Nestled in a serene nook, Mantra Koodam pays homage to Tamil Brahmin and Pannaiyar's way of life.
Vedic chanting is the bee’s knees for Brahmins, who hold a deep reverence for the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas. Studying these sacred texts is no ordinary feat, but rather a profound and meaningful undertaking that requires great dedication. However, though the main Vedas can be studied in other parts of the country, the branches of the Vedas can only be pursued within the koodams of Tamil Nadu. To undertake this spiritual odyssey, one must travel to Kumbakonam, the temple town of India, where a disciple can reside on a charitable basis for three to 21 years. Kumbakonam, often referred to as the ‘Cambridge of South India’, owes its reputation to scholar Govinda Dikshita, a Chola period minister, who founded Raja Veda Kavya Patasala in 1542 AD.
Set in a town graced by divine blessings, the foliage-laden trails of Kumbakonam guide you to Mantra Koodam where simplicity runs deep in the Tamizh or Tamil way of life. In Tamil, the unpillared halls are called koodams—and here at Mantra Koodam, the sound of your soul finds a home. This eco-friendly retreat nestled between the Veera Chozha and Cauvery rivers in the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu exudes the essence of the illustrious Chola legacy. And as you stroll through the quaint streets, illustrated with the timeless beauty of agraharam architecture, a sense of calm washes over, like a gentle breeze whispering ancient secrets.
Nestled in a serene nook, Mantra Koodam pays homage to Tamil Brahmin and Pannaiyar's way of life. The melodious chimes of the tolling bell greet your arrival, and a quintessential Brahmin street hemmed with ‘illams’ (homes), inspired by the agraharam (a settlement of priests), provides a glimpse into the bygone Chola period. With expansive verandahs, handmade Athangudi tiles beautifying the floors, and intricate Burmese teak doors, each residence resembles a traditional Tamil home. Dotted with coconut and mango trees, five sacred shrines, and resident peacocks strutting around like they own the place, the premises are a testament to preserving the beauty of nature in harmony with luxury, and more than just a place to rest your head.
“Spread over a vast expanse of 15 acres, this property was once a thriving coconut, mango, and jackfruit farm. Wherever nature’s hand dealt a blow, we built cottages, transforming the landscape into a delightful Tamil-style haven. Presently, six acres of this land is for residential purposes, while the remaining portion continues to flourish as a farm, complete with an organic garden that generously yields an abundance of vegetables and fruits. We have a selection of 24 Mantra cottages, 4 Mantra Illams, and 2 extravagant Pannaiyar Illams, designed to provide you with utmost relaxation while minimising your ecological footprint,” Harish Venkat, general manager, Mantra Koodam, tells Forbes India.
The Pannaiyar Illam whispers tales of ancient grandeur and the rich tapestry of rituals that have been passed down through generations. Pannaiyar were the landlords of the region, and these Illams spanning over 2000+ sq ft, pay homage to their legacy. With their intricately carved wooden accents and artwork in Burmese teak, every single characteristic of these Tamil-inspired homes takes you on a journey where time slows down. Dotted with coconut and mango trees, five sacred shrines, and resident peacocks strutting around like they own the place, the premises are a testament to preserving the beauty of nature in harmony with luxury
Venkat says, “As a CGH (Clean, Green and Healthy) hotel we have a concept called 'local and content' to benefit the community wherever we are and then make sure that earth-friendly, sustainable practices are happening.” Mantra Koodam, he adds, is a plastic-free unit that uses a solar heating system for water heating. They also have their own sewage treatment plant and a laundry sediment tank so that they don’t send the laundry water outside. “Plus, to avoid water bottles in the room, we have a bottling plant where every bottle goes through three processes of sanitisation,” he adds.
When it comes to unwinding and finding your Zen, the crystal blue waters of the outdoor swimming pool shimmer under the sun, beckoning you to dive in and escape the chaos of everyday life. An artful ritual sets the stage for rejuvenation at Ayurveda Yoga Kudil, the in-house spa. Drench in the divine essence of pure sesame oil in a serene setting reminiscent of a tranquil pond, while with their expert hands a duo of therapists will skilfully knead away those pesky stress points that have been plaguing you. And that will certainly whet your appetite too.
Mantra Koodam enchants with the exquisite flavours of Cholanadu cuisine, which is served with traditional tastes and local tales. At Annaprasadam, the on-site restaurant, culinary creations are meticulously crafted masterpieces, ensuring a delicate balance of the four primary flavours: Sweet, spicy, bitter, and sour. Each dish on the menu carries with it a rich heritage, passed down through generations and perfected over time. In this gastronomic playground, vegetarian delights reign supreme and executive chef Kumarasamy Maruthavanan conjures up flavours that enthral.
