A Photo-Ethnographic Study, Ancient Life and Research, Kerala, Photographic Stories, Social Documentary Projects, South India
Comments 54

One Deep Journey to the Indian South : A Visual Study of Thiruvegappura Ambala Observing the Culture and Music of God’s Own Country

There is one advice I must give. Travel; at least once in your lifetime get yourself a one way ticket to any place that has ever called you. Solo is better, just like Fear of the unknown is good. I would say, rather pounce on it and do it all the way. And even do it, as you doubt your self; setting aside gloom, prepare yourself to become aware of every breath that is going to come to you. Travel.

Ever since February and March graced me to undertake an odyssey to the Indian South, it opened grand doors to a time and space that weren’t only old but preserved for centuries the fragrance of its tradition, from corruption that we have become accustomed to. Ceremonies, rituals, chants and most importantly the discipline of the two magic hours; to become conscious of the rise and the setting of the sun, and it being celebrated like a reserved festival for the soul with utmost attention, precision while guiding oneself to flow in following the cycle of the Sun. And it’s a shame that we couldn’t save it in Northern India with similar ardor and affection.

At the Valenchery Bus Stand, waiting for my bus to thiruvegappura. Kerala surprises you, while I found many bus drivers and conductors speaking in english, i found people with whom i couldn’t communicate but were most helpful in directing me.

First meal at Asokalayam, enamoured by the hospitality. Again in Kerala I found people in general more cautious and aware about how they prefer drinking water. It was herbal and at most places it lukewarm, and if ever it was not they did it if i asked them to.

During my 15 days stay at the Asokalayam, the food was as it should always be; simple, colourful and filled with life giving prana and vitality. I cannot stress it more than to have someone around us to show first how is it prepared and how much life changing can it be to eat right. To an extent it might change your destiny.

Meeting Manu di after the longest time, at the Asokalayam premises.

The village way to the Thiruvegappura Ambala Kshetram

4 a.m. flight half way over India to Kerala found me dozing when i can’t say what could have pulled me out of that slumber; showing me a sight i couldn’t take my comatosed eyes away. Perhaps it called out to the transition happening within me as i saw the divine light from to morning that was going to take place in the days that were arriving.

It was the second time I was crossing the Vindhyas coming to the Southern Plateau to work. And interestingly to a place that is mentioned in the Puranas dating back to Treta Yuga. It could only be some grace working through mysterious entities that I was directed to document the life around and subtleties of a 9th century temple in Thiruvegappura whose sanctum sanctorum was founded by the Aadi Shankara himself.

While on the road from the airport, the state seemed to be going through a stirring transition economically looking out of the window as much politically as I was gradually discovering in general conversations. Widening of the roads throughout, construction everywhere, people seemed to be rushing more than moving. But to someone coming from the nauseating capital of India, everything else is pretty green. I was going to stay in the ambala complex for two weeks to come; observing, interviewing and especially documenting the utsava: the festival that has a history going back several centuries when the idols of the great temple complex were brought here by the great Shankara.

Because last night, “Mother Nature decided to align the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus in a straight line just for us.” From the Thiruvegappura Temple, this was pure bliss.

A time of deep revelations and a stark contrast from the outside world, the moment I entered the temple village; drums started playing like a reverie. It was dramatic; it excited me for first few hours but when it continued like forever, my body could do nothing but move to a point where the music drummed me out from being a listener to becoming a performer. I was moving in my hundred year old wooden room, in an old forest by the river Kunthi, hosted by Asokalayam, an Ayurvedic Research Center and Hospital. I was staying at this old traditional Kerala home amongst a variety of Owls, kilometres away from where the percussionists were playing in a drunken state of trance till late night. The next day I reached the Amabala complex the moment I learnt the musicians are going to start before the sundown. It was a beautiful temple, architecturally superior with a large framed image of an elephant just at the entrance. I enquired and found it was temple’s favorite elephant that lived for a hundred years. The most surprising thing was the man whom I asked was already in his seventies and spoke of his grandfather who told him about this elephant, Maharaja i.e. we were talking of a memory of an elephant which lived and was a part of this community approximately 200 years ago.

