HIDDEN 100 Pankaja Srinivasan discovers beautiful old temples on the banks of the rippling river

Once upon a time, Kalamangalam fell half-way between the point where Cauvery took birth, near Mysore, and where she merged into the sea. So, the resident deity of a temple there is called Madhyapureswarar. His consort is Bhoolokanayaki. She stands, unusually for her, to his right.

No one seems to know exactly how old the temple is. They peg it at around 750 to 800 years old. Cheek by jowl is a Vishnu temple, of the same vintage. They co-exist in amity. The priest says there once used to be a bustling agrahaaram, but that disappeared with the advent of Tippu Sultan to these parts.

Just how many temples are there on the banks of the Cauvery? In the relatively short distance between Erode and Karur there are temples everywhere you turn and as far as the eye can see. Amidst verdant fields, behind banana plantations, in between coconut groves, on distant hilltops, the temples stand out like jewels. Most of them, like the ones in Kalamangalam, seem to be ancient going by their appearance. And they are strung together by the silver Cauvery.

They are living temples, surprisingly in good form. The faithful have been coming here for generations and it is their largesse that has kept these places of worship alive.

Outside, the ambience is as divine. Just the temple bells, the rustling of leaves on trees, surely as ancient as the temples, and, of course, the river in the distance. Always the river. The temple courtyard, flanked by weathered stone pillars opens to the sky and the floor is just big slabs of cudappah. You can’t help but linger there. Birds and bees create a buzz occasionally, and the only human voice is that of the priest chanting. No jostling crowds, no beggars, no shopkeepers, no flowers crushed underfoot into mushy mess — why can’t all temples be like this?

A few meters away stands Kulavilakkuamman in a temple all her own. But this one has had a recent makeover. The décor is startling. The combination of the graceful grey stone pillars, beautifully carved and hundreds of years old sit uneasily on recently redone floors in smooth and shiny tiles. But the sanctum sanctorum is mercifully untouched.

And the temple is scrupulously clean. The wide spaces around the garbha griha make it spacious and airy. Amman gets her flowers from her own pretty garden just outside. Beyond that are several pavilions where one can sit and watch the river flow — a perfect spot that cries out for a puliyodharai and thayir saadam picnic. Coracles lazily move to and fro ferrying people, livestock and mopeds. There is a bridge some distance away, but people find this less tiresome and a quicker commute. These temples are in Erode district. Just across the river is Namakkal district. In the distance, high on a hill one can just make out another temple. It is a Perumal koil. There are many, many temples in this region. Perhaps better known and more sought after than these Kalamangalam temples. But do they also radiate such peace and serenity? Only Cauvery can tell.


Immersed in heritage July 5, 2012

Serenade of the seaJune 28, 2012