On The Banks Of River Cauvery

For the past few months, everything had become so streamlined. All my travel and weekends were planned, sometimes to the very last detail. Things were prioritised and there was an attempt to bring in discipline. And then I reached a point where I stopped asking “What if it goes wrong at this/that point etc.”

Sometimes it is good to set aside everything that is ones mind and chill the fuck out. The window to my left somehow managed to keep opening again and again with the assistance of an irritating vibrational force of the old and rickety SETC bus.

To add to my woes, I had forgotten to get my sweater from home. The unique combination of weather and laws of physics ensured that my attempts to sleep were adequately punctuated.

Finally, I just inserted a full stop to my attempts to sleep that night. I was to join some buddies the next morning at Thanjavur. I reached the place an hour earlier and found some rooms for the entire gang and waited for them to reach the place.

We had decided to attend the Thyagaraja Aradhana at Thiruvayur , a small town 13 kilometers away from Thanjavur. It is the birthplace of the great Carnatic composer, Thyagaraja. While waiting for them in the lobby I turned over the pages of The Hindu to find a supplement dedicated to the Aradhana. Honestly speaking, I knew close to nothing about the event.

Thyagaraja Aradhana is an annual festival of Carnatic music where professional singers, students and followers of Thyagaraja assemble to sing his Krithis . It starts every year on Pushya bahula Panchami every year; the day on which the saint attained Samadhi. It is followed by four more days of musical events. It is conducted near his grave on the banks of river Kaveri , a river closely associated with his life and music.

The festival in its present format is not even a hundred years old. Before going to this place only Thyagaraja Krithi I could recognise instantly was “Endaro Mahanubhavulu”. After this, I got to know two more. I and another friend who was equally incompetent in Carnatic music were busy eating Pongal and sipping coffee at the venue while the other enthusiastic boys listened to the recital completely. I openly confess that I am too old to learn the technicalities of music. I googled some lyrics and read the translations.

But the story of Thyagaraja, the landscape that witnessed his amazing story and the extent of devotion in his music is something I couldn’t have realised by just listening to MP3 files. We roamed around the town of Thiruvayur and ate stuff in some little hotels. Our boys gorged Thayir sadam and a sweet called Asoga served in a small hotel. We sat in some temple and engaged in light hearted banter, just like the good old days at college. The evening was spent in Thanjavur’s Brihadeeshwara Temple.

It is one of the greatest South Indian temples representing South Indian style of architecture and also a UNESCO world heritage site. However, I made great efforts not to turn into a pseudo historian that one tends to become when partially educated people enter into old temples. Our academic curiosity ended after the Wikipedia page was read out on the lawns of the temple site.

Still one of my friends wished that the inscriptions were in Sanskrit. I assured him that it would be taken care of, if Raja Raja Chola is reborn and builds such a temple again. Sorry. No analysis of about how they put that 80 tonne granite on top of the temple. Anyway, I learnt a few things.

1. The architect was just in love with the peacock pattern. He just copy pasted the same pattern on the entire Gopuram of the main temple.

2. Every ruler who managed to control the region, tried to leave his imprint on the temple. For example, the Marathas who were the last to control the area have built an outer entrance in addition to the existing one. The Nayakas who controlled the place for some time ordered artists to paint on the walls that already had existing paintings.

3. Due to the power and some historical luck, the name of Raja Raja Chola remains in the annals of history in the form of Brihadeeshwara Temple. He has managed to seal his name on the walls of human memory.

4. Some dumb lovers thought they would be immortal like Romeo and Juliet by inscribing their names on the ancient walls of the temple and also an innocent water tank behind the main temple. What a pity. Sorry guys, no fucks were given about those little fragments of your imagination. Finally we packed our bags and left for Pondicherry.

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