Places to see in Central Tamil Nadu - Part I

Srirangam - The Town inside the Temple!Tamil Nadu is the southern most state of India. It has its fair share of forests, beaches and historic monuments including 4 UNESCO Sites! While Tamil Nadu itself is a non-touristy place for international tourists, for Indians, it has few very typical touristy sites. Putting it in the perspective of a foreigner - the state of Tamil Nadu is the same size as that of countries Greece or England! One of the lesser known, very interesting district in Tamil Nadu is Tiruchirapalli aka Trichy!One of the primary places to see in Trichy is the very famous Rock Fort. But what many miss beside the Rock Fort are the 2 caves, built by the Pallavas and Pandyas, the 2 major dynasties that ruled southern India. Today, the 2 are protected by Archaeological Survey of India. The Pallava cave, Lalithangura Pallava Griham, is halfway through the climb to the Rockfort temple. The most important aspect here is the inscriptions in the Pallava Grantha script. While the Pallava Cave is atleast used by the devotees as a resting shed without knowing its significance. The Pandya Cave on the other hand is always missed by almost all. Its at a short walk from the base of the hill and has large relief sculptures of 5 images of Gods.Pic Credit: Google Maps  Pic Credit: Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu Period)- By Percy BrownAnother most important place is Srirangam which houses the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. Its fascinating to see it from above (but remember, drone cameras are yet illegal in India!).  One, its actually an island, surrounded by 2 rivers - Kaveri & Kollidam on either sides. Two, the entire town is inside the temple! The temple is actually a very large grid system with 7 walls and the whole township is inside these 7 walls. This is the world's largest functioning Hindu temple and the 2nd largest temple in world after Angkor Wat which is not in worship. It has 21 gopurams (towers) which is also the maximum in the world. The whole town is in a perfectly planned and executed grid system, much before many other cities were planned so! It is extremely well maintained and protected that it received UNESCO's award of merit in 2017 for cultural heritage conservation, though its still not in the main list of UNESCO sites.Pic Credit: Leiden University Library, KITLV, image 92170 Homepage KITLV, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons  Fact is stranger than fiction and that's true to this temple more than anywhere else. The temple was built over several centuries since 8th C CE, by various rulers and dynasties. Inscriptions are here starting with Parantaka Chola and continues with Rajamahendra, Kulothunga etc and it was further expanded by Hoysalas and Pandyas as well. It was such a rich temple that it had not just the treasury, but also its sculptures, pillars and gopurams bejeweled with gold and precious stones! Sadly this was so rich that it caught the attention of Malik Kafur of Delhi Sultanate (one of the Islamic dynasties in India) and looted everything in 1311 CE!!! However, Malik Kafur's little daughter fell in love with the Lord Ranganatha (something like how Meera Bhai did) and came back here to be here! She's called Thulukka Nachiyar and here is a shrine today dedicated to her! However again in 1323 CE it was again attacked by Ulugh Khan who did a mass massacre of the locals and few devotees took the Deity of Azhagiya Manavalan and fled. It was only after 48 years that the sculpture was brought back here after Srirangam was taken over by Vijayanagara Rulers!!! Being the largest functioning (which means it has its own closures with regards to festivities, events and special prayers) temple, it needs atleast 2 days to see it all, the whole structure within all its 7 walls! Being a functional temple, where the traditions are followed strictly, Srirangam temple timings are precise on when the Lord can be visited and when not. Also the smaller shrines in the farther of the 7 passages are open for much shorter timings. Some of the areas and shrines in the temple include the innermost circumambulation passage, Vellai Gopuram, Seshagiri Rayar Mandapam, Ayiramkaal Mandapam, Chakrathazhwar Sannidhi, Venugopala Sannidhi, Mettazhagiya Singar Sannidhi etc. Try to visit Srirangam when there is an event or festival is happening, and there are several that keep happening. These are not events to be seen, but experiences to be felt! I have attended the Chariot festival and Vayyali festival and it almost takes you to a trance! Vayyali is the festival where the Deity of Azhagiya Manavalan rides a golden horse! The speed in which He rides the horse (i.e., priests run with the horse and the deity strapped on it) is rather fascinating!When you're in Trichy, don't miss Srinivasanallur & Gopurapatti. If you still have time, may be check out the temples of Allur and Andanallur as well! Gopurapatti is a tiny little temple in the midst of paddy fields, but what sets it apart are the tiny little Ramayana panels all around the temple. Srinivasanallur on the other hand is an excellent example of early Chola art. The Dakshinamurthy relief panel that you see here is unparalleled!Trichy is well known for 2 things - education (for some nationally important institutes being here) and the Rock Fort Temple. But the lesser known Trichy or Tiruchirappalli is a magic that it attracted everyone from Malik Kafur to British (who prefered to call it Trichinopoly), as soon as they got the slightest hint of it!!!Places to see in Central Tamil Nadu -Part 1 - Trichy & SrirangamPart 2 - Madurai & Dindigul (coming soon)Part 3 - Pudukottai (coming soon)Part 4 - Karur & Namakkal (coming soon)

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