“A place that been modernised yet blends well with the beautiful rustic background. A rejuvenating experience. Friendly staff. P.S. Love the fact that there’s no T.V!!”
“Loved the place! A mixture of modern and tradition. Loved the construction and the way in which the house has been preserved. Food is excellent! Arun and the staff are extremely courteous. Feels just like home! Would love to come back!”
“A fully authentic experience of India and Tamil Nadu. We were lucky to stay with you. Very clean, well decorated, excellent food and very nice people. Will recommend it to friends.”
Lery Francis/Bernadette (Paris, France)
“A great Tamil life experience. The only word to describe it is, Fabulous! The staff are very attentive and warmly. The house is so nice. I will definitely recommend this place to my guests.”
Elisabeth Blin (Paris, France)
“A most beautiful experience of the Indian countryside. Very clean, and beautifully decorated rooms. Magnificent food. A house of good taste in any sense.”
Mariri (Paris, France)
“A very nice stay in this very charming, beautifully designed home. We were warmly welcomed. A divine abode”
Cazals/Pellerin (Paris, France)
“Good food. Great ambience. Would positively come back. Totally inspirational.”
“Beautiful location. Extremely good care. Imaginative restoration of the old structure. Admirable effort. Quite inspiring. Enjoyed every moment of our stay.”
“Good place – well maintained. The staff was extremely helpful in making us feel at home. Will definitely stay again!”
By Saskia Kersenboom
New Year….!!! – The sudden rain ebbs away, leaving the world a cleaner, better place. The dark night is full of sounds: birds, frogs, cicadas…the ripple of water…
The house is peaceful, while we sit on the steps near the water tank; the temple is lit by a single lamp and emanates a steady quiet, assuring presence, protected by its walls.
Life in Tiruppugalur is new to us and yet it feels old and well known to me. Here, the human condition, returns to a natural rhythm weaving its way into the sounds, smells and substances around. After Chennai and al ourl earlier travels over the last month, the murmur of a far away car, of neighbours chatting inside, touches us like a blessing, a balm of space, like a generous, new chance to live.
The rains have washed away the kolam drawing in front of the house. Tomorrow there will be a new one.
Back from a two day excursion to Tanjavur, Tiruppugalur is already “home”. The warm, golden colours of the walls, the brick floors, dark brown wooden pillars and ceilings, enfold us in a warm “welcome”. Every detail in this serene, traditional South Indian house speaks of beauty and loving care. The spacious guest rooms are very comfortable, set in simple elegance. The lamps that are lit every evening outside on the terrace, are followed by decorative lamps inside, lamps in the star-lit garden and finally small lamps flickering in the guestroom.
After the menacing traffic on the roads between Tiruppugalur and Tanjavur, a solitary bicycle finds its way among the many goats on these four village roads around the temple. Time slips away in the concert of birds, cows, goats and a single dog, marked every hour by the chime of a temple bell.
The view from the terrace is magnificent: across the temple water tank, four walls enclose the shrine to Shiva, one of the main Hindu gods, who resides here in the form of Fire. No architect could have done a better job at laying out the temple architecture in its surrounding green, lush and waving nature. The giant temple elephant is just another point-in-case. From this natural, generous base the temple towers rise up to the sky, telling colourful stories of gods and goddesses through painted sculptures. Lit by sun during the day, and by a single light at night, these towers are synonymous with the village. Tamil tales tell the story of Saint Appar who lived more than a thousand years ago and achieved MOKSHA, that is, release from the chain of rebirths, on this very bank of the temple tank. Sinking deep into our chairs on the terrace we feel drawn into its lure, tracing his footsteps, disappearing into oblivion.
Four o clock in the afternoon the temple in Tiruppugalur reopens. A narrow path through the bushy gardens that surround the water tank, takes us - as if through a secret shortcut – to the huge temple tower.
As we enter, the shrine for the goddess is the first to open. Adorned with the red and grey powder that the priest has given us, we meet the temple elephant and her mahout. Every day at 4pm, she enters, kneels down at the holy flag post and trumpets three times in adoration of the god Shiva and his consort.
These and similar details make Tiruppugalur a marvelous “place to be”. Modernity at large is available everywhere around the “global village”. To live in a “local, genuine village” is an experience that most of us can access in literature, films or dreams only. Here, village life is alive, not adorned to please commercial tastes, tourist values and expectations.
We get used to this rhythm of life quickly. The village watchman chimes the time, single handedly: every hour, day and night. There are four of them working in shifts - to stay alert. It’s a safe feeling.
Early morning…warm, steaming Indian mixed coffee breaks the day. Around 8am the neighbours on our left side bring in the fresh milk - still warm from the cow. In the afternoon, the lady on our right side takes over.
The food at Mangala Heritage Retreat is strictly vegetarian. It’s variety, however, is stunning and special wishes are always met. This morning our breakfast will be Pongal – a ‘fertile rice’ dish that gives its name to the celebrations of the new rice harvest. Pongal, the holidays, will start on coming Saturday. The staff arranges everything to celebrate the boiling of the first new rice at home. A special place of worship will be arranged in the courtyard, just like in the households around us. We too will have our sugarcane, new earthen for pot boiling rice, colourful kolam drawings in the front and back of the house, to celebrate the increasing sun.
