Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The magnificient and rich Athangudi mansion

Alert : A  long photo post.

After bypassing interesting indicators like Chettinad mansion, Visalam ( mansions converted into boutique hotels) we were on our way to Athangudi to see the making of Athangudi tiles.

We got into the lane that had many boards of  Athangudi tile making....we drove past them not knowing which one to stop by....but finally the husband's eyes fell on an antique wood shop selling furniture. When we entered the  bylane to enquire about the furniture display, the person said it will take a while for the person to come and we could go around the "Athangudi periya veedu" ( Big Mansion) meanwhile pointing to a house exactly to whose side we stood.

The entrance was on the main road. Till then I did'nt realize we crossed past a mansion called 'Periya veedu' of Athangudi...yes, the exteriors of the building looked so worn out and the elevation was like any other house that I saw in the region .  I did'nt realize that  it is the celebrated Athangudi mansion which has acted in many Bollywood and Kollywood movies. 

We then paid an entry fee of 50 per head to the house keeper and when once past the steps of the entrance, the magnificience and splendour unfolded door after door. After a tour of the house, I came out with neck pain and jaw pain....yes folks, such a beautiful mansion, so well maintained interiors with lovely ceilings and artistic walls that I was open mouthed through out and craning my neck to see the high ceilinged mansion. My co-visitors at the place were foreigners who were all along looking awestruck too...at every place, they said "beautiful" and clicked pictures even of the "attukal" and " ammikal" ( traditional stone grinders) in the kitchen side. 

Athangudi mansion like the rest of the 11,000 mansions in this region was built with materials sourced from South east Asia and other european countries where the chettiars went for occupation. The house is built with Italian marbles, Japanese tiles, Belgium mirrors, Burma teak columns and ceilings and the walls which were built in 1929 have remain untouched ( not even painted). The buildings are built with native architectural science and vastu shastra which is more about allowing light and air inside the house. The walls were built with bricks and  lime stone mixture ( santhu kalavai)  This mixture is made of limestone powder, kadukkai podi ( gall nut or haritiki in hindi), egg's white  ( such satin finish on the walls). and karupatti ( palm jaggery)  and a little padaneer( unfermented palm tree sap),  Such constructions provide strength and longevity to the building and these mansions are testimony to that. Here i must also mention that i had written long back how my husband's grandparents home in Lalgudi was also built with such mixture on walls. Instead of egg shells, sea shells were used for the sheen.

Rest, I will leave unworded...this will be a photo post from here on,I am not even collaging the pictures, it will rob the beauty of the place and would prefer if you clicked on  the pics to feel the grandeur. I have sequenced it the way i saw the house from entrance to exit

 The  main entrance door from the narrow  road

                             The lobby between the  path leading from entrance  to the steps of thinnai called "Mogappu"
 The long thinnai (seating area)  on either  sides ( left and right below

                          The man who built the house in 1929...such a simple man but such grand taste

 The belgium mirror and japanese tile encrusted Burma teak door leads to the huge living room below

                                The wooden engraved ceiling above and the Italian  tiled chess board patterned flooring below. The gold enamel paint over the wood has never been retouched and the gloss and sheen is of the original paint.
From this room the below door leads to another huge hall

around which rooms are built and the high ceiling is roof to  the second floor too

these pillared corridors on first floor have succh beautiful ceilings where japanese tiles are framed

and the windows have beautiful paintings from Indian mythology

                    The engraved details on the pillars holding the ceiling
                                                   a close up of the japanese tiles

and the above room leads to a place with open courtyard around which again more rooms are built..Apart from sunlight and air, when it rains, the place is designed for harvesting water

one of the passage from the above room leads to this huge dining hall...notice the famous chettinad stained glass windows below and don't miss the gloss of the walls due to egg whites.

 One of my favorites in this mansion is the native wooden rafter roofing of the dining hall.  The slats sit snugly on the rafter grooves like a jigsaw puzzle. The symmetry, design and precision ...what amazing native architectural skill!!

                        A side door from the dining hall leads to an open path way which has a corridor like below
                        The grinding stones are placed to the left side while the right side is the kitchen...
                   As I exit, i realized the house extends even beyond the car on the right side..the servant quarter etc.  Glad i saw this house because the rest of the celebrated mansions like Kanadakuthan mansion requires permission from the owner mutthiah chettiar, the chettinad mansion has been converted into a boutique hotel and the Karaikudi mansion ( aayiram jannal veedu" has occupantsand so we have no free access.

The caretaker of this mansion said, this house now belongs to four families and they are now scattered all around and they come here for weddings and other functions. Most of the rooms are locked and the house is maintained with the entrance fee collected. It indeed is an white elephant to maintain such property.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A mini temple trail around Karaikudi

view from the road

view from temple side

                                  above  the    entrance at the path leading to the main sanctum...could'nt catch the full view because of the asbestos sheet over head

12 kms from our hotel on dusty roads through villages led us to Pillayarpatti....a  Ganesh temple which had been on my wishlist for more than 10 years...and I have been just 90 kms away from this temple during my past many visits to our grand parents place at Trichy  but never got an opportunity to visit this temple. This time it was not even on  our itinerary when we started off from our place...well...like they say "You will get there only when you are meant too and not one moment sooner..."

