Sunday, December 16, 2018

Thiru Pudaimaruthur Naarumbu Nathar

Lord Naarumbu Nathar is seen in a tilted posture listening to the devotional rendition of a devotee

One finds a cut on his head in memory of the historical episode relating to Pandya King slashing the sickle on a hidden deer

Kannan Gurukal remains the only traditionalist in this temple town that not so long ago had 350 of them residing in the agraharam
It is 515 am on a Tuesday morning in Karthigai with a slight drizzle around the corner.  It is still quiet at the Tamaraibarani. The villagers are just beginning to turn up for their morning bath at the various ‘padi thurai’ along the banks. S Kannan Bhattar (Gurukal), who has been performing aradhana and also managing the madapalli at the ancient Narumbu Nathar temple in Thiru Pudai Maruthur since 1995 at just Rs. 175 per month is already up and getting ready for the morning pooja. His father had performed service for 4 decades while his grandfather was there for 45 years. They rarely complained about the low income and simply performed their duty at this big temple of serving the Lord.

Till about four decades ago, the agraharam was home to 350 traditionalists with Vedic Chanting being an integral part of the temple. Today, the Gurukal remains the only Brahmin family in the village.

The Eastern entrance remains a Mottai Gopuram. 

Unique Idol
The image of Lord Narumbu Nathar is unique in that he is seen slightly tilted trying to hear the voice of his devotee with scars on his head, an indication of the legendary episode relating to the temple.

Legendary tale of Lord’s tilted posture
Karur Siddhar, one of the 18 renowned Siddhars, reached this location after meeting Sage Agastya at Papanasam, at the foot of Pothigai Hills. When he reached the river bank, he was welcomed by flash floods in the Tamaraibarani. Seeing a temple of Lord Shiva and not knowing his name at this temple, he wondered how he could have darshan but was moved the fragrance of ‘Maruthai’ flowers. Seeking darshan, he called out for him 'Poovin Manathil Naduvil Nirkum Naathaney' ‘Narumbu Naatha Nalam Tharuvaayo.’ Moved by his devotion, the Lord moved a bit and is said to have looked out for the devotee who was reaching out to him. An invisible voice directed him to cross the river and come over. Much to his delight, the river gave way and allowed him to cross.

When he came here and asked as to why his face was tilted, the Lord said that he was moved by his devotion and wanted to see who this devotee was. The Siddhar prayed that the Lord remain so ever after to provide darshan to all devotees in the same tilted posture.

Cut on the Lord’s head
When Veera Marthanda Pandya reached here on a hunting expedition, he found a scared deer hiding at the foot of the tree. He directed the cutting of the tree with a sickle. To his shock, he found a Shiva Lingam coming out of the Marutha Tree with a cut in the head and a deer form on his chest. Apologising for his action, he built the temple that one finds in its current form and structure today. To this day, the Lord is seen with a cut in the head and with a deer mark on his chest. 
The Saivite Triangle
'Thalai Maruthur' Mallikaarjuna at Srisailam, Idai Maruthur Mahalingeswarar at Thiru Idai Maruthur  (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/12/thiruvidaimaruthur-mahalingam-temple.html)signifying the mid part and here Pudai Maruthur Narambunathar, signifying the ‘patham’ sthalam are three temples seen in an equidistant triangle.

Indra was inflicted with Brahmma Hathi Dosham for having ignored his original Guru and then later having killed his 'adopted' asura Guru. Indra and his wife had bath in the Surendra Theertham and undertook penance to be liberated from the dosham. He had darshan of Lord and Ambal in Kalyana Kolam.

This is a Trimeni Sangamam with Tamarai Barani, Manimutharu and Kadana rivers meeting near here. There is an old world feeling about this historic location. One finds green paddy fields all along the road from Mukoodal which is 4kms away. The greenery continues off the Thirupudaimaruthur- Attalanallur road as well with banana plantations in large numbers. 
 It was here that Maha Periyava received Deekshai.

The temple is abound with inscriptions.
Festivals
10 day Brahmotsavam in Thai with Theerthavari on Poosam

When here, also visit Gajendra Varadar Perumal temple in Attalanallur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/03/athalanallur-gajendra-varadaraja-perumal.html)

How to reach

An auto from Mukoodal ( 4kms) will cost Rs. 70. One can also reach the temple from Veeravanallur (auto Rs. 100). Contact numbers: 96295 42614 / 94427 14547

The temple is open from 6am to 11am and from 430pm to 8pm. Contact: S Kannan Gurukal @ 96262 90350.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Brahmmadesam Kailasanathar Koil

Pancha Lingam Kshetram
The largest temple in the region has the most exquisite stone sculptures
The Gurukal has single handedly revived the historical Theppotsavam though the Brahmotsavam has not taken place for four decades

A single archaka has been managing the huge temple all alone at just a three digit salary 
Referred to as Raja Raja Chaturvedi Mangalam, Brahmma Desam was historically renowned for Vedic Scholars reciting the four Vedas through the day. There was such vibrancy in the region brought about by this nonstop chanting that Raja Raja Chozha donated the entire temple town to the Vedic Scholars so they could focus on the recital. Till very recently, Vedic Education and Recital was an integral part of Brahmma Desam. Rig Veda was initiated to students and only the dwindling interest and moving away of the traditionalists away from such remote locations prompted the conversion of the Vedic school to an academic school on the South Street a couple of decades back.

The temple town referred to as Ayaneeswaram signifying the presence of Brahmma and Shiva at the temple is home to Kailasanathar and Brihantha Nayaki. Reference to Ayaneeswaram is made in the 8 song of the 6th Thirumurai Adaivu Thiruthandagam.

Located 4kms  East of Mannar Koil (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/11/kulasekara-perumal-koil-in-mannar-koil.html) off the Mukoodal Highway, the huge 2000 year old temple is surrounded by lush green paddy fields, banana plantations and coconut groves. The Gadana River runs right near the temple from South to North. The towering 7 Tier Raja Gopuram at the Eastern Entrance casts its shadow on the big temple tank, just North of the tower.  
Legend has it that Brahmma came here, created the Theertham, had bath and undertook penance repenting for his sin of having insulted Lord Shiva in Dakshana’s Yagna.  Brahmma’s grandson Romasa Rishi too performed pooja at this place.

