The two Azhagar Kovils of Madurai

Madurai is home to a number of sacred sites whose origins have now passed into the land of myth and legends. The original temple structures built on the sacred sites no longer exist today for over the centuries, they have been added to or rebuilt or renovated to become the temple complexes they are today. Along the way their myths, legends and history have intertwined to create a tradition of rituals and festivals that continue to present day.

The Kallazhagar and Koodal Azhagar Kovils are two such temples in Madurai. Both are Vishnu temples and are part of the 108 divya desams or divya kshetrams — temples mentioned by the Alvars or the poet-saints of the Srivaishnava tradition. The main deities in both the temples are called Azhagar, which means beautiful / handsome in Tamil. Both the Azhagar Kovils have their own unique origin story or sthalapuranam, and are significant in understanding the region’s political history, religious traditions, and architectural landscape.

Let us first begin with an exploration of the KALLAZHAGAR KOVIL.

Madural, Alagar Kovil, Kallazhagar, Vishnu Temple, Vaishnava tradition, Tamil Nadu, Temples of Tamil Nadu, Travel

The Kallazhagar Kovil and its setting in the lush green Azhagar Malai in the background

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Memories of Madurai: A photo essay

Earlier this year, on the 2nd of January, I took a flight out of Mumbai for Chennai to join a small group of music and culture enthusiasts for a 3-day tour of Madurai.

Known variously as Halasya Kshetram, Koodal Nagaram, Aalavai and Kadamba Vanam, among others, Madurai is better known today as a temple town and is synonymous with the Meenakshi Amman Kovil. But Madurai has rich history that predates the temple and one that goes back to more than 2,000 years making it one of the oldest cities in the country. The city has been the seat of Tamil literature, culture, learning, politics, religion, and more.

An overnight train journey later, our group was in Madurai looking forward to exploring the city and getting to know it better. This was my second trip to Madurai, but it could very well have been my first for the previous visit in 2005 was only about visiting the Meenakshi Temple ! This trip, too, began with a visit to the Meenakshi temple — considered to be the heart of the city and the point from where the city is believed to radiate out like a lotus — before we moved on to explore other parts.

Madurai, Madurai City, Tamil Nadu, Travel, Incredible India

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The Meenakshi Amman Kovil at Madurai

The door to the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) is closed when our group files into the antarala or the outer chamber. We arrange ourselves around the barriers placed there and wait expectantly for the door to open and for the deity to give us darshan or audience.

One of the priests goes around the group asking for our names and other details for the archana or offerings to be made. As I wait for my turn, I look around the poorly lit chamber which is dark with years of accumulated soot and smoke. There are baskets of flowers, coconuts and bananas, and lamps and sundry puja items piled up against the walls. I can smell flowers and incense and some sandalwood as well.

The priest soon finishes with our group and disappears into the garbha griha. The initial murmurs and excited whispers give way to silence as we wait in anticipation for the door to open.

Madurai Amman, Meenakshi Amman Kovil, Madurai Meenakshi, Temple, Goddess, Travel, Temples of Tamil Nadu, Sacred Site Just when I feel that I can’t wait any longer for darshan, Bharat Sundar, the musician accompanying our group starts to sing softly [1]. It is a kriti by Muthiswami Dikshitar, Maamava Meenakshi, in praise of the deity we were all waiting to get a darshan.

Almost on cue, the doors open and the curtain inside parts and I see Her — Meenakshi Amman of Madurai. With the illumination provided by numerous oil lamps, I can see that she is wearing a green saree, much like the one in the Tanjore painting I have at home (left). The jewellery she is adorned with sparkles and twinkled in the light.

Carved out of a dark green (rumoured to be jade), almost black-coloured stone, Meenakshi Amman’s graceful form is mesmerising. She is far more beautiful than I imagined and I can’t take my eyes off Her, so compelling is Her gaze.

