Just as the Astrologer had advised me to undertake certain visits to the Temples with ruling deities as 9 planets famously called ‘Navagraha’ temples in this part of the world, my family and I took the opportunity this weekend to have a holy trip as well as have a blast anyway. Indeed, it had been far too long that I had taken my family on any kind of tour because of my relocating to Chennai last year and all that, so I was keen to make amends for it now.
So here is how it all went:
I made a quick survey of Tamil nadu map and learnt that Kumbakonam is another ‘Temple town’ in the Rice basket of Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur District.
Due thanks must be given to my friends Sai and Varadaraj , who have travelled on this circuit many times before and were able to give me precise info on how to go about, within minutes of mailing a request..
We started off in a High Tech, Non AC Bus named Rathi Meena from Chennai (boarding at Guindy) on a typical sweltering afternoon 2-30 PM to Kumbakonam.
They charge you Rs 210/- per head.
The Bus takes the NH 45 highway which is an excellent four track stretch now without any bottlenecks or crossings. Once in a way, the Indian roads do surprise you these days, well, in one way or the other. Traffic moves smoothly, flat smooth stretch for nearly 150 Kms (it is all the way to Madurai, I am told) till Tindivanam and then takes a diversion off the highway towards our destination.
This road initially was not bad either, as our roads go.
The evening cooled down a bit as we hit the greener countryside and everything looked absolutely fine for some time.
But then the bad roads start from about 2 hours ahead of Kumbakonam and it’s quite dusty as well. We noticed that some repairs were going on because of breaching of canals and flooding ostensibly from last year’s incidents.
Pot holes and barricades galore as the bus labours forth, we brace and hold on tight.
In the falling dusk light we did enjoy the sight of green and well irrigated lush paddy fields, though.
It took seven hours to reach Kumbakonam and the town looked sleepy and peaceful at 9-30 PM as we wearily trudged our way to a Hotel called Raya’s, hailed by locals as their best hotel.
A Double bed suite with two extra beds to accommodate the four of us would cost 900/- and we could hardly mind the fare at that hour.
Besides, the room was well furnished, air conditioned and the bath room was clean. That was all it mattered then.
After a refreshing wash, we managed to grab a snack of Idlis and dosas from a nearby restaurant. That formed our dinner for the day.
You don’t get full meals at night in most restaurants in Tamil Nadu. So ‘Be a Roman in Rome’, we mused and relented.
We made enquiries at the Reception regarding the transport for the next days’ road trip to the three temples nearby.
It transpired that the trip would last for about half a day and cost Rs 650/- for a Non AC Ambassador taxi. The Hotel made the taxi booking and promised to send the driver the first thing in the morning at 6-30 AM. We were told by a the knowledgeable Hotel receptionist that if we can start at 6-30 to 7 am , we could visit all the three temples before they close at noon and be back by lunch time. The temples, it seems, keep closed from 12 to 4 in the afternoon to reopen from 4 and would close for the day by around 8 PM.
The morning started early and we managed to leave the hotel by 7 AM.
The driver was ready and we started off, halting first for breakfast. A neat and small Veggie joint calling itself, Meenakshi Bhavan satiated our palate with steaming Idli- vadas and good strong Coffee.
‘Kumbakonam degree coffee’, the locals pride themselves on. Suffice to say, it was what were used to as fresh ‘filter Kafi’ back home.
The first visit was to Swamimalai, Lord Murugan’s fourth abode among the famed six such venues in Tamil nadu, together called ‘aaru padai veedu’.
We take a winding strip of road bathed in bright early morning light and hemmed in by green fields. We get to see farmers starting off their days with bullocks and tractors, quite a sight for my city-bred children. We cross small bridges and culverts constructed across near full Cauvery canals irrigating large tracts of paddy and sugar cane farm-lands. White birds flit across the blue sky above.
Looking at the gushing Cauvery waters, my mind can’t but wander to the annual tiff about River Cauvery between my home state of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu here.
I see the large areas well irrigated by pump sets all around.
‘Ah ha!’ I gather, ‘so they have so much of fields to irrigate and that is the bone of contention as to how much would be a fair share between the two states’.
No ready-made answers flash to my mind. I quickly dismiss the thoughts to enjoy the sights and sounds instead.
