Friday, November 17, 2017

Venu Srinivasan Srirangam Temple Restoration

The biggest restoration exercise of the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam in 200 years gets them the UNESCO award

Leader Venu Srinivasan’s Srirangam restoration exercise is a ‘Role Model’ for any large temple restoration
Having seen the temple from close quarters as a devotee from the mid 1970s and even more closely as a writer from the middle of last decade, it is truly befitting for the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam to receive the UNESCO award for ‘Cultural Heritage Conservation’ for the temple has been truly revived to its glorious past. The grandeur of the restoration has to be seen to be believed.

This award also comes as a fitting reward for the Chairman, Board of Trustees (CBT) Venu Srinivasan in his 25th year of association with temple restoration activities that he had begun way back in 1992-93 with the Rama temple in Padai Veedu, near Vellore.  

The story goes that this inaugural project of initiating a complete transformation of Padai Veenu from ruins to a thriving village led the Collector of Tirunelveli to engage with Venu Srinivasan and initiate in him the thought of reviving Nava Tirupathi, a region that was in dire straits with a large majority of the people there living in poverty and fighting for everyday survival.

The Nava Tirupathi Call in the mid 90s
It was closer to home for Venu and this opportunity to be involved with developmental work relating to those temples excited him. But even he would not have had an inkling then of what he was to achieve in Nava Tirupathi. He had always seen that region as a set of 11 temples (including Srivaramangai – Nanguneri and Thiru Kurungudi) and not 9!!! And he got cracking on a project that now 2 decades later easily ranks as one of the biggest transformational exercises undertaken in Tamil Nadu (

That entire region now bears no resemblance to what one saw in the early 1990s – deserted, absolutely no ‘outside’ devotees, priests with no income and wearing the same dhoti through the year and there was no ‘other economy’.
While Venu set about getting the dilapidated temples back in shape, he also focused on another important aspect – the rehabilitation of the society. It is now vibrant with the villages especially in and around Erettai Tirupathi thriving with economic activity of Self Help Groups that Venu Srinivasan had kicked off. 

The Bhattars in all the temples in that region have been receiving a monthly amount for the last 20 years that Venu Srinivasan very devotionally calls ‘Sambhavanai’ giving it a very sacred feel for the performing Bhattar. Hence each month this amount is handed to the Bhattar at his Sannidhi as a ‘devotional presentation’. After the restoration of the temples in Nava Tirupathi, devotees have been thronging the region in large numbers contributing to a far better livelihood for the priests. Most of the festivals have been revived and the Brahmotsavams in each of these temples is now celebrated in a grand manner.

Venu Srinivasan takes back a big learning from the restoration exercise of Nava Tirupathi. He says that the Nava Tirupathi restoration initiative taught him a very important and fundamental principle of how temple restoration activities had to go hand in hand with social rehabilitation. 

TN CM’s mandate to Venu
For long after his involvement in Nava Tirupathi, he was focused on restoration work south of the Vaigai until one day, a few years ago he got a call that truly stunned him.  The former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Late Mrs. J Jayalalitha was on a mission to restore the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam to its ancient glory. She had heard of the outstanding work Venu Srinivasan had undertaken in Nava Tirupathi. And as he picked the call from her office, he was told that the then CM was keen to have him lead the restoration exercise at the Srirangam Temple. And the mandate to him as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees was to make this the biggest and the best restoration the temple has seen in the last 200 years.

He had a humongous task lying ahead of him. There were big challenges in Srirangam. Over the last century, far too many new constructions had come up (for a variety of reasons). Many of the sub shrines had remained locked for decades. Sacred pathways had been blocked with the growth of huge bushes. Toilets had been built in different corners of the temple.
Huge quantities of Mud, to the height of 10 feet, had gathered around the sub shrines and the base structures of these shrines had gone under.  The path way from Chakrathazhvaar Sannidhi to the Thayar Sannidhi through the Nandavanam remained closed for decades (except for Namperumal’s trip on the occasion of Panguni Uthiram and during Vasanthotsavam). The centuries old Granary on the Western side was seen in a completely dilapidated condition. Sesharayar Mandapam at the Eastern entrance, opposite the 1000 Pillar Mandapam too lay under the mud. Every sub shrine posed a unique challenge of its own.

Added to these were the human conflicts. Expert opinions with multiple views came from all corners, free and at great speed!!! And being a living structure, especially one where upwards of 40000 devotees turn up on festive days and over the weekend, one had to ensure that they were put to the least inconvenience.

