In Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, is an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. It is over 1000 years old and the biggest in India. Inside, the complex is an oasis of calm from the noise and chaos of the surrounding city streets. The giant walls, temple tower and other shrines are decorated with sculptures of dancing deities. In the centre is mighty Nandi, the sacred bull, carved from a single rock.
We arrived early morning following a night train from Fort Kochin in Kerela. The day was breathless and the sky a deep blue. The sandy stone underfoot was already burning hot as we passed the temple’s elephant, standing tall with decorated ears and trunk, by the main gate.
Inside the main temple it was dark and cool. Light from candles left as offerings flickered around the granite walls and the smell of incense smoke hung in the shadows. A priest marked our foreheads with a tilak of pure white ash.