By the time we were driving towards Kumbakonam, with the rising heat, was doubting myself, over the self imposed pilgrimage and wanting a cool breezy surrounding, wistfully thinking of the chilly winter mornings of London. I was so planning a trip in my mind , to a colder place ,to see the Northern Lights may be.
The last stop over in our journey was Kumbakonam. Kumbakonam is famous for its temples, its Maha maham festival, its Coffee fondly referred as degree Kaapi, its now dying silk industry and betel leaves. I can confidently say I am a Coffee Connoisseur. I could do a trip of tasting Coffee,- Note to myself- Add in to do List. Right without digressing from the topic, the Kumbakonam Degree Kaapi is on my top of list of best coffees. Brewing coffee is an art, the right brew will awaken your senses and soul, like a beautiful melody and remind you life is beautiful. Kumbakonam Kaapi certainly does have that quality. Betel Leaves are considered auspicious and are always offered to Gods and guests at home and to guests at any auspicious occasion like weddings. I must say I am not a big fan of the leaves, they are like coffee, you can get addicted to them. I suppose one affliction in one lifetime is enough. I get mouth ulcers whenever I have betel Leaves . The betel leaves have a serving pattern and etiquette, it is served with edible Lime called Chunambu in Tamil and beetle nuts called Paakku in Tamil. This serving is supposed to be a good digestive. Many western countries discourage the use of betel leaves, but please be aware in this part of the world it is considered very auspicious and is revered.
There are many more temples in Kumbakonam. The legend has it that Lord Shiva , the destructor, destroys the world whenever the balance between good and bad is tipped and is out of harmony, and then Lord Brahmma – the creator, steps in and recreates the world from scratch, which marks the beginning of a New Era. At the end of previous Era, Lord Shiva declared that upon the start of the New Era a divine pot – Kumbham in Tamil, will reach a holy spot. The pot reached Kumbhakonam , Lord Shiva took the form of a hunter and shot the pot causing the pot to scatter. The spots where broken parts of pots fell, where considered as divine and has a temple at each spot, dedicated to Lord Shiva or Lord Vishnu. This resulted in many temples in one city and the name of the city Kumbhakonam. The names of the temples are Kumbeswara, Someswara, Kasi Viswanatha, Nageswara, Kamata Viswanatha, Abimukeshwara, Goutameswara, Banapuriswara, Varahar, Lakshminaryana, Sarangapani, Chakrapani and Varadharaja. And the legend has a further tale of Lord Brahmma having requested Lord Shiva to allow the devotees to take a dip in the pond situated in the City. And Lord Shiva Obliged. So it is said that, once every 12 years , the creator, the preserver and the destroyer, descend upon earth with other celestial beings to the tank. And hence during the time of MahaMakam festival which is celebrated once in every 12 years, if you take a dip in the pond, you are blessed by all the celestial beings. The interesting part of the story which appeals to me is that there should always be a balance between good and evil and when the balance is tipped the world, as we know is destroyed and created again. It is very simple yet profound fact which we as humans forget.
And by this time we decided, we did not have enough time to do justice to all the temples, we decided, we owe an another trip to Kumbakonam. We visited the Sarangapani Temple in Kumbakonam since this was the temple I had visited a decade ago with my friends. Sarangapani is a temple devoted to Lord Vishnu and is Vaishnavite temple, located at the city centre. Sarangam in Sanskrit means a bow, referring to one of the weapons of Lord Vishnu and pani means hand, Sarangapani means the one who has the bow in his hands. This temple also has a legend, of another sage wanting a daughter!!! to be precise he wanted the consort of Lord Vishnu to be born as the sage’s daughter. The sage’s wish was granted and upon the girl attaining puberty, legend has it that Lord Vishnu descended to earth in Human form to woo and marry the girl, who does not realise she is divine. All ends well and they get married. The temple is very beautiful and has numerous sculptures, and the deity of Vishnu is in sleeping posture called Anantasainam. The temple has shrine for Lord Vishnu and his consort. The gopuram/tower of the Temple is very enigmatic, colourful and beautiful. On the way out we bumped in to a couple of French tourist with an Indian guide. My husband in all his earnestness, without my consent, put me in a spot by approaching the tourist and saying my wife speaks French and would like to say a few words in French to you. Although I wished the ground had swallowed me right at the moment , I did speak to them in my broken French, I am sure they wanted to disappear in to ether somewhere for murdering their beautiful language. Yet they were very supportive and very happy to listen to me making an effort to speak to them in their language and thought I should accompany them and they would make me fluent in French in a matter of one week. I did enjoy having a little conversation with them. They were so disappointed that most of tourists to France only visit Paris, likewise I feel why do all tourist to India go to Goa and Kerala, there are so many beautiful and wonderful places in India.
And as I mentioned earlier, Kumbakonam is famous for its degree Kaapi, it would be a blasphemy if one visited Kumbakonam and not taste the authentic Kaapi at the authentic Kaapi serving places. These places are often popular by word of mouth and do not look very posh and in no way look like the cafes and coffee joints in big cities.. We inquired with a few people on the street, and landed up in one such place. The place has wooden benches and tables to sit. And Kaapi is usually brewed in filter, and served in steel or Brass, dabbra and Tumbler. We ordered and waited for the Kaapi to arrive. When we took the first sip from the tumbler, both me and my husband decided, we have got to have another one. The serving is small compared to the sizes of Lattes one gets in the western side of the world. The quantity is slightly larger than espresso size. The Kaapi was so perfectly brewed, not too bitter, not too sweet, just about the right colour and the aroma rising from the steamy tumbler was so invigorating and for me it awakens the buried memories of innumerable and cherish able cups that I have had with friends over a stimulating chat or sipping coffee with my cousins and family at my grandparents home or the wafting aroma of the coffee in the morning from kitchen during my childhood, was a sign that my mother was up and sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee in peace before her family wakes up, it was her moment of quiet and peace. Ahh delicious!!!!
On the way back, our driver, suggested we visit the weavers street, where they make the traditional silk sarees. He took us to a weaver’s home whom he knew for a long time. The car stopped at the traditional house, with iron grills and traditional colourful wooden doors with turmeric and vermillion smeared on top, we were greeted by the weaver and his entire family. The sarees were so exquisite, beautiful and intricately woven. I was astonished to know that these were hand-woven in a loom and a normal pattern would take one week to finish a saree. The pattern or design is first drawn and then converted in to a card with pattern and the card is then fed on to the loom , and then the colour pattern is chosen and the respective colour spindle is loaded on to the loom and then begins actual weaving with the loom. The silk is bought and then dyed and then loaded on the spindle and numerous spindles are then mounted on the loom for one saree to weaved. The entire family gets involved in the whole process. The sarees are then sold to shops in towns and cities. The weavers themselves earn very little from one saree. The huge profits go to the shops in the cities. I was very disappointed to know that this art of weaving sarees was an dying art, since most the children wanted to study and go to Universities and work in big banks and companies. And also what touched me was the humility of the family, very polite, humble, compassionate and thoughtful. I bought one saree, and they give me the saree, after placing it at the feet of God s idol at their home and handed over to me with good wishes and blessings to me. It is these small gestures and positivity which matter and a priceless. I have bought numerous things in malls and big shops, but never have I been overwhelmed by the act of buying something material. The saree, though material, has more value to me now with the kind gesture of the whole family. I wish the family all the very best and wish more people buy these sarees directly from these weavers rather than from big malls and shops.