In one temple town of Tamil Nadu... | Milaap

In one temple town of Tamil Nadu...

Srirangam, my home for now and the next 5 months, is a small temple town in Tamil Nadu. The town is, in reality, an island as it is wedged in between river Cauvery on one side and its own tributary, Kollidam, on the other side (sadly, river Kollidam is dry for most of the year nowadays). Temple towns, Tamil Nadu is full of those. Srirangam is, however, one of the best exemplifications of a temple town. The entire town is built around the temple and even the name of the town is borrowed from the name of Lord Ranganatha, the deity of this temple.

The gopuram (tower) that serves as the entryway to the outer most prakara or enclosure.

The 22-day-long festival of Vaikunta Ekadasi is considered extremely auspicious by Hindus. The sorga vasal or gateway to heaven is said to be open during this time of the year and lakhs of devotees swarm the temple to experience this.

The temple has 7 prakaras or enclosures. These enclosures are concentric rectangular walls around the temple. The total area enclosed is so huge that the town extends up to the fourth enclosure, that is, there are shops and houses and what not inside here. The length extending from the first and outer most enclosure until the main temple complex is lined with small shops on either side.

The shop street inside the enclosure.

The diversity on display here is epic. You can find everything from tiny restaurants to street hawkers selling fresh vegetables to push carts laden with jewellery. It is quite safe to say there is almost nothing that a resident would want that you cannot find here. Accordingly, it is very busy through the day, all week long. While walking through this street, sometimes you will find yourself sandwiched in between stray cows and speeding motorcycles whizzing past you.

Pushcarts of food and jewellery.

The street can also be an assault on your senses. The sight of bright plastic toys, gaudy jewellery, rows and rows of painted idols; the sounds of the incessant honking and the vendors calling; the fragrance of fresh flowers, garlands strung out of holy basil, and the aroma from an assortment of local sweets and savouries; it can get overwhelming.

A shopkeeper selling items for offering poojas at the temple.

No matter who your favourite deity is, you can find an idol here.

At first glance, this place could remind you of the city with its hubbub. But on keener observation, you will realize that it is merely because of how many people are brought together into these narrow streets. Life here, however, is much more paced out than in the city. The nine to five monotony and the so-called rat race are quite unfamiliar here.

Peddlers sit along the sides of the entryways under gopurams.

Once you reach the temple however, the lanes around the temple are contrastingly peaceful.

The temple walls are lined with tall coconut palms. The lanes are wide and ideal for morning walks and jogs. The streets are bordered with the homes of brahmin families and you are bound to catch glimpses of priests clad in white dhotis, sporting namams (a Hindu religious mark worn on the forehead) and tufts of hair tied at the back of their heads.

Mornings and evenings are the peak hours of these streets.

The commotion on the shop street dies down late into the evening. The town goes into a slumber by 10 pm, unlike the city where you can see life all through the night. But the temple stands tall, its elegance only accentuated by the night.