There was a light drizzle when we visited the Ooty Government Botanical Garden on a Sunday morning in August. The weather forecast was for rain with a chance of thunder-showers. The light rain did not deter visitors to this most popular garden; most of them carried umbrellas or wore hooded jerkins and rain coats.
Ooty Botanical garden is one of the most beautiful places in the hill-station. It belongs to the colonial era, an expression of the traditional love of gardens of the British. The initial layout of the Ooty Botanical gardens was prepared by the Marquis of Tweedale in the late 1940s with the prime purpose of growing vegetables and supplying them to European residents at an affordable rate. In 1847 funds were raised to transform the venue into a horticultural society and public garden. The garden was designed by William Graham McIvor, a professional gardener from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England. McIvor arrived in Ooty in 1848 and it took ten years for the garden to be completed.
The gardens are laid out on the slopes of Doddabetta and the entrance is at the bottom of the hill, so you have to climb your way up to tour the ascending gardens. It is landscape gardening at its most alluring, the layered beauty of the bright green lawns, the flower beds, and shrubbery in a series of terraces against a backdrop of thick woods and some of the tallest trees making it a magical place.
Spread over 22 hectares it has several sections.There is a Lower garden, a New garden, the Italian garden, a conservatory built in 1912 and many nurseries.
The map of India is a carpet-bed design made with bedding plants of different colors. It shows all the states clearly and is a major landmark in the garden. Opposite the India Map is another main attraction of the garden, a fossil tree trunk from the National fossil Park at Tiruvakkarai in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu which is more than 20 million years old. It is a great favorite with tourists.
Paved pathways lead up to the many levels of the garden. I had fond memories of the Toda mund at the very top of the garden from an earlier visit many years ago. And so we climbed higher and higher enjoying the breathtaking views of the gardens, stopping to rest and to take pictures, inhaling the eucalyptus scented air. At one place the air was heavily scented from the magnolia blossoms on a row of magnolia trees. It was a very pleasant walk.
At the very top of the hill slopes the paved pathways and landscaped gardens end and we followed a mud path that went up through the woods of towering pine and eucalyptus trees. This path takes you to the Toda mund which is a settlement of the Todas, the indigenous tribe of the Nilgiris. On reaching the grassy meadow of Toda mund, I was heartened to see that nothing had changed. At the far end of the beautiful meadow is the Toda temple which you can see from outside. It is built in a circular pit, a curved structure made of grass, bamboo and cane and stone,and has a tiny entrance. The front wall is decorated with symbols – of the sun, moon and the sacred buffalo.
There was a herd of sacred buffaloes under the shady trees at the top of the meadow. One or two stood up on our arrival, to inspect intruders like ourselves, and then went back to chewing cud. It is beautiful up at the Toda Mund. Traditional Toda dwellings are gone and the Todas live in modern houses. But the temple remains symbolic of a people who zealously follow their unique culture. Behind the temple the hills rise up, terraced farms forming layers of green on the hill-sides.
On the walk back to the Botanic gardens we took a different path, as the mud path was wet and slippery, stopping to chat and ask directions from the garden workers.
It was noon when we left the gardens. There is a Tibetan market just opposite the main entrance that sold knitwear. Here we were directed to a Momo restaurant further down the road where they serve Tibetan cuisine. Piping hot bowls of veg.Thukpa and hot momos were just right for a rainy day!
Which Tamil Nadu hill-station gets its name from the lake at the centre of town? Yercaud, of course! This little hill town was called Eri-Kadu because of the forests around the lake. Eri-lake and kadu-forest. We locals still say Yerkadu when we speak of this laid- back hill town near Salem.
The lake is the first sight that greets you once you have negotiated 20 hair-pin bends on the lovely drive on the oh-so-beautiful hill roads and enter the hill town.
Once you have arrived in Yercaud, the lakeside is a good place to spend time.
Go boating on the lake, relax on the lawns by the lakeside, enjoy the cool breeze and the beautiful scenery, and try out the tasty street food in the many eateries near the boat-house.
TTDC run boat-house opens at nine in the morning and closes at five- thirty in the evening. It is the most popular place for tourists coming to Yercaud and can be quite crowded in summer.
You have a choice of pedal-boats, motor- boats and row-boats.
Yercaud lake is the only natural lake where you can go boating among all the lakes found in hill-stations in Tamil Nadu.
Gently down the lake!
