Be a Roman in Rome is what the adage says. Well, to pass time in Chennai, the only things you got are beaches, temples and malls. I have covered all the malls, all beaches look same(or rather, similar) leaving us with temples to visit – temples old and new. Tamil Nadu’s Hindu culture survived literally uncorrupt from antiquity simply because the Tamil Nadu was too far for the iconoclast armies of Islam to reach. There was too much bloodletting between Krishna and North Pennar and lands south of it – Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Mysore stood unmolested. The sort of temple culture you see in the Vijayanagar territories is unparalleled anywhere in India. Compare that with Telangana. You can count the temples of note on fingers.
Rambling apart, looking at temples in and around Chennai, we see two different categories of very old temples – temples coming from antiquity and have got a place in religious history like Triplicane, Thiruneermalai, Nitya Kalyana Perumal Koil, Vedagiri and Mahabalipuram, village temples like that of Ponmar Satyapureeshwara built when the area was settled some 500 years ago, those things which became famous because of patronage – Madambakkam, Mylapore, Poonamallee and such. Even, Thiruporur temple is a new entrant, some 300 years before. I being from South Chennai, my knowledge over the temples in that area is much better than elsewhere and most of the examples I took are from South Chennai, just outside the urban limits. If you have got the heart and intent to explore, there is much in that area. A decent way to pass time is to select a temple like that of Vedagiri or Singaperumal Koil and cut through the forests, having a nice drive. Or go to Mahabalipuram via Nitya Kalyana Perumal Koil and enjoy the beaches. Or cover Triplicane and Mylapore along with a few shopping malls.
Bored to the core, by virtue of an unexpected three day weekend, I went outside to go to some temple today, preferably to Mahabalipuram. But well, I went towards Thiruneermalai. After searching desperately for a coffee for almost half and hour, which I got only in Tambaram, I went towards the temple. It is around 7-8 km from there just off Chennai bypass. I reached the temple area just after dark. As like everywhere, there is one temple on the top of the hill and one below. Fearing the temple will be closed, I first went to the temple on the hill. 200 steps to the temple and another 28 steps to the outer sanctum, it was an easy but taxing(well, not used to!!) climb. The first important thing you will notice is, instead of Yalis, you will see a mounted person supported by another standing as the pillar supports. Entrance into the temple is from the side(may be because the area on the hill top is not that much) and once you are in, you will have to climb a few more steps to enter the main temple. The temple clearly looks old, but there is no way to say – the complete temple is decked in all sorts of paint. But, note that this is among the 108 Divya Tirupatis and hence, is a very important one. This is another example of how we treat our architecture – with utter disregard. For us, the statue or even correctly, what embodies the statue is important and nothing else. If the structure becomes weak, we simply demolish it and replace. No sense of antiquity or no nostalgia towards the past. Here, in this temple, how much of this is because of negligence in the Hindu sense and how much of this is clear callousness, no one can tell. But, in a temple where there is an inscription almost everywhere(every step has one and some of the walls), I would have expected a better response. The temple is a small one, may be containing four or six pillars and the outer sanctum holding no more than 15 people. The idol, of Lord Ranganatha is of life size resting on Adi Shesha, with Brahma on the lotus protruding out of his navel, Sri Devi and Bhu Devi at his feet. The statues are all beautiful and it took considerable effort to carve them. The utsava vigrahas are copper(I guess) decked in gold jewellery and the statue of the goddess is a sight to watch. Done, it’s time to visit the shrine of the goddess(Ranganayaki?), another beautifully executed piece of work, situated just outside the outer sanctum but in the temple itself. There is a passage for an additional level in the temple, having the shrines of Lord Narasimha and Trivikrama. Time to turn back after a short meditation on the steps beside the Garuda Sannidhi. There is a temple of Lord Hanuman half way up the hill and after visiting that, I went to the temple in the gorund floor. There were inscriptions in Telugu as well and there were two shrines, for the goddesses with the central enclosure closed. Is it closed for renovation, is it always like that, I don’t know. After ambling in the temple, I moved towards the Utsava Vigrahas, a short turn from there will lead you to the shrine of Lord Venkateshwara. The priest told he is the Sthala Devata. A prayer and the trip done. The main thing regarding this temple(both up and down the hill) is the quality of sculpting of the idols for prayer and for procession. The temple car, covered, is very huge, giving an indication of the importance of this temple. Another added bonus is the city views which it affords from the top of the hill – the main city is behind the temple but what you see towards Tambaram on one side and Maduravoyal on the other side are worth the time and effort.
Seriously to say, this is a temple you can visit again and again, if you are in the area, either for the views or for the temple itself. And now, time to turn back, to get ready for office and another week ahead.