The past unfurls as parallel stories in the sleepy town of Ettayapuram's dusty, narrow streets, row houses and forgotten palaces. This ancient Pandya province now just a shadow of its past, still retains the stories of its heroes and villains, told over many generations, within the walls of its ancestral homes. Ettayapuram appears out of nowhere about 40 km from Kazhugumalai, and is a picture postcard of any south Indian town — temples, memorials, thatched roofs and large bolted doors. Ilasanadu, as it was earlier called, was ruled by the Pandya kings until Ettappan was appointed the zamindar. About 150 years and one historic betrayal later, the town, then ruled by his descendants came to be known as Ettayapuram, after the man who allegedly tattled on Veerapandiya Kattabomman.
We find this town in the midst of its afternoon siesta and, with excitement, head to the birth place of Bharathiar. The century-old house is vaguely similar to his home in Triplicane, Chennai bunched with the rest of the row houses, its pyol reaching out to us from under the inviting shade of a sloping roof. The house has thick, wooden doors and is about 150 years old. As we crouch to enter the wonderfully cool, low-ceilinged house, (the upper portion is not accessible) we find a bust of the poet in a cordoned off area — the spot where he was born in 1882. To see the humble beginnings of this great man was worth the long-winded search for his house. The poet's handwritten poems, letters and speeches are encased in a wooden cupboard with a glass top, the slants and serifs of his Tamil font visibly clear on the yellowing paper.
The walls bear evidence of his glory, covered as they are with his poems, photos and awards. There are family portraits, photos of him with freedom fighters and framed black-and-white photographs of his descendents.
From here, the Ettappan palace is only a stone's throw but no one seems to know exactly where their king once lived. As the car trudges through the sandy roads, we turn off into a corner with a large, broken gate. Inside, past a wide, empty area and a palatial mansion that seems uninhabited, is a white, domed building in a corner besides what seems to be a broken down stable. One look at this enormous white-stone palace, with its tapering, circular domes, intricate floral carvings along the walls, shuttered windows, and stone lion turrets, and we know that this was the home of the Raja of Ettayapuram. Legend has it that Ettapan had given out information about the whereabouts of Veerapandiya Kattabomman (who was in hiding) to the British and this caused the braveheart's death by hanging. The area surrounding this grand, dilapidated palace is empty and we're left alone wondering about the stories that lie untold within its cold, stone walls.