He remained unfazed to one of the biggest challenging exercises he had undertaken in his life. One has to have forbearance in public places, especially in temples and if one is not prepared for bricks, mud and stones, one cannot do public service is a strong message he has had for himself ever since he began engaging in temple restoration activities.

Venu falls full length at the feet of Service Personnel!!!
There were times during this restoration process when Venu Srinivasan fell full length at the feet of opposing parties in full public view for the sake of bringing the temple back to its ancient architectural glory, such was his devotional commitment to the Lord of Srirangam. The securing of the Sri Pandaram was one such effort.

Venu Srinivasan is grateful for the restoration experience he had had at Nava Tirupathi. That came in quite handy in managing and tackling a number of the challenges he faced during this huge exercise in Srirangam. Crediting his entire team, he says it was a massive collective effort and the speed of implementation was quite unbelievable.

Architectural beauty had to be maintained and ASI norms had to be applied ‘Every bit of activity went through this filter to bring it as close to antiquity as possible’ says Venu Srinivasan.

His experience as the chief of a corporate auto major too has clearly helped in this large scale restoration of the Srirangam temple. He believes that administrative principles applicable to organizations are relevant to this as well. Principles of Quality, Management, House Keeping, Time Keeping, Punctuality, Processes and Systems were applied in every aspect of this huge exercise.

The Revival
60000 tonnes of debris was removed during this period giving one an indication of the enormity of the task that he had undertaken. 
The 40+ sub shrines are now fully functional. The historic path way to the 1000 pillar mandapam from the Thayar Sannidhi through Periya Vachan Pillai Sannidhi is now open giving the devotees a glimpse of the architectural beauty of the 1000 Pillar Mandapam. 

The steps of Sesharayar Mandapam are now visible for the first time in decades. The restoration of the granary should delight any devotee who had seen its state a few years ago. 
Anyone who had visited the Sri Pandaram over the decades would have seen it as their favourite ‘prasadam’ stall. The removal of these temporary constructions that had come up in recent times led to the revealing of the ancient architecture of this 100 pillar zone.

The most remarkable piece of restoration took place at the Southern entrance of the temple. The removal of thick mud led to the revealing of the ancient base structures of a few of the sub shrines. It has now become a popular photo zone with the Raja Gopuram in the background.

It is unlikely that anyone else, other than Venu Srinivasan, could have pulled off such a huge restoration activity in this record time of 18 months. Among others, he credits Joint Commissioner Pon Jayaraman, who anchored the initiative within the temple, for making this restoration happen so smoothly.

Having completed the restoration end of 2015, he put in place strong processes that would help in the cleanliness of the temple right through the year. One finds a lot of green inside the temple and almost no dust within the huge temple complex. It was no wonder then that within 12hours of the Vaikunta Ekadasi festival this January, there was not a drop of garbage seen anywhere inside the huge temple complex, despite the presence of a couple of lakhs of devotees on that day.

In their praise, UNESCO’s Jury consisting of 9 international conservation experts stated that the conservation of temple has revived the extensive religious complex at the core of Srirangam temple town. ‘The project has revealed the original fabric of the shrines, water bodies and landscape within the temple’s four inner enclosures, which were once obscured under layers of inappropriate modern additions and tons of debris. Employing traditional construction materials and techniques, the restoration work was carried out in an authentic manner by local craftspeople in accordance with ancient building principles and rites.’ 
To him the feedback from the devotees is the biggest blessing that he could receive for his engagement in this exercise. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited the temple in February 2016, just 3 months after the completion of the restoration and was truly stunned at what she saw and how different it was back from her college days in the 1970s. She commended Venu Srinivasan for his efforts and called it a 'Great Public Service' to get such a large temple back to its ancient architectural glory. 
For all his untiring hard work, Venu Srinivasan looks back at this entire experience with a lot of humility, typical of the TVS family ‘I have been appointed as a servant of the devotees.  And I have tried to carry out my duty to the best of my ability and as sincerely as possible. Ultimate satisfaction comes from the fact that devotees have found the temple clean and neat and have gone back happy after the darshan.’

He says that the UNESCO award for the Srirangam Temple is a matter of great pride for Tamil Nadu ‘It vindicates processes that were followed in the restoration bringing it back to its old glory’.