Pancha Lingam Kshetram
The temple is unique in that there are five Separate Sannidhis for Lord (and Ambal) with a separate Vimanam and Nandi. These include Kasi Viswanathar and Visalakshi, Annamalaiyar and Unnamulai Ammai, Madurai Meenakshi and Sundareswarar, Ilaintha Adi Nathar and the Moolavar of this temple Kailasanathar, flanked by Brihandha Nayaki in a separate sannidhi. Hence this is referred to as Pancha Lingam Kshetram.

Ilanthai Adi Nathar (Badarivaneswarar), a Swayambu idol, is the original deity at this temple. One finds an Ilanthai tree as the Sthala Vriksham.

This is the birth place of the second Acharya of Kanchi Mutt Sarvagna Atmendra Saraswathi Swami.

Architectural Glory
The Cheras and Chozhas created one of the most incredible pieces of sculptures at this temple. Credit goes to the Pandyas for the construction of all the Mandapams, while the towering Raja Gopurams and the huge outer walls were built by the Nayaks.

Exquisite unseen Sculptures
The temples along the entire Tamaraibarani stretch have exquisite stone sculptures as exemplified by the ones in Srivaikuntam and Krishnapuram, among others. At the Kailasanathar temple in Brahmmadesam, the Cheras created  sculptures that will remain etched in one’s memory for ever.
The Bikshaada Nathar Sabha is a distinctive Sannidhi where one finds one of a kind of images not found in any other temple in Tamil Nadu. The seven feet tall Lord Shiva presents himself as Bikshaada Nathar without a peedam standing tall like a human being. He is seen with a Bhootham Vadhyam in a typical posture of going out for Bikshai.

Around him are carvings of Brahmma, Vishnu, Muruga, Pillayar, Ashta Dhik Baalakars, Surya, Chandra, Kinnarar, Kim Purushar, Agastyar, all seen in their respective Vahanas offering worship to Bikshaada Nathar. Seen above the Lord are two Apsara Kannis sculpted on a single stone, yet another marvelous piece. Below the Lord are three Apsaras in three different postures including one in a Sayana Kolam.
‘Punugu’ Nataraja
Yet another special feature at this temple is the presence of Lord Nataraja with Sivagami, Karaikal Ammayar and Pathanjali Vyaakra Paatha Muni. In centuries gone by, the Lord was provided a grand Punugu bath once a year on the eve of Margazhi Thiruvathirai and was referred to as ‘Punugu Sabaapathi’. But in recent decades, given the financial state of the temple, the Lord is given a sandal pasting on that day and remains so through till the next Margazhi. 
In the outer prakaram, one finds a separate sannidhi for Brahmma and Indra. Being a ‘Brahmma’ Desam, there is also a separate Sannidhi for Saraswathi with a Vimanam.

Right next to this on the pathway is a Lotus Petal in stone. It is the only from this location can one see all the three Raja Gopurams and the seven Vimanams.

The stone roof near the Eastern Raja Gopuram is yet another feature at this temple. While this is similar to structures seen in temples in Kerala, this one is fully in stone.

Dakshina Murthy is seen with a folded right leg and the left leg placed down, in contrast to the usual posture of the right leg being down.

Koorma Aasana – Soma Vaara Mandapam
Out of the five Aasanaas of the Lord, the one at this temple is in the form of Koorma Aasana. This exclusive piece of architecture is seen at the Soma Vaara Mandapam near the Ambal Sannidhi with the mandapa built atop Koorma. It is here that historically music and dance festivals used to be organized. Lined up on the row of pillars in this stretch are historical characters including those of Duryodhana, Yudhistira and Bheema, in addition to those from the Ramayana. 

Huge Nandikeswarar on Stone
The Nandi near the Kodi Maram, the biggest in the region and sculpted on a single stone, is another example of the outstanding architecture seen inside the temple. He is seen with a bell, jewels and anklets. The posture is similar to that a cow in a sitting posture.
War Time Invocation by the Kings
During war time, the kings used to visit the temple to invoke the blessings of Naalayirathamman (Sahasrambikai), a Kaali Roopam and they would return to the temple in a thanking gesture at the end of the war. In memory of this historical event, a grand ‘Thiru Kudai’ Thiruvizha in Thai was part of the temple’s annual festival calendar, this one strung together by different communities in the temple town. This too has come to a halt in recent decades. The moolavar idol of Naalayirathamman is on the banks of the Gadaga river in a separate temple dedicated to her.

Brahmotsavam- A thing of the Past?
Historically, the 10th day of the Brahmotsavam on Panguni Uthiram saw a procession of Lord Kailasanathar on a Rishaba Vahana with Brihandha Nayaki around the streets of Brahmma Desam, the largest temple in the Ambasamudram region after celebration of the Theerthavari Utsavam in the morning. For centuries, this was the grandest of the festivals at this temple. But for almost half a century, the Brahmotsavam has become a ‘festival of the past’. And this in a temple that is the largest in the region with three towering Gopurams and seven Vimanams, has the most exquisite stone sculptures and was once a War Temple offering protection to the people.

Revival of Panguni Hastham Theppotsavam
The Theppotsavam was celebrated on Hastham, the day after Panguni Uthiram and on the 11th day of the Brahmotsavam. Thanks to the efforts of Raj Kumar Bhattar, who took over from his father a decade ago, the theppotsavam has now been revived in all its ancient glory. With the help of donors, the entire tank was refurbished over a two month period a few years back. 
For the last three years, the theppotsavam has been conducted following the full agama (the temple follows Kaamiga Agamas – one of the 28 agamas) ritual including performing the homam on the Hastham day. Melam, Vedic Chants, recital of Thirumurai, Bharatanatyam and procession around the Ratha Veethi are now part of the Theppotsavam celebrations.

