Dip into the history of South India with Courtyard Tours5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
This week on Trail Blazers 2.0, we meet Jayakumar Sundararaman, a tour curator and art, history, and culture researcher. He loves nothing more than sharing history with his guests, and as the founder of the company Courtyard Trails, that’s exactly what he does. Each tour is a personalised journey where he helps his explorers travel through time as they experience every little detail of the place that they visit. He even sings for his visitors! Find out what he has to say below:
How did he start Courtyard Tours?
I have been conducting heritage and cultural tours since 2011 for institutions, organisations, and individuals. It was then that I met a group of people who were all bound by a love for history and heritage. One day, we were talking about historical tours we had taken and what they were missing.
Let’s take the Thiruvottiyur temple in Chennai as an example. On a usual tour, it would be introduced as a monument of great antiquity. The guide would provide details about the history, architecture, inscriptions, mythology, festivals, and rituals surrounding the temple. However, certain crucial cultural and historical facts, such as the Nadaswaram traditions, would be omitted. These traditions are very crucial and without more awareness, would slowly fade away.
In short, the complete story was not being told. And thus, Courtyard Tours was born in 2017. Our goal with Courtyard Tours is to put South Indian heritage and cultural centres on the global map. In the process, we want to help local craftsmen and artisans, artists and performers by involving them in our venture.
On his love for history.
From my early years, I have been interested in stories. In 1998, I read Ponniyin Selvan, a Tamil historical fiction novel series by writer Kalki Krishnamurthi. Many years later, in the Orkut-era of 2008, a page on Ponniyin Selvan caught my attention. I started interacting with people on the page, and a bunch of us wanted to travel on the same route Vandhiyathevan (the main character in the novels) takes from Kanchipuram to Tanjore. Finally, thanks to social media, 12 of us virtual friends travelled together, tracing this route. We called it “Vandhiyathevan Padhayi’ (in the footsteps of Vandhiyathevan).
Apart from many well-known temples such as Tanjore, Darasuram and Gangaikondacholapuram, we saw that there are hundreds of beautiful temples which are not as popular, and needed urgent attention. Unless these monuments are safeguarded, the next generation will not be able to see these treasure troves.
Which historical periods do his tours cover?
The spectrum is very wide – as early as 3rd Century BC to the Colonial era. In a country like India, which has a complex and diverse culture, it is but natural to consider multiple historic periods.
The difference between his heritage tours and pilgrimage tours?
There is a HUGE difference. Heritage tours cater to an audience that primarily looks at the cultural and historical significance of the region, while pilgrimage tours cater to an audience that want religious activities at the core of their experience.
Is this any different from sightseeing tours?
The trails are conceived and curated by me. I have chosen places that are rich in history, art, architecture and culture. I also look at lesser-known places. The highlights of our trails and tours include heritage resorts, heritage walks, local cuisine, cultural performances, local arts and crafts, and interactions with the local community.
His favourite trail.
It is difficult to pick just one. Each tour or trail is born out of love and extensive research. But if I have to, I would pick the Chozha Trail and the Vijayanagara Trail (Hampi). Both hold an equally special place in my heart.
What is the best feedback he has received so far?
That I make history come alive!
Given the pandemic, how can young enthusiasts explore history?
I would say start exploring your neighbourhood on a regular basis. Use technology that is available to you to document places – either as photos or videos. Speak with people who have knowledge about these places or traditions. At the heart of this is passion, so make sure you’re passionate about knowing more about your local history and culture before you set off on this adventure.
If you’d like to take a tour with Jayakumar, visit Courtyard Tours here – https://www.courtyardtours.in/.
Image: By Special Arrangement