ஞாயிறு, 11 செப்டம்பர், 2016

My travelogue on Cettinadu...Part 1

When my colleague Dr. Kannan Krishnan invited me for her daughter’s marriage, I was excited. He is from Kalayarmangalam, a tiny chettinadu village near Sivagangai. Visiting the Chettinadu area, the land of Nagarathar’s or Nattukottai chettiyar’s, was my unfulfilled dream for several years. Last year, he had conducted his son’s marriage there, but due to some important meeting in the department, I missed visiting there and hence, I determined this time not to miss this opportunity. I made up a detailed plan to visit places of importance and also informed my friends living there in Sivaganga District. I could make a meticulous and tight scheduled plan, thanks to Google Map; my long term dream became a reality. It was a highly satisfying trip, I would say. I am writing my travelogue in four parts. Much of the travelogue is written for my colleagues, some of them are from other states and hence, it is addressed for them. Here comes the first part.

Day 1, (03/09/2016), forenoon (First part)

Morning around 6.30, I reached Karaikudi, the biggest town in Sivaganga district, which has two big institutions – Alagappa University and Central Electro Chemical Research Institute (CECRI), a CSIR institute. My friend Dr. Selvakumar took me to his house. He and his wife Dr. Ganka, both are my UG classmates, live in Karaikudi with their two children. Their son is now doing 10th standard and a state level badminton player in under 15 & 17 levels. Daughter is also a badminton player and studying in 7th standard. One of the biggest advantages I got from my college was that I have friends from all the districts of Tamil Nadu.

Selva, as we fondly call him, offered his car to visit the places that I had wanted to see. But, I took Ganka’s scooter as I was skeptical about my own car driving skills. Selva could not take leave as there was some important meeting going in Karaikudi GH where he works as a Siddha physician. After breakfast, I took the vehicle to go to Thirukoshtiyur which is about 35kms from Karaikudi. After a very long time I was driving a two wheeler without a helmet in a highway. But there was not much traffic and the Sun was playing a hide and seek game, so the ride was easy. The roads are also good and dotted with lot of tamarind and fig trees. Moreover, this region had got regular evening rains for few days before my visit and so the ride was very pleasant too. However, the rain had also brought a new enemy to the unprotected two wheeler rider, the flying insects; Selva had given his sunglasses which protected my eyes. But, because of the speed of the vehicle, I felt little pain in my cheeks as the flying insects crashed on my face occasionally.  Luckily, throughout my journey, I had the opportunity of listening to Symphony music. No, I did not carry any Illayaraja music - I am referring to the music of “Cicada” (சில்வண்டு). This little creature, which cannot be seen often, gave a great company to me. It is a small house fly like creature which makes a loud noise. When thousands of cicadas make noise it sometimes crosses 100db.

Around 10.30 AM, I reached Thirukoshtiyur. Thirukoshtiyur has an important place as far as the social fabric of India is concerned. This is where one of the great philosophers of Vedanta, the Ramanuja (11th century) preached the “Ashtakshara manthra” (Om namo narayanaya) to all the people of Thirokoshtiyur standing atop of the temple tower. The story goes like this; Ramanuja was eager to learn the Manthra from a saint lived in Thirukoshtiyur, called Nambi. In his 18th attempt only Ramanuja was allowed to be taken as his sishya by Nambi (For more details please Google it). Upon preaching the manthra, the Guru told Ramanuja that he should not reveal this manthra to anyone; if he reveals he will then go to hell was the order. But Ramanuja, true to his nature, climbed up the temple tower and called all the villagers, irrespective of their caste and creed to assemble in the agrahara. He then revealed the manthra to everyone. Upon knowing this his guru was angry with Ramanuja. Ramanuja then told his guru that if he does not reveal he can only attain Moksha, but by revealing this to everyone, now, all can attain moksha; he is willing to go to Narakha, for the sake of thousands of people attaining moksha, was his answer. Nambi then prostrated in front of Ramanuja and told him as his god (எம் பெருமானார்). 

Thus begun Ramanuja’s social reformism. He is believed to have converted thousands of “low caste” people as Vaishnava Brahmins. No wonder, Gandhiji considered Ramanuja as his role model as far as social reformism is concerned. Ramanuja then went on to establish separate school of Vedanta philosophy. His interpretation of Vedanta is called Vishishtadvaita. The other two philosophical streams of Vedanta are namely Advaita and Dvaita rendered by Adi Sankara, who was born in the present day Kerala and Madhvacharya who was born in present day Karnataka, respectively.

Incidentally this year is the 1000th birth anniversary of Ramanuja. This temple is called Sowmya Narayanaperumal temple. I, along with few other people, was taken to the top of the temple tower through narrow steps by a guide. Standing from the same place where Ramanuja revealed the Mantra to the villagers, 1000 years before, was a thrilling experience. The guide showed the house where Ramanuja’s Guru Thirukoshtiyur Nambi supposed to have lived. It was the sixth house on the left hand side of the Agrahara. I took photographs from there and went down to the same agrahara and took the photo of the house and the temple tower. 

Upon returning I planned to visit Pillayarpatti and kundrakudi temples. It was already 11.30AM and the temples are usually closed around 12.30 PM. So I wanted to rush but could not resist my temptation of taking some bird photography as I had sighted a lot of Peacocks, Vultures, Indian rolers (பனங்காடை)and White browed wagtails (வெண் புருவ வாலாட்டி). So I did spend some time to photograph them. When I reached Pillayarpatti it was around 12.15 PM and there were lot off rush owing to marriages and Vinayagar chaturdhi. I am not a religious person and hence not interested in offering poojas like stuff. Since, Pillayarpatti Ganapathi is a rock cut idol created by Pandya Kings 1600 years before, I was curious to see it. Pillayar patti is one of the clan temples for Nattukottai chettiyars. It is originally a Shiva temple and during the last few decades only the Ganesha became more popular than the Shiva. The Shiva shrine is still there. 

My next stop was Kundrakudi, which has medium size hillock and on the top of it a Murugan temple, called Shanmuga Nathar. There were about 150 stairs to reach this temple. Both Pillayarpatti and Kundrkudi temples are well maintained. Kundrakudi also boasts a Saivaite math “Kundrakudi adheenam” which was popular till my college days because of the previous head of the math. There is a memorial for him in Kundrakudi. 

When I was returning back to Karaikudi the Sun stopped playing hide and seek game and was out fully. So I felt little exhausted. Around 1.30 PM, I had gone back to Selva’s house, by then he was about to leave to Tirunelveli.

More photos from Flickr

Second part will be uploaded soon...