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Posts Tagged ‘cheranmadevi ’

Secret Chambers, Buried Treasure, Vaults with untold wealth, tunnels that run for hundreds of Kilometers, Kings escaping from inside a granite mandapa - are all stuff of legends. Having been brought up on a healthy dose of fiction, most of us would have dreamed of being in such a situation and no wonder it news & rumors continue to capture the attention of the masses to this day. So when we were given a chance to explore one such within the Bhaktavatsala Permal Temple in Cheranmadevi, it was a dream come true and we literally jumped in.

It is quite true that most ancient temples did have some sort of secret chamber to protect their wealth, not just to hold their treasures - that they had in plenty as not only Kings, but chieftains and the rich, showered them with gifts. These the temple utilised as a kind of village bank lending money and collecting interests. It also helped that despite frequent wars among the kings, temples were relatively insulated from pillage till the advent of Gazhni upnorth and Allaudin Khilji down south. These chambers then became the refuge for the Gods themselves, as they were the easiest to hide the movable deities

For more interesting reading check this from Dr. R. Nagasamy - Underground Secret Treasuries in Ancient Temples

The last para is quite hair raising...” Lastly the late T. G. Aravamudan, the noted numismatist, and the author of ‘Portrait Sculpture in South India’ narrated to this author on more then one occasion, his experience in the Great temple of Tanjore, In his young age, he was once taken blind folded, through an underground passage in the Great temple of Tanjore. When he reached the secret chamber and his eyes opened, he found a large number of Chola bronzes of exqusite beauty stored there. He was able to recollect that the passage through which he went seemed to be between two granite walls. Later he made several attempts to locate the entrance to the passage in the temple but failed. It is not unlikely that many such underground secret treasure chambers exists but their discovery will remain only a chance find. “

Back to our little secret, the chamber is right underneath the arthamandabam in front of the sanctum

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towards+concealed+door

We managed to beat the power situation in the State till then, but then suddenly as we turned away towards the exit, it claimed victory - thereby taking us back in time by many centuries - to understand how it would have looked then - dark.

location

There right by the site of the door, it would have been impossible to spot in that lighting - but ASI had removed the false stone door and replaced it with a steel hinged one for our benefit.

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The layout of the entire contraption was pretty awesome - the door opened to a sheer drop of about 7 feet. about a feet from the bottom, there would have been a false wall - which gave way to a narrow tunnel - just about enough to let me crawl and then it turned right ! Claustrophobic - was the word, am not particularly fond of dark passages and this was pumping my adrenalin rush through the roof.

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The small path then opened to a decent shaped room - about 4 feet in height but pretty wide.

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inside+route

It was pretty dark - the powerful flash of the camera and the trusted 3 cell EverReady torch, tried their best to help us out.

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With all the excitement of being inside an authentic relic chamber giving us a high, we were a bit disappointed at seeing an empty room, but if only it could tell us its tale !

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Too much is too many…maybe it the bane of our heritage treasures. How else but to explain the sad plight of this delightful gem living precariously on the banks of the Tambraparani, its life blood slowly draining away, having stood for a thousand years, it makes a mockery of our grand visions of cultural renaissance and ingrained spirituality - The Ramaswamy Temple of Cheranmadevi. They called it the Nigarili Chola Vinnagar - Abode without parallel ! read on to see its pathetic state for surely it will not be long before the newspaper headlines lament its demise and pseudo enthusiasts will cry fowl.

The pillar sculpture of Hanuman, in all his humility, affectionately held by his Lord Rama seemed an regular rendition when we entered but as we finished and returned, the posture seemed to gather a new meaning.

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As we stepped in, there was nothing extraordinary about the front porch and it resembled any of hundred of temples we see in our villages.

entrance

But as we took the few steps towards the main shrine, what awaited us made us hold our breath.

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view

its not often you get to see a pristine pre 10th Century Vimana, a Pandya one at that.

Thanks to Pradeep, we had some inclination of what to expect and the introductions to the Priest had ensured that we could do our work unhindered.

For starters - the temple is unique for its one of the very few Astanga Vimana shrines - three tiered Vimana, with forms of Vishnu - Standing, seated and lying in the three sanctums lined one on top of the other.

At the entrance of the main sanctum, we were greeted by one of the most stunning bronzes - Rama group.

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When we wanted to climb to the upper storey, the priest asked us again - if we really wanted to go up ! Little did we realise why he did that, till we saw the narrow stairs and got swarmed by a colony of feisty bats whom we disturbed.

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Restaurants with roof top gardens seem to be the fashion these days, but it was really heartbreaking to see a stunning edifice left to rot like this.

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As we turned towards the Sanctum in tier one, we spotted this.

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The central beam had cracked and the weight was being held by the wooden pillar. My heart filled with dread at the thought of what might happen if it gave way.

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And in the midst of all this, there he was seated ( please note he is not carved out of stone but made of stucco - and hence the fractures can be easily mended)

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The intricate stucco work and the faint colors seemed to remind us of his glory days. Even the walls seemed to have outlines of vestigial paintings.

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perumal

We willed ourselves to climb to the next tier and there he is, sleeping peacefully on the coils of his devoted sesha, his two consorts in attention, hoping against hope that some good still lived in the hearts of the people he loves.

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As we stepped out, we looked again at Hanuman - he seemed to asking us to help, but not wanting his master to know, for the Lord’s answer would be ” I have the entire universe for me !!”

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