A word of caution- the lake is really deep, so just sit back in your boat and enjoy yourself (let life pass by, literally)!
The row- boats come with the mandatory boatman which is good from the safety perspective. Personally I prefer the row- boat even if there is some waiting for the allotted boat. There is something very therapeutic about the splash of oars striking water, trailing your hand in the cool lake , taking in the panoramic views as the boat moves down the lake and a chat with a friendly boatman!
Late in the evening, when the boat-house has closed and the crowds have left, take a walk on the road by the lake. It’s very peaceful and across the lake, big stars hang low in the black sky over the dark silhouette of a hill. See the stars reflected in the mirror-like water. Feel the cool pure mountain-air, breathe deeply and watch your cares fall away.
The healing beauty of nature is part of the magic that is Yercaud.
Maasi is the month (Feb-March) when the days are turning warmer after the pleasant cold weather of Margazhi and Thai. In temples all over Tamil Nadu, Maasi Magam is a special day when the deities are given a holy ritualistic bath.In the temple of Lord Ardhanareeswara on Tiruchengode hill, this ritual is called the Maha-abhishekam, the ultimate abhishekam.
On Saturday, 11th March, 2017, our group of six members joined hundreds of participants of the maasi magam vizha as they congregated in the ancient Badrakali amman temple in Tiruchengode town. It is customary to begin the procession after prayers are offered to goddess Badrakali. The participants then walked along the very narrow and winding lanes of this historic town to the main ther veethi.
At seven in the morning it was a scene of ethereal beauty as saffron clad devotees walked in silence, all bearing decorated pots of offerings of their choice for the abishekam. Folk dancers representing Siva and Parvati led the way. At the main ther veedhi, the procession stopped briefly for a dance recital accompanied by music, and beautifully rendered by the folk dancers. As police-men made way for early morning traffic the procession moved slowly along the four ther veethis (chariot streets).
The participants then went to the malai kovi (hill temple) of lord Ardhanareeswara for the maha-abhishekam.
After darshan of Lord Ardhanareeswara, everyone waited for the abishekam to begin. This was no ordinary abishekam and the offering-pots contained a wide, interesting variety of sacred things. At the auspicious time the abishekam was first performed in the main sanctums of Senkotuvelavar(Murugan) and Ardhanareeswara. The beautiful utsava deities of Ardhanareeswara and Sengotuvelar were brought to the maha mandapam and placed on the central stone platform so that the rituals could be clearly viewed from all sides.The Maha abishekam commenced after the abishekam in the main shrines were completed.
A unique sight and an experience to cherish!
An awesome 1500 pots of milk, endless pots of vibhuti,honey,sandal-paste,,grapes,choppedbananas,sugarcanejuice,riceflour,panchamitham,turmeric,kalkandu(sugarcandy),panangarkandu-candy made from palm-sugar and pomegranatepearls were poured on the deities. Most of the offerings were collected and given back to the devotees as prasadam.
Faith And Blessing
Everyone present that day must have felt as I did, a divine peace and blessing fill the heart as the abishekam progressed. Seeing the abishekam was a purification of hearts and minds and this cleansing deep inside gave strength of a divine kind, the courage to face the world with all its imperfections and trials. The divine blessing is a balm, a gentle reminder that on this hard journey of life God makes his presence felt in many, many ways.
Pictures from the Masi Abishekam
Read more posts on Maasi Magam and Ardhanareeshwarar Temple by clicking on the links below
In anticipation of this year’s Maasi Magamfestival, Tiruchengode town and Sri Ardhanareeswarar templewear a festive look, this being the most important festival of this temple town. Hundreds of devotees take a vow of austerities by wearing the holy maala for a prescribed number of days. Life becomes focused on only one thing and that is Lord Ardhanareeshwara, the divine Father and Mother of the universe.
For me, it is always a pleasure to visit the temple and taking the vow is just another excuse to visit Ardhanareeswara, Ammaiyappan.
This year, our small group went to the temple to commence the viraddam by wearing the maala blessed and given by the Sivachariya in front of lord Ardhanareeswara. It was a subh muhurtham day with dozens of marriages taking place in every available corner of the maha mandapam in the temple. Ardhanareeswara temple is the temple for marriages because unity of husband and wife is what lord Ardhanareeshwara is all about. Mango leaf thorans were strung everywhere between the ornate pillars and many homa kundams for the many marriages.
