Okay. If not anything else, it does sound pretty auspicious to kick start ‘blogging 2011’with a few words on this exotic place of history, art, beauty, wealth and of course, some fine, age-old spirituality, all plaited into a beautiful, small town called Thanjavur in native fondness or Tanjore in the modern sense. I would never have had to deal with this new wisp of mine that craves to revisit the place if I hadn’t had to stumble upon on a recent episode of ‘Off the Record’ on NDTV-Hindu where this book ‘Thanjavur – A Cultural history’ that looked magnificently crafted in details and pictures, was discussed.
But then, Thanjavur (I choose to spell it like this; that way I know authenticity does not always need change with time or succumb to an easier way of dealing with) is, after all, deeply luring in the way it is built. And I say ‘built’ in the pure sense of it. A thousand years of legendary living that has evolved in the town around the iconic Brihadeeswarar periyakovil, to me, is a thing to marvel at, an experience to experience not just visit, a story to read about, a place to relish in travelogues.
Till about, well, many years ago, my only tangible memory of Tanjuvur had been this simple but aesthetically done work of a clay doll. She was a dancer, or so was dressed, about 5 inches tall, adorned with copper colored jewels, smiling in eternal bliss like she had visited heaven and befriended God; and kept nodding –which I felt at that point was a little snoopy - like she meant, ‘I know what you are thinking’. She was pretty old but the glow on her face still gleamed, like it was preserved. So in stunning dancer-like body, she came out smiling, when excavated from under the old heap of bundles of jute bags that lay cast over the attic, for I’m sure about at least a decade, at Achi’s house. It was one of those psyched up summer days and God knows all the mass of antique smelling filth I was cowered in.
Anyways, the catch always smelled better, looked better. That noon, while I beamed in pride and drowned in fantasized images of kings and palaces and dancers and mughals that came to life thru’ Achi’s stories, an awful lot was told to my adolescent pair of ears, which by the ways – I mean the stories- have now and then come into diligent suspicions of forgery. But she was a brilliant story teller at the end of the day. I couldn’t dare question that.
So, a pretty long time after that summer, I got to visit Thanjavur, this time, in real. It was probably ten years ago in a summer that brings back vivid memories of a month-long, hot and a very summery road trip I made with mom and dad. I remember us driving a long way from Pondicherry and still fuddled by the French charm of it when we arrived in Thanjavur, pretty much by dusk, tired, relieved, intrigued…
The Thanjai periyakoil deserves at least one whole day of your time – to put it briefly - if you were in some mood to go after the brilliance carved, engraved and painted across those admirably tall walls. The humongous statue of Nandi that welcomes you as you enter, kind of sets the trailer of what you can expect. But I felt, everything simply got bigger and so wondrous from that point on, that I felt the whole ‘Big Temple’, (as it’s now called) is a great story teller in itself. And then you actually get to experience for yourself, the myths and the tales about the legendary Cholas (who were architectural by taste and were the ones who built the temple) that surmounts the entire tone of the temple. Later, of course, as the kingdom (Wow – Did I just use that word!?) changed hands through other rulers, the style of life, changed or, well, evolved, so to say.
And that’s one thing classic about Thanjavur – the styles of art that evolved over the years through various dynasties from the Cholas to the Marathas to later the Mughals, are clearly evident for you to see in any real Thanjavur product available in the market– I mean – you may not find it all around the town this day(but of course, right!?), but if you went to an original Thanjavur art gallery, the diversity in their range of instruments, books, tapestries, ornaments, décor is quite – I don’t know – ‘exquisite’ - for lack of a better word.
This temple we are talking about here is way more than a place for spirituality. She's pure art. She’s a part of the UNESCO World heritage site, she’s abode to the tallest temple tower in the world and she just celebrated her glorious thousandth birthday! I don’t even own a good piece of book that authentically brings out the beautiful old tales of so many mystic truths about this town. Now, isn’t that reason enough to do something about my sense of appreciation for art? Of course ! So I sign into Amazon, in hurried temptation and sweet reminiscence of good old summer trips, to order myself a copy of this famous book they were talking about on NDTV and holy cow! What did I find? A well reviewed, beautiful looking title priced at a MODEST $109.50 !! So I sigh, try and convince the 30 minute old art lover inside me that it’s probably not all that worth it and sign out, promising never to think about it again.
But seriously, a 109 dollars ??? That sets another record of having found the most expensive history book I ever wanted to buy- not that I am fond of collecting history books, but I'm just saying. Well, anyways, you know, I’m fine. Thank you very much!
Oh, and one more thing – there’s a great place just around to try out one of the most amazing Chicken Biriyanis. Ever.That, you know, however doesn’t really go with the sanctity of this post, so I’ll come back to it later.