The Temple Town – Kumbakonam

27 October 2015

About 5 AM, my fit bit surge vibrates on my hand.  A silent alarm to wake up peacefully. I’m loving it.  Unlike the other chaotic experiments I was into earlier with the regular phone, with different motivational songs as an alarm, all for that one step beyond the threshold… One step to move the arse to that wonderful world beyond the bed…

Arrived here yesterday in the early hours after a 400 km night journey from Bangalore by bus. Was too occupied with work at client’s place (a local power plant) and I barely remember how the day just slipped off. Anyways the day is gone, but today I was determined to soak myself into the beauty of this town.

Kumbakonam, a place where once the Great Math Wizard Srinivasa Ramanujan lived. This is one of the many places in Tamil Nadu with ancient temples. Temples to which large large number of devotees are drawn to, from far distances for the divines blessings to be bestowed upon them.

Blessings….Hmmm… Ever wondered how blessed one feels when they get to know startling details about the place they are about to visit? This town once ruled by the Cholas has about 15-20 majorly known temples. Also there are more than 50 temples around this town.  I in general do my pre travel research before every trip and I am amazed by the origin of this place.

Kumbakonam, meaning “Pot’s Corner” in English, a mythical pot of ‘Brahma’ which contained the seed of all living beings on earth. Also said that this very “Pot” has been swept to the Southern India all the way from Kailash during a flood.

Trying to imagine if a place with an area of about 12 km2 is what resembles a “Pot”, how massive those floods (or even the gods who worshipped this ‘Pot’) could be? More interesting information of this place can be followed at http://www.kumbakonam.com .

So…A Very Good Morning to the “Temple Town” as they call… Kumbakonam! :). What has this town got in store for me?

My notes, my preparation for discussions, data, analysis, work, can wait… but the day’s sunrise, that flock of birds flying low in their triangular patterns, the chittering of the squirrels, the freshness of the green grass with drops of dews on that blade… can’t. Why would I miss the joy of a morning walk exploring the surroundings of that lavish guest house?

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———-

We were ready by 8 AM, got into the car. The chauffer was so humble. He was probably instructed to take good care of us. The plant was about 25 km from the guest house. We were taken to a hotel on the way for breakfast at Sri Balaji Bhavan.

Yes… Breakfast !! The ecstatic feeling I get drowned into. It is Tamil Nadu !!, though the morning regular breakfast items have common name across entire South India, this state  has its own identity (You’ll see as you read).

Unlike yesterday, I had my strategy planned. There is no Menu to choose and pick an item for order. One question “What is available” and the waiter yesterday listed Idly, Vada, Upma, Pongal, Plain Dosa, Masala Dosa, Butter Dosa, Rava Dosa, ….. some 50 odd items. It was so fast and I hardly could decide what to pick. One of the reasons why I had to stick to Idly (which was really smooth)  yesterday. Though he may be willing to, I did not feel asking him to replay the menu as a good idea.

A quick look around and I saw some brown coloured big Birthday Hats. Or let’s say birthday hat type looking Dosa. I ordered that fancy looking one. Learnt from my colleague later that it is called “Ghee Dosa”.

It is a big cone shaped Dosa towering up with its larger base resting on the plate. I could smell that fresh Ghee greased it.

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Ghee Dosa..!

The Dosa was big but then there were many more items I had to cover. And when did one Dosa (big or small) satiate my hunger ??. Ordered a Pongal. Did not meet up to my expectations though as compared to the one I had in Andhra. My Mom’s Pongal would any day be the best though.

A good sumptuous breakfast is generally given a proper climax with the special ‘Kumbakonam Filter Coffee’.  Ummmm! A sip and u forget the world. This one has got its own brand. I am not that good a coffee expert to compare and differentiate how different this is from the regular coffee but yes I loved it.

Kumbakonam Filter Coffee
Kumbakonam Filter Coffee

———-

Lunch was the regular Rice, Dal, Chapatis, Curries and some Sweets arranged in the plant itself. Was however famished as they improved the menu for the next couple of days by getting to know our tastes and preferences. Again they tried to serve some Kababs and Manchurians. Though good in taste, I would not recommend such Chinese, north Indian or other fast food stuff. Be Calm and Try the Local Cuisine … Period.

