Jani Jermans – Travel Diaries

January 8, 2022

Mahabalipuram & Kanchipuram – Southern Treasures

Filed under: India — jani @ 10:02 pm

About Mahabalipuram:

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, is a town in Chengalpattu district in the south-eastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, best known for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of 7th- and 8th-century Hindu Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram was one of two major port cities in the Pallva kingdom. The town was named after Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who was also known as Mahabali. Along with economic prosperity, it became the site of a group of royal monuments, many carved out of the living rock. These are dated to the 7th and 8th centuries. Mahabalipuram is also known by other names such as Mamallapattana and Mamallapuram. The term ‘Mahabalipuram’ means city of ‘great power’.

Day 1: This was impromptu trip as we were looking for places for a very short trip as our international trip had to be postponed due to my exams which never happened and got cancelled at the last minute. Since Sur had not travelled to Mahabalipuram, we finalized this place. We were supposed to start early morning but we were too tired to wake up so early. So we started a little late around early noon.

We stopped at A2B (Adyar Ananda Bhavan) few kms from Bangalore for a brunch, enjoyed the Ghee Dosa (Ghee Roast), had a nice filter coffee and we were energized to start the drive. It was a good drive. In the evening, in Kanchipuram we stopped for another Ghee Dosa and Tea before reaching our place of stay. By evening we entered Mahabalipuram. The city had an entry fee, which was something new. We paid and headed to Chariot Beach Resort as this was recommended by our travel partner as it’s the 2nd best property in this town, First being Radisson. Our first choice had been Radisson which had the best reviews, but they had a wedding group so the rooms were not available for the first night. So we settled for the 2nd best.

We reached the resort little after 6 PM and we were in a great shock about the way we were welcomed as it’s expected in a 4 star category. There was no welcome drink, not even a glass of water provided and there was no valet service. Sur had gone to park his car by himself. Once we checked in one of the staffs came and handed over a garland made of small sea shells in our hands. I was like what is happening at this hotel, is it a 4 star or we ended up paying a 4 star resort cost to a lodge. Then we were escorted to the room which was in the first floor. As we climbed down the stairs, I was surprised a 4 star property which had such a dirty stairs as if it had never been cleaned. We both were looking at each other and we were scared what else awaited in this place. Then we entered the room, it had dirty linens, toilets had all the fittings rusted, one of the toilet roll handles came off. The sofa cushions were so stained and dirty, that we didn’t feel of sitting in those. I was feeling disgusted and angry that we had booked this shitty place. It was too late to take it up with the management and I just didn’t want to stay in this place ever. We just decided will manage for the night and will check out first thing in the morning. I wonder, did people who reviewed this place online, did they do it a decade back or did the management deleted all the negative reviews so the property showed 2nd best in the guest reviews. Being in the travel industry myself where you are little more understanding and sensitive towards the hospitality professional this was the height of shame and an example for the worst hospitality and the dirtiest resort that I have ever stayed.

Since it was frustrating to stay in the room, we headed out for a walk. The property is huge and has lot of greenery and you also have beach, which kind of made us to forget the frustrations. We sat for some time near the beach, enjoyed the nice breeze under the moon light and then headed for dinner.

We went to the buffet, it had more than an hour for closing the buffets. Still half of the items were not refilled, some of them had the items name display but it was empty. staffs were coming and checking but no one refilled the few items that were there in the name of buffet. After looking at very few items, I went and asked how much were they charging the buffet and they quoted a 4 star price even though there was hardly any items. I settled for a soup, rice and fish curry while Sur being vegetarian didn’t have much option and he ended up having a spoon of masala peanuts which was part of the salad section. It was a clear waste of money for Sur. Since rice and fish curry were my comfort food, even though I didn’t have more options, I had no complaints as I enjoyed it which tasted great. In the coastal town, I am sure, they can’t mess up the fish curry and I was glad they didn’t mess up that. Then we were back to the room, which was a hell, we just didn’t want to think more about and spoil our sleep, so we just crashed for the night.

Day 2: Morning we woke up, thought will have an early breakfast so that we get to see the sightseeing before the sun scorches us. Unfortunately, breakfast was not ready at 7 PM which is the time communicated by the staff. They said, it will take another hour since the manager was absent. So we had to wait and we killed the time by walking around the garden which looked good.

