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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!!!


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???


Dedicated to Siva & Gopu

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thirumazhisai & Thirunindravur Temples (Thiruvallur - Tamil Nadu)

I got so tired of working of late, and on one fine sunday, I really wanted a break and I set off with a couple of friends. Didn't much decide on where to go, but just took a couple of books on temples around Chennai and took off in a car. On the way, we decided to go to Thirumazhisai first. Thirumazhisai has 2 temples - Othandiswarar and Jagannathar temples.
Othandeeswarar temple is a Siva Temple. Lord Shiva here is called Othandeeswarar in Sanskrit and Kai Thandha Piran in Tamil. The temple architecture is curved on the back called Gaja Prashta Sivalayam (similar to the back of an elephant, like in Madambakkam or Magaral).
The back wall of the sanctum sactorum has a relief panel of Somaskandha. On the circumambulation passage are the the shrines of Vinayaka, Vishnu, Dharma Nandhi (facing Vishnu), Valli Devasena Subrahmanya, Chandikesar, Brahma, Durga, Rishabha Nayakar, Maha Bhairavar, Surya, Chandra etc.
There sculptures atop the Goshtams. Remember the ones we saw at Madathu Koil??? However here they are too shallow. The pillars were just plain cylinders. 
There is something unsual about this temple. Not in the architecture but in historical literature. Thirumazhisai Alwar is an Alwar, meaning he's a Vaishnavite saint, i.e a saint devoted to Lord Vishnu. However before he became a Vaishnavite, he was a Saivaite, meaning a saint devoted to Lord Shiva and has sung hymns on Othandeeswarar here. 
Very close to Othandeeswarar temple, is temple of Lord Vishnu called Jegannatha Perumal Temple. As it sounds, the name is similar to Puri Jagannatha.... Its said that the Jaganatha here is called Madhya Jagannatha, one at Puri is Ardha Jagannatha and the one at Thirupullanai is Aadhi Jagannatha. 
Lord Jagannatha here looks like Lord Krishna and here with his consorts Rukmini and Sathyabama. The same Thirumazhisai alwar who sung hymns on Othandeeswarar, after converting to Vaishnavism, has sung hymns on Lord Jagannatha also. There is a shrine of Manavala Mamunigal here. 
This temple has a separate shrine for the Saint Poet Thirumazhisai Alwar. Here he looks like Chakrathazhwar (like within a wheel). He's in a seated posture with the right leg folded. An unusual aspect is that he has a third eye on the thumb of his right leg. That's the temple's singer playing the drum. 
Just opposite the temple was this beautiful house almost in shambles. And that goat too posed with me for this pic!
From there, our next location was, Thirunindravur. Thirunindravur too has 2 temples - one is Lord Shiva and another of Lord Vishnu. Thiru means Mister in Tamil. 
Another meaning of Thiru is Sridevi, consort of Lord Vishnu. Thiru + Nindra + Oor means Sridevi + Stood + Place i.e the place where Sridevi stood.
Found this interesting sculpture of a monkey holding a snake on one of the pillars. Reminded me of a poem by Bharathidasan about how a monkey was so scared of a snake that it mistook banyan's ariel roots as snakes and finally its own tail as a snake!!!
Also, here I spotted a particular mandapam that had 6 pillars. Of those 4 were typical Simha Thoon i.e pillars with lions at base. That's a typical Pallava architecture. Remember seeing similar ones at Mahabalipuram?? But the problem is, they look like they've been brought in from various places, coz those 4 pillars are of 3 types...
The Lord Vishnu here is called Baktha Vathsalar. His consort here is called Mathsavithri, Ennai Petra Thayar, and also Nannu Kanna thalli. Shrines of Yoga Narasimhar, Chandikesar, Andal, Adhiseshan are present here.
Again very close to it here is Hrudayaleeswarar. His consort here is Maragadhambal. Hymns were sung here by Sekkizhar & Sundarar. Similar to Thirumazhisai temple, this too is a Gajaprashta Sivalayam in architecture. In the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Shiva, a sculpture of Pusalar Nayanar, a saivaite saint, is also present. Why so much importance for him?
Well, that's how the legend of the temples goes. There was this poor man called Poosalar. He wanted to build a temple for Lord Shiva, but didn't have any finances. So he started building the temple in his heart!!! In the same time, a Pallava king also started building a temple for Lord Shiva. By chance, both of them completed building the temple on the same day and invited Lord Shiva on the same day! Lord Shiva opted to visit Poosalar's temple built with heart instead of the King's temple built with money.... Though dejected, the king was more than curious to know who this guy was and how was the temple. So he visited Thirunindravur and met Poosalar and his impeccable devotion. The king made his dream come true by building an actual temple for Poosalar with his sculpture beside Sivalingam in the sanctum sanctorum... That's why the Lord Siva here is called Hrudyaleeswarar i.e. Hrudaya + Aalaya + Iswarar meaning, Heart + Temple + Lord Siva....
Just outside this temple, I spotted these. Remember I spotted these at Appur?? Here I spotted so so many of those....
From here we were off to our next destination. On the way, there was this police station in front of which was this interesting thing. A tall, very tall (spot the height of street light beside?) pole with a bucket tied atop! I have no clue what its purpose was, but very interesting though.... Lolz!!


