“Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”
― Angela N. Blount, Once Upon an Ever After
This is what comes to my mind when I look back at the road trip I made. Little did I know that a visit to Thanjavur for official purpose would turn into one of the most revealing and worthy bike trips I had taken till date. It all started on a Saturday night. I was asked to go to our organisation at Thanjavur from Coimbatore. Since the information came late I had two options left to me, one to take a bus the next was to ride down. I chose the ride and I’m glad I did. From Big temple to one of a kind mosque to Ther tiruvila of Mannargudi temple, this trip covered everything. I had the best coffee, immersed myself in the beauty of Big temple, visit to a handloom, witnessed a Hindu marriage inside a mosque which I never expected to, had a conversation with one of the descendants of Nagore Andavar, and finished my day with a grand festive in Mannargudi temple.
Whenever someone hears the name “Thanjavur” what comes to people’s mind is the great Brihadeeswarar temple and dancing doll. But I went a little further to discover things about Thanjavur other than this. My search led me to handlooms of the Saurashtra people, a small community who migrated to Thanjavur hundreds of years back from Gujarat. I am very thankful to Vejai Ganesh of Sri Sagunthalai Silks. He explained to me in detail about his handlooms, and he’s rightly proud that he is the only person in Thanjavur to weave “Korvai” sarees [in which the borders are attached to the main body of the saree using an interlocking technique]. This technique is not practised widely as it requires great skill and it is also threatened by power looms which produce cheaper sarees. Ganesh’s family has trained women from the Saurashtrian community; they have not only provided them with a livelihood, but also ensured the longevity of this technique for the generations to come.
Thanjavur big temple has been discussed, written, re written over a number of times and there is nothing new that I have to say about this great structure. Since I had a bike with me, I could venture a few hundred kilometres to discover other interesting places around Thanjavur. One fine morning I set out to discover the amazing Nagore Dargah, a mosque built over the tomb of Sufi saint Hazrath Nagore Shahul Hamid. The details of the place and its history are well elaborated in its Wiki page.
The most significant aspect of the place is people from various faiths consider it as a pilgrim site. Lot of Hindus throng the place. It was a unique mosque for I could witness cultural amalgamation. From people lighting lamps to offering their hair I saw customs which might not exist in many other mosques. People who offered their children’s hair place it between buns and drown it in the sacred water tank in the mosque premises. I also was lucky enough to see a Hindu couple getting married inside the mosque premises. There was no chants from the Veda, instead they read from the Holy Koran. The couples were visibly elated.
After this event I had a chat with Salman Baba one of the descendants of Nagore Andavar (The Sufi saint as he was called in the olden times). His words of love and oneness enlightened me, “All religions are equal, may be the form in which we worship may differ but we all are worshiping the same person, we may call Him Allah, they may call him Ram give him a form, but that doesn’t matter, here inside this dargah, there is religious unity, there is no caste, everyone are equal”.
My trip ended with witnessing the ‘Ther Thiruvizha’ [chariot festival] of Rajagopalaswamy Temple in Mannargudi. By this time I was really exhausted because of the long bike ride. But the energy of the place pumped me up. The crowd, the chants and the enthusiasm of the people was a treat.
By the time I reached my hotel back in Thanjavur it was almost 2300hrs. The ride had worn me out but the memories it gave me would stay with me forever.
Text and photos: O Pranav
[O Pranav is a mechanical engineer working in the aviation field. He is a Chennaite, but his roots are deep down south in a village called Muthiapuram, Tamil Nadu. A tiny but beautiful village, Muthiapuram is green during the monsoons and filled with black sand the rest of the year. Pranav’s family traditionally farmed. His grandfather was a “Kummi” master, a dance form practiced in southern India. Pranav came across PARI while trying to discover the different cultures of India.]