Tamil Nadu bears an ancient Dravidian civilization that can be traced back to the treatise ‘Tolkaapiyam’ written around 500BC. Tamilians are very proud of their ethnic culture dating back to the Sangam era; majority of Tamilians are Hindus (88%), with Christians and Muslims roughly sharing the same ratio of about 6% each.
This ancient civilization is very proud of its heritage which its members make all efforts to maintain even in the current scenario, where all cultures are becoming increasingly globalized. The Tamil women prefer to wrap themselves in the traditional 5-6 yards of unstitched rectangular cloth called the sari. It’s draped gracefully to enhance the shape of the wearer and bares the midriff; according to Hindu mythology, the navel of the Supreme Being is the source of life and creativity, hence the navel is traditionally supposed to be left exposed.
If you are one of those interested in arts, history, and culture, look no further than Madurai, an ancient city of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The history of this bustling and colorful city can be traced back to before two millennia’s in time. The reigns of the various ruling empires have left their own indelible marks on this city. The reign of the Madurai sultanate is no less even though it was for a comparatively short time and full of bloodshed.
The ruling Pandyan Empire of south India was repeatedly invaded by armies from the Delhi Sultanate during the fourteenth century, and after the third invasion, the empire finally collapsed beyond revival. The Madurai Sultanate was thus founded. This sultanate is officially known as the Ma’bar Sultanate and was officially proclaimed as an independent Muslim kingdom in 1335. The just and peaceful reign of the Hindu emperors was thus replaced by the oppressive rule of the Muslim kingdom.
Madurai, the capital of the Pandiya kingdom, is today a bustling city in Tamil Nadu, a city that never sleeps. If you are a food lover, then Madurai with its wonderful cuisine is the city to head to. It’s is well connected by rail, road and air so getting there is easy; getting away from its many charms is however pretty difficult!
The region has a rich cuisine with rice, lentils and vegetables being the main traditional ingredients; however with urbanization, meals have become a little less elaborate.
Kothu Parotta (meaning minced parotta) is a delightful street food popular throughout Tamil Nadu and best eaten from a roadside eatery with the resonating sounds of pounding with a heavy spatula as this dish is prepared in a cast-iron griddle. The first bite of this dish and you are transported to another world with its mix of crispy, flaky, peppery and delicately sweet balance of ingredients! There are many variants of this dish and you can have it as vegetarian or with eggs alone or combined with chicken or mutton.
Trichy, also known as Tiruchirappalli, a historically rich region of Tamil Nadu, celebrates a number of festivals, most of which are based on Hindu concepts and mythology. The most important festival in this culturally-rich city is the ‘Pongal’. For as long as people have been involved in farming, there has been some form of harvest festival; for Pongal, it’s a four day-long festival that’s celebrated with a lot of colorful fanfare in the month of January. The Sun God, Mother Earth as well as cattle are worshipped.
This festival is celebrated from 13nth January till the 16nth. Also known as Thai Pongal, the festival dates correspond with the last day of the Tamil month of Maarghazi and to the third day of the Tamil month of Thai. The festival corresponds to the winter harvest festival ‘Makarsankranti’ which is celebrated through the rest of India. This day marks the first day of the sun’s six-month long journey northwards towards the equinox and the beginning of the gradual warming process of the earth. The origin of this festival is believed to be about a 1000 years ago during the rule of the medieval Chola Empire.
The word ‘Thai’ refers to the tenth month of the Tamil year while ‘Pongal’ refers to overflow or ‘boiling over’. Pongal is also the name of a rice, lentils and milk dish that is ritually prepared on this festival day. A popular Tamilian belief is that knotty family issues get sorted out during the month of Thai; the month is also known as the time for weddings. For an agriculture community, harvest represents riches, which are used to sponsor the elaborate wedding ceremonies.
Madurai is a vibrant city based on the banks of the Vaigai river and is well-known today for the Meenakshi Amman temple whose 14 colorful gopurams dominate its skyline. This Dravidian-style temple is covered with enticing carvings of Hindu Gods and is a major pilgrimage site as well as a tourist hotspot.
It’s one of the oldest cities in India that also holds the soul of the state of Tamil Nadu; it is steeped in enchanting history, ancient architecture, arts and culture – a perfect blend to grasp the hearts and minds of anyone! The tourist footfalls to this medieval city are high and the hospitality industry has grown accordingly to accommodate the traveler. Numerous hotels, including the Sangam group of hotels have set up a branch here to pamper the discerning tourist.
An important mythological story about the famous poet Nakkeerar is based in this city. According to legend, Nakkeerar was born into a family of chank-cutters sometimes during the 9nth century AD. His devotion to Lord Shiva and Murugan is legendary and is depicted in the ‘Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam’; this mythical story is enacted out during the Meenakshi Sundareswarer temple festival celebrations in Madurai, where thousands come to witness the festivities.
According to Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam, an incidence was described where the Pandiyan king had a doubt whether the fragrant smell of a women’s hair was natural, or was due to flowers. He was so captured by this thought that he announced a reward of 1000 gold coins for anyone who could clear his doubts!
