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September 2013  
 
 
Special Reports

In this Issue
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 



In this issue we focus on the culinary wonders of the Madurai area in South India.

 

We would like to begin with a short note about hot food and spicy food. Contrary to popular belief, Indian cuisine is not meant to be hot. There are a great variety of herbs and spices used in Indian cooking. These may add flavor, aid digestion, have medicinal properties or just bring color to the food (usually it's a combination of a few qualities).

The types and flavors of herbs and spices vary as you travel from one place to another within India. Just as anywhere else, there are people who cook and eat really spicy food; however, almost all Indian restaurants will ask for your preference while taking your order. If they forget to ask you, please do let your waiter know.

This month, we focus on the Madurai area in Tamil Nadu, which is the southern-most state of India.

Gigantic Gopurams of Sri Meenakshi Aman Temple Complex

Over 2,500 years old, Madurai is the second largest city of Tamil Nadu and is an important cultural and commercial hub. The city was once the seat of Tamil learning; it is still the area where the Tamil language is spoken in its purest form. The city is planned in the shape of a lotus which is the traditional symbol of purity in the Hindu religion. In contrast with its ancient roots, modern Madurai is a burgeoning industrial center, surrounded by vast stretches of paddy fields, dusty roads and crowded bazaars.

Kick-off your exploration of Madurai with breakfast at your hotel. Like most places in the world, breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day in Tamil Nadu as well. Your breakfast will include a diverse sampling of Tamil cuisine such as Aval (flattened rice), Puttu, Idiyappam, Sevai and Milagi Podi as well as options for a traditional western breakfast. A cup of piping hot filter coffee, which is a Tamil favorite, is highly recommended to wash down your breakfast. After breakfast you begin your day with a guided city tour of Madurai.

By far the main attraction of Madurai is the great Sree Meenakshi Aman Temple. This awe-imposing monument is the finest example of Dravidian temple architecture on this planet. Its “Hall of a Thousand Pillars” is a fabulous collection of elaborately sculpted and painted deities as well as other creatures from Hindu religious annals. The temple is always a beehive of activity as pilgrims from all over India come to seek the blessings of Meenakshi (Goddess Parvati) and Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva). Its vast interior is filled with worshipers at all hours of the day.

You will witness Hindu priests performing various ceremonies in different parts of the temple complex as you explore this huge structure, including religious aspects of traditional weddings. According to Tamil belief, the temple has existed for about 2,000 years, but this current structure is a mere four centuries old (the previous majestic temple was destroyed by Muslim invaders in the 14th century). The massive complex includes 14 magnificent Gopurams that jut into the sky from different parts of the temple. These Gopurams have thousands of elaborate sculptures carved into them and these have been colorfully painted. The most significant of these Gopurams are the two golden towers dedicated to the two main deities, the tallest one reaches 170 feet.

After you leave the temple you are driven to the nearby Thirumalai Nayak Palace. Constructed in 1636 A.D. by an Italian architect, the palace is an interesting confluence of Dravidian, Islamic and European architectural styles. The palace used to be the abode of Madurai’s Nayaka Dynasty and was commissioned by King Thirumalai Nayak.

After your exploration of these fabulous monuments, you would want to take a break by enjoying a traditional Tamil lunch. While Indian cuisine is broadly classified into six tastes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent, a Tamil meal will satisfy all these diverse tastes.

To ensure that you enjoy a traditional lunch in signature Tamil style, request a banana leaf platter for the feast. The food layout on the Banana leaf is done in a fashion that has remained unchanged for centuries. The top half of the leaf is reserved for numerous condiments and accompaniments to the main entree like pickles, salt, chutney and vegetables.

The vegetables are diverse and include anything from gourds to carrots and cabbages. The lower half of the leaf is for rice which is a dietary staple of Tamil Nadu. Rice may be plain white rice, ghee (clarified butter) Pongal, lemon rice or tamarind rice. Crispy Appalam or Papadam wafers also form a part of this delicious lunch served on a Banana leaf.

