July 1, 2010
Twenty-seven students and staff participated in an internship organized by the International Forum for India’s Heritage (IFIH) at Amrita’s Coimbatore campus, preparing material to be used for a DVD on the subject of Science and Technology in Ancient India.
The internship culminated with an educational tour to heritage sites in and around Tiruchi and Thanjavur on June 22-24.
Given below is a first-person account of the tour by IFIH’s convener, Mr. Michel Danino.
Our first stop was the famed Saraswati Mahal Library housed in Thanjavur’s palace complex. Its Conservator, Dr. P. Perumal, showed us many fascinating items related to manuscripts. He explained to us the preparation of palm leaves and the writing process. The library has preserved some 60,000 manuscripts, out of which 80% are in Sanskrit.
We saw beautiful manuscripts painted on bark, rare old books, and some early maps of India by Europeans. There were other amazing objects, like a collapsible bookstand designed to read books without opening them more than 90°, so as to protect their binding. One is familiar with the usual X-shaped object, but this one could be opened to several lengths and was carved out of a single piece of wood; this involved very advanced craftsmanship.
The group proceeded next to the world-famous Brihadiswara temple, where, after a darshan of the huge Shivalinga, we spent a few hours marveling at the architectural and artistic perfection of the Chola complex.
A meeting then took place with Shri Babaji Raja Bhosle, Senior Prince of Thanjavur, who explained his efforts to preserve Thanjavur’s heritage and welcomed our students’ commitment to Indian culture, engaging them in a lively interaction.
A visit to the Art Gallery and its collection of magnificent stone and bronze statues followed.
The next stop was at Darasuram, known for its magnificent Chola Airavateswara temple. On the way back to Thanjavur, we halted at Swamimalai to pay a visit to a family of well-known sthapatis, traditional architects and sculptors who are experts in producing the region’s famed bronze statues.
A senior member explained the bronze-casting process to us, right from the sculpting of a statue’s wax model. We saw the molten bronze being poured into moulds. The sthapatis’ passion for their sacred art was awe-inspiring.
The route back to Coimbatore was diverted for a brief visit to the engineering marvel of the Kalanai (Grand Anicut) on the Kaveri, downstream of the Srirangam Island. From here, we proceeded to the Rock Fort temple complex in Tiruchi, the famous Shiva temple, the Ganapati temple on the hilltop, and the seventh-century rock-cut cave with its magnificent panels.
The group returned to the Coimbatore campus on June 24, richer in knowledge and in memories of special moments and people.
All of us were conscious of how privileged we had been to see things and meet people of the kind that no ordinary sight-seeing tour could ever provide. Such educational tours clearly have high value. I am sure that the students and staff will remember this as a very enriching experience.