Trichy and Thanjavur – deep-rooted in history, steeped in diversity

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The Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur, part of a Unesco world heritage site - Photo: Benedict Lopez

Benedict Lopez takes a nostalgic trip to a couple of places in Tamil Nadu that are well known among Malaysian Hindus.

Besides Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), where my ancestral roots lie, Kollam (Quilon) is the only other city in Kerala which is nostalgic to me. My late mother studied at the then-popular Tanchury Convent. The only other two cities in India that I am sentimental about are Trichy (Trichinopoly) in Tamil Nadu and Bengaluru (Bangalore) in Karnataka.

St Joseph’s College in Trichy was my late father’s alma mater, which he often used to talk about.

Heritage institution: St Joseph’s College, Trichy – Photo: Benedict Lopez

The college, established in 1844 by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), was affiliated to Madras University in 1869. Currently affiliated to Bharathidasan University, the college has the distinction of being the only one in Tamil Nadu recognised as a heritage college.

After completing his studies at St Joseph’s, my father worked in the British army in Bangalore, before migrating to Malaya soon after World War Two.

Some months ago, before the coronavirus pandemic, I visited Trichy to attend the wedding of an old friend’s daughter. The wedding ceremony was conducted in accordance with traditional Hindu customs, and only differed slightly from Hindu weddings in Malaysia, as the time taken for the entire ceremony was a little shorter. Several guests at the wedding came from as far away as Australia and Malaysia.

After the wedding, some friends and I took time off to visit places of interest. Trichy, a city of slightly more than 1.5 million people, lies on the banks of the Kaveri and Kollidam rivers, which flow along the surrounding area of Srirangam Island.

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With a history dating back to the Third Century BC, the city is a sacred destination for Hindus. Many come here for religious rituals and especially to visit the famed Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple – the largest Hindu temple in the world. Spanning 155 acres, this temple complex contains 81 shrines, 21 towers, 39 pavilions and has many water tanks within the temple complex.

The day after the wedding, we headed for Thanjavur (formerly Tanjore), a city in Tamil Nadu that is an important centre of South Indian religion, art and architecture.

Most of the Great Living Chola Temples, which are Unesco world heritage monuments, lie in and around Thanjavur. Foremost among these is the Brihadisvara Temple, in the city’s heart (top photo).

It is also home to the Tanjore painting with its vivid colours, simple icons and gold foil – a unique classical style which originated in the 17th Century.

Thanjavur, headquarters of the Thanjavur District, is an important agricultural centre in the Cauvery Delta, known as the “rice bowl of Tamil Nadu”.

On the way back to Trichy from Thanjavur, I noticed a Tamil University. My friends told me this institution in Tamil Nadu was set up for higher research in the Tamil language. It provides advanced studies in allied branches such as linguistics, translations, lexicography, music, drama and manuscriptology. The university has six science departments – for industries and earth sciences, computer science, environmental and herbal science, siddha medicine, ancient sciences, and architecture.

Like other cities in southern India, Trichy, is renowned for its cultural and architectural heritage. It is the gateway to many well-known temples and historical sites in Tamil Nadu, and many Malaysian Hindus converge on Trichy for religious pilgrimages.

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Pharmaceuticals in Trichy are relatively cheap, just like in Koci (Cochin). My Chinese Malaysian friends who came along for the wedding bought quite a lot.

The writer (centre) with his friends at the wedding reception in Trichy

And like cities in Kerala, books are a bargain in Trichy.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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