Tiruchirappali, formerly known by the British as Trichinopoly, is a city of close to a million inhabitants which lies near the geographical centre of Tamilnadu. It has a long and distinguished history dating from the third century BC when it was part of the Chola empire. Conquered in turn by the Pandyas, tbe Pallavas, the Nayaks it eventually became part of the British empire in 1801 when they drove the French out. Not as frequented as some other great temple centres of India it remains a stunning place to visit principally because of two main sights.
The first is the rock temple built on top of a precipitious boulder 273 feet high rising above the centre of a maze of narrow streets. The temple has shrines to Ganesh and Parvati among several others. We arrived at the foot of the giant rock by nine am and were able to climb the thousand steps to the top without too much discomfort from the heat. The views at the summit were spectacular but what truly grabbed our attention were the great eagles gliding effortlessy in the thermal laden air.
The other place we visited was the stupendous Sri Ranganathaswamy temple dedicated to Vishnu in his form when lying down on Adisesa the coiled serpent. The temple is one of the eight Sywayambu Kshetra temples dedicated to the direct manifestation of Vishnu on Earth. These comprise five temples in south India and three in the north including the one at Pushkar which I had visited some time ago.
Trichy’s temple is on an epic scale and is the second largest Hindu temple in the world. Only the Angkor Watt which we visited in 2015 is larger. The temple is truly a sacred city with seven concentric walls or prakarams each one headed by a gopuram or gateway, the first of which the rajagopuram is the tallest at just under 300 feet. There are 21 gopurams in all, 39 pavilions, 50 shrines and a sublimely beautiful thousand columned mandapam or assembly hall with wonderful sculptures
As always, however, Trichy’s great temple’s biggest attraction is crowd-watching the thousands of devotees attending it. The predominant colour of the saris is yellow, Vishnu’s hue, and among the worshipping crowds was an elephant who bestowed blessings by tapping the top of people’s heads with his trunk.Sandra and I received our tilak, naturally.
The lively and noisy scenes at a Hindu temple make a startling contrast to the hushed reverence of western Christian places of worship. Hinduism is such an alive and vibrant way of praying to the unseen godly forces which have formed this planet of ours. I could think of no greater contrast to Evensong at an English cathedral although, clearly, both are different ways of climbing the same mountain.
We really enjoyed our trip to Tiruchirapalli and its sights. We met very few westerners there and found the locals very welcoming and proud of their city which, incidentally, was voted the third cleanest city in India last year. We, indeed, wondered why it was such a pleasure to walk around this fascinating metropolis which is even mentioned in the great Tamil epic we are reading, the Shilapadiaram:
‘On a magnificent bed having a thousand heads spread out worshipped and praised by many in an islet surrounded by the Kaveri river with bellowing waves, is the lying posture of the one who has Lakshmi sitting in his chest.’