Sunday, 5 June 2022

Chidambaram-Madhavamedu - Drive to a popular temple town and remote coast

The world of history is fascinating. To understand how our ancestors lived and achieved engineering marvels sans the technology we have today. Ancient temples in India have an enticing way of keeping stories alive, be it as legends or local folk stories. Chase such stories and get spellbound by the magnificence of the temple at Chidambaram. Close to the heart of art lovers - exclusively the dance enthusiasts – Chidambaram has many legends to feed the curious souls. Tales surrounding the temple are abundant on the internet.

Lonely Planet lists these as the top five temples in Tamil Nadu – Meenakshi temple (Madurai), Arunchaleshwara Temple (Thiruvannamalai), Brihadishwara Temple (Tanjavur), Ranganathaswamy Temple (Trichy) and Nataraja Temple (Chidambaram). Having done Madurai, Trichy and Tanjavur many years ago, the other two had remained on the to-do list for a long time.

The drive to Chidambaram from Bangalore was through the open highway of Tamil Nadu – Hosur-Krishnagiri (NH until Salem). NH 79 until the toll plaza at Nathakkarai, where a deviation joins the NH532, also known as Cuddalore-Mettupalayam Road traversing through typical interior Tamil Nadu Road lined with Tamarind trees on both ends of the road. The main town on this route is Virudhachalam, and a further deviation onto SH 70 until Bhuvanagiri. At Bhuvanagiri join the Chidambaram Road.


                                Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia (Ryan)

Built during the Chola era, the temple is a little commercial but has some quiet places. There is a cow shed inside the temple complex and an old lady selling the leaves to feed the cows. The Gopurams are adorned with schizophrenic Dravidian style stonework.The inner sanctum of the temple prohibits photography.


Temple forms the heart of the town, and all activities are built around this structure. The streets are named according to the cardinal directions, with an entrance open on all four sides. It was relaxing to stay at the Airbnb place, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the temple town. A modest room in a residential layout was perfect for a good night’s sleep. 


The very touristy and popular place to experience the mangrove forest is in Pichavaram. It is run by Tamil Nadu Government as well as Forest Department. Sunday meant twofold tourists.I began looking up an alternate way to be close to the mangroves. The search result was Pazhaiyar. En route to Pichavaram, a deviation at Keezha Chavadi took us through a short stretch of ECR (NH32), crossing the Kollidam River that rushes to join the sea at Pazhiyar. At Puthur, head east on Puthur-Pazhiyar Road. Daunting escapades are Google maps expertise. This time it was the unnamed small roads in the guise of an alternate route. 


A few metres from the mangroves, are the fishing village of Madhavamedu and a non-descript beach lined with pine trees. Crashing of waves is the only sound on this laid-back beach . The fishing boats were lined up on the beach, taking a break from the sea. There is not a single tourist on this part of the coast.


The coast is lined up with non-descript beaches at every hamlet towards south. Each is unique in its own way and worth stopping to relish the calmness. The highway around the area of Puthur is lined with shops selling locally made cane products and individual farmers selling the produce of corn (this must be seasonal). The return leg was through Thiruvannamalai with a stopover at the Arunachaleshwara temple. At the bypass of Thirukoilur, a Tamil Nadu tourism board read Ancient Jain Cave Temple 1.6 kilometres. It was a conspiracy to make us drive off the main road, as we didn’t find the place even after requesting Google aunty’s help. The signboards disappear after the first deviation, and the road goes through a narrow residential area. It opens up at a small hill. With the local populace engrossed in Sunday evening activities, we didn’t venture out, instead drove back to the main road and continued towards Thiruvannamalai. 


                           Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia (Govind Swamy)

Pancha Bhoota Sthala – five natural elements: earth, air, water, sky and fire –refers to five temples where Shiva is worshipped in five incarnations.  At Arunachaleshwara Temple in Thiruvannamalai, also known as Annamalaiyar temple, Shiva is worshipped in the form of fire. The majestic mountain of Arunachala forms the backdrop for one of the largest temple complexes in India. More commercial than the Chidambaram temple, the metal rails around the temple - to maintain the high volume of tourists - ruin the elegance of the fa├žade (architecture). East Gopuram towering at 66 metres, is one of the tallest in India. The ambience was heightened by the dark clouds forming right above the mountain. A heavy downpour brought the temperature down and reduced the two-wheeler traffic. An authentic feel of monsoon and our search for a cup of frothy tea was answered at Chengam. A detour at Pudupettai to join the NH48 was another captivating drive – thanks to beloved google maps.

Arunachalam hill houses two caves – where it is said Ramana Maharshi meditated for close to 20 years. With this and the visit to Ashram pending, Thiruvannamalai needs another exclusive visit.

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