   
Visitors at the entrance of the Sri Meenakshi Aman Temple Complex

After you enjoy your scrumptious lunch, explore this fascinating city that is bustling with interesting architecture, cultural icons and interesting markets. As the sun sets, attend the iconic and impressive evening Palli Arai ceremony at the mammoth Sree Meenakshi Temple Complex. This elaborate and ritualistic ceremony has been written about in many international publications. You will be amazed by the incredible scale and colors that you will witness. Besides a glimpse of the ancient ceremony, the evening will give you a whole new perspective that will augment your experience of the detailed day tour that you took of this awe-inspiring Temple complex.

Once you have experienced the rich spiritual essence of the Palli Arai ceremony, head back to your hotel for a delightful traditional dinner that is sure to please even the most zealous of food lovers.

The cooking techniques of Tamil Nadu are characterized by the liberal use of rice, legumes and lentils. Chefs in Madurai maintain distinct flavors, which result from of a variety of spices like pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coconut, curry leaves and tamarind. Tamil dishes call for elaborate preparation techniques and the methods used by cooks and chefs in this region have remained unchanged since millennia.

Sea food has always been a major component of Tamil cuisine. The vast coastline of Tamil Nadu is rich in prawns, lobsters, king fish (Vanjaram), tuna and clams etc. You will encounter a lot of traditional Tamil seafood preparations during your exploration of Madurai.

The most famous items in the typical Tamil dinner menu are Idli (rice cakes), Dosa (paper thin fermented crepes or pancakes of lentil and rice flour), Vada (a spicy, deep fried doughnut shaped snack made of lentils and eaten with coconut chutney) and Pongal (a mash of rice and lentils boiled together and seasoned with ghee and cashew nuts). These items are served with side dishes like Sambar (a tasty lentil preparation) and Coconut Chutney. In Tamil Nadu, the Vada is traditionally a part of the breakfast menu, but due to its popularity it is available in most restaurants throughout the day.


Dosa with Coconut Chutney

Traditional dinners, or Thalis, are served on a banana leaf or on a steel plate lined with a banana leaf and consist of a sampling of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The staple diet consists of steamed rice, which is served with a variety of vegetable dishes like Sambar, Rasam (spicy pepper and tomato soup) and Kootu (thick vegetable gravy). Meals are accompanied by crisp Appalams (crispy deep fried lentil wafers) and the delicious Appalams go well with rice and Sambar.

This diversity of flavors as well as textures and spices make Tamil cuisine one of the most eclectic across India.

The end of the meal brings on dessert, which in this part of India is normally Payasam (a dessert made of rice or lentils and richly garnished with nuts) or Kesari (a pastry made of granular rice, cashew and saffron) or sweet Pongal.

To travel across India and not immerse yourself in its rich culinary diversity is to merely scratch the surface of what India’s rich cultural heritage offers. The cuisine in India varies with every passing mile. Each place has its regional delicacies and culinary claim to fame. The food might require getting used to, especially the more spicy preparations, but that’s part of the adventure called India.

Easy Tours of India has partnered with top chefs across the length and breadth of India to share a few of their timeless secrets with you in all of our monthly newsletters.

In this edition we present a few preparations from the secret recipe book of Master Chef Arumugan of the GRT Regency Hotel, Madurai. We sincerely hope that you enjoy preparing these culinary delights back home.
   
    Chef of the Month
 
Chef
 

Chef Arumugan is the driving force behind the high degree of culinary excellence that has been achieved at the GRT Regency Hotel in Madurai.

Chef Arumugan and his team have in their ten year association with GRT properties made an all-out effort to cement the GRT Regency’s reputation as a fine dining center of excellence in Madurai.

Chef Arumugan is a graduate of Hotel Management & Catering Sciences from the prestigious IHM Tharamani, Chennai. He has been associated with some of the leading names in the Indian hoteling industry for over 24 years.

