By Ravi Valluri

Cinema industry the world over is replete with fascinating nomenclature; ‘Hollywood’ representing the gargantuan American cinema industry, ‘Bollywood’ indicative of the deep pocketed Hindi feature film industry, ‘Tollywood’ is the term for the Telugu cinema industry and ‘Kollywood’ stands for Tamil movies.

Tamil cinema staggers under the weight of sterling names like Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran, Jayalalitha, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan to name some singular contributors. But Tamil Nadu is not merely about cinema industry.

This majestic place is replete with a remarkable, robust culture and a rich heritage.

The Cholas, the Pandyas and the Pallavas were at different periods, suzerains of this land, who contributed immensely in establishing edifices which are astonishingly wondrous and attract backpackers and globetrotters throughout the year.

The lofty Madurai Meenakshi temple, Lord Shiva’s place of worship, the Brihadeswara Temple, the temples at Kanchipuram, the portentous and exalted places of worship at Rameswaram, Tiruchanur, Tiruchirapalli and Chennai are all reminiscent of the vibrancy and might of the Dravidian culture.

This fertile land has produced perspicacious sages like Agasthya, the 12 Azhwars (Vaishnava saints) and the 63 Nayanars (Shaivite gurus). In modern times there have been Ramana Maharshi of Arunachala Hills and Sri Aurobindo and the Mother at puducherry. His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the most sought after spiritual master of the Art of Living arrived on planet earth in a small hamlet called Papanasam in Tamil Nadu.

The exotic and superabundant Tamil literature contains a large corpus of literature in Tamil language, known for its long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works exhibit formidable signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution.

The major contributors to the Tamil literature are primarily Tamil people from South India, including the land which now encompasses Tamil Nadu, Kerala and even Sri Lanka. The history of Tamil literature follows the chequered history of Tamil Nadu, peeping into the social, political and cultural contours of various periods.

Meanwhile a group of tourists from America, on their maiden visit to India had been enthralled by the sheer grandeur of the Taj Mahal, the Fatehpur Sikri, and the innumerable historical sites in Luyten’s Delhi (the landscape still dotted with historical sites dating from Ashokan times, mirroring ancient, medieval and modern Indian history). Their visit to the Pink City of Jaipur and memories of viridescent Matheran were still fresh in their minds.

Upon arrival from Boston in Chennai, the quartet was received by representatives of the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) at the airport.

They checked into a glitzy hotel in the city which still had an old world charm to it; where the ancient seamlessly merged into the modern on the banks of the Bay of Bengal.

The trippers then proceeded for a sightseeing trip around the bustling city of Chennai, taking in places such as Kapaleeswarar Temple and Santhome (St.Thomas Cathedral Basilica), believed to have been built over the tomb of St.Thomas. After a sumptuous lunch the tippers decided to laze in the luxury of their plush hotel for the day, overcoming jet lag and the exhaustion from their short trip around the city.

The following day, refreshed after deep rest they ventured to visit the famous Madras Crocodile Bank where they were amazed at the variety of species of crocodiles from across the world.

CHENNAI TO MAHABALIPURAM

The IRCTC officials had planned the itinerary meticulously and soon they were driving along the scenic East Coast Road to reach the laid back beach town of Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram. The voyagers checked into a hotel and stayed overnight. That night they walked along the coastline watching with amazement the cascading waves at a pristine and clean beach.

Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram, is a town on a strip of land sandwiched between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake. This place is popular for its extraordinary temples and monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries. The seafront Shore Temple comprises of three ornate granite shrines. Krishna’s Butter Ball is a massive boulder delicately and intricately perched on a small hillock near the Ganesha Ratha stone temple.

MAMALLAPURAM – PONDICHERRY

The day was spent discovering Mahabalipuram, its grand temples and gazing at the azure blue sea where the cascading waves seemed to develop a synodic pattern, akin to human emotions. It was a crisp morning the next day, the sun was yet to become blazing hot and crimson red as the tourists proceeded to Puducherry, once an ancient port then a French colony and today known for the Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. The holiday makers had an experiential moment of ecstasy at both the Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. The moment of solitude and silence subsumed their inner self and each cell of the mind and body was silenced. “This is pure magic,” remarked one of them.

PUDUCHERRY TO THANJAVUR /VIA KUMBAKONAM

The backpackers checked out from the premises of Pondicherry Ashram and traversed the verdant countryside to reach Thanjavur, also called the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu.

Kumbakonam, is an important city of Thanjavur district, about 273 km from Chennai. It is also fabled as a ‘temple city’ as several temples dot the city. It is noteworthy to mention the Mahamaham festival is held here annually where millions from all parts of India throng the city.

While travelling they visited the famous Brihadeeswarar Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. At Thanjavur they proceeded to visit the World Heritage site – Brihadeeswara Temple. The temple is an architectural wonder as the shadow of the shikara or peak of the temple does not fall on the surface of land at any point during the day. This certainly did intrigue the minds of the explorers.

THANJAVUR TO MADURAI VIA TRICHY

After dropping anchorage at Thanjavur, the visitors under the close supervision of IRCTC officials made a beeline to Madurai. On their way they paid obeisance at Srirangam- the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple boasts of the 2nd tallest tower in Asia. There after they proceeded to visit the Jambukeswarar Temple, celebrated as one of the five Pancha Bhoota Shiva Temples.

Upon completion of peregrination, the sightseers visited the magnificent Madurai Meenakshi Temple and were wonderstruck at the architectural beauty and the sprawling temple complex teeming with the devout.

The excursion of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry ended as the tourists finally returned to base camp Chennai, with stupefying memories of the cultural heritage and the monuments of the land.

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire,” writes the iconic film maker Jennifer Lee.

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