There was a Chariot Festival too around the Ratha Veethi but with the Brahmotsavam having come to a halt, the Chariot has remained in a dilapidated condition at the far Eastern end of the Sannidhi Street.
To this day, one finds the ancient Vasantha Mandapam, where Vasanthotsavam was once celebrated in a grand manner.

The Gurukal has revived celebrations of occasions such as Pradhosham, Thei Pirai Ashtami Pooja, Chitrai Visu, four time pooja on Sivarathri and Margazhi Thiruvathirai. He has begun a Vilakku Pooja in the evening on the first day of the Tamil month.

Huge Granite Stones for Lord’s Pandal
An interesting facet of the Utsavams was that there were big granite stones to the North of the Eastern Raja Gopuram on which big Pandal was placed during big festive occasions for the Lord would take shelter beneath this at the start of processions.

100 Pillar Mandapam  
The 100 pillared mandapam at the Eastern entrance is probably the best depiction of the architectural greatness of the times gone by with each pillar showcasing the skills of the artisans. In one of the pillars is depicted the fight between Vaali and Sugreeva. A couple of rows way is one of Rama standing in a posture of striking the arrow in the direction of Vaali. What is amazing is that one is able to see the fighters from Rama’s pillar but one is not able to sight Rama from the ‘fighting’ pillar, truly symbolic of the hidden state of Rama in that episode. No pillar has been moved or is out of place to create this hidden state of Rama.

A War Temple – Blocking an Elephant
In those early centuries, this was a war temple. People from the entire region used to take shelter within the temple when the war broke out and the huge temple door at the Eastern Raja Gopuram was shut. The opposition used the elephant force to try to break open the door but failed as the entire door was filled with sharp edged nails that caused the elephant to bleed each time it tried to push the door. 
The outer walls too were built in such a way that local forces could watch the movements of the opposition warriors. The towering Raja Gopuram was also used as a ‘weapon’ to identify the whereabouts of the opposition troupe.

Where the Paddy was ground
Just outside the temple at the Eastern Entrance is the Nellu Kuthu Thirai, an area where paddy was ground and later presented to the Lord. This was also the zone where paddy was stored to serve the entire village during floods, famines and during war time. Unfortunately over the last half a century since the arrival of the HR & CE in its full steam, the paddy inflow into the temple from the lands belonging to the temple has completely stopped both for the Lord and the temple personnel.

Meagre income for the Gurukal
This story is being written on a day when the petition for reasonable salary for priests is coming up in the Madurai High Court, a case filed by the Head Archakar of Rajagopalaswaamy Kulasekara Azhvaar temple in Mannar Koil, just a few kms from Brahmmadesam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/04/mannar-koil-bhattar-priest-salary-case.html). 

The Brahmmadesam temple is no different in this regard. 

Raj Kumar Gurukal joined the temple a decade ago at a monthly salary of Rs. 215 which has since been doubled to Rs. 500. His father N Kulathu Bhattar performed pooja at the temple for over four decades, first at a salary of Rs. 65 per month and then later at Rs. 165.  It has generally been a huge struggle to sustain themselves with the HR and CE citing the lack of income at the temple as a reason for the ridiculously meager salary to the archaka who is now managing the huge temple all alone without any support. 

While there were a dozen people at the temple till the 1980s, he has only the ‘Pala Velai’ person, who himself is paid only Rs. 300 per month, as the only companion at the temple over the last decade.

Unflinching Devotion to the Lord
During his over four decades service at the temple, his father used to bring water from the well each day for abhisekam at each of the Sannidhis. In the early part of the 20th Century, his grandfather Natesa Bhattar would walk all the way to the river to bring water for Abhishekam, such was his devotional commitment.

Revival of the Brahmmotsavam is a distant dream given the current working of the HR & CE though Raj Kumar Bhattar is hopeful he will be able to achieve this in his life time. As a precursor, he has brought back into great shape most of the historical Vahanas that were once used for the Brahmotsavam purapadu.
                 Koorma Aasana - Soma Vaara Mandapam
Repair Works at the temple
It is almost 15years since the previous Kumbabhisekam. There are cracks on the Eastern Raja Gopuram. The ASI has inspected and cleared the repair works to be undertaken to fix the cracks. Several of the beautiful sculptures on the Raja Gopuram need immediate repair works. But as has been with so many ancient temples, the temple is awaiting approval from the HR & CE headquarters. As is happening in several other temples, the inordinate delay in the approval process is creating frustration among donors.

It is easily the biggest temple in the region with three Raja Gopurams and Seven Vimanams. The entire temple is managed by a single archakar who works at a miniscule Rs. 500 a month salary. It is hoped that sometime in the near future, HR & CE will take steps to staff such ancient temples adequately and compensate the archakas and other temple personnel appropriately so they can carry out their duties without the financial worry.

Temple Time
The Temple is open between 730am and 10am in the morning and between 530pm and 730pm in the evening. Contact: Raj Kumar Bhattar @ 94428 94094.

How to reach
Auto from Ambai Bus Stand to the temple will cost Rs. 70. Local town buses every half hour from Ambai Bus Stand. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Thiruvanaikaval Kumbabhisekam 2018

Jambukeswarar Akilandeswari Kumbabhisekam is slated for next Wednesday, the morning of December 12

With the slowdown in Thiruppani approvals by the HR & CE, only part of the repair works have been undertaken at a cost of Rs. 1.1 crores, funded by donors - More than half the work remains unfinished
The first phase of renovation is nearing completion at the legendary Jambukeswarar – Akilandeswari temple at Thiruvanaikaval (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2014/12/thiruvanaikaval-jambukeswarar.html), one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams, where the Lord manifests himself as ‘Water’ (Neer Sthalam). Located on the Northern banks of Cauvery, the temple was the first ‘Maada Koil’ built by Ko Chenganan Chozhan who went on to build 70 more including the Divya Desam at Nachiyar Koil.  The Thevaram Sthalam has been praised by Thiru Gnana Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar and Manikkavachakar.

