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Home Eminent Columnists Sarvamangala

Sarvamangala takes you through a magical journey across the weaving and craft centres of India. The writer of this column, Sarvamangala, has been associated with handlooms and handicrafts for 14 years. She has started and run, very successfully, a retail store in Secunderabad dealing with ethnic handlooms and ecofriendly craft/toys. She has her own outlet now....Anagha, in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad..

The business woman turned writer was earlier an airhostess with Indian Airlines. "I got into business and into handlooms by default", she says. I have an Air Force background and had no clue of how to run a business.But having got into it. she gave it her all.

She has travelled to the major weaving centres of Andhra Pradesh and other States of India and interacted with master weavers understanding the method of weaving from them and giving them colour and design inputs in return. Handlooms soon became a passion with her. "I realised the variety and scope of Indian handlooms after I got into it. The designs and combinations that can be made are endless and mind boggling...leaving one spellbound", she says. For instance, who could have thought that Kalamkari paintings could be appliqued on to sarees? or the traditional Lucknowi chikankari work done on Maheshwari sarees? or block prints on Kanjeevaram silks? or Jute infused into Tussar Silk sarees?

Read about all these and more in the forthcoming months in "Weaves and Crafts of India".

Meenakshi and Nataraja Temple

Tamil Nadu is a land blessed with temples. Continuing the journey of these temples from the last month, here are some more famous temples of Tamil Nadu.    

Location: Madurai

Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located in the holy city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. It is dedicated to Parvati who is known as Meenakshi and her consort Lord Shiva, who is known here as Sundareshwarar or Beautiful Lord.

The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500-year-old city and is situated in the heart of Madurai covering an area of 17 acres, with the entire city being built around it. The complex houses 14 magnificent gopurams or towers including two golden gopurams for the main deities that are elaborately sculptured and painted. High walls enclose the temple complex and there are two sanctums of Sundareshwarar and Meenakshi in the center of the complex which are surrounded by a number of smaller shrines and grand pillared halls.

The towers rise from solid granite bases and are adorned with stucco figures of the deities, mythical animals and grotesque figures painted in bright colours. The tallest temple tower is 51.9 metres (170 ft) high. The temple has five entrances and covers an area of 847 feet (254.1 meters) in length and 792 feet (237.6 meters) in width in the North South direction. The circumference of the Adi Veedhi, which is the path within the great walls, is 830 feet (249 meters) on the east west end and measures 730 feet (219 meters) from North South direction. 

The temple was built by Kulasekara Pandya and was converted into a magnificent structure by the Nayaks, who ruled Madurai from the 16th to the 18th century AD. The temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people and has been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature.

According to local legends, Malayadwaja Pandya was the king of Madurai. He did not have any child for a long time so he performed many yagnas and sacrifices before a sacred fire. During one of the sacrifices, a three-year-old girl came out of the fire and Malayadwaja adopted her. The girl had three breasts, which was the reason of worry for Malayadwaja. However, a divine voice gave assurance to him that the third breast would disappear as soon as she met her consort. The girl became a brave and beautiful princess and won many battles. She finally lost her heart to Lord Shiva, when she met him on the battlefield in Kailash. Her third breast disappeared as soon as she saw him and she recognized her divine consort. They ruled over the Pandya kingdom for some time and then settled in the Meenakshi temple at Madurai as Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar.

Pottramaraikulam (golden lotus tank) is an ancient tank of the temple where devotees take bath in the holy water. The area around this tank was the meeting place of the Tamil Sangam - the ancient academy of poets. The history of the sangam goes back to the days when Gods dallied with men. This academy judged the worth of any work of literature presented before it by throwing it into the tank. Only those that did not sink were considered worthy of attention. The tank is surrounded by a pillared corridor and steps lead down to the tank, enabling worshippers to take bath in it.  

Location: Chidambaram
The Nataraja or Chidambaram Natarajar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is located in the heart of the temple town of Chidambaram, 78 km south of Pondicherry and 60 km north of Karaikal in Cuddalore District, the east-central part of Tamil Nadu. The Sangam classics refer to Viduvelvidugu Perumtaccan, respected clan of traditional Vishwakarmas, as being the chief architect of the temple renovation. There have been several renovations in its history, particularly during the days of Chola emperors in ancient and pre-medieval periods.

In Hindu literature, Chidambaram is one of the five holiest Shiva temples, each representing one of the five natural elements; Chidambaram represents akasha (aether/space). The other four temples in this category are; Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara (water), Kanchi Ekambareswara (earth), Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (fire) and Kalahasti Nathar (wind).

A unique feature of this temple is the bejewelled image of Nataraja. It depicts Lord Shiva as the Lord of the Dance, Bharatanatyam and is one of the few temples where Shiva is represented by an anthropomorphic murthi rather than the classic lingam. The Nataraja (in an Ananda Tandava posture) symbolises the motion of the universe as sustained by Lord Shiva, and is famous all over the world as the absolute synthesis in metal art.

This celestial dancing posture tells us how a Bharatanatyam dancer should dance; the demon under Nataraja’s feet signifies that ignorance is under his feet, the fire in one hand (power of destruction) means destroyer of evil, the raised hand signifies that he is the saviour of all life, the ring at the back signifies the cosmos and the drum in his hand signifies the origin of life. The pillars in the eastern tower of the temple depict Lord Nataraja in 108 different poses of the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam.

The temple has a striking roof covered with gold and has five courts. The temple complex spread over 40 acres is dedicated to both Lord Shiva Nataraja and Lord Govindaraja Perumal, one of the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place.

Of the numerous temples that line Tamil Nadu, the Nataraja Temple is one of the most significant ones and is an example of the Chola architecture. In terms of its antiquity, richness in terms of worship and festival traditions, in architectural and sculptural splendour, in its association with music and dance, it is a centre, second to none in representing the rich cultural heritage of India.

The Natyanjali Festival conducted here is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is celebrated every year during the months of February - March and continues for five days within the temple premises. It begins on the auspicious day of Maha Shivaratri.

The origin of the temple is shrouded in mystery and there are many legends associated with it. The legend of Adi Shesha has it that, aroused with an irrepressible desire to witness Shiva’s dance in person at Chidambaram, Seshan descended to the earth as Patanjali. There is yet another legend associated which commemorates the dance duel between Shiva and Kali. This legend has been portrayed in the Nritta Sabha, one of the halls within the temple. 

Month: January 2011. 

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