Thanjavur is a small town in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It was once the capital of the later Chola dynasty who ruled from 846 Ad to 1225 AD. It’s a multi-cultural town that harbors almost all the religions of the world and is archeologically rich in fascinating monuments. The forts, museums and temples can hold the seeker spell-bound for hours with the intricacy and magnificence of the craftsmanship involved in their construction.
However, it’s not just the intricate craftsmanship of the temples that can make you spellbound; there are some amazing legends also attached to these temples that can set our hearts thumping and captivate the imagination no end!
The Vajrabureeswarar temple is one such legend-bound temple located in the quaint little village called Vallam in the Thanjavur district and is located along the highway connecting Thanjavur and Trichy. Vallam became famous after excavations done about 25-30 years back proved that this habitation was once a predominant city of the early Chola kingdom. Some of the artifacts found here included copper plates dating back from 170 BC to 110 AD, so the Vallam village has a magnificent 2200 year old history.
The village also boasts of an ancient Shiva temple where the presiding deity is called Vajrabureeswarar. There is an interesting legend that has it that this deity was reverently worshipped by Lord Indira to absolve him of his sin of having an affair with Agaligai; the secret affair had resulted in Kausigar Muni putting a curse on him, which was a source of deep sorrow for Lord Indira.
There is also a dilapidated temple pond south of this temple, which’s depth has always remained shrouded in mystery. There is another legend attached to this temple that goes that when Lord Rama was returning back with Sita after defeating Ravana, Sita had felt very thirsty. Popular belief has it that Lord Rama used his Vajrayutham (celestial weapon) to dig a crater that was so vast and deep that even to this day, its depth is unknown. It has however been estimated to be more than 40 feet deep!
Another fascinating factor in this temple is the Sthala Virutcham tree growing here, which according to the priests cannot be found anywhere except in the astral world. Sounds very mystical, and enough to whet the appetite of the curious ones to have a closer look surely? It’s an easy taxi or bus ride from Thanjavur, which is well connected by road and rail as well as by air.
The Brihadeeswarar temple is an ancient Hindu temple built in 1010 CE and dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located in the historically and culturally significant city of Thanjavur in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is one of the largest temples in India and was built by Raja Raja Cholan and his sister Kundavai during the Chola regime. Today, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ and a must-see location.
The temple tower is the highest in the world and stands at 60 meters; it is believed that the shadow of this tower never falls on the ground, especially within the premises of the temple. The dome atop the temple is believed to weigh about 80 tones of solid granite and the mind boggles at how ancient craftsmen achieved the feet of installing it! This great temple is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Tamil Nadu and the city of Thanjavur is easily accessible by rail, road as well as by air. Numerous hotels are available in this area including the majestic Sangam hotel.
This temple was built to display the emperor’s power and vision and is a fine example of Dravidian architecture, mural paintings and scores of beautiful sculptures of dancing figures in various classical ‘Bharatnatyam’ dance poses. It’s best to see the temple in the early morning hours or around sunset when the 130,000 ton granite temple walls take on a golden hue that dazzles the mind.
What boggles the mind is that the nearest granite quarry was over 60km away which must have made transportation of the granite a really humongous task! At the entrance of the temple there is a huge statue of Nandi (sacred bull) measuring about 13 feet in height and 16 feet in length and weighing about 20 tones; it’s carved out of a single piece of granite and must have involved a lot of hardship for the movers a well as the craftsman.
The temple layout consists of an airy pillared hall and an assembly hall known as the ‘mandapam’; the inner mandapams are the most significant parts of the temple and are divided into different levels with the use of sculptures and pilasters. There is a huge idol of Shiva with three eyes in the inner mandapam; numerous sub-shrines present within the complex walls are assigned to other deities. About 250 lingams (representing Lord Shiva) are also spread within the temple walls. This temple is a beautiful treat for those interested in arts, culture and history.
Thanjavur, or Tanjore as it was earlier known after the legendary demon in Hindu mythology called Tanjan, is an ancient city in the heart of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. The history of Thanjavur dates back to the 16nth century when it was the capital of the Chola Empire. Today, the city is an important cultural center known for its music, arts, paintings and dance forms.
The city is located in the Cauvery delta and is known as the ‘Rice Bowl’ of Tamil Nadu; it mainly deals in agriculture and agricultural products. It’s well connected by roads and railways with an international airport located in nearby Tiruchirapalli, about 60km away. With its teeming ancient history, architectural beauty as well as famous monuments and art forms, it’s a popular tourist destination and many hotels are available for holidaying here, including the Sangam hotel.
Thanjavur is particularly famous for its paintings which are made in a unique way using multiple mediums and vibrant colors as well as gold foils, gems, glass beads, mirrors, etc. The themes of the paintings are usually Hindu gods and goddesses as well as scenes from Hindu mythology. They can be seen depicted on temple walls, pillars and as ceiling murals; their colors are almost as vibrant today as they must have been hundreds of years ago.
The Thanjavur painting method itself involves numerous steps with a canvas cloth being first pasted with Arabic gum onto a plank of hardwood such as teak or jackfruit wood. It’s then smeared evenly with a mix of chalk powder or zinc oxide. The painting is then created on this surface and decorated with gold foil, beads, lace or semi-precious stones to give a three-dimensional effect. Natural colors and minerals were used to brighten the artworks with jewel-like colors.
