I had been wanting to attend the Tyagaraja Aradhana for a while now, but had been unable to, atleast the last couple of years due to a multitude of causes. A tentative lookup for train tickets in the Mayiladuturai / Mysore Express for the 12th of January was met with REGRETs even a month in advance. As my enthusiasm dwindled, Pai came to it's rescue announcing his availability in Bangalore and for "any freaking triptm" that I'd be going on during this period.
And so, the plans were quickly refactored. We were to start on the night of 10th with a maximum of 3 days to cover an assortment of mostly temple towns in and around Tanjavur, be present for the Aradhana on friday the 13th at Tiruvayyaru before returning to Bangalore. Just for the lulz, I booked a waitlisted ticket on this sole (heavy demand) train that runs this route.
As expected, my W/L karma would not score as the countdown to confirmation ceased at W/L 40 (from what was 125 before). Although the vain exercise of dutifully looking up PNR status thrice a day for every single of the 10 days before the travel was vain, it has left with me now with an authority of knowledge and data for waitlist-betting, a future online game I intend to conceive and make
shitpotloads of money out of. Yes, being an IRCTC bookie is a dream. But I digress.
And finally for less ambitious endeavors (like actually get a ticket), I was forced to undergo the high-entropy concurrency and mindfs*kingly daunting race conditions that IRCTC employs to make you earn your Tatkal ticket. I emerged victorious!
08:00HRS - 237
08:05HRS - 171 (but IRCTC payment page hangs)
08:10HRS - 102 (IRCTC is down)
08:15HRS - 45 (WTF?!)
08:20HRS - Payment succeeds, PROFIT!?
In a religious country like ours, especially when we have temples for more deterministic causes like US visas, I daresay it is the need of the hour for a rail ticket deity. I wouldn't mind paying for a one-time Shashwata Seva for a lifetime of luck with rail tickets.
But I'm digressing, again.
Day: #Mayiladuturai/Mysore (Nammadu) Express
Reached Cantt late, much to the dismay of Pai, who had been informed that I'd be reaching an hour earlier to my actual time of arrival. Well, since it's Pai, I've no regrets putting him through a pleasant little wait.
I've always run into interesting people on trains and this was no exception. We ran into a gentleman who now has conceived a startup in Trichy after working in the software industry for years in Bangalore. It's quite interesting to see the trend of people taking businesses into tier-II hometowns, without the noisy-pomp and expenditures of the bigger ones. He even happened to be a F/OSS enthusiast. Needless to say that a lot of entertaining && geeky talk ensued.
And then, Vasanthi Hariprakash. She seemed familiar for a reason which I didn't realize until she mentioned. Vasanthi, who too was on the way to Tiruvayyaru would be of infinite help to us in the due course of the next couple of days. Vasanthi, if you're reading this post, Thanks again!
We arrived in Tanjavur at 6AM in the morning, running close to an hour late and checked into a hotel by the railway station.
Day: Tanjavur -> Mannargudi -> Tiruvarur -> Tanjavur;
Expectedly, the first visit in Tanjavur was to the "big temple" of Brihadishwara. If this temple's gOpura/vimAna doesn't fascinate you, probably nothing will. Built by RajaRaja Chola I at the peak of the Chola power in the south almost a millennium ago, this temple is till date alive and in operation.
The Cholas had a thing for size in their monuments and the Brhadishwara temple is one of the best examples of the scales that the their pomp inclined to. The temple complex is massive in size as is the ishwara linga in the garbhagrha. The temple, surrounded with a moat and strong fortifications reflects the glory of another age.
In more recent times, Tanjavur was ruled by Marathas of the Bhonsle clan - the dAyadis of Shivaji, who took over from the dwindling power of the Vijayanagara Nayakas. Shahaji (Shivaji's father, who, by the way, was stationed in Bangalore for a long time) was a sardar in the Army of the Adil Shah had a son in Venkoji (alias "Ekoji", Shivaji's overshadowed half-brother) who setup the Maharatta dominion down south while the more illustrious sibling would go on to setup the foundations of an even more glorious empire from Raigadh.
Remnants of this age too live on in Tanjavur. Infact, it is estimated that an approximately 3% of Tanjavur's population is comprised of ethno-linguistically, Marathi people (amongst others similar). These people, referred to as "Rayars" locally, speak a dialect of Marathi that might not be very intelligible to the Marathi speaker north of the Krishna. Nonetheless, their language and culture lives on. Lately, they have migrated out of Tanjavur for better opportunities elsewhere, particularly Bangalore. You might be surprised to know that some of Bangalore's famous landmarks, like "AnandRao Circle" or "Sajjan Rao Circle" circle are all named people hailing from the Tanjavur Maratha community.