Many people from the surrounding villages started arriving in numbers. Women with traditional Saris and flowers in their hair, and men were only allowed in mundo and bare chest.  One of the most striking aspect that I found in the South was the discipline and more than that the decorum with which they had preserved this system. Every single child is given three choices; and not mandatory at all, he/she can choose to take vocals/sangeet, Instrument/vadya or dance/Nritya. And that will be taught by the temple society all their lives. Anup, a chenda player I met had left his high paying job in Saudi Arabia, took up Chenda again. He was one of the Drum players chosen to represent India for the annual Percussion meet in Brazil and the US, a tour that was 76 days long, he told me with a millionare’s smile that I felt can only come out of joy. The reverberating power of several men beating the ancient drum chenda with power and rhythm took me by my mind as its electric force started entering through various centers of my soul. The sounds that echoed between my ears vibrated within me such that it had to pull out, shake, tear away all memory, even attachments after weeks of being there, hearing it every single day for two weeks throughout the cycle of the sun and the moon. I became nothing but thoughtless. And how? First, it took away my hunger, my worries. It took away questions and all what I had been carrying for long while living in forsaken cities. Be it dirt, toxicity, things that infiltrate ones consciousness. The whole period was a journey of emptying and filling of pots. And ever since then it has been most difficult for me to sit in front of a screen to write and pour all the melody or ecstasy, happiness or solitude, magic or madness that warmed and moulded me to a point of formlessness, for I could not fathom where to begin or even If I must?

While observing the south Indian life approaching long summers around, there were also quite a few things I discovered about myself, one was my awe for the god-equal animal; the elephant. We don’t see elephants in Delhi anymore. The last time I photographed an Elephant on a Delhi road was on one winter night of 2014, he was walking from Akbar Road towards India Gate and to the Banks of Yamuna at ITO. I remember following him making a short video, may be because I could not control not looking at him. It was nothing short of spell binding trick. But here thousands of kilometres down south on the banks of river Kunthi, I started seeing one everyday, bathing on the other side. All the time eating one thing or the other; long grass, bamboo shoots, Sugarcane while moving his trunk, tail and body as if perpetually drunk on life. And well, he could be, he owes one to life for what he is given while bathing other times. But here in kerala, I had thought I would see one on every street but not really so much. Elephants are an important part of every temple ritual here, locals are used to their presence but still Wherever the elephant walks by here from; people, children, passersby have to leave what they are doing to watch this magnificent being in complete awe. Their presence is hypnotic.

The calming mother river Kunthi and the drunken elephant from an old Bridge in Palakkad.

Quoting from the Diary

For last 15 days, this little village in Kerala has given me the beat, the rhythm, the music I never knew, and now when I am living it, I could no longer write about it. May be it is the drunkenness, or the hangover, or an illusion like floating on water; having taken away all the city septics that I had carried all this while on earth, the first two weeks in Kerala were like a grand welcome planned by the god’s men themselves. Music lives here in people, or for some it chooses them.

Imagine the state of people when Tandav is being performed for 12 non-stop days and most nights. For me it did not remain god’s own country instead god’s came alive, more in the form of music; a never ending percussion that just goes on and on day in and night out- staying put for only five hours of the noon. It is nothing than Shiva himself dancing fearlessly like everybody’s watching. It has intoxicated me. May be it was this the ancients called Soma- The nectar of the moon. I am forced to attend to my moving head more than asking my eyes to focus on phone or screen as they disobeyed from opening more than half. Past last month was an experience that my being was never exposed to. May be because it had to do with discipline. With the routine putting me to the most sattvic short period of my life. It not just changed my language but it literally stopped me from speaking. This period banned the clothes that I had brought and gave me just one piece to tie under navel like the locals. It changed my entire food habit and taught me to wait for the best gifts that time can value. It gave me an ancient river to bathe twice a day. This period gave me silence, colors, sweet nothings that only strangers can feel amongst welcoming cultures. It allowed me to dive deep, and fly at the same time with offerings of only my time and awareness and sacrifices that people have made to elevate centuries old traditions of expressing delight and perhaps their spirit.

In Ayurveda, any treatment is divided into three parts, and the last part is known as recovery. I had never taken this much time to recover from a point of no return to write and in coming out of any journey but this time around the Indian South asked nothing but total surrender from me. And when I did, it took nothing less than my might to sit and gather the days of music and the nights filled with the variety of calls from owls that felt like jungles breathing their lungs out.

