Sunday, October 14, 2018

Kaalayar Koil Kaleeswaarar Temple

Thiru Gnana Sambanadhar praises the Lord of Kaanapper as one who provides peace of mind and happiness to true devotees

The 155 feet Raja Gopuram is one of the tallest in the region 
The 200th Thevaram Sthalam at Kaalayar Koil, praised by Thiru Gnana Sambandhar, Appar and Sundarar, is unique in that there are three Separate Sannidhis for Lord Shiva and Ambal inside the temple complex. It is one of the biggest managed by Sivagangai Rani. The temple tank – Gaja Pushkarani - too is huge and is associated with a legendary tale relating to Indra’s elephant.

Raja Gopuram
While the historical entry to the temple was through the 90 feet Raja Gopuram for Kaleeswarar built by Maara Varma Sundara Pandyan in the 7th Century AD, the current entry point to the temple is through  a more recent 155 feet Raja Gopuram South of the old Gopuram for Someswarar built by Maruthu Pandyan, in the 18th Century.  This again is one of the tallest in the region.

While Kaleeswarar was the original temple at Kalayar Koil, the Sundareswarar temple and the 100 pillared mandapam were later additions and built by Varaguna Pandya. It is at this mandapam that alankaram for the deities, music and dance events and sacred discourses take place.

Gaja Pushkarani and the Float Festival
Legend has it that Airavatham, the famous elephant of Indra, flung a flower garland presented by a rishi, as a result of which he was cursed by which a man’s eyes were not to fall on the elephant. When the elephant came here to Kalayar Koil for liberation from the curse, a man looked at the elephant instantly sending the latter down below in the earth. In the thundering force of breaking through the earth, water gushed out and turned up as ‘Gaja-Theertham’ (referred to popularly as ‘Yaanai- Madu’) at this temple. 
It is believed the Lord Rama had bath at this Theertham to liberate himself from Brahmma Hathi Dosham after defeating Lankan King Ravana.

The float festival is celebrated in Vaikasi at this Pushkarani. There was a period in the previous century when devotees used to go by boat to have darshan of the Lord and Ambal in the middle of the tank. However, there has been no water in the Pushkarani for over a decade now.

Special Path laid for Sundarar
When Saint Poet Sundarar reached the entry point of this temple town after having had darshan of Thiru Meni Nathar at Thiru Chuzhi, he visualised the path leading to the temple as filled with Shiva lingams and wondered as to how he could place his feet on the Lord. Pleased with the devotion, it is believed that the Lord sent his sacred cow (Kaalai) and created the path for Sundarar to make his way to the temple. An invisible voice asked him to walk along the path specially made for him by the cow to reach the temple. In memory of this episode, the temple came to be referred as Kaalayar Koil.

In memory of this episode, every morning, a flower garland initially presented to the Lord at the Golden Palliyarai is then handed to Sundarar. 
Gnana Sambanthar’s Praise
In his praise of the Lord of Kaanapper, Thiru Gnana Sambandhar says that those who invoke the blessings of the Lord offering their sincere prayers will find peace and happiness in life. Historically, this place was referred to as Thiru Kaanapper as is seen from the verses of the Saint Poet. 
Freedom Struggle at Kaalayar Koil
In the first of its kind battle against the British in this region, the then leader of the Sivagangai Samasthanam Muthu Vaduka Naatha Periya Udaya Devar, who ruled here for 22 years between 1750 and 1772 fought out a heroic battle at Kaalayar Koil before being struck down by the bullets of the hidden soldiers. In memory of this battle, the stone sculpture of the brave warrior is seen at the entrance of the temple. 
Vedic School
In the century gone by, there was a popular Vedantham Mutt near the temple. Several scholars graduated from here. This was one of the most vibrant locations for Vedic Education in the state.

50 Vaishnavite families lived in harmony with 200 Dikshithar familes in the first half of the 20th Century in Kalayar Koil. There were around 60 service personnel  to take care of the different functions at this huge temple but this has come down dramatically to just a few in the last few decades.

