Kaveri Poompatinam was an important port city during the Sangam Age in the 4th century BCE . It was the capital of the Chozhas. The flourishing capital city was also known as Puhar, aaru puhum edam, the place where the river enters the sea. River Kaveri drains into Bay of Bengal here.
The city is immortalized by the great literary work ‘Silapadikaram’ written by the Chozha poet prince Illango Adigal. It was in the golden sands along the river that Madhavi the dancer mesmerised the rich merchant Kovalan with her poetry and music.
‘Silapadikaram’ describes the city in great detail – the two regions Maruvoor pakkam and Pattina pakkam divided by sprawling gardens, the king’s palace built of wood, the temple taller than the palace, the viharas built by rich merchants for Buddhist monks, terraced mansions where the nobles lived, busy market places called angadis (there were the day and night markets called naalangadi and allangadi), the dockyard and the port where large ships from Roman lands visited carrying precious stones like carnelian and lapis lazuli.
Below is an artist’s recreation of the port city. Nothing of this has survived because it is believed that the ancient city was destroyed by giant waves.
You can read more about Puhar here.
I visit Puhar very often, it takes six hours by road from Chennai. Time cannot take away the magic of this place, the city is deeply entrenched in the collective subconscious of the Tamil people. There are too many ghosts here that beckon me. Here are a few paintings from my previous visit to Puhar.
My mother’s friend lives in a small hamlet, some forty kilometres from the historical town of Kumbakonam. It is a quiet village tucked between acres of green fields, fertile because of the tributaries of Kaveri river that crisscross this region.
This is a painting of the agraharam, a place where a particular community of people live. The agraharam is lined with houses on both sides of the mud road. The houses have red tiles for roof. A thinnai or a closed porch at the entrance leads to a courtyard surrounded by rooms . The house opens into a large backyard with a well and a rambling garden where different types of vegetables are grown. My mother’s friend grows brinjals, cluster beans, pumpkins, bitter gourds, snake gourds, tomatoes and chillies.There are lemon, mango, coconut and drumstick trees that help to fill the larder with food supplies.
At one end of the agraharam is the temple for Lord Vishnu and at the other end is the temple for Lord Shiva. The Shiva temple has a temple tank. Even during the severest summer the tank does not run dry, it remains filled with moss covered, jade coloured water. The chidren in the village take delight in swimming in the tank, the water bursts into sparkles of green light when the boys dive in from the tall walls.
Around the agraharam in the village there are about 30 houses where people from different communities live. Beyond these houses spread the fields. Every household in the village is involved in farming activities, they either own farmland, or work for wage in farmlands that belong to others.
I visited the village soon after the harvest of rice, the fields were ochre coloured waiting to be dug and got ready for the next crop.
Srisailam is a temple town in the Nallamalla hills, on the banks of Krishna river. The serpentine river flows like a secret, deep and still. It is a steep climb down to the river, from the town. The main ghat is crowded with devotees who travel miles to bathe in the holy river.
I sat at two locations away from the main ghat, to paint. The first one gave a glimpse of small temples across the river. And from the other location I painted a private ghat, nestled in a dense forest cover.
Roop Nivas palace was built by Thakur Roop Singh in the early 1900s. This palace comprises of two sprawling havelis built in a combination of Rajput and European styles of architecture. Both the havelis are heritage hotels now. They go by the names Roop Vilas Palace and Roop Nivas Koti.
Roop Vilas Palace
Roop Nivas Koti
the demon sits there
scowling at me daylong
the fragrant root
stains my hand
with colours of sun
the rippleless lake
the eye of blue glass
gaze on happiness
Marapachi is a wooden doll, usually acquired as a male-female pair. These dolls are made of a special kind of wood commonly found in the forested Tirumala hills. The carvings rendered on a block of wood is minimalistic, a few strokes capture the mood and temperament of the doll and give a character that makes the doll real for those who own it.
There is a strong family tradition attached to the possession of marapachi. These dolls are handed down generations, there is always a couple of marapachi dolls in each family coming down from a few generations.
Strangely these are not dolls that are given to children as play objects. Marapachi dolls are given to a couple during marriage and that is why the male-female pair holds significance. Playfulness that seals a meaningful relationship is signified through this gift.
My marapachi dolls are rounded, exhibiting flab and paunches and sporting a mischievous smile. In my sketch, I have rounded the dolls further, the female doll appears like the mother goddess of fertility from the Indus culture. I have sketched on a dark brown tinted paper, using wax crayons.