Tiruttani- a place in the Hills
Travel Bug or ‘temple bug’…call it whatever you like. You can’t be far wrong either way…
But I made another such trip on Sunday last.
I had heard of Tiruttani from many friends and colleagues that it was a lovely temple set amid the hills enroute to Tirupathi from Chennai. And that it was one of the ‘Six Holy Temples’( Aru padai veedu) of Lord Subramanian in TN.
I took the morning 7-15 Local to Tiruttani from Central station. Seeing a heavy crowd gathering on the platform, I purchased a First class ticket to travel in peace.
I soon found out that this was a useless exercise as many Second class travellers and even ticket less travellers freely got in and out of the coach with a nonchalance that set me thinking… Am I the only one here with a conscience?’ Or ‘is having a good conscience a ‘bad’ thing, after all’ or ‘at the least an ‘expensive’ one?’(Later, one of my colleagues, a daily commuter, clarified that it’s not so ‘on all the days esp. working days see many checkers and rounding up of defaulters’. But then ‘Sunday is not any other day, you know’, he shrugs…)
I sigh and turn my attention to the scenery passing by through the window. The areas are all either full of greenery or ‘watery’ both ostensibly due to the abundant present Monsoon.
The train goes through the northern suburbs into Tiruvallur District which is the northern most District of the State. It borders with Chittoor Dist of AP. I was told by an old co-passenger sitting next to me that Tiruttani lay on the same hill range as Tirumala- Tirupathi of the neighbouring AP.
He whispers secretively in broken English seeing through that I was not a native,
‘In fact, Tiruttani was given away to Andhra Pradesh during Re-organization of States but was vehemently fought for by some Tamil leaders like Sivagnanam that this Murugan abode had a cultural and religious heritage more important to Tamils than Telugus.’ Besides this was also ‘Dr. S. Radhakrishnan’s birthplace’, he avers.
‘Then’, he says with a smile of success, ‘‘they’ bartered Tirupathi to AP and Tiruttani was returned to TN’.
‘Why, Andhrites at one point of time even wanted to retain Madras in their State’, he reminds me. That was certainly news to me, if it was true.
I stare at him in amazement not so much for his knowledge for a semi literate old man, but on how important certain things like these are to local sentiments and movements. I remind myself of the Kannadiga clamour for Kasargod in Kerala and Maharashtra’s rhetoric on Belgaum which are on similar lines. Whether this so called ‘re-re-organization’ will be a panacea to the problems of local people or not is a moot point though.
The train crosses Arakonnam junction and soon we reach Tiruttani. It has taken 2.5 hours in all.
I alight and head straight to Autorickshaw stand. There are about ten of them and all the drivers’ demand Rs 50/- to the hill top temple in unison. I have come from Chennai and I know when I am getting a good deal. This seems like one and I board one of them.
The autorickshaw races through some ordinary and some pot holed, rain hit roads a little too fast for my liking. I warn the driver to ‘meduvaa otungaa’ (meaning ‘Drive slowly’).
He assures me that he knows best and says ‘Onnoo aagaathu’ or something to the effect.
There are small and medium shops and offices all over, the sights that you can see in any such town and Tiruttani is no exception. Many boards and sign posts are in Telugu too and I already know well why.
The drive is uphill now and sights are decidedly more pleasant now and air is crisp and fresh as we go higher.
I could see the Hill range stretches as far as the eye could go and there is a consistent green cover to it that makes everything endured so far worthwhile. The town grows small as we ascend to the top and I can now see small ponds and a couple of local temple ‘gopuram’s in the distance below. The autorickshaw lumbers up the hill noisily.
I also see the spacious temple complex hovering above and soon we reach its gates where there are some petty shops selling wares that are only too familiar to pilgrims and some restaurants in thatched huts and sheet roof building s and their boards claim they are ‘High Class Vegetarian’! Indeed, I see the dhoti (or should I say Veshti?) clad, vibuthi smeared faces of the cooks and grin to myself…
A separate autorickshaw stand and bus stand surprises me. One can also climb about 365 steps and come up, I learn.
The air was really cool up here and weather pleasant at this time of the year and the elevation as I head toward the entrance. I am soon besieged by vendors having some silver trinkets, idols and such wares. They urge that I can buy Silver plated subramanya and his wife ‘valli’ (The legend goes that He wedded her at this venue) with three ‘vel’s which I can drop in Hundi and obtain the Lord’s blessings for an assuredly satisfactory family life. Seeing that I was not enthusiastic about them when spoken in Tamil, one of them switched over to fluent Telugu. These guys could be bilingual but only I know that my Telugu is actually worse than my pidgin Tamil!
Somehow, I comply with them and move on to buy some flowers and a lamp ( neyi velakku).
There is a special darshan for Rs 10 and the free Darshan lines are full with Sunday crowds. I take the special darshan ticket and archanai tickets and move up into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
I have a few private moments in front of the well-decorated deity, pray, have the archanai over and move on. There are separate deities for Subramanyam, Valli and Bala Murugan. There are several devotees who chant ‘Haro Hara’ loudly nearby. It takes awhile to complete the ‘pradkshinam’ of the temple and I descend back in to the front of the temple. It seems there is a sacred pond at the foot of the hills where bathing is supposed to be medically and spiritually beneficial. I skip it this time. It is here that the annual Kavadi festival takes place when several thousands gather.
Also ‘sthala puranam’ goes that it was here that one of the doyens of Carnatic music, Muthuswami Dikshitar had a darshan of the Lord and sang his first composition.
Now I am outside the temple and its time to sample the goodies catering to my palate.
I select sweet ‘pongal’ and ‘Puliyodarai’ as prasadam. They are quite delicious. Then I go out and ask for ‘filter kaapi’ at one of the shanty restaurants nearby.
The return journey downhill costs me only Rs 30/- I quickly learn why. The Engine is switched off and it rolls on in ‘neutral gear’ all the way down!
The Autorickshaw driver informed me that the next Train is only by 2-30 pm and it was just 11-30 a.m. then. So we make our way to the local bus stand. There are a no of buses to Chennai, I hear. The bus stands in such pilgrim places do not make their towns proud.
There was one bus starting almost immediately.
I take this ‘PP’ service which means ‘Point To Point’ i.e., with limited stops.
The ticket is just Rs 26/- as bus charges in TN are still probably the lowest among subsidised Govt transport fares I have seen. But the less said the better about the condition of the buses too. Well, may be you cannot have the cake and eat it too.
The bus traverses through Tiruvallur, Porur and I get off at Kathipara junction after 3 hours near Guindy where a huge 3 way Flyover under construction has all but thrown both the traffic and commuters out of gear. Steady rains have only worsened the conditions.
I take a Share Auto home for one sixth of the price you would pay a full autorickshaw alone. That is another thing I have always liked about this place. Many areas in Chennai have such share autorickshaws nowadays.
It started drizzling almost immediately as I reached Adyar. So it is just another ‘normal’ Chennai day, I sigh … Quickly I grab a lunch and head home armed with an umbrella.