Three Grand Festivals
Annual Festivals are celebrated in a grand way for each of the three deities with the Chariot Festival on Thai Poosam for Swarna Kaleeswarar, on Vaikasi Visakam for Someswarar and on Aadi Pooram for Swarna Valli Amman.

Quick Facts

Moolavar: Kaleeswarar, Someswarar, Sundareswarar
Ambal    : Swarnavaalli, Soundaranayaki, Meenakshi
Praised by: Thiru Gnana Sambandhar, Thirunavukkarasarar and Sundarar

The temple is open from 6.30am- 12.30pm and 5.30pm - 7.30pm. Contact Rathna Kaleeswaran  @ 70945 12412 / 04575 232516. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Shozhanganallur Gopalakrishnan Temple

84 year old Sethurama Iyengar rides a TVS motorcycle every morning from Killiyanallur to light the lamp and perform pooja but HR & CE has completely ignored this ancient temple that has been lying in dilapidated condition for several decades

Snakes and Bats welcome him inside the dark temple  but his devotion has led him to fearlessly perform pooja

Growth of trees around the Vimana has led to the ancient stone structure falling off 

The Utsava Idol has been in safety locker at the temple in Kodiyalam on the Southern Banks of Cauvery 
It is one of those temples that has not benefited from the recovery that many (temples) have seen in the last two decades and continues to remain in a dilapidated condition in a remote location in the midst of large barren piece of land.

The Centuries old Gopalakrishnan Temple in Shozhanganallur, 5kms North of Sirugambur near Mukkombu is reminiscent of the State of many of the ancient temples in Tamil Nadu in the 1970s and 80s. While many, especially the Azhvaar praised Divya Desams, saw a restoration starting from the 1990s, this one remains completely ignored with the HR & CE paying no attention to the ravaged state of the temple. With restoration in mind, Balalayam was done 50 years ago but the repair works haven’t even started in the five decades that has passed.

84 year old Sethurama Iyengar stays in Killiyanallur (on the Trichy – Namakkal highway) about  10 kms from the temple. His forefathers had performed pooja at this temple for many years in the 20th century. His grandfather walked all the way bare footed from Killiyanallur in the hot sun to perform pooja at this temple. There was a Madapalli too in those decades that was fully functional. ‘Amuthu Parai’ stands as proof. 
In the later part of the 20th Century, the temple found no takers and remained in a locked condition for several years till finally the Villagers joined hands and approached Sethurama Iyengar to take care of the temple.  Over two decades ago, he re-opened the temple and has been performing pooja every day since.

Notwithstanding his old age, he starts his TVS XL motor cycle (gifted to him by his son!!) and rides through the pit filled road via Sirugambur to reach the temple every morning to light the lamp.
The Hissing of the Snake
Similar to what happened in many temples ( in the dark days of the 70s and 80s, Sethurama Iyengar enters the temple cautiously watching out for snakes that have lay crawled in one of the corners. Every morning, he has to undergo this trauma. He says that there were times when the snake would hiss when he entered. For a while he has not heard that hiss but is always worried that it might turn up one morning in that dark little sannidhi. There are bats as well. It is truly scary to enter the temple even during the day.

His daily route includes lighting the lamp and presenting an arathi to Lord Gopalakrishnan. If there are devotees coming the way of the temple, he stays back to help them with the darshan of the Moolavar Lord and the Azhvaars. Else, he returns carefully maneuvering the two wheeler through pits along the muddy road to Sirugambur.

The Sacred Well
There was a sacred well  too inside the temple complex but that too has remained untouched for decades with plants growing thick around the inner walls.
As seen in the story on Uthamar Seeli (, the processional deity here too has been kept far away in 'safe custody' at the Perumal Temple Kodiyalam for several decades. The Moolavar deity, Gopalakrishnan, looks handsome but has been left alone in this remote village in the company of snakes and bats. 

Even during his grand father's time at the time, he says, the Lord of Shozhanganallur used to send an annual gift to Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam. The service personnel at this temple used to carry the gift on a long 20km trip, with a couple of the personnel holding the Theevatti in the front to light the path. But that too has become a thing of the past.