Only Minor Works Completed
With a stringent approval process laid out by the Madras High Court for renovation of temples, only minor works have been undertaken in this phase. The previous renovation exercise had been undertaken almost two decades ago with the Kumbabhishekam having taken place in 2000.

The towering Gopurams in the East and the West wear a fresh bright look after a new coat of painting. Most of the mandapams and pillars have been water washed. The Jambu Theertham, one of the Nava Theertham, has received a new fencing. 
Revamp of Electrification System after 80 years
Despite its historical nature, the 1000 pillar mandapam, one of the few in TN, had remained a dark zone. As part of this renovation exercise, extensive lighting has been provided at this ancient mandapam that will allow the devotees to explore this special area within the temple complex.

For decades, wires had been hanging dangerously all over the temple. For the first time, in almost 80 years, the entire temple complex has seen a complete revamp of the electrification system with the installation of the duct system.

New Vahanas
New Sesha and Yaanai Vahanas will carry the Lord on the annual Brahmotsavam. A few more vahanas will see repair works in the second phase.

The first phase of renovation has been undertaken at a cost of Rs. 1.1 crores, funded by the donors.

Toilet Complex inside the Temple
The temple had made plans to take the toilets outside the temple complex but the authorities have not found a convenient location around the temple. Thus the relocation plan is on hold for the moment and the toilet will continue to remain inside the temple complex, much to the disappointment of the devotees. 
Renovation Plans for 2019
The renovation leading to the Kumbabhisekam marks only the first part of completion of the repair works. The bigger restoration projects are still pending and works will continue into 2019 after approval from the renovation committee.The huge granary opposite the Akilandeswari Sannidhi remains in a dilapidated condition and repair works are likely to take only next years. Similarly, the Theppa Kulam - Rama Theertham, off the Srirangam road where the Thai Poosam festival is celebrated in a grand way requires refurbishing.  This too requires approval from the HR and CE headquarters.

Plans are afoot to set up a special water treatment plant to redirect the abhisekam water on to the newly planned Nandavanam.
Huge Nandavanam to come up on the Eastern side
The big highlight of the post Kumbabhishekam plan is the conversion of the area either side of the Eastern Raja Gopuram into a huge Nandavanam. Hundreds of saplings will be planted soon after the Kumbabhishekam and within the next few years one is likely to see tall trees comprising of Aththi, Vilvam, Izhuppai, Vaazhai and Naaval, among others, that will provide a refreshing look to the Eastern side of the temple complex.

Kumbabhishekam is slated for December 12 between 6am and 7.15am.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Thiruvanaikaval Othuvar Srinivasan

Let go lucrative offers to sing verses in Praise of the Lord of Thiruvanaikaval

One of a kind Brahmin Othuvar has dedicated his entire life to the presentation of Thevaram Verses seeking liberation from the cycle of births 
41 year old R Srinivasan (Shiva Jagan) is a remarkable Othuvar. A Saama Veda Brahmin by birth, he holds a Masters degree in Chemistry and is a University rank holder. His parents wanted him to take the corporate route to career growth and lead a normal family life but the young man’s mind lay firmly entrenched with the Lord of Thiruvanaikaval for even as a young teenager, his mind had set on the recital of the Thevaram verses as a way of life having imbibed the interest from his uncle.

Two Lucrative Offers immediately after his Masters
Soon after his Master’s degree, he received a lucrative R& D job offer from a firm in Bangalore that entailed a monthly salary of Rs. 1Lakh. He was also offered a college lecturer post that would have been financially rewarding in the long run. He rejected both and began reciting the sacred verses at the Jambukeswarar temple as a devotee.

Born in Thiruverambur, Srinivasan spent his childhood at the RS Krishnan School inside the BHEL complex. His father, V Ramani, worked at the PSU. When he was in class VI, his parents initiated him into Bala Vihar to learn Carnatic Music from Guru Cheran Maha Devi Somayajalu. He used to sing film songs well at that time. Within three years, he had progressed so well that his Guru organized the Arangetram for Srinivasan.

Uncle’s influence on the young mind
His uncle who was deeply into Thirumurai and the Thevaram Verses printed the invitation that had Sundarar’s Verses – ‘Ezh Isaiyai Isai Payanai’- as the headline. It had a big impact on the young boy. His uncle regularly recited Thiru Gnana Sambandar’s 11 verses – Kan Kaattum Muthalaano – in praise of the Lord of Thiruvengadu. His uncle used to also recite Periya Puranam and the teenaged Srinivasan listened to those verses with a great deal of interest. From the sacred verses of the Saint Poets, he realised that the purpose of life was to liberate oneself from rebirth. To that end, one had to dedicate the mind, thought, body and talks in service to the Lord. Thiru Gnana Sambandar in his praise says that for those who believe in the Lord of Thiruvanaikaval, no other security is required in life. This had a positive impact on his life and he began pursuing that as a way of life right from his college days.

He also found from the verses of Appar that one had to take an oath in life to praise the feet of the Lord at every given opportunity.Sundarar has in his praise of the Lord of Thiruvanaikaval says that he bows before those who invoke the Lord here while Thiru Gnana Sambandar says that those who believe in Jambukeswarar and invoke him with unconditional surrender for them there is no security required and will remain protected for ever.
Learning Sundarar’s 1000verses in 10months
He had no formal initiation into the Thevaram verses. Out of the 12 Thirumurais, he was keen to make at least one his own. In 1999, through sheer hard work and perseverance, he learnt over a 1000 verses of Sundarar from the 7th Thirumurai within a period of 10 months. When he was once reciting the verses at the Oonjal Mandapam at Thiruvanaikaval, the temple authorities, impressed with his devotional rendition, asked if he could present the verses as an Othuvar at the Kumbabhishekam that was just coming up in mid 2000. 

Othuvar role for 12years at daily wages of Rs. 50!!!
He happily agreed and has ever since been performing the role of an Othuvar at the Thiruvanaikaval temple. For a dozen years from 2000, he was paid a daily wage of just Rs. 50!!! Only subsequently was he given the official appointment order as an Othuvar by the HR & CE.

