times from 1719 to 1737.

There are inscriptions on these bells that say when they were cast and for what purpose. Here are 2 of those,  in stitched images, so that you can read what is on it. The bells hand from oak wood that are also as old as the bells. Presently the bells are rung once a week, every Sunday morning at 9.
The entire place also served as a burial ground and you can see the tombstones, everywhere. One of the tombstones caught my attention. It was of Shmavonian (1750-1824). 
His tombstone depicts a ruler and scissor to depict he was a textile merchant; it also depicts stones and a balance to denote he was a gem stone merchant; it also depicts ink bottle and quill feather to denote he was a writer as well; and it also denotes wine glass and grapes to denote that he was a wine merchant as well. To put in a nutshell this kinda depicts the culture of Armenians. They were merchants and did as many commercial ventures as possible.
An important grave here was of Kojah Petrus Woskan (1681-1751). He was the merchant who built the Marmalong Bridge in Chennai; the original church of St.Matthias in Vepery, Chennai; and also the steps of St.Thomas Mount. He was buried in St.Matthias Church, but according to his wish, his heart was buried in New Julfa where he was born. A tablet was inscribed here in his memory. Another interesting grave stone was this. It had this man wearing a very Indo-Persian outfit, complete with turban. Below that was an image of a 2 headed bird called Ganda Perundam, a mythical bird in India.
The interiors of the Church look so elegant. The altar has Mother Mary rising to the skies with baby Jesus. The original image on the altar was a similar one, which got destroyed while renovation. The present image is pretty new. 
Below that image was a wooden platform with 4 steps and 5 sections in each step denoting 20 scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. It includes the 14 stations of the cross and 6 miracles. In many churches these scenes are depicted as wall hangings or as glass paintings. 

Another interesting factor is the location of the choir. Its located in the mezzanine opposite to the altar facing the altar. I was informed that the practice of having the choir beside the altar on the leftside is only a modern practice. The chairs, tables, chandeliers, everything has a gorgeous old world charm to it. 

The street where this church is located is called Armenian Church. But when I went into the street and enquired for the church, I was directed to a huge church. This church is much more posh looking than the ancient church. This even has a dwaja sthambam like in Indian temples. 
Guess what, that's a brand new Catholic church, built just beside the ancient Armenian Church!!! From the exterior the original Armenian Church doesn't even look like a church!!!

TO GET THERE:

Dedicated to Kra.Narasaiah

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pazhayanur & Nemili Temples(Thiruvallur - Tamil Nadu)

From Thirumazhisai, our next stop was Thiruvalangadu. Photography is not allowed inside this temple, so there won't be any here.... This is the Rathna Sabhai of Lord Shiva. You may remember my earlier post on Chidambaram. Remember I told you its the Kanaka Sabhai? Well, Lord Shiva has 5 major temples, called the 5 sabhais where He performed His cosmic dance. One of it was Chidambaram and another one is Thiruvalangadu. The present structure seems to have been built by Vijayanagara Kings. Anyways, this is a famous temple and a lot of people have written about here, so let me skip it.
It was slightly past noon by the time we reached there and we were thinking about lunch and guess what??? There was free lunch at the temple's Annadanam, by the state govt!!! That's some money and time saved. So we spent it in err.... sleeping. Just behind the temple is this very very huge, temple tank. As the temple's tree (sthala vruksham) is Peepul tree, just around the pond were some 5-6 huge Peeupuls. 
The day was rather hot. Not just us, even a dog there couldn't bear the heat and was making itself wet and slept in shade!!! With the water from the tank and the wind from the tree, the temparature there was relatively lower than elsewhere. Guess what, we slept off beneath the trees for almost an hour before we set off to our next place.
From there our next stop was Pazhayanur Saatchi Bhoodeshwarar temple. That has a very interesting legend behind it. Its believed that about 2500 yrs ago, there was this merchant named Dharisanan. He was followed by a ghost called Neeli. As he fled and reached this village, the farmers of this village provided protection to him, after taking oath at the Saatchi Bhoodeshwarar temple. But this extensively angered the ghost. 
To calm her down the villagers sacrificed 70 of their own people by jumping into fire. The temple where they took oath still exists and just opposite to that spot is a memorial for those 70 people!
The memorial is a cement sculpture showing a person dunking into flames and around it is a square pavilion where stone reliefs which depict various people and incidents around this massacre.
From here, our next stop was Nemili and I had a broken heart there. Why? Let's see to it. The temple was built by Aparajitha Chola around 900 AD. Inscription date here from 905 AD to 1252 AD. Now that's awesome, isn't it? But why was I heart broken.
As I reached the locality, I asked for the Perumal temple and kept going. Beside the highway, I spotted a temple that had Garuda on the compound wall. That was intriguing. It didn't look like an ancient temple, nor were there any ASI board in sight, but the Garuda (eagle - vahana of Lord Vishnu) was unusual for a modern temple! So I went there and asked again to the locals if there are any other Vishnu / Perumal temple in locality and the answer was no. 
In the sanctum sanctorum was Lord Vishnu as Perumal in seared posture, with one leg folded. On either sides of him are Sridevi and Bhoodevi. A unique feature is that He holds a grain of paddy. The legend goes that a farmer wished to the Lord here for good cultivation and that he would offer half of the yield. However after the cultivation, he opted not to keep his word. So Lord converted all his paddy grains to stones. When he realized his error, Lord took one grain as his share and gave the farmer everything. And its that grain he holds. Another unique feature is that his palm show the lines pretty well. Another astonishing feature is that the 3 dieties in sanctum sanctorum, are all made of a single stone!
Some awesome factors include the beautiful bronzes. One of the bronzes is of Lord Krishna in the Kalinga Mardhana (Kaliya Mardhan) posture i.e. the dance on snake! 
What I came to know was that the temple was built in the shape of a chariot, with wheels below! What I saw was just a regular architecture. We went in and a small walk around the temple and it revealed tons of inscriptions. 

Upon enquiry we found that the temple was indeed in the shape of a chariot. About a decade back, the temple was renovated and the chariot shape was damaged and the wheels were chucked! Not just that, below the present layer of inscription, there was another layer of adishtanam with more inscriptions. Now, that's beneath a plank of concrete. Believing that the temple shouldn't be lower than the ground level of the village, they increased the ground of the temple not with soil, but with concrete. Worse enough, the entire temple has been white washed and now all the inscription has gone so difficult and beyond recognition. The frontage of the temple before renovation seems to have had a Gopuram. However presently there's nothing. Its just in shambles and the pallava pillars are lying everywhere and is used as seating arrangement, resting place for goats, clothes drying planks etc.
This is not under ASI as well, though this is under HR & CE. Is anyone listening? A Pallava Era temple is damaged beyond recognition. Will it be preserved before whatever is remaining also vanishes???

TO GET THERE:

Dedicated to Siva & Gopu
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