Within it, the stillness

This is the verdant Cauvery delta. The Vennar distributary glides through lush paddy fields here in Tanjavur, singing songs from a past replete with sea-faring kings, opulent cities, magnificent architecture and enduring culture. Tanjavur — capital of the mighty Chola dynasty that ruled this part of the southern peninsula for many centuries. A solitary pond heron on the far bank studies its reflection. Blood was spilt here. Temples were raised. History was shaped and reshaped on the banks of the Cauvery. The river that knows it all.

water. time.
the relentless movement.
within it, within it, the stillness

A beloved king. A venerated deity. A stunning temple. Legend has it that elephants dragged giant blocks up an inclined ramp to construct the tower that soars over 200 feet. This was more than a thousand years ago. You can sense that energy. You can feel spacetime collapsing. You know several generations have sat where you sit, have felt what you feel, have seen what you see. So has Raja Raja – king of kings. The tower takes on a golden hue as the sun sets slowly. The sun that knows it all.

first light:
the flutter of wings, the temple bell,
a breeze waking stone after stone

That isn’t the only great temple. A few miles down, the heir repeated the feat of his father raising a graceful edifice with breath-taking craftsmanship. A century later, another Chola monarch erected a formidable beauty with decorated columns and horse-drawn chariots carved from stone. The gods were exalted with wisdom and skill, faith and art. Human endeavour that has survived to tell its tale. I wonder as I walk down a pillared corridor, if I have those tools. What do I hold dear? How do I revere? What story do I tell? I see them stand strong and tall. The temples that know it all.

not yet dawn
not quite night, just a fragile hush
as if the sky is about to answer

Paddy fields line both sides of the highway. I stop to watch the white egrets poke around in the water. The roar of the irrigation pump, the outlines of tractors and bullock-drawn ploughs, the bent backs of toiling farmers, kingfishers and drongos perched on overhead wires, large statues of village protector-deities — fierce warriors watching over people and livestock and crops, the romance of pastoral deliberation, the aroma of frothing cups of filter coffee, life as I know it fading into the distance…I can understand how this moment contains everything that came before it. And everything that is yet to come. What matters, what can wait, what we need to do, what is beyond us. That truth has never changed. In all this time. Time that knows it all.

swinging from the branch
of a tamarind tree
the chain from an old tyre-swing

India Travelogue… Tanjavur (The Three Great Living Chola Temples)


12 thoughts on “Within it, the stillness

  1. Loved how you wrote about the Cauvery river and the Chola dynasty and the capital, Tanjavur, all giving breath-taking context to the edifices, the exquisite temples.

    How you write about these places wants me to pack a bag and go too !

    And finally, like a few other readers said, our inward journeys are as beautiful as the outward ones, so the reveries elevated this piece by adding this journey into yourself ..

    Signing off with lots of love and light to you and yours 🙂


  2. I love your use of this form–how it gives you two means of expression–the experience and the experience within the experience. It matters what gives us pause, it matters what we hold sacred. The first half of these mometns moves, the second lingers. All of this glimmers.


    1. Thanks so much, Susan. That’s so very kind. And yes, that’s exactly what I want to convey, the lingering thoughts and feelings that come from seeing something, being somewhere, learning. Am so glad the form works.


  3. Making comes to us underfoot, up through fungal roots of time and all that rose and fell there. The poet’s journey is both out and down, as if to discover the weight of the inherited. Here the encounters are open, welcoming, receiving; I can see this in book form under “India Travelogue,” not as Baedeker for distant travelers but with the intimacy of the somewhat native. (Modernity separates us all so.) Well done –


    1. Thank you, Brendan. I like your visualization of a book like that! If it ever happens, it would be one Indian’s travelogue – I’ve been writing about places outside the country as well. But now you’ve put an idea in my head… 🙂 🙂


  4. That stillness, the knowingness of BEING comes through so beautifully in this poem. Sigh. I am enjoying journeying with you through these places as old as time itself.


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