On every visit to the temple,there is always a surprise, some new sculpture to marvel at, that previously went unnoticed by me. The temple is too full of of detailed sculptures of all sizes to be covered on a single day and this time it was a carving of lord Ganesha on the rock near the shrine of Aadhi Seshan below the Raja gopuram.
Carvings of two serpents can be seen on either side of Ganesha on the rock. as befits another name of this ancient Tiruchengode hill, which is Naagachala. No wonder that serpent carvings are seen everywhere on the hill either as Aadhi Seshan or as Naagars.
Spending time in the beautiful temple after darshan, it was amusing to watch the goings on! Slowly the big mandapam emptied as wedding groups left. The temple staff started cleaning up and a bunch of monkeys joined in! They were everywhere, even high up on the temple pillars, on the railings, the floor, a couple of baby monkeys were sitting on the Maha Nandi! People were offering fruits and tidbits which they took absolutely unafraid.
An important reminder :
This year’s Maasi Magam is celebrated on Saturday,11th March, 2017.
Below are pictures taken inside the temple on this visit:
The Palaniappar temple on Koovai malai, a hillock in the foothills of Kolli Malai, near Belukurichi near Rasipuram, in Tamil Nadu stands out against the beautiful green backdrop of Kolli hills.
The name Belukurichi is derived from the ancient Tamil words Velavan Kurinji.
Velavan, another name for Murugan is the patron deity of Kurinji which is one of the five different landscapes categorized by the ancient Tamil people. Kurinji is the mountainous and hilly regions of the land. It is inhabited by Veddar, Kuravar and Kanavar tribes who are hunters.
Koovai malai is also called Koogai Malai. Koogai is the ancient Tamil word for the Owl. The Kolli hills as viewed from this hillock does look like a giant bird with outspread wings.
The people of the Kolli hills were hunters in those ancient times and they worshipped Murugan as one of their own, a hunter like themselves.
In the popular legend of Murugan’s courtship of Valli and their subsequent marriage Murugan goes to meet Valli in the guise of a handsome young hunter, Valli being the daughter of Nambirajan, chief of the Kuravar tribe which is also a hill tribe. It is this form of Murugan as the handsome hunter that we worship in the Palaniappar temple.It is said that Murugan set out from here to Valli malai where Valli lived.
The temple is believed to have existed since more than 3000 years ago.
Saint Bhogar who lived 3000 years ago is believed to have visited this temple after which he went to Palani and created the idol of Palani Murugan.
Thus the name Palaniappar means Palanikku appar,’the one who came before Palani’.
The Tamil poetess – saint Avvaiyar is said to have worshipped here.
King Valvil Ori worshipped Palaniappar here before visiting three other temples in the region. While talking about the history of the temple, the archakar thiru. Sendilkumar said, “Come, I will show you the statue of Valvil Ori with his queen”, and led the way to a block of granite at the entrance to the temple with carvings of Valvil Ori with his queen. Valvil Ori is shown holding a bow in one hand.
As I visited temples in the regions ruled by Valvil Ori in Sangam AgeTamilagam I found that people still spoke proudly of this king who was celebrated as one of the kadai ezhu vallalgal. The power of folklore that kept alive the name of a famous king of 2000 years ago is amazing!
FOOTPATH TO KOLLI HILLS
It is significant that the images of the king and queen face the ancient footpath/bridlepath down the mountains.
Coming down from the mountains on this ancient path which is 10 feet wide, the temple is the first stop in the foothills.
This path is still used by the Palangudi indigenous people of Kolli Malai.When we visited, the archagar’s wife, pointing up the hills asked me if I could see a man going up the mountain path. Looking where she pointed I could indeed see a moving white speck way up the mountain! It was a man on his way up and further up there was another climber! I asked her how long it took to reach the top. “It may take more than two to four hours for us,” she said, “but for them (the hill people) it is a climb of 30 minutes or 45 minutes at the most”. The Pazhangudi people use this path to bring mountain produce such as honey, spices, jackfruit, pineapple and so on to the Belukurichi sandhai ( weekly market), mostly as thalai sumai, meaning they carried their goods on their heads! A sturdy people they are too! The Belukurichi sandhai is very famous and is held on all Saturdays.
