While the murals at the Suseendram temple delight us, the mindless defacing leaves us troubled

There is always a sense of adventure when you are walking through a dark and a dingy flight of steps, placing your feet carefully. The tinge of excitement comes from the thought that you are about to stumble on to something beautiful and rare.

Though I have been to several temples and monuments, this is the first time I'm actually climbing the narrow stone stairs of a temple's gopuram. I am in Suseendram or Suchindram, a temple near Kanyakumari. The ancient temple, I'm told is dedicated to the Trinity — Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, represented by one image, Sthanumalayan. A towering 18-ft Hanuman blesses devotees gathered around, and the temple itself is surrounded in festive air as a colourful chariot gets decorated outside.

Spellbound

I stand spellbound at the architecture of this temple, with its musical pillars. Sculptures adorn the pillars, narrating stories from the puranas. Several legends surround the temple, with chastity being the common theme. We spend time at every shrine dedicated to every deity, but our interest lies in a rock located behind the temple. Our guide, retired senior epigraphist from Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department, Vedachalam points out to a few inscriptions that date back to Pandya and Chola periods. As he deciphers the inscriptions, I realise our tour of Naanjil Naadu organised by INTACH Tamil Nadu has given us a different perspective of religion, laying more emphasis on art and heritage of the erstwhile eras.

However, my fascination lies in the gopuram. I walk up the dark spiralling steps, guided by the light from mobile phones and small torches, looking out for bats. We reach the first tier of the gopuram, and in that darkness, we feel the bats flying past us. As the torches come up, the walls burst into a riot of colours. We open the doors and see the walls painted with murals, dating back several centuries. Gods, goddesses, kings and queens fill up the walls as we see stories from the epics and other puranas.

We continue walking up, and reach a couple of more tiers of this tower, which is more than 120 feet tall. There are paintings in every tier, adorning the walls. The doors open out to the outside world; we get a panoramic view of the street and the entire landscape is drenched in a festive air.

One lovely painting of a baby Krishna sitting on the lap of Yashoda catches my attention — for the wrong reason. All this while, I assume we are a few that had chanced upon this rare tapestry of art, but some have been here earlier — and vandalised almost every piece of art.

As the bats interrupt my reverie, I wonder which is a lesser evil — that we are unaware of our heritage or that we are unable to protect it.

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