Archive | February, 2017

Chidambaram & Thiruvanamalai from Bangalore

14 Feb

I have been on the temple circuit since Dec 2016. Varanasi – Sarnath , then Kancheepuram and now in Feb 2017 a wonderful trip to Chidambaram & Thiruvanamalai.

The Thillai Nataraja temple at Chidambaram has been on my bucket list for long. Its an ancient temple – with many mystical stories around its history & architecture. This is the only temple that depicts Lord Shiva in the Nataraja pose performing the Ananda Tandava (“Dance of Delight”) as the supreme being who performs all cosmic activities.

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Chidambaram is one of the five Pancha Bootha Sthalams, the holiest Shiva temples each representing one of the five classical elements; Chidambaram represents akasha (aether) –  I have been to 3 others – Kalahasti – Air, Thiruvanamalai – Fire, Kancheepuram – Earth, which leaves the 5th one representing water – the Jambukeshwar temple which is in Tiruvanaika near Tiruchi. The Shiva Linga here signifies the element water.

For more details on the Chidambaram Temple read this link http://www.chidambaramnataraja.org/about_temple.html

Getting to Chidambaram  

We left Bangalore at 6 AM and reached our hotel in time for lunch at 1.45. (375 Kms) Two stops – one at 8 AM for breakfast and gas just before the NH  bifurcates to Chennai & Salem and the second stop at around 11 AM about 80 kms after Salem. The road is good and barring two small stretches where we were struck for 20 min we were zipping all along. My friends Mahindra XUV is an excellent road warrior – stable and safe and it was even better than my Innova.

We stayed at the Lakshmi Vilas Heritage – a beautiful property with 16 rooms in a village about 15 Kms south of Chidambaram. A large property with lots of greenery, a nice pond and a 150 year old temple in its compound – and very affordable too (4 K / Night for double occupancy inclusive of Breakfast and Wi Fi). Food is good – simple and homely and they serve both Indian and a few continental dishes. Its managed by a few good people – so don’t expect 5 Star finesse. Rooms are nice – more than basic with AC , TV , Nice big Bathroom , Hot Water 24 by 7.  You don’t need anything more. The good thing is – the hotel is away from the crowded streets of Chidambaram and is located only 45 Kms from Kumbakonam. So its easy to cover the temples to the South of Chidambaram from here.

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The Main Nataraja Temple at Chidamabaram 

A large temple it was built by king Paranthaka Chola in 5th century BC and constantly renovated by future Chola and Pallava kings. It is said that to worship Nataraja in this temple Adishesha took rebirth as Patanjali. In addition to the main Nataraja statue the temple also has a Shiva linga in Crystal stone and one in Ruby. The Sanctum Sanctorum has a golden roof with 21600 leaves that denotes the no of breaths we take every day. The 72,000 golden nails stand for the “Nadis’ or nerve junction points in our body,

Unique aspect of this temple is that it is managed by 300 Priests and their families. There is no Trust / No Govt Interference / No Mutt – over thousands of years the ancestors of the Priests and their families have been managing the temple. These priests are dedicated wholly for the temple and do not perform any other activities. The temple is  neat, well organised , there are no VIP Q and special tickets like Tirupathi. But if you want a good Dharshan close to the Sanctum Sanctorum it helps to know one of the 300 Priest Families.

We were lucky to be introduced to Natarjamani Deekshitar by a friend – and that really helped us to get an excellent Darshan – once in the evening at 4 PM  and later at 6 AM in the morning when the temple opens. You can also reach out to them if you need help ( Phone – 04144 – 2276544, Mobile – 9487313933 , Their house is located right next to the temple at 107/A East Car street, Near Rich Rich Shop behind Sowju Textiles)  The priests do not demand any fees – but they manage their families with the donations we make.

We were extremely happy with both our visits and had an excellent Darshan and temple tour. the morning visit at 6 AM when they open the temple is highly recommended. The ringing of bells , Dumroos, the procession , all of this with the opening of the Sanctum Sanctorum is a high energy event.

The temple is large but you can complete the darshan and the tour in 1 hr easily ( We were lucky to be there on a week day when the crowd was very light) – don’t miss the Prasadam – its extremely tasty and available for a very reasonable price. There are no dress codes – so you can be comfortable in Pant / Shirt or Dhoti Kurta. While entering the Sanctum Sanctorum you need to remove your shirt. Recommended that you stick to Indian Wear.

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We finished our Darshan and temple tour by 6.30 PM and walked around the temple before we landed up at Sri Krishna Vilas for Dinner. the food is outstanding and the rates are very very reasonable. We kept coming for most of our meals during our stay here. This is also on East Car street right next to the Priests house

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We finished day – 1 by 830 PM and headed back to the hotel. day – 2 was to be a busy day.

