5 day trip

Tamil Nadu: Of cleansing holy dips and white elephants

We made our way to the Sri Kampahareshwar temple next. It is what we’d come to expect of temples in Tamil nadu post this trip. Endless pillars, huge colorful and intricately colored gopuras, well- decorated ceilings and smaller shrines around the main temple. And ofcourse it had to have an associated story too.

If God is in the details…then this is a temple for sure.

 Legend : A king accidentally killed a man while on his horse and couldn’t stop trembling with the guilt of murdering an innocent man. His trembling is said to have stopped by the grace of the Lord Shiva which leads us to the name meaning the one who relieved trembling. (kampa- trembling).

The streaming light on the intricate pillars

There is also a shrine here of a form of Shiva called Sarabeshwara – part man, eagle and lion, who is the mythical creature that calmed down Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha form after he had killed the demon Hiranyakashyap. Architecturally the tower over the sanctum being taller than the gateway tower is the distinct feature of this temple. We were just in time for the temple to close at 12:30pm and managed to get some time to walk around it.IMG_4140

We still tried our luck at the Arul Migu Sarangapani temple which was a Vishnu temple but its doors were closed for the morning.

Temples have a lunch break too, folks

The main shrine is supposed to have an interesting design of a chariot driven by horses and elephants landing on the earth to depict the story of Lord Vishnu visiting this place to marry his consort Lakshmi. So it may be worth a visit.

Note : Several temples in Tamil nadu function only during the morning and evening prayers and are closed for the rest of the time. It will do you well to check beforehand while you plan your itinerary. Also do note that internet connectivity was bad for a good part of our trip this time. We’d recommend you do your planning in advance.

With failing luck at the temples, we decided to head to the spot that showed up in most tourist recommendations of this place- the Mahamaham tank.

Legend: has this that in the end of the previous Hindu era (yuga) the Lord Brahma re-created the world and a divine pot was broken the nectar fallen into the Mahamaham tank and the Potramarai tank near the Sarangapani temple which we also had a peek at along the way. There are 21 spring wells inside the Mahamaham tank named after various deities and rivers. It is believed that on the festival once every 12 years, a dip in this tank equals the dip into all the holy rivers in India.

Visit for a quick sin-cleanse

However on our trip, thankfully there was no festival and we got to see it in it’s everyday simplicity. A bus load of female devotees drying their flaming red saris by holding it at either ends and waving it in the breeze, after a dip in the tank added a splash of color at one end of the tank. Local kids jumping into the water from various heights to beat the afternoon heat. A handful of other locals sitting around the tank which is probably their space to catch up on conversation. The kids were very friendly and curious, especially to Anand with his camera.

We headed to the  Airavateshwara temple in the town of Darasuram which is one of the Great Living Chola temples and deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Having been to a few temples in the past this was the first one to have small Nandi figures all over the wall around the temple.

Nandis all around

Another interesting detail we started noticing in the temples on this trip was that the Nandi statue always had its tongue out towards its nose! The pillars are extremely detailed and a joy to spend time admiring.IMG_0410.jpg  The main shrine incorporates a chariot structure with horses and elephants giving it a grand touch.IMG_0389.jpg It was an ideal monument for us- spacious, untouched by paint and modern trappings, not very crowded and so many intricate details at every turn.

The vast area and corridors around the temple

And how could I miss the legend associated with this temple.

Legend : it is believed that Airavat- Lord Indra’s white elephant took a dip in the temple tank here and was restored with clean white skin thus giving the temple it’s name. The tank itself has a channel connected to the river Cauvery.

Since we hadn’t taken a guide, we missed noticing something that sounds very interesting- the singing steps that produce a musical note when one walks on them. We did walk on it but maybe it needed a keener ear to hear!

Adi Kumbeshwar Temple – This is the temple that shares the root of the name with the town of Kumbakonam itself. The name Kumbakonam comes from the words Kumbha (pot) and konam(corner) due to the legend that the mythical pot that housed the seed of all living beings on earth came to rest here after being displaced.  The pieces of the pot are said to have fallen in various places in the surroundings that are now temples. One would be welcomed by the tallest of the 4 gateway towers which is at 11 stories with a plethora of divine beings on it in myriad colours.IMG_4156.jpg

This temple is also dedicated to the Lord Shiva and the conical linga representing him is made, interestingly, of sand. The 16 pillared hall having all 27 stars and 12 constellations carved on a single stone is easy to miss here with people resting there and a temple administrator’s desk right in front of it. This was the first temple in Tamil nadu that had something quite common to temples in Kerala- a live elephant.


For a fee you could get blessed by the elephant who was then in turn rewarded with puffed rice by his mahout. It’s interesting how we treat those whose blessings we want – keep them standing all day and chaining their feet.

This entire temple complex covers an area of 30,000 sq ft in concentric compounds that are choc-a-bloc with vibrant stalls selling everything under the sun.


Up next : Tamil Nadu : Of 16th century granaries and Marathas in Tanjavur


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