Monday, 19 December 2011

Ancient Capitals Galore

Skimming through the last few days spent in the ancient capital of Thanjavur (of Dravidian history ie pre Ayrian if that makes a difference, reader). Now it is a typically chaotic, cacophonic, dirty AND smelly Indian city. Walking down the streets is like taking your life in your hands - either there is crazy and I mean C R A Z Y traffic or badly broken pave stones placed over an endless network of sewers. As we know all too well, India is not for the faint-hearted.

Brihadishwara temple and fort complex made the street navigation worthwhile. Commissioned 56 years before the Battle of Hastings by Rajaraja I, (name translates as 'king of kings' so roll over all of those already mentioned monarchs in Rajasthan!), this guy was truly organised. He had the names and addresses of all his slaves - I mean courtiers - engraved into the temple walls. Modern India - there is a lesson in that! Anyway Rajaraja obviously ruled the roost very nicely thank you with his 400 dancers, (each given their own on-site house for 24/7 entertainment no doubt), tailors, astrologers, accountants, chefs, musicians, artisans, gurus etc. He sure must have thrown a mean party or two!

Frankly each temple we visit seems to get bigger, I can't say better as they are so different but this one is dedicated to Shiva and therefore very much part of a well-established pilgrim circuit. Inevitably we were roped into photo shoots with women and girls in red saris on a 6 day temple to temple marathon.

To describe the 'big temple' ie the inner sanctum.... it has no less than 13 storeys in the middle of a gigantic courtyard. How they got that heavy tawny sandstone carried over here is not known; strangely reminiscent of Egypt and Mexico... The outer gateways are smaller and topped by pyramidal towers with carved figures and fanged door guardians. I learnt that as the centuries went by, temples were built with smaller inner sancta but larger gateways as the idea of 'protecting something from sight' became more popular.

We also went to Saraswathi Mahal library, one of the oldest in Asia. Its collection includes rare palm leaf manuscripts which are mainly in Sanskrit, paintings by English artists (!) and graphic diagrams on Chinese torture. Hey, all makes sense... really.

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