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India: Tamil Nadu: Coonoor, Mahabalipuram, Ooty, Srirangam [Tiruchirapalli], Thanjavur, Yercaud
Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli, India: The temple town
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Spread in an area of 156 acres, in Srirangam, The Ranganathawamy Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is the world’s largest functioning Hindu temple; Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the largest existing one though. The gopuram (temple tower) stands 237 feet making it the largest of its kind in India.
The temple town of Srirangam, adjoining to Tiruchirapalli (popularly known as Trichy) sits on the banks of River Kaveri in the State of Tamil Nadu. I was to be in Bangalore for business – giving me an opportunity to visit the temple town and other destinations in the State along with my family.
Trichy is about 350 kms drive from Bangalore. The road is part national highway and part state highway. I was happy to see very well maintained state roads in Tamil Nadu. What delighted me most was the general cleanliness of various towns that I crossed. Makes me believe that the civic sense of the locals was certainly above average. Or was I plain lucky?
We had a car at our disposal. Having a driver too was a big advantage especially when it came to finding parking slots. We left Bangalore post breakfast. We were at the temple doors at about 4PM. The last leg of our journey ran parallel to the River Kaveri. Unfortunately with a dry spell of monsoon the previous year, the bed was dry. I could only imagine the beauty had there been flowing water.
Though people of all cast and creed are allowed in the temple premises, only the Hindus can enter the sanctum sanctorum. Visitors must be appropriately dressed – shorts and skirts are shunned so are garments and accessories made of leather. Purses are allowed though. And of course, no photography.
The temple is enclosed by 7 concentric walls (termed prakarams) with a total length of 32,592 feet or over six miles. The temple has 21 gopurams (temple towers), 39 pavilions, 50 shrines, a mandapam (a hall) of 1000 pillars and several small water bodies inside. The space within the outer two prakarams (outer courtyard) is occupied by several shops, restaurants and flower stalls.
Though the main deity of the temple complex is Lord Vishnu, the premises has many other temples dedicated to various Gods and Goddesses. Since exploring the entire premises was not possible in the available time, we paid our respects at few of the temples and finally joined the queue of pilgrims waiting their turn to reach the Lord.
Those short of time can pay Rs 250 per head and get to skip the line. We opted for this. Within an hour we had our darshan (glimpse of the Lord). Luckily at the time of our visit, the palanquin of Goddess Laxmi was about to do the rounds of the temple. This was a bonus darshan for us!
Once out of the premises, I helped myself to a ‘metre-long’ coffee at one of the many coffee stalls. It’s a south Indian specialty wherein the filter coffee brew is nicely foamed by mixing the brew with milk and by using two utensils, the mixture is poured, from one to another repeatedly. I have got a picture for you. Sure, a picture is worth more than a thousand beans.
From Srirangam our next stop would be the Rock Fort - an icon of the town of Tiruchirapalli.
The Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort is a historic fort and temple complex built on an ancient rock. The 83-metre rock fort situated in the center of town is a major landmark in the town of Tiruchirapalli and is visible from a long distance. This is a major tourist spot and includes the famous Pallava-era Ganesha temple and the Nayaka-era fort. The fort complex has witnessed fierce battles between Madurai Nayakas and Bijapur, Carnatic and Maratha forces. The fort played an important part during the Carnatic wars, helping lay the foundations of the British Empire in India.
By the time we reached the foothills, crisscrossing our way through narrow streets of Trichy, it was pretty late in the evening. We had to climb hundreds of step to reach the top. Quick calculations accentuated by the long day we have had, we were sure to miss the beautiful view from up there. Reluctantly, we turned back.
For the night we were booked at Hotel Sangam. It’s a nice place and has my recommendation. For dinner we opted for a typical south Indian fare. After a good night’s rest we would leave for Thanjavur – another temple town.
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