Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, Thanjavur and the journey home..
10.12.2015 - 15.12.2015 30 °C
No visit to Tamil Nadu would be complete without exploring a bit more of Madurai, so we headed into the city and stopped off at the Palace. Although showing its centuries' old age, it was easy to see how it would have been and the scale of the building was impressive. However, when talking about scale and impressive buildings in Madurai, the most amazing structure I've seen in India has by far been the Meenakshi Amman Temple. With its 14 tower gateways (gopurams), the tallest of which is 170 feet high, it is an imposing structure and you could spend hours looking at all the colourfully painted statues adorning each tower.
It did however take a bit of a concerted effort to actually get into the temple. We went to the shoe stand as usual to leave our shoes there and Mark was told he wasn't allowed in wearing shorts and he must either buy or hire a dhoti (an item of men's clothing which consists of a long piece of material which is wrapped around the waist and worn like a skirt) - Mark dutifully donned this and we got in the queue. As is customary, ladies enter separately to men and I was waved to the front of the line. As I got to the security gate, the guard informed me that I wasn't allowed to take any electrical items inside, so I had to go back to the cloakroom and hand over everything except my phone which apparently doesn't count as an electrical item! Then it was back through security, by which time around 30 male pilgrims had arrived and joined the queue! Fortunately they were kind enough to let Mark go in front and soon we were inside.
From the point of entering the temple it is an assault on the senses, there was music, smells of pujas being offered and the most amazing and intricate detail of paintings and carvings at every turn. We spent the best part of two hours exploring every part of this wonderous building and I left feeling overwhelmed by its scale and beauty.
Our next trip covering nearly 200km each way was to the historically and religiously important town of Thanjavur. The main reason for our visit was the 1005-year-old Brihadeshwara Temple. Dedicated to the God Shiva, the temple is another impressive structure with a covered walkway around the circumfrence of the site and the ancient temple in the centre. Here we saw another huge Nandi statue, almost as large as the one at Chamundi Hill in Mysore. Around the covered walkway the walls are adorned with ancient paintings; also housed here are hundreds of lingams of all different sizes. After we'd explored the temple, we went off to try to find the place where many of the statues of the gods are manufactured which is a few kilometres away from Thanjavur. Eventually we found a shop and manufacturing site and the owner was happy for us to come in and have a look. The main area for this kind of manufacture is called Swamimalai and, although we didn't see the whole process, the craftsmen make wax models of the statues they want to cast, these are then closely covered in mud and the wax is melted out to create a mould into which is poured the molten bronze - once it has cooled, the mud is chipped away. I found a video of the whole process on YouTube here.
My final week in India included my birthday celebrations when we went to Wild Rock, a resort a short distance from home - from here we had beautiful views of the Kamarajar Dam and enjoyed some drinks and nibbles . I was also treated to a delicious meal in Madurai and a cake - I was even serenaded with happy birthday!
Before we knew it, it was time for us to pack our bags and start the long journey back to London. We left early in the morning so that we could stop at Pondicherry again briefly before heading for the last two nights in Mahabalipuram. This ancient historic town is known for its architectural importance and, during our brief stay, we visited the Shore Temple which, as the name suggests, was built right on the shore of the Bay of Bengal from granite blocks and dates back to the 8th Century AD. The detail of the carvings in this ancient temple are fantastic and we enjoyed exploring the site. After this we took a short walk to the site of the Five Rathas - Ratha means chariot and here there are five monuments each shamed like a chariot. Again, the carvings are beautiful and the colour of the stone almost makes it feel as if these structures have organically grown from the ground around it.
On our way to Chennai to catch our flight the next day, we saw a pure white temple and decided that we'd stop to look. This Jain temple was still being constructed - the workmanship on the marble was breathtaking. With an inlaid stone floor, carved marble ceiling roses and one of the the biggest chandeliers I have ever seen, it really was something to behold and a beautiful last temple to visit.
My trip to India really has been everything I was hoping for, I've been moved to have seen the places and projects and to have met the people I have on this adventure and it will remember it always.