I got up at 4.30 AM and reached the Devakottai bus stand around 5.15 AM. The next bus to Sivaganga was around 5.45 AM only. There was lot crowd inside the bus stand owing to the marriage day. The bus to Sivaganga came fully loaded; however, I got into the bus. Around 6.30 AM it reached Kalayarkoil. The Kalayarkoil shiva temple can be easily spotted as soon as one gets out of the bus as it is very near to the bus stand. There are two colorful temple towers, which are very close to each other; the biggest of them is 150 ft tall. Both Thirukoshtiyur and Kalayarkoil temples are maintained by the Sivaganga royal family. It is a very ancient temple, praised by Nayanmars - the holy saints of Saivism.
There are three sanctum sanctorums dedicated to Lord Shiva, a unique one. There is a separate sanctum for his wife; called Swarnavalli amman. The temple complex is huge. The magnificent high rise outer corridor with granite pillars and flooring and colourful ceiling is typical of any ancient Tamil Nadu temple. The temple has lot of openings with granite stones on the roof to let the sunlight inside. The peeping sunlight, through these intricate openings, makes a beautiful pattern. The modern skylights should feel shy in front of this ancient technique. Wherever the skylight openings are there, there is a dipping in the granite flooring with holes on the sides to navigate the rain water. So there must me some form of rain water harvesting system existed in the ancient temples. In addition to the skylights, there are lots of ventilator openings close to the ceiling which function as the escape route for hot air due to stack effect and thereby maintain the thermal comfort inside the temple. I have taken photographs of these structures which can be utilized for my classroom presentations on environmental ethics.
There were two marriages happening inside the temple. Kalayarkoil is also associated with Maruthu pandiyar brothers who unsuccessfully fought with the invading British during the late 18th century. They put up a proclamation against the British on the walls of Sri Rangam temple. One can read the proclamation here. This was the first proclamation against the British - 56 years before the first Indian mutiny, called the sepoy mutiny in 1857. If they had won the war against the British, India’s history would have been different. But history has lots of “ifs”, that’s why it is interesting to learn. When I was leaving out of the Kalayarkoil temple, I saw the temple elephant trying to capture the hose pipe, which was used by its mahout to take bath. The mahout then put the hose inside the mouth of the elephant, which then cleverly used it to take bath with its magnificent trunk. The scene was so beautiful and hence I immediately captured it with my camera.
When I came out of the temple, it was almost 7.30 AM and I had to reach Kalayarmangalam, a tiny village, where the marriage of my colleague’s (Dr. Kannan) daughter was to be held by 8.10 AM. As I already had well searched the location of the place by the use of Google maps, I had the confidence of reaching it before the function. My neighbor in Chennai, a 75 yrs old man, is actually from Kalayarkoil, had said that there are lots of taxis available in Kalayarkoil. But I could not locate anything in the vicinity. May be because of marriage day, they all would have been hired. Hence, I asked few of the locals near there, but they scared me saying that I should either go to Karaikudi or Sivaganga to reach that village. When I had reminded the street vegetable vendor that there is a route between Nattarasankottai and Okkur and on that route only the village is situated, he then told me that there is a town bus now, which goes inside Nattarasnkottai and I can get down there and take an auto to reach Kalayarmangalam. He also said it won’t take more than 15 minutes to reach Nattarasankottai.
But I could not locate any town bus there in the bus stand. Hence, I enquired with a flower vendor and he said there is no bus which can go inside Natarasankottai now. He pointed out the two buses which were standing in the bus stand, which are going to Sivaganga and told that I have to get down at Nattarasankottai vilakku and to take an auto to reach the actual village. The two buses, one government and a private, were standing idle without the drivers. So I was really worried whether I would reach the spot before the marriage function starts. However, as there were no alternatives available, I got into the private bus as the government bus was not in good mode. My BP got increased as the govt. bus started early. But within two minutes the private bus driver also came in. When the bus had started to move, I asked the conductor to give a ticket to Natarasankottai. But the conductor sensed it somehow and said if you want to go the village then get into the bus which is coming behind. I spotted the town bus and I immediately jumped from this moving bus. In another 20 minutes I was in Nattarasankottai.
Nattarasankottai is also a small village but with rich history. This is believed to be the first site of settlement of Nattukottai chettiyar’s in the Pandya Kingdom. I saw two autos standing. The auto driver I approached asked 250 rupees to take me to Kalayarmangalam. I knew it is barely few kilometers away and the fellow is asking too much. I said I will give two hundred rupees. He had agreed and when he turned the auto, I sighted a sign board which indicated Kambar koil. I asked him how far the temple is. He said 2 kms and asked another hundred rupees to go there. I bargained it for 250 rupees for both.
Kambar, the great poet of medieval Tamil (12th Century), recreated Valmiki Ramayana in Tamil and it is called Kamba Ramayana. The great modern Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi once said that Kamban, Ilango and Thiruvalluvar are the three poets who have no match for them as far as Tamil poetry is concerned. Bharathi put Kambar in the first order, which says the importance of Kambar in Tamil literature. Kambar Samadhi is a small shrine with a lot of greenery around. There is a watchman and a priest. The priest told that Kambar had attained Jeeva Samadhi here. Nattukottai chettiyars of this village are taking care of it and he is the hereditary priest of this temple. He said the government wants to take care of this monument, but the chettiyars are refusing it to hand over. He gave me the prasadham, the sand, and told if you put this prasadham in child’s mouth the child will learn easily. On the way I took photos of Nagarathar’s houses at Nattarasankottai. I saw the famous Kannathal temple also on the way to Kannan sir’s village. The village road was scenic. Close to around 8.30 AM, I reached Kalayarmangalam.
The marriage was taking place inside his traditional house, which looked small for Chettinadu’s standards. The house is full of his relatives, most of them came from faraway places, as hardly these people live in their villages. Only two or three houses in Kalyarmangalam are occupied by his relatives and all other houses are vacant. The actual marriage took place inside the pooja room where only five to six people can stand inside. After the thirumangalyam (Mangal sutra) was tied the newly married couples were brought to the hall where the other rituals were happening. There were two monitors to live telecast the happenings inside the house and people were watching it by sitting in the courtyards and corridors. I then called upon my other two colleagues who were supposed to come from Chennai that day morning. They said it would take another one hour for them to reach.
I befriended with a slightly elder person who was explaining me the marriage process. Then I managed to enter inside the hall to take photographs. My colleagues could only come in around 10.30 AM. We were then taken inside the opposite house for refreshment, which belongs to Kannan sir’s brother in law who is an auditor in Chennai. We started discussing with him and soon we were joined by his co-brother, who is a HOD of ENT in Trichy government medical college. In the whole function, we were the only three people who were in modern dress, I mean with pant. All other people were in dhoti and easily we were identified as outsiders. It was a pleasant site to see most of his relatives came with their family and children and having a nice time in chatting together. Some of them came from foreign countries. Around 11.30 AM we were taken for the lunch. Needless to say the lunch was in Chettinadu style and yummy.
Kannan sir wanted us to come back for the reception in the evening around 5 PM in the bride groom’s place which is around 10 kms away. As I had already made up visiting Keezhadi, an excavation site, and Madurai, I said I am leaving now. As both of my colleagues did not have anything to do in between they agreed to accompany me up to Keezhadi. Keezhadi is a recent excavation site close to Madurai which revealed the Sangam age (300 BCE to 200 CE) habitation. I will write about it and my Madurai visit in the next and the last part of this travelogue series.