UNESCO’s Jury hoped that the temple would share the restoration lessons to encourage other heritage conservation efforts not just in India but also throughout the Asia Pacific region. And that was ultimate commendation for this truly large initiative that has now become a global role model for all other such temple restoration exercises.

( A version of the UNESCO award story featured today in The Hindu Friday Review)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nellaiappar Koil Tirunelveli

Lord Nellaiappar appeared as a Swayambu Moorthy from the Bamboo tree
The Huge Nellai Govindar is seen adjacent to the Saivite Lord in a unique posture facing skywards 

The Nellaiappar temple housed on a huge 15acre area in the heart of Thirunelveli dates back is grand in every way. Huge complex for both the Lord and Ambal, grand festivities all through the year, following of traditional rituals gives it a truly devotional touch. Till the early part of the 2nd half of the previous century, all the four streets were full of traditional houses with Mutts in each of the four big streets. There were minimal tourists (the temple had not become a place of ‘tourist’ attraction till the end of the previous century!! And all the visitors to the temple were religious traditionalists who took delight in accompanying the Lord in grand processions. 

The entire temple complex is abound with inscriptions and unique sculptures.

Moorthy Picharya Gurukal has been performing aradhana for the last two decades. His grand father had been an integral part of the temple for over five decades in the early part of the 20th century. His father then took over and carried on the pooja with devotion through the 2nd half of the previous century.  

In recent decades, both economic development and increased tourist inflow have led to the place losing its ancient glory with the mushrooming of towering multi storied showrooms that have taken over the Chariot Streets. Shops have encroached around the outer walls of the temple.

The temple plays host to one of the famous ‘Pancha Sabhas’, this one being ‘Thamarai Sabha’.

10 Musical Pillars
The Sai Natha Mani Mandapam leading to the sanctum of Nellaiappar is a special one for it houses 10 musical pillars built from a single stone each one presenting a different swaram, a truly remarkable piece of architecture showing the Sirpi’s extraordinary skills in the centuries gone by. 

The Original Name of the Lord
Rama Konar, who ran a Goshala, would take milk to the King’s court every morning. Much to his surprise, he found the cow giving out milk in a particular place. After the axe struck a bamboo tree, they found blood marks on the tree. The King visited the spot, apologized to the Lord and promised to build a temple at the same place. The Lord emerged from the bamboo tree as a Swayambu Moorthy. While he was wondering as to how he would construct the temple if the Lord kept growing tall like a tree, the Lord ‘announced’ that he would stop at the 21st feet (which would then be visible to the devotees) with 20 feet remaining below the earth.  Hence the Lord was originally referred to as Venu (Bamboo) Vanam Easwarar and this region was referred to as Venu Vana Puram.

In memory of this episode, there is an idol of Rama Konar inside the Nellaiappar temple complex. 

While doing the ground work for the temple construction, much to their delight they found a ‘Maha- Lingam’. This was installed at that same location, a step below the Nellaiappar Sannidhi to his North East to indicate its historical nature.  To this day, the Uchi Kaala Pooja takes place for this Lingam as well. Appreciating the King’s efforts, the Lord is said to have handed a ‘Senkol’ to the king to rule the land.

Enacting the historical Episode
On the occasion of the Panguni Uthiram, Nellaiappar and Ganthimathi go on a joint procession following which Nellaiappar hands over the Senkol to Murugan who then hands it to Nedumaran Pandyan.

Beautiful ancient sculptures line up the pathway that joins the Nellaiappar Sannidhi complex with the Ambal Sannidhi.
‘Nel’ Veli
While centuries ago, the area surrounding the temple had been full of Bamboo trees, in later periods of time, it was converted to green paddy fields. And thus the Lord came to be known as Saali (Paddy) Vaateeswarar and the place as Saali Vahana Puram.

Once upon a time, it was the daily ritual of Veda Gurukal who performed Thiru Aradhanam at this temple, to have bath in the nearby river  and to present Neiveithyam to the Lord with the Paddy that he had kept to dry. Once while he was having bath, it rained heavily. Worried that the Paddy would be washed away in the rain, he invoked the blessings of the Lord, from the river bank and asked for the paddy to remain dry so he could present it to Him to feed his hunger. When he came back, he found to his delight that the place around the Paddy alone remained dry.

He showcased this to King Nedumaran as to how the ‘Nel’ had a ‘Veli’ around it for protection from the rain.   Hence the Lord came to be known as ‘Nel’ ‘Veli’ Nathar (Nellai Appar) and the place as Thiru ‘Nel’ ‘Veli’.

