Ponniyin Selvan, begins on the banks of Veera Narayana eri. Kalki Krishnamurthy described this lake, built by Rajaditya Chozhan, through the eyes of Vandhiyathevan during the fertile season of Adi perukku. It resembles as a sea in the eyes of the hero Vandhiyathevan. Kalki gives an elaborate description of the features of the lake and the way multiple rivers flow into the lake. Kalki added Chola princess Kundavi used to come for refreshment at the banks of Veeranam lake during spring season. He also makes a reference to the fact, that Ramanujacharya decided on the number of 64 Peetas - 74 simhasanathipathigal based on the number of 74 openings in the lake. Veeranam Lake was built in the Tenth Century during the time of Greater Cholas, from 907–955 AD and is a 16-km long dam in northern Tamil Nadu. It was created by Rajaditya Chola. He named it after his father Parantaka I Chola, who had the title "Veeranarayanan". Veeranarayanapuram modified into Veeranam over time. Veeranam lake gets water from Kollidam via Vadavaru River. The lake remains dry for the major part of the year. Water released from the Mettur dam through Kollidam and Lower Anicut would also bring in sufficient inflow into the Veeranam Lake. The lake received sufficient inflow last year (2019), and With heavy rain in Western Ghats, the lake almost got its storage capacity as it received inflow from the Cauvery tributaries Bhavani and Amaravathi.
Vinnagara Kovil (as described in the novel): Vandiyadevan travels along with Alwarkadiyan to the Veera Narayana Perumal temple which is the birthplace of Nathamunigal, the Srivaishnava saint who re-introduced Naalayira Divya Prabandham to the world. The first Paranthaka Chozha alias Veeranarayanan renewed Sri Mannanarkoil by brick construction. But there is authority to prove that Mannanar Perumal Temple was in existence even before the Chozha king Paranthakan (Uthama Chozhan’s 16th year stone inscription).
Shivan kovil near Kadambur Palace during the Chola period. The palace is in ruins now (more later). This Arch wonder too was in ruins until Archeological department took over few years back (check out the photo taken a decade back). It is here where Adithya Karikalan and Vandiyadevan used to meet to secretly exchange messages. Caretaker Rajendran, said it was this Shiva who offered him renaissance and so he took up the responsibility of reviving the temple and many-many sculptures (a lot of those are still out in the open sufferring the wrath of nature). The idol of Shiva is so unique that can't be found anywhere else in the world, as it shows Shiva in a smiling calm and nicely dressed form, going to see his fiance (Not Sharing the image for obvious reasons). Then, there’s a Tunnel which legend says that it runs directly from the earlier Chola palace to the sanctum here (was used as an emergency escape route). Archeological department has blocked any further access to it by with a concrete wall. The inscriptions found in the Adhistanam are in the script dating to 12th century CE. Another highlight and unique about all the sculpture here is that, though made of stone, these sculptures are hollow and you can test this out by clinking a coin against them and listening to the sound.
Hidden in the isolated village of Melakkadambur, the Karakkoil called as Amritagateshvara temple now is unique for its sculpture, its architecture and its astronomical significance. The shrine has been constructed as a ratha or chariot. In the tradition of the temple it is called Indra’s Vimana. It gives the impression it has just landed a moment ago carrying gods and sages. These are depicted on the walls that are covered with some of the most spectacular sculpture created by Chola artists. This temple is the earliest one known to have been built in the form of a chariot. The chariot form shrine or hall is distinctive for South Indian architecture. This architectural concept was applied in many temples constructed during the later phases of the Chola empire, and also by other South Indian dynasties. On that structure's south side is a stone statue of Dakshinamurthy who is sitting on a bull below a banyan tree. The beauty of this sculpture is a hole that extends from the left ear to the right ear.
A few kilometres away from these temples is the place where Vanthiyathevan crosses the Kollidam river to reach Kadambur Sambuvarayar’s palace. Kollidam again was flushed with water which was a visual treat! Sambuvarayar’s palace, is the place where 2 important events in the novel take place, The secret gathering of the conspirators and the infamous assassination of Aditha Karigalan. There are no traces of a palace now but the elderly localities showed us a place called Periyamedu where the palace was believed to have stood. The place is completely in Ruins now. This, maybe because the early Chozha palaces and temples were mostly made of bricks and only later, the temples were made of stone carvings influenced by Pallava architecture.
Pazhuvur, where Nandhini, the younger queen and her husband (as per the book), Pazhuvettarayar, the ruler of this place lived. The eastern part of this village is called Kilaiyur which was called as Avani Kandarvapuram during the period of the Cholas. The Siva temple at Kilaiyur was called Avani gandarva Isvaram and built in A.D. 884 during the 13th year o f Aditya –I by Paluvettaraiyar chief Kumaran Kandan. This temple is one of the finest stone temples and one of the best preserved early Chola temples offering different architectural styles with an array of beautiful and charming sculptures. Panchavanmadevi, wife of Rajaraja –I was also a native of Avani Kandarvapuram and she was a dancing girl of the temple. The life-like Nandhi, the naughty Boodhakaris in varied poses, warriors fighting inside a dragon’s mouth, creatures of fantasy and mythology like the Yaali (a mix of lion, elephant, horse), rare sculptures of Brahma, Lingothbhavar and the Shiva Lingam at the sanctum sanctorum, are unbelievable.
First sad sighting in the trip: Heard that a Epigraph aka Kalvettu, announcing the death of Raja Raja Cholan (Arulmozhi Varman) was available in a place called Paalkulathi amman temple. Hunted for the place and was saddened to see that such an important piece of history, is used as a stone pillar for the doorway of this temple. History has that previously this pillar was part of the mandapam in Pazhayarai, where the body of Raja Raja Cholan I was laid for his last rites. This mandapam was later demolished for unknown reasons. Eventually this pillar was planted at the Paalkulathu Amman temple.
