Friday, August 26, 2016

Krishnaswamy V

The TN opener from the 1970s who mentored several youngsters at IOB 
In the mid 90s, Kerala Ranji player KN Ananthapadmanabhan refused a four-fold increase in salary to move from IOB to India Cements. VB Chandrasekar, the then captain of India Cements, called in Ananthapadmanabhan to his house for a discussion but that meeting lasted just a minute.  Anantha told VB that  the love and care (at IOB) was extraordinary, it was like a family team and that he would not move for the lure of money.’ No amount of financial motivation could lure the leggie away from IOB.

That is  V Krishnaswamy (Kichcha to his friends) for you. The TN state opener from the 1970s had moved away from all cricketing activities to focus on a professional career at IOB in the early 1980s. And yet, from far away, he followed IOB cricket and took care of each of the cricket players like one of his own family. 

Just a year prior to Ananthapadmanabhan refusing this lucrative offer, it was Krishnaswamy who was instrumental in roping in Ananthapadmanabhan from a star studded Chemplast to IOB. Completely trusting Krishnaswamy, the then 23 year old leggie quit the job at Chemplast and remained without a job for almost 6 months while Krishnaswamy was convincing his management that Anatha was indeed a good long term pick for the team.

15years earlier, it was the same trust that had led collegiate cricketer NP Madhavan to choose IOB ahead of several other corporate offers and much stronger banks like SBI and RBI.

Bowl from 18 yards, please
B Kalyanasundaram (, the great fast bowler from the 60s and 70s, says that Kichcha once asked him to bowl from 18 yards in the nets. There were no helmets in those days and most of the league matches were on matting wickets. This showed the fearless side to his character and his keenness to gear up to the best of challenges. 

Aside of his fearless style of cricket, Kalli says that Kichcha was one of the most honest cricketers he had seen. ‘You could trust him completely and he personally took delight in seeing others succeed.’

The Early days in the 1960s
Krishnaswamy had no fear of fast bowling right from his days at PS high school in the late 60s. Before he had turned 15, he started scoring heavily in the third division league playing for CUC.  The very first year for the State schools was an outstanding one for Krishnaswamy and the amount of runs he accumulated earned him a place in the South Zone squad. He captained the state schools the next year and narrowly missed the flight to Australia with the India Schools team, one that comprised of Brijesh Patel and Karsan Ghavri, among others.

Huge Influence on his cricket
The one and a half month coaching camp organized by TNCA in the summer of 1969 under the stewardship of MJ Venkatesan made a huge impact on Krishnaswamy. Thanks to Venkatesan, he learnt the art of playing all around the wicket. Venkatesan would throw cricket balls at Krishnaswamy and get him to play a wide range of strokes both off the front and back foot on both sides of the wicket.

In 69-70, the year he joined Vivekananda College, he signed up for Bunts (in the first division), a team that provided him with the big early encouragement that is so critical for a teenager. The then captain KSS Mani had a lot of faith in Krishnaswamy and liked his fearless style of play. That season playing against a strong SBI side that included VV Kumar at his best, Krishnaswamy scored a fighting century. And then under the captaincy of his cousin S Venkataraghavan, he made a stroke filled 90 for TNCA XI against Jolly Rovers in the Buchi Babu final, a knock that earned him a place in the Ranji Trophy squad at the age of 17.

He was very consistent throughout his college days scoring several centuries during that phase. He also scored heavily for the Madras University including a stand out knock of 140 in a match where Sundaresan scored a double hundred. He followed that knock with a 90 against Bangalore University at Dharwar. It was the first of many big knocks against Karnataka who turned out to be his favourite opposition in the 1970s.

Ranji Debut @ 17
He made his Ranji debut in November 1970 against Kerala at Tellichery. The following year Madras University won the South Zone championship under his captaincy. Unfortunately, he had to miss the two most talked about matches in TN cricketing history – the Semi Final and Final in the 72-73 season (his university exams coincided with those two matches).

Soon after he completed his graduation, IOB offered him a job that Krishnaswamy took up with no second thoughts, even though he had offers from corporate giants SPIC and TVS as he felt that the bank offered better long term career prospects for him. He played for a decade for IOB and mentored many players during this period. 

The best match of his life
In January 1975, Krishnaswamy played the best match of his career, one that TN lost to unfancied AP by just one run. The loss still hurts him when he is reminded of that match. He was involved in a big partnership with TE Srinivasan in the low 4th innings chase but his dismissal triggered a collapse.