A forest ranger who joined in the conversation said that from Belukurichi village the distance to the temple is 3 kms. And the distance from the temple via the footpath to Othakadai village in the hills was 3.30 kms. Since the new Nariangadu- mullukurichi road was opened in the kolli hills, some of the hill people now chose to use this road after climbing down part way down the hills.
This footpath is also used by trekkers.
Palaniappar temple is the only Murugan temple in the world where Murugan is worshipped in the form of a Veddan or hunter in the sanctum sanctorum.
The way to the temple is up the flight of steps leading from the base of the hillock. This way is now closed for renovation. There is a stone- built mandapam at the foot of the hill that was probably used for resting and for utsavams and festivals. Behind this mandapam the old temple car is kept.
A short distance up the steps is the Yaanai Paali(யானை பாலி),a perennial spring on the hill. There is a colorful life- size image of an elephant and the entrance to the sunai (spring) is between the feet of the elephant! The archagar said that the spring used to be called as Pillaiyaar Paali. Later when the elephant entrance was built it came to be known as Yaanai Paali. The spring never dries up even in summer and the waters have healing, medicinal properties that are used to treat skin ailments.
Further up the hill there is another spring. I asked the archagar about it and he answered, “That spring is for the Aadu, maadu, paravaigal ( the cattle,goats and birds) that come up here to drink from the spring and the yaanai paali is for the use of humans”. An amazing but lovely tradition that taught peaceful co-existence with all living creatures!
A good motorable road goes around the hill right up to the back entrance of the temple, which in the olden days was the front entrance. The other entrances came much later.
A short flight of white washed granite steps lead to the temple. A spacious courtyard/prakaram leads to the Deepastampam and there are some more steps to the pillared maha mandapam.
Lord Palaniappar in the garba graha is one of the most beautiful deities. Facing west, about 31/2 feet tall, Murugan is in Veduvan kolam and a handsome young hunter he is! His hair is piled in a knot on the right side of his head in a hairstyle called as kondai. We can see a string of konrai (golden shower) flowers worn around the kondai. On the holy forehead can be seen the vibhuti (sacred ash) pattai and kumkum in the middle, symbols of Siva and Parvati. Malas or strings of beads, perhaps rudraakshas grace the chest.There are amulets on the arms.The Vastra worn from the waist has strings of Vilva ( bael) leaves adorning it. We can see a pichua kathi(பிச்சுவா கத்தி), a small dagger worn at the waist as well as the dagger case! In his left hand Palaniappar holds a plump rooster(சேவல்) while in his right hand He holds a long Eeti (ஈட்டி)or lance.Ornaments called thandai(தண்டை) adorn the ankles while footwear calledpaadha kuradu(பாதகுறடு) are worn on the beautiful holy feet. All these details are etched in stone, on this rare and beautiful idol. The beautiful face and the divine smile are enchanting.
On the ceiling of the Artha Mandapam an engraving of two serpents swallowing the Sun and Moon can be seen.
The temple faces west, and on a good day the Tiruchengode Hillcan be seen from the Maha mandapam.
There are small shrines for Vinayaka, Koogalingeswarar and Kumari Nayagi ambal. There is a separate shrine for Vishnu, with lord Krishna with his flute on one side and Aadhi Seshan on the other. All these are later shrines consecrated in the last century. Koogalingeswarar and ambal were consecrated by the archagar’s maternal grandfather.
Pournami pooja at midnight on full moon nights is a famous ritual of this temple attended by large crowds of people. The first pournami pooja was started on 28. 3. 1983 on a Monday in the month of Panguni of Thundhubi varusham (year) when the archagar’s maternal uncle served as temple priest. That same year, Sri Kripanandha Vaariaar, popularly called as Vaariaar Swamigal, visited and held a Sotrpozhivu or religious discourse at this temple.
Saint Arunagirinadhar composed two Tirupugazh hymns on lord Muruga of Kolli Malai. In the second hymn starting with the words Thollai tharu.., he says that Murugan went to court Valli who was guarding the millet field and that he took a gift of leaves as was the custom in those days.
In the line,’Koydhu thazhaye kondu sellum mazhava’, Murugan is called as Mazhava, or member of the mazhavar tribe.History records the fact that the Mazhavar clan ruled the Kolli and surrounding areas for many centuries. Valvil Ori was also a Mazhavar king.