Dilapidated State
The temple is currently in a badly damaged condition now. The path leading to the temple is full of thorns. Every devotee who enters the village is welcomed with the same message “Will the temple finally see the light.” The villagers point out that the talk of renovation and restoration of the temple has been going on for several years and that they don’t believe this story any longer. The prakaram is full of sharp stones and it is unlikely anyone can escape a bleeding of the feet.

The roof is in danger of falling any time. The outer wall is broken. The entrance to the temple is bereft of any wall- it is already gone. Utsavams have not taken place for several decades, with the processional idol at Kodiyalam temple on the Southern banks of Cauvery. The Vimana is surrounded by a thick growth of trees that has caused damaged to the ancient stone structure, one that is now falling off .
There is even talk of ASI taking over this heritage structure.

The temple is administered by the HR & CE but as is the case with ‘revenue-less’ temples, the department is not too eager to undertake any repair works.  The Villagers are hoping that some enlightened soul will turn up one day and restore this small temple. 

Sethurama Iyengar @ 97875 72556 is readily available through the day to take the 10 km ride to showcase the state of the temple to any interested devotee.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Uthamar Seeli Venugopalan Temple

Will processions be revived at this historical Chozha period temple now administered by the HR & CE

The handsome Utsavar Idol has been in lock and key at the Jambukeswarar Temple in Thiruvanaikaval for Several Decades – The last horse vahana purapadu took place way back in 1956 a few year prior to the huge floods in the Cauvery

Efforts to conduct a Garuda Sevai this year failed, with the HR & CE refusing to release the Utsava Deity in the current heated environment 
It is an ancient temple but forgotten for all accounts by the HR & CE who are playing it safe. Four decades ago, the road from Srirangam to Koviladi via Kallanai along the banks of the Cauvery was a dark narrow stretch with no street lights along the 25km path. The  road was full of pits right through to Appakudathan despite this serving as the shortest route to Kumbakonam from Srirangam via Thiruvayaru. The most popular temple on this route was the Appakudathan Divya Desam (, 10kms West of Kallanai, but that too lay in complete darkness for a long period of time.

Even as one passed Thiruvanaikaval on to the Kallanai Road, one found greenery all around on the Northern side with the Cauvery running along the Southern stretch.

Rarely did devotees stop by for any temple on this route till they reached the Appakudathan Divya Desam in Koviladi ( One of the ancient temples that got the slip each time was the Venugopalan Temple in Uthamar Seeli, a few kms East of Kallanai.

However, this entire stretch from Srirangam to Koviladi has seen a dramatic infrastructure improvement in recent times. Street lights now glow bright through the 25 km route along the Cauvery banks and the road has been widened beyond one's imagination.

Uthamar Seeli and the worst floods in half a century
Just over 50 years ago, when the Srirangam belt saw its worst floods in almost 75years, it was this village of Uthamar Seeli that bore the brunt, for the excess water from the Cauvery was let out into this village to prevent flooding along the banks on this stretch. Thankfully the large temple believed to have been constructed in the grand old period of the Chozhaz remained strong and safe.

Muslim Invasion and the Uthamar Seeli Temple
Seven Centuries ago, when the Muslim invaded this region and the Srirangam temple was affected, this temple too felt an impact. The Moolavar idol dating back to that period was damaged but was protected. To this day, one finds within the temple complex that ancient idol with a broken hand.

The Handsome Standing Posture
The handsome Venugopalan, seen in a tall standing posture is playing the flute flanked by Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi Thaayar. There is a separate sannidhi for Aravinda Nayaki Thayar. Within the surprisingly huge temple complex, one finds a beautiful nandavanam with tall trees forming part of the outside prakaram, leaving devotees surprised at the existence of such a large temple on the banks of the Cauvery, near Srirangam (

No Procession in 60 years
The beautiful utsavar deity of Venugopalan has been placed in security at the Jambukeswarar temple in Thiruvanaikaval ( Efforts were made to secure release of the processional deity for a Garuda Sevai this year but given the issues relating to theft of idols across HR & CE administered temples the department refuse to release the idol from their custody, leaving the devotees to wonder the purpose behind having a processional idol when an ancient temple is not able to conduct utsavams and street processions for them to have darshan. 
The temple comes under the administration of Uthamar Koil Divya Desam (

Three Generations of Service but at no Salary from the HR & CE
The Parijarakar, who also doubles up as the Bhattar, has been here for three generations with his father and grandfather too having donned the role at this temple. The villagers are hopeful that in the current environment where one is seeing a devotional wave across temples in Tamil Nadu the historical utsavams will be revived at this temple by the HR & CE.

