Trichy, Tamil Nadu: one of the most amazing pieces of architecture can be found at the rockfort in Trichy. Now what makes it so amazing? Its not just a temple, its not just a fort, but a set of monolithic rocks that make room for both.
Yes. Getting into the rockfort can be through a very unassuming entrance with all the known Gods smiling down at you till you reach the shrine of Ganesha. This is probably the only shrine which is laiden with turmeric giving it the yellow look and making Ganesha almost come to life from his otherwise rocky exterior! Here Ganesha looks at you and smiles. After darshan and having bought the ticket one begins to ascend one of the most amazing peices of architecture in the south. Staircases lined up, one after the other, are punctuated with smaller shrines of Shiva and Ganesha along the way up. Its just fantastic.
The walk is for a short while and a little tiring. Along the way are dark mandapas with ghostly characters from past mythology peeping out at you through the darkness in lavish colors. Though the way up looks narrow, steep and reasonably secretive, such that you cant see who is really far above or far below, there is enough and more ventilation to bring in the air you might think you never got. Deep grilled windows carved into the rocky wall provide all the cool breeze you want interspaced with small images of Ganesha and other lesser deities along the way. The steps are all painted red and white adding to the ambience of a rock temple fort. There comes a point when you need to turn right for the Ganesha temple way above and left to the Shiva temple way inside.
Lets take right! Here is a surprize, just as you enter the exterior of the fort, not having known till now how much you have actually climbed, you are welcomed by a Pallava cave which jumps at you from the left. It hosts the sculptures of Shiva Gangadhara and appears to be an incomplete cave. It looks like the artists of that period chose to write on the walls instead of carve down the pillars. There are elaborate scripts on the wall but the pillars stay unfinished. Walking further up, you are welcomed by the beautiful view of the city scape with the Caveri flowing along one side. Its just breath taking as the strong breeze just sweeps through your hair making you want to camp there for a while.
The walk up to the Ganesha temple atop the rocky hill is tough but beautifully managed by carving steps into the very rock itself. Its very clear, originally this was a plain mandapa which hosts ganesha within its four walls, and had a pillared corridor around it without any parapet wall, and what you have now is a granite floored, walled interior which completele destroys what the original mandapa would have looked like. Anyway indians are known to destroy what ever little they have from past glory. The view is amazing and gives a complete picture of not just Trichy in all its expance but the beautiful gopuram of the island temple of srirangam and tiruvanaikkaval in the middle of the dry Caveri.
Lets come back and walk to the left. This is something that really took my imagination by storm. it leads through a series of winding staircases so much so that keeping an eye on the direction of north gets to be quite difficult. It takes you from one mandapa to another, with the feel of having walked into a temple, looks like a palace but has the relevant shrines for the navagraha, smaller shiva lingas and ganesha with towering dwarapalas as you go into the heart of the very fort.
This is best described as follows. It feels like its a palace fort with the commanders and the king coming to perform a great puja and probably getting their armies ready for attack. The halls are richly decorated and the sounds of the drums and trumpets announce the arrival of the king. Richly decorated mandapas host a colourful spectacle of an even more richly dressed king and his battalion with dancers and queens adding to the glow of the show.
Fire torches light up the interiors and the whole place wakes up with the rhythmic banging of drums. Through out the path up the steps are small triangular holes in the walls for oil lamps to light up the passageway. Wow what a sight! Anyway walking further up and having crossed the Amman shrine one takes a sharp turn again and rises into a colorfully decorated hall of pillars which has a hole in its floor to accomodate for the roof of the amman shrine a floor below. Freaking awesome.
Finally the most breath taking of them all, is what lies at the top end on the other side. The grand finale is the Great Shiva shrine that rises out of a Swayambhuva linga. It is hosted within a garbha griha with no circum-ambulation within itself, though the outside has coloruful walls with all the bronzes that speak every story from Shiva iconography known to us. I stood there gaping at the Shiva idol, massive, black, silent and only viewed in oil lamp lights, my heart just swelled up with reverence. Lots of oil lamps decorate the room, and people outside light innumerable ghee lamps adding to the sanctity of the place. I sat and stared as the priests went about their business, and people sang songs and lamps got lit and fire was the path to the deity.
Then suddenly in walks this man with a mountain of rudraksha on his neck and an even larger moutain of ego on his head. He comes in taking the scene by storm, and as the last and final arti for the Lord rises into the air declaring the temple closed, the man goes into a trance and sits on the floor with another authoritaive man guarding him and the temple and the deity from the rest of us lesser mortals. Finally the drums begin to thunder through the roof, resonating through the walls clearing every passer by out of the rockfort temple.
Suddenly the kings are gone, the color, the dancers, the decorated halls, the music, the fire torches, the lit interiors, the war cries... everything vanishes into thin air and the curtain drops. Rockfort trichy closes for the night.