Archaeologically, the Maharatta palace in Tanjavur too lives on, but not in great condition. The Darbar Hall's enclosure now has a generous growth of weed of the kind that doesn't give you highs and the general state of maintenance is quite abysmal, to the say the least. Infact, the only thing the concerned folks maintaining this monument seem to be doing is the collection of toll to enter.
I visited the Saraswati Mahal library with some fantastic hopes of possibly seeing the original manuscripts of books like the Chaturdandi Prakashika of Venkatamakhi, but I was rather disappointed. The part of the library that is up for public display was quite modest, containing a few sampled manuscripts of mostly unfamiliar Telugu / Tamizh / Marathi / English books, apart from Serfoji's collection of hardbound volumes that were locked up in a cupboard. I hear there is ongoing work to digitize these works.
There was also a flute seller outside the palace complex who had some fine bargains, but I had to excuse myself for the unintentional initial curiosity. The last of the Tanjavur interests was the palace museum which wasn't very interesting (and rather badly maintained) and housing mostly, various flavors of Nataraja statues.
We took a bus to the new bus stand and subsequently hopped into a bus to the next destination, Mannargudi - which is roughly a distance of 40 km from Tanjavur and an hour and half's worth of time in travel. Although not as popular as many other destinations in the vast Tanjavur area, this place was of special interest to me.
Anybody who is into Karnatak music will have heard of the famous bhairavi aTa tALa varNa "Viriboni" composed by Pachmiriyam Adiyappayya on the deity of this very temple. For years now, I've almost been romantically enchanted by the line "SarasuDau dakShiNa dwAraka sAmi Sri rAjagOpAla" enough to make a visit here, and I finally managed it this time around.
Disappointment awaited me on reaching Mannargudi however, as the temple was closed for the afternoon and we didn't have the time to wait till it opened in the evening. A little bit of persuading the temple gatekeeper only got us inside the complex, but not even into the main prAkAra which seemed to be undergoing some renovation. We had to settle for just this much and this gatekeeper would settle for a quick tip of twenty rupees for this (lack of) service. Perhaps I'll get to see SreeRajagopala some other time.
Elsewhere in Karnataka, I've had the temple archakas come open the temples even at closed-times when people visiting from afar have requested so. Perhaps that's irrelevant here.
Subsequently (after a filling lunch), we took a bus to Tiruvarur, another journey of 30km and an hour in time. The famed Tyagaraja temple, praised generously by the trinity of Karnatak music is a couple of kilometres worth of walk from the bus stand.
This vast temple complex was almost completely deserted except for stray workers who seem to be carrying out some restoration work on a temple that looks like it's been ravaged by a war. An hour of lazing around later, somebody who seemed like the sole archaka of the temple came in 30 mins later than the scheduled opening time in the evening and let us in. Darshana was successful.
This ancient temple too has a long standing history of patronage from various royal families of Tamil Nadu, most mentionably the Cholas, The Tanjavur Nayaks and more recently the Maharattas. The sthaLapurANa also mentions that it is mentioned as far back as the tEvAram times (of the nAyanmar tamizh shaivaite saints).
I also learned recently that somewhere within this temple complex amongst the "16/Shodasha Ganapatis of Tiruvarur" is also "a vAtApi gaNapati" upon which Mudduswamy Dikshita's famous composition in hamsadhwani is based on. It's not clear as to why this Ganapati too was referred to as "Vatapi Ganapati" since the original idol brought from the Chalukyan capital of Badami by the Pallava general Siruthondan is said to have been set up in Tiruchenkaatankudi. Some alternative opinions hold that the Tiruchenkaatankudi Ganapati probably isn't original instead.
Nonetheless, the visit to Tiruvarur was fruitful and we took the long walk to the railway station and boarded into the unreserved compartments of a train headed to Kerala from Karaikal, to get back to Tanjavur. A total distance of 73km, covered in another hour or so.
Back on arrival, I was surprised by Pai's familiarity around Tanjavur, a town he had only visited for the first time the same morning. For a new visitor, he certainly had a photographic memory of a certain genre of landmarks. Although there was some disappointment initially, Pai's spirit of perseverance finally paid off (but only after a good six km of roaming around Tanjavur). All obscurity is this paragraph is intended.
Sleep was sound, obviously.
Day: Tanjavur -> Darasuram -> Kumbakonam -> Gangaikondacholapuram -> Kumbakonam -> Tiruvayyaru
After the ordeal of a cold bath and a "ney-roast" breakfast at a Saravana Bhavan, we set off on a bus to Kumbakonam.
Still sleepy in the head, we only woke up as the bus passed Papanasam and reached Darasuram, where we got off to visit the Airavateshwara temple. This temple has been on my hitlist for quite some time ever since I saw photographs of it's chariot shaped structure in a friend's collection.