Cholanadu cuisine has two branches: The vegetarian Vathimal cuisine, which draws inspiration from the esteemed Bramhin culinary traditions, and then, the non-vegetarian dishes that pay homage to the Panniayars, the local chancellors of yesteryears. The resort operates two separate kitchens—one for vegetarian delights, and the other for non-veg, so all the dishes, cooking, vessels even the plating which comes onto the table are segregated. The white plates are for vegetarians, the non-vegetarian symphony of flavours is presented on brown plates, whereas the blue plates, reminiscent of the vast ocean, are reserved solely for seafood delicacies. Cholanadu cuisine which is about medicinal patti vaithiyam that will make you believe food is the unave marunthu, the ultimate medicine.
"Apart from Vathimal and Panniayar cuisine, we also serve Siddha-based herbal Cholanadu cuisine which is about medicinal patti vaithiyam that will make you believe food is the unave marunthu, the ultimate medicine. Then there’s also Saurashtrian food straight from the community that calls this place home, and the Navagraha Sapadu meal served on a banana leaf. This feast includes dishes made with navadhanya, the nine grains that represent each of the planets. Since Kumbakonam has separate temples dedicated to each of the planets, you must let your tastebuds embark on celestial vibes as well,” says chef Maruthavanan.
For those looking to indulge in the royal flavours of the Chola dynasty, the Maharaja Thali is a culinary feast for the senses, featuring 17 delectable recipes that take you back in time to the grandeur of the Chola era with their richness of the spices, the complexity of the flavours, and the sheer indulgence of it all. One bite and you’ll feel like a true Maharaja. Enjoy traditional snacks with a cup of filter coffee at Tea Kadai or elevate your tea game with the exquisite Mantra Aushadha Panam, a Siddha-based herbal tea available in three delightful flavours: Hibiscus and berry tea, blue butterfly pea flower tea, and Palama tea infused with passion fruit, lavender, and mango.
While you bask in the luxurious embrace of Mantra Koodam, many activities await your indulgence, be it yoga or a pottery class, a visit to the Navgraha temple circuit, Darasuram temple visit, a bullock cart ride around the village, a peek into Kalamkari art, lost wax casting, silk weaving, or a visit to the farmers’ market. Whatever you choose to do, don’t forget to try your hand at the life-size ‘Game of Dice’ at Diraviyam where you will find Mahabharat coming alive at your fingertips. While Yudhishthira rolled away his possessions, you roll away all your worries. It is an undeniable truth that no voyage to Kumbakonam can be deemed truly complete without immersing oneself in the wisdom of Nadi Shastra, a practice for which this region is widely acclaimed.
In the Pannaiyar Illams, I had the pleasure of having filmmaker SS Rajamouli as my next-door neighbour. He was visiting Kumbakonam with his family, to embark on a journey through the mystical temple trail and delve into the realm of Nadi astrology. It is an undeniable truth that no voyage to Kumbakonam can be deemed truly complete without immersing oneself in the wisdom of Nadi Shastra, a practice for which this region is widely acclaimed.
“The term ‘Nadi’ in Tamil means ‘come to us’. Nadi texts are written in Vatteluttu, an ancient abugida script from the 12th century CE. These manuscripts are said to be the work of the Vedic sage Agastya, and the process of locating the Nadi palm leaves starts by examining thumb impressions, with the right thumb used for men and the left for women,” I was told by the esteemed Nadi astrologer, LA Karunakaran, who has 48 years of experience. As I sat there, eagerly awaiting my fate, his son Kowsikan skilfully sifted through the ancient palm leaves, ready to unveil the secrets of my life's path. These ancient records of providence were initially stored at Thanjavur's Saraswati Mahal Library, and subsequently acquired by the families of astrologers at the Vaitheeswaran Temple and have been passed down through generations since then.
The temple town of Kumbakonam beckons, offering a multitude of reasons to surrender oneself to the ethereal embrace of profound spiritual enlightenment. Here, amidst the remnants of the mighty Chola empire, one can embark on an immersive journey that transcends time and space. Kumbakonam is a veritable trove for those seeking a deeper understanding of the intricate tapestry of Tamil Nadu's diverse cultures, where wisdom, traditions, and legacy harmoniously converge.