It has become so popular that it has been taken to Tirunelveli
From July 23, 2005, the ‘Madurai heritage walk' has come a long way. Initiated by the Confederation of Indian Industry in association with the Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, the walk is now in full steam with the involvement of a non-governmental organisation, Dhan Foundation, and Department of Tourism. After a bout of fits and starts in the initial years, the walk takes place religiously on the second Sunday of every month.
For a few years, it involved exploration of the city and now lovers of culture and heritage are taken to the peripheries. The heritage walk has become so popular that it has been taken to Tirunelveli where it takes place on the fourth Sunday of every month. People from these places also travel to Madurai to participate in the second Sunday walk.
Locals roped in
The tour has taken a new form with the involvement of locals in preserving the heritage sites in the last two months. At Kodimangalam, about 15 km from Madurai, where the heritage walk took place on April 8, local youth demonstrated a keen interest to preserve the temples of the village – Vallabha Vinnagaram and Tirukkura Eswaram. Only the sanctum sanctorum of Vallabha Vinnagaram, where the idols of Upadesa Ramar and Sita are found, remains now, surrounded by houses.
The Tirukkura Eswaram, which has rare inscriptions of Kulasekara Pandian and Rajaraja Cholan on its walls, is now a Murugan temple with a Siva Lingam. R. Venkatraman, former Professor, Department of History, Madurai Kamaraj University, explained the greatness of the king who created the place. V. Vedachalam, senior epigraphist, took the participants around the remnants of a bigger temple and explained the presence of a trading centre near Kodimangalam in the past.
K. P. Bharathi, Programme Leader, Dhan Foundation, who organises the walk with breakfast, sees a transformation in the heritage walk in the last few years. Initially, it started as a guided tour of places in the neighbourhood. People, especially students, were taken on a walk from Tirumalai Nayak Palace to Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. The sad part of the walk is that the ancient building that housed the Vilakkuthoon police station on East Masi Street has become part of history after the government's decision to construct a modern structure, opposition from heritage lovers notwithstanding. Two more routes have been identified for the city walk. On an average, 40 to 50 people take part in the walk every month, along with a sizeable number of locals.
Moving away from the city has led to the involvement of locals. Besides creating awareness of the greatness of the place in which they live, the walk has also attempted to instil a sense of responsibility in them. A responsibility to preserve the structure, protect the trees around and prevent vandalism. The heritage walk has taken people to around 40 places in and around Madurai so far. The list includes nine Jain vestiges. The present cycle is on the banks of the Vaigai, covering the villages that dot the ‘Rani Mangammal Rastha,' the erstwhile trade route.
The Postal Training College in Madurai has allocated an exclusive day for heritage walk for participants in its schedule. So far, trainees have been taken to 1800 post offices in and around Madurai, says Mr. Bharathi.