The place which everyone will regret visiting, the tomb of the great Raja Raja Cholan, the mesmerising Arul Mozhi Varman , the great ruler, the perfect king, is in a state, none of us would even want to admit to ourselves. It is said that the actual tomb built by Rajendra Chola - I , son of Raja Raja Chola is buried under the ground and till now, no one has taken steps for excavation. During those days, when a great King or important family member expires, a linga is placed above the tomb (and is referred as Pallipadai). This Lingam was misplaced and is located now in a place where there was a well. The caretaker told that they use to sit n play on the lingam as a kid when it popped out in the 80s after a big flood. On a side note: According to the local villagers, politicians usually do not prefer visiting the Thanjavur big temple fearing they might lose their life or seat/power in the elections (Quoted examples of MGR & Indira Gandhi's death after visiting Tanjore big temple and Jayalalitha hiding the temple through a gaint wooden erection during her meetings). It is a jinx they say, that the great king who has built the big temple will punish any ruler who is not loyal to his people - which is why no politicians visit the Thanjavur temple or anything associated with the King of Kings they say.
Keezha Pazhayarai. This place which served as the capital city of the Cholas once upon a time ( (Before Rajarajan moved to Tanjore) has diminished to a hamlet now. You can see the Someshwarar temple in such a dilapidated condition that you will hesitate before entering the main entrance. It brought back memories of Kundavai Pirati and her intelligence coupled with beauty. Pazhayarai consisted of Patteeswaram, ThiruSakthiMutram (Rajarajapuram), Muzhaiyur & Keezha Payazhayarai. Even after Thanjavur became the capital, Pazhayarai continued to play an important role as the place where the Chola princes had their education and military training and served as a retirement place for the ageing kings. These villages still exist around Kumbakonam with each one having some relevance or other in Raja Rajan's life. According to legends, after Raja Rajan abdicated his throne in 1012 AD and crowned Rajendra Chola as the Chola Emperor, he became a Saivite Saint and changed his name to Sivapatha Sekaran and spent his last days here in Keezha Pazhaiyarai. Nandipura Vinnagaram finds a special reference in Kalki's words. Vandiyadevan comes to the town on Sri Krishna Jayanthi day and manages a quite entry along with the Koothu performers.
This temple was built by the Chozha King Rajendran the son of Rajaraja – I. to his step mother Panchavan Madevi wife of Rajaraja- I. She was the daughter of Pazhuvettaraiyar. She helped Rajaraja – I for the construction of the Tanjore big temple. She was very much attached to Rajendra and wants him to become the King after Rajaraja- I.( for that she consumed herbal medicines to avoid conceiving ). A village was also named after her as “Panchavan Maadevi sathur vedhi Mangalam”.
The Airavatesvara Temple is one of the greatest masterpieces constructed during the Cholan dynasty. A temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, this was built under the ruler Rajaraja Cholan back in the 12th century. It has been named Airavatesvara after the white elephant which is the vehicle of Lord Indra. The elephant is said to have worshipped Lord Shiva at this location in order to regain its white color after having suffered a curse from Sage Durvasa. Moreover, this location is also believed to be the spot where Lord Yama prayed to the prime deity to get rid of a burning sensation all over his body which he was cursed with. This beautiful and serene location with its historic significance is definitely worth a whole day to explore. This temple is a storehouse of art and architecture and has some exquisite stone carvings. Although this temple is much smaller than the Brihadeesvara Temple or the Gangaikondacholapuram Temple, it is more exquisite in detail. The Airavatesvara temple was much larger than it is now. It had sapta veedhis (seven streets) and seven courts, similar to the Srirangam temple, according to the inscriptions. All are gone, except the one court with the main temple that survives. There are ruins of gopuram and some structures at some distance from the current visitor premises confirming that the site was badly damaged at some point like the other major Chola era temples and various Chola cities including the capital Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The steps to the temple is another interesting feature of the structure. These are musical steps that produce all the seven 'swaras' (notes) of music when tapped on different points of the steps.
It is the jewel-in-the-crown of Raja Raja, our extraordinarily powerful king, a grand monarch with a style of his own, a conqueror who also understood art and architecture. It is a matter of pride that our own king built this finest example of dravidian architecture, stupendous in proportion, yet simple in design. Shiva, in this temple is known as Brihadeeswara – the lord of the Universe. A gigantic stone “lingam” fills the sanctum sanctorum, sheltered by a “vimanam” (towering roof) which pierces the sky at two hundred and sixteen feet. One can gaze with awe at this majestic structure from a distance. How many ever times one has seen it, one cannot help but hold one’s breath in amazement. And as you enter its precincts, this temple never fails to humble you, for such is its magical magnificence. It is the perfect tribute to the Almighty, ordered by a great king and executed by his subjects who contributed to its building in more ways than one. To this day, it stands tall as a reminder of who we are in the history books of culture, art, architecture, religion, language, governance and trade. The towering Vimanam is built up with stones with bonding and notching, without the use of mortar. The topmost stone weighing about eighty tons is still a matter of discussion for engineers who are baffled as to how the builders lifted it to that height without the help of modern contrivances. A new theory suggests that it is constructed through moving the stones weighing multi tonnes through elephants in a specially created round / circular path around the Vimanam. Stones were erected next to vimana and little farther and filled with up with sand for the circular path. Latter the path was removed and the stones were used to construct the outer walls or Prakaram walls. The details of the stone work of this imposing “vimanam” are representative of the masterly craftsmanship of South Indian artisans. In its perfect geometry and distinct clarity of lines, this tower is unbeatable. To be continued....