Friday, January 16, 2009

Chariot in town

Temple chariots have a long history in India. The most well known is the chariot procession of Lord Jagannath at Puri, even though many who use the word 'juggernaut' may not readily connect the word to the temple chariot. It was therefore natural for Ganapathi Sthapati to look to such chariots for inspiration when he was given the task of designing a memorial for Tiruvalluvar, a great poet-saint of Tamil Nadu. His chariot of choice was from within the state, from the town of Tiruvarur, where the chariot festival has been conducted annually for hundreds of years.

The chariot is but at an end of Valluvar Kottam, as the memorial is called. A life size statue of Tiruvalluvar sits in the 101-ft tall chariot and looks to the east, over the roof of a large hall. The hall itself has a capacity to seat about 4000 people, though it is not used for such sit-down performances. The pillars around the periphery of the hall carry verses from Tirukkural, Valluvar's tour-de-force which sets out tenets for virtuous living.

Somehow, Valluvar Kottam has not been able to make it to many of 'must-see-places-in-Chennai' lists. Even in those that it does appear, it just has a passing mention, almost as if hoping "well, it is so large, there must be something to it". Having been around for 32 years, it has become one more of those everyone knows where it is, but no one has been there kind of places. That's a pity, because there is no other monument in the city that can rival the sheer size of Valluvar Kottam!

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