Swamimalai is 8km west of Kumbakonam. It is revered as one of the six sacred abodes of Lord Murugan. Shiva’s son, whose Hindu mythological records become his father’s religious teacher on a hill there. The site of their epic reversal now hosts one of the Tamils holiest shrines, the Swaminatha Temple, crowns the hill top of the centre of the village, but of more interest to non-Hindus are the hereditary bronze casters workshops dotted around the bazaar and the outlying hamlets.
This is known as Sthapathis. Swamimala’s casters still employ the lost wax process perfected by the cholas to make the most sought after temple idols in south India. Their finished products are displayed are displayed in numerous shadow show rooms along the main street, from where they are exported worldwide. It can be more memorable to watch the stapathis in action fashioning the original figures from beeswax and breaking open the moulds and expose the mystical finished metal work inside. One of the most welcoming workshops lies 2km south of the village, sheltered under a coconut coppice along the main road to Darasuram on the right. At any time we can see most stages of the manufacturing process and they keep a modest selection of souvenir pieces for sale.
The nearby hamlet of Thimmakady is 2km back towards Kumbakonam. It is a home to the area’s grandest hotel. It is a beautifully restored nineteenth century Brahmins mansion is surrounded by lush gardens, full of sculptures. As well as lavishly furnished rooms. It also offers freshly prepared South Indian food, a resident yoga teacher, an Ayurvedic massage room and lively culture shows will entertain us in the evenings.