It is the same story relating to the salary of the priest as well. For decades, the priest/parijaraka has not been any salary by the HR & CE that is worth mentioning. Over the last 10 years, devotees have come together to contribute a reasonable amount for his daily survival and that is how this temple has seen at least some maintenance on a daily basis.

Previous Horse Vahana Purapadu in 1956
Prior to the huge floods in the early 1960s, Horse Vahana Purapadu was a regular feature at this temple in Chitrai, with devotees from all the nearby villages up to Kallanai gathering here to witness Lord Venugopalan on the Horse Vahana. The last of this procession took place in 1956. For the last 60 years, the HR & CE have consistently refused to release the utsava deity on the pretext of safety issues at the temple. The Horse Vahana, with a broken front leg, is still seen inside the temple complex. 
The general view is that it is pointless to have a processional deity locked up 15kms away in another temple thus preventing processions of the Lord both inside the temple and outside. Devotees were keen to revive the procession on the occasion of Krishna Jayanthi this year but that too died down without hope for the same reason.

Once in a while, Thirumanjanam takes place for the Lord but that is all there is at the moment in terms of celebrating the Lord with the current generation of devotees not having seen the Utsava deity at all at this temple.

The Utsava Deity should remain at the same temple
It is this attitude of the HR & CE that prompted Narasimha Gopalan Acharya of Mannar Koil, near Ambasamudram to file a case in the High Court asking for the respective temples to house the Utsava deity in its own complex as against HR & CE’s practice of keeping it locked far away in a more popular temple, thus preventing processions that are sacred to a temple’s annual exercise. 
Time will tell if the HR & CE officials at Uthamar Koil (, where the annual Tri Murthy Utsavam takes place in Karthigai with a grand purapadu, will release the Utsava Idol and house it back at Uthamar Seeli that will allow for the first procession of the Lord in over 60 years.

One will have to wait and watch.

The temple is open between 730am and 12noon and between 4pm and 7pm. Contact Sridhar Bhattar @ 97502 52299.

Uthamar Seeli is about 10kms from West of Thiruvanaikaval on the Northern banks of Cauvery along the Kallanai Road. Buses ply frequently between Chatiram bus stand and Kallanai.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pazhur Patshala Revival

30 year old Neelakantan rejects lucrative offers, moves to the once renowned Pazhur Patshala, aims to create students as 'iconic' examples in Dharma Sastras

He has created a corpus of 2100 books on Sastras using OCR technology
A young 30 year old has just begun a long journey in his quest to protect the Sastras. R Neelakantan has quit a high paying job at a Vedic Patshala in Madras and moved to Pazhur, a remote town on the Western outskirts of Tiruchirapalli in an effort to revive the once renowned Patshala.

Not so much in the distant past, the entire town of Pazhur was filled with Vedic Vidwans and the streets reverberated with Vedic recital. For almost half a century, the patshala in Pazhur ranked among the best in the State. Angarai V Krishna Ganapadigal served there as a teacher for 45years and produced several eminent Vedic scholars. His son, popularly referred to as Matunga Ganesh Vadhyar, is said to be the Number One Vedic Teacher in Bombay.

Just under a century ago Ramachandra Iyer, the then collector of Karur, with an intention to protect Vedantham created a Vedic Patshala in Pazhur. He created a trust, allocated lands in the town and directed that the income from the lands be handed over to the Vedic Trust to run the Patshala. The Trust still owns 4 houses in Pazhur.
This was one of the only three renowned Brahmin run Patshalas in the State, the others being the ones in Thiruvidaimaruthur and Manakkal, near Tiruvarur, that consistently doled our Vedic Scholars in good numbers. 

