For 802 kilometres the Kaveri river winds her way through hills valleys and plains seeking to fulfil her destiny her union with the Lord of the Sea.
In this carefully researched book on the river Kaveri authors Padma Seshadri and Padma Malini Sudararaghvan take us from the river’s origin in Talakaveri to the site of the ancient port of Poompuhr engaging us with stories from mythology and history and anecdotes from the lives of great people who have shaped the regions along her bank.
Padma Seshadri and Padma Malini Sundararaghavan worked as colleagues in the department of English at stella Maris College, Chennai. They share a fascination for river stories and the lives of saints many of whom lived along the banks of India sacred river. They have collaborated on articles for the Routledge Encryclopaedia of Postcolonial literatures in English and book of mythological stories for young readers.
A heritage enthusiast padma seshadri studied at indraprastha college in Delhi and at the university of leeds and obtained her doctoral degree from the university of Madras. She has also taught at indraprastha college and S.N.D.T. College in Mumbai. She has authored three heritage based books for children and has contributed articles in the times of India the Hindu and Shankar’s weekly.
A freelance editor writer and teacher Padma Malini Sundararaghavan studied at Nirmala college Coimbatore and at stella Maris college before obtaining her doctoral degree in postcolonial fiction from the university of madras. Her articles have been published in journals such as literary criterion.
This is a narrative that captures travel in space along the banks of the river kaveri and a movement in time as the work takes in past events connected with particular place of people. It includes kings and what they did on and off the battlefield saints philosophers and musicians and what they did even gods and what they did. As the title says it Happened along the kaveri.
It is a bit of everything history mythology literature art and architecture music religion biography what hold everything together is the river with the temples that do her banks attempts to capture through anecdotes the unique culture that Kaveri has nurtured for millennia.
The idea to write this book took root when we made a trip to kumbakonam and Thanjavur to visit the temple in the Kaveri delta. Our kings were all great temple builders. But temple were more than just buildings to house gods devalayas; they were central to the community. Architecture sculpture painting and crafts were all nourished by temples and they also offered a stage for the performing arts. Temples were also where the village assembly met were fiscal record of the locality were kept and the deeds of king inscribed Much of our history has been pieced together from inscription in temples. There is a saying in Tamil warning parents against giving their daughter in marriage into a village that has no temple. That is ho dominant temple are in our landscape and mindscape.
As we went on our trip to the kaveri delta we found that we enjoyed the places whose history we knew. In other places we gazed at the monuments and moved on with a distinct feeling of not having done justice to the place. How nice it would be we felt to have a book that would give us not only the history but also the mythology related to the temples describe the art and narrate anecdotes about people and place. We decided to write just such a book.
The decision with the easy part. Our research was a mix of long hour travelling discussing with experts and historian and poring over bulky tomes on history including the various gazetteers of the Raj days.
We travelled along the Kaveri and her distributaries our first stretch taking us from Tiruchirapalli to poompuhar. We started midway so to speak though the book itself journey from the source at Talakaveri to the sea. At poompuhar where Kaveri meets the sea we looked in vain for a nice temple to commemorate the meeting of Kaveri with her husband the king of the Ocean Samudra Raja we realised she had given herself completely to her children along her bank the many dams and channels diverting her waters.
We travelled by train bus and taxi to our various destinations. The verdant delta region were beautiful after the rains. We crossed and re-crossed the rivers Arisilar. Vettar, Vennar, Kudamurruti, Pambani, Odamboki and so many nameless channels and at every turn we glimpsed the waters and frequently exchanged delighted smiles as the channels played hide and seek with us which the grumpy taxi driver played spoilsport!
We visited the coastal area from velankanni to poompuhar passing through Old Portuguese Dutch French and Danish colonies. We traversed the area between the two branches of Kaveri and Kolidam to worship at the cluster of Vishnu temples around Tirunangoor. We paid obeisance to siva as healer and as boatman and after crossing the Kollidam as the Lord of dance.
The second apart of our journey took us to Karnataka. We travelled with young people and that was an adventure in itself. We experienced the bounty of nature in Kodagu or coorg and give an account of people to whom the supreme deity is the river celebrated in our book. In mysore by which we mean the old princely state, not just the city the Karnataka irrigated by Kaveri as different from the Karnataka of Tungabhadra we crossed ancient bridges and check dams and visited two of kaveri three island temples to Lord Ranganatha srirangapatna and sivasamudram. We marvelled at the architectural legacy of the hoysalas and the culture legacy of the wodeyars. In our account of the trip we dip into the annals of the Anglo French wars and try and recreate the towering characters that were Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.
Our journey through Kongu Desam was more random and our account draws heavily on scattered trips. A different kind of war history full of poetry and hyperbole is given as we travel back to the sangam age of the Tamil people, from this 300 BCE to 300 CE. A mix of temples forts and battles of long ago from this section of the book.
