Perfect place where Rural Life meets DivinityVanakkam….
Being a South Indian - legends , temples and customs were part of my formative years. Ironically however I never really had a chance to explore the South of India the way it ideally should have been, back then.
Last year when we did get a chance to spend a couple of nights down South I grabbed the opportunity and decided to allow myself to be embraced by the Divinity.
My flight to Trichy was more like a time travel capsule that catapulted me to the era of the Cholas. Upon arrival we began our short 2 hrs drive to the beautiful outskirts of Kumbakonam, to our abode Mantra Koodam a CGH Earth Experience property, cocooned amidst the paddy fields and the beetle leaf farms in Veppathur district. Crafted around the Tamil way of life, the sacred simplicity of the place unburdened the mind and uplifted the spirit instantly. Adorned with Athangudi tiles, ornate teak doors and expansive courtyards this place was bliss and just what we needed to get away from the city chaos. The clean fresh air was already having a therapeutic effect on us.
Kumbakonam dating back to the Sangam period rose to prominence between the 7th and the 9th centuries when it was the capital of the Cholas. During the British rule, it became the seat of European education and Hindu philosophy and was called the “Cambridge of South India as far back in 1866 “.
Today it is located at the heart of the celebrated Temple Trail of South India. The feeling of being in the oldest town in Indian history was an amazing one and we were soon going to discover how perfect the place was for people with just about any interest, be it history, culture, shopping, culinary or just plain relaxation.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the property, taking a dip in the fresh organic, chemical free pool and cycling to the nearby village. We very quickly got into the rhythm of this lovely oasis.
Waking up to the strains of the Veena and the aroma of fresh, authentic South Indian food which we tucked into rather hungrily was completely surreal. A not to be missed item from the menu is the world famous Kumbakonam Degree Coffee made using only certified cows milk and is of very high quality. We then set off to visit the midpoint of Earth – The richest temple in South India, whose sanctum gopuram ( dome ) is covered with 24 karat gold and is the temple that houses the Lord of Dance – Lord Nataraja (Shiva). Yes the famous Chidambaram Temple . We needed to get to the temple well before 12 pm since almost all the temples in South India remain shut between 12 pm to 4 pm. After seeking the blessings of the Lord we got back onto the Single Road and drove towards GangaikondaCholapuram yet another stunning piece of architecture. Prior to visiting the temple complex we dropped by at a Kalamkari artists house where the ancient art form of creating some amazing designs using natural colours mixed with the water of the Cauveri river is alive and thriving. The unique feature of this art form is the fact that coconut husk is used as the brush. We then returned to the Temple complex built by King Rajendra Chola I. A grand sculpture of the Nandi Bull welcomed us. Another not to be missed sculpture here is that of Ardhanareeshwar amongst the myriad found here. The temple is known to be the abode of the biggest shivaling in South India. Post spending a few hours here we decided to drive back to Mantra for the evening Degree Coffee at the Tea Kadai
( tea stall ) inside the property giving one the absolute rural village feel.
Post a well rested night we contemplated taking it easy today and visited the town of Kumbakonam itself. We had made a prior appointment at the Raja Veda Kavya Patasala for 10 am, an operational boarding school where students live and dedicate their lives mastering the 4 vedas ( Rig , Sama, Yajur and Atharva ). Following our visit we decided to pay obeisance to the Man of Infinity - Mr Ramajunam who hailed from this very town and whose house is still here which has now been converted into a museum. We continued to explore the town a bit more and visited the Mahamaham Tank, the largest temple tank in the whole of Tamil Nadu. This is also where the auspicious Mahamaham festival happens in February or March once every 12 years just like the Mahakumbh that happens in Prayag, before driving back to Mantra for a relaxing afternoon amidst the birds, particularly the peacocks that flock around the 15 acre and 7 gardens expanse of the resort. Cycling through the gardens was fun too. Later this afternoon we had an appointment with Mr Ramalingam, a local from the village who let us indulge in a pottery making class which Kumbakonam is so famous for. The activities of the day sure had built up an appetite and did perfect justice for our rather super special dinner carefully crafted by Chef Maruthavanan. The iconic and trademark 1,500 year old Chola Nadu cuisine “Maharaja Thali” which is a confluence of 17 flavoursome dishes in one magnificent platter, each element offering a gastronomical surprise. We could not have asked for a more perfect treat to end to such a glorious day.