கல்லுருகவே யின்கண் அல்லல்படுகோ வம்பு
கல்வருக வேநின்று குழலூதுங்
கையன் மிசையேறும்பன் நொய்யசடையோ னெந்தை
கைதொழமெய் ஞானஞ்சொல் கதிர்வேலா
கொல்லைமிசை வாழ்கின்ற வள்ளிபுனமே சென்று
கொய்து தழையேகொண்டு செல்லும் மழவா கந்த
கொல்லிமலை மேநின்ற பெருமாளே
Song 607 – Thollaimudhal (kollimalai)
kalluruga veyinkan allalpadu go am pu
galvaruga venindru kuzhaloodhum
kaiyanmisai yerumban noyyasadai yonnendhai
Kaithozha mei nyaanam sol kadhirvela
kollaimisai vaazhginra valli puname sendru
kollaikollu maaran kai alaraale
koydhu thazhye kondu sellum mazhava..kandha
kollimalai menindra perumale
These lines allude to the legend of Murugan meeting Valli as a young hunter and it is believed that they refer to Vedduva Murugan in this temple.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Renovation work is being done. The temple will wear a new look when it is completed. The peaceful isolation may become a thing of the past. When the breeze blows from the mountain in the evenings bringing the healing fragrance of the hundreds of herbs which Kolli malai is famous for, there is apprehension that all this may be lost to change. But the grace of Palaniappar will be bestowed on all who seek him.
The temple is open continuously from 7 a.m to 5.30 p.m.
Since it is 3 kms from the village there are no crowds except on special days like the full moon day and weekends. There are no houses or even shops near the temple. Offerings for pooja like flower garlands, coconuts, bananas, betel leaves and areca-nut can be bought in Belukurichi.
The temple in idyllic surroundings is the perfect place for a picnic or to spend some quiet time away from it the bustle of the city.
Koovai malai is part of Bail nadu in Kolli Hills Taluk.
Located in Reserve forest area of the kolli range, the temple can be reached by road from Belukurichi, a fairly large village right below the kolli hills, 13.6 km from Rasipuram and 13.8 km from Sendhamangalam.
Belukurichi is accessible from Salem, Rasipuram or Namakkal which have good hotels. The temple is an hour’s drive from Salem.
Nature’s palette this December in Yercaud is light and dark shades of green and vivid splashes of red and orange.
This is a busy time in the coffee plantations in Yercaud. The coffee plants are full of red berries. Plantation workers pick the ripe berries by hand leaving the green unripe ones on the plants.
The coffee berries are a beautiful shade of red and shine like rubies amidst the shiny dark green leaves of the coffee plant. Myself, I love coffee and can’t do without my morning cuppa and another in the evening. Filter coffee is always a treat, and Kumbakonam degree kaapi makes one drool. But it all starts here in the hills from the coffee berries that ripen in December. In Salem, we are proud of our very own Narasu’s coffee..who can forget the famous ad?!!
Plantation yards are a hive of activity, as the picked berries are weighed, the seeds separated from the berries in machines and then sun-dried. For many days, as the berries ripen slowly on the plants this process continues. From berry to brew is a lengthy process which starts with the picking.
Elsewhere in the hills, bright red Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) bring Christmas cheer.
The little ‘crown of thorns’ plants are not to be outdone. They are full of little red flowers making lovely thorny borders on roadsides and estates.
At six in the evening on full moon day in the Tamil Month of Karthigai, little oil lamps start to glow at every doorstep and all around the homes and in all temples throughout Tamil Nadu. It is the most divine and beautiful of sights. From the most humble dwellings to the palatial homes, lamps are lit as one even as the Maha Deepam is lit on the hill of Arunachala in Thiruvannamalai sharply at six p.m on the day of ThiruKarthigai.
The festival of Karthigai Deepam is celebrated when the full moon coincides with the rising of the six star constellation of Krithigai. The Tamil month of Karthigai is named after this constellation.
It is traditional to buy new earthen lamps every year. The photos below are of an old lady selling lamps in front of her home from whom I bought some lamps this morning. The lamp sellers from next door are her relatives and smiles light up all their faces as a joke is shared!
It is six in the evening and I have just lit lamps outside my home as have my neighbours. Sadly, my point and shoot sony camera is not good for night time pictures.
Dear readers, are there any other traditions observed during this festival? If so please share your views by posting a comment.
I have a passion to write and the best one can write about is one's own life. So here I am with my experiences, musings, travelogues,stories,my experiments with cooking and what I have learnt in the journey of my life.