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The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Our Tirunelveli Temple Run: Part 3 - Birdwatching at a Temple!

Thiruppudaimarudhur Narumbunathar Temple

Driving through the fields, we followed the road to what appeared to be a huge wall looming in the distance. My attention, however, was captured by a board. My Tamil is not too good, and the only word that I recognized was ‘paravai’ – bird. I perked up at once, though I knew well I had no time to go looking for birds. “I am not here for birdwatching, but to visit temples”, I reminded myself. The road led to a series of stone gates, their arches having long fallen. The temple spire visible between them was a beautiful sight.

As we alighted from the car, someone hurried up. “The temple is about to close. Go in soon!” he said, and my mother and mother-in-law began running towards the doors. I was just about to join them when a cry distracted me, and I looked up to see this….

A painted stork!

I just stood there, stupefied, till my mom called out to me, to hurry, and I turned back after just one quick click. The temple itself was huge, and wherever I turned, I could see beautiful sculptures. A lifelike statue of a patron (probably one of the Pandya kings) stood in the first courtyard, and I wished I had brought my camera inside. Further in, the main sanctum housed the lingam. The lord here is called Narumbunathar, and his consort is Gomathi Amman. Both are interesting, for, while the Lord, in his Lingam form, leans slightly to the side, Gomathi Amman is said to be made of Rudraksha beads!

As with all temples, the stories associated with this one are many, and interesting. The oldest legends relate to the Gods, when Indra prayed for salvation here, under an Arjuna tree, and was blessed by Lord Shiva. One story talks of a king who, on a hunt, arrived here, chasing a deer. He managed to hit the deer, but the animal disappeared into one of the Arjuna trees. Hitting the tree with an axe, the king was surprised to see blood. Eventually, they found the ancient lingam here, which was then housed in a temple. Another story talks of the Karuvoor Siddhar, who wanted to visit the temple. The river was in spate, so he prayed to the Lord to help him cross. The Lord leaned to hear him better, and the lingam forever leaned to one side! The sage of course, crossed the river easily with the Lord’s name on his lips! There is yet another story of Brahma’s son, Manu, arriving here to pray to the Lord, and the Lord appearing from the Arjuna tree to bless him.

The one constant in all these stories is the Arjuna tree, called Marutha Maram in Tamil. The town takes its name from the tree, and was first called Maruthur. What remains of the original tree is still preserved in a shrine on the riverbank, behind the temple.

The old tree, preserved in a shrine on the riverbank, behind the temple. 

Continuing with the association with Arjuna trees, there are three important temples associated with the same tree – at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh, Thiruvidaimarudhur near Thanjavur in Tamilnadu, and this one. The Lord at Srisailam is Mallikarjuna, and the temple itself is called Mallikarjunam, for the Lord is said to represent the top of the Arjuna tree, its head, so to speak, with the flowers. At Thiruvidaimarudhur, He is the trunk, and here, at Thiruppudaimarudhur, he is the base. Together, they represent the Arjuna tree in its entirety.

The temple is huge, and there is much to see. However, most interesting are the murals in the tower. Sadly, we arrived at the temple as it was closing for the morning, and I was unable to see them. If you plan to visit, keep plenty of time for this, since it’s worth it. Meanwhile, go through this link, and see the paintings, which will surely encourage you to visit soon!

The bank entrance of the temple. See how fortified the temple looks, with its multiple walls?

Meanwhile, as the priests began to shut the temple, I hurried outside to see if the birds were still there. They were, and I spent the rest of our time there clicking them! One of the attendants, seeing my interest, explained that the birds arrived every year, just in time to nest, laid their eggs, raised their young ones, and left, only to return the next year! They only used the trees around the temple to nest (not surprising, considering that the temple stands on the riverbank, amidst a grove of trees), and the villagers considered them divine. The grove around the forest has recently been demarcated as a sanctuary, and this was the board I had seen as we approached the temple.

A flock of painted storks, adults and juveniles

Juvenile painted storks, on a nest

 We lingered a little here, since it was almost noon, and the temples would close. But soon, it was time to move on, so we could have lunch, and then relax a bit, before starting out on the second half of our Temple Run for the day! As I got back into the car, I was happy, for I had never imagined that my Temple Run would also include some Birdwatching!

Thiruppudaimarudhur Narumbunathar Temple:
  • Location: Thiruppudaimarudhur is about 8 Km from Veeravanallur, near Ambasamudram, in Tirunelveli District.
  • Timings: 5 to 11AM, 4 to 8 PM.

This post is part of my series on my #summertrip 2015, and I hope to take you along with me as I recount stories from my month long trip, which took me across the country. To get an idea of all the places I visited, and what you can hope to read about, click here

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      1. I have gone through the virtual link. It is a must visit place. Thank you for sharing.
        As you have written the paintings are awesome

        1. Thank you Ranjana.. and you are welcome. glad you liked it. Hope you go to the temple someday soon!

      2. Binge reading your posts on temples in Tirunelveli. Very informative. Thanks a lot.


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