And off we go to Thanjavur – Sacred Music Festival Day 1

for those of you who have reached directly here, read our previous post to know where we’re headed and how.

After being delayed an hour by rush hour traffic on the way out of Bangalore City, we were cruising through the amazing NH7 after an average breakfast and coffee at a Kamat restaurant a little distance outside Hosur. The signature paddy fields of the south had started to appear and the silhouettes of the hills in the background added a beautiful flavor to the normally plain horizon.

As advised we took the road recommended via Karur. We got a bit lost on the way and ended up missing our turn off to Karur/Namakkal but realized our mistake in good time and spent just an extra 30 minutes to rejoin our original path.(It’s a bit of an all roads lead to Madurai/Kanyakumari kinda situation so it’s better to be closely locked on your map). After resuming our originally planned route, we ran smoothly past the very picturesque Karur, which was dotted with these cute small households amidst greenery and a massive cement plant at the helm of the town. It assumed a sense of peace in us. Post Karur the road ran a bit narrow and unruly till we finally entered Thiruchirapalli or Trichy, the home of the great Ranganathaswamy temple, which has the highest gopuram in the world. We stopped for lunch at the Batcha Biriyani Center as it was the only place serving food at that hour(it was 3:30 pm ). The meal was a bit cold but we still lapped it up as we were starving and this was our first meal in TN (A:6 M:4). With food in our stomachs, we cruised straight to Thanjavur after crossing the Kaveri twice (in an attempt to take the shortest route out of Trichy) and being given a super vivid and dramatic ‘Kathakali like‘ directional performance of our route by a roadside vendor. A south indian speciality indeed!

Abi’s Inn is one of the first ‘luxury’ hotels in Thanjavur and is a neat, clean and simple accommodation that suited our needs perfectly because we were going to be out and about attending the festival and exploring the region and its many sights. All rooms are equipped with the basic necessities such as air conditioners, a television set, western style toilets as well as solar powered hot water! The restaurant serves a splendid breakfast, the room service is decent, and to top it all it is quite reasonably priced (A:8.5 M:8). We did not have much time to rest as the first concert of the festival was to begin at 6pm in Thiruvaiyaru, which was only a distance of under 20 kilometers from Thanjavur. However, since we had no idea of the condition of the roads or the distance/direction, we got ready as fast as we could and headed out towards the venue. After several directions and re-directions we made it past the sunset to the first concert of the festival which was already more than half an hour in.

While being directed to the venue we were told to look out for the ‘pura koondu’ – literally translated as pigeon’s hole. This was a tall tower built as a rest place for weary birds. Immediately after crossing the Cauvery river bed into Thiruvaiyaru via a bridge we spotted this tower. Parking was sparse, but we managed it and entered the beautifully ruined Diwan Wada Palace. The entrance way was lit up quaintly with a number of  ‘velakkas’(oil lamps) and flowers. The stage was set up in the inner courtyard amidst some ancient corridors that were intricately highlighted by some great lighting. The centerpiece of the eye catching backdrop included a behemoth of a banyan tree and another lit up ‘pura koondu’  identical to the one at the entrance of the palace. The setting was very magical in every aspect except one – the music. The renditions on sitar by Deobrath and Shivnath Mishra(Thanjavur was being subjected to their first sitar concert ever!) were flaccid and devoid of any true feel or expression and hence any identity. However, the redeeming feature of the flat performance was the tabla accompaniment by Prashant Mishra.

The Mishras with the Poora Koondu as the backdrop

The Mishras with the Poora Koondu as the backdrop

We left the venue a bit bummed and drove back to Thanjavur. Here we joined an exciting group of our host Ranvir Shah’s invitees and friends for dinner. Some of us introduced ourselves to some others and a few others were aided in enthralling introductions by Ranvir himself. It came to our knowledge that we were in truly interesting company whose common unadulterated quest was to discover the art, architecture and culture of South India. While the itineraries of the following two days were plotted our minds were rejuvenated.

As we lay our heads down that night, we subconsciously prepared ourselves to open our minds to new ideologies, discoveries and the possibilities of enlightenment in the two days that were before us.

The Pura kundu brilliantly lit up in profile.

The Pura koondu brilliantly lit up in profile.

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Spell #1: Sacred Music Festival, Thiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu, India

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Ingredients:
1. Map
2. Enthusiasm
3. A great playlist
Add (at your will):
4. Scenic explorations

We’re getting ready for our first spell – a trip to Thiruvaiyaru to check out the Sacred Music Festival organized by the Prakriti Foundation. This is not to be confused with the Thyagaraja Music Festival, which is held in January every year.

This is going to be a momentous trip for two reasons. Firstly, because we are both deeply steeped in music our visit to Thiruvarur, which is the birthplace of Thyagaraja is probably going to purport the greater cause of our lives. Secondly, driving through the paddy fields of Tamil Nadu was a regular feature of my childhood that I am excited to revisit after what seems like eons.

Not to mention we will of course be sussing out anything eye/ear/mind catching along the way.

Hard Facts:
This will be a 3-day festival from March 1st – 3rd, featuring the following:

> A special sitar duet Concert by Pandit Shivnath Mishra and
Deobrat Mishra (father and son) who were born into a
renowned family belonging to the Benares Gharana,
spanning seven generations.
> Sufi Concert by Qawwal Najmuddin Saifuddin & Brothers
(of Pakistan), who are the ambassadors of Sufism
> Saptaakshara concert by percussionist Vikku Vinayakram
> Vocal Concert by Sanjay Subramaniam

Each concert will take place in 3 stunning venues. But, more on that later.

Since we are going to be driving from Bangalore we did a little research on the best route to take. The parents made a trip recently and advised us against taking the State Highway post Namakkal. So we will be taking a diversion from Namakkal via Karur to then rejoin the highway at some point.

We’re looking forward to sharing this and many more experiential journeys that we have our eyes on. Here’s hoping that we can dive in and soak in the true spirit of what lies ahead!