When our car  cruised from the main road into a bylane with temple arch, we were flanked by small shops selling pooja items, tiny souvenirs...what opened at the end of the road was a beautiful view of two temple towers and in the forefront was a clean temple tank fringed with coconut trees with the typical horizontal white and clay red painting....it made a divine  sight and was an indicator that this temple was well maintained and  I could already feel the energy of the place.  As we parked and walked to the main temple sanctum....we saw  a few people selling arugam pul ( grass) and paneer roja malai ( scented rose garlands)  but the best part was nobody forced it on us like in many temples.

Once inside the temple  when i queued up behind the devotees for my turn in the high ceilinged granite hall, I  was totally awe struck when I  looked up. Absolutely wonderful and colorful( technicolor...not earthy colors at all) mandalas and paintings from mythology adorned the ceiling. I was gaping for a long time at the  artistic ceiling as the sanctum was crowded. Here is where I saw the crowd in this region that too numbering may be around 50. And when my turn to see the mammoth idol of the Lord came....this was again the only temple so far where I heard the priest say "Niruthhi, nidanama  parungo"( Stop, stay a while and see)....Absolutely divine sight  under the golden glow   from the oil  lit tamps ( no electric lights in sanctum) which my eyes still behold, what I  felt as I stood there for more than 2 minutes is indescribable. The fragrance of the roja malai, the glow diffusing  from oil lamps, the aroma of the vibhuti(sacred ash), the arugum pul malai ( garland made from grass) with all these, I could feel the absorption of the enshrined energies. No wonder, they call ancient temples as energy centers and this temple built according to agama shastra (temple architecture) authenticated that theory.

Again all around the temple,there are mini sanctums like in many shiva temples and huge framed photos from Mythology adorn the main walls. The temple like I said so well maintained by the nagarathar trust  is one of the  9 temples managed in this region and this is a very ancient rock cut  temple dating back to 1091 and 1238. More about the temple history here.

We drove out of the temple after buying the famous pillyarpatti pillayar from one of the many shops . 

Our next stop was the Lakshmi kuberar koil just 2kms away.

                                               Lakshmi Kuberar temple


Throught out the route, we saw many famous temple indicators  like vairavan kovil, thamizhthai kovil, Ariyakudi etc...but it was'nt possible to go to every temple due to time constraint. 

Kuberar kovil fell on our way to Kunrakudi on the main road...and this was my first visit to Kuberar kovil...never been or heard of a kovil for Kubera( God of wealth). So, when the husband's co-driver my daughter negotiated on the muddy track ( no road)  to reach a white building called Lakshmi Kuberar Kovil, i was surprised for it's gopuram in no way looked like the regular temple gopuram and this temple is just 2 year old.

A white building  like  exterior and the entrance was flanked by two shops selling all knick knacks related to wealth like the happy man kubera and other feng shui type items. The temple was very unique in that it had two levels. Onthe ground level was a lotus structure  in the  sanctum which the priest said was the peetam and one had to climb stairs to reach the level above the lotus structure. Where Lord Kubera's idol was consecrated and above the idol of Kubera on the wall was the idol of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Another unique feature was the kubera vibhuti(sacred ash) which was green in color.

The temple also had a mini pond like a well in the ground level where coins were thrown. Again a well maintained temple where a few antique bharnis were sold (clay pickle jars).

After seeking Kubera's blessings, we now drove towards Kunrakudi which was just 2 kms away. While negotiating the muddy track to reach the main road, we saw a snake slithering across the road in front of our car. The daughter who was driving  immediately wanted to know from her paati (grand mom) sitting in the rear seat,  if it had any significance like a black cat crossing the road and the mil who does'nt believe such superstitions  jokingly said " No, drive ahead, it is an invitation from Lord Murugan to visit his abode"(Lord Murugan's vehicle is a peacock which clutches a snake in its claw)

Kunrakudi - The abode of Murugan with his consorts valli and Devasena is another 1000 year old temple situated on a 30 metre hillock with more or less 100 steps to reach the abode.The name Kunrakudi itself in tamil means a hill colony. Built by Maruda pandi, a king who ruled this area. When he was suffering from an ailment,the vibhuti prasadam from this temple is said to have cured him.

When we reached the foot hills, we had a tough time escaping from the mendicants who were dressed in orange. After passing through the soda and pooja offerings shop which doubled as shoe depository, we were greeted by the temple elephant which was trained to bless with its trunk on our head when we offer a coin. We then climbed the 100 odd steps which were carved out of the hill and reached the top where a divine sight of the 6 headed Lord( Arumugam) with his consorts beckoned to bless us. Yet another moment which sent us into a trance and yes the vision of the lord under the glowing diyas is embedded in my mind. The granite pillars and the ceiling had such a cooling effect even in that hot weather and the breeze from the windows drew me to them. The view from there was  rustic and had a oldworld charm . I could see red tiled roofs and old little houses from there and dried vegetation reminding of hay. It instantly reminded me of an aerial picture my husband clicked in the Italian town of Pisa. There is so much of unsung beauty in our countryside which can make beautiful picture postcards.

Forgot to click pictures here but enjoyed the beautiful views from the top and we walked down the steps only to run into an  orange robed mendicant who call themselves as siddhars or andis ( don't know what they are called) and start asking for alms after forcefully predicting a few things about us. 

That was the mini temple trail around Karaikudi which we completed by 11a.m in the morning......so many ancient temples to see  in this region... God willing, maybe another visit will help complete.

Our next stop was Athangudi, famous for handcrafted tiles.