When the minister asked the king to take a look at the towering gopuram, he could not look up as he had a hunch.  It is said that the Lord rubbed his back to remove the hunch so he could take a look. Hence he came to be known as ‘Ninra’ Seer Nedumaran Pandyan. 

When the devoted king was asked as to what he wanted, he is believed to have asked for an eternal darshan. Hence there is a sculpture atop the main sanctum at the entrance from where King Nedumaran is said to be worshipping the Lord.

Another interesting feature of the main sanctum is that Ganga and Yamuna are seen at the entrance as Dwarapalikas.

Nellai Govindar
Lord Shiva is believed to have invoked the blessings of Vishnu and invited him to be present here at the temple through the day and night. Answering his prayers, Lord Vishnu presented himself here in a unique ‘Anantha Sayanam’ posture just next to Lord Nellaiappar with his face looking skywards and left hand holding Vilvam and his right hand performing pooja for the Shiva Lingam. On the 11th day of the Kalyana Utsavam in Aipasi, Nellai Govindar, the utsava perumal, goes to Katchi Mandapam. After the joint procession of Lord and Ambal, Nellai Govindar presents the hand of Ambal to Nellaippar. This is the only time in the year that he comes out of his sanctum. 

This is a daily Utsavam temple with festivals taking place through the year. Murugan, Vinayakar, Ganthimathi and Nellaiappar- each has an exclusive chariot. This is the 518th year of the continuous running of the chariot with the Brahmotsavam taking place in Aani

Aipasi Kalyana Utsavam
Ambal performs penance in the twin rivers of Vibhuthi and Varunan, tributaries of Kambai River, with Kurunji flowers invoking the blessings of Nellaiappar. Pleased with her penance, he brought her to the 1000 pillar mandapam in a Vibhuthi Alankarm with Kurunji flowers on her and married her here in a Brahmma Muhurtham (very early in the morning).  To this day, this is followed with the wedding festivities taking place early in the morning. This is followed by a three day Oonjal Utsavam. There is a certain devotional touch one finds within the Ganthimathi Ambal Sannidhi.

Uchi Kaalam Pooja – A speciality
 Similar to the one at the Jambukeswarar temple in Thiruvanaikaval, the Uchi Kaalam pooja is special at this temple. The sacred food from Ambal Sannidhi is brought by the Gurukal to the Lord’s Sannidhi for Uchi Kaalam Pooja. In the night during the Artha Jaama Pooja, Ambal wears white saree to indicate the purity of her mind. The archakar of Lord’s Sannidhi goes to Ambal Palliyarai for the night pooja.

Thai Amavasya – Swarna Vilakku Utsavam
As part of the three day utsavam, the entire temple is lit and the pancha moorthy procession takes place with Ambal in Rishabha Vahana.

The Appar Story on Maasi Magam
On the occasion of Maasi Magam, the episode of Saivite Saint Poet Appar getting the Lord’s darshan is enacted at the Potramarai Kulam.

Reading of the Panchankam
On the first day of Chitrai every year, the Lord comes around to sit atop the Kailasa hill on the western side of the prakara in front of the Nataraja Sannidhi and listens to the reading of the Tirunelveli Vakya Panchankam.

A large scale renovation activity is round the corner and is expected to start sometime soon.

The temple is open between 6am-12.30pm and 4pm-9pm. Contact S Moorthy Gurukal @ 94429 30204 / Peshkar Murugesan @ 99446 29425

Friday, November 10, 2017

Azhagar Koil Nupura Ganga Utsavam

Kallazhagar went up the hilly terrain last week for the Thailakappu Utsavam at Nupura Gangai

An Inscription on the wall between the Perumal and Thayar Sannidhi of the Thiru Maliruncholai Divya Desam in the outskirts of Madurai refers to an undertaking during the coronation ceremony of Sundara Pandyan that he would continue the ‘Thalai Aruvi’ Utsavam and that if he did not it would amount to killing a 1000 sacred cows, testifying that the one of its kind festival at Nupura Ganga (Silambaru) is a historical one.
Vaishnavite Saint Poet Periyazhvaar in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham says that Pandya King Nedumaran of Koodal came to Thiru Maliruncholai in a thanking gesture to the Lord and to celebrate his victory. Those who visited the Lord at Thiru Maliruncholai and invoked his blessings before an event always returned with victory and came back to thank the Lord. And hence he describes it as a VICTORY HILL.

