History & Culture

Along with the gods

If you live in Chennai, you have probably seen temple cars (thaer) at the Kapaleeswarar temple, Mylapore, or at the Parthasarathy temple, Triplicane. However, not many people have had the opportunity to take a closer look and understand the aesthetics and architecture of these magnificent wooden chariots.

Held recently, DakshinaChitra’s A Seminar on Temple Cars threw light on the topic, offering interesting perspectives from sthapathis (artists who build the temple cars) and researchers.

Along with the gods

The heritage museum on East Coast Road re-opened on November 9 after eight months of being shut to the public.

The seminar included a documentary film by DakshinaChitra’s coordinator Gita Hudson. Titled Thiru Ter, Gita’s film provides insight on the highly-skilled artisan community who make the temple cars, featuring interviews with Sthapathi K Rajamani and his son from Thiruvanthigam, a temple town near Panruti in Cuddalore district.

Along with the gods

Gita says that the film was inspired by Sushil Pani’s book, Devaratham, which is a compilation of 20 years’ research into temple cars of Tamil Nadu. There are as many as 900 temple cars in the State.

Sthapathi Rajamani, a fifth generation sculptor who specialises in building temple cars, explains: “A well-made temple car will last for 300 to 400 years. There is an architectural connection or similarity between a temple gopuram (tower) and the temple car,” adding, “Knowledge of a car’s composition, construction, dimensions, design and shape is based on ancient texts or the Aagamas; the measurements have to be precise.”

Along with the gods

Along with the gods

Historian Pradeep Chakravarthy and A Chellaperumal, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Pondicherry University, shared brief notes on the cultural significance of temple car events (thaer thiruvizha) — unique to South Indian states — especially to Tamil Nadu.

“There is a heightened communal feeling as it is a joyous event when the entire community comes together,” says Pradeep.

Rajamani, whose grandfather built the temple car for the Tirumala Tirupati Balaji temple in 1947, remarks that sculptors exhibit their architectural knowledge in their creations.

“Can you believe that hydraulic breaks were in place in the temple car built for a Vaishnava temple in Villianur 100 years ago?” he asks.

Along with the gods

His son, R Rangachari, says that Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) have provided technical support by designing steel wheels and hydraulic breaks for Tamil Nadu’s temple cars for over four decades. “The wheels have to balance the heavy structure (that weights almost 300 to 400 tonnes) and also move the chariot safely, which is why brakes are essential,” he says, adding, “The car is built in such a way that the lower-most tier is heavy and is made of teak wood, and as it goes up, it is made with lighter wood. This ensures stability when the chariot moves.”

Along with the gods

For their part, the sthapathis admit that they are willing to impart knowledge of their craft to youngsters who seek it.

Along with the gods

“We restrict ourselves to designing temple cars and its renovation, as we prefer to adhere to the ethics and integrity of this devotional art,” says Rangachari, re-emphasising the significance of his craft.

For tickets: www.dakshinachitra.net, or contact 27472603. DakshinaChitra is closed on Tuesdays.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 7:37:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/dakshinachitra-reopens-welcoming-visitors-back-into-its-open-air-museum-spaces-with-a-seminar-on-thiru-thaer-the-temple-cars/article33175886.ece

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