The first of the many temples we saw along the way was this dilapidated one whose board read "Veerabatra Swamy Temple". Following that was a visit to the Periya Nayaki Amman temple, which is certainly a treat on the eyes. This ofcourse is in the immediate vicinity of the main temple - that dedicated to Airavateshwara, which lived up to it's promise in the photographs.
The garbhagrha was lit solely by the oil deepa, a certain divine sight. The archaka came in briefly to perform an Arati and explain the sthaLapurANa of the place. Yet another Chola construction, but from the times of Raja Raja Chola II in the 12th century, this is a must-visit temple if you're anywhere around Kumbakonam.
The intended plan after this was to go around Kumbakonam, and we accordingly boarded a bus to get there. While we should have disembarked somewhere in the vicinity of the Kumbheshwara temple, we made the mistake of going all the way to the bus stand. The resulting confusion prompted a change in plan to goto Gangaikondacholapuram directly and come back to visit Kumbakonam later. There was a bus to Jayakondam waiting for us.
An hour and a little bit later, we were in Gangaikondacholapuram where the massive temple complex came into view immediately. This great Siva temple seems to be a replica of the one in Tanjavur, albeit not as nice (somehow) although a little grander. Constructed by Rajendra Chola in the 11th century, the city founded around this temple was also the capital of Chola power during it's times.
It is said that it derives it's name from the successful conquest of Cholas upto the river Ganga in the north. Personally, I'm not sure if this is a claim that has been validated conclusively in history. It could also perhaps be reasoned that the name is a reference to the Chola victory over the Gangas of Talakadu or Orissa? Or maybe it is an extravagant claim about the outcome of the Chola campaign with the ruling Pala dynasty of the north.
In any case, the temple was closed for the afternoon thus disappointing us again. We set off to return to Kumbakonam after a detailed look around the place.
We were famished by the time we arrived back to Kumbakonam in the afternoon. It was only after a heavy lunch in Kumbakonam was that any enthusiasm rejuvenated. Right by the Meenatchi hotel was the Nageshwara temple, which too was unfortunately closed for the afternoon, as was the Someshwara temple. A lazy walk to the Saarangapani temple only gave us time and space to catch a brief nap inside the temple complex.
In the immediate vicinity of the Sarangapani temple is the house of Srinivasa Ramanujan, the legendary but short-lived mathematician who hailed from Kumbakonam. If you're in Kumbakonam, walk on the road leading up to the Sarangapani temple and you'll not miss it. We made the mistake of asking somebody for Srinivasa Ramanujan's place in our broken Tamizh and we were instead pointed to the house of some Srinivasa Iyer!
Following that, we walked to Soliappan street where there is a Raghavendra Mutt. To those who don't know, Sri Raghavendra was born in Kumbakonam before he took sannyAsa and later settled in Mantralaya. There is also an Udupi Matha in the vicinity of the Raghavendra Matha.
There are Kannadigas in this area (or around Tanjavur in general, particularly Srimushanam, Kumbakonam, Srirangam, et al) and they speak a highly Tamilized dialect of Kannada. Many of them have perhaps lost the language too, although a handful have preserved their language by marital endogamy. The gentleman at the Raghavendra maTha invited us inside and politely told us to "lAkkEju illi viTTitu kalu tolethu banni". Unfortunately, we couldn't hang around for too long. This place has a backyard facing the Kaveri which is very scenic.
By now we were positively getting late. After a hurried auto-ride visit to the Chakrapani temple (along with a family that had come from Raichur), we visited the Kumbheshwara temple and subsequently hurried to the bus stand to get on to a bus to Tiruvayyaru.
A friend of mine recommended a particular "Murari sweets" as a must visit, but we failed to do this. Going by the experiences of somebody else who happened to eat here, it looks like an experience we missed out on.
Tiruvayyaru took a good two hours in the slow and crowded bus ride from Kumbakonam. Thanks to Vasanthi and Mr Sankaran (who is a Mrdanga vidwan) we had accomodation in Tiruvayyaru in the house of a Mr Kumareshan (who is a Bharatanatya exponent and disciple of Mr Sankaran, based out in Tiruvayyaru). Tiruvayyaru was bustling with people as we reached late in the evening.
Music was in the air, thanks to the loudspeakers that were broadcasting the live music performances at the stage by the Tyagaraja Samadhi. We couldn't find a place to have dinner, so we settled for some Idlis in a nearby shop, followed with a Halwa of some sort (served with "Mixture") - probably a local specialty. Very tasty!
We reached the Tyagaraja Samadhi where Kadri Gopalnath was performing Tyagaraja's "mOkShamu gAlada" in Saramati as we arrived, followed up with "marivairE ramaNi" in nAsikabhUShaNi. Unfortunately, we couldn't hang on for longer since we didn't want to keep our hosts up from sleeping.