Finally the breakfast was ready. We entered the buffet area and we see that the door to the entrance was so dirty, you also could see some finger prints, which we could notice now during the day. During covid times, when we need to be extra cautious and more hygienic, we were sure you could get covid just by visiting this place. If any health inspectors visited this place, this would have been shut by now.

Table didn’t have knife along with other cutlery, Sur was asking the staff for the knife to butter the toast and the staff was confused for a second. Then Sur has to tell him how will I butter the toast, then he got the knife. Also the serving plates had dust on it and my quarter plate had a very small dead cockroach on it. I just wiped off the plate as we had just given up on these folks at the property. Sur had a watermelon juice, bread and omelette and I settled for some idli and coffee and then headed out to the room.

As we were packing our stuffs we had another surprise, we just noticed about the bed linen which had a big stain (looked like a old blood stain), and it was so disgusting looking at it and that was ultimate that I couldn’t keep my stuffs here for another hour. It’s all the more frustrating, that we were spending more money to stay in a high end resorts keeping in mind the covid situation, so that more care is taken in terms of hygiene but here was the total opposite. I had to call my travel partner immediately, send them all the room pictures and asked them to book us to Radisson as this was not worth for a penny to continue to stay here. By then F&B manager had got the cake which was a surprise from Sur who had ordered it the previous night as it was my birthday. I was in no mood to celebrate anything as I just felt of throwing that cake in the dustbin. We showed the F&B manager the broken fittings, rusting in the room, dirty linen, dirty sofa cushions etc and feedback about the buffet. He apologized and informed us that he will make sure the service will be improved. Then we realized he didn’t bring the knife to cut the cake, since I myself was no mood for the cake, I just took a little to taste with the fork that was there and we returned back the cake. Thankfully cake which had a straw berry flavour, tasted good. Then we headed out for sightseeing. This town is very small and we realized most of the sightseeing are close by and can be completed in a day if you have a good guide.

We headed to Five Rathas (Pancha Rathas) which is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram which was hardly 10 minutes drive from the resort. We were looking for a guide since these are historic places and we needed a professional guide. Mr. Balakrishna (+91 9176858037) came voluntarily asking us if we needed a guide and we were glad we found one. In Mahabalipuram, there were no physical entry tickets, we had to go to the Tamil Nadu Tourism website to purchase tickets online and had to show the QR code to the security, it was followed everywhere, which was impressive. We entered Five Rathas complex, Mr. Bala guided us inside the complex to explain the history behind it. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture dating late 7th century. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith of granite. Though sometimes mistakenly referred to as temples, the structures were never consecrated because they were never completed following the death of Narasimhavarman I (630-680 AD, he is also called Mamalla meaning great warrior). The structures are named after the Pancha Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi, of epic Mahabharata fame. In order of their size, they include the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha. The first ratha that is located right by the entrance gate is Draupadi’s Ratha. It is shaped like a hut and is dedicated to the goddess Durga. Next comes Arjuna’s Ratha. This one has a small portico and carved pillar stones and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are no carvings inside this temple, but many are on the outside. Directly in front of Arjuna’s Ratha is the Nakula Sahadev Ratha. This ratha has some huge elephant sculptures included that are a huge draw for the Five Rathas. It is dedicated to the God of Rain, Lord Indra. The Bhima Ratha is huge. The pillars there do contain lion carvings even though the rathas as a whole is incomplete. The largest of the Five Rathas is the Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Ratha and it’s dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Then we headed to Mahabalipuram Lighthouse, this place has an Indias’s oldest lighthouse. It was built around 640 AD by Pallava king Mahendravarman I and it also has Olakaneeswara Temple which is dedicated to lord Siva. A granite roof was constructed atop the temple to keep the light from 1887 to 1900. Mahabalipuram was a busy port under the Pallavas as early as the 7th century AD. Bonfires were lit on rocks even at that time to aid the mariners. The British first used the temple atop the Mahishasuramardini cave as a light. When you climb the stairs to go to the cave, it has an amazing view of the Mahabalipuram town.

There is a modern lighthouse which is adjacent to the old one and is functional.  This was commissioned here in 1887. The lighthouse, with a circular masonry tower made of natural stone, became fully functional in 1904. There were also enough monkeys around the complex and as we exited out, we saw lot of stone carvings and we stopped at Manjula Art Gallery. The gentleman there who owns the gallery is also a professor there teaching Sculpture in Government College of Architecture and Sculpture. So he was explaining the stone carvings and sculptures done by interns and experts like him. There was a beautiful cobra carving done on a black stone, but we didn’t have space to buy that and that was a carving which doesn’t get out of my memory as it was so beautiful. In and around Mahabalipuram, you will see lot of stone sculptures from small ones to huge ones and that itself is a sight to behold and I thanked the gentleman for keeping the tradition alive and teaching the younger generation the old craft which is slowly dying out. We also saw few students sitting outside who were working on and we wished them luck. We picked out few souvenirs and stepped out from there.

