Visiting Trichy and Srirangam

May 19, 2007

I reached Trichy city after the eventful trip in the dinky buses. There was a time I used to call this city my home - when I was this little schoolboy bemused with his first pimple on the cheek, clad in maroon uniform shorts and driving a Streetcat cycle. This was also the city that saw me grow from being the little schoolboy into an interesting adolescent who would soon encounter his first crush, and then a mature graduate ready to move out of the small city into the big bad world outside.

His business is still on, and still at the same spot.

Eight years after I left the city, I went there for a friend's marriage. It was a surprise how little the city has changed. Whilst I find Bangalore a different city with every passing year, years have not had any impact on Trichy. The Central Bus Stand has hardly an unknown spot, the bunch of hotels around the bus stand still stand the same, the roadside shops, flower dwellers still seem seated where I remembered them, the one-way roads continued to be so. And it looked like the signboard of the school I studied, had not been repainted ever since.

We refreshed quickly on our rooms and set out to the Srirangam temple. Unbelievably, the ticket from Central Bus Stand to Srirangam still costs four rupees! The bus took me through places I remember walking in my childhood days - a Pastry shop and ice cream joint where I ran out from school to grab a mouthful, the bus-stops I stood, the road leading up to my college - Everything stood as if frozen in time.

Between all the nostalgia, the fun began when I got down in Srirangam. An old man suddenly grabbed hold of my hand and said (in Tamil), "Give me one rupee". I said trying to relieve my hand, "Excuse me? Can you leave my hand first?"

"Give me one rupee."
"Yeah, but leave my hand will you?"
"Give me one rupee."
"First leave my hand."
"Give me one rupee."

And I used my left hand to reach out to the wallet behind my jean and stretched out a one rupee coin. He plucked it out of my hand and went his way leaving me gaping.

The Rajagopuram of Srirangam temple.

I resumed walking towards the Rajagopuram, said to be the tallest in Asia. As I entered the premises of the Agraharam (the area encircling the temple), highly orthodox flavors of a Tamil Brahmin culture began to abound - men wearing Veshti (dhoti), women in nine-yard sarees, Kolam (rangoli) on the roads, shops selling stuff used in typical religious rituals.

There were also a few faces staring at me in some strange way. One of them asked me in Tamil to leave my slippers at his shop and when I turned to face him, quickly switched to English and repeated the same thing. That's when I actually realized that the "I heart NY" tee shirt (remember those typical ones you get in NY?) may not have been the best choice to wear in Srirangam.

But why?

Being a Saturday, the temple was crowded and we squeezed ourselves through the crowd. Srirangam reflects another of those astonishing constructions that many South Indian temples are famous for - parts of it carved out of a single stone. Admiring the architectural splendor of the temple I was shocked to find a board that prevented non-Hindus from entering. If a temple cannot tolerate a fellow human just because his belief is different, aren't we being hypocritical about all the talking of God being one and all such crap? They say non-Hindus spoil the purity of the temple. Well, how do you know a Hindu entering the temple is pure in the first place?

The sacred lamp, in sepia.

We moved on to the temple store to eat my favorite Puliogare. The MTRs and ready-mixes only go so far, but anything for a temple-made Puliogare! After clicking some photos around the temple we started our exit and ran into a human traffic jam. A huge number of cycles and people had got tangled within themselves (though I couldn't imagine how) in a narrow junction and we detoured into the agraharam taking the longer route to the bus stand.

That took us through lanes hosting houses that have been standing for many decades, some, for a century. The long dark pathways inside the house, the thinnai - a seating place in the entrance, the entrance itself decorated with rangolis extending till the middle of the road, made one feel as if transported back in time. Srirangam would never see a high rise building or a shopping mall. Tamil Brahmin traditions and culture have taken such deep roots that people here live the city solely for its orthodox tradition. The past hasn't given much way to the present, and neither will it in the future.

Mix with some water, lemon and ice.

And I also helped myself to three glasses of Nannari Shorbet - a delicacy more famous in Southern Tamil Nadu, and one that I just couldn't stop drinking. For seven rupees it gives you a huge relief from the scorching heat and tastes next to nothing. The heat was too much, and we bought ourselves a bottle of water - which happened to be costlier than the Shorbet - and took a comfortable seat on our return bus.

Kishore is a techie based in Bangalore. When he's not writing software, he spends his time writing himself out trying to understand the perfection of reality. Read his musings over life, nature, music and the art of living at Dayswork.
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May 19, 2007
01:55 PM

interesting - were the natives friendly?

May 19, 2007
02:52 PM

Nannari shorbet is it? sounds more like na na re shorbet.

May 20, 2007
01:17 PM

Kishore, any hints about the genesis of 'Nannari' :)

May 20, 2007
02:26 PM

Ages since I visited the place; you've made me long for the 'sarbath' now!
PS: That non- Hindus not allowed rule stands for most temples; Yesudas, who is a devout worshipper of Guruvayoorappan, has been famously refused entrance cos he's a Christian. He's sat outside singing bhajans in his awesome voice that melt your heart. It is his deepest desire to be allowed one darshan of guruvayoorappan, it is said.

May 20, 2007
11:09 PM

The natives were quite friendly, more so, because I spoke the local language. Well, except when they saw the "I heart NY" tee. :)

No say na na to nannari Am! It tastes oh so yummmmyyy...

It's an extract from the root of a plant called Nannari.

Yeah. Many temples do this. I wonder if there is anything beyond a religious dogma to it? Yesudas is more Hindu than most Hindus visiting Guruvayoor..

K K Subramanian
June 4, 2007
07:42 AM

Your comments that Non hindus are not allowed inside the srirangam or for that matter in most of the temples-except perhaps Sabarimala in Kerala-is not warranted.Hindu temples are for Hindus and their way and method is entirely different from other religious faith.Islam does not believe in Idol worship and Christians worship only Jesus or mother Mary.
We pray and worship God in the Hindu way-visiting temple after bath with Bhasmam on forehead or sandal paste or Thiruman and worship God through a Purohit who chants Vedas and slokas and shows Harathi after performing /doing Abhishekams with Milk,sandal,Rose water,Vibhuthi(bhasma),honey etc and as per Vaishnavite custom`Thirumanjanam`a paste of turmeric and other scented items etc and does Archana-which are all the usual way being practized for cenuries.This is a place of worship and not a place of sight seeing or museum for observing what is being done there etc.
Other religions allow all people to worship their place of worship only with a view to conversion only,whereas Hindus does not preach Conversion.Only Hindus are getting converted to other religions by way of inter religious marriages.
So please do not make such comments on these matters.Let our Hindusthan,that is Bharath continue to have restricted entries only for Hindus to enter Hindu temples and let Hindu tradition continue.

June 4, 2007
12:16 PM

Turn back to your Hindy mythology lessons.

Thiruppanazhvar belonged to the lowly Paanar class unaware of any of the Vaishnavaite customs then, but he's celebrated as the Holy Azhwar. Similar with Nammazhwar.. and so many others.

This takes the cake: Srirangam temple also has a sannidhi for Thulika Nachiyar - a MUSLIM goddess hosted within the temple..

Hinduism has always been tolerant towards other caste/religions over the years. Today, its only the dogmatic religious customs that has made the hindu temples more fanatic than it ever was.

June 4, 2007
02:05 PM

I just completed four years of education there...nice to see somebody take the time to chronicle it for the outside world.Aaman, I guess my stay there made me a psuedo native, and on behalf of the rest of us, we're pretty amiable and definitely not inclined to bite.

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