As foreseen by his parents, he has remained single for no woman was ready to come forward to marry a Brahmin Othuvar. But he had mentally tuned himself to this way of life right when he decided to let go the tempting R & D offer. Everyone thought that he would go the corporate route to career growth for he was a Brahmin and hence not into traditional service of Othuvars. But he has stayed away from the corporate lure despite being a University rank holder in Chemistry. 

The way of life is showcased beautifully in the verses of the Saint Poets, he says, but we rarely follow it lured towards financial rewards and other monetary desires ‘The verses of the Saint Poets have given me the direction in life. How to invoke the blessings of the Lord and the real definition of a true devotee is contained in these verses. Once you are aware of the purpose of life, what is the use of going after monetary benefits. I have tried my best to follow the verses in my daily life. My only interest in life is to serve Lord selflessly and to gain knowledge through devotional experience.’

He never went after awards but many prestigious ones have come his way in recent years. He has accepted these as God’s gift. 
A full cycle at Thiruvanaikaval
Srinivasan Othuvar, who lives in an agraharam house in Thiruvanaikaval, says that in these two decades it was likely he would have earned a lot of money had he joined the corporate life but no amount of financial reward could have equaled the joy and satisfaction of standing and singing the sacred verses in front of the Lord and Ambal ‘There is an inexpressible feeling of singing with devotion at the Thiruvanaikaval temple. Till my last breath, I want to sing the Thevaram verses.’

He is now looking forward to rendering the sacred verses during the Kumbabhishekam that is coming up over the next fortnight (December 12) for it was the one 18 years ago that provided the platform for him in his journey towards seeking liberation from rebirth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Bhattars Gurukals move away from Temples

NextGen Priests find Greener Pastures in the Corporate World
Prospective Brides say 'No' to those in Temple Service, especially those in traditional attire
The 1960s-80s was one of the most difficult periods for priests and service personnel across temples in Tamil Nadu. The changing political climate in the State and the gaining dominance of the HR and CE spelt death knell for the archaka community. Initially, driven by the land ceiling act, the traditional inhabitants began leaving their ancestral homes in search of jobs in bigger towns and cities, thus reducing the devotee crowd in temples. Much later, the introduction of hundials took away an important component of their income – ‘Thattu Kaasu’ dwindled as devotees were lured to deposit into the Hundis that surfaced at different points within the temple complex. As income dried, the priests began selling their hereditary lands. The then existing Bhattars and Gurukals bore the brunt, silently as they were keen on continuing the hereditary service that their forefathers had performed for centuries. However, the deteriorating scenario took a heavy toll on them.

The outcome of this frustrating life reflected in the way of life of the NextGen. The disgruntled lot of priests from that period ensured that their children focused on academics. The NextGen from the historical Divya Desams and Thevaram Sthalams took to Engineering that had become an attractive option in the State in the 1990s.

Instead of being initiated into the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Thevaram verses and the Vedas, the NextGen spent time trying to understand the nuances of IT.

Friday Review takes a look at a few of them and how their financial struggles in the second half of the 20th century turned their children away from the temples, that their forefathers had served for long, into a life in the corporate world.

Never saw a rupee note at Thiru Mogur
For 42 years, R Ramakrishna Bhattar at the Kaalamegha Perumal Divya Desam in Thiru Mogur has been taking care of the daily aradhana to the Lord. When he joined the service, there was hardly any income as even the annual Brahmotsavam did not see big crowds. The Veda Parayanam and Prabhandham Ghosti had become a thing of the past. 

He did not see a ‘rupee’ note at the temple for a long time. There was no salary as well from the temple as he belonged to Mirasu service. Every day, he would wait in front of the Sannidhi looking for that elusive devotee. Typical of people of those days, he lived within his means and led a contended life.  However, this did not go down well with his family. Consistently during the period, he would hear whispers from other members to his two young sons to not get into temple service as they did not want the NextGen to go through the same financial struggles. This constant initiation of ‘temple service does not help in a secure life’ in the young minds led them to become academically proficient and thus two Vaishnavites who should have had leanings towards Kaalamegha Perumal have been lost to the IT world.

Decades of standing in different Sannidhis each day for long hours have taken a physical toll on Ramakrishna Bhattar, now past 60. The physical strength in his legs is gone, though he continues to perform service to the Lord with the same extreme devotion that he has shown in the decades gone by. However, the not so good news is that his sons have been lost to the temple as a result of what the family had gone through in those decades.
  
Thiru Kannapuram - Even the Pension dues have not been registered
At the Sowri Rajan Perumal Temple in Thiru Kannapuram Divya Desam, 81 year old Koora Kulothama Dasa, a descendent of one of the 74 disciples of Ramanuja and a sthalathar, bemoans that there aren’t enough Brahmins to even carry the dead to the burial ground. He says that during his childhood all the four Mada Vilagams were brimming with Vaishnavites chanting the Divya Prabhandham and the sacred Vedas. There was a devotional fervour around the  temple“Things changed for the worse in the 2nd half of the last century.  In the new political climate, proceeds from the 30 Veli of leased out temple lands came down significantly. This changed the face of temple life. The drop in a huge source of income for the temple led to a negative impact on the entire community at Thiru Kannapuram."
Today there are less than 10 Brahmin families in Thiru Kannapuram, one that was praised as a vibrant location in a 100 verses by Thirumangai Azhwar.

Having joined the temple as an adyapaka in 1955 at a salary of Rs.12, Kulothama Dasa retired 40 years later at a salary of just a few hundreds but his pension dues have not been registered in the last two decades. And there is no answer from the HR & CE. Araiyars too were popular here. Their house still exists but their descendents have stayed away from the traditional art. Once a year, in Maasi, the Araiyar from Srivilliputhur makes his way here to present Araiyar Sevai at the temple, serving as a reminder of its historical past.