கொல் நவில் கூறவேற் கோன்
நெடுமாறன் தென் கூடற் கோன்
தென்னன் கொண்டாடும்
தென் திரு மாலிருஞ் சோலையே

Periyazhvar had a special liking for the Lord of Thiru Maliruncholai and provides insights into this place, with repeated references to Nupur Ganga and its greatness. Celestial girls came all the way to bathe in Nupur Ganga that flowed down from the Thiru Malirun Cholai hills. He praises Nupur Ganga as producing sacred water.

The Kalpataru flowers in heaven are filled with nectar like fragrance. He compares that to Nupur Ganga which he praises as having this fragrance of nectar. 
Legendary Episode
Legend has it that while measuring the world during his Trivikrama Avatara, Lord Narayana’s feet stretched to Brahmma Logam where a delighted Brahmma poured the sacred water on the Silambu / Nupuram worn by the Lord on his feet. This sacred water poured from the Lord’s feet to this place in Thiru Maliruncholai on Sukla Paksha Dwadasi in Aipasi.

In celebration of this legendary episode, Lord Kallazhagar, the Utsava deity of Azhagar Koil, makes an annual trip up the hilly terrain to Nupura Ganga on this day every year in Aipasi for the Thailakappu and Neerattam Utsavam.

This event was enacted last Tuesday (Nov 1) at Thiru Maliruncholai Malai, a hill that Periyazhvaar refers to as one with thousands of lakes and flower groves and where the Lord is reclining with a thousand arms and a thousand crowns on the serpent with a thousand hoods. There is a rock carving atop the Nupura Ganga of the Lord in a Sayana Kolam on a huge Serpant.

ஆயிரம் தோல் பரப்பி முடி ஆயிரம் மின்னிலக
ஆயிரம் பைந்தலைய அனந்தசயனன் ஆளும் மலை
 ஆயிர  மாருகளும் கணைகள் பலவாயிரமும்
A long day at the Azhagar Malai 
Led by the temple elephant and accompanied by the beating of the sacred drum, Lord Kallazhagar began his trip at 9.30 am from his abode at Azhagar Koil.
For the next two hours, he waded his way through a rough and dense thicket up the Azhagar Malai carried by the Sri Patham Thangis on a palanquin.

Periyazhvaar described Thiru Maliruncholai as home to huge elephants that make their way into the forest in large numbers as a herd. The Wild elephants are seen chasing helpless cows into the forest of Thiru Maliruncholai. Even as late as the 1970s and 80s, the priests had such ‘wild’ experiences during this annual trip of the Lord in Aipasi.

The man performing the service of carrying the sacred umbrella ahead of the Lord has seen it all for he and his father have been performing this for the last six decades. While the path is relatively better now, it was not the case in the decades gone by. And it was quite a strenuous trip up the hill with most ending up with bleeding feet but they did it all with devotion to the Lord of Thiru Maliruncholai.
Oil Anointment and Combing of the Lord's Hair
Kallazhagar reached Nupura Ganga at around 11. 30 am. At the specially decorated mandapa, ‘alankara specialist’ Ambi Narayanana Bhattar, whose forefathers have presented the alankara to the Lord on this day over the last century delighted the devotees with a devotional display of oil anointment of the Lord followed by the patient combing off the long Oily hair that sent the devotees into happy tears. 

Big Moment of the Utsavam
In line with Periyazhvaar’s praise of Silambaru as an ‘eternal water spring’, water gushes down the slope to Azhagar Koil from Nupura Ganga all through the year without a break, quite a unique feature of this location. The sacred moment of the Utsavam came when Lord Kallazhagar, with the devotees all around shouting out his name in rapturous delight, was led to Silambaru, where he had a ‘direct’ bath from the spring, the only one of its kind in a Divya Desam. 
Periyazhvaar’s praise of Silambaru
Periyazhvaar says that devotees came from towns and villages to take a holy dip in Nupura Ganga in an effort to rid themselves of the sins. And when Ambi Bhattar splashed this holy water on the devotees they were reminded of Periyazhvaar’s verse and their face brightened up and they seemed to be gripped with an elated feeling of devotion.

After a long day out at the top of Thiru Maliruncholai Malai, the Lord returned to his abode at Azhagar Koil late in the evening once again passing through the thick bushes and the rocky terrain.

