Saturday, February 17, 2007

Siththannavaasal, Thiruvaanaikaaval, Srirangam, Kallanai Trip - Jan 20-21, 2007

“Un pugazh vaiyamum solla,
Siththannavaasalil ulla, siththiram vetkudhu mella uyire.”

(To speak about your beauty to the world, even the paintings in Siththannavaasal feel shy)

After hearing these words from Vaali, I was eager to see Siththannavaasal. If Vaali is comparing the beauty of Sonali Bendre to Siththannavaasal, then there surely must be something special about the place. In fact, to our surprise, the paintings at Siththannavaasal turned out to be more beautiful than Sonali Bendre.

Well, coming back to the point, my colleague and friend Suthersun, who has a similar taste (not on Sonali Bendre though), wanted to see Siththannavaasal. Both of us have read Sivagamiyin Sabatham by Kalki and naturally we were mesmerized by the classic lines of Kalki about Siththannavaasal being on the same lines of Ajantha and Ellora. With Siththannavaasal being accessible through Trichy, we decided that we will visit Thiruvaanaikaaval, Srirangam, and Kallanai (Grand Anicut) also.

Siththannavaasal has a rock-cut Jain temple of the early Pandya period (7th century AD). It consists of a square garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum) and a rectangular mukhamandapa. The rear wall of the garbagriha contains bas-relief figures of Jaina Tirthankaras in Aseena-Mudra (seated) posture. The side walls of the mukhamandapa contain bas-relief figures of Parsvanatha and Jain acharyas. The cave temple is decorated with mural paintings made of vegetable colours. The ceiling has depiction of a lotus tank with realistic figures of men, animals, flowers, birds and fishes. It recalls the Samavasarana faith in Jainism. The facade of the pillars shows a dancing girl, the king and the queen.

Photography of the paintings is strictly prohibited, so only memories remain.

What surprises us is that these paintings have survived for nearly 1300 years. So realistic and colourful the paintings are that one forgets he/she is seeing a 1300-year painting. But the highlight of Siththannavaasal is the sanctum sanctorum itself. The sanctum sanctorum is acoustically designed such that if one takes a deep breath during meditation, the whole sanctum sanctorum vibrates. But if one shouts, claps, or just speaks, nothing happens there, not even a single vibration is felt. The cave is carved out of a single big rock. The rock is so big that it runs around 1.5 km. Siththannavaasal also has around 12 beds carved on the rocks on the top of the hill. These beds were used by the saints to sleep. You have to climb around 250 steps to see the beds.

Siththannavaasal is 15 km from Pudukottai. Pudukottai is 60 km from Trichy and good bus facilities are available to Pudukottai. Staying in Trichy will be apt as it has lot of good hotels.

Day 2 was spent on visiting Thiruvaanaikaaval, Srirangam, and Kallanai. Thiruvaanaikaaval is a Shiva temple dedicated one of the 5 elements, water. The other temples being Kalahasti (air), Kancheepuram (earth), Thiruvannamalai (fire), and Chidambaram (ether). You need at least 5 hours to see the whole temple. It is an excellent piece of Dravidian architecture. Don’t miss out the carvings on the ceilings there.

Next, we visited Srirangam. Srirangam is an island encircled by Kaveri and Kollidam rivers. It is around 2 km from Thiruvaanaikaaval. It has the tallest Rajagopuram in Asia, measuring 236 feet. It is a massive temple covering an area of 156 acres.

Good bus facilities are available to both Thiruvaanaikaaval and Srirangam.

Finally, we visited Kallanai. You have to come back to Trichy (Sattiram bus stand) again to catch a bus to Kallanai. The route to Kallanai is through typical South Indian landscapes. Kaveri on one side and lush green paddy fields on the other sides accompany you all through the journey. Kallanai was built by Karikala Cholan and dates back to the 2nd century AD. It is considered the oldest water-diversion structure in the world still in use, though much of the structure cannot be seen as it is under water.

The northern channel is called the Kollidam; the other preserves the name of Kaveri and empties into the Bay of Bengal at Poompuhar, a few hundred miles south of Chennai. On the seaward face of its delta are the seaports of Nagapattinam and Kaarikal. Cultivation is carried out in this delta for over 2000 years.

Route: Coimbatore = Trichy = Pudukottai = Siththannavaasal = Trichy = Thiruvaanaikaaval = Srirangam = Kallanai = Trichy = Coimbatore.

Cost: Approximately Rs. 750/= per head including food, travelling, and staying.


Suthersun behind S'vaasal Hill

A local deity in the fields

S'vaasal cave

Palm grove

Dusk at S'vaasal

Thiruvaanaikaaval and Srirangam