Thursday, July 08, 2010

Srivilliputhur, Sivakasi and Sathur

Since I decided to return from Sathuragiri in one day instead of two, I had an additional day to spare.

The plan was to visit Andal temple at Srivilliputhur, which is five kms away from Krishnan Kovil. However, buses frequently travel from Wathrap to Srivilliputhur (SVP). I got a bus from Wathrap that went directly to SVP. This was travelling to Kovilpatti, crossing SVP, Sivakasi, Sathur. SVP, Sivakasi, Sathur, Rajapalayam, Kovilpatti, Virudhunagar are all connected towns, normally within 20 kms from each other. So businesses, working folks, college folks live and behave as if all these are their towns and frequently commute on a daily basis. So bus networks within these towns abound. Add Madurai to the mix, since it is the district hub!

The bus was crowded since it was crossing three towns. Ticket was 6 Rs. Suddenly made me realize how expensive bus travel has become! Anyway, I got a seat but couldn’t look out because of the crowd. In one stop college students rushed into the bus. Apparently a bunch of them at least lived at SVP. I also presume the college was Kalasalingam college of engineering – the most popular college in the area. The bus travel was close to 30 minutes – but the trek down had really tired me. I asked the man next to me to wake me up once SVP arrived and dozed off. He did and I had to board down at SVP.

SVP before I visited it evoked the sense of a large and ancient town. This was the birth place of Andal and now home to one of the largest and ancient temples in Tamil Nadu (India perhaps!). But the town is very small. Just 2 kms in radius and is choking with its own infrastructure. It appeared that there were just two things that kept the town going:

The temple and pAlkOva (milk sweet) business. Otherwise, residents used it as a stay area and commuted to nearby towns. Of course, supporting businesses exist. I could clearly see that the town isn’t even attempting to slowly expand to outer empty regions. You can actually walk around the towns radius in 2-3 hours. Jammed streets, hence converted to one way and very high population density are the norm here. Obviously, people here have more than settled down to the fact. It’s a way of life. Actually, any necessity (appliance shops, scooter/bike shops) are all just barebones. The Whirlpool appliance shop had ten fridges, and that was the only one in town!

I was looking for a stay area after I had un boarded. Not now, but at that time, I was surprised when I was told there were no hotels in the town. Only lodges. I roamed with my back pack for 30 minutes to find one. I settled down in my room. My agenda for the evening was to visit Andal temple. I took another bath and changed to my veshti/kurta. It was about 6:30PM – I found out that Andal temple was about 2 kms away. I hence used my favorite mode of transport – foot!

The first time you do this is fascinating. Walking through narrow, thickly populated streets, both with people and shops is interesting. The shops sell anything from eatables, stationery, temple items or CDs and DVDs. After a while, as a precursor to entering a “temple zone”, an overhead thatchery appears which then lasts for as long as the path that leads to the temple. I looked up and noticed that it would still leak in the event of rains. Finally, after about 20-25 minutes of walk, in all its magnificent glory was the temple tower!

Just one sight at the temple is enough to make you forget the humdrum of the city. And the perception the temple gives is that it is half the size of the town itself. What magnificence! The very thought of the king to erect a sanctum of serenity of such size for the populace of his kingdom is a reflection of the values and culture of the time.

This is the temple where Andal sang “thiruppAvai”. I first visited the Andal shrine and lit a ghee lamp at the shrine. The thiruppavai is sculpted on the temple walls. For some reason, I didn’t want to leave that place, so I sat there for some time – I will also sheepishly add that I was half expecting a vision to appear about Andal’s life history. None did! I then visited the rest of the temple – which included the deity of chakkarathazhvar as well. The temple is maintained very well and just walking around gives a sense of awe. The amount of work that should have gone in chiseling the intricate carvings on either the stone pillars or the wooden adornments on top is wearing out to think! The priorities and dedication of that time were different I suppose! One disappointing aspect was that recent renovations to the temples also included huge slabs of credits stating who contributed to the renovations. It is funny to notice that the king who built the temple did not think to carve out his name as credit!

This temple is the only high point of the town. But the town can take pride in hosting the temple. Otherwise, only monotony is visible in people’s faces. Instead of the temple being the fulcrum of their day to day experiences, it appears to be the opposite. The temple seems to be taken for granted. With some work, this town can be made a major tourist hub and the surrounding areas can be expanded. The funds can then be used to take the temple to another level. I also think the disappointment stems more from my expectations. I was hoping to get into ancient times!