Best year in Cricket – Crucial knocks against Bedi/Shivalkar/Chandra
Margazhi of 1975-76 turned out to be his best month in first class cricket. In the Ranji match, he top scored against Hyderabad. A week later, on a turning pitch at Chepauk end of December 1975, he scored a top class half century against Bishen Bedi and Rajender Goel in the final of the Duleep Trophy that South Zone won.
A few days later, he scored another half century, this time against West Zone in the Deodhar Trophy Final and followed this in a couple of days with yet another 80 against Chandra and Prasanna, the fourth year in succession that he enjoyed success against Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy. He was in the Rest of India squad for the Irani Trophy match against Bombay in Delhi in 1976 but narrowly missed making it into the XI. That was the closest he came to national reckoning.

A wedding gift to his wife - His first Ranji century
Towards the end of his Ranji career, Krishnaswamy scored his first and only Ranji century in Coimbatore. It was a special match for Andhra was bowled out for just 29 runs. Krishnaswamy had just got married to his long time girl friend Radha and it seemed that he had decided to hand her a special wedding gift as he came up with a terrific century. In the process, he also put on a century stand with his opening partner for almost a decade V Sivaramakrishnan. He saw a future in banking and quit cricket before he turned 30.
Sivaramakrishnan has fond memories of their decade long association on the cricket field ‘Kichcha was immensely talented. I remember the year when he struck century after century for the college. He would simply dominate the bowling. In a match against Pachaiyappas College, playing normal cricketing shots the two of us put together a century stand in just 10 overs which was a rare occurrence in those days. His cover drive was a treat to watch and he was an excellent fielder in the cover region. I learnt a lot just by watching his game. He was a very meticulous person, had a systematic approach to the game and was a supremely confident person.’

Cousin Venkat and Krishnaswamy
In TN, it has always seemed that ‘we’ spoke more than warranted. In those years, there was a lot of gossip that went around including ‘stories’ on cousin Venkat playing a role in his selection. Venkat was his cousin and elder to him by almost 10 years. Krishnaswamy clears the air on this. 

He says that they had a cordial relationship but rarely discussed cricket at home so much so that Krishnaswamy has not even discussed the infamous knock of 36 NO by Gavaskar in 60 overs in the inaugural world cup in 1975 under Venkat’s captaincy, this even after 40 years. He says that much against the popular perception, Venkat was always well intended. He never carried grudges. He almost never cribbed. ‘To me, he has never said a bad thing about any player. On the field his expectations were high and he would let know his feelings in a very expressive way.  But he never spoiled anybody’s career.’

The ‘Sporting’ Love Story
It was December of 1972 and Krishnaswamy had just taken off his pads after his 15 minute batting stint in the University camp nets when his eyes fell on the star athlete, Radha, who was training at the Union ground. And they instantly hit it off so much so that she even trained him on fitness and weight training at the Rajaratnam stadium in the 1970s and was a regular at the Ranji matches that he played!!!
Well over four decades later, both of them past 60, still remain fitness fanatics. She still runs a full Marathon (42 kms) and takes part in leading marathons across the country. She has been a fitness trainer for the TN women’s cricket team for the last three years. Previously, she has been a fitness trainer for the Bombay U19 women’s team and currently trains marathon runners. At 63, Krishnaswamy is a regular at the gym at MCC and does a 2 hour fitness training session every day. No wonder he looks fit and strong.

A century soon after a serious Skull Injury
Kichcha with NP Madhavan, M Santosh Kumar and TA Sekar in Kerala

In 1983, after he had stopped playing and had gone on a posting to Gujarat, his employer IOB called for his cricketing services and he returned to Madras to play a few matches. At the Tirupanuthura tournament that season, his skull was broken facing a quick K Arun Kumar that required a major operation. And yet soon after, he took on TA Sekar ( at his fiery best to score 170 in a league match at Marina on a matting wicket, his most memorable innings in cricket. Late H Sundaram was with Kichcha right through at the hospital in Kerala and it was he who brought Kichcha back by train to Madras. Sundaram was a great source of strength for him in those dark hours especially as Kichcha’s family did not even know about the injury till he reached home. 

Soon he had an overseas posting in Seoul (Korea) -1984-88 and achieved a steady rise in the Bank until his voluntary retirement in 2012 as GM. He then took on the role of President and COO at KVB in Karur for three years before returning to Madras last year.
Big Mentoring Role at IOB
During the period of his cricketing career from the late 60s to the early 80s, he won the hearts of many of a colleague with his honest approach to life and his helpful attitude that the cricketers from that era are grateful for. In fact, he remained helpful to cricketers well past his playing days. He saw it as his duty to share his experiences with others in the team and to help them grow. The respect others (especially at IOB) had for him was so immense that he was a father figure and mentor to many of the youngsters of the era gone by. And almost all of them continue to cherish the memories from the decades gone by.

