Saturday, June 10, 2006

Memories of Tanjore

(Written in January 2006, this write-up has remained in my hard disk for quite long! Discovered it today while searching for some other file.)

I look around and can see many fragments of Tanjore at home even as I write this. The huge gold-raked painting of Lord Rama’s crowning ceremony, the brass idols in the puja, the colourful straw mat in the main hall, the veena in the music room, the smell of vathal kuzhambu and rasam emanating from the kitchen… tangible and intangible keepsakes from Tanjore reminding us that the district, 345 km away from Chennai, means more than its 3300 sq km area. To us, Tanjore is a concept, rich in culture and traditions; a heritage that has been handed down to us meticulously even though our family relocated to Chennai almost three generations back.

All Tanjorians, deep within their hearts, are proud of their nativity. I grew up listening to the elders at home, especially my grandfather, talk fondly of Thanjavur… the land of temples, art, culture and agriculture. Incidentally, when old-timers talk of Thanjavur, they don’t refer only to its current domain but the composite of the present day districts of Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Thiruvarur. Every time I visit Tanjore it only rejuvenates the spark of pride which I too foster in my heart!

Last year, the district faced an onslaught of heavy rains. Yet when I visited in the end of December 2005, it was a picture of absolute beauty, like the calm after a storm. Every pond, lake, canal and river was brimful of water, and the fields were lush green and heavy with the paddy crop waiting to be harvested. It was so picturesque and fantastic that I just could not help penning this down as soon as I returned.

Words can’t do justice to the marvel that is Tanjore, but nevertheless, let me give it a try!

Multi-faceted Tanjore

The Tanjore landscape features paddy fields as far as the eye can see, swaying and dancing with the wind despite the heaviness of the grains. The earthy smell and down-to-earth beauty of the irrigation canals and the motherly river Cauvery unselfishly soothe the battered nerves of the city-dweller.

Tanjore was once the abode of great Indian kings, including the Cholas, Pandiyas, Vijayanagar Kings, Nayaks and Marathas. The kings, especially the Cholas, have left behind a legacy of huge, exquisitely sculpted temples, a rich and diverse culture, and effective man-made irrigation infrastructure such as canals, which are still functional today.

The Tanjore Big Temple (Brihadiswara temple) still stands evidence to the grandeur of the Chola rule. A World Heritage Monument, the Vimana [1] of the temple stands 60.96 m high, and it is believed that the shadow of the crest never falls on the ground! Even today people flock to the Tanjore district to visit the ancient temples, including the Navagraha temples dedicated to the nine planets.

Tanjore maintains its repute as a centre of learning, culture and craft, famous for bejewelled Tanjore paintings, fine silk-finished straw mats, bell metal castings, musical instruments, pith work and bronze sculptures. Notable as an educational landmark is Raja Serfoji’s Saraswathi Mahal Library which holds numerous ancient manuscripts.

Tanjore is a haven for classical artists. It was the birthplace of many of South India’s famous musicians and dancers, including the acclaimed Trinity of Carnatic Music and the Quartet of Bharathanatyam. Numerous art forms from music to street plays are practiced in Tanjore. The classical music festival held every January at Thiruvaiyaru, the birthplace of Saint Thyagaraja, draws thousands of music enthusiasts from all over the World. The Bhagavathar Mela held at Melattur draws similar crowds.

Tanjore is also famous for its rich cuisine, which is not unnatural considering that the region is the rice bowl of Tamilnadu. Although it is commonly said that Tanjorians will be content with vathal kuzhambu (sun-dried vegetables in tamarind-based gravy) and sutta appalam (roasted papad), in reality they are quite finicky about their food and enjoy every part of the meal. Drawing from a huge repertoire of recipes, a complete Tanjorian meal is a pretty wide spread. Of course, these days such multi-course meals are served only on festive occasions!

Coming to think of it, Tanjore is also notorious for certain things such as the sarcastic and satirical sense of humour of the natives, cruelty towards bulls (in some parts of Tanjore, they trim off the ears and horns of the bulls in the belief that it will make them rough and tough), and so on. Let’s say selective perception comes into play and reinforces only the positive points in my mind !

[1] Tower of the temple

1 comment:

Anandham said...

"it is believed that the shadow of the crest never falls on the ground"

This statement is a clear myth. I did my college in Trichy - tanjore highway & visited the grandiose temple many a times. Even I was mesmerised about the above saying. But when I actually saw the shadow of the "Vimana" on my feet I felt cheated. Then on enquiring about this came to know about the real sarcasm of the locale. When the temple was built some people asked that won't the tall structure fall to the ground. For this remark the head architect replied that "don't worry even the shadow won't fall to the ground." And from then this myth lived for so long in the history. Nice post.