As a little boy, historian and writer Pradeep Chakravarthy recalls spending every summer holiday at his grandmother’s place in Tirunelveli. With no comics or cartoons for entertainment, young Pradeep would be packed off in a car, with a box of noodles, to visit temples every Sunday. Even as he bowed before deities and soaked in the rituals, a part of him was always curious to know the story behind these structures. Over the years, he scanned through volumes of texts and inscriptions, and realised that besides religion, temples spoke a lot about the politics, economy and geography of a place. “In fact, it gives a peek into a whole period of history — which doesn’t just include dry dates and who killed whom when, but a wealth of solutions to our present-day problems,” says Pradeep, who has penned articles about temple inscriptions that talk about income tax in the medieval period, hospitals and medical facilities, functioning of the local government and more.
His latest venture is a three-part series on Chola temples, including ones in Pudukkottai and Nagapattinam regions (like Kodumbalur, Punjai, Thiruvavaduthurai and Thiruvelvikudi temples), Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram temples, and the ones in Thiruvottiyur and Velachery. “The minute you say Chola, everybody thinks of the Brihadeeswarar temple. But there is so much more. The Cholas were such a successful dynasty that the eastern coast of India, called Coromandel, derives its name from ‘Cholamandalam’. Their trade routes, empires, military strength, land survey system, income tax procedure and democracy system were very powerful, and the vestiges of that survive even today,” he says.
The Cholas, he explains, were able to convert rituals in temples to mirror rituals in palaces, so that the god and the king and the palace and the temple became synonymous with each other. “It was a very political and religious way of extracting suppliance from the subjects,” adds Pradeep, who works at a consultancy firm. And when he is not busy with his official tours or spending time with his seven-year-old child, he organises heritage trails across Tamil Nadu, and writes books. “I visited temples all alone. I think that loneliness and sadness stuck to me. And today, as I visit these temples with people, it has become more about bringing them together,” says Pradeep, who is also part of Facebook groups like ‘Mahabalipuram — Unfinished Poetry in Stone’ and ‘Heritage Events Hub’ among others.
The lecture series at Ashvita Bistro, Alwarpet, on February 13, between 5.30 p.m. and 7 p.m. will be accompanied by a performance by Carnatic vocalist V. Shankaranarayanan and an exhibition of coins belonging to the Chola period.