Quality of Pazhur Patshala
The story goes that the Chettiar Patshalas that were in dominance in Tamil Nadu would not accept any break away students from the Pazhur Patshala. The view was that those who could not survive Pazhur were unlikely to survive elsewhere such was the parental guidance of the Acharyas at Pazhur.

It was one of the few Patshalas in the previous century that combined both Vedas and Sastras. However since the 1980s, the Patshala saw a downturn coinciding with the trend of the traditionalists moving away into full time academics.

Neelakantan, who belongs to the fifth generation of Vedic Scholars, has set out on an onerous task of reviving the century old patshala. He studied only till class 2 in a formal school and moved to the Raja Patshala in Kumbakonam for Vedic Education at the age of seven. Later he completed class X, Class XII and MA through the Open University Model (NIOS).  After 8 years at the Raja Patshala, he learnt Sanskrit from Mullai Vasal Krishnamurthi Sastrigal.

Neelakantan then moved to Pune where for 5 years he was under President awardee Devadutta Gannda Patil. He learnt Nyaya Sastras and Meemaamsa Sastras at the Sanskrit College in Madras.

After his five year initiation at Pune, he became a guest lecturer at Venkateswara Vedic University in Tirupathi. Over the last three years, he taught Sastras at Jagath Guru Vidya Bhavan, Ambattur. However, he was keen to move away to a traditional location away from the distractions of a city life.

The wife's supportive role
He was already earning a high salary in Madras  and his friends and relatives warned him about the likely lifestyle changes in a remote location such as Pazhur, and discouraged him from the move. But Neelakantan was not to be undone by such comments. His young wife, much against the current trend has supported him in his decision and happily moved to Pazhur in June this year with their two daughters. His wife also doubles up as a full time cook for the entire bunch of students at the Patshala. For the last four months, she has been waking up early morning and taking care of the entire requirements of the students including cooking for all them, in addition to taking care of her two young daughters. Neelakantan has already undertaken an oath that he will get his two daughters married only to Vaideehas, so this tradition continues.

Besides being a full time Guru at the Pazhur Patshala, he also teaches at the Madhwa Patshala in Srirangam and at the Sankara Mutt Patshala in Thiruvanaikaval. His brothers, Vyakarana Ratnam Manikanda Ganapadigal and Nyaya Ratnam Veda Vachaspathy Brahmashree Subramanya Ganapadigal run the Patshala in Thiruvanaikaval and support him at the Pazhur Patshala as guest lecturers.

Gurukulam Model
He has clear views on how a Patshala should be run in the current scenario “Each student has different capabilities and interest. The absorption ability too is different for each of the students. One has to understand this."

Keeping this in mind, he has devised a customized model that takes into account the capabilities of each student. He says that such customization is not possible in universities or in large institutions and is a viable option only in a Gurukulam model of education.”

Neelakantan talks personally each day to each of his students in an effort to create and sustain their interest in Vedas and Sastras. And the result, even at this very early stage, is there to see. The students seem to have bonded really well with the Guru and are seen with him all the time discussing very issues relating to the Vedas and Sastras. It is a vibrant environment at the Patshala and there is chanting all through the day. 

Neelakantan conducts a surprise inspection at 3pm with one of his students to see where he has reached that day. And tells him in a friendly tone that he will do another re-check later in the evening on the progress made.  That's truly inspiring for any student, for a Guru to pay such personalised attention through the day. 

Shortage of Experts on Sastras
There are serious issues relating to protection of Vedas and Sastras. He bemoans the fact that in the last few decades only five students have completed both Vedas and Sastras in the entire State. In the century gone by, when there were doubts on Sastras, there were real experts who would come out and clarify. Currently, if there are serious doubts on any issues relating to the 18 Puranas, there is none to look up to. There are no experts on Dharmas Sastras.

At the Thiruvanaikaval Patshala, in the last 35 years, prior to its revival in 2012, only two students had appeared for the Vedic Examination. Since the time his brothers took charge of the Patshala in 2012, 8 students have already presented the examination, a dramatic transformation indeed. 