During the course of his illustrious career, he has worked with big hospitality brands including Sheraton, ITC-Welcome, Le Royal Meridian as well as the Taj Group.

Chef Arumugan has worked in the hotel industries of a number of countries including India, the Maldives as well as Malaysia and therefore has a diverse and eclectic repertoire of culinary skills that have held him in good stead throughout his career.

Given below are some of his signature recipes from the Madurai region and around the world.


Chettinad Mutton Biryani


 

FOR SEASONING:

Mint leaves - ½ bunch
Cloves - 2 nos
Cardamom green - 2 nos
Cinnamon stick - 2 nos
Bay leaves - 2 nos

Ingredients:

Mutton - 1 kgs
Onion - 4 nos
Tomatoes - 3 nos
Green chilies - 4 nos
Basmati rice - 4 cups
Coconut milk - 2 cups
Mint leaves - ½ bunch
Ginger, garlic paste - 2 tsp
Curd - 1 cups
Sunflower oil

FOR CHETTINAD MARINATION

Cloves - 2 nos
Bay leaves - 2 nos
Pepper corn - 5 nos
Mace - 2 nos
Red chilies - 2 nos
Whole dhuniya - 10 nos
Marathi mokku - 2 nos
Staranaise - 2 nos
Kal pasi - 1 nos
Jeera - 5 gms
Saunf - 5 gms
Nut meg - 1 nos
Pappy seeds - 3 gms
Channa dal - 5 gms
Curry leaves - 1 frigs
Raw rice - 5 gms

Roast all of the above ingredients with coconut oil and then make a powder.

 

Lal Maans

Preparation:

1. Marinate the Mutton with the items given in “for marinating” for an hour.

2. Wash and soak the rice for 10 minutes in water. Then drain the water.

3. Heat oil in a vessel and add the items given in “for seasoning”.

4. Now add the onion, green chilies, tomatoes, ginger garlic paste and curd. Sauté for a while and then add the marinated mutton pieces. Sauté in medium heat for 5 minutes.

5. Cover and cook the mutton on a slow fire.

6. Now add the coconut milk along with two cups of water. Cook for some time. Now add salt and the rice.

7. Reduce the heat. Cover and cook till all the water gets absorbed.

8. Keep the vessel in low heat. Heat a pan and close the vessel with this hot pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Biryani will be rightly cooked.

9. Garnish with coriander leaves.
 
     
   
 
 
         
 

Murgh Makhen Palak


 

murgh makhen palak

Chicken Marination:

Chicken boneless - 800gms
Dhuniya powder - 1tsp
Hung curd - 1tsp
Ginger paste - 2tsp
Garlic paste - 2tsp
Lemon juice - 1tsp
Jeera powder - 1tsp
Onion paste – 1 nos
Chili powder - 1tsp
Salt - to taste
Shredded palak (spinach) - 1 bunch
Green chili - 10 nos

Gravy:

Large tomato’s – 4 nos
Butter - 4tbsp
Fresh cream - 1tbsp
Dhuniya powder - 1tsp
Jeera powder - 1tsp
Pepper powder - 1tsp
Chopped ginger - 2tsp
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste

 

Garnish:

Fresh cream, onion rings, coriander leaves

Preparation:

1. Make small cut chicken pieces.

2. Mix all the marinate ingredients and mix chicken pieces.

3. Let the chicken marinate for a few hours.

4. Take half the butter in a heavy bottom frying pan and put in the chicken with the marinate. Cover it and cook till the chicken is fully cooked. Stir fry the chicken for some time.

5. Heat the remaining butter in a frying pan or kadai and add the chili powder, dhuniya powder, jeera powder, pepper powder.

6. Fry for some time then add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, salt and cook in medium flame till the puree thickens and fats separate.

