A week long South India trip undertaken by students at Sasi Creative School of Architecture, took them across several historical locations. The trip helped students take a closer look at ancient architectural wonders.
Accompanied by two faculty members, Mr.Gnanavelu and Ms.Sowmya, students first went to the southernmost point of our country- Kanyakumari. The visit to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was a memorable one with students observing the mammoth structure. A meditation hall (‘Dhyana Mandapam’) is also attached to the memorial for visitors to meditate. The design of the mandapa incorporates different styles of temple architecture from all over India. It houses a statue of Vivekananda.
The next stop on the tour was at the nearby Vattakottai Fort (or ‘Circular Fort’), which is a seaside fort near Kanyakumari. It was built in the 18th century as a coastal defence-fortification and barracks in the erstwhile Travancore kingdom. The fort is made of granite blocks and is known for its unique architecture.
With their interests in ancient Indian architecture triggered, the group next headed for Madurai. A visit to the famous Thirumalai Nayak Mahal was an eye-opener for the future architects. Built by King Thirumalai Nayak in 1636 AD, the palace is a classic fusion of Dravidian and Islamic styles.
This was followed by a visit to the world famous Madurai Meenakshi Temple. The temple complex houses 14 gateway towers called ‘gopurams’ ranging from 45-50m in height, the tallest being the southern tower, 51.9 metres (170 ft) high, and two golden sculptured ‘ vimana’, the shrine over sanctum of the main deities. There is an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple[The temple complex is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular enclosures contained by high masonary walls. It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions.
The trip to Sri Ranghanswamy Temple in Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli had the students listening to their faculties spell bound, as they got to know about the architectural highlights of the structure. The temple is enclosed by 7 concentric walls (termed ‘prakarams’ (outer courtyard) or mathil suvar) with a total length of 32,592 feet or over six miles. These temple has 21 gopurams(towers), 39 pavilions, fifty shrines, Ayiram kaal mandapam (a hall of 1000 pillars) and several small water bodies inside.
Equally amazing in architecture was the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, this temple is one of India’s most prized architectural sites. The temple stands amidst fortified walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The vimana (temple tower) is 216 ft (66 m) high] and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The ‘Kumbam’ (‘Kalasha’ or ‘Chikharam’) (apex or the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple is carved out of a single stone. There is a big statue of ‘Nandi’ (sacred bull), carved out of a single rock, at the entrance measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high. The entire temple structure is made out of granite, the nearest sources of which are close to Tiruchchirapalli, about 60 km to the west of Thanjavur, where the temple is. Built in 1010 AD by Raja Raja Chola I in Thanjavur, Brihadeeswarar Temple, also popularly known as the ‘Big Temple’, turned 1000 years old in 2010.
Quick visits to the Thillai Natarajah Temple in Chidambaram and Itchavaram followed. It was now time to study Indo-French architecture in Puducherry. Students also got to enjoy some sun, surf and sand at the beach. There was more of beach fun plus study to be had at Mahabalipuram, whose ancient temple architecture has been drawing visitors from around the world.
All the exhaustion of the students vanished, when they reached the final destination of their trip- the fabulous ‘Express Avenue’ mall in Chennai. While they shopped till they dropped, they also learnt a lot about architecture. The way planners had cleverly incorporated features to make the swanky mall energy efficient, through the use of daylight and cross-ventilation was a lesson to the budding architects.
The whirlwind trip left the students with a lifetime of memories that they are bound to cherish.