Sowri Raja Bhattar, who is considered an expert in agamas and in conducting Samprokshanams, took over as the priest at Thiru Kannapuram at the age of 18, way back in 1968. His forefathers for well over a century had been the Sthaaneegam at the temple. At his peak, he too just received a few hundreds as monthly salary. Running a family was a big challenge and it has largely been a financial struggle throughout the last five decades. His elder son took to Engineering and is now in the financial services space in Chennai, far away from temple service.

Araiyar Sevai for over 50 years without a salary
64 year old Bala Mukundan Araiyar, one of the few remaining Araiyars in Divya Desams, began presenting Araiyar Sevai at the Srivilliputhur Divya Desam well over 50 years ago when he was still a young boy. He has not received a single rupee from the temple. The only time he received any money was from devotees during the Adyayana Utsavam in Margazhi but even that was nothing much to write home about. 
For a major part of his life, he has lived in an old historical house where the roof posed a perpetual threat.  The Araiyars of Srivilliputhur have Kainkaryam at the temple every day of the year. However, for half a century, there has been very little financial support from any one including the Government to support the families of those who are continuing this service. It was this financial frustration that led him as well to get his son to pursue academics, funding his son’s education with high cost loan. The Engineer son is now employed full time at a large private bank in Tuticorin and performs the Araiyar Sevai on the big festive occasions.

12 hours each day in severe heat
The situation is no different at the Thevaram Sthalam at Thiruvanaikaval. 66 year old ST Subramaniam (STS to everyone at the temple) Pandithar has been performing aradhana for Lord Jambukeswarar and Ambal Akilandeswari since the early 1980s. His grandfather and father had performed service at the temple for over 8 decades. He says that the archakas were well respected in those times “Each day of the year, they were presented with food that was rich in quality, and high in quantity.” 
Only after the political change in the 60s and 70s when the anti Brahmnical wave swept the State did the scenario inside the temple take a severe beating. He says that in the centuries gone by, the traditional convention was that any payment from the Kodi Maram to Moolasthanam belonged to the archakas.

The HR & CE placed hundials at key locations to take the devotees’ contributions away from the archakas’ kitty. Even the little Thattu Kaasu moved away to the Hundis.  The Neivedyam for the Lord and Ambal too has come down dramatically in recent decades. Archakas received well below one fourth of what they used to receive half a century ago in terms of daily prasadam. Both the quality and quantity has gone down taking away an important component from the archaka.

Difficulty in Finding Brides
The greatest setback, though, to the archakas in recent times has been the difficulty in finding brides within the community, leaving them in the lurch. Only married men have the archaka rights at the temple. STS says with a tinge of sadness that girls of Thiruvanaikaval are not ready to marry local Brahmins as they do not see the services of archakas as a positive story. This is not a case in a One off Thevaram Sthalam. Similar is the scenario across Divya Desams and Paadal Petra Sthalams in Tamil Nadu. And the difficulty in finding acceptance among prospective brides has been another reason for the nextgen to move away from temple service.

STS’ son learnt sukthas at the nearby Sankara Mutt during his school days. However, having seen all the humiliation that his father had to endure for very little financial returns, his son developed an aberration from an early age. STS had to perform under severe heat and still show patience for 12 hours a day. It was unbearable conditions physically and mentally.  After performing service for almost four decades, his energy is completely drained and has nothing left to fight.

STS’s son like many of his generation decided early on to move away from this service and is now in the IT world in Bangalore in the air conditioned comfort far away from the world of his father who continues to perform service at the temple from 6am in the morning sweating it out showing great amount of patience while facing different kinds of emotions from the devotees, VIPs, Politicians and the HR & CE officials.

The result of the decades of struggle is that in a majority of historical temples one finds a single priest managing multiple sannidhis as well as taking care of the madapalli and thus serving very long hours. Everyone is hopeful that one day the priests and the traditional service personnel will come back to the temple. But that may still be a far way off as the NextGen is now well entrenched in the comforts of the corporate world enjoying the luxuries of a city life that come along with it. For now, an entire generation of priests and service personnel has been lost to the corporate world driven away by the treatment meted out to the previous generation.

( A version of this story featured in The Hindu Friday Review on Nov 23)

Friday, November 23, 2018

RBI Madhavan Leg Spinner

He debuted with an 8 wicket haul in Ranji Trophy but let go a prospective cricket career within a few months of his Ranji Debut as a result of his father’s postal letters!!!

Srikkanth praised him as a great bowler but never stood by him when it came to TN selection in the 1980s 

At 63, into his 47th year in league cricket, Madhavan just landed up yet another five wicket haul in the TNCA league
I was at the Pachaiyappas College ‘B’ ground for the early season clash in the TNCA first division league in 1987. A high profile Alwarpet that included K Srikkanth (just a few months away from the World Cup) took on RBI, a team of well settled bankers. His clash with the leggie of RBI was an eagerly awaited clash on the opening day. Srikkanth did not open the batting and came to bat in the 2nd half of the day. Just 18 months prior, he had smashed an international leggie from Australia all over the park. Hence, the onlookers were keen on how this local leg spinner would handle the star player (those days, crowds thronged wherever Srikkanth played, even if it was just a local league match).

But it was a day that left them disappointed as the leggie got him almost immediately sweeping a big turning leg break into the hands of deep square leg. Later that day, at the tea break, Srikkanth in his typical flamboyant style yelled out in Tamizh at the leg spinner ‘Payithiyam da nee. Moolaiye Illai. Zonal Cricket and India Aadeerkalam. Athai Vittutu, inga vanthu RBI Ku aadeendirukka, finding happiness in getting me out in this match (You are mad with no brains. You could have played for Central Zone and India. Instead you are playing a local league match here)

That’s how Srikkanth addressed S Madhavan after congratulating him on his wicket in front of all those who had gathered around the Indian star that day. Srikkanth felt that it was a big mistake on the part of Madhavan to have quit a Railways job that took way an opportunity to continue to play for them in the Ranji Trophy and to figure in the Zonal team. Well over 30 years ago, Srikkanth had felt that had Madhavan continued with the Railways, he would have given himself a great chance to play for India, for he was amongst the wickets in almost every match with his big turning leg breaks and the googlies.