7. Add the cream and cook on a low flame for a few minutes.

8. Add the chicken pieces along with chopped ginger and green chili to the gravy. Cover and simmer in low heat till the gravy is hot.

9. While serving pour the melted butter and garnish with the fresh cream, chopped coriander leaves and onion rings.

10. Serve the murgh makhen palak hot with rice or naans.

     
 
  Resort of the Month

 GRT REGENCY, MADURAI

The GRT Regency is one of the better and upscale hotel properties in the city of Madurai. The hotel in recent years has become a convenient base for the growing number of international travelers that come to Madurai on both business and leisure.

The GRT Regency is part of the GRT Group which is one of the leading business conglomerates in South India with a focus in the gems and jewelry as well as the hospitality industries. The GRT – Group has a number of hotel properties in South India in prominent destinations such as Chennai, Madurai, Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram), Kanchipuram, Yercaud, Tuticorin and Vellore.

The GRT Regency in Madurai has 57 rooms tiered to two standards (Superior and Deluxe). The rooms are well equipped to cater to the needs of both business and leisure travelers and come with standard amenities ranging from flat-screen TVs, mini-bars, complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room dining and other facilities.

The hotel has a multi-cuisine restaurant titled “Ahaaram” as well as a lounge bar called “Madhuram”. For visitors looking to indulge in a bit of pampering, the hotel features a large gymnasium, pool as well as an Ayurvedic wellness center named “Ayush”.

The GRT Regency is conveniently located close to all the major tourist attractions of Madurai such as the Sri Meenakshi Aman Temple Complex, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Thiruparankundram and the Mahatma Gandhi Museums thereby making it easy for guests to discover the many wonders of the city.

 
 
 News Update
 
 From the Head Office in Delhi

Delhi opens doors of the “Nature Bazaar”
During August 2013, a new market dedicated to traditional handicrafts as well as organic produce opened its doors in the federal capital of New Delhi. Titled the “Nature Bazaar”, the new market is an initiative of the New Delhi Tourism Department. The market is spread over 7,000 square meters and was inaugurated by Ms. Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of New Delhi.


Nature Bazaar Delhi - Opening new vistas of cultural excellence

The Nature Bazaar has been conceived by the New Delhi Tourism Department as a creative way to employ the various artisans and artists of the region and bring them to the attention of high income residents as well as the growing number of international tourists that come to the city. The idea is that the market will help the government protect indigenous art forms as well as provide a sustainable means of livelihood to traditional craftsmen.

Commenting on the launch of Delhi’s new Nature Bazaar, Mr. Sudhir Sobti, Chief Public Relations Officer, Delhi Tourism said, “The permanent Nature Bazaar will be an exciting round the year cultural and retail hub, with a colorful, constantly changing program of crafts and natural and organic produce creating a link between nature and crafts and promoting age old skills in innovative products”.

Already the Nature Bazaar is being frequented by residents of New Delhi and its satellite city of Gurgaon in large numbers. The New Delhi Tourism Department is confident that the trickle of tourists coming to the market will definitely grow incrementally once a greater number of people know about the opening of the Nature Bazaar.

To ensure that public interest, both domestic and foreign, does not wane in the new Nature Bazaar, New Delhi Tourism has already planned a series of special events at the new market. The first event kicking off in September will feature traditional handicrafts from all over South Asia and include the works of artisans from countries including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives at the Nature Bazaar.


*Elements of the above excerpted from “Delhi to get a new crafts market” – breakingtourismnews.com

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 From the Agra Office
  Amazing aerial tour of the Taj Mahal compiled

As one of the world`s most photographed monuments, the 17th century Taj Mahal continues to delight and fascinate Camera persons from all over the world.

Every day, hordes of photographers, both amateurs and professionals, shoot pictures of the white marble mausoleum, bringing joy and excitement to those who pose against its magnificent backdrop.

The Taj Mahal – one of the most photographed monuments of the world

While we all know about the Taj Mahal being the eternal symbol of enduring love that has been celebrated in story and song the world over, what is not commonly known is the scale of the conservation effort made by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to preserve the beauty of the monument.