We headed next to Arjuna’s penance. It is an enormous rock-cut relief, one of the largest in the whole world. It is also known by the name Descent of the Ganges, it is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted in the relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s Penance are portrayed in stone at the Pallava heritage site. The sculptures carved in the natural fissure that divides the cliff not only depict a cosmic event of Ganges descending to earth (a popular narration and depiction in the iconography of Shiva) at the command of Shiva but also shows the event being watched by scores of gods, goddesses, mythical figurines of Kinnara, Gandharva, Apsara, Gana, Nagas, and also wild and domestic animals, all admiringly looking up at the scene. The total number of carvings are probably about 146.

Another prominent scene is that of a temple to the right of the cleft at the lower end of the panel. This temple is simple and small and has Vishnu as the deity carved within it. The temple roof is patterned on the style of Draupadi Ratha. A sage is seen sitting in front of the temple giving sermons to his students. In the seat below this scene, a lion in his den and below this a pair of deer are carved. A tortoise is shown next to the temple indicative of water in the near vicinity.

Then we headed to Krishna’s Butterball (Vaan Irai Kal meaning Stone of Sky God) which is a gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline. The Pallava king Narasimhavarman (630–668 CE) also made a failed attempt to move the boulder. The Indian Tamil king Raja Raja Chola (985 and 1014 CE) was inspired by the balance of this massive stone boulder and it led to the creation of never-falling mud dolls called Tanjavur Bommai (Tanjore Dolls)  which having a half-spherical base tends to come back to its original position every time one tries to make it fall. In 1908, then-governor of the city Arthur Havelock made an attempt to use seven elephants to move the boulder from its position due to safety concerns, but with no success. This boulder seems to float and barely stand on a slope on top of 1.2-meter (4 ft) high plinth which is a naturally eroded hill and is said to have been at the same place for 1200 years. There is also a small temple enroute this boulder. We sought God’s blessings and headed out.

We headed to Shore temple (c. 725 AD) which is a complex of temples and shrines that overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. At the time of its creation, the site was a busy port during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty. It is one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India. Marco Polo and the European merchants who came to Asia after him called the site Seven Pagodas. One of these is believed to be the Shore Temple and other six temples remain submerged in the sea. The tsunami also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries. The shore temple is one of the most popular temples in Mahabalipuram. Excavations in early 2000s have revealed new structures here under the sand. The temple is a combination of three shrines. The main shrine is dedicated to Shiva, as is the smaller second shrine. A small third shrine, between the two, is dedicated to a reclining Vishnu and may have had water channelled into the temple, entering the Vishnu shrine. The temple walls are surrounded by sculptures of Nandi.

Then we had to head back to the hotel to check out, by then our travel partner had escalated the issues to the management with the resort and they upgraded to the pool view cottage and they insisted they will ensure we get a better service. So we decided to stay and moved our things to the cottage and then we headed out for lunch. My favourite place for food was The Moonrakers, which is the best place for Seafood, this was the only reason I used to travel with friends to come to Mahabalipuram a decade back while working in Chennai. Since Sur cannot take the smell of sea food and smoke, I had to skip it which was a greatest disappointment. So we thought to try the lunch at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay. We had an amazing time and now we know why this is one of the best resorts in Mahabalipuram for their excellent hospitality and service.

Then we headed back to our sightseeing to Tiger Cave, which is a rock-cut Hindu temple complex. It gets its name from the carvings of tiger heads on the mouth of a cave which forms a part of the complex and it also has a temple. We admired the carvings and then said a prayer and headed out to The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology, which is a reptile zoo and herpetology research station. Unfortunately, it was closed on Monday so we had to skip that.