It was a series of letters that led him to his sudden resignation from ICF to join a rather cricket un-fancied RBI. And that spelt death knell for him in terms of growth in his cricket career. As sudden as this decision was also his transformation, a few years earlier, into a leg spinner.

Humble beginnings at Somasundaram Ground
Madhavan belonged to a middle class family. His father was far away from cricket and did not understand even the basics of the game. As was the case in those days, the ‘order’ was to not spend too much time on the cricket field. A student of RKM North, Madhavan spent the evenings at Somasundaram ground watching the nets organized by ‘YSCA’ Gurumurthy. He was already playing for his school as a wicketkeeper batsman along with NP Sridhar (elder brother of NP Madhavan).

Seeing his height and interest in cricket, Gurumurthy asked the young boy to bowl in the ‘cricket ball nets’ (there was also a younger group that played tennis ball but Madhavan was taken straightaway into the cricket ball nets) alongside TA Sekar.

Accidental move into a leg spinner
One of those days, he struck Gurumurthy twice on the arm with fast paced balls leaving him furious at this school boy. Having to strictly follow the directions to bowl a little slow, Madhavan just tried a leg break from a few steps. The ball pitched and turned square beating Gurumurthy all ends up leaving everyone stunned. And there was no looking back since. A new leg spinner had been born that day, in rather accidental circumstances.

So impressed was Gurumurthy that he included Madhavan in the Rising Stars league team within a few months. That was a big boost for the teenager. During that phase, he played three years in a row for TNCA Colts, a very popular team - comprising of the best of league players- that made an annual outstation trip to another city to play a Colts team from another State.

A pleased father
His performances at Guru Nanak College helped him secure a Quasi Governmental job at Food Corporation of India where he played alongside Ramdayani, Jillu Ramesh and ‘Bond’ Venkatasubramaniam. It was during one of those inter zonal matches at FCI that his father came to know of him as a cricketer. After he taken 6 wickets against the East Zone team of FCI, Madhavan led the team back with the ball held in his hand. His father enquired as to why he was coming ahead of all other players and the reason for holding the ball high and showing to all. It was only then that his father knew that his son was a performer on the cricket field though, unfortunately, that was not going to be enough convincing as Madhavan found out a few years later in his life.

Find of the Season at Alwarpet
In 1977, Alwarpet was looking for a wicket keeper batsman. Scouting for talent, VAP and P Mukund turned up at the Somasundaram Ground and were in for a surprise. Instead of the keeper their eyes fell on a big turning leggie whose every ball landed on the spot. At the official trials at the Union ground, it took just 3 balls at the nets for Satwendar Singh to declare him as the ‘Find of the Season’ for the team.

Extraordinary Ranji Debut this month 37 years ago
Impressive performances for Alwarpet especially in the Buchi Babu Tournament led to ICF offering him a clerical post. ICF was also in the first division in that period and he quit FCI. This move opened an unexpected door for him. While the Ranji squad had already been finalized (without much of a formal selection process – the Railways was a huge national institution and selection of players from across the country was always a tedious process), Railways captain Hyder Ali chanced upon Madhavan in the nets and within minutes of watching him bowl wanted him in his team.

It was 37 years ago this week that he debuted in Ranji Trophy. In the very first innings, he had a 5 wicket haul and ended with 8 wickets on his debut against Vidarbha end of November 1981. In a year that Vidarbha won the Ranji Trophy, Madhavan has pleasant memories of that debut against them “I picked 8 wickets against them in my very first match. My captain Hyder Ali was very impressed with my performance and he had a lot of confidence in my abilities.”

“In fact, that season, when I was sleeping on the floor in a curled way in shivering cold, Hyder came up to me and asked if I had had dinner. When I told him, I had Curd rice, he was red with anger. A bowler has to eat better and he dragged me to a restaurant and got me chappatis. He wanted me to be a match winner and took special care of me” says Madhavan of the way the highly respected figure of Hyder Ali took care of this ‘boy’ from Madras.

An Obedient son lets go a Cricket Career
He followed this with a 4 wicket haul in the very next innings and performed creditably in the Ranji Season. He was in contention for the Central Zone team that played the touring English team in January 1982 and given the English team’s struggle against leg spin that season, was considered a certainty for that match. But a dramatic turn of events completely took even Madhavan by surprise. During the period of his star performances in the Ranji Trophy that season, he received a series of postal letters from his father, who retired later from Caltex India.
The content in each of the hand written letters was rather similar. His father wanted him to return to Madras and join RBI. While he knew his father’s lack of interest in cricket, he just could not understand this approach of his father, especially at a time when he was in his best phase of his cricket career. But like an obedient son he put in his papers with the Railways all of a sudden, in the middle of a great season leaving Hyder Ali stunned.  The Ranji Knock out was to soon follow and he was all excited to bowl to Botham and Co in the tour match end of January 1982. But his enthusiasm was killed in the bud and he returned to Madras.

Within a few days, the cricket life turned gloomy. The decision sounded death knell for his growing cricket career. He was at the peak of his prowess. His father was not convinced about prospects in cricket and wanted him to settle down in a secure ’10 to 5’ Bank job. In those days, RBI was considered a high profile institution as compared to other banks.

From taking on Botham on-field to ‘Net Bowler’ for England
By the time England toured India again 3 years later, life had turned a full cycle for Madhavan. He was now asked by the TNCA to be a net bowler for England on a request by the touring team to improve their skills against leg spin (they had struggled against LS in the first two tests of the series). From a leggie who was all excited to challenge Gatting and Botham ‘on the ground’ a few years ago, he was now a net bowler at Chepauk bowling to the same set of batsmen.

Madhavan remembers that day when even David Gower struggled against his googlies in the nets “The English team asked their manager Norman Gifford to check as to ‘I had in my hand that I was weaving such magic on them in the nets’ as their left handers repeatedly were left stranded by my googlies.”