What would it be like to be able to take a small peek into ones future and that each individual has his or her story chronicled in a huge repository of palm leaves which gets matched by the individuals thumb impression? Bizarre as it may sound we were tempted like thousands of others who make their way to the Nadi Shastra Centre to literally see what the future held in store for us. After all this is a branch of astrology that was conceptualised by the great Sage Agastya and the Sapta Rishis. We reached the centre and gave our thumb impressions and were asked to return after a couple of hours. We decided to visit the Vaitheeswaran Temple (one of the Nava Graha temples ) there dedicated to Lord Shiva, legend has it that praying here would absolve and cure one of any disease, it was then time to revisit the centre as it was indeed the moment of truth. It was unbelievable the way the interpreters started reeling our story of our past , present and then the most awaited future. How could anyone be so spot on ? especially when they knew nothing about us except our thumb impression !
Our minds regurgitating on the events of the day we drove back content to Mantra, where a delicious snack awaited. This area of Tamil Nadu is where vegetarian food and authentic South Indian food rules the roost, however at Mantra they are fabulous with their traditional non vegetarian fare too. Each of the ingredients used are sourced from the local markets or handpicked fresh from the organic garden on site. As we walked through the resort we participated in the fish feeding session that happens each day. Finally soaking into the rocking chair in the verandah and looking out onto the green expanse was just perfect as we bid adios to yet another delightful day here.
As a kid I remember my mum bringing out her bronze statues during Gokulashtami , the festival of dolls and lighting the traditional tall bronze lamp which was so heavy that it needed 2 people to even move it. Now to be headed to the very village where this comes from was super nostalgic. We started early in the morning and added in a bonus halt at Darasuram, known for it being the 3rd largest vegetable market in Asia. When here how can one miss visiting the architectural masterpiece – the illusion temple which was stunning as its one of the only temples where every stone slab laid there including the steps have thumbsized carvings of the puranas. The detailed carvings here are outstanding. What caught my fancy here were the musical steps that actually released the sounds Sa Re Ga Ma Pa as one stepped on them. Truly unbelievable. We then continued our drive to the Lost Wax Town of Swamimalai also known for its fresh water fish. A visit to Rajan Industries there was quite interesting as we could watch the 16 steps on how the Bronze statues are made right from the time they make the Bees Wax mould to how the liquid bronze metal is poured in through the hole to how the artisans carve the features on the moulded metal that emerges after 1 to 2 weeks. Being the shopaholic I am there is absolutely no way I could come away from the South without buying some authentic silk sarees straight from the weavers loom. We decided to drive on to Thirubhuvanam whose silk sarees are said to be very unique and tough as the zari has a mix of silver and bronze. The designs and the colours were breathtaking. I wanted them all. Armed with our shopping bags, a boot full of our loot and a satiated smile on my face we eagerly got back to Mantra for our last night here.
With so much to see and experience even a week would seem less. Promising to return soon to visit Tanjore, Chettinad, partake in the chariot making workshops ( the place is world renowned for its chariots made from teak, fig tree, neem , jackfruit woods and is exported to Singapore, Malaysia and others ) we boarded our waiting car to drive us back to Trichy, armed with the famous and colourful Kumbakonam dancing doll – our parting gift from the resort. Happy to have discovered that there were so many enriching experiences one can immerse oneself in, in spite of being in the midst of 5,000 temples, Kumbakonam has left a memory that would last a lifetime. Enjoy some positive vibes, great food and some jaw dropping architecture it’s a part of Tamil Nadu that is definitely worth discovering and in my mind is an invaluable hidden gem….Nandri
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