Then we headed to Dakshina Chitra (Picture of the South). It is a living-history museum dedicated to South Indian heritage and culture. It opened to the public on 14 December 1996, the museum was founded and is being managed by the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF). The MCF was established in 1984. Deborah Thiagarajan, an Indian art historian of American origin, governs the museum. The museum is built on 10 acres of land. Developed as a heritage village, Dakshina Chitra has an array of displays and relocated originals of dwellings depicting the life pattern of people in the states of southern India. The exhibits portray the architecture, art, folk performing-arts and craft of South Indian traditions. The amenities include a research unit, crafts bazaar, playground, an area to hold religious functions, stone workshop, and souvenir kiosks. This needs an entire day to go through each exhibits, since we reached an hour before closing, we had to quickly go through the place, picked up few local souvenirs and then headed out as everyone was shutting down the place.

Then we headed to India Sea Shell Museum which is open till 8 PM. Mr. Raja Mohammed, the brain behind this museum, devoted 33 years of his life and his hard earned money in accumulating sea shells from small to large and from the ordinary to the exotic and established this exclusive sea shell museum. It is the largest seashell museum in India and It houses over 40,000 specimens of rare and unique seashells and Minerals which offers visitors an amazing visual treat and a unique perspective on conchology. His idea was to unearth marine treasure of the world and share the knowledge so gained with the rest of the world. Hats off to him for his efforts and huge respect for his hard work and passion.

Then we headed back to the resort, this pool view cottage looked good, ordered room service for the dinner and then crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up, went for the breakfast. This time the staffs were extra hospitable as the F&B manager was there personally to make sure we got the better service. I ordered for Poori and Sur had a bread and Omelette. Finally ended the meal with nice filter coffee which was good and then headed to Kanchipuram which was a close by town famous for its temples. Our guide had recommended it the day before as we had an extra day for sightseeing. Kanchipuram, also known as Kanchi. It also called a city of Thousand Temples, is an ancient city in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state. Considered a holy pilgrimage site by Hindus, it is home to many temples. Our guide wanted us to visit the 5 famous temples here as that would take a whole day by itself.

First we headed to Varadharaja Perumal Temple which is a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu completed in 3rd Century. It is one of the Divya Desams, the 108 temples of Vishnu believed to have been visited by the 12 poet saints, or Alwars. This is one of the most sacred places for Vaishnavites. It seems to have taken almost 65 years to bult this.

This temple is also called Golden lizard temple. As per one of the legends, the disciples of sage Gautama were cursed to become lizards. They resided in the temple and were relieved of the curse by the divine grace of Vishnu. Two gold-silver plated lizards are seen in the ceiling of the temple, which has the auspicious power to lift all the lizard related doshas (curses) or any other doshas, as curses can cause negative impacts in one’s life. So on touching these lizards from head to tail, it is believed that all the doshas that you might have will be relieved.

As we entered the temple complex, On the left hand side, there is 100 pillars Mandapam which has sculptures depicting Ramayana and Mahabharata. It had taken almost 32 years to build, and each pillar is a masterpiece of art. One of the most famous architectural pieces in the temple is the huge stone chain sculpted in a single tone. It is a masterpiece of Vijayanagara architecture.

You also have a temple tank which is called Anantha Theertham in the temple complex. Atthi Varadaraja Perumal (Atthi Varadar), the 10 feet deity image, is made of the Atthi or the fig tree, and is stored in an underground chamber inside the temple tank which is called the Anantha Sarovaram/ Anantha Saras. It is brought out to worship for 48 days after every 40 years. It is worshipped in the Vasantha Mantapam, which located in the south-west corner of the temple. The Aththi Varadar is worshipped in sleeping posture (Kidantha Thirukkolam or Sayana Kolam) in the first 24 days, followed by standing position (Nindra Thirukkolam) in the next 24 days. The icon, which was the presiding deity earlier, was hidden in the 16th century to protect from invaders; however replaced by the current stone central icon when the wooden icon could not be traced. In 1709, the icon was accidentally rediscovered when the temple tank was emptied; thereafter the tradition of worshipping the deity once in 40 years was established.

Our 2nd temple visit to Ekambareswarar (Lord of Mango Tree) Temple (Ekambaranathar Temple) is a Hindu temple dedicated to the deity Shiva. This vast temple is one of the most ancient in India having been in existence since at least 600 CE and was built during Chola Dynasty. It is significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as one of the temples associated with the five elements, the Pancha Bhoota Stalas (Five Shiva Temples), and specifically the element of earth, or Prithvi. Shiva is worshiped as Ekambareswarar or Ekambaranathar, and is represented by the lingam, with his idol referred to as Prithvi lingam. It has 108 lingas in different sizes. The temple complex covers 25 acres, and is one of the largest in India. It houses four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the southern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 192 ft, making it one of the tallest temple towers in India.