Ranji Cricketer NP Madhavan ( had been in prolific form as a collegiate cricketer in the mid 70s and had offers from multiple banks even as he was completing his graduation. It was Krishnaswamy who managed to convince Madhavan to join IOB. It was a time when Krishnaswamy was at the end of his Ranji career while Madhavan was trying to making his way into the Ranji squad as an opener. 

Madhavan heaps huge amount of praise on Krishnaswamy for playing a mentoring role in that early phase. 
‘Through those 3-4 years that I was at IOB, he motivated everyone in the team. He was personally very hard working. We used to discuss everything in practice and each of the players understood their respective roles. For a team that did not have big stars, it was his motivation and personal involvement that helped the players perform to the top of their potential that resulted in IOB performing very creditably both in the league as well as in the tournaments that we participated in. It was a golden period for IOB and a lot of credit for that should go to Krishnaswamy in the way he brought the team together.’

First player to give importance to fielding
Former Ranji Trophy winning captain Vasudevan ( played under Krishnaswamy’s captaincy for Vivekananda College in the early 70s. He calls him an astute captain and says that he brought out the best in every individual. Under his captaincy, Young Men’s Club, a team comprising of cricketers from different league teams, won many private tournaments.

'He performed extraordinarily at the college and university level. He was clearly the best opener in that phase with the amount of runs he scored. Even at the Ranji level, he did make useful contributions at the top of the innings.’

‘Kichcha was probably the first cricketer to give importance to fielding. He himself was a brilliant fielder and under his captaincy, the college team would have long sessions of fielding practice. It was also Kichcha who inculcated hard work as a daily routine and that really helped a lot of the budding cricketers of that time to progress into the next level.’

A Motivator, Mentor and above all a Honest Human being
He opened the batting for Tamil Nadu through the 1970s, most of the time with V Sivaramakrishnan with whom he had previously opened for the State Schools, Vivekananda College and Madras varsities. His record for Tamil Nadu may not be something to write home about, though every now and then he showed glimpses of his grit and determination, symbolized by his consistent knocks against Chandra, Prasanna and Vijayakrishna year on year through the first half of the 70s.

With the local matches being played on matting, there was a huge technical adjustment that was required to be made on turf wickets at the state level against top class bowlers.  There was not too much technical guidance in those days, especially in critical periods when players went through a downturn (a fact that L Sivaramakrishnan too touched upon as a critical factor for him when he went through that phase in the late 1980s).

Krishnaswamy has a philosophical view on cricket and life ‘One has to realize that it is one’s own performance that matters in the end. And one only has to look outside of himself to realize how blessed we are in our lives. ‘I could have wished/wanted to be Sunil Gavaskar’s opening partner for the life time of my career but I couldn’t be because of my own reasons’!!!

His best Knocks
Match winning 90 against Chandra/Prasanna on a rank turner at Chepauk in Feb 73
Half century against Rajender Goel and Bishen Bedi in the Duleep Trophy Final in Dec 75

Quitting Chemplast trusting Kichcha was the biggest decision of my life - Ananthapadmanabhan  

In the early 1990s, Leggie Ananthapadmanabhan was a tenant at Kichcha’s house in Mylapore along with a few other cricketers including UR Radhakrishnan (Kichcha was working in Ranchi at that time). When he returned to Madras, Ananthapadmanabhan moved to the next flat. Kichcha, who continued to track TN cricket closely even after his playing days, had heard of Anantha and his potential. Anantha was employed with Chemplast at that time. 

One day, Kichcha called on Anantha and asked if he would join IOB if he got an officer’s post and that he would pitch for it with the management. It was unheard of at that time – to get a direct officer posting for a cricketer (who had not even played Zonal cricket). But it was to take some time.

It was one of the biggest decisions he had taken at that time but he had great respect for Kichcha and trusted him and quit the job at Chemplast in March 1993. He was without a job for a few months but started playing for IOB in the league. Finally, the officer’s posting came in Aadi of 1993. He joined a month later in the 2nd half of August.

‘In the very first season, I got close to 50 wickets for IOB. Kichcha gave me a lot of confidence. He was a task master. He roped in his wife Radha for fitness training, something unheard in the bank circuit at that time. He used to come back from office at 5.15 pm and provide us with fielding practice. After having been at the bottom zone of the table the previous year, we were in the top four that year having beaten Chemplast, MRF and IC.