Sleep in Mr Kumareshan's house was pleasant.
After an early rise and bath, we made it to Tyagaraja's samadhi for the Aradhana which was slated to begin at 9AM. Thanks again to Vasanthi, we found ourselves comfortably seated in the pass-holders enclosure by 6AM, along with Hari. Heavy chatter made way for some of the best Nadaswara playing I've heard, which preceded the renditions of the pancharatna krtis.
Now, Tiruvayyaru gets it's name from the five fold fork of Kaveri in it's vicinity, each of which namely are Kaveri, Kollidam, Kodamurutti, Vennar and Vettar respectively. The name "Tiruvayyaru" itself in Tamizh splits as Tiru (holy) + ai (five) + aaru (water). Although of no special significance other than the ancient Panchanadishwara temple here, Tiruvayyaru today finds an important place on the map every puShya mAsa for the Aradhana of the great musical saint Tyagaraja who lived, sang and died here.
Tyagaraja (or Tyagabrahma as he was named) was the son of Ramabrahma - both in the lineage of Giriraja Kavi an exponent of music and scholar in literature who was attached to the Tanjavur court. They were Telugu Brahmanas of the mulukanadu subcaste who traced their origins to Andhra Pradesh and had probably migrated to the Tanjavur area in the post Vijayanagara times. Tyagaraja was himself born in Tiruvarur and named after the presiding deity of the place. Hundreds of his compositions surive in the multitude of musical lineages that trace back to him, and form the living blood of South Indian classical music as it is today.
The practice of his Aradhane itself as a tradition in Tiruvayyaru is less than a century old, constituted by the efforts of Bengalooru Nagaratnamma - who found the place of Tyagaraja's burial and built the structure where his samAdhi stands today. The practice of choral singing the pancharatna krtis - arguably Tyagaraja's magnum opera, was probably conceived originally by Harikeshanallur Mutthayya Bhagavata and since then has become the most familiar part of the Aradhana, now organized formally by the Tyagabrahma trust.
Promptly by 9AM, familiar musicians had gathered by the samAdhi as had thousands of music lovers from all over South India. Some familiar faces sighted included - Srimushnam V Raja Rao (Mrdanga Vidwan and also the secretary of the organizing trust), Ramani (flute), Umayalapuram Sivaraman (Mrdanga), Sudha Raghunathan (vocal), OS Arun (vocal), A Kanyakumari (violin), RK Shriram Kumar (violin), Kadri Gopalnath (saxophone) amongst others.
The pancharatna krtis were promptly rendered in the space of the next one hour, in the order of "jagadAnandakAraka" (nATa), "duDukugala" (gowLa), "sAdhinchane" (Arabhi), "kanakana ruchira" (varALi) and finally "endarO mahAnubhAvulu" (Sri). Many in the audience sang, others lipsynced and many just listened. Definitely a worthy experience for anybody who has grown up with some tradition of Karnatak classical music.
A visit inside the Tyagaraja samaadhi was followed with a short walk down to the Kaveri flowing by the side. Truly a beautiful setting that Tyagaraja must have lived in 165 years ago.
The other place of interest in Tiruvayyaru is ofcourse, Tyagaraja's (now renovated) house. I hate to go in for adjectives that could explain the mindset of people who tore down the historic walls that Tyagaraja lived in, to build the showroom that it seems to be now. Grossly tasteless, but maybe I shouldn't speak more.
Lunch was served nextdoor to Tyagaraja's house. Hunger was sufficiently satiated till the tummy made pleasant noises.
By evening, I also paid a visit to the ancient panchanadishwara temple, which seems to have renovation work going on to it's gopura. A short walk to the Kaveri bridge showed up a multi-lingual board that pointed to a Pattabhirama temple in "Pudu Agraharam where Tyagaraja and Dikshitar worshipped".
By evening, we had packed bags to get back to Tanjavur where we had a train waiting for us. It was yet another self-overcoming story of heroism on how I managed to get ourselves Tatkal tickets in the same Mysore/Mayiladuturai express the previous day (and that too on a phone GPRS connection), but I shall not boast.
Thanks again to Vasanti, we got a lift all the way to Tanjavur, arriving just 20 mins ahead of the scheduled time of departure. We also ran into Kadri Gopalnath and A Kanyakumari at the station, with whom we had a bit of a conversation. There seemed to be a lot of people of music in the coach (a few Thavil/Dolu vidwans in the immediate vicinity of our berth as well as a another couple from Bangalore).
Nikhil Pai gave the haath for the planned CTR breakfast, but I'll forgive him for that. Without him, I might have been left home and alone instead of making the eventful trip. More gratefullness dedicated to Vasanti (as acknowledged already) without whose help a lot of things might not have gone right and most of all to Mr Kumaresan and parents at Tiruvayyaru who treated us like family.