———-

Dinner was again in the same hotel Sri Balaji Bhavan. Many of the Tamil Nadu hotels serve mostly tiffins for dinner. Meals are not that common for dinner. It’s a little advanced version of breakfast items. Like extra variety chutneys to savour along with the regular items.

So another quick look around, saw some familiar item that is also available in Bangalore. But a must try in Tamil Nadu. This is called Parotta. No way similar to North Indian Paratha. Usually made of Maida flour, but for the ones who are diet conscious, wheat flour ones are also available. Basic ingredients include Maida, oil or ghee, water. Stuff such as eggs for increasing its fluffiness, or chillies to spice it up, could be of some choice.

Its origin is supposed to be in Punjab, a place I still haven’t been to, but for now I’ll taste this sin here.

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Parotta

Served with Veg-Korma for vegetarians or the yummilcious!! non-veg curry for Non Vegetarians. This is supposed to be taken hot/warm to experience its amazing taste.

If you are a foodie,  not trying Parotta in Tamil Nadu !!  is a sin. How can I avoid that subtle whitish cream layered flat South Indian Bread, as it is served hot, fresh on a natural green banana leaf with two small cups of curry.  Ah ! Heavens !!

Eating it the usual sophisticated way like Chapati cutting a piece dipping it in the curry and following the standard eating process  won’t do justice either. Slowly spread the whole curry on the Parotta, let it soak the juice, the flavours of the curry and then one may gorge upon it. There are other varieties such as Chilli and Kothu Parotha but I stuck to the basic one.

Parotta was done and then there was this pressure … For the responsibility that has been bestowed upon me…. Every one waiting for my answer to the question, “what to order next?”

Its food and there are numerous options to choose. But choose ? !! Who said I like to choose…! Its food and having a choice is crazy.  My silent secret answer in my mind was obvious… “Bring it all … Come on. Bring them all… ”

Realized after a couple of minutes my there were eyes waiting for my choice…. The choice which I never believed in making one. .. The choice that raises hundred questions in my mind… why not this and why only that? … Should I go for a Utthapam or that tempting Butter Dosa,  A choice. ..

Giving up all hopes in me my colleague went ahead to order Onion Uthappam for themselves, leaving my confused soul aside…

My thoughts were into a never ending iterations…

Option 1. Idly great but had it in morning

  1. GheeDosa… Done
  2. Parottajust finished… No repeats many more to explore
  3. Those variety ofUthappams..  Hmm they are fat… They may be good… Considering past experiences as the sample space… The probability of me enjoying it was not in favour. I felt sorry for Uthappams.

Sitting confused what to eat next and there I saw the answer.

“ When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

Saw a beautiful dark brown dressed sieve  type Triangular shape Dosa a waiter was carrying it past my table.  I could feel it … Yes this it ! this is the one…  Slim crisp I could feel it already melting in my mouth…

There was chaotic happiness for finally finding an answer … My satisfying eyes focussed on the target, the whole body felt like dancing to “Because I’m happy – Pharrell Williams” song.

Rava Dosa it is…!!

Rava Dosa
Rava Dosa

This one again served on a banana leaf. I would say another triangular master piece, looks and feels crisp. It is also served with variety of colourful chutneys. One should not miss the Pudhina Chutney and Rava Dosa combo though. Something special I have noticed here is that Black Pepper and Corn are somehow embedded into these sieve like texture of the Rava Dosa.

Unless one indulges themselves with all these variety of Dosas, they would still be dreaming that all Dosas are the same. Trust me, they are not same

———-

28 Oct 2015 

My morning sight was a Kingfisher bird with lush green agriculture fields at the backdrop … Its beauty  I could stare at as it rests on those man made artificial relatively dangerous branches(wires)… basking itself in the warmth of the rising sun. All this treat after I reluctantly and cautiously (Lizards have their own element of surprise) pushed the curtains aside and dared to open the windows for the view.

I cursed myself Dammit ! for not getting my camera on this trip. I reached for my mobile for a shot… But useless pointless. While I stumble upon my thoughts figuring out how to capture this magnificent bird on my lens a thought occurred “Why?”.

The bird is showing off its splendid blue colour feathers – orangish beak calm and composed still resting there.  Did teach me the lesson again… “Rahul just wait, watch and enjoy the beauty of the nature man”.

Bird was there for almost 10 min showing off its beauty turning around and bending along… Like a model on a ramp. My longest Kingfisher birds watch ever.