Images from the fragrant and most beautiful Thiruvegappura Temple in concluding days, as i move on in this journey to yet another encounter …

: ँ :

Thank you

And just taking your time to suggest the best Ayurvedic Research and Medical Centre that can be a new life giving experience if one is looking for any. I cannot recommend anything but Asokalayam as one place to find your vitality back.

For more details you may write to me at narayankaudinya@gmail.com

: ँ :

If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste

: ँ :

I will take this opportunity to introduce you to About me and importantly;

As a co-traveller, will take you through the Ten Lessons I learnt from several years on the roadbefore you coarse on youown Road to Nara.

Also read: 9 Most Read Stories from Road To Nara in 2022

: ँ :

You might also like to know about My Little School Project. 

If you wish to come over for a visit someday, that you must, you will be heartily welcome here

: ँ :

If you have anything to share, or feel like saying a hello, please feel free to write to me at narayankaudinya@gmail.com

To visit other long-term photographic works, please visit here.

To follow my walks through the rural Indian Subcontinent, find me at 
Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

: ँ :


Hi, I am Narayan Kaudinya. And i welcome you on this journey, the Road to Nara ! I am an Ethnographer and a practicing Indologist. I did my masters in History and further learnt Sanskrit, Yoga and Nerve-therapy. At 24, pushing most academic sounding, office sitting works away, i felt compelled to know and understand the world and my country, Bharat/India. I travelled, and as it happened i took up teaching in Kashmir and further up in the remote villages of Baltistan in the foothills of Karakoram Ranges. For around three years and many states later there came a time when i felt that it was only while teaching i learnt how to laugh, to see, feel, breathe, love and cry -with children, and mostly resource-less parents in the harshest-freezing border conditions. I write, and work as a documentary photographer and Filmmaker, with numerous published, exhibited and some awarded stories. In my travels and life i have let nature lead me, the divine mother, and as a Yogin, my resolve here is to share my experiences and thoughts as honestly, and through them to blossom in everyone the power and possibility in pursuing your breath, that you seek your true nature with courage and curiosity. Here, on this road i will share my spirit, my love for nature, the elements of life that are us. And in doing so, i'll be happy to see you along.


  1. Thankyou dear bro! always. Because of you i breathe sun nostril, especially at night, i have two pigeons now, a commitment for me to give them good home. My niece is coming to India for a wedding in 2024, i will be guiding her with her friend to contact you, with the intention to meet perhaps but to finally donate to Rasool, and his village. peace and love to you bro.
    sis xxoo

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dearest Sis, it is touching for you to remember this even after all this while. You have been one magic poet, always inspiring sis. Your niece is heartily welcome, and will look forward to meet one of your breath, your part in person. It will be one beautiful day.

      Very very happy to read this sis. Love and heart.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While I understand the difficulty of getting back to writing, you have done a brilliant job of conveying the excitement and atmosphere of your experience. Drumming I believe creates special vibrations. I am always mesmerized by it and I can imagine after two weeks that you would be entrapped! Elephants are such wonderful creatures. It is so terribly terribly wrong and sad that so many have been lost. Thank you for writing about your experiences. I so enjoy reading. Be well. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating account of your experiences, Narayan, and lovely pics! Yes, Kerala is wonderful. Personally, though, I like quiet and don’t enjoy noise.


    • Harini, thank you for writing. Of course, Quietude is a treasure and I am always pulled towards it. Yet I know by now, my most valuable experiences as a documentarian have come in chaos of some kind, of the inner as much around me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this and your suggestion travel at least once, go alone and face the fear. I’m enjoying closer stints after my Mexico trip Nara.. haven’t seen you in awhile but feel free to read back if you desire. love that you have the rhythm back and are enjoying life.. and cleansing. gorgeous pictures.
    love and hugs. 💗


  5. This extraordinary, Narayan story while urging us all to travel echoes the mantras of many great writers who regarded traveling as the essence of happiness and life destiny, is not a travelog but a spiritual journey that will transform every reader’s life if read word for word. The experience in Kerala changed Narayan from being affected by the toxicity of the big city he lives in, Delhi, to a spiritually altered man, whose experience brought unexpected happiness, ecstasy, and magic to such a degree that it changed him forever and altered his writing.
    Music plays a powerful part at the time of the festival as the drumming goes on in a trance and envelope everyone in its midst. The way everyone dress is also of great and liberating experience, men in mundo are bare-chested, women in saris and with flowers in their hair.
    The self-photo of Narayan’s face shows the man changed spiritually and in possession of sacred knowledge. The photo of his hand displays a line of a very long life.
    He writes about the hypnotic presence of elephants, and one can understand their connection to Hindu mythology.
    Narayan’s extraordinary, God-given ability to express his deepest feelings in words overwhelms the reader and becomes imprinted on his/hers soul.
    This spiritual writing elevates Narayan to a different level as a writer, and there is more to be learned from his thoughts.
    Thank you.