Neelakantan's focus at the Pazhur Patshala is primarily on Sastras, with an eye on developing the analytical ability of the students. He encourages his students to debate on issues relating to the Sastras. As one watches him from a corner at the Pazhur Patshala, one can sense the great relationship that he has forged with his students. Each of them is seen listening to him with great interest. A couple of them are seen engaged in a heated debate with the teacher on issues relating to Ekadasi and Dwadasi and the process to be followed on these days by Vaishnavites, Saivites and others.

He has been practicing Dharma Sastras for the last 6 years.

Using Technology to Protect Sastras
From a young age, Neelakantan was interested in technology and took an oath to protect the Sastras through effective use of technology. He has been constantly exploring ways to use technology to improve the traditional way of life and as a tool in everyday life to protect our Sastras.

As the first step in this direction, he sourced an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) for Sanskrit from Germany and has created an offline corpus that now includes 2100 Sanskrit books with indepth insights into our Sastras. Within a few minutes, he can now get reference to any content from these 2100 books which was hitherto not possible. It is to be remembered that Dharma Sastras require proof to be told for every query unlike the Vedas which focuses purely on recital.

On the anvil is an exclusive Vaideeha magazine to support the Vaideehas across the country. He has created an online Vaideeha group comprising of 130 people across TN to exchange thoughts on Sastras.

Just a Book Keeper of Sastras
Neelakantan exhibits great sense of modesty for his age. His phone does not stop ringing as I sit near him through the day. Many Vaideehas from across the country seek free solutions from him as an expert on critical issues relating to Dharma Sastras. They take forward his solutions with their customers and make money out of it. But Neelakantan remains unflustered for he sees himself as just a book keeper who God has assigned to protect and safe guard the Dharma Sastras. He is happy doing that irrespective of the financial challenges he faces now after the move to a remote location such as Pazhur.

Rejecting Lucrative Offers
Lucrative offers came his way from across TN as is the trend these days (the immediate rush to capture those that are good) but he has resisted the temptation to go after money. While monetary compensation is important, he believes that doing good, teaching and passing our historical traditions to others are just as important. Spreading knowledge is ultimately good. Everything reduces after you have given, but his knowledge seems to grow after every such conversation and dissemination, is his view.

He is keen to stay put at Pazhur and churn out a bunch of students who are well versed in both Vedas and Sastras. Currently he finds them sitting in two unaligned corners. His ultimate goal is to bring the two together and is hoping that he will be able to take some steps in this direction in the next 10 years. He is looking to develop the students at the once renowned Pazhur Pathshala as iconic examples in Sastras.

As is the case with such stories, the financial remuneration to him is very minimal. The physical pressure on the wife is very high, having to cook for the entire bunch of students, day in day out. There is little financial incentive or premium attached to a young scholar who has chosen to create the NextGen after rejecting other lucrative offers away from teaching. 

But Neelakantan is unmindful of these challenges and is determined to help protect the Sastras.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Rajapathy Nava Kailayam

A Huge Modern Kailasanathar Temple has been constructed at the original location of this Nava Kailayam Sthalam

The historical temple was washed away Centuries ago in the floods that struck Tamaraibarani
13 day Brahmotsavam in Chitrai, Street Procession through the month of Margazhi

Work is under way to construct the tallest Raja Gopuram in the region

A few centuries ago, the floods in the Tamaraibarani that had destroyed the Sepparai Temple near Srivaikuntam also brought to ground the Kailasanathar temple in Rajapathy, the 8th among the Nava Kailayam temples. Nothing was left except a small symbolic stone, depicting the presence of the temple, 4 kms East of Thenthiruperai  Nava Kailaya Sthalam (

For centuries the temple had remained in ruins. A decade ago the devotees came together to rebuild the temple, from scratch with large sannidhis for Kailasanathar and Soundarya Nayaki. Today, what one finds is a truly modern temple positioned to the devotees as ‘Then Kalahasti’!!!