As part of this conservation effort, the Government of India maintains a strict no-fly zone over the Taj Mahal. The no fly zone is maintained around a 1.8 mile diameter of the Taj Mahal and no building higher than 561 feet (which is the highest elevation in the Taj Necropolis) can be erected in the no-fly zone.

AirPano, a Moscow based photography specialty company that has taken famous aerial shots of landmarks around the world including the cityscapes of metropolises like Rome, Dubai and Singapore, approached the Indian government for permission to photograph the Taj Mahal from the air.

The permission was granted after considerable effort and what emerged is a phenomenal collection of photographs and a virtual aerial tour that shows the Taj Mahal in a scale of grandeur never before seen by locals or tourists in history.

More of these phenomenal shots along with accompanying 360 degree vantages in high resolution can be seen at AirPano’s website at the following link:

http://www.airpano.com/360Degree-VirtualTour.php?3D=Taj-Mahal-India

AirPano claims that its team of photographers was extremely excited shooting this aspect of the Taj Mahal as it is a wonder of the world and the perfect representation of eternal love preserved in stone.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “Rare aerial photos of the Taj Mahal” – businessinsider.com

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 From the Jaipur Office
Rajasthan Luxury Trains get intense make-over

India is counted amongst one of the best countries of the world that can be toured as part of a fascinating train journey. The country has regularly made it to the list of the finest train journey destinations of the world by leading tourism resources such as the BBC, Lonely Planet and Travel & Leisure. One particular reason why the country continues to rank so highly in the list of global train journey destinations is the presence of luxury trains that ply across the railway tracks throughout India.


Trains of Rajasthan – Blazing new trails of opulent luxury

In an effort to continuously improve service levels and maintain foreign traveler interest in luxury train journeys, the Government of Rajasthan and Indian Railways have launched a massive refurbishment exercise on the world famous “Royal Rajasthan on Wheels” and the “Palace on Wheels” luxury trains. Both these luxury trains are joint ventures between the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) and the Indian Railways. The cost of this comprehensive set of upgrades will reportedly be in excess of INR 15 million.

The new upgrades have been designed after a detailed exercise of soliciting customer feedback from a cross section of travelers using these trains. The focus of the refurbishment exercise would be to increase creature comforts as well as luxurious opulence of these trains through improvements in areas of better communication technology such as satellite telephony, Wi-Fi coverage as well as choicer entertainment options. Furthermore, there will increased functional comforts such as upgraded bathrooms and toilet facilities, noise reduction flooring, heavier set carpeting as well as better insulation and paneling for an overall smoother ride.

On the gastronomic end of things the restaurant menu will be broadened to include a variety of cuisines. Also the restaurants, bars and in-cabin dining facilities will be greatly expanded.

The trains are also set to have new thematic overlays including a richer heritage décor with more opulent traditional Rajasthani fixtures and furnishings. As part of the enhanced luxury train journey, the RTDC and Indian Railways plan to offer a more augmented event experience on the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels as well as Palace on Wheels where people can host luxurious wedding ceremonies while traveling in style across the Rajasthani desert and urban landscape.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “Rajasthan’s luxury trains undergo makeover” – indileak.com

 
 
 
 From the ETI Wildlife Desk

Animal Planet celebrates Indian wildlife diversity with the “Yeh Mera India” initiative

Animal Planet, one of the world’s most respected television resources on wildlife and conservation, launched a major initiative to celebrate India’s diverse biosphere and wildlife species. The initiative was titled “Yeh Mera India” (This is my India) and was launched to commemorate the 67th anniversary of Indian independence in August 2013.


