long way from tiruchirappalli

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“Uncle! Many mutton!” Muralee exclaims from behind the wheels of our rented Innova, mustering the English he picked up as a municipal cleaner in Singapore. I awake from my front seat doze to focus blearily on a herd of grazing goats hurried along the roadside by a tall thin man with a long stick.

Muralee stops the car. I get off with my camera. Goats in the blinding afternoon sun make good foreground subjects against the featureless scenery that typifies much of Tamil Nadu – scrub forest, dusty fields and thirsty palms. We have left the hill town of Palani and are now deep in India’s spiritual South.

Being among these bearded four legged creatures is auspicious and  culturally comforting. I am smitten  by conscience for abandoning family and friends on the second day of the Chinese New Year of the Goat for a Hindu pilgrimage to India.

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Playing with a young billy goat in the village square, south of Madurai
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Owner with working pet elephant, Srirangam
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Proud and glistening. A handsome headman strikes a pose outside his homestead on a farm on the road to Palani
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Freshly harvested bananas near Kallanai Dam in the Kaveri River, Tiruchirappalli District
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Young lovers at a picnic area at the Kallanai Dam, Tiruchirappalli District

The desire for this trip was born  more than a few years ago when  I made a call to my late friend and guide Logan for his help in planning it. He asked for my horoscope to prepare an astrological chart to work out the right temple to go to for the prayers. Sadly, Logan passed away before our trip details were discussed and finalised. I make this trip now to pay belated obeisance to Murugan -the God of the Tamils, in his home temples located in the plains, hill and shore of Tamil Nadu and in memory of Logan.

Tamil Nadu -the land of the Tamils, is  vintage Vedic India in so many ways.Here Hinduism has managed to still keep many of its traditions, lexicons and amazing temples. Separated from the racial and religious cauldron of the northern plains by monsoonal seas and the Deccan plateau, the land of the Tamils developed its own kingdoms, culture and customs, safe and far away from the pathway of muslim invaders and conquerors.

Today together with the rest of South India, Tamil Nadu is the domain of the Dravidian people. Smaller, darker brown and speaking melodic tongue-twisting languages, Dravidians have been “Indians” for far longer than the Indo-Aryan northerners whose ancestors only began settling in India around 3500 years ago. Tamil civilisation is one of mankind’s oldest. It is the world’s only surviving classical civilisation, one that has continued in almost its original form unchanged since the age of ancient Greeks and Romans.

Making a pilgrimage through the temples and holy shrines of Tamil Nadu is for me a deeply meaningful experience and a privilege. It is also the closest thing to time travel in the 21st century.

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Vendor selling limes and lamps at the entrance to the Samayapuram Mariamman Temple, outside Tiruchirappalli
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Crowded bus, Tiruchirappalli
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Scooter at the road junction, Srirangam
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Evening in Srirangam
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Happy devotees at the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam
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Construction works at the temple complex in Srirangam which is located on an island in the Kaveri River north of Tiruchirappalli. The Srirangam Temple occupies an area of 156 acres and is the largest hindu temple in the world.
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Pilgrims at the foothill of the Temple, Palani
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Tourist horse cart, Palani
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caged pilgrims waiting in the queue to get onto the rope cars up to the Murugan Temple, Palani
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Devotees with offerings at the foothill of the Temple, Palani
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Begging for penitent’s pennies, Palani
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It can take up to an hour’s wait in the queue for a seat in the rope car even for passengers in the 50 rupee lane, Palani
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Lunch time at the temple courtyard, Palani Murugan Temple
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Pony cart ride, Palani
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Muralee and Madhi getting ready for our lunch served on banana leaves, Palani
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interesting rock outcrop before Madurai
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In a village we stopped for tea and cigarettes before Madurai

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Outside the Temple, Thiruparankundram
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Wedding receptionists, Thiruparankundram
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Sternness in monochrome, Thiruparankundram
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Women devotees at the Murugan Temple, Thiruparankundram
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Thiruparankundram Temple Priest and devotees
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Devotees with gentle faces, Thiruparankundram
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Holy dip at sunset, Thiruchendur
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Popular road side tea stall serving a pre-dawn cuppa, Kanyakumari
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Kanyakumari Sunrise
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off to the beachside market with pot and scales, Kanyakumari
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Singing the Lord’s praises at Land’s End in a church overlooking the southern most tip of India, Kanyakumari
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Kanyakumari or Cape Comorin
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Boy squatting next to auctioned fish, Kanyakumari
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Auctioning the morning’s catch, Kanyakumari
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Girl from Nagercoil
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Goats near Palani

All images Copyright Kerk Boon Leng February 2015

9 thoughts on “long way from tiruchirappalli

  1. What a delightful opening, Boon Leng, followed as always by elucidation and insight. And what wonderful portraits, though I wouldn’t want to cross the Thiruparankundram Monochrome nor gatecrash the wedding.

  2. Hi Boon Leng,
    are you sure you are a “Law Twister” by profession? Looks to me more like a very talented Travel Writer & Photographer!
    Well as usual great stuff,

  3. Dear Kerk, thank you for sharing with us these beautiful pictures. I miss travelling and I feel I am closer to these people, just by looking at them. Me and Alex wish you all the best and we send you greetings from a sunny Bucharest!

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