Soon we are stopping in front of a row of shops selling flowers, coconut and sundry and so this has to be it, we reckon.
We get out and are urged by the clamouring vendors to buy flowers first. We relent and climb nearly 60 steps to the Swamimalai temple, with its Gopuram beckoning us from above.
We light lamps, offer flower garland and watch the ‘Paal abhishekam’ followed by a fragrant ‘sandal paste abhishekam’.( chandanam) being performed on the smiling faced statue of Swaminathan.
My wife is all agog about the beautiful sight and concludes that ‘we are indeed blessed to see the daily spectacle’. I can’t disagree either.
It was a sight lovely enough to warm the cockles of a believer’s heart.
We stay there for about half an hour and leave with Prasadam.
The Driver advises us that he can stop the taxi at a locally famous Devi temple, at a place called Patteswaram enroute. ‘We are on schedule, don’t worry,’ he reassures us.
True to his word, the temple is neat, compact and being early (8-30AM) quite empty as well. The goddess is decorated with flowers and lemons.
We pray and leave.
The next halt was supposed to be a temple dedicated to Guru (rightly or wrongly translated to English as ‘Jupiter’!). I think, the nomenclature needs more clarity here, as the astronomical 9 planets do not have too much to do with astrological 9 planets. If so, when we dropped Pluto from its exalted position recently, there has been no change in astrological balance as Pluto, or even Neptune for that matter had not figured in the scheme anyway.
Nor do the ‘Chaaya grahas ‘, or shadow planets- Rahu and Kethu have any equivalent in Western astronomy either.
I could relate to Guru as the benefactor of Knowledge and wisdom and that which represents the auspicious time for some prominent milestones in our lives and this belief was enough for me to pay obeisance to the ‘Divine Teacher’ at this little town called Alangudi.
A benevolent looking vadhyaar (Priest) here advises my children to make 24 pradakshinas around the temple for reaping Guru’s grace. So they do, along with my wife. I got tired after there fourths of the count and rested!!
After the regular archana and Prasadam, we leave through the special queue lines through which we came in paying Rs 30/- per head.
The next halt will be at Thiru nageshwaram as per our schedule.
The ruling deity of this temple is the Shadow planet, Rahu, often believed malevolent in certain horoscopes.
The legend goes that Rahu and Kethu are the two parts of a serpent god, representing the head and the tail. They are also believed to be the ascending and descending nodes of the moon in astrology.
We were able to witness the pal abhishekam for a ticket of Rs 65/- and get Prasadam after the floral decoration was over along with archana etc as required by us.
It is said that ‘rahu kaalam’ puja is very popular in this temple and there are rare and wonderful sights to see at the time. However we did not get the benefit of the same this time around.
All along my son starts reading Tamil words on boards aloud, something he has learnt very recently.
He says they have written ‘Raaghu’ for ‘Raahu’ and ‘Kedhu’ for ‘Ketu’ though there are ‘Ha’ and ‘Ga’ letters separately in Tamil, but ‘tha’ and ‘dha’ are interchangeable!
We have heard, they call ‘maha lakshmi’ as ‘maga lakshmi’ meaning ‘Son Lakshmi’ in Kannada. My daughter gurgles with amusement when I say so.
And then my son claims they have the same letter for ‘Cha’ and ‘Sa’, quite a departure from his mother-tongue or even Hindi. That’s why they pronounce ‘Chappathi’ as ‘Sappathi’, he avers. I do not know much about it yet, so I just look on him proudly.
I smile at the ‘vaathiyaar’ when he comes over and manage to learn a couple of mantras from him to recite. They garland you with the same one which had adorned the Lord and that’s quite a privilege!
We this headed back, a contented lot back to the Hotel to partake a full veggie meal for an affordable Rs 30/-/.
The meal was quite tasty and worthy at Meenakshi Bhavan here.
We were back exactly at 12-45 Pm, just as we had planned and the driver had promised.
We were to start the second lap of the tour by visiting Kancheepuram the next day before reaching Chennai.
We planned to start by the early evening taking a Bus from Kumbakonam heading towards Chennai and have a change of buses at Chengleput for the same.
But then, that forms the content of my next post…..So, till then..