Celebrating India’s diverse wildlife heritage

As part of the Yeh Mera India initiative, Animal Planet organized a series of special programming on India that was broadcast on all its principal broadcast beams. For the Indian and South Asian audiences there was series of additional special episodes that dedicatedly featured many Indian wildlife species such as Tigers, Rhinoceros, Langurs as well as Lion Tailed Macaque, Mahseer Fish, Goonch Fish, Malabar Pit Vipers along with Dholes and Gharials.

The Animal Planet production team travelled across the length and breadth of India to film at exotic locations including the Odisha Wet-lands, the Western Ghats, Bandhavgarh Forests, the Himalayas and the Far-eastern Tribal states.

As part of the Yeh Mera India initiative, the Animal Planet team worked with the famous Bollywood composer duo Salim and Suleiman Merchant to compose a special commemorative anthem. Titled eponymously the “Yeh Mera India Anthem”, the song highlights India’s amazing natural heritage and extols the virtue of preserving it for future generations. The anthem is sung in a combination of Hindi, Bengali and Tamil and has been sung by a troika of famous singers, Salim, June Bannerjee and Nandini Srikar.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “Animal Planet celebrates Indian Wildlife with Yeh Mera India” – bestmediainfo.com

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 From the Kochi Office

Kochi gets ready to wear ‘solar city’ tag

Kochi is taking the first step towards a more environmentally friendly and energy efficient future as part of an ambitious program by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) titled “Solar City”. Kochi is one of 48 cities across India that have been selected as part of the ground breaking Solar City program. The program aims to equip Indian cities towards attaining a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy footprint.


Rowing towards a more energy efficient future


The Solar City program is the most comprehensive sustainable energy development program for urban cities in the history of India. As part of the initiation of the Solar City program, the Kochi Corporation has commenced measures to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) on the scheme. To support the success of the Solar City program, the MNRE has earmarked a budget of INR 2 million for Kochi to cover the generation of the master-plan and project report, as well as the creation of a Solar City cell to monitor progress of the project.

Furthermore, a fund of INR 2 million has been earmarked to promote and build capacity for the Solar City project in Kochi through assertive advertising and creative public outreach programs.

The services of ICLEI, an international agency involved in supporting local governments to identify solutions to governance including efficient energy management, has also been engaged for making the DPR, K.J. Sohan, Standing Committee Chairman, Town Planning, commented to the press. He said the agency had been involved in similar projects in other cities of India as well as around the world. A Solar City cell has also been constituted as required under the MNRE scheme, he said.

The Solar City program is extremely ambitious with clearly stated benchmarks that include:

  • A 10% reduction in conventional energy usage.
  • A city wide program to adopt greater energy efficiency.
  • Increase the supply of renewable energy.
  • Promotion of solar water heating and illumination technology.
  • Use of urban and industrial waste to generate energy.
  • Establish a retail network for sale of energy efficient and environmentally friendly products.
  • Map future energy growth and commit to fulfilling it on a sustainable level.
Civic authorities in Kochi are upbeat of the prospects and expected windfalls of successfully completing the Solar City program. It is believed that the successful completion of the program will not only give Kochi a more environmentally friendly energy footprint but will greatly improve the city’s profile globally as an environmentally conscientious city and that will help attract a greater number of visitors from around the world.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “Kochi gets ready to wear ‘solar city’ tag” – The Hindu

 
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 From the Skies Above
Emirates wins the Skytrax ‘World’s Best Airline 2013 Award’

Emirates Airlines, one of the fastest growing airlines in the world was recently awarded the highly coveted ‘World’s Best Airline’ award by Skytrax.


Emirates – Soaring to higher service accolades

The Skytrax awards are considered the gold standard in the travel industry and were awarded this year based on an exhaustive poll of 18 million business and leisure air travelers from 160 countries across different passenger categories.

Emirates bagged a number of Skytrax awards this year. Apart from winning the ‘World’s Best Airline’ category, Emirates scored wins in the categories of, ‘Best Middle East Airline’ as well as for ‘Best in-flight Entertainment’ a category that it has managed to win consecutively for nine straight years.

