Temples, great and small

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Tamil Nadu is famous for its temples, their brightly painted gopurams – many-layered towers over the doorways, and now and again over the main sanctum – thrusting upwards from the plains. It is interesting to imagine a time when these were the highest points in an otherwise fairly featureless landscape. Indeed, when the Great Trigonometrical Survey reached Tanjore in the 1820s, the surveyors obtained permission from the priests of the important temple there to haul their measuring instruments up to the top of the gopuram. John Keay’s entertaining book, The Great Arc, describes the episode (which nearly ended in disaster) well.

But our friend Pradeep Chakravarthy has written a book A Road Less Travelled [ISBN 978-81-8379-557-9] about the temples which are not so famous, but which are both historically and architecturally interesting. Many of them are in small villages in the by-roads of Tamil Nadu – roads which are themselves worth travelling to enjoy the tranquillity of rural south India. Temples are grouped by location and each chapter is introduced by a section on the history of the region and the rulers in whose period the temples were built.

Each temple is not only lovingly described but also, wherever relevant, it is linked to its appearance in Tamil literature. The temple inscriptions, a critically important historical recors of Tamil Nadu, are explained. We benefit from Pradeep’s profound knowledge and appreciation of the history and literature of his native state.

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