———-

Today’s breakfast was like a ‘surprise – surprise ‘ moment. Today I ordered an item which sounded familiar. I did have this a couple of times in Bangalore. The Paper Roast Dosa. Expected the usual plate sized Dosa, crispy thin with some chutneys and all.

All my colleagues got their orders served and  my order was yet to come. Everyone  almost done with their breakfast and I was wondering why would these guys take so long to get my order. What I asked was a simple Dosa, or did I ??

My colleagues were in awe, almost everyone’s sight in the hotel were focussed on one guy, the waiter. Their gaze slowly directing to our table. I turned around and there… that very moment… I was like.. “Holy…Shhh Dosa ! “.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you the Giant ..!

Paper Roast Dosa
Paper Roast Dosa
Paper Roast Dosa - Before Eating.
Paper Roast Dosa – Before Eating.
Paper Roast Dosa - Before Eating.
Paper Roast Dosa – Before Eating.

Golden brown, thin, crisp and HUGE !

I did grab at times the “70mm Dosa”, (analogically to the 70 mm theatre screen compared to the 35 mm screen) whenever I hop into Rajahmundry. But this Paper Roast was about 1.2 metre long, 30 cm diameter is bigger, wider, crispier and tastier than that. Just grabbed the top spot in my favourite Dosas list.

———-

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinners were always exciting like this. Never lost an opportunity to have Parotha on any day. Food is one such factor that keeps my travel enticing and then the urge to visit some significant places in the vicinity by squeezing out time from work schedule is other. Travel dope…

So, I had my homework done a week before my travel to this place, and temples it is…

First day in Kumbakonam, after dinner we happened to visit Arulmigu Abathsathyeshwar Temple (Guru Bhagvan), Alangudi.  It so happens this deity is also called Brahaspathi, a character I actually got introduced to, form the Shiva’s Trilogy book by Amish Tripathi.

This is one of the 9 temples called as the Navagraha Temples situated around Kumbakonam town.Each temple deity has their significance.  With this town as a base, many devotees worship all these temples surrounding  this town.

For people who love the festive crowds, MAHAMAHAM is one such festive season celebrated once in twelve years. During this period, devotees travel to Kumbakonam to take holy bath in Mahamaham tank where it is believed that the holy waters of rivers such as Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Sarayu, Godavari, Mahanadi, Narmada, Cauvery, etc. are mixed in together in this tank.

While some of you may still be scratching your head and checking your maps to see how on earth this is possible, I would preferably consider the information with an open mind. Though this place is known since 3rd century BC as per the history, it also finds place in early mythological stories which relate back to previous eras or epochs. (That’s it I do not want to talk Hindu Cosmology now 🙂 )

Brihadeeswarar temple in Tanjore was something I didn’t want to miss. Temple of Lord Shiva with a mighty Nandi is supposedly an architectural marvel. Booked my return tickets back to Bangalore from Tanjore , an important agricultural centre also called the Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu. Tanjore is about 60 km from Kumbakonam.

Tanjore Brihadeeswarar Temple
Tanjore Brihadeeswarar Temple

Faiths, belief, worship, are more pertaining to an individual level.  About the history its architecture, etc., there is really interesting information I would definitely recommend one to go through. I believe it may lose its quality if I reproduce it here. It is always  recommended to read about them from better sources available. I would avoid the copy paste, but yes what one needs to take note of is this temple is perfect to visit in early mornings or early evenings. Afternoons and summers can be your pick if you want to get your feet roasted.

I had some 2 hours in the evening at around 7:00 pm to 9 pm before I had to catch my bus. It was a day after Guru Purnima ( An auspicious full moon day) and the view of the temple, with that BIG full moon look was breath-taking.

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Yes most parts of the temple were silently hiding in the darkness. Though the timing was a feast for the eyes, one cannot expect the same to be captured by the camera lens. Thanks to the strong white existing flood lights meticulously placed to spoil every click of mine from every possible angle.

A two hour affair would obviously not do justice. This temple still stays on my charts and is not willing to strike it off yet from the list.

Trip satisfying and yup back to Bangalore, back to work. (Obvious, client would be interested in my study outcomes and not my blog rite ! )

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4 thoughts on “The Temple Town – Kumbakonam

  1. Great work Rahul. Got to know many things about Tamil Nadu. I like that big brown birthday hat and a huge lover of all the members of Dosa family.

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