The Jambukeshwara Temple at Thiruvanaikkaval is very near Trichy and has interesting legends associated with it. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the linga is said to have been installed under a holy Jambu tree. As good as any legend, the tree is not any common tree but a sage transformed through many years of penance. Another legend explains the name of this place. Two sworn devotees of the Lord competed against each other in their devotion. In the heat of competition and quarrel, they cursed each other. One became an elephant and the other a spider. They continued to worship the Lord in these forms until rivalry lead them to kill each other. The Lord blessed them for their devotion and granted them both moksha. “Thiru-aanai-kaa” means the “grove of the holy elephant.”
The temple has superb sculptures. Among them is a wonderful relief on a composite pillar. A beautiful prabhavali encloses an elephant in the act of offering its devotion to a linga. A spider is seen high above, almost scurrying across the stone canvas. As far as I could make out, this is the only part of the temple that points to the fantastic legend.
The composite pillar itself is part of a group of four defining a grand space at the intersection of corridors flanked by mandapas. As many as eight lions decorate the capital of each pillar. The pillars are nothing like I have seen elsewhere. They look ordinary but each one is packed with floral and decorative motifs. Beaded strings hang in the groves. The fluting is perfect. The curves of stylized lotus petals appear in many forms and shapes. On the capitals, lions leap out boldly with creepers springing out of their open mouths.
Queue for darshan is suprisingly short in this famous temple. The mandapa facing the shrine has its own set of splendid sculpural masterpieces. Darshan for me is always a quick affair since I don’t have the habit of offering flower or fruit. For most others, darshan is a set of rituals, name calling and flame showing.
‘Would you like to make a donation?’ a priest pounces on me as soon as I step out of the high platform facing the linga inside. ‘This is the last day of the month.’
He means the last day in the Tamil calendar. He mentions some reasons. I don’t understand any of it. He is quick to see that I am not of the generous type. He moves on to others.
My visit has been rather short. I don’t want to leave the place so quickly. I sit down in one of the mandapa. I take out my sketchbook which has been unused for many days now. With so much beauty around it’s always difficult to decide on something in particular. I have always been spellbound by the pillars, their lion capitals and architraves supporting higher devices of blooming lotuses and upcurled lotus buds. I start a small sketch. Lost in details created centuries ago, an hour passes by quickly.