Everything about the temple is grand from the flooring to the prakaram, symbolic of modern construction. A seven Tier 150 feet high Raja Gopuram, the tallest in the region, is under construction and is likely to be completed next year. Work is also on to complete the idols for the 63 Nayanmars and the 4 Saint Poets.

The legend relating to Nava Kailayam has it that Romasa Rishi, the disciple of Agastya, went to his preceptor who was performing penance at the Pothigai Hills seeking Mukthi. Agastya picked up 9 Lotus buds from his Kamandalam and let them down. He asked Romasa Rishi to install a Shiva Lingam at each of the places where this bud rests and to invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva at each of those places.  The 8th among those came to a halt here at Rajapathy on the banks of Tamaraibarani. 
The annual Brahmotsavam has been revived with a 13 day utsavam in Chitrai.

Monthly utsavams too have been started including Aani Magam Utsavam, Aani Uthiram Utsavam and Natarajar Abhishekam. 

Street procession of the Lord through the entire month of Margazhi too has been revived. Classes educating devotees on Saivite Siddhantham are conducted on all the days of Margazhi.

The temple is open between 7am-12noon and 4pm-8pm. Contact C Lakshmana Sivachariyar @ 97873 82258.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Srirangam Prasadam Stall

HR & CE has converted ‘Food’ into a lucrative business inside the temple complex

Food Counter auctioned for around Rs. 1crore at the Srirangam temple, that’s a mind boggling Rs. 30000 a day
At the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram, the auctioned Food Stall this year has fetched the HR & CE Rs. 65 Lakhs 

Food made outside the Madapalli and not presented to the Lord is wrongfully sold as ‘Prasadam’

Till the 1970s, devotee crowd was minimal and restricted to the respective local town. The devotees looked for Theertham and Shatari in Vaishnavite Temples as the blessing from the Lord. At the Saivite temple, sacred ash and kungumam were considered as the blessing for the day. The food presented to the Lord was distributed amongst the devotees present based on the quantity available.

It has been historical tradition and belief that prasadam of the God is to be consumed in minimal quantity and devotees typically shared even this minimal quantity handed to them with other devotees who missed out.

But like so many other twists that have happened inside temple in recent decades, the concept of prasadam and the way it has been positioned and now viewed too has undergone a dramatic change. The new wave of devotion that has struck devotees has seen them buy food from the so called prasadam stalls. It may have nothing to do with the historical concept of prasadam and how it is to be consumed. The new set of devotees – and they are in huge majority- is comfortable buying and eating food inside the temple. In most case, a temple trip is incomplete without the consumption of the now popular delicacies of the respective temple.

The Srirangam Temple
Till the 1970s, paniyaram at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam was presented to the Lord and brought to Sri Pandaram, where it was sold to devotees. It was on a very small scale. The traditionalists who understood the process waited near the flag post at the Ariya Bhattal Vaasal and picked up the real ‘hot’ prasadam.
It was a period when Trustees held a strangle hold on the temple and its functioning. The trustees ensured that the temple activities were performed in an orderly manner. HR & CE played less of a role.

However, with HR and CE gaining dominance in the 1970s and in the subsequent decades, things began to turn hugely commercial. The focus shifted to generating revenue out of the open spaces in the temple. Out of nowhere, a small 200 feet space opposite the Garuda Sannidhi was converted to a food counter disguised as a Prasadam stall.

But even the HR and CE would not have visualized the potential of this new revenue model, one that was to turn into a big money spinner for them across the large temples in Tamil Nadu. 
Prasadam - The Food presented to God?
Prasadam is food made at the Madapalli in a pious way and presented to the Lord / Thayar/Ambal and distributed to the devotees in small quantity. It is not something that is to be ‘sold’ for a price.

However, in the new few decades old model, food is made far away from the Madapalli and is even brought in many temples from outside the temple complex.  It is also food and snacks prepared by non-traditional people. And yet the foolhardy devotees have fallen for the ‘devotional quotient’, for the HR & CE sold this as ‘Prasadam’, the sacred food of the Lord when there was very little element of sacredness about the food.