The last section cholamandalam takes up the most space in the book. A look at the map will show why. Kaveri has hundreds of channels in the region some natural and others created as a flood control measure or for irrigation. The region is chock full of temple big and small. The musician saints and philosopher of the area have bequeathed what we to this day consider a heritage to be cherished. In our account the wars of kings take a back seat as we are more concerned with their peacetime activities of patronage to the arts and religion. We follow the course of the river looking at Thanjavaur twice first when we talk about the cholas the nayak and the Marathas and what day did and then to admire the tremendous contribution thanjavur has made to the various arts.
History however does not respect boundaries rather it keeps redrawing these lines and so we have invader kings and rulers of all kinds crisscrossing the regions. We see hyder in kodagu mysore and as far southeast as Chidambaram and karaikkal and the british of course are everywhere. Kaveri has played an important part in the wars for she was a natural dividing line determining manoeuvres and quite often the outcome of the war.
While history takes us a sizeable portion of our book we cannot strictly follow chronology as our text is spatially organized. So we meet sarabhoji II dedicating his monument to his teacher Schwartz in Thanjavur long before we reach Tarangambadi where the missionary first arrived. We see Tirumangai alvar building a wall round the Srirangam temple but it is only when we get to the coastal area around Nagapattinam that we give a bizarre account of how he got the financial resources to build that we give a bizarre account of how he got the financial resources to build that wall. This book is a kind of collage of events in history biographical sketches of personalities mythology and everything in between.
Selecting places proved a difficult task. Gopala iyer in sri Kaveri Rahasyam says there are over seven hundred shrines on the banks of the river excluding tributaries and the channels in the delta region. The utter impossibility of dealing with such numbers would be obvious to all. We applied a variety of parameters to select the temple towns to talk about. A few temples like Sriangam and Chidambaram have tremendous religious social and cultural significance. Some temple like to one at somnathpur are not places of worship anymore and are seen only as architectural wonders. Little temple towns like Terazhundur varahur and Oathukadu have attained prominence because of their association with famous people.
Puranas mythological stories and sthalapurans take up considerable space in this book. Any self respecting temple will have a sthalpurna puranaof the shtala or place. Puranic stories are often adapted of the base purana. Readers interested in these stories are assured hours of pleasure if they pick up vatam Mani’s Puranic Encylopaedia. However can one call a mythological story a happening we have chosen to do so.
The name of deities call for comment. Ganesha is more popularly known as vinayak or pillaiyar in south India and the other son of Siva Skanda or kumara is more familiar as Murugan (in Tamil lore) and subrahmanya (in Sanskrit). As for that supreme embodiment of devotion Hanuman he is commonly known as Anjaneya (son of Anjana). Also siva and Vishnu are rarely present in those forms in temple. They are usually portrayed as different amass parts or manifestation Ranganatha is an aspect of Vishnu in the reclining form on his serpent bed Adi sesha or anata, without beginning or end srinivasa is Vishnu is different in his of sri and is shown in and amsa of Siva s healer Kapaleesvara is Siva with Brahma skull in his hand sangamesvara is Siva presiding over the confluence of river.
Some architectural terms relating to Dravidian temple are explained in the text where they occur and some are given in the glossary. The book touches upon Tamil history and literature and some clarifications are in order. In Tamil the prefix Tiru is equivalent to the Sanskrit Sri and is attached not only to people but to holy places as well. Hence the names Aiyaru and Tiruviyaru refer to the same place.
The suffix “ar” denote respect. The names Ramar (deity) Sundarar (saint) Kambar (poet) Muthu Tandavar (musician) all reveal this feature. But English language books have familiarized readers with Rama and Krishna for deities sankara and Ramanuja for the philosopher theologians tyagarja for the musician saint and so these forms are used. We have used the form dikshitar musician saint and so these forms are used, we have used the form Dikshitar only for the Chidambaram temple priests and for the famous music composer not for Govinda Dikshita. Again we generally use the word linga instead of lingam which is more common in Tamil.
There are sixty three famed Saiva (arupatthu Moovar) who are known collectively and in the plural as Nayanmar while each one is a Nayanar. The collected works of the great saiva saints are referred to as Tirumurai consisting of twelve books.
Similarly there are twelve famous vaishnava saints adorned by the title Alvar (one who has plumbed the depths of devotion or bhakti). The work of the Alvas are collectively known as divya prabhandham or Nalayiram as they number four thousand. The alvars were followed by the acharyas or the great teacher. We met several Nayanmar and Alvar along our journey.
There are 264 Saiva temples known as paadal sthalam or padal petter sthalam because they have been celebrated in along by three of the Nayanmar: namely Appar sundarar and jnnasambandar. These three and Manikkavachakar who followed later hold a special place in Saiva bhakti movement. There are a hundred and eight places celebrated by the alvars and vaishnavas refer to each as a divya desma.
Many of these sacred spots dedicated to Vishnu siva or the sons of Siva are located along the bank of the Kaveri her tributaries or her distributaries Siva and Vishnu temples also is usually an Amman shrine as in samayavaram or punnainallur both dedicated to mariamman.
We also give an appendix to show what we the inhabitants of the area have done to our inheritance and what we continue to do pollute the river and desecrate the repositories of culture on her banks.
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