(A version of this story featured today in The Hindu Friday Review) 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pandyan Rockfort Exp faster from Nov 1

Palani Express will now officially run through to Udumalpet and Pollachi
No Train Services between Coimbatore and Madurai/Rameswaram despite the commissioning of the new broad gauge line earlier this year
The Tiruchirapalli bound Rockfort Express from Chennai Egmore will be faster by 15 minutes while its departure has been postponed by 1 hour effective November 1. 

Over the last 6 months, the train has been reaching the temple town of Srirangam too early in the morning of 3.30 am for the devotee passengers' liking. The train will now leave Chennai Egmore at 11.30 pm instead of 1030 pm and will reach Srirangam at 4.08 am (Trichy Junction at 5.15am). Similarly Mangalore Express which previously departed Egmore at 1015 pm and reached Srirangam at 315 am will now depart at 11.15 pm and reach Srirangam at 3.49am.

The departure timing of both Karaikal bound Kamban Express and Thanjavur bound Uzhavan Express has been preponed by 1hour to 10.15 pm and 1030 pm. Uzhavan Express will now reach Kumbakonam at 455 am. 

Madurai bound Pandyan Express will now be 35 minutes faster and will leave Egmore at 940 pm to reach Madurai at 5.55 am.

 The Tiruchirapalli bound Rockfort Express from Chennai Egmore has been speeded up by 15minutes while its departure has been postponed by 1 hour effective November 1. Over the last 6months, the train has been reaching the temple town of Srirangam too early in the morning of 3.30am for the devotee passengers liking. The train will now leave Chennai Egmore at 11.30pm instead of 1030pm and will reach Srirangam at 4.30am. Similarly Mangalore Express which previously departed Egmore at 1015pm and reached Srirangam at 315am will now depart at 11.15pm.

The departure timing of both Karaikal bound Kamban Express and Thanjavur bound Uzhavan Express has been preponed by around one hour to 10.05 pm and 10.30 pm . Uzhavan Express will now reach Kumbakonam at 445am. 

Madurai bound Pandyan Express will now be 35minutes faster and will leave Egmore at 940pm to reach Madurai before 6am.

Palani Exp extended to Udumalpet/Pollachi
An important formal addition is the extension of Central Palani Express to Pollachi ( in fact it has been extended to Palghat). Over the last year or so, this train had been unofficially extended to Udumalpet and Pollachi with passengers having to buy an unreserved ticket from Palani.

However a big disappointment this time around has been the non introduction of any express trains in the Coimbatore Madurai Rameswaram route. This was once upon a time a very important service with night express trains running full either way on this route. For the last decade or so, there have been no train services from Coimbatore to Madurai via Pollachi and Palani. With the broad gauge conversion complete, one expected the original express and passenger trains to resume on this route but not a single service will run between Coimbatore and Madurai leaving the passengers in the hands of the bus operators.

Chozhan Express remains slow
Also, one expected the Trichy Egmore Main line Chozhan express to be speeded up.  Since its re-introduction a few years ago, this train has taken 8  to 8 ½ hours to cover 401 kms via Thanjavur /Kumbakonam/Mayiladuthurai averaging just 45kms per hour on a lean traffic section.  This train will be faster by just 20 minutes when it should easily be able to cover the this distance in just over 7 hours given that there are minimal crossings in that section.

Palani Exp to run up to Palakkad
An important formal addition is the extension of Central Palani Express to Pollachi ( in fact it has been extended to Palakkad). Over the last year or so, this train had been unofficially extended to Udumalpet and Pollachi with passengers having to buy an unreserved ticket from Palani.

Biggest Disappointment for Coimbatore 
However a big disappointment this time around has been the non introduction of any express trains in the Coimbatore Madurai Rameswaram route. This was once upon a time a very important service with night express trains running full either way on this route. For the last decade or so, there have been no train services from Coimbatore to Madurai via Pollachi and Palani. With the broad gauge conversion complete, one expected the original express and passenger trains to resume on this route but not a single service will run between Coimbatore and Madurai leaving the passengers in the hands of the bus operators.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Vada Kurangaduthurai Dayanidheeswarar

Only Temple dedicated to ‘Dayanidhi’
Thiru Gnana Sambanthar praises the devotion of Vaali in his verses 
It is a road that links Kallanai in the West to Poompuhar on the Eastern Sea Shore. The stretch to Kumbakonam alone houses several ancient temples both Vaishnavite Divya Desams and Saivite Thevaram Sthalams along the banks of the Cauvery. Starting with Koviladi Appakudathan temple ( near Kallanai, there are huge temples in Thillaisthanam ( and Thiruvayaru (  Despite being praised by both the Saivite and Vaishnavite Saint Poets as glorious temples, the temples along the stretch to Kumbakonam now find themselves ignored with the priests constantly stretching their neck out of the Sannidhi to see if that elusive devotee makes his way into the temple.