The village and towns around Tiruppugalur prepare extensively for these holidays. Everywhere sugarcanes are sold – like Christmas trees. During the next day, colourful garlands are offered to the cows. Their horns are freshly painted and this second Pongal day will be their ‘day off’. Garlands, bright paints and powders seem to be everywhere.
Tiruppugalur is a small village of about 800 people surrounded by many such villages. Towns nearby are indeed bigger but in character more or less the same. Just much more crowded, dirty and noisy. Excursions to the big temple cities like Tiruvarur, Kumbhakonam, Mayuram, Chidambaram and Tanjavur are certainly worthwhile because of their ancient temples. The traveling may at times be tiresome due to the condition of the roads, especially after monsoon rains. Equally rewarding however, are the small shrines in the villages around Tiruppugalur.
One such shrine is Tiruccenkatangudi, “the place of the holy beautiful forest”. An old temple determines the proud identity of the villagers. It is praised in sacred Tevaram hymns – that date back more than a thousand years. This place of pilgrimage lies outside the tourist routes; whoever sets out for the temple is met by priests, devotees and children who are eager to tell the stories of their gods –living in the temple precincts- their saints, and, their rituals. In a time like mid-January, one may witness a ritual procession around the village of a new earthen pot that is filled with newly harvested rice. The temple orchestra leads the procession with loud pomp. A Priest carries the new rice with care on his head while an attendant holds an umbrella to protect the pot, just like a god or goddess, from an overdose of sun.
In this coeval plane, life manifests itself in many, different forms. India, fortunately, still offers that variety of lifestyles and identities. The challenge, here in Tiruppugalur, is to leave the “global” behind, for a while, step out of its mental grid and open oneself to ‘another taste’, one that does make a difference in space and time.
15 - 16.01.2011
We pierce the dark-of-night as our car bends off the main road into an ever-winding track among the rice fields. Pongal is in full swing.
This festival of new beginnings started today early morning celebrating the new rice, new crops of vegetables, new pots. The previous days the house was cleansed meticulously, all-over, to the smallest details.
Presents of new clothes for the servants and the sharing the first dish of sweet Pongal rice with neighbouring children makes the resolve of growth, hope and renewed energy doubly firm.
Today it is the festival of the cows. In the street behind our house, they are adorned with colourful paper garlands, green leaves and kumkum powder marks. Celebrating their importance means bananas, fresh greens, and priority treatment. Tomorrow their calves will be in the limelight.
Nature lights up mysteriously: rice fields, trees, temple towers, as our car winds its way through the night. We return from Tiruvarur where crowds gathered from near and far to have a glimpse of the gods and goddesses. Especially, the evening celebration in the main shrine of Shri Tyāgarajasvāmi is spectacular: the blowing of horns, beating the five faced drum and the rich flower decorations of the god, his spouse and their son merge with the recitation of Sanskrit formulas that communicate individual names, astrological “passports” and family ties to the god, requesting help, support and divine care for the next year. In another pavilion the State Minister of Milk is expected. The hall is fully booked from 4pm, till late in the night. School programs, dance programs, music, speeches…Pongal is very much alive: …..lasting three days.
Back home, one day of rest and a visit to the local temple, saying ‘hello’ to the elephant as she comes into the courtyard bowing and trumpeting her respects to the god Shiva in the main shrine.
Tomorrow, back to the “big town” of Tiruvarur to visit the Mela – the festive markets, see the horse races and other sports. Our tempo, by now, is in synch…
Tiruppugalur is a pearl among local villages. It’s most striking feature is the large, ancient temple to Shiva. For a village as small as Tiruppugalur, the size of its temple is surprising. Several other temple structures are part of this complex. A large temple garden, now mainly for temple elephant, Silambikai, a huge storehouse, two art pavilions, a resident saint in his own quarters and right next to us a small shrine to Shiva holding his goddess on his lap.
Tai Pucam day in January celebrates Shiva’s son, called Murugan, over two full moon nights. Tiruppugalur prepares itself for another 24 hour procession, starting around midnight; the gods, musicians, priests, devotees and the elephant will travel by foot from one village to the next, non-stop. Five villages belong to the temple lands. This shows the feudal past and the importance of Tiruppugalur in olden times. The sound of horns, the large Hoboe, called Nagasvaram, and temple drums pierce the darkness, slowly ebbing away to resurge next evening. All the way, men from Tiruppugalur carry the gods on their shoulders, at times lifting, bouncing and halting them as if they dance: moving up and down back and forth to the rhythm of the adoration of their devotees, loudly chanting their names.
We too have prepared ourselves and the house: large kolam drawings adorn the rear entrance that opens to the “temple ring-road”, two burning lamps, bananas and other gifts from the Tamil soil, new silken cloth for Shiva and his consort, a coconut to fulfill all prayers. The blessings are manifold: a touch by the elephant, sacred ash from the gods and a garland draped by the temple priests. Our hours long wait into the night has not been in vain.
As the moon rises behind the temple, the towers, trees and water tank are engulfed in a golden reddish glow. The night smoothes the ripples of time. This place is old, ancient indeed…..Tiruppugalur has seen so much: comings and goings of human efforts, the rising and waning of worship, devotion, saints and believers. The ritual rhythm, however, goes on.
No matter how fast and far reaching our world changes, no matter how it seems to amalgamate all diversity into a “general, well known”, other worlds do continue to exist. In the silence of the night, the gods of Tiruppugalur re-claim their perennial realm.