Road Less Travelled – A Historian’s Guide to Lesser Known Temples

Pradeep Chakravarthy; Published by Palaniappa Brothers, Konar Maaligai, 25, Peter’s Road, Royapettah, Chennai – 600 014; ph: 044 28132863; Rs.200.

Adhigam Payanikjkadha Paadhai: Tamil translation by Prof. Somasundaram; Rs.210.

The dedication of the book catches my attention -- “… to the thousands of anonymous crafts persons who put their work above themselves…”. It seems apt, for the stunning temples of Tamil Nadu (and elsewhere) owe their beauty and majesty to all those artisans who gave them shape and character.

In his third book, Pradeep Chakravarthy walks through history all right, but mostly unknown. The destinations include the State capital and Tier 2 cities of the State such as Madurai, Kanchipuram, Thanjavur and Tirunelveli. The inclusion of the temple town of Kumbakonam is but natural.

“This book is the culmination of an 11 year-long journey through villages and towns of the State discovering untold truths about not-so-popular temples,” says Pradeep. “Every heritage walk I took led to discovering a new facet of a temple. Also, I feel that heritage has to extend to other cities too which boast of wonderful temples.”

Most of temples featured here date back to the Cholas, Pallavas and the Nayaks, and abound in historical details in the form of inscriptions as well as architectural uniqueness, be it the bas-reliefs or the carvings. As for legend, every temple is built on some fascinating story.

The author has kept the format simple, and style, lucid and visually stimulating. Each section is dedicated to a city. It begins with a brief history of the place followed by a descriptive passage to highlight unique features of the chosen temple. Incidentally, history of cities such as Kumbakonam, Tirunelveli and Kanchipuram, about which not much has been written about in the recent past, make for interesting reading.

Pradeep, aptly, begins his book with the Chenna Kesava and Chenna Malleswara temples of Chennai. The small yet stunning temple in teeming Velachery is a personal favourite of the author. The precincts of the Dandeeswara temple is home to Chola and Nayak inscriptions as well as an amazing Pallava bronze image of Narasimha. “The local government thought of every minute detail in ensuring the prosperity of the area. It is an amazing experience.”

Pradeep adds, “I think children will love the Dhenupureeswara temple in Madambakkam. It has plenty of carvings which children can copy and colour.”

The Adi Varaha cave temple in Mahabalipuram, which is one of the few cave temples belonging to the Pallava period, is in ship-shape still, and worship is regular even now.

“Looking for the Thanthonreeswara temple (again Pallava art) in Kanchipuram was not easy,” says the author about yet another gem. “Even the residents had not heard of it. But the Siva temple is a diamond in the rough.”

The writer makes similar happy discoveries in Kanchipuram – the Pandava Dhoothar temple (the moolavar here is a towering statue of Krishna at 25-28ft!), the Ulagalanda Perumal temple (one can find the four Divyadesams in one complex) and the Trilokyanath Jain temple which has beautiful mural art.

Madurai and Tirunelveli too have many temples which date back to the Chola or Pallava periods. Check out the cave temple at Tirukolakudi or the Pallimadam temple (the tomb of a Pandya king) or the Nava Tirupathi on the banks of the Tamaraparani.

According to Pradeep, who is busy giving finishing touches to a coffee table tome on Kodaikanal, there are enough temples off the beaten track to cover four more volumes. “I do hope to write about them some day.”

But a book on temples without photographs or even sketches? “Well, it was all about economics,” is Pradeep’s explanation.

On a final note, he says, “All the temples I have covered in the book have great tourist potential but remain largely unknown. My focus is not just to highlight the art, architecture and inscriptions but also stress the fact there is much more to temples than religious significance. They are social institutions which help us understand history, not from a textbook point of view but from a traveller’s perspective of how our ancestors tackled problems which we face even today.”

RELATED NEWS

What's inside - Tamil Books April 19, 2012

More In: Books | Arts | Chennai