One such temple is the Dayanidheeswarar temple in Vada Kurangaduthurai, a temple whose legend dates back to the Ramayana and to the penance of Vaali. This is the only temple dedicated to ‘Dayanidhi’ among the Thevaram temples. Ambal is referred to as Jataa Makuda Nayaki.  The Lord is housed in a huge complex surrounded by tall coconut trees in a beautiful Nandavanam but on a normal day, there is not a devotee around. Similar is the story of the Vaishnavite Divya Desam a few 100 yards West of this temple ( The Jagathrakshakan Perumal Koil in Koodalur too has failed to lure the devotees in big numbers in recent decades.

The temple architecture in its current form is said to date to back 1300 years. 

Vaali's strength, including of his tail, was so great that even Ravana feared his presence. Just his tail was many times enough to round out his opponents who would be circled and thrown many hundreds of yards away.  In the legendary episode from the Ramayana, Vaali in his last moments addresses Rama expressing regret that the son of Dasaratha did not inform him of his search for Sita. The very decision of Vaali going to Lanka would have forced Ravana to hand back Sita to her husband, such was the fear of Vaali in the mind of the Lankan King.

In one of the fights between the two, Vaali destroyed Ravana who to run for his life. In the process of this battle, Vaali had his long tail cut. It is believed that he came here to Vada Kurangaduthurai and performed pooja invoking the blessings of Lord Dayanideeswarar to secure back his tail in its full length. Hence the Lord here is also referred to as ‘Vaali’ Nathar. In memory of this episode one finds a sculpture atop the Vimana.

Thiru Gnana Sambanthar’s praise
Referring to this temple as being on the Northern banks of the Cauvery, Thiru Gnana Sambanthar in his verses on Vada Kurangaduthurai has praised Vaali and his devotion to the Lord of Vada Kurangaduthurai. He also refers to the Lord as Sadai Mudi Nathar. 

Provides Coconut Water to a thirsty devotee
A Chettiar lady, a true devotee of Dayanidheeswarar was on the verge of giving birth to a child. When she arrived here, ill health meant that the couple had to decide between the mother and the child. While the husband was away to secure food for the hungry wife, she surrendered to her favourite Lord and sought protection.  
With the husband not returning in time and as she could not contain her thirst, the Lord is said to have helped quench her thirst by providing coconut water and much to her husband’s surprise, she gave birth to the child without any complications.

It is believed that those who offer their sincere prayers to Lord Dayanidheeswarar will be absolved of all problems in life. To this day, there is a huge coconut grove around the temple complex.

Moksham to a devoted Sparrow
Another story goes that Lord Dayanidheeswarar provided Moksham to a sweet singing sparrow that had brought water for the Lord every day of his life from the nearby Cauvery river bank and one that would sit atop Lord’s head in joy. Hence the Lord is also referred to as Chittilingeswarar. 

Panguni Uthiram is celebrated in a grand way. There is a special alankaram for Ambal on each of the days of Navarathri. The Lord goes to the Cauvery for Theerthavari on the occasion of Aadi Pooram.

The priest comes from Ganapathi Agraharam, a couple of kms West of the Temple. However Ravi Iyer, who manages the Madapalli lives near the temple and is available for the ‘surprise’ devotees all the time at the temple @ 93642 39391 / 70942 29391.

West of this temple is the Thevaram Sthalam at Thiru Pazhanam near Thiruvayaru

Administered by the Thanjavur Samasthanam, this is a very well maintained temple as is the case with most of the temples managed by the Sarabhoji Prince (a few examples of those include Punnai Nallur Mariamman Temple and Thanjai Maa Mani Divya Desam).

How to reach
Vadakurangaduthurai is about 10 kms East of Thiruvayaru on the Kumbakonam highway. Buses ply on the Kumbakonam – Thiruvayaru highway, though this is infrequent. From Papanasam one can take a mini bus to Kapisthalam, from where, one can take the Thiruvayaru bound bus (8kms) to reach the temple.

Auto from Kapisthalam will cost Rs. 150.