Later when he was posted to Delhi, he would often enquire about my well being and followed my progress.  He would even come to watch me during my zonal match in Delhi. He was really a father figure to me. During that period we went twice to Malaysia ( again unheard of for Banks in the city) and even won a tourney there beating a strong India Cements. We won the IPCL tourney beating the cream of corporate clubs in India such was the unity that he had forged in the team.
'Through that phase, Kichcha would constantly call me to ask if I required any particular player for the team and he would go out of his way to securing approvals. Such was his involvement with IOB cricket.'

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ezhuthurai Nathar Temple Innambur

Liberation from Stammering
A Prarthana sthalam to regain one’s Voice
The Lord’s Vimana is in the form of a sleeping elephant

Located 8kms from Kumbakonam off the Kallanai Highway is the ancient Ezhutharai Nathar temple in Innambur, a temple praised by Thiru Gnana Sambanthar and Thirunavukkarasarar. The base structure of the sanctum is a strong Karungal construction and there are several inscriptions dating back a 1000 years. Chozhas are said to have contributed to the temple and undertaken renovation in the 9th and 10th century AD

A sincere saivite devotee Sudasman took care of the accounts of the temple. The story goes that he once missed updating an entry and was summoned by the king the next day. Being the sincere devotee, that night he invoked the blessings of Lord Shiva. The next morning when he visited the king, he was told that the accounts were intact and that all entries were fine. While he was happy that he had got out of the awkward situation, he was surprised at this turn of events and wondered as to how this had happened. On return and on opening the door of the temple, Lord Shiva provided darshan to him as Ezhuthurai Nathar.

Liberation from Stammering
In Sanskrit, the Lord is referred to as Akshara Pureeswarar. He is said to provide solution to those with voice problem and stammering. A visit to the temple is believed to help those interested to develop their writing skills. As part of the process, one can visit the temple on any day and recite the relevant slokas as directed by Shivacharya.

Sun’s rays on the Lord
The Sun God’s rays falls on the Lord at 6.08 am on Avani 31, and Puratasi 1 and 2 as well as on 13th, 14th and 15th days of Panguni at 6.18 am. The town is named after the Sun God as Innambur (Suryan is referred to as Inan)

Unique Vimana
Another legend relates to the white elephant that was directed by Sage Agastya to invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva here for from a curse. After bathing in the sacred tank, east of the temple, the elephant found it difficult to enter as the steps were small. It is believed that Lord himself came down to the lift the elephant to enable the tusker to perform pooja at this temple. In memory of this event, the vimana is named as Gaja Pirashta Vimana, the sacred tank as Airavatha Theertham and the Lord as Airavateswarar. The Vimana is in a rare form – that of a sleeping elephant.

Performing an archanai on the full moon day for Nitya Kalyani at this temple is said to help the unmarried tie the wedding knot.

10 day Thiruvathirai festival
Thiru Kalyanam in Avani
Kodai Abishekam – 21 days in Chitrai 

The temple is open between 7am-12noon and 4.30pm-8pm. Contact Balasubramaniam Gurukal @ 94439 14958.

How to reach: Bus No. 6 every hour from Kumbakonam bus stand. Auto from Kumbakonam station will cost Rs. 125.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Periyazhvaar Utsavam Srivilliputhur

Evoking Memories of Vishnu Chittar's Victory in Madurai
Vishnu Chittar (later Periyazhvaar) had dedicated his entire life to selfless service at the feet of the Lord in his home town of Srivilliputhur. Once when Pandya King Vallabha Deva ruling from Madurai came across a unique query that he heard while on his (incognito) night rounds - ‘what you want after death should be accumulated in this life itself’, he summoned his head priest Selva Nambi to find him the answer.

Selva Nambi invited Vishnu Chittar to the debate in which there was a huge prize on offer to the one who provided real insights. Many scholars came forward but the bag with the gold coins hung in the balance. When it was time for Vishnu Chittar to come up with his presentation, he stunned the Pandya King with his description of the greatness of Lord Narayana citing various references from Vedic Scriptures.

Even as he was finishing his speech, the gold coins were showered on him, for Vallabha Deva was truly impressed and had got the solution to his query. It was then that he was conferred the title of ‘Bhattar Piran’ and led on a royal procession around the streets of Madurai in a grand event witnessed by a huge crowd. The melodies of musical instruments resonated everywhere and Bhattar Piran was surrounded by a royal retinue with the Pandya king requesting him with open arms to ascend and mount on to the majestic elephant. As he moved along in the procession, he suddenly had darshan of the Lord along with Goddess Lakshmi on Garuda mount against the back drop of the clear blue sky. Immediately he fell into a trance and watching the Lord in the high sky sung verses in praise of him at the same time expressing concern of his safety. Verses poured out instantly as he sung for the Lord’s long life.

