Monday, January 18, 2010

Different, with similarities

It is said of us that we don't value history when it is all around us; like the villagers near the site of Harappa who did not realize the historic significance of the bricks from their village which were used as ballast by British railway engineers, many of us remain unaware of the history around us, just because it has always been around us. Add to it a tradition of transmitting information verbally rather than through any records and it becomes difficult to separate fact from legend.

The Madhava Perumal temple in Mylapore is steeped in legend. Depending on who you listen to, the temple goes back to the days of Vyasa - the 8th century BCE - or around 800 years, according to records available with the temple authorities. The four-pillared mandapam in front of the temple, which is a feature of Pallava temple construction, supports the latter estimate. For its age, the temple is quite well maintained, though not as crowded as one would expect given its antiquity and imbued holiness. In that aspect, it falls behind the Kapaleeshwarar temple, which is also of roughly similar stature.

Though the deities at the two temples are starkly different (Siva as Kapaleeswarar and Vishnu as Madhava Perumal), both of them have the same tree - the punnai (Calophyllum inophyllum) as the sthala vriksham (sacred tree)!

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