It also has the Sacred mango tree which is 3500 years old where Parvati, consort of Shiva did penance under this tree. At present the main trunk had been destroyed due to flood and after that four branches started growing from within. The mango fruit from each branch seems to taste different and devotees are not supposed to pluck the fruit or leaves from this tree unless it has fallen down as the tree is considered very sacred. Locals believe that if anyone whose marriage is not getting materialised or any couple who are childless, when they come and pray to this temple, their wish is granted within few months.

The temple celebrates dozens of festivals throughout the year. The most important of these is the Panguni (or Phalguni in devanagari) Brahmotsavam that lasts ten days during the Tamil month of Panguni, between March and April, concluding with the celebration of Kalyanotsavam. The festival is the most popular of all the temple festivals in Kanchipuram. On the concluding day, Kalyanotsavam (marriage festival) is held when the marriage of Ekambareswarar is enacted. During the day, many unmarried people get married irrespective of their caste along with the deity. The event is witnessed by thousands of people every year.

Our 3rd stop was The Kailasanathar temple (Lord of Kailasha), also referred to as the Kailasanatha temple, is a Pallava-era historic Hindu temple. Dedicated to Shiva, it is one of the oldest surviving monuments in Kanchipuram and also is in one of three “Kanchis”, the Shiva Kanchi; the other two Kanchis are, Vishnu Kanchi and Jain Kanchi.

Temple construction is credited to the Pallava dynasty, who had established their kingdom with Kanchipuram (also known as “Kanchi” or “Shiva Vishnu Kanchi”) as the capital city, considered one of the seven sacred cities under Hinduism. The temple was built around 700 CE with additions in the 8th- and restorations in later centuries. It is the first structural temple built in South India by Narasimhavarman II (Rajasimha), and who is also known as Rajasimha Pallaveswaram. His son, Mahendravarman III, completed the front façade and the gopuram (tower). According to local belief, the temple was a safe sanctuary for the rulers of the kingdom during wars. A secret tunnel, built by the kings, was used as an escape route and is still visible. It is believed that Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014 CE) visited the temple and drew inspiration from this temple to build the Brihadeeswara Temple. Unlike most other Dravidian temples, the Kailasanathar temple is constructed out of sand stone and slowly it is eroding which is sad. There is also small meditation cells around the inner complex walls which was used by Alwars to sit and meditate.

By then it was almost lunch time and temple shuts and opens only by 4 PM, hence we headed for the lunch. The guide recommended Star Biryani, I was not very eager to visit this place as this chain is known for Ambur Biryani which had been a disappointment when we visited Ambur. But guide insisted that this is the best place for lunch in Kanchipuram where we get the Non-Veg food so we went in. It was a great surprise as the food was too good. Even Sur enjoyed his Butter Naan and mushroom gravy. Our guide and myself enjoyed the chicken and mutton biryani with Mutton Sukka and fish fry. The Ambur biryani is usually very bland, so it had an accompaniment of brinjal (eggplant) semi gravy with raita (curd, onion and green chilies). That combo was super delicious and I overate. After a heavy lunch we needed to kill the time, so we had asked our guide to recommend good place to purchase Kanchivaram Silk Sarees as this place is famous for that as well.

These sarees are woven from pure mulberry silk thread. The pure mulberry silk and the Zari used in the making of Kanchipuram saris comes from South India. The mulberry silk is procured from Karnataka and woven in Kanchipuram. In a genuine Kanchipuram Silk Sari, body and border are woven separately and then interlocked together. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the saris tear, the border will not detach. That differentiates the kanchivaram silk saris from the others. Here the Saris are distinguished by their wide contrast borders. Temple borders, checks, stripes and floral (buttas) are traditional designs found on a Kanchipuram saris. The patterns and designs in the kanchipuram saris were inspired with images and scriptures in South Indian temples or natural features like leaves, birds and animals. These are saris with rich woven mundhi showing paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kanchipuram saris vary widely in cost depending upon the intricacy of work, colours, pattern, material used like zari (gold thread) etc. The silk is also known for its quality and craftsmanship, which has helped earn its name and its usually worn during special occasions like marriage etc…

Hand woven ones takes time as one saree takes 15 days to complete by hand. Due to huge demand, for commercial purposes its also  machine woven now. Since we wanted to get a hand woven one, our guide took us to Sri Varadha Silk House, they had hand weavers in house and the gentleman showed us where people were hand weaving the sarees. We picked up few and left for the next temple visit.

