#18 Thanjuvor, a tailor and the Big Temple, India

I think it was Tuesday, we were starving by the time we got to the Gnanam Hotel in Thanjuvor. and we had to find a tailor for Ronni. We took off to find dinner and instead found a sign for a tailor. We followed the arrow down a narrow path, found the shop and met a Muslim Indian who had previously been a principal at a trade school in Abu Dhabi – so his English was great. To our good fortune, he returned to take up the family business. Ronni had an seam edge that was fraying, so as one of his two assistants fixed it, we realized that this was the place to have clothes made. My Indian wardrobe got a sudden upgrade. First he made adjustments to the stuff we bought from the first, and not so good, tailor. Then we chose materials and picked out necklines and pant styles. He advised us on which tops needed linings and we gave him a deposit. He took our cell mbr and told us he would call the following day at 6PM. Then we asked him where to eat.

We were on our way to his suggested restaurant when we saw a veg place that looked relatively crowded, clean enough and a block closer. Turned out to be very good and one of the dishes might be my favorite of the trip – pomegranate uttappam. Uttappam is kind of a thick, puffy pancake, and in this version the seeds had been folded into the batter. There were 3 on the plate, can’t remember what the others were. Out shinning the uttappam, was our waiter. The people in Tamilnadu are really dark, everyone has great hair, and the men mostly sport mustaches and just as often, beards. So when they smile, and smiles come easily here, their faces truly light up. It did not hurt that this man spoke some English. Pinchas patiently watched as we flirted our way through dinner. There is another chapter to our love story. The next day we were looking for a place to eat lunch and went back to the same place. We found our waiter ordered pomegranate uttappam again. He brought me and Ronni one big one each, and each decorated with a catsup heart. We might have gone back there for dinner, but that might constitute stalking…

We had a guide set up for us for the afternoon, Rajan. This time, a thirty something, professor of philosophy and archecture. He was a trip, very knowledgable, with a distinct teaching style, and attitude in spades. He made sure we were listening then framed his questions in the following manner.

“This statue is the most beautiful and important in this collection. Some of my students think that Parvati is in a subservient pose here, and not pleased with her position. What do you think?” We made sure we were paying rapt attention and learned much from him.

Thanjavur is an important center of South Indian religion, art, and architecture. Most of the Great Living Chola (a dynasty) Temples are UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, and are in and around The city. Most important is the Brihadeeswara Temple, called the Big Temple, in the middle of the city. It’s 1000th birthday was celebrated in 2010. It is the largest temple in India, and the tallest. We started out there and learned that it was later a fort, then a larger fort, then an even larger fort. It was built as a tribute to the Raj who built it to honor Shiva. The Raj was also a deeply secular thinker and the statues reflect his attitudes. Our guide pointed out various secular statues on the towers. We found a birthing mother, a nursing mother, the Buddha, a garden nome and a carving of Bacchae. Still, he built a Shiva temple, and within the walls is a huge one-piece carved granite Nandi, Shiva’s vehicle, the bull. Back on the towers, one of the limgums is carved open to show Shiva inside and remind us of his essence.  So far, we have not been able to go inside the inner sanctum. Here as well, “only priests are allowed to enter the inner-most chamber where Shiva resides”.

There is lots lots more, but I’ll spare you… After lunch, our guide suggested we walk the quiet narrow residential streets. We saw the chalk drawings in front of each house, called Kolams. sprinkled every dawn with colored rice flour. They are supposed to bring prosperity, provide food for smaller animals, thereby welcoming other animals into the house, keep out evil and welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity and wealth.

“The patterns range between geometric and mathematical line drawings around a matrix of dots to free form art work and closed shapes. Folklore has evolved to mandate that the lines must be completed so as to symbolically prevent evil spirits from entering…3×3 symmetry 9 goddesses swastika Kolam with a single cycle, each of which corresponds to one of the nine Devi (Goddess) of the Vedic system.
It used to be a matter of pride to be able to draw large complicated patterns without lifting the hand off the floor or standing up in between…

In the kolam patterns, many designs are derived from magical motifs and abstract designs blended with philosophic and religious motifs which have been mingled together. Motifs may include fish, birds, and other animal images to symbolize the unity of man and beast. Also used are designs for the sun, moon and other zodiac symbols.
The ritual kolam patterns created for special occasions such as weddings often stretch all the way down the street. Many of these created patterns have been passed on generation to generation, from mothers to daughters.” (Thank you, Wikipedia)

The walk went well until the narrow street became an open construction site, among other things. We got through it, but I’ll never wear those sandals again. They took me to Burma, Cambodia and Chang Mai. I took a picture of them, wrapped them well and put them in the trash.

We received our call from the tailor and went over for adjustments and picked up our clothes. We learned that we were his first American patrons! The cloth price was listed on each package, and the rate for the labor was on the wall in Tamil. We did not bargain at all. We think we paid double for the labor, which was totally appropriate.  So if you ever make it to Thanjuvor….