He continued to play for RBI in the first division league in Madras and kept taking lots of wickets every season. But selection in the TN squad remained elusive. He has picked up 8 wickets in an innings on over 10 occasions  and countless five wicket hauls that took his league teams to victory.

Off Spinner NS Ramesh, who joined RBI exactly a month before Madhavan, was an integral part of the team through the 1980s. He says that it was a delight to watch top ranked batsmen with India credentials struggle against him, most times unable to even read him.

Having seen Madhavan’s spell and worried that the Englishmen would be better prepared against LS at Chepauk, the Indian officials that evening asked Madhavan to bowl short and full tosses the next day so as to not get the Englishmen equipped against leg spin. A furious Madhavan refused and walked out of that as well (England amassed a huge total in that test)!!!

Opposition feared the potent spin combination of Sri Krishna and Madhavan and rarely did they get to play on turners.

Ramesh says that Madhavan was easily much better than all of the current day leg spinners ‘PUT TOGETHER’, such was his class “The selectors simply lacked insight and failed to recognise the brilliance of Madhu.”

‘Bond’ Venkatasubramaniam used to keep wickets in the 70s to Madhavan with a piece of stone place on either side of the pitch. He was the one who encouraged Madhavan to bowl the leggies and googlies on a particular spot. So brilliant was Madhavan and so interesting was he with his variations, that we would continue this model for hours together each day of the year, says Venkatasubramaniam looking back at those days before Madhavan became a first division cricketer.

LS 'Promoted' 
Venkatasubramaniam, who kept to the legendary Venkataraghavan for four years at India Pistons, is vocal on how LS was projected and promoted ahead of Madhavan “Immediately after he returned from a successful Ranji season, the TN selectors completely ignored him for they were focused on promoting LS, despite the fact that LS rarely took big wickets in the local league and subsequently even quit bowling.” 
Did not belong to a ‘Big Club’
The scenario that decade (it hasn’t changed much since) was that it was difficult for players from lower ranked team to figure in state squads. In a TNCA Express one day tournament in the 1980s, there were only 11 players in a particular match (Srikkanth and CS Suresh did not play that match). And yet Madhavan was not included and replaced at the last moment in the playing XI by a player who did not find a place in the original squad and who was even present at the ground at the time of the toss.

A frustrated Madhavan walked out on captain TE (Srinivasan) and reached the bank. CB Selvakumar was shocked to see Madhavan in office when his match was on. It was one of those days when Madhavan felt really insulted at the way things were run “Not belonging to a top corporate team proved to be a clear drawback. But I could do little about it. I sought the support of Shri Somasundaram, the then Sports Secretary to get fair treatment for RBI’s players. He was such a gem of a person. He asked me to just keep performing on the field and get selected based on my performance.”

“While I was angry that morning with the sports secretary for being silent in the wake of such injustice, looking back, I feel really happy that he wanted the performance to speak for each player and not support from clubs and secretaries.”

Srikkanth lets him down
In the final of the Buchi Babu tournament played on a turner at Chepauk, Captain Srikkanth once again overlooked Madhavan, when it would have been ideal to have played him. This despite all his talk of Madhavan being one with potential to play for India. These left a bitter taste on Madhavan.  

TA Sekar, with whom Madhavan bowled at the nets at the Somasundaram ground as a teenager, says that if Madhavan had played for a big team in the first division league, he may have had a better chance to get into the State team. 
In those days, given the batting strength of RBI, it was not always that the bank team bowled twice in a league match, especially against top teams.

ICC Elite Panel Umpire S Ravi who has known Madhavan from the days at Somasundaram Ground and who has seen him very closely says that Madhavan never missed a single practice session and that he would bowl long spells at the nets trying a lot of variations that then reflected during his spells in matches “While both as a person and a cricketer he was always confident and had lot of self belief and should have definitely played higher level, in sports, it is important to be at the right place at the right time. And maybe he was not.”

One of the Best Leggies 
Former Ranji Trophy winning captain S Vasudevan, who was with Alwarpet when Madhavan joined the team in the late 1970s rates him as one of the best leggies he has seen and calls it ‘unfortunate’ that he did not get to play for the state.

It was not a phase when youngsters overruled their parents, especially in matters relating to career. In Madhavan’s case, he simply accepted the directions of his father and quit Railways right in the middle of a successful debut season to join RBI, leaving by the way side his cricket career. With Venkat and Vasudevan still an integral part of the TN team and with LS the rising star of TN cricket and the 'boy' that TNCA backed, it was always going to be an uphill task for Madhavan to breakthrough into the team. He remained hopeful through the decade but the opportunity remained elusive and forever it was a distant dream for Madhavan.

No regrets with RBI
He, however, does not regret taking the ‘father’s call’ to move to RBI. The team had a terrific spin attack and he enjoyed bowling out stronger opposition time and again in the TNCA first division league. He forged great long term friendship with a number of teammates. He has been able to develop his interest in singing and now presents light music concerts.

But when it came to cricket and opportunities in Tamil Nadu, while there was all round appreciation of his talent including from the likes of Srikkanth, when it finally came to the Selection process, they give his name a miss when he was at his peak in the 1980s.

A Five Wicket haul at 63!!!!  Close to 5 decades in the TNCA league
This year marks the 47th year of his non-stop presence in the TNCA league having begun in 1972-73. No player in the history of the league would have played this long with the passion he has displayed over such almost five decades. Aged 63, he recently grabbed the headline with a 5 wicket haul in the league. His hand and shoulder have become weaker with age and the ball is a lot slower in the air but he still manages to produce the big turning leg break and the googly to fox the young batsmen. He continues to turn up at the ground at 8.15 am on the day of the league match much ahead of all other players in the team and bowls with the mind of a young boy wanting to beat the batsman and get his wicket leaving both his own teammates as well as the opposition dumbfounded at his eagerness to take wickets.

It is unlikely he will retire anytime soon and only an age clause can get anyone to keep the red cherry away from Madhavan.