    • Dearest Joanna, You summed it up to the point. It was a spiritual Journey more than many things. Thank you for adding, highlighting and above all acknowledging. Your words always make my day. Always 🙂 Thank you


  6. A wonderfully mesmerizing journey into the heart and soul of Hinduism. South India has always has an extra special connection with ancient wisdom through its temples and culture, something which can rescue us from the mindlessness of our daily lives. Thanks for a beautiful and very moving write up.


    • Thank you Diti. You know its very contrasting too- me experiencing these feelings at a given time and place and once the festival ended- the energy changed. So there is a second part of it too- away from the spirit but right there on the road to Tamil Nadu 🙂 Thank you for writing Diti.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: One Deep Journey to the Indian South : A Visual Study of Kerala Ambala Observing the Culture and Music of God’s Own Country | ROAD TO NARA | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

    • A spiritual journey all the way it was for me Cheryl, even though it changed the time I left this place. Thank you for acknowledging dear Cheryl, I am still carrying its musical effects.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for taking us along with you on this extraordinary journey. Just a side note…. in the film industry the “magic hour” is what they call the time just before sunset. Everything must be done quickly as that special magic hour light doesn’t last long

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Yes, everyone should travel that way, at least once. A great trip. The last time I saw an elephant in Delhi was 2004, walking along the road near Old Delhi station. Everyone was pointing and commenting! And I remember seeing something about Maharaja in what I think must have been a small museum in Tamil Nadu at some point. That brought back some memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What an experience, dear Nara! 🙏 I admire your courage, fortitude and sacrifice! Some may not travel far, physically, but still experience the changes in landscape, people and culture; perhaps on a smaller scale but still experiencing a shift in the heart and soul. I am now not as fit as I used to be but before too much time passes I wish to go on a pilgrimage. Something inside is pushing me to walk a long distance path in which to visit the place of saints! I was brought up in a caring Christian environment but I am no longer a practicing Christian; nevertheless, I would like to follow in the steps of someone like St. Patrick and walk the 80-90 miles from Saul to Armagh, my birth home, perhaps, later this year. Maybe I’ll walk it in reverse, from my birthplace to an end at his graveside! Blessings, Narayan, for your journey and for telling it here so eloquently!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ashley, please accept my gratitude, no one can be more happy and I can say with authority, that you shared such an important message with me here. It made me smile ear to ear. Please do. It will be the most important event that will change some coarse of your life Ashley. Even to think of it and it feels that more than a decision it is calling you.

      I am going to follow this through. Thank you so much Dear Ashley.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Namaste. Thank you so much for this virtual journey into Kerala. Beautiful expression of the experience and lovely photos you share. Blessings to you, Narayan.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. This was a refreshing and very different take on the Kerala. The best thing about the south of the Vindhyas is that each state has its distinct culture, cuisine and arts and crafts, not to speak of the style of temple architecture and rituals. Looking forward to your visits to those other states and to read your impressions of them 🙂


    • Thank you! Its always lovely to have your thoughts here dear friend. Yes they are distinct and meeting taking all the detours they can, somewhere. As a documentarian I not only enjoyed but i was swayed by there rootedness. Ofcourse, we know Kerala has been on a fine line for long. But this project did a lot for me. I have yet to sit to work on a film that I need to send to the organisation. So there are some more impressions going to come.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Very interesting post and photos. I cannot imagine music going on for twelve days and nights. That would be a little overwhelming! I am glad your are having such a joyous experience!


    • Dear friend Dwight. It was a mass celebration and truly the sound it created motivated me to do something about it than merely hearing and going about it. Lets see how it gets transferred in the times to come.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Manav B Nair says

    Though I am not an avid reader, this blog kept me bound to it from start till end. Thank you for posting this. Continue this work always🙏


    • A lovely surprise to have you Manav, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Now you know the journey and hopefully I will have you with me to continue this beautiful journey through chenda 🔱❤️🙏


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s