Hailing from a traditional Christian family in Alappuzha, Kerala, I wan born and brought up in Ahmedabad, where my entire schooling was done. Later, I moved to Bangalore for my further studies. Working for ITES in Bangalore for about a decade, life was all about software codes, fixed time slots and deadlines. With the passage of time, I realised that the daily sight of flickering computer screens and monotonous pattern of work seemed rather drab. When looking out for a respite, I discovered my inner concealed passion for photography. Bidding a forever farewell to my IT life.
It was sometime in February, 2014 that we decided to do a dance production based on the 108 Divya Desams with a renowned Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi exponent, Kalaimamani Sailaja. Though at the initial level, we envisaged only a dance production, with further sessions of serious brain-storming, we unearthed the possibilities of taking the onlookers on a virtual tour to the 108 Divya Desams through photographs and video clippings.
A team comprising of myself, Mr. Paul Adam George, Ms. Aparna P Kochumon and Mr. Joshua Bharath completed the photo and video and video coverage of the 106 divya Desams in span of about three months.
The Divya Desams in South India which include 84 temples in Tamil Nadu, 11 in Kerala and 2 in Andhra Pradesh were covered in an extensive road trip. We devised a plan in which we halted at major towns and completed the photo and video coverage of the divya Desams in the vicinity. Route maps to each temple with approximate calculations of the distances were prepared in advance.
Initially we started with temples in Chennai and then proceeded to kancheepuram. In a city hardly covering 11,000 sq km, we were surprised to find the number of temples almost in part with that of the houses. Being the first out station shoot, we were little apprehensive about the reception and reaction at the temples when we approach them with cameras and tripods. Reactions included warm welcoming smiles, smug face, cold glares and stern shooing aways! Nevertheless we were blessed enough to complete the shoots successfully. The title city of Kancheepuram harhourse 15 divya Desams. The Thiru Ooragam Divya Desam which houses three other Divya Desams - thiru Neeragam, Thiru Kaaragam and Thiru Kaarvaanam was an astonishing find. We were awestruck by the majestic gopurams of Kamatchi Amman Temple and Ekambareswarar Temple which contains the Thiru Nilathingal Thundam and Thiru Kalvanoor divya desams respectively. Kancheepuram, also famed for its splendid silk sarees did not fail to mesmerise the team and in no time we made a beeline for a proximate shop and walked out with piles of sarees.
Shoot of temples in cuddalore and Chidambaram ended swiftly without much complications. Seergazhi was a serene town, abundant in green paddy stretches, Jamanthi flower fields fields and clear ponds. Out of the 13 Divya Desams there, 7 were under the administration of a private committee and those temples were more or less in close proximity with each other. A committee member personally accompanied us to all of them and enlightened us about the sthala Purana and details of each of them. The temple Laddu and Prasadams played a significant role in keeping the team, who often wore-out in the scorching heat, going. We remember in particular the Thiruvellakulam Divya Desam where the temple priest offered us delicious, warm Sakkara pongal which we devoured greedily. Though left with sticky fingers and the smell of caramelized sugar, we thanked the priest.
We commenced our shoot in Mayiladuthurai with the Thiru Indhaloor Divya Desam. The intricate carvings on the temple pillars left us enthralled. Almost every pillar bore a carving denoting a scene from history. The most memorable episode of the shoot was when we climbed the five-tiered gopuram of the Thiru Sirupuliyur temple. Leading up through several flights of steep, short steps with space hardly enough for a person to squeeze through, we managed to reach the top. The feel of reaching that height and the view from there, was definitely worth the effort.