The priest finishes the aarti and distributes the prasadam, marking the cue for us to leave. As we make our way out, my mind is filled with stories of Meenakshi Amman and the temple she is enshrined in — stories that Sriram, our tour leader, had narrated.

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On the peacock trail from Mayilapuram to Mylapore

I gaped at the Roman merchant as he passed me by in a parrot green silk toga with a  golden border. And then gaped some more as two more Roman merchants, in bright blue silk togas with flowery motifs, strolled past me in the marketplace. Romans in Mylapore? And that too in colourful silk togas?

“Sudha…Hey, Sudha? Are you listening? Where have you gone off?” a voice broke into my rambling, and rather colourful, imagination.

“Sorry, Akila,” I replied a little bit sheepishly. “Your mention of Mylapore’s Roman connection triggered off some time travel. The idea of Romans in colourful silk togas was too delicious to resist.”

It is a quarter to eight in the morning and I am standing outside the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai. I am there to explore and experience the many layers of Mylapore through the Peacock Trail, a walk conducted by Storytrails, an organisation that promises to give “a glimpse into the local way of life, using… stories as the medium”.

Akila is my storyteller and guide for this trail, and her narration of Mylapore’s rich past is so vivid and detailed that my journey of exploration through this ancient place is an unforgettable experience. And one that I hope you will also be able to undertake with me as I relive that experience through this post.🙂

The main gopuram of the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai, can be seen rising up in the background

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A visit to Dakshinachitra

A welcoming Kolam and flowers greets visitors

The glass of chilled mosambi juice was a life-saver. The blinding white heat and the humid haze that had assaulted my senses from the time I had landed in Chennai dissipated a wee bit.

I became aware of the quiet and calm of Dakshinachitra, “a living museum of art, architecture, crafts, and performing arts of South India”.

Located on the East Coast Road in Muthukadu, Dakshinachitra is about 21 km south of Chennai. The sprawling, 10-acre complex houses carefully recreated heritage structures, traditions and culture from the four southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also a hub for performing arts, a retreat for artists, a learning centre for students, an exhibition space, a place to visit for the culturally inclined tourist… And a place that I had been wanting to visit for a long time, particularly to see the heritage structures.

So when the opportunity to visit Chennai came up about 10 days back, I planned my itinerary in such a way that I would go straight to Dakshinachitra from the airport itself. So far so good. What I had not accounted for, or rather ignored what everyone told me, was the severity of the infamous Chennai heat. I mean, how much more different could Chennai humidity be from Mumbai’s? By the time I reached Dakshinachitra, I was almost dehydrated and was having fond thoughts about Mumbai weather !

A shady courtyard at Dakshinachitra

Though the mosambi juice and lots of water revived me enough to brave the heat and take a walk through the heritage houses, the relentless heat made it difficult for me to really enjoy my visit there. I did manage to walk through the entire section of heritage structures, but my mind and camera did not register or record everything I saw.

But do allow me to share with you what they camera recorded.🙂

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A morning at Marina Beach

The Guest Post Series onMy Favourite Thingshas contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. Though the guest posts are not always by fellow bloggers, the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.

Today’s guest post is by a fellow blogger, Puru of Shadows Galore, who writes about his travels, photographs, memories and more. I eagerly wait for Puru’s travel posts as he is always visiting and writing about places that I have wanted to visit. My favourites are his posts on Sri Lanka and Angkor Wat. His series on Learning Photography is simple, easy and with instructions that actually work. In this post, Puru presents a photo essay on a morning spent at the Marina Beach in Chennai.

My last few days in Chennai saw me exploring the city and going to places where I had always thought of going but never actually did. So today I went to Marina Beach, the third longest beach in the world and the largest in Asia. Of all the beaches in Chennai, it happens to be the most dynamic and hence the most well known.

So early at 4:30 AM, I woke up and started for the beach with my camera. It was quite dark yet and the horizon had just started turning a few shades lighter. As the sun rose, I took a lot of photographs and I am sharing some of them here for you:

A crow signals the day break

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