As decades passed by, the value of the stall went through the roof. Driven by the physical hunger (after having been inside the temple for a couple of hours) and a belief that they were consuming Godly food within the temple, devotees queued by in large numbers through the day to pick up different varieties that was on offer at the food counter.

Delicious Menu on Offer
The menu on offer had a luring element to it, so as to entice the devotees into believing that this was from the God. And the devotees fell for it, the young and old, the modern and the traditionalist. Laddu, Athirasam, Chakkarai Pongal, ‘Mysore’ Paakku and Puliyotharai gave devotees the feel that it was Prasadam. Little did they know that this was food that was neither made at the Madapalli nor presented to the Lord. 
From the Past - The Unofficial Kitchen at the Srirangam Temple

Demand drives Combo Offers
Encouraged by the huge demand, the food stall put together combo offers which included a variety of snacks packed in a cotton bag that devotees took back home. Sales sky rocketed and the HR and CE cashed in heavily on this opportunity to bolster its income from the temple. The annual price (that the franchise had to pay the HR & CE) of the small food stall is said to have gone up to a mind boggling Rs. 1 crore, amounting to roughly Rs. 28000 a day. It had now become a full fledged business inside the temple. Give this huge tender price, one can imagine the sales that one has to generate each day to recover this money and run as a profitable business.
Over a 3-4 decade period, HR and CE, across all temples in Tamil Nadu, coined the vulgar title of ‘Prasadam’ stall misguiding devotees to consume outside made eateries as the Lord’s Prasadam.

One of the Sthalathars of the Srirangam Temple was a little more forgiving. "When devotees now enter the temple, their mind is on the food / prasadam. The food made at the madapalli is just not enough to distribute to the devotees. It is better to eat something inside the temple complex than consuming food  in a restaurant outside, though I am not fully defending what is happening inside the temple."

When Chairman, Board of Trustees Venu Srinivasan tried to shift the older and the smaller of the stalls from the Sri Pandaram, as part of the temple restoration exercise, he faced stiff resistance on the grounds that he was hitting at the very survival of a Sri Vaishnavite family.

To shift the more recently and just a few decades old official food stall of the temple will be an onerous task if not near impossible for it generates huge revenue for the HR & CE.
One of the members of the Temple Worshippers Society filed a case against the sale of food at the Chidambaram temple. 

Prasadam is to be distributed, 'Not Sold'
Temple Activist TR Ramesh, who played a significant role in securing the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple back for the Dikshithars a few years back, refers to an ancient verse relating to the temple that food is to be 'distributed'. He is not happy that food, even though prepared at the Madapalli, is ‘sold’ for a price. 
At the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram, the auctioned Food Stall this year has fetched the HR & CE Rs. 65 Lakhs. There too, the food and snacks are prepared outside of the madapalli. 

First the Devotional Wave, Now the Food Wave
Wrongs over several decades have now been formalized as the rights of the temple and have become part and parcel of the system, misguiding the devotee in the process. A long distance has been travelled since the 1970s and it will require a herculean effort to undo the wrongs that have now come to be part of everyday life at the temples in Tamil Nadu. 

The devotees, on their part, can resist from ‘buying’ and consuming food wrongfully sold in the name of Prasadam. However, it seems that it does not matter to the devotee anymore as the taste buds have succumbed and given way to temptations even inside the temple, a place where God expects devotees to ‘Give-Up’. And it is this temptation that HR and CE has cashed on, in a vulgar way. They have understood the mood and requirement of a devotee after darshan and have catered to that need. 

Delicious food, call it by what name, is difficult to resist for the normal human mind even in a sacred zone like the temple complex. Chakkarai Pongal at the Parthasarathy Temple in Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam, Panchamirtham at the Murugan temple in Palani and Athirasaram at Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple are all made outside of the madapalli through auctioned contracts.

Devotees are now well entrenched in a cycle that ends with consumption of food from the official stall outsourced by the HR & CE. They are happy to ignore the truth that there is no sacred element to the food. Just like the new devotional wave that swept the state over the last decade and a half, the food wave inside the temple is unlikely to subside anytime soon.