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Buried in Time

Maligai Medu: a date with antiquity, says SOMA BASU


RLTS ARE all about adventure and this time, I had more than my share. I undertook the journey, during a period when rain was cascading down in and around Thanjavur.

The place was hardly heard about. Even the name — Maligai Medu — did not evoke any particular emotion. But there is a different kind of thrill when you set out for a place so remote that you need to ask for directions at every bend in a slush-filled tract that pretends to be a road. On either side, submerged fields, abandoned huts; not a soul to be seen. The rain was coming down so hard that my car's frail wipers started groaning to clear the screen of water.

After a seemingly interminable and wet journey, I reached the village called Ulkottai. It is not far from Gangaikondacholapuram, where the magnificent temple built by Rajendra Chola-I stands. Maligai Medu, or what remains of this once-grand 11th Century township, is situated in this quaint village. While Gangaikondacholapuram was chosen as the location for the temple, which was modelled on Thanjavur's Brihadeeswara temple, Maligai Medu was where the palace was located.

Built in 1012 and abandoned for centuries, the ruins became covered with soil. From 1979 to 1985, the State Archaeology Department undertook periodic excavations that revealed one portion of the palace along with several statues, terracotta moulds and other artefacts. A boundary wall has been built around the excavated site but three-fourths of the palace is still believed to be underground.

Nearby, an unnamed open park-cum-museum holds some excavated figurines, taken from the palace site and surrounding villages. It is a pretty spot, with plenty of greenery, the big old trees providing cool arches. It is also free from noise, a place where you can have your date with antiquity in peace. Once you're done with history, take a stroll or have a picnic. It is an ideal spot for a day visit and can be combined with a visit to the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram.

How to get there: To reach Maligai Medu, it is better to reach Gangaikondacholapuram first, which is 71 km from Thanjavur, 100 km from Tiruchirapalli via Jayamkondam.

The nearest railway station is Aduthurai. You can also take a bus from Thanjavur, Chidambaram and Perambalur.

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