Day – 2 we started early. We left our hotel by 6.30 AM. Our first stop was the Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple. A Grand temple built by Rajendra Chola I, the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola, the great Chola who conquered a large area in South India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Sumatra, Kadaram (Kedah in Malaysia), Cambodia and others at the beginning of the 11th century A.D. It occupies an important place in the history of India. As the capital of the Cholas from about 1025 A.D. for about 250 years, the city controlled the affairs of entire southern India, from the Tungabhadra in the north to Ceylon in the south and other south east Asian countries. The architecture of this temple is comparable to that of the Brihadeswara Temple in Tanjore.

Located South of Chidambaram about 20 km from our Hotel on the way to Kumbakonam – budget 45 min at this beautiful and grand temple. More famous for its architecture than its divinity.

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Our next stop was a jewel in the crown. A small temple tucked in the middle of a village. It took us 45 minutes to reach here thru narrow by lanes of villages.  Melakadambur is a village located 31 kilometres (19 mi) from Chidambaram.  The Arulmigu Amirthakateshwarar Thirukkoil was constructed by Kulothunga Chola and is more than 1000 years old. This Sivalinga is Self-manifested or Swayambhu Linga. The temple is small , was totally empty and is buzzing with energy. We loved it. Don’t miss this temple if you go to Chidambaram.

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It took us about 40 minutes to get back to Chidambaram for Breakfast and by 9.45 AM we were heading towards Sirkazhi to visit the Brahma Parameshwar temple. The town also has a famous Perumal temple but we skipped that and headed to the Vaitheeswaran temple close by. The temple is open till 1.30 and we made it there by 12.30. A big crowded temple – you can feel the energy of the temple if you sit in a corner quietly for some time.  This temple is famous for curing ailments and outside it you will find many ” Nadi Astrologers” who will predict your past very accurately – we stayed away from them , as it sounded a tad bogus.

After a long morning we headed back to our hotel and reached by 1.30 in time for a sumptuous meal. All that you see in the photo comes for Rs 200/- .

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After a few hours of rest we headed out at 4 PM to another spectacular temple the Sri Mushnam temple which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in his Avatar as a Boar. A Massive temple – no crowds – and we were able to complete our darshan in less than 20 minutes.

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From here we headed to another ancient temple – the Perumal temple at Kattu Mannar. A 30 min drive from the Boar temple. Again an ancient temple with a lot of mythology associated with it – but the temple has seen better days. Our hotel was 8 Kms from here and we reached by 7.45 PM. It was a long day and we had covered a lot of ground – 6 temples and over 200 kms of driving. A simple dinner of Phulka Rotis , Dal , Sabji , Curd , Rice – and we sat outside in the Charpoy admiring the full moon before heading to bed by 9.30 PM.

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Day – 3 we start early and reach the Priests house by 5.45 AM for the morning Puja at the Thillai Nataraja Temple. This is a must visit. The Sanctum Sanctorum opens by 6.30 AM for public viewing and a grand ceremony is held every morning. The Puja gets over by 6.45 AM.

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Our next stop was the Thillai Kali temple – the Consort of Thillai Nataraja , located just 850 M from the Main Nataraja Temple . A small temple it houses Kali as Amman and Rudra Kali in her angry form. The temple was decked with lemons and I asked the Priest the significance of lemons and Devi temples – he had no answer – so thats some homework for me to research.

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After breakfast we headed towards Kumbakonam. From Chidambaram the Darasuram Temple – a UNESCO world Heritage site was about 60 Km ( from our hotel 45 Km) – and it took us 90 minutes to get there. Lovely architecture and exquisite sculpture is the hallmark of this massive Shiva temple.

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Kumbakonam is full of temples and I have covered most of them in my visit a few years back. But to give my friend a flavour of the city we drove around the town to the Uppaliappan temple – a large Vishnu Temple in the outskirts of the city. After a darshan here we reached Swamimalai for lunch at the beautiful Indecco hotel – another Heritage property. We had stayed here when we had travelled to Kumbakonam some years back – if you are travelling to Kumbakonam do stay here. (https://vak1969.com/2012/02/17/kumbakonam-tanjore-3-day-trip/)

It was tempting to travel another 45 Km South to the Brihadeswara temple at Tanjore but we decided to keep that for a future visit with Tiruchi and headed back to our hotel to reach by 3.30 in time for a nice cup of tea. A few hrs of rest and then we walked around the property visiting the 150 year old temple in its premises and strolled by the village market. Dinner by 8 PM and we were off to sleep by 9 PM – the next day we were heading to Thiruvanamalai and needed an early start.

