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There are a number of videos and blogs on temples. Unfortunately, most of the documentation gets stuck at the academic or spiritual level. To find a solution to this, Chennai-based conservation architect Madhusudhanan Kalaichelvan has launched a series called Temple Run 2.0” on August 1 by presenting short videos (7-10 mins) covering history, art, architecture, inscriptions, sacred literature and local traditions of a series of 16 temples across Tamil Nadu.

The idea is to make one’s temple experience holistic. Kalaichelvan, who had worked as senior consultant to document the heritage structures in Kancheepuram for the Central government’s HRIDAY project between 2014 and 15, has chosen 16 temples across Tamil Nadu, to be documented. To begin with, he will be covering the Sri Adikesava Perumal Temple in Thiruvattar in Kanyakumari district. Why? The temple, according to Kalaichelvan, has great significance but only a few know about it. “Steeped in history and deep-rooted in traditions, this temple is an architectural marvel. But many don’t know the significance of it.  So we thought of beginning with this temple,” he said.

Kalaichelvan’s documentation is based on five important factors. For him, the Puranas are the starting point to understand a temple. The etymology of the name of the place or temple in the Puranas will give us the oldest available information about the temple. “The myth and belief apart, the Puranas act as traditional records of the political changes in a particular region and show how they eventually became a belief system over the years. I will be using the Puranas as the first tool to know about a temple,” he said.

To make one’s temple experience holistic, Kalaichelvan, who had worked as senior consultant to document the heritage structures in Kancheepuram for the Central government’s HRIDAY project between 2014 and 15, has chosen 16 temples across Tamil Nadu, to be documented

Kalaichelvan at the Sri Adikesava Perumal Temple in Thiruvattar

The second tool is the architecture of the temple. He said the beauty of the temples in South India lies in layers. “The temples undergo facelifts and renovations. Many dynasties might have contributed to the growth of a temple. The study of the architecture of a particular temple will help us get a clear idea about which dynasty was powerful and dominant in the region,” he said.

Epigraphy, according to Kalaichelvan, is the third tool as he believes that they will provide a glimpse of the social and cultural life associated with the temple. “If you look at the temples in Tamil Nadu, you can see that most of the temples since the 10 or 11th century AD, have inscriptions. The inscriptions, on rocks or on other materials, will give a clear understanding about the growth of the temple,” said Kalaichelvan.

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The fourth tool is the sacred texts and literature associated with the temple. The Alwars (Vaishnavite poet-saints) and the Nayanars (Saivite poets) have sung great compositions in praise of their respective gods. “We get a lot of historic information from the works of the Alwars and the Nayanars. Prominent literature and texts will help us understand the geography and architecture of the temple,” he said.

The fifth tool will be a detailed analysis of the festivals and other social gatherings. Kalaichelvan said festivals and other ceremonies associated with a temple will help to understand the political, social and cultural changes in society.

Kalaichelvan and his cameraman Muthukrishnan will document 16 temples across Tamil Nadu as part of the “Temple Run 2.0” project. Asked about how he narrowed the choice down to just 16, he said while temples are centres of religious significance, each also has a spiritual and social component to it without which it can’t sustain or survive. With the social component, cultural and economic aspects also come in.

“There are many elements — religious, spiritual, social, political and cultural — behind the existence of a temple. These elements are passed on from generation to generation. I am trying to strike a balance. If you want to enjoy the beauty of a temple, then you need to understand it in a holistic way and that’s what I am trying to provide through my videos (,” he said.

Kalaichelvan and his cameraman Muthukrishnan

The selection of temples is based on various aspects. For example, Kalaichelvan is planning to document the Vaikunda Perumal temple in Kancheepuram next. The scholars have studied the temple extensively and the temple also gets visitors from across the state and outside. Why then Kalaichelvan is planning to document the temple, you might ask. “Even though scholars have studied the temple in detail, I still feel the sculpted panels inside the temple need to be explained in a better way. I want to explain the panel to the layman without academic jargon,” he said.

Kalaichelvan said he chose the Adikesava Perumal Temple in Thiruvattar mainly due to its cultural and historic importance. “The town Tiruvattar finds mention in the ancient Tamil poetic work Purananuru. The town lost its prominence later. The temple has a 22-foot-long idol of Vishnu, a great piece of art. The temple was in the news after it got consecrated on July 6, after more than 400 years.

Even though the temple is important, historically and culturally, many don’t know about it. I want to create awareness among people about this important temple and that’s why I started with it,” said Kalaichelvan, who knows that looking at temples from various angles is challenging. Will he be able to document a temple in a seven-or-ten-minute-long video? “No, I am taking at least three or four episodes for each temple. I will be posting a video a week, starting from August 1. I will increase the frequency of my posts after a couple of months,” he promises.

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