I retired back to my room and was very tired. The day’s trek had taken its toll. I had another pack of rice which I had taken for the trek and I just ate that for the night. I hadn’t had an opportunity to do my practices before in the day, so I completed them prior to dinner. I hit the sack and went into oblivion for 12 long hours!

Next day was practically unplanned. I woke up only by 10am. I finished my practices and my bath and was looking for a place to eat lunch. Then it dawned on me that the town had no hotels! It had “messes” and all of them were vegetarian-non-vegetarian combos. I wasn’t comfortable. I did walk for close to an hour trying to find a “veg only” mess. I saw a statue of the great leader Kamaraj in the process. It is a landmark in SVP. Finally, I resigned to the fact and decided to have fruit juice for lunch. Juice was cheap here. I found a shop and had this “fruit mixture” juice. I loved it and hence had another. As I was savoring this, I incidentally turned to the right and saw the “vegetarian mess” I was looking for. May be it was God’s plan for me to skip lunch that day!

I wanted to see how it would be to be with the people of this town in close quarters. So I decided to watch a movie. There are only two theaters here – Santhosh and Revathi. Santhosh was near where I stayed. “Goripalayam” was running there. I got a ticket for 20 Rs (that’s the highest priced ticket!). We really were in old times! I don’t think any theater in Chennai or Coimbatore will have tickets priced at that level! Hindu aptly named “Goripalayam” “gore” palayam! The theater had just ceiling fans on the sides. Wow – how long had it been since I went to a theater that was non-air-conditioned. The chairs were all wooden with no cushion and the afternoon heat was clearly felt inside. A board on the wall said “Do not smoke or spit in the theater”. Apparently, people ignored both! The movie period was uneventful. Only about 20 folks watched the movie and the hall was filled with cigarette smoke! It was disappointing! I am wondering what it would take for this town to wake up to the treasure they are hosting there!

It was time to leave SVP – so I packed my bags, checked out and headed to the bus stand. Next stop was Sivakasi – 20 kms from SVP. I didn’t want to board a bus that passed through Sivakasi but stopped there. It’s a common destination from SVP so I got one easily. I enjoyed the ride. It passes through two primary locations – “malli” and “layan”. I later found out that “layan” was the Tamil morph of “Reserve Line”! The evening breeze was cool and at dusk, the skies had turned bluish grey. At one point, the pattern of clouds, skies, the evening breeze and the electric lines on which the birds sat all formed a delightful sight! Finally, the bus strolled into Sivakasi bus stand.

Sivakasi, the land of firecrackers! I had my dinner there – yes there was a hotel! It is a much larger town and I could decipher at least two major cracker shops here – Standard and Kaleeshwari. Standard actually has a very large permanent showroom here. After dinner, I got on a bus to Sathur – which was where I had to board the train back to Coimbatore. In the bus, I got my SVP palkOva which I missed to buy there. It was delicious – I understood why it was so popular. It is also not advisable to give into the taste because I forgot to buy one for Radha. When I was going blah about it, she went blah about how selfish I was! Sathur is again about 20 kms from Sivakasi. But the outside was pretty much dark. When the bus finally reached Sathur at about 9:15pm on Sunday, 4th July, I couldn’t do much else. I was again happy to see a statue of Kamaraj outside the bus stand. He is very popular here!

The railway station was about 1.5kms from the bus stand, so I used my favorite transport method. The railway station is small, quiet and secluded. All three descriptions are unusual if we take other cities as reference. I took a seat waiting for the train. Two or three trains passed by before mine arrived at 11:15 pm. The train was on the dot! In the mean time, I was talking to a man and his teenage son who was joining engineering at Erode. Wishing him all the best, I finally boarded the train.

I think it is safe to call the trip “eventful”!


As I Like it said...

I have not had the oppurtunity to travel in South India as much as I did the North. Very informative. Specially the paalgoooovaaa. I am not a big fan but still...:)

Deepak said...

Its the opposite with me - mainly because most locations in the South (in Tamil Nadu at least) can be reached in a night's travel.

Actually, my entire spectrum of north visits happened only with Dhyan Yatra. Technically, we covered about 10 states in one stroke :). I used to unboard the station every time to prove I've set foot on that state.

Deepak said...

Its the opposite with me - mainly because most locations in the South (in Tamil Nadu at least) can be reached in a night's travel.

Actually, my entire spectrum of north visits happened only with Dhyan Yatra. Technically, we covered about 10 states in one stroke :). I used to unboard the station every time to prove I've set foot on that state.

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