Padmapriya T S (aka Priya Baskaran) is a Cost and Management Accountant by training, and currently works as Head of Resources for South India in a diplomatic organization in Chennai. She has about twenty years of experience in senior management positions, primarily in the development sector. She is an avid traveller, and blogs about lesser known, unique and ancient heritage sites through her blog Aalayam Kanden which has been listed among the top thirty blogs of India over the last three years. She has been awarded the Rotary Vocational Service Excellence Award for her work with heritage monuments in the year 2013.
When did you start your heritage blogging?
Traveling, especially to unique, lesser known places, has always been my passion. After every trip, I used to post interesting facts and pictures on my Facebook page for the benefit of my friends and relatives. This triggered a lot of interest among them and they encouraged me to write in a more formal manner and that is how it all started four years ago. When I decided to blog, I gave the blog a tamil name ‘Aalayam Kanden’ although I write primarily in English. This was to provide the connect with the motherland. Once the blog became functional the response was overwhelming. Within a year, it crossed over a lakh page views from about 160 countries. This brought with it a sense of responsibility and I started becoming very choosy about what was covered in the blog.
Share the lessons you have learned from temple blogging.
Be clear, concise and correct – Today, lot of people are interested in travelling. They have the desire to visit different places and are backed with technology and financial capacity. Therefore, information given in the right format, accurate and helpful goes a long way in motivating them to travel to different places.
Don’t underestimate your readers – Initially, I had styled my articles like travelogues but the kind of questions raised by the readers, really made me push the bar up on the standards and now I aim to write well researched comprehensive articles, that provide the historical, epigraphical, spiritual and logistic information about a site.
Duplication is not required – There are a number of heritage blog writers, who are all doing a great job. Each one of them has a different style of writing while covering a particular site. However, there is no point in duplicating the efforts already put in by someone else. When readers find more than one article on the same site, most of them would choose to read the one that appears on the top of the page when they do a search. Therefore, as far as possible, I have learnt to write about sites that are not/very minimally featured on the web.
Go back and update articles – Regular readers of the blog are a blessing. They come back to tell you about something they learnt while visiting the site, or a change in telephone number, or the person in charge. I have learnt to verify the content and update the articles on a regular basis.
Stay in touch – Even four years and over five lakh page views later, I still make it a point to respond to comments, phone calls and messages. This develops a connect and builds trust.
You have been visiting and writing about different unknown temples all over India. Share any unforgettable experience with us and the lessons learned from it.
Regarding unforgettable experience, I would like to share about the Hanumantha Raya temple at Ayyangarkulam near Kanchipuram. This is a very unique temple of Hanuman constructed by Sri Lakshmi Kumara Thatachariyar where Hanuman is the only god in the main shrine and Garuda is found outside the shrine. Usually in Vaishnavite shrines, Lord Vishnu in some form is found in the sanctum sanctorum with Hanuman or Garuda found in the shrine opposite. But finding the Periya and Siriya Thiruvadis across each other, is extremely unique. After the article was published I got a response from a direct descendant of Shri Thathachariyar from Singapore. She wrote that she had been in search of the temple constructed by her forefather for many years and had not been able to identify it during her previous visits to India. However, after reading my article she said that she felt proud of her lineage and ashamed that she did not have the information in the past to support the temple. Such responses really make me feel satisfied and happy. This is just one of the many responses that I received from people who visit a temple featured in Aalayam Kanden.
Aalayam Kanden Trust has been working towards the preservation of rare and unknown temples in South India. At what point did your temple blogging veer into a preservation exercise that has been bringing about cultural transformation.
When I wrote about temples looking for support or needing urgent repairs and renovations, there were a lot of people who came asking how can I help or why don’t you do something about this. That is when I realised that my work must not stop with just spreading awareness about these lesser known places, but I must take a step ahead to do something wherever I can. When this call became stronger, in about a year after Aalayam Kanden blog was started, we launched Aalayam Kanden Trust with the objectives of spreading awareness about lesser known places of heritage, create, print and publish complete information on heritage sites in English and local language, thereby giving travelers the opportunity to understand the importance and unique features of a place as they visit it, support repair and maintenance of heritage sites, and create a heritage library. This is primarily a family trust at the moment, with my husband providing great encouragement, moral and financial support to the various activities of the trust.
So far we have brought out the Sthalapuranam of three temples – Thiruparkadal Sri Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Temple in English, Cheyyur Sri Kandaswamy Temple – in Tamil and English and Thirunavalur Sri Bhakthajaneswara Temple in Tamil.
We have also been able to raise funds to support the renovation of Sri Dhatriswara Temple at Sithukadu, Sri Kari Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Nerkundram, Sri Vadavamukhagneeswara Temple at Vedal, and Sri Sundaramurthy Nayanar Thirumadam at Thirunavalur.
One of the recent activities we were involved in was to raise funds to creating a deposit to take care of electricity charges for Nellikuppam Sri Kailasanatha Temple. This temple built by Mahendravarma Pallava had remained closed for over forty years due to neglect and paucity of funds. With the effort of the villagers, the renovation is currently going on. There was a need of funds to pay for the monthly electricity charges in the absence of regular patronage of people. So we raised an appeal for people to contribute Rs.200, the interest from which would pay for a day’s electricity charges at current rates. A total amount of Rs.100000 has been raised and placed in fixed deposit since. We have also been donating amplifiers, cameras , inverters etc. to temples .
What are the future plans and projects of Aalayam Kanden?
At the moment one of the exciting things that I am involved in is the cultural mapping of the heritage sites along the Cooum river. This has been one exciting journey, where every day has thrown up new learnings, and new information on the once holy river today considered to be an equivalent of a nauseous cesspool. When we recently went on a field trip to the origin of the Cooum, we learnt that there were close to forty five ancient heritage sites close to the origin. This really made me delve deeper into the details. I am almost at the end of my desk research and very soon I intend to bring out a book and probably also a documentary on all the heritage sites around the Cooum with an objective of creating awareness about the rich cultural heritage of this holy river and to advocate for its cleaning up so that it regains its lost glory.
The long term project for the Aalayam Kanden Trust is to create a heritage library and resource center. What this would mean, is that any traveller from anywhere in the world, will be able to access information on the history of any heritage site, draw up itineraries, download maps and share references for free. I have been working on collecting the sthalapuranams of different sites over the last several years, and look forward to setting up this portal soon. I am looking for funding as this would involve infrastructure, technology and running costs.
As a travel blogger, share the lessons you have learned from this venture?
It is almost four years since I started blogging and every day has brought about new learnings and information. I have learnt to not limit myself, trying to control what I can or cannot do and instead surrender to God and let him guide and lead me on what he wants me to do. Saint Manickavasagar said “Avanarulale Avan Thaal Vanangi” which means you can only worship God if he so wills and bestows his grace. This has been and will continue to be my motto as we are all here to do as He wills.
Check out Priya Baskaran’s blog links –
Aalayam Kanden – http://aalayamkanden.blogspot.in/
Aalayam Kanden Trust – http://aalayamkanden.org/