It wasn’t dawn yet, but the rooster’s crowing was enough to wake us up even before our mobile alarm rang . This simple way of good morning encouraged us to move and get going.
We were told the day before in Kanadukathan that the terracotta horses temple @ Solaiandavar (Lord of the forest) kovil opens around 6 AM and is best to visit before it gets too sunny. Our plan was to reach there before 7 AM and the execution of the plan was perfect. While the ladies of the houses were still drawing kolam in front of their doorsteps , bi-cycle bells of newspaper boys and milk men clinking , we sipped our frothing tea listening to a 90’s Tamil song from one of the shops in the main bazar of Chettinad.
Terracotta guardians of Chettinad
In a few minutes we were on the by-pass and the February morning was pleasant. We were soon on the edge of the village that led us to a forest path . With small ponds and crimson tracks leaving us in doubt, we spotted a direction board and took the path that was narrow, surrounded by nothing but trees and wild bushes.
A gorgeous pond welcomed us and then the temple facade was visible. We were happy to see not a single human soul in and around. Leaving our footwear in the car, we walked towards the colorful façade of the temple. The entrance was not a grand old one, more recently built , but colorful with 2 huge dwarabalaks.
Not really knowing the rules of the temple, I quickly progressed towards the inner sanctum when the pujari stopped me saying that women are not allowed inside the sanctum and cannot cross beyond a point of the temple. That is when I was also told the worshiping deity(Ayyanar) of the temple, who is considered as the guarding power of the village, is another form of Lord Ayyapan and so all the restrictions. Respecting the beliefs and faith , I stayed back and let the boys go in to visit the sanctum and around the temple perimeter, requesting them to click pictures of the terracotta horses placed all around the outer perimeter of the temple.
Being born and brought up in Tamil Nadu , the sight of these terracotta horses was not new to me. As the guardian deity, Ayyanar is charged with duties of protecting the village from harm, evil powers and granting boons and till date he is said to be fulfilling the guarding duty by patrolling on his white steed with a sharp sword in his hand. As a common practice in the villages, offerings(terracotta steeds) are made to the Lord by the devotees to please him or to wish for a boon and would be replaced the next season or when the wish is fulfilled with new set of clay horses .
The tree under which I sat had colored bangles, cradles hanging from the branches, all of which are very common in the temples in Tamil Nadu. These are again practices and believes while asking for a boon especially by the women folk . Every moment I sat there , till the boys returned, I spotted a few dancing peacocks, grazing horses and monkeys monkeying around. The tranquil forest ,rays of the morning sun peaking thought the trees and vibe of the temple gave me all the positive energy . I left the temple making a prayer one last time , smearing some ash on my forehead and folded it in a paper( childhood habit ) to be taken home as prasadam .
We reached Karaikudi back by 9 AM for breakfast and some sleep . After a little rest and lunch, I did not want to stay back wasting my evening and I walked down tot he reception to check on the much spoken about “Antique Market of Karaikudi”
Antique Markert in Karaikudi – Warehouse of Chettinad Decors
I googled to see the route to the antiques market. The receptionist at the hotel said I can hire an auto because cars cannot go till the market lane, but only autos. I walked out looking for autos, dragging the little boy from his sleep and bribing him with some tea,vada and the promise of not making him click any pictures. Though I love auto rides, I decided to take the car and explore the town on my own . Google maps and the boy guided me through the lanes of Karaikudi.
All through the way I spotted several mansions of various sizes and I regretted being the driver! We were almost close to the market and road thinned even further ,I decided to park the car and walk up to the market. Though I did not belong to the town, I felt comfortable walking around and asking for route to the “poo kadai” akkas and the traffic constables. None other than the locals can be your best guide.
“Take the narrow lane next to the temple along the pond and the antique market is straight behind the Muneeshwaran temple” , said the poo kadai akka , who was selling jasmine and marigold sitting under the market clock tower . The antiques market lane is just behind the temple, which we missed once because of the hyper active little boy who took the wrong road and ran fast. I had to show some mommy faces, letting my eye balls pop out and bring out a stern voice to get him walk along with me and then we spotted the street. The entrance had no shops. I first spotted some old men smoking ‘beedi’ and doubted if we were still in the right place. And a few steps in to the lane, we spotted old trinkets and furnitures , I knew we were entering more or less a museum of the chettiyar’s household .
It was a sight to behold- the entire street was a plethora of antique curios , lamps, trinkets, bronze idols and Burma teak door frames. We walked till the end of the street , drooling over the displays and the golden hues of setting sun on the antiques made them look more beautiful. I stepped in a few random shops looking for some souvenir and that “old smell” of antiques was a treat to my olfactory system.
It was fascinating to see the past, the grand life lived by the Chettiyars . We were not allowed by the shopkeepers to click pictures of the old gramophones, telephones, Athangudi tiles, door knobs , cutleries and some old locks. But a few displays of wrought iron garden benches, boilers and wooden door frames were allowed and I was happy for that.
The locals informed me the market has been operating for over 50 years but gained all the traction only in the last few years(thanks to the travel bloggers & insta influencers) . The displays here are collectibles and rich decors form the grand mansions of Chettinadu, whose owners have decided to stay abroad. I do not want to discuss on how these ancestral collectibles found its place in the market, but these have attracted resellers from Rajasthan and Gujarat aswell.
I purchased a few souvenirs for friends ,something petty thing to pacify the little boy without much of bargaining and nothing for myself because I couldn’t decide on what to buy. Even when I did not buy much it felt good to stroll around, where I could touch and feel the history of this region. And if you plan to refurb your home with antiques, this is one place to visit .
Now having an experience in the market and knowing what they have , the shopaholic in me told me to hone my bargaining skills until the next trip to Karaikudi !