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This was probably the last solo trip I did in recent years and what a trip it was. Just before Diwali, I got the itch and that was it. I packed my bags and headed to Koyambedu Bus stand, hopped on the first bus that caught my eye and to my luck it was headed to Tanjore… I got off at Kumbakonam and it was my base for the next three days. I had a small list in my head, and started off with the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram, few kms from Kumbakonam.
As I was sitting in the bus, a lady next to me enquired where I was from, what I was studying and what I was doing in these parts of the state. She was surprised to hear I was working and here to experience the architecture and history. I got off about a km or so from the temple and walked the remaining distance. The roads were wet, from the rains that had just taken a break.
The first sight of the temple came into my view and it was breath taking. I walked into the long pathway, down the few steps to enter the temple. Near the steps sat a little boy who asked me to leave my footwear there, said he will take care of them for me. Since there was no one else around, I went ahead and did just that.
The entire temple floor was wet, with few puddles here and there. As I stepped into the main temple campus, not only was I struck by how majestic it was, but I also noticed the gazillion little tadpoles all over the floor.. Guess the rains had washed them in. It was quite an adventure walking around the temple premise, making sure not to step on any of em squishes.
Built by Rajaraja Chola II back in the 12th century CE, this temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and maintained quite well by ASI.
The temple is in the form of a chariot being pulled by an elephant and horse with a fleet of steps. When reading about the temple, I had stumbled upon information that said the temple had 73 sculptures [panels] depicting the life history of 63 Nayanmars. The temple starts with a Mahadwara- the main entrance on the eastern side, which has been restored by ASI. The Balipeeda and Nandi come next. There was also a narrow fleet of stone steps in the balipeeda are said to produce musical notes.
This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is called Airavateshvara here. He earned the name because he was worshipped at this temple by Airavata, the white elephant of the king of the Gods, Indra. Legend has it that Airavata, while suffering from a change of colour curse put upon him by Sage Durvasa, had its colours restored by bathing in the sacred waters of this temple. This legend is commemorated by an image of Airavata with Indra seated in an inner shrine….
As I walked around the temple, I was struck by how talented the craftsmen had been, how they were able to capture emotions, come up with futuristic sculptures all with no references… When I left the temple, the little boy sat there on the steps and beamed at me as if to say “See I told you I will take care of your footwear”. Another man standing nearby asked me if I wanted to see a weaver’s home, and took me to a house down the road where a weaver was busy creating magic out of threads.