Due to their uniqueness, Thanjavur paintings are still very much in demand; artists these days have adapted this art form to modern times and are using cheap alternatives to recreate the beauty of these special paintings. Training programs, workshops as well as exhibitions are regularly conducted by government and private institutions to preserve this ancient art form. Due to the cost of authentic materials however, current examples of Thanjavur paintings use cheaper woods like plywood and synthetic colors and adhesives. Sadly, even the subjects of these paintings are changing these days as modern themes are being increasingly depicted.
There is a reason to cheer however as artists are unwilling to give up on this unique method of creating artwork and connoisseurs of these arts are ready to purchase such works in spite of the above-mentioned changes. So, happily, history still lives on!
Thanjavur is a small, multi-cultural town in Tamil Nadu where almost all the religions of the world are represented; this diversity is due to the ever-changing dynasties that ruled this town. It was the capital city of the ruling Chola Empire from 846 Ad till 1225 AD. Magnificent palaces and exquisite temples were built during this era. Sadly, many of these monuments were subsequently destroyed during the 14nth century when the Pandya Dynasty took over as a symbol of their rage against the Chola kings.
Famous temples here that come under the UNESCO World Heritage Site as the ‘Great Living Chola Temples include the ‘Big temple’ or the Brihadeeswarar temple as well as the nearby Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara temples. The Brihadeshwara temple is among the largest temples in India and is dedicated to Shiva. It was built around 1010 AD and some of the paintings and murals are still as colorful as in the earlier days. What titillates the curious mind is the tunnel system or the more than 100 underground passageways that are believed to exist under this temple! There is believed to be a whopping 40km long underground tunnel from the Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar temple to the Ganagaikonda Cholapuram temple built by the Gangaikonda Chola king; to this date, the mind wonders why such a long underground tunnel was made! The entrance and exit tunnels are still visible when visiting the temples, but due to suspected cave-ins, visitor’s excitements are curbed as they aren’t allowed into the tunnels.
Another important tunnel is known to exist between this temple and the Thanjavur palace which was later built by the Thanjavur Nayaks in 1535 AD. It’s also known as the Sivaganagai Fort and isn’t as grand or magnificent as a palace is expected to be. It was originally meant to be a fort and was later on added to by subsequent dynasties and elaborated upon. There are two underground tunnels known to exist under this palace. One is short and visitors are allowed in to feed their curiosity with goosebumps of an era long gone by. The second passageway is longer and leads to the Brihadeeswarar temple.
An amazing and must see location for the tourists interested in cultural history and artifacts!
There are two underground passages in the palace, only one of them is partially accessible by tourists. This is a relatively short passage and the Government is renovating it as of 2014. Another secret tunnel which is a mile long, connects the Brihadeeswara temple and the palace. It is wide enough to ride 2 horses in parallel and was designed as a getaway route by Kings during war times.
The historical city of Tiruchirappalli (known as Tiruchi or Trichy) is located on the scenic banks of the Cauvery river. It is the fourth largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu, India and is centrally located in the state with several beautiful temples, churches, and scenic tourist spots. Its rich cultural and architectural heritage is a major source of attraction for the first-timer in Trichy as the city provides a fine blend of the traditional and modern times. It is one of the oldest inhabited city in Tamil Nadu with earliest settlements dating back to the second millennium BC; it was earlier known as Uraiyur, the capital of the early Cholas for 600 years from the 3rd century BC onwards. Currently, Uraiyur forms part of the suburbs of Trichy.
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If you are looking to visit a city that is teeming with culture, heritage, and historical monuments, then look no further than Thanjavur (or Tanjore as it was earlier known), a beautiful historical city located in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. Set in the delta of the Cauvery river, this city is known as the ‘Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu’ and covers an area of about 36.3 square kilometers. The city is well connected by roads and railways, however, the nearest airport is in neighboring Tiruchirapalli located about 60km away. There is no dearth of hotels here as the tourist footfalls in this city of ancient architectural beauty are high and the Sangam group of hotels has a branch here too, to serve the discerning traveler’s needs.
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Madurai, the third largest city in Tamil Nadu is the cultural capital of the state. The city of Madurai and the Meenakshi temple here are believed to have been built by the Pandiyan king Kulashekar, after clearing a forest. Situated on the banks of the Vaigai River, Madurai is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, with recorded history dating back to 3rd century BC. Ancient texts of the Greeks and Romans mention the trade links with Madurai. Being culturally advanced, the city is said to have hosted the Tamil Sangam and plays a notable role in the promotion of Tamil language. Though the city is mainly associated with the Meenakshi temple, Madurai has also contributed to the Indian Independence movement. The agricultural laborers of Madurai are said to have inspired Mahatma Gandhi to wear the loin cloth. Predominantly an agricultural sector, today Madurai is a blend of cultural heritage and technological advancement. Getting around this heritage city is easy as every road ultimately leads to the temple. Designed to resemble lotus petals, Madurai city is built around the thousand pillared Meenakshi temple.