Inside the Rockfort - Trichy

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.


abhilash warrier said...


What a place...

I can see it as you say it.

Anonymous said...

what a fantastic description! You brought the whole scene to life!
keep at it

revathi said...

Isnt it the shrine of Thayumanavar?
Its been a long time. I do remember some mention of the temple having been used as a fortress to safeguard idols from neighbourhood temples. The steps were also made horse-worthy for the troops. Am not too sure. Do check it up.
Its called the Uchi pillaiyar temple, and any writer would have described the piece-de-resistance..the ganesha temple the last!
But then you being you, it is no surprise, and considering I am a Ganesha lover...was actually surprised!!!!
Keep surprising me thus!

JC Joshi said...

Ganesha is a typical homely figure - depicted with a big paunch and having an elephant’s head grafted over his original human body.

The mythological stories have it that he was the favourite son of his mother, King Daksha Prajapati’s daughter Sati’s reflection after her death, named Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas, who prayed to Sun god for granting her the boon of marriage to Shiva in that life too – which was eventually granted to her!

Ganesha’s original human head believably was cut by Shani (Saturn) just after his birth and, as per Shiva’s advice as the most suitable for the desired purpose, the head of the first animal found in the Northerly direction was grafted! He was so faithful to his mother that he wouldn’t even allow his father to disturb her when she was bathing, for he had received power from Ma Kali as well as Ma Gauri and therefore was not only physically powerful, he was endowed with spiritual powers too, unlike his elder brother, Kartikeya!

It is noticeable that the planet Saturn in the present has been found having beautiful rings, just as ‘Sudershan chakra’ or a beautiful frisby like weapon is reportedly associated with Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Dwaperyuga. This, read with the ‘Asht Chakra’ or believable cycle of eight number planets responsible for human behaviour, and also the story about separating demon Rahu’s head to result in Ketu as a separate body as indicated in the story of ‘Samudramanthan’, it could lead to the inference that the ancients considered only eight Heavenly Bodies that occur in space, in the order from Sun to Jupiter, the essence of which went into the formation of human body needing exercises for activation of ‘Kundalini’ in the body.

And, from the stories it can be inferred that Ganesha is considered as the Mooladhar or the base as an essence of planet Mars - two 'modaks' or rounded sweets in his hands representing its satellites, Demos and Phobos, and is associated with his mother, a reflection of Moon, at Sahasrara or the head in the human body, which necessitated a 'Yogi' or a seeker to lift total energy in the eight energy centres to one point in the head through Yogic exercises to reach the Naad bindu or the formless Creator, i.e., achieve ‘enlightenment’ or reach the 'Truth' of creation.

JC Joshi said...

I would like to mention that the ancient Hindus had developed fascination for the spiritual world and considered it as the real side of human life. Unlike in the present, temples were generally built in isolated locations - on hills/ inside rocks because of their natural strength and expected longer life - where apparently some miracles had earlier happened...

Coming back to Ganesha, the presence of two satellites of Mars as indicated above is reflected in the stories in the forms of Riddhi & Siddhi, meaning literally as ‘fully ripe’ and ‘perfect’ respectively, being associated with Ganesha. With the passage of time, in Tretayuga, Hanuman is depicted as a mature and skilled, powerful and yet as faithful to Sita as Ganesha was to his mother. In Tulsidas’s version of Ramayana however there is no mention whether he was married or not. And, in Dwaperyuga, Bhima is seen as one of the five husbands of Draupadi while, on the other hand, he had a woman belonging to Rakshasha family, Hidimba, also as his second wife. Their son, Ghatotkachha, was physically big as well as powerful and fought for the Pandavas against the Kauravas in the Mahabharata war. The mythological stories generally indicate improvement in characteristics of children from such parents…

With the above stories in mind with respect to the non uniformity in the matter of marital status etc, ancient Astrologers appear to have considered the presence of planet Mars - its essence as the root or Mooladhar - in certain houses of horoscope of an individual as likely to be unfavourable to some member of the family or the individual himself/ herself when marriage of an individual is being considered. Thus certain corrections before their marriage were recommended...

However, one could point out that even when horoscopes are apparently matched today, the married life of certain couples may turn out to be hellish! Of course, the majority today is indifferent to recording correctly the time of birth as these generally occur in hospitals… Time of birth supposedly is the root from which individual's life blossoms as a tree does with the passage of apparent time... Man was considered as an inverted tree having his roots in the sky!

JC Joshi said...

Now, with the above background of the ‘past’ - about separations of head and body by Shani or Saturn (Vishnu) - let’s see if we have similar applications in the ‘present’ also.

It could bring to mind the process of attempting different facial features on one particular body by the criminal investigating agencies, and also for fun by some computer programmers.

With the above said as a possible reflection in the 'present', one could perhaps now visualize a more advanced stage where the creator could have used permutations and combinations, related with apparent time, generated with the help of motions of the solar system’s members, to get different role models of thoughts related with the concerned head and their translation into actions by the concerned different bodies!

jon said...

indian horoscope info is so cheesy but we were looking at it anyway...why i dont know. I guess it is fun to play around online. Anyway, I saw your indian horoscope posts and though it was cool...Alright, well...have a great night, I am back to indian horoscope surfing LOL : )


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