[This is a part 3 (or is it 2?) of the series. Parts 1 and 2 (1.5?) can be read (not that you necessarily want to read it) here and here]
Rose water (generously) sprinkled, seat belt fastened, (polarized) sunglasses donned (we are definitely cool like that) the drive began. It was not really a long one but since it was the first time that our chariot was being helmed by self, the first few minutes seemed jittery. However – and in hindsight, I am happy to report that the stallion performed admirably – not one hiccup. Or should that be stutter? The point, either way, is made. It was smooth sailing, sailing analogy notwithstanding.
Now, of the three Chola temples, I had visited two already. The one we were going to now was the only one that I had not, and, truth be told, was the one I wanted to the most. Why? This.
I had already alluded to that being-mesmerized-by-the-expanse-of-the-Chozha-empire (wikipedia map) and that was precisely why. Gangai Konda Chozhapuram: that-Chozha-City-that-had-been-made-with-the-Ganges-that-had-been-brought-back. Imagine that. An army marches on. It conquers all in its wake. It marches and marches. And Aprils and Mays (ha ha! Sorry.)
It marches and marches. It starts at the Kaveri. It reaches the Ganges. It has conquered rivers in between but this one, this river, is something else altogether. The motherlode, so to speak. And just as nonchalantly, this has been captured as well. Well, not as a well, in the sense of the word that alludes to a watering hole (not the TASMAC variety). I digress.
The magnificence of the Ganges has been all but made insignificant. Because, it has been captured, so to speak. But now that the river has been captured, what does one do? How does one let the mothership know? This was, after all, about a millennium before the advent of the whatsapps and the iMessages of the world. Instant communication happened only within earshot. Everything else took time.
And thus was the quandary of the marching army. Now that this mother River has been conquered, what does the army do? Then, one could scarcely call one of the all-too-ubiquitous water lorries of Madras to transport the water along the Golden Quadrilateral back to Thanjai, no? What then? Well, the next best thing. Take a bit, despatch a few, and proclaim victory. And in proclaiming victory, build a city in its honour. That’s what!
And so a contingent was sent back. They traveled all the way back. There was much what-ho-ing on their return, and many a back was slapped.The Emperor was hailed as the conquerer of the Ganga and a city was sanctioned. There is, of course, the other thing about the king, having received the news and sanctioned the new city, sending the envoy back (in the days before frequent flyer miles were a thing, unfortunately) and asking them to build a city there in honor of the capture. This, of course, is Gangai Kanda Chozhapuram: the-Chozha-city-that-has-been-built-on-the-Ganges’-capture.
(I have heard that there is a city or a semi-city of sorts that exists somewhere in the North Eastern part of India. I have never looked it up for, if it were untrue, I would be disappointed. Perhaps I shall look it up one day, and it will indeed be there, and I will indeed visit it. Until that happens, though, onward with our current story)
Now, all of this is, of course, entirely made up. Some of it might even be true. I know what you are saying. I could have googled or wiki-ed this quite simply. I could have but then again, this is my story, no? Plus where is fun in that, what?
After that long-winded detour that I just took (see, what I did there?), I will get back to the present day. We went to GKC. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, after all. And it is ruins. The mind boggled. We got there. But first, a word on the road. Awesome. There. That one word is out of the way.
There was a small sign that asked us to turn off the road for the temple and we did. First hurdle, parking lot. Scarcely had we turned the engine off and gotten off the car that we had a chap in our face waving a parking ticket. ₹30. We looked up. No shade. Nonsense! What are we paying for? We routinely shoo-ed the chap away and mumbled something about paying once we were ready to leave.
And with that, we left our footwear in the car, put our best foot forward and stepped on to the stones. And almost immediately, we jumped. Now, with all the description and the build-up that has preceded this bit, you might think that that particular leap was with joy. Not. It was with heat and good God was it hot! There was a carpet (red, indeed — well, brownish but was perhaps red once upon a time) but that seemed scarcely to be of any help. We motored along (on foot, of course) nicely and nipped and tucked into the grass like a cat on a hot tin roof.wherever we could to reach the gates, so to speak. (I always wondered what business the said cat had on a tin roof, let alone one that is hot but that thought is for another time.)
That first view. Magnificent. As soon as you enter, there is this expanse of grass that just stretches all around. And then there is this wonderful temple at the centre.
It does take the breath away.
It also leads one to wonder: ruins? Where?
It is then that one has had the time to drink in the expanse and let that settle in does one start noticing the devil. Well, not to be blasphemous and suggest that the devil resides in the house of God, as it were, but I merely mean the devil that lies in the details. One starts peering into what appear to be oddities. Now, the Chozhas were master builders. They had impeccable senses of proportion and symmetry. One glance at the Periya Kovil (or Dharasuram, for that matter) is all that it takes to know that. With that cognitive bias, when one views the temple here, something most definitely seems off. Initially, it does not seem apparent what is (blame the sheer dwarfing scale of the thing for this) but one gets that nagging feeling of something being off.
As one walks around, the signs are everywhere. Half built arches here, randomly discoloured murals there, and unfinished statues everywhere. When one completes a lap, so to speak, one understands why they are indeed ruins. It was almost like someone took up this task and said, right, let’s get a move on, lads, we haven’t got all day. And then the clock struck 4 whereupon he remarked, right then lads, let’s have ’em structured finished. Never mind the edges or the half done ones. We drop arms at sundown. And sure enough, sundown came and arms were dropped (apparently, from some of the half-finished statues as well.)
When one is done, one only wonders … what if.
I guess this is indeed what one must wonder for, well, what if, indeed. For, ruins, they are, ruinous, certainly not.
On our way out, we were met with some fauna (both herbivorous and carnivorous) and were led out in a rather sedate manner.
An incredible (and incredibly refreshing) couple of lime sodas (salt only) were downed and heading out was done. The car was approached. The parking lad was talking to his friends a bit away. Glances were exchanged. A run for it was made. The car was started rather quickly and the ol’ heave-ho was given to the place. 30 bucks saved. Mildly cheap but, well, cheap thrills.
It was almost lunch time and we headed towards Kumbakonnam and Sathar’s for lunch. After an excellent (the true effects of which would be felt the next day) lunch was demolished, we headed to the big one (literally). Thanjai. This would complete the triumvirate. The focal point (well, triangle) of the trip would be ticked off the proverbial list.
But as we mounted the steed and chugged along, on the way, Google Maps threw up one most familiar and absolutely unavoidable town that we would quite simply have to pass through. It would require a small diversion by then again, missing this was simply NOT an option. And thus, we made one pitstop en route Thanjai.
Two words: Sondha ooru…
Two words: Sondha ooru…