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Temple Town Of Srirangam: How to Plan Your Trip

April 10, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 194

Do not go to Srirangam if you want a flavor of India; you have other places more comfortably packaged for that. Do not go if you are cynical about the concept of a power-supreme; being spiritual or at worst, neutral, allows you to rationalize an entire day of walking in and out of an endless list of temples with names as long as their story of origin. But, thankfully, the reasons to make a trip are far compelling. The seven songs of Aruna Sairam's album Ksetra Srirangam were the inspiration behind my first visit here in 2008 and I keep going back here whenever I get a chance. One can experience South Indian heritage in its ancient form. Temple architecture and stone sculptures are also big plus points that draw tourists here. Most people that I know of visit it like a pilgrimage.

Srirangam, an island town in the southern most state in India, has the old-worldly charm that is tough to not notice. The entire Hindu community here revolves around the temple of Lord Ranganathar (the Hindu god Vishnu in a reclining pose), preserved over the past 500+ years. The main temple, known for its magnificent colored towers (gopurams) and grand walls, is already on most people's itinerary before they reach Thiruchirapalli. My recent visit was in August and I was surprised to see the river Cauvery with a decent water level despite the regular dry spell during the summer. The pace of life is leisurely as is synonymous with any small town. Also, true of any place in India, there are lots of people on the road - entire families, chatting and gossiping, on their courtyards (thinnai), school boys playing street cricket, vegetable and fruit vendors with cartfuls of goods - which can be disconcerting for those who are steering a vehicle.

Nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli. For the Indian Railway experience, I may suggest a 7 hr journey from Chennai. Vilupuram and Ulundurpet are major towns along the way. The stations to look out for would be Thiruchirapalli Junction or Trichy Cantonment where you want to alight. Auto-rickshaw drivers hound you the minute you step out of the train station. If you are not used to haggling with these guys, it is best to use the buses or cabs. Trichirapalli has an extensive bus system, thanks to the many private operators. I squeezed myself onto a Srirangam bound one and for three rupees, some raunchy music and lots of uncalled-for tugging later, reached the Chattram bus stand. My host's house was a short auto ride away. A quick shower later, we were zipping through the city in her powered scooter.

First stop was at the BIG temple. The innermost enclosure, which contains the idol of Vishnu, is within six other 'concentric' enclosures. We drove past the outermost three enclosures and the gopurams and parked right outside the fourth one. This is pretty unusual for temples in south India where footwear and traffic are not allowed inside the temple as such. After we purchased tickets for my camera (Rs 50), we were off to pay our respects to the great lord. The queues were not too bad; I managed to squeeze my ritual chanting of vishnu sahasranam just in time to step into the sanctum sanctorum (sannidhi), which typically takes like 35 minutes. There is an option to buy special tickets for shorter queues but we didn't find it necessary. A well-decorated idol (not-fixed, Utsavar moorthi) in the front is generally offered the prayers and flowers. It is easy to miss the massive stone idol at the back due to the poor lighting, but that is the original one that figures in the history stories (wiki has a couple). After a two-minute quick prostration, we were out. Point to note: Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the sannidhi.

Once the 'king' was appeased, the rest of the time was leisurely spent admiring the architecture and visiting his consort (thayar) and other smaller shrines and the quintessential temple pond. This is where I wished I had done some research. Every stone inside the walls of the temple had a story to tell or so I assumed; and there is no information available for an average tourist to read and understand. All I could do was gather only a few tidbits from my host and the other visitors there. I took many pictures and came back on the Internet to figure out what some of them meant. In fact, this is my constant lament during my visits to other temples in south India too. I think the stories and significance (also known as sthalapuranam) remain within the social circle of those associated with the temple, just passed down by word of mouth. At least I could find nothing written.

The aerial view of Srirangam, river Cauvery and the temple towers from the top of the Rockfort temple (also uchi pillayar) is worth the climb. The 400 odd steps to the hilltop are carved inside a single block of stone; the atmosphere may be damp and musty. Check out the hilltop from a distance - the rock formations point to rough translations of the forms of hindu gods the temple is for!

Swetha Sivaswamy is pursuing her doctoral degree in Atlanta, GA. When she is not in the lab, she likes to cook and travel. She has traveled extensively within the United States and India, although she finds that her list of places to go to never seems to shorten.

For more travel blogs by Swetha Sivaswamy, including great tourist destinations in the USA, click

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