Evoking memories of the elephant ride
As Periyazhvaar mounted the white elephant on the sixth day of avathara utsavam in Srivilliputhur earlier this month, tears of joy rolled down the eyes of several devotees for whom the procession evoked memories of the legendary event in Madurai.

Decked with jewels that glittered on his chest, the shining crown on his head that seemed as an indication of his victory in the debate and the huge colourful garland decorating his body befitting a winner and amidst the recital of Divya Prabhandham, Periyazhvaar rode out majestically on the elephant top around the big streets of his home town much to the delight of the devotees who gathered in the porticos of their homes to greet him on the occasion.

Father listens to daughter’s verses
Co- incidentally, that day also happened to be Aani Pooram, the monthly birth star of his daughter Andal. Just a few hours prior to the elephant ride, Periyazhvaar celebrated the evening with his daughter at the avathara mandapa of Andal in the sacred garden of the temple that he had specially created to present different varieties of flowers to the Lord every day.

Seated alongside his daughter in that mandapa for the only time in the year, and in the presence of a large devotee crowd that had gathered to watch this special occurrence, Periyazhvaar was treated, for over an hour, to the beautiful songs of Thiruppavai and Nachiyar Thirumozhi rendered by the prabhandham experts of Srivilliputhur.

Insightful lessons to the devotees
Periyazhvaar in his Thirumozhi says that his real hunger is not when he is starved of food but of the days when he has not worshipped the Lord with fresh flowers, singing praise of him and reciting vedic scriptures. He appeals to devotees to name their children after the Lord for at least then one will get an opportunity to utter the Lord’s name whenever the child’s name is called out. This even if it’s not in the true spirit of meditation will earn one the merit of calling his names every day. The devotees who were blessed to experience the utsavam of such a devoted saint poet went back with many useful lessons that could be implemented in the everyday lives.

Narrating the ‘Periyazhvaar Vaibhavam’
At 27, he is a graduate in Computer Applications and also holds a MBA degree. But he has let go of the temptations of a lucrative corporate career and stayed back in Srivilliputhur to perform Kainkaryam at the Andal and Vadabadra Sayee temple, similar to the selfless service performed by Periyazhwar.            
As part of the concluding event of the avathara utsavam, Veda Piran Bhattar Sudharsanan, the 225th descendant of Periyazhwar, narrated with utmost devotion in the presence of Lord Vadabadra Sayee and Periyazhvaar the ‘Periyazhvaar Vaibhavam’ for almost two hours at the Doddacharya Mandapa taking the devotees back in time to the legendary tale of Periyazhvaar. From an exclusive historical document, he told the story of the birth of Periyazhvaar, the creation of the nandavanam, the now famous trip to Madurai and his anointment as ‘Bhattar Piran’ after his great victory in the debate.

Of particular interest was the way he retold with great insights the story of the ‘Pallandu’ verses where Periyazhvaar sings praise for the security of Lord Vishnu. Sudharsanan remarked that when the Lord asked Periyazhvaar as to why security for the Lord himself, he says that he saw himself as the father and the Lord as his child and hence he cared for the security of his child.

Sudharsanan narrated as to how Periyazhvaar brought the victorious gold coins from Madurai and spent the entire money for his beloved Lord by building the then biggest Raja Gopuram at 196 feet, 11 gateways, 11 Kalasams, the big walls and the prakaras.

‘When the great Tamil poet Kamban came to Srivilliputhur, he was so stunned by the gigantic temple tower of Srivilliputhur that he compared it to the greatness of the Meru Hills and presented an exclusive verse, in praise of the tower, at the feet of Kesava Kavi Raja, a descendant of Periyazhvaar. Also, Kamban, who belonged to the Chozha kingdom, was so thrilled on hearing the Prabhandham verses of Andal presented to her the ‘Kamban Kunjam’, an ornament that he had won after winning over the Pandya poets in a big debate. In memory of this event, Andal adorns this special ornament to this day every year in the month of Thai.’  

Sudharsanan resides in the over 1000 years old Thirumaligai opposite the Andal Sannidhi.

(a different version of this featured in The Hindu Friday Review dated July 29)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Vithuvakodu Pasuram Kulasekara Azhvaar

When one melts down before the Lord and surrenders, even the pains seem to become softer
In his verses of praise on Thiru Vithuvakodu (, Kulasekara Azhvaar describes the town and the scenario that existed there during his time. Vithuvakodu was well guarded by huge walls that were so high that it seemed to touch the sky. The fields were long and were always brimming with water, where fishes mingled in large numbers for that seemed to be the only habitat for them. Similar to the fish, he says that he has no place to go other than the feet of the Lord, despite the fact that the Lord does not even seem to glance at him.