Speaking at the sidelines of the Paris Airshow this year where the announcement was made, Mr. Tim Clark, President Emirates Airlines commented, “These (Skytrax) awards are widely regarded as the industry’s benchmark for excellence. For us, the awards clearly reflect a vote of confidence from global travelers, who acknowledge and appreciate our continuous drive to deliver high-quality service. To be voted ‘World’s Best Airline’ by millions of discerning travelers really is something for our 60,000 strong workforce to be proud of”.

Emirates is based out of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and has been an industry leader in bringing new innovations to air travel. The airline has one of the youngest and fastest growing fleets in the industry and is widely known for the excellence of its in-flight services ranging from a diverse culinary offering to over 1,400 channels of entertainment.

Emirates offers a significant number of connections to over 10 destinations in India. The cities serviced in India by Emirates include Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “World Airline Awards 2013” – worldairlineawards.com

 

 
 Festival Alerts
Kalpathy Chariot Festival

Kalpathy Ratholsavam or the Chariot Festival is an annual temple festival celebrated in the month of November at the Sri Visalakshi Sametha Sri Viswanatha Swami Temple in Kalpathy.


Turning the wheels of proudly devout religious traditions

The town of Kalpathy is also known as Dakshin Kasi or the 'Varanasi of the South’. Kalpathy is an early Tamil Brahmin settlement (Agraharam) in the Palakkad District of Kerala state in southern India. The festival is one of the main attractions of the region that draws thousands of devotees and tourists every year from around the world.

To further facilitate the organizers of the festival, the Government of India has declared the Kalpathy Agraharam (Brahmin village) in the heart of Palakkad town as the first heritage village in Kerala state.

As part of this initiative, an area of 22.36 hectares of Old Kalpathy and New Kalpathy, including the entire area of the famous Kalpathy Agraharam, will be notified as a heritage site and will be marked for preservation.

The annual Chariot Festival is in honor of the presiding deities of the temple, Lord Shiva (Lord Viswanatha) and his consort Visalakshi. The Kalpathy Visalakshi Sametha Sri Viswanatha Swamy Temple is the oldest Shiva temples in the south of India. The temple was built around 1425 AD by Kombi Achan, who was the Raja of Palakkad.

Legend has it that the temple was built at this site because a Brahmin widow named Lakshmiammal went to Varanasi and brought back a “Lingam” which is the traditional mark of Lord Shiva in temples and installed it at the present site which was on the Southern bank of river Neela Bhagirathi.

The temple and its steps leading to the river were stylized to match the Temples of Varanasi on the banks of the sacred river Ganges. The locals therefore dubbed this temple "Kasiyil Pakuthi Kalpathy" or “Half Banaras” (Varanasi).

The ten day Chariot Festival organized here every year during the month of November is one of the most remarkable festivals of Kerala. While the actual date of the festival is determined according to auspiciousness in the Hindu calendar, during 2013, the festival will be celebrated from November 7 - 17.

The Chariot Festival is one of the most intense festivals of South India with a flurry of planned activities. The celebrations kick off with a Music Festival that is organized by the Department of Tourism and has some interesting music and dance performances.

During the first four days of the festival, all the temples in the Kalpathy area have on-sight Vedic recitals and cultural programs. These religious observances have been part of the Chariot Festival at Kalpathy for the last seven hundred years.

On the fifth day, the Rishabha Vahana procession commences and reaches its pinnacle in the last three days of the festival. These are massive processions with thousands of devotees that pull Humongous chariots that are intricately decorated and are used to transport the deities from the various temples to a symbolic meeting of the Gods. Apart from the throngs of devotees pulling the chariots, thousands line the path of the processions to be blessed as the deities are taken through various villages where holy men and Hindu priests perform various ceremonies on the deities in transit.

The deities are then brought back to their original temples at the end of the festival which marks the commencement of the next month of the traditional Hindu / Tamil calendar.

 

 

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