The best part of going on a trail of places we’ve only ever heard of is that we can never be too sure if we actually end up where we’re supposed to. Day 3 was perhaps the most interesting of our five-day trip. While we all know that Kumbakonam is a town filled with temples, how many of us actually know that Pazhaiyarai, the capital of the early Cholas is actually just outside Kumbakonam? Pazhaiyarai as a town no longer exists. It is a collection of tiny villages, including one called Keezha Pazhayarai, which means Pazhaiyarai of the East. This suggests that a west Pazhaiyarai must have existed at some point. The text of Ponniyin Selvan also mentions four temples demarcating the four directions, in addition to one Vishnu temple called Nandipura Vinnagaram. Today, Nandipura Vinnagaram is also known as Nathankoil and is quite easy to find on Google Maps. The other four were, however, a challenge. So, off we went after breakfast in search of those temples.
Day 3 – Stop 1 – Muzhaiyur – Thenthali temple – The Southern Entrance
The Thenthali temple is dedicated to Parasunathar. We got to Muzhaiyur and were not quite sure of where the actual temple was. We stopped someone on the road and asked. He clearly clarified if we were looking for the Prasaunathar Temple or the Sivan temple. That’s when we realised there were two temples within walking distance of each other. We decided on the Parasunathar temple first. The temple is built in the typical pre-Imperial Chola style. It’s quite well preserved and it looked like some painting had been done recently as part of the state government’s attempts to save ancient temples. There isn’t much to write home about here except that it’s a regular Chola temple.
Day 3 – Stop 2 – Muzhaiyur – Vadathali Temple – The Northern Entrance
This temple is exactly behind the southern entrance and forms the northern entrance to the town. It is barely 200 metres from the south shrine. Dedicated to Dharmapureeswarar, this temple has a set of 12 lingas just within the temple compound, each dedicated to one sign of the zodiac. A plaque inside confirms this as the Vadathali temple and also has verses sung by Thirunavukkarasar in praise of the Lord. This temple is also well-preserved and like in the Gangaikondacholapuram temple, has a flight of stairs leading up to the main shrine itself. The plaque mentioned earlier is a recent addition by either a donor or the government itself. In any case, it is quite gratifying the temple is clean and quaint, just how temples should be.
Day 3 – Stop 3 – Nathankoil – Nandipura Vinnagaram
From the Vadathali temple, we went on to Nandipura Vinnagaram, that seems to be quite famous in the area. The 21st of the 108 Srivaishnava shrines and dedicated to Jagannatha Swami, this temple was built by Rajaraja I’s aunt, Periya Piratti Sembiyan Madevi and later restored by his sister, Ilaya Piratti Kundavai Nachiyar. The Bhattar there told us that the Lord’s feet are only revealed on Vaikunta Ekadasi day and kept covered on all other days of the year.
Day 3 – Stop 4 – Keezha Pazhaiyarai – Keezhthali Temple – The Eastern Entrance
Now, this is where we actually stopped in awe and watched with jaws open. Dedicated to Somanatha Swami, this temple is not far from Nandipura Vinnagaram. The temple Gopuram does not have the typical arch of the Thanjavur temple. We surmised that it must have been destroyed at some point. The temple inside, however, inspires so much awe. This must have been built some time between the Melakadambur temple and the Darasuram temple that I had mentioned in my earlier posts. Built in the shape of a chariot, this temple is more ornate than the Melakadambur temple but less so than Darasuram, which was built much later (12th Century). The entire shrine is perfectly intact although we can guess that the peripheral shrines have been lost to time over the centuries.
Day 3 – Stop 5 – Metrali Temple – The Western Entrance
There is very little left of this temple, although it is quite easy to find. We could not initially believe that this was an actual Chola era temple, although an old lady tending to goats there confirmed that it was built by Rajaraja Chola’s ancestors. We can’t be quite sure of how old it is exactly but it is clear that there used to be a Gopuram there that is now overgrown with weeds. The shrine is dedicated to Kailasanathar and was closed when we arrived, forcing us to turn back without managing a darshan.
There can be nothing quite so exhilarating as going on a wild goose chase for temples we don’t even know existed, but that can get exhausting at times. So, we returned to Kumbakonam, finished lunch and set off to Thanjavur, the next stop on our trip. At Thanjavur, we hardly had any energy, but still decided to go on and visited the palace.
Day 3 – Stop 6 – Thanjavur Palace & Saraswati Mahal Library
The Thanjavur palace and the library aren’t quite a part of the Vanthiyathevan trail but it wasn’t fair to go all the way to Thanjavur and not see it. The library is a delight and the museum attached as well. The only thing I can hope for is that we learn to be a little more respectful of our heritage and don’t inscribe our own names on those monuments of historical importance, like within the walls of the Bell Tower for example. I guess we never learn.
Lastly, the bronze gallery within the Palace is a must-visit. So many of the Maratha kings’ private collection is out there for display, most of them belonging to the Chola era, and some of them later (13th and 14th Century).
With so much done during the day, we didn’t have much energy to do much apart from coming right back to the hotel and chilling for the evening. The next day would be another adventure, another day.