Kulasekara Azhvaar compares the surrender sought by him with the Lord of Vithuvakodu  to a child who despite being kept away by an angry mother as punishment for some wrong doing comes back to the mother for solace. Despite all the troubles inflicted upon him by the Lord, he says he has nowhere else to go but to surrender to him and to seek his blessings.

தறுதுயரம் தடாயேல் உன் சரணல்லால் சரணில்லை
விரை குழுவும் மலர்பொழில் சூழ் வித்துவக்கோட்டம்மானே

அரிசினத்தால் ஈன்றதாய் அகற்றிடினும் மற்றவள் தன்
அருள் நினைந்தேயழும் குழவி யதுவே போன்றிருந்தேனே
Like a Virtuous Woman
Kulasekara Azhvaar compares the purity of his surrender to the Lord to a virtuous woman who never thinks of anyone other than her husband.

கண்டாரிகழ்வனவே  காதலன்தான் செய்திடுனும்
கொண்டானை யல்லால் அறியாக்குலமகள் போல்

He cites the example of the subjects who live under a King’s rule even though the king has taken over by power, has ignored them and subjected them to tyranny.

Faith in a Doctor
Despite the fact that the Lord presents numerous difficulties to the devotees, there is no one else to seek other than the Lord himself. Kulasekara Azhvaar compares this to the state of a patient and his utmost faith in the doctor who even cuts open the body for surgery.

வாளால் அறுத்துச் சுடினும் மருத்துவன் பால்
மாளாத காதல் நோயாளன் போல் மாயத்தால்

Kulasekara Azhvaar compares his current state to the birds that while in the middle of an ocean are running on all sides only to finally return back to the ship unable to locate the shore. Similar is the state of the human mind - finally the refuge lies in the Lord.

எங்கும்போய்க் கரைகாணாது எறிகடல்வாய் மீண்டேயும்
வங்கத்தின் கூம்பேறும் மாப்பறவை போன்றேனே

Even when the flame nears the lotus, it does not blossom. Only when the sun shines does the lotus blossom even though the sun is far away in the sky. Kulasekara Azhvaar agrees that one has to go through the pains of one’s Karma. But when he melts down before the Lord and surrenders thus, even the pains seem to become softer.

For many years there may not be rains. But do the crops not look up expectantly at the clouds in the sky. Similarly while there is a clear understanding that one has to undergo pains because of past karmas, as a true devotee, one’s heart has to be in the Lord alone seeking redemption from our ill deeds.

இத்தனையும் வான் மறந்த காலத்தும் பைங்கூழ்கள்
மைத்தெழுந்த மாமுகிலே பார்த்திருக்கும் மற்றவை போல்

மேய்த்துயர் வீட்டாவிடினும் வித்துவக்கோட்டம்மா
என் சித்தம் மிக உன்பாலே வைப்பன் அடியேனே

The rivers that spread in different directions finally join the sea. Similarly devotees wander in different directions but finally land up at his feet for surrender. Through the Lord’s blessings, huge wealth may be placed on one who may not even wish for it. But even in such devotees, the mind should only desire to attain the Lord’s feet.

Even though the Lord may seem to be not considering the devotee’s prayers, one has nothing else to do except surrender to the Lord.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Temple Darshan Photo Video Menace

The issue of Photo and Video Menace flares up again for the third year in a row during the Oyyali at the Narasimha Brahmotsavam at Parthasarathy Temple 

Saint Poets Azhvaars in several Pasurams in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham refer to festivals and Vedic recitals taking place in (Divya Desam) temples and devotees gaining positive energy from these festivals.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi refers to rows of houses, lining up the streets of Therezhandur, in whose porticos beautiful traditional ladies queued up to watch the glittering procession of the Lord with devotion. Many verses in the Divya Prabhandham talk about the vibrancy around the temples during festivals and how people came out of their homes to have a glimpse of the Lord in different vahanas. And the Azhvaars describe the happy state of the people in such times.

One thought, likewise devotees would come out to the temples to capture a glimpse of the Lord and to seek his blessings. Alas, it does not seem so any more.