On Google Maps:

Dedicated to Gopu & Siva

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Karadi Malai Camp & Vallam Reserve Forest (Kanchipuram - Tamil Nadu)

People of Chennai would know Romulus Whitaker very well. People all over India, interested in wildlife, or just animals would know Romulus very well too. For others, Romulus Whitaker is the founder of Madras Snake Park and Madras Crocodile Bank. In simple words he's a wildlife guy. In awe inspiring words, he was a young man from USA who got so mesmerized by India, that he returned India even after his parents returned to the US to study the Indian wildlife! Today he's called the Snake Man of India!!!
Why am I talking about Romulus Whitaker all of a sudden? Well, Karadi Malai Camp or KMC is the home of Romulus Whitaker & his wife Janaki Lenin. Errr... when did I start writing about people's homes in My Travelogue?! Ermm... Its not just their home. Its a gorgeous made man forest with cottages for other to spend some time just beside a reserve forest!!! Now, we're talking, aren't we?
Karadi Malai Camp is a sprawling campus of 12 acres that just borders the Vallam reserve forest. Remember the Mahendra Pallava trail at Vallam Caves. Yup, its the same Vallam. The whole place is in 2 sections. 'Paambu Kudivanam', their home and 'Karadi Malai Camp' where the guests can stay in cottages and enjoy the place. That's a pair of Red Vented Bulbul and Long Tailed Shrike in the above 2 pics.
The cottages are simple woven bamboo structures with wooden flooring. Its on stilts with water beneath, to keep some insects away. But does it matter, when you're there to enjoy the forest and be as close to nature as possible. Simple home cooked food, comes from Rom's home for breakfast, lunch & dinner. The house has a simple latch, a basic cupboard, the cot with bed, bedsheet and mosquito nets, etc. There's an attached bathroom with shower & western toilet. So basically, comfort is complete. 

I stayed there for a day - an afternoon to the next. So for the first day by sunset, I went on a walk into the reserve forest with Jagadeesh, an amateur naturalist from Bangalore. The landscape was fantabulous. Its a tropical dry evergreen forest similar to Pudukottai. I did spot some birds and butterflies.... 
Later that night, was a night walk within the camp. That included majorly snake spotting and scorpion spotting. Some sleepy snakes, camouflaged along with the branches were gorgeous. But what was awesome were those scorpions. 

Jagadeesh got a UV torch and under UV light, the skin of scorpions gave away a bright, fluorescent color, making spotting them easy! I did spot atleast 7-8 scorpions from about a cm long to about 10 cm long!!! Spotted a couple of spiders too with eyes that are sparkly, shiny in the night light!!!
The night was great. There's just one fan, but guess what? I visited there in the middle of hot summer and by late night or early morning, it was so cold that we needed the blanket for just that fan!!! That's how the climate is, in the middle of the forest, living inside a bamboo cottage!!! 
Next morning there was this awesome guy, Maasi, a local from Irula community waiting to guide us to another walk. We started off at 6 and came back at 9. What did we do? Snake hunting..... For the first time in life, I touched a snake deliberately!!!!! We also spotted a few scorpions. The smallest I've ever seen!! Spot the scorpion beside an adult hand in the above pic?

Spotted a snake skin of Spectacled Cobra... Maasi caught a Checkered Keelback, locally called Thanni Paambu, in a semi dry well. Its a non venomous snake. That's the snake attacking Jagdish's hand and that's him looking over as I gathered the courage to hold the snake by its tail...
Soon after that, Maasi caught a huge Rat snake in the fields. That's Maasi and this time I was bold enough to hold it all by myself!!! Yippeee....
White Browed Wagtail aka Pied Wagtail

A weaver bird in nest making process

Weaver birds' nests with a bird on top right corner!

Great Orange Tip Butterfly

An old, discarded Paper Wasp's nest

I loved the place sooo much. I definitely going back there in rainy season to see the transformation and ofcourse, to meet Rom. This time, he wasn't available! 
No, there are no Karadi-s i.e. bears here. Karadi was the first pet dog of Rom. A couple of years back, Rom did spot a leopard too! May be if you're lucky enough, you too might spot one!!!!
Yes, there are some sad factors too. Very close to the reserve forest, a huge, new temple is being constructed. I am definitely worried about land grabbing and economic development (read - disruption to nature with music, sound, shops, garbage etc), coz of the temple. Another scary factor is  that I did spot some plots available for sale at the fringes of the reserve forest. Dunno when that would expand at the cost of nature!!!!!


Nearest Railway station: Chengalpet Jn.
Nearest Bus stop: Thiruvadisulam (regular buses available from Chengalpet towards Thiruporur)
Cost of cottages: Rs.3000 per night incl. breakfast
For exact location and reservation contact Janaki Lenin at or
There are just 3 cottages, so there's absolutely no point going without reservation much in advance!!!

Dedicated to Venkat
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