There are places you visit for a little over an hour but that you will remember forever. Kumbakonam, a strategic city in the Middle Ages and today little more than a crossroads of roads, is one of these.
Today, the city looks like a cluster of dilapidated houses along the road to Thanjavur, but in the Middle Ages Kumbakonam had an important political role. To prove it there are several temples, including 2 UNESCO heritage sites located nearby.
When visiting Tamil Nadu, never lose sight of your watch. Unfortunately, in fact, most of the temples close at lunch time, that is at 12.30 and then reopen in the afternoon.
If you try to make multiple visits on the same day, please remember that being 15 minutes late may cause missing the chance to see a site. And given India’s busy road network, you’re bound to run into delays.
When we get to the Kumbeshwara Temple they just closed. It’s a shame because it’s the largest Shiva temple in the city. The lingam inside is said to have been created by Shiva himself, mixing the nectar of immortality with sand.
Fortunately, we meet a group of men under the Gopuram which serves as the entrance to the temple. I am struck by their showy tilaks on the forehead: they are tinkering with some crazy objects. One looks like an altar decorated with several cobra heads, another an empty frame… behind them there are many colorful elephants: I think they are for one of the many religious events that take place frequently in the city.
Instead of distancing ourselves, the men welcome us with great cordiality, let us observe their work and let us photograph them.
Somehow, we shared a bit of their everyday life and I leave the temple still satisfied.
We must “settle” for a visit to the Mahamaham Tank, a large freshwater cistern considered one of the most sacred places in the city. They say the waters of the most sacred rivers of India meet here, including the Ganges’, but I am not sure it is true or what the people who live here wish. In India there is a little confusion between desires and reality, and this is one of the aspects that most fascinates me about this great mad country.
Two young people are taking a bath in the tub. It is very hot here today, despite it being December 31 -in Italy it must be very cold. The two guys notice the camera around my neck and start to dive into the pool doing jumps and somersaults. They want me to take a picture and then see themsleves in the screen preview.
It is not easy to catch them when they jump, so I ask them to dive again… and again… and again! It is a moment of great complicity and fun. I direct them with gestures as if I was a film director talking to my actors. I must say they are very patient with me, we form a well-knit team… and we do not even know each other!
When I get the right shot, I tell him to come over and I show them the results. Meanwhile, a small group of men is waiting behind me. They are patiently waiting for their turn to be photographed!
Unfortunately it’s time to go, otherwise we risk finding the Thanjavur temple closed. I greet a calf who has stopped to look at me all the time and I get on the bus. I love India, where meeting is very easy. And I love cows, silent and benevolent presences along the way!
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