Crowds are thronging temples in big numbers these days. And it seems there is a ‘devotional’ wave sweeping across Tamil Nadu. But unfortunately the reality on the ground at the temples is very different. With phones becoming ‘smarter’,holding a phone high over the head and clicking photo and video shots of the Lord has become a new fad. The first activity of an utsavam as the screen opens during procession is not to worship the Lord with folded hands but to get the camera ready for the first click, mostly at the cost of darshan for many of the devotees at the back row. Narashimha Brahmotsavam 

For the third year in a row, this was a sour point at the Narasimha Brahmotsavam that concluded last night at the Parthasarathy temple in Thiruvallikeni. For a minority of devotees, it has become difficult to have a clear darshan of the Lord during the Oyyali, a special walk of the Lord leading to the NamAzhvaar Sannidhi, that has in recent times created much excitement among the devotees. Better access now to sleeker phones with good cameras has led to intense competition among the devotees who are now vying with each other to showcase their photography and videography skills than enjoying the Lord's beautiful evening presentation of the Oyyali, all this completely unmindful of the devotees behind them. This photo and video mania is turning out to be a serious distraction for some of the true devotees. 

And what is even more worrying is that it is the traditional people with Panchakajam and sporting broad Thiruman who are clicking such shots repeatedly of the Lord despite pleas from more sincere devotees. In fact, the pleas are silenced with a response that this is a public place and that the devotees have the right to click their shots in whatever way they want.

Frustrated at the group of residents not acceding to his repeated requests, Shri. K Parthasarathy, a long time resident of Thiruvallikani, last Sunday lodged an official complaint with the Deputy Commissioner of the temple on the use of Camera Phones during Oyyali.

Shri. Parthasarathy has been watching the Oyyali at the Parthasarathy temple from the time he was a young school boy in the mid 1960s. He says that he has not seen such unruly behaviour among residents in the last 50 years. ‘In the decades gone by, devotees including a number of children used to come from across the city to specially watch the Oyyali.’

‘No one has a right to obstruct the darshan of a devotee. For the last three years, I have placed continuous request to keep down the mobile phones during Oyyali but the scenario has only deteriorated. Clearly, the use of mobile phones has had a negative impact on the traditions of the temple. The latest fad is of devotees taking ‘selfies’ with the God and that surely is not in good taste.’ 

Shri Parthasarathy also wonders at the decision to allow the Ghosti to have mobile phones in their possession during the Prabhandham recital when they are not allowed to wear a wrist watch.

In the letter to the Dy. Commissioner, Shri Parthasarathy says ‘Some of the devotees raise their mobile phones and large iPADS above their shoulder greatly hampering the darshan for old and short devotees (especially ladies) standing in the back during the Oyyali. When requested, the devotees gang up together and fight back. This is a very unfortunate situation and many devotees have to suffer silently through the Brahmotsavam.’

He has requested the temple officials to take corrective action so as to facilitate peaceful darshan for all. In his letter, he has also requested them to update him on the action taken by them in this regard. Almost a week later, he is still awaiting their response.

The scene is not very different in the ancient Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram or the Ranganatha Perumal temple in Srirangam.

 Shri. Malai Mel Krishna, who has been in Kanchipuram for the last ten years performing kainkaryam, says that things have definitely changed for the worse in the last few years at the Varadaraja Perumal temple. ‘We try our best to educate the devotees on the need for self discipline but with the sleek phones, they manage to take continuous shots disturbing the darshan of many of the sincere devotees. The first thing a lady asked recently on entering was if she could take a photo. It has almost become an exhibition kind of event and it is no more devotional.’

At the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, Saathatha Vaishnavas have the responsibility to make the announcement relating to maintaining silence and disallowing photo and video shots of some of the sacred events.  Vaishnava Sridharan, whose family has been performing this sacred service for a 100 years at the temple, was shocked, recently, when he received a video recording on whatsapp of a sacred traditional event that he had strictly shouted out as a ‘No Photos No Videos’ prior to the event.

For the first time, these sacred and events exclusive to the Srirangam temple that had been protected for centuries together as an event to be only experienced at the venue and not meant for public distribution are being posted out in public forums now. And that is a very disturbing feature.

Where is temple worship going?
It just seems that temple worship is going the wrong way – Photo posts on social media and photo exchanges on Whatsapp seem to be the order of the day. In decades gone by, the typical comment from a mother was to get the child to pray with folded hands in front of the Lord. But now, even young children are being encouraged to take video shots. And at the end of one such event earlier this week, a kid was appreciated and given a pat on the back by the adoring mother for a great video shot of the Lord. The mothers even teach the young children with the best angles and positioning for the photo and video shots. 