Our 4th temple stop was The Kamakshi Amman Temple which is an ancient Hindu Temple dedicated to Kamakshi, the ultimate Goddess Lalita Maha Tripura Sundari. The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, the Akilandeswari temple in Thiruvanaikaval near Tiruchirappalli and this Kamakshi temple are the important centers of worship of Goddess, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The Temple was most probably built by Karikala Cholan and it took almost 65 years to build this temple.

The Image of the main Deity, Kamakshi, is seated in a majestic Padmasana, a yogic posture signifying peace and prosperity, instead of the traditional standing pose. Goddess holds a sugarcane bow and bunch of five flowers in the lower two of her arms and has a pasha (lasso), an ankusha (goad) in her upper two arms. There is also a parrot perched near the flower bunch. There are no other Goddess temples in the city of Kanchipuram, apart from this temple, which is unusual in a traditional city that has hundreds of traditional temples. Shakti Peethas are divine temples of Adiparashakti. The cause of the presence of Devi’s presence is due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi. The naval part of Sati Devi’s body is believed to have fallen here. There are 51 Shakti Peeth linking to the 51 alphabets in Sanskrit.

Our 5th temple stop was The Vaikunta Perumal Temple which is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture. Vishnu is worshipped as Vaikunta Perumal and his consort Lakshmi as Anandavalli. The temple was originally built by Pallavan, with later additions from the Chola. The temple is known for the inscriptions indicating the democratic practises of electing representatives for the village bodies during the regime of Parantaka Chola (907–955 CE).

Vaikunta Perumal temple covers an area of about 0.5 acres. The sanctum houses the image of Vaikuntanatha in seated posture with Sridevi and Bhudevi on his either sides. There is an assembly hall 2,500 sq ft. The roof of the temple rests on the walls and there are no pillars. The inscriptions from the Chola period are made on the walls of the assembly hall. Kulothunga Chola is believed to have built the roof of the assembly hall that made it an assembly hall along with the temple. As per another view, the entire structure was originally an assembly hall and it collapsed during the regime of Kulothunga Chola. He rebuilt the assembly hall along with the temple housing the image of Vaikunta Perumal in it. Some of the inscriptions also read that the village was planned as per Agamic texts with the assembly hall in the centre of the village and the temples of the village built around it. The inscriptions of the temple indicate that the villagers requested the rulers to allow them to choose their own representatives. Parantaka Chola readily acceded to their demand and instituted the Kudavolai system (ballot) of democratically electing the village representatives. The rules of electing and the eligibility of the representatives and voters are described in detail in the inscriptions. The villagers assembled at a common place and wrote the name of their preferred representative in a palm leaf and put it in a pot. kudam in Tamil is pot and volai means the palm leaf, leading to the name of Kudavolai. Only people in pilgrimage or senescence were exempt from voting. The eligibility of the candidates were prescribed with minimum age, educational qualifications and property. There were strictures for the candidates should have built their house in their own property, should not be part of any other committee and be between 35 and 70 years of age. The voters had the right to call back their candidate for failing their duties. The inscriptions also specified strict punishments for the corrupt like disallowing their next seven generations to contest if found guilty. The institution was dismembered along with the ending of Chola regime during the 13th century. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India was inspired by the system after paying a visit to the temple and insisted on improving Panchayat Raj, India’s system of local bodies in villages. This temple is also a place where people come to pray for long life.

That came to the end of our temple visits in Kanchipuram, I asked for a place to stop for a nice tea and we ended up back in the Sri Varadha Silk House, as they volunteered that they will make the best tea, so went again, picked up some samosas near by and we all along with their staffs and us enjoyed the tea. Then I found some sarees similar to Kerala saris which is made by the local women from a nearby town in Elampillai and they were selling it. We picked up one and thanked the staffs and we left.  We reached the resort, ordered some food and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We got up late and it was almost close to the buffet closing time for breakfast. So as usual most of the items were empty, somehow they got some pooris which I requested for, but it was cold and over fried, probably the left overs from their kitchen. Sur didn’t feel of having anything for breakfast. We checked out from the resort finally. On the way for lunch we stopped at Junior Kuppana, Sur settled for Ghee dosa with mushroom gravy and I ordered Non-Veg thali. It was great. We then headed back home with great memories and lots of lots of blessings from temple visits….

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