On reaching Thanjavur the setting displayed signs of township bigger shops, bazaar and more traffic. In the land known for its exquisite paintings and the famous Thanjavur style of bharatanayam, we discovered that the city is a perfect amalagamation of art, culture and religion; imbibing and preserving both the old and new facets of life. The Thirukkoodaloor Divya Desam which has a jackfruit tree, bearing the conch symbol; the Punnai maram at Thiruppullam bhoothankudi which has the image of Narasimha’s face on its trunk; the kal garuda at nachiyaar kovil which increases in weight; the salt-less Prasadam at Oppiliappan temple - city had in store, a plethora of fascinating tales for us. The last of the set was oppiliappan temple which has the images of the Moolavars of the 108 Divya Desams depicted on the walls of its brightly painted walkway. By then, the team had developed a fascination for temple elephants and was on are regular feat of taking blessing from the elephants and feeding them. An Interesting find by them at oppiliappan was that the temple elephant drinks only Maaza!
As we set foreward to Trichy, we saw the city widen out further with better infrastructure, roadways, settlements and shops; a palpable explanation to the escalating demographics. The Sri Rangam temple being there, trichy was our most awaited destination in the souch Indian travel plan. Considered the largest temple in India, we dedicated three whole days to do the photography and videographer of the temple. It was fascinating to observe that over the years, the inhabitants around Sri Rangam had woven their life around the temple. At certain points it was also disheartening to see the sheer ignorance and indifference of people who had constructed their houses and shops adjoining the exterior temple gopuram structures. History was being corroded away in broad daylightand none seemed perturbed by the careless act! Beyond its religious Significance, the temple structure itself was a marvel, which unwinds its grandeur with every step closer. The Rock temple, set on hillock has historical connections with The sri Rangam temple. The laborious climb of over 300 steps, proved worthwhile when we got to see the brilliant panoramic view from the top. Among the green stretch of three tops, the Rajagopuram of Sri rangam of Sri Rangam stood pronounced. They very city that houses the largest temple tower in India, also has an unfinished temple tower in it – the unfinished Gopuram of thiru Vellarai Divya Desam. With fort-like surrounding walls, this temple has a cave on its rear end. Except for a few broken idols and vandalised inscriptions and paintings, nothing else was found there. The priest at the Thirupper Nagar Divya Desam was trove of information and explained to us the importance of Saligrama stones and taught us how to receive Theertham in our hands.
Madurai was filled with crisp, fresh air filled with the scent of jasmine flowers. We had to cover right Divya Desams in the city of Temples. The Thirumeyyam Temple caught our attention. Carved out in a single rock, the temple structure was laden with laden with sculptured pillars. We landed in rameswaram on the day prior to amavasi and had a tough time finding a place to stay, as all the rooms were taken up by devotees who had flocked to the place to do rituals on the next day. After the shoot there, we took a quick tour to the nearby town of Dhanushkodi. Once a buzzling town, the place is now deserted and in ruins, after the Tsunami in the 60’s. A demolished skeleton of church and fragments of a once existed railway lane are all that remains among the debris that proves that life once existed there.
Of all the temples in Tirunelveli, Thirukkurungudi required a special mention. Like a few other temples, this Divya Desam also consists of two temples – one on the hilltop and the other at the base. We were taken to the temple on the hillock in jeep. With hardly any traces of trail, the route was strewn with huge boulders, over which the driver deftly took the vehicle. We clung on to dear life when at many instances the jeep was on the verge of toppling. An ordeal it was, yet undoubtedly an unforgettable one.
The book is a complete Package that is interesting, useful and informative. The photographs showcase not only the deities in the temple, but also the sculptures, painting and architecture inside the Divya Desam.
The Book is bound to appeal to different sets of audiences as it has several features and elements to attract various interest groups. For those who are religious, it has for each Divya Desam the image of the Moolavar, a pasuram that best depicts the Divya Desam, and photographs of the temple Gopurams and various Sannidhis within each temple. For those who are interested in various art forms, it has paintings, sculptures, and features that bring out the architectural beauty of the temples.
The compilation of information given at the end of the book on the Divya Desams, the Ashwars and the Divya prabandham is useful to anyone who is interested in knowing anything about them.
The book has universal appeal and is a useful addition to the already existing material on the 108 Divya Desams.
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