Day – 4 We head to Thiruvanamalai 

We left at 6.15 AM and reached Thiruvanamalai at 9 AM – the 120 KM distance has good roads ( single lane) and being a Sunday morning the roads were empty. There are many eating joints opposite the Ramana Ashram and after a quick breakfast we reached the Ashram. Its a beautiful place – full of soothing energy. A Temple dedicated to Arunachala, Ramana Maharishi’s Samadhi , a Meditation Hall and a lovely Library form the main complex. They also have a room where he breathed his last and a nice cowshed. The Ashram has many peacocks and birds and was buzzing with people – mostly foreigners. This is a place of self discovery – so there is no routine / workshop / sessions that are held to engage the visitors or those staying here. They have rooms to stay – but getting a room is difficult especially between Nov & Feb. We knew one of the Trustees at the temple and he promised to help us get a room at the Ashram during our next visit. Mani uncle walked us thru the campus and took us to the point from where we started a 40 minute trek to the Skanda Ashram & Virupaksha Cave. Its a easy trek – rocky and takes you to two caves where Ramana Maharishi meditated for almost 20 years. The caves are beautiful and full of energy. In 5 Minutes I could sense the the energy equivalent of what I had after 6 days or 60 hrs of my Vipassna meditation – thats the power of these caves.

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You can come back to the Ashram or walk along and reach the Arunachala Temple. This is the Shiva Temple dedicated to Fire. Its massive and very well maintained. Being. Sunday it was very crowded so we decided to come back in the evening – temple is open from 5 AM to 9.30 PM.

We stayed at the Sparsa hotel – a beautiful property full of greenery and with excellent rooms. If you don’t get a room in the Ashram stay here – its as peaceful and serene as the Ashram. Rates are very reasonable (Rs 5500 / night for double occupancy inclusive of breakfast) – after lunch and a few hrs of rest we headed back to the Ashram at 4 PM. A Drive around the Hills                “Girivaram” – normally people walk these 18 Kms – considered very auspicious.

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Between 4.30 and 6.30 PM  we stayed at the Ashram – there were talks and Vedic Chantings going on and after a hr of meditation we headed to the Temple reaching there by 7.30 PM. Everything is close Sparsa to Ashram is a 5 min drive and Ashram to Temple is another 5 min drive. Mornings and late evenings are the best time to go to a temple – its cool and relatively empty. By 7.30 the temple crowd had reduced and we got excellent Dharshan in less than 20 minutes. They have a normal Q and a 20 Rs Q.

View of the temple from the trek to the Virupaksha Cave – admire its size and symmetry.

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Happy and satisfied we headed back to the hotel and reached by 9 PM after a simple dinner.

Day – 5 We head back to Bangalore. We left at 5.15 AM and reached E City at 8.30 AM. Be careful of the road you take – the shorter route as shown by Google Maps is a bad road full of potholes. After you reach Singarpet take a right and come via the Tirupattaur outer to Bardur and Krishnagiri where you  meet the Chennai Bangalore 6 lane expressway. We reached the Expressway at 7 AM and were at E City by 8.30. Thats good timing given that this is a 180 Km distance.

 Thu to Monday we had travelled 1200 Kms – a low cost trip the per person expense was less than Rs 15,000/-  thats 3K / day. (All my previous holidays were almost 20 K / day). Everything worked like clockwork – Roads were Good , Google Maps was perfect, food was good, the Rooms were nice , there was hardly any crowd wherever we went , the weather was excellent, the people we met were nice and friendly from the waiter at Lakshmi Niwas to the French Sita at the Q in Thiruvanamalai – and by divine grace we got the contacts to the Priests at the Chidambaram temple as we were driving, we had made no attempts to get the details. Mani Mama at Ramana Ashram helped us with the right directions to Bangalore else we would have been stuck in a pothole road taking a few extra hrs to reach Bangalore.

Many of the temples we visited had just completed their Kumbhabhishekam – and its very auspicious to visit a temple within 40 days of the Kumbhabhishekam. All in all a very satisfying trip. I had wonderful company and that made the trip even more delightful – with two people sharing the driving load and the costs it becomes so much more easier to do these trips in a. cost efficient manner.

Kumbhabhishekham is a  temple ritual that is believed to homogenize, synergize and unite the mystic powers of the deity. Kumbha means the Head and denotes the Shikhara or Crown of the Temple (usually in the Gopuram) and Abhisekham is ritual bathing. On the appointed day and at an auspicious time, the Kumbha is bathed with the charged and sanctified holy waters in the sacrificial pot and, by a mystic process, these pranic powers trickle down a silver wire and enter the deity installed inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The deity, which was until then only a granite sculptured stone image, is believed to transform into a vibrant and vivid living representation of the deva with innate beatitude, grace and grandeur, conferring divine blessings on all devotees.

Few Tips

  • Travel during the weekdays – its a lot easier – lesser crowds , easier to get rooms.
  • Nov – Feb is the best time to travel – Summer can be extremely hot 45 Degrees +
  • Visit Temples early Morning or Late Evening.
  • And lastly if your room mate snores like crazy carry ear plugs or some cotton – it works and helps you have a peaceful sleep