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The coastal part of Tamil Nadu has several relatively unexplored places that speak volumes for its rich cultural heritage and history. A trip off the beaten path these places still have an old world charm that is hard to beat. An amalgamation of art, craft, tradition and contemporary, each of these destinations make for a holiday like no other.

Thanjavur

Tanjore or Thanjavur is home to the famed Tanjore paintings and is often called the ‘rice bowl of India.’ The city has a rich cultural history influenced by the Cholas, the Nayakas and the Marathas. A potpourri of dance, culture, art and spirituality, Tanjore is well known for its bronze sculptures as well. At the heart of the town is its most well known symbol – the Brihadeeswarar Temple rightfully called the Big temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva this is among the largest temples in the country and is a UNESCO Heritage site. Built in the 11th century, the main tower is 216 feet high and the basement is covered with inscriptions detailing the temple’s administration and revenue. The rectangular structure has many sub shrines around it and the Archaeological museum on site displays photographs of the temple prior to its restoration. The other important place is the Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex has two durbar halls of the Nayaks and the Marathas. The Saraswathi Mahal Library Museum and The Thanjavur Art Gallery are places within the palace complex that you must stop and see as they have an interesting collection of historical memorabilia. And yes, you can pick up a Tanjore painting at the Government run showroom Poompuhar.

Fun Facts:

  • The Big temple was built using 130000 tons of granite stone.
  • The Tanjore paintings in its original days would be embellished with diamonds, sapphires and rubies!

Chidambaram

A temple town in Cuddalore district, Chidambaram has a mixed history of Cholas, Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Empire, Marathas and the British! The place is revered as it is believed that Lord Shiva performed his cosmic dance called the tandava nritya and the Thillai Nataraja Temple spread across 40 acres in the heart of the town pays obeisance to the Natraja or dancing form of Shiva. This is said to be one among the five holiest Shiva temples, each representing one of the five natural elements and Chidambaram represents ether. The structure of the complex has five major halls each of which has a specific purpose. It is hard not to soak into the religious fervour of the place and the intricately carved temple spires and temple tanks add to the majestic beauty of this place. The priests here are called Dikshitars, a sect whose long hair is tonsured around the rim that is pulled to the left and tied into a bun. It is believed that a visit to the Kali temple close by is mandatory after visiting the Natraja temple. Chidambaram is home to the oldest universities of the state the Annamalai University established in 1929.

Fun Facts:

  • This temple is located on the centre of the world’s magnetic equator.
  • Chidambara Rahasyam or the secret of Chidambaram stems from the belief that there is a secret message in the embossed figure near the shrine of Shiva inside the temple.

Poompuhar

A beach a town in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, Poompuhar was the capital of the early Chola kings and is also the name of the Tamil Nadu Handicraft Emporium. Poompuhar was once a major port of the Chola Empire and is also called Kaveripoompattinam. This sleepy beach town has the Sillappathikara Art Gallery that displays a collection of sculptures carved by the sculptors of the Mamallapuram Art College. Marine archaeologists have confirmed that the city had been destroyed by tsunamis’ and erosion. Ruins found here have also found a Buddhist connection. Masilamani Nathar Koil (temple) is another largely eroded by the sea dates back to the 14th century and still manages to reflect its architectural prowess. Excavations have unearthed a few ship wrecks, a wharf belonging to the 3rd century BC, brick figures and copper coins.

Fun Facts:

Further under sea excavations are planned at Poompuhar, a vital maritime port that is said to have trade links with Rome and China.

Gangaikonda Cholapuram

At one time, the capital of the Cholas, Gangaikonda Cholapuram was founded by Rajendra Chola to commemorate his victory over the Pala Dynasty. He also gave the town its name. This place also has a huge lake called Chola Gangam that covers a whopping 22 km that is used for drinking and irrigation. The Brihadeeswarar Temple occupies the center stage here and is the midst of a beautifully landscaped complex. The temple is said to have the biggest lingam in South India with a height of 4 meters! Modelled on the lines of the Big temple of Thanjavur, the architecture of this temple is quite softer with delicate contours compared to the latter. There is a huge stone statue of Nandi at the entrance and the main temple can be accessed via a short flight of steps. All the walls of the main temple have detailed stone carvings depicting image of Gods and Goddesses and an interesting element is the large number of bronze images here. Naturally, this temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is counted as one among the three Great Living Chola Temples.

Fun Fact:

The shadow of the main tower of the temple never falls on the ground throughout the year making this an architectural marvel.

Tranquebar

Colloquially called Tharangampadi, this is a beach town on the coast of the Bay of Bengal that has a strong Danish history. The quaint town has an old world charm and its buildings are great examples of Danish architecture. The 17th century Danish castle located here was once a flourishing trade centre. The Town Gateway was built in 1792 in Danish Architectural style welcomes you to the town. The centre of attraction at Tranquebar however is the peach coloured Danish fort built in 1620 by the Danish Royal Navy Commander Ove Gedde during the rule of the Nayaka King Ragunatha Nayaka of Tanjore. A thematic Danish museum was established in 1979 inside the fort’s precincts to showcase the connections between India and Denmark. The museum has several artefacts dating back to several years. The strikingly beautiful churches here are like no other. The Zion Church and the adjoining Ziegenbalg’s house taken over by the evangelical church and now called the Ziegenbalg Spiritual Centre are important landmarks. Likewise the New Jerusalem Church on King Street houses the grave of Ziegenbalg and is a beautiful white structure. The ideal way to soak into the history of this place is to walk around and admire the colonial culture and feel the past up close. Other important places are the Masilamani Nathar temple built in 1305 by and the Danish cemetery. The beautiful sea and beach that stretches endlessly is however the focal point of attraction that stays with you much after you have left this place.

Fun Facts:

  • Tharangambadi means the land of the singing waves in Tamil.
  • This is the place where the first Protestant missionaries set foot in India.

This story appeared in the Mar-Apr 2017 issue of Trujetter here: Getaway_Coromandal calling_4pgs

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