Suchindram: Spirituality, Idli and Romancing the Road
As the car moved along the coastline of Kanyakumari, I took my goodbye glimpse of the turquoise sea, the Vivekananda rock and the 130 feet high Thiruvalluvar statue. The glimpses disappeared fast and got replaced with women clad in sarees and ‘gajras’ and men in ‘lungi’, coconuts, unignorable smell of ‘dosas’ and ‘idlis’, stationaries and medical shops as the car geared up through NH-47 passing through markets and localities. My next destination was Suchindram, 13 kilometres north-west of Kanyakumari. Suchindram is popular for its Thanumalaya Perumal temple that showcases outstanding Dravidian architecture and sculpture dated 7th-8th century.
While I had just started to absorb the lively local vibes, the screeching brakes put a break on my sub conscience. The car stopped a few steps away from the entrance of the temple. The parking area was well managed. The enclosed area outside the temple was comparatively cleaner than the other ones that I had visited earlier. It seemed a familiar surrounding though, with a string of flower shops and small eateries co-existing happily. And amidst all of these, the sarees, gajras, lungi and the idli aroma were supremely dominant!
The entrance gate, popularly known here as the ‘Go-puram’, caught immediate attention. It stands as high as a seven storey building with outstanding sculpture of various Hindu deities, so detailed and intricate. The captivating art is the sole means that is capable of keeping the ‘idli distraction’ at bay. It’s a charm to the eyes and anybody would take some time out to appreciate, even if least interested in art and sculpture.
I moved inside the temple and it is a stretching distance between the entrance and the main area of worship. But the beautifully carved pillars throughout the path serve a great satisfaction. The local people flocked for worshipping the deities and it seemed another world inside. The echoes of chanted ‘mantras’ (sacred verses), bells, fragrance of flowers, basil and incense permeated the air. Recognizing me as a tourist, one of the priests at the Ganesha Mandapam asked, “Are you from Calcutta?” When I confirmed, he gave back a warm smile and made way for me to have a better sight. The same treatment was followed at every other Mandapam and I was very happy at the fact that tourists are treated so well and are made to feel special by the priests here. Suchindram temple is open to all.
This place has a number of mythological significance. Some believe that Indra, the chief god, worshipped Lord Shiva here to get saved from a curse. Lord Shiva purified Indra (‘shuchi’ means pure in Sanskrit) and hence, the name Suchindram. It was previously known as ‘Gyanaranya’. According to a different Purana (sacred scripture), Lord Shiva started his journey from Suchindram to wed Goddess Kanyakumari. A varied version, however, says that Lord Shiva could not arrive at Kanyakumari before dawn with the things asked by the Goddess and since the wedding was not possible after dawn, Lord Shiva stopped right at Suchindram while the Goddess remained unwedded forever. Another saga goes that Sage Atri lived here with his wife Anusuya. The Hindu Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar (Lord Shiva) came to Suchindram to take a test of Anusuya. Hence, idols of the three lords are worshipped in the temple.
Inside the temple, the sacred ‘Shivling’ dates back to 9th century. Beside the Trinity, Lord Ganesha, Lord Karthika, Navagraha and other gods are worshipped. The 18-feet high Hanuman idol, locally known as Anjaneyar, is a testimony to the beautiful sculpture of the age. Also, there are seven musical pillars inside the temple that were carved from a single rock. The pillars resonate the octave when struck. There is a dancing hall that constitutes 1035 pillars, the ceiling that has the carvings of the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata and mural paintings created during the reign of the Pandya kings that imbibes an amazing feeling and leaves us awe-struck at the sight. That art is the best medium to express and preserve one’s culture and belief – this notion is strengthened by places such as this.
Moving to the backside of the temple, there is a sacred lake which is not open to the public. Spending two hours seeking spirituality, contemplation and realization, I walked back to the entrance gate. Coming outside, I could feel that these two hours had a very calming effect. Taking my dear driver along, I sat in an eatery and ordered two plates of idli and vada for breakfast. The mixed aroma pumped up my hunger and before I could embarrassingly convert into a drooling puppy, the plates arrived. I relished them followed by flavoured tea and then got up to visit my next destination – Padmanabhapuram. As I peeped through the car window to get the last glimpse, the car took speed and had its bromance ignited again with NH-47!
How to reach: Suchindram is just 13 kilometres from Kanyakumari. Hiring a car from Kanyakumari is the best option. Alternate options are regular buses to Nagercoil that can be availed at short intervals from Kanyakumari; and if you are interested in travelling through railways, then Nagercoil is the nearest railway station – distance from Nagercoil to Suchindram is 7 kilometres. Transports can also be booked from the Tamil Nadu Tourist Office located on the beach road.