This blog post was from one of Points South Holidays clients Vicky.
We have a charming leaving ceremony at the Mantra Retreat: after being smeared with vermilion ash on our foreheads, a fragrant flame is wafted around and some coconuts smashed. We now understand why the geese and ducks have been waddling around expectantly all morning as they dive for the succulent flesh with cackles of delight.
It’s a short hop to Tanjore where we are staying in the newly opened Svatma. This is a converted old family house with an added wing. As the TripAdvisor reports on the new rooms are not great we are delighted to be the only guests and ushered into a gorgeous room in the old house, complete with our own salon. With a bit of time to kill– it’s 40 C outside – we rest and swim in their opulent granite pool before setting out for the Palace and Brihadishvara Temple.
Our guide, Rajah, is very serious and quite hard to follow, but we manage to increase our knowledge of the Hindu deities, learning for instance that Ganesh and Murugun are the sons of Shiva and Parvati. I have always wondered about Ganesh, how an elephant became a deity and, in Madurai, a couple of nights later, yet another guide tells us a convoluted story about how Parvati’s son was guarding his mother’s ‘chamber’ while she bathed and Shiva, who had been off fighting, returned and, furious at being denied entry to his wife’s bedroom, unknowingly decapitated his son. So ‘grief-stricken’ (Raja had an archaic way with words, obviously learned by rote from some 19th century Hindu Myths and Legends book) Shiva rushed out, ‘slaughtered’ a loitering elephant and stuck his head on the body of his lifeless son and, hey presto, Ganesh is born.
Inside the old Palace is a wonderful collection of ancient Chola bronzes all rather haphazardly displayed and, hidden away, the jewel of the Maratha Durbar Hall, built in 1684, which we might not have found except for Hilary’s persistence. We sneak in, the only visitors to this magical place with elaborately decorated columns, pillars and murals. On a roll now, we proceed to the Tanjore temple, another spectacular example of Chola architecture, with several huge gate towers and an enormous central pyramid or vimana. Despite being renovated it has been sympathetically done and the carvings are not daubed in mauve, pink and green.
The Brihadishvara temple is another living temple, which contains 208 lingas – the phallic male/female representation that is sacred to the Hindu faith – and the second largest Nandi bull in India. It is thronged with Kerala pilgrims – we are approaching the new year holiday – and I am whisked into the central shrine, along with the steady stream of pilgrims, where I receive a blessing and a dab of ash. After my purification (and a quick prayer for Louise) we wander round the back, admiring the vibrant 17th-century frescos depicting stories from the life of the gods.
As we wind our way back in the golden evening light we see that dancers have arrived to entertain the pilgrims and we spend a pleasant half hour watching traditional dancing, performed by not-so-young ‘girls’, all heavily made up and beautifully dressed in luxurious silk.
Up early the next morning we practise a little breathing yoga with a tiny woman teacher, who is in fact a school principal, before having a final swim in the zen pool and eating another yummy dhosa. Our next stop is Chettinad, an area where the prosperous 19th century merchants who traded in Burma and China settled and flaunted their wealth – some houses even have statues of Chinese and European couples on their turrets. We are the only guests in Visalam, one of the old merchant mansions that has been converted into a hotel. This one is from the 1930s and was built as a wedding present for a much-loved daughter. Sadly, she died a few months afterwards, giving birth, and the house was never lived in.
To read more of this post visit https://vickygoestravelling.com/