The instant drive to showcasing their presence at the festival is taking people away from the essence of  devotion. There is a new found eagerness to show that they belong to this new modern world of hi-tech phones. As they head back home every evening, the question asked is 'if you took a good photo of the Lord' and not 'did you have a good peaceful darshan'. If the hands are always in possession of a camera phone, where is the possibility of the folded hands before the Lord? The non-stop chat on the phone even while performing a pradakshanam, typing of messages, taking photo shots at all times at all places leaves one wondering as to where we are headed with devotion.

Temples and the streets surrounding it are not mere public places. There is certain sanctity to it especially during procession. There is an unwritten devotional code of conduct that one needs to adhere to when one is near the Lord.

It is hoped that the official complaint lodged by the devotee at the Parthasarathy temple this week will trigger the HR & CE to seriously look into this issue and find a long term solution to this menace that will allow peaceful darshan of the Lord. 

A top corporate chief Shri. R Shiv Kumar has been a regular at the Kapaleeswarar temple for the last many decades and recites the sacred verses there all alone in a peaceful state every morning at 5am for an hour or so. He is completely frustrated at the changing scenario and probably sums best the feelings of the few remaining devotees. 

'Honestly, I feel like running away, ignoring the world and being one with HIM. We are nor reformers. At best we express frustration and take half-hearted moves that won't solve the problem and will only add to our frustration. This is the age of Kali and it is at its worst in Tamil Nadu.'

(a different version of this story featured yesterday in The Hindu Friday Review)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thiru Koshtiyur Renovation Issues

Periyazhvaar's Praise of Thiru Koshtiyur and what it is today
Not Just Cricket, Even Temple is a business now
Velukkudi Krishnan markets for the Renovation with an Upanyasam in Coimbatore - Road Shows no more the exclusive domain of corporates

Periyazhvaar reserves the highest form of praise for the people of Thiru Koshtiyur. In the Periyazhvaar Thirumozhi, he brings out the greatness of their generosity with a beautiful example. ‘During famine, grains sell at such a premium that even a handful of grains cost a gold coin. But even during these most testing of times, the people of Thiru Koshtiyur feed the guests with honour as if everything was normal. They do not use such tough times to hide their stocks and claim shortfall to their guests. Would you not sell yourselves as bonded slaves to such high quality people’ asks Periyazhvaar.

He praises them as those who always spoke the truth and who were blemish-less with almost no faults and without enemies. You could find no one with malice. From a young age, they cultivated good habits. He goes to the extent of saying that when their feet touched the ground, the earth got sanctified and became purer. Just seeing them seemed to fill one’s hearts with good thoughts. He says that such is the purity of the place that even the asuras aren’t likely to steal grains at Thiru Koshtiyur

That was over a 1000 years ago. The picture today bears no resemblance to the praise extolled by Periyazhvaar on the people of Thiru Koshtiyur. One wonders how he would have sung today if he visited the temple and met the residents of the town.

So what is the scenario now at Thiru Koshtiyur?

Temple Road Shows following the Corporate Model
It is that time of the season to make money at the cost of others. It is Renovation time. The previous renovation had taken place 17 years ago. There are road shows being organised for collection of money to fund the renovation ( yes road shows are no more the exclusive domain of companies looking to go in for IPOs or to raise funds through other routes). 

A recent one was anchored by the celebrated Velukkudi Krishnan in Coimbatore addressing a set of leading industrialists there - a beautiful model of an Upanyasam that was combined / followed with a funding pitch by the renovation team. This one though was particularly surprising, given the background of team, as Shri. Krishnan is careful with his brand promise but this may have been one occasion where he may have failed to keep up to that. 

(The renovation team shared this with me (when I was in Thiru Koshtiyur last week) with a lot of pride - the fact that they had roped in Velukkudi Krishnan for that road show)

Unauthorised collection of cash
As one is about to step foot into the temple, one is welcomed by a voice that seeks any money for the renovation - Rs. 10 to Rs. 10000!!!! No such collection of cash is allowed as per HR & CE rules (this is a Sivagangai Samasthanam temple but the audited accounts are to be presented to HR & CE). And the devotees with good intent keep feeding into the unsolicited pitching for money.

And as one stays on there at the entrance to the Raja Gopuram, one finds even more disturbing issues. Rs. 35 is being collected for car parking and Rs. 100 for mini bus parking but the receipt books don't indicate that amount (it is much lower). 

The car parking rights had in the past been tendered for a few lakhs annually but in the recent past that too has been withheld. Thus the entire collection is completely unaccounted for. And it is a financial loss to the temple with the parking fees going to a set of individuals.

Anna Dhanam
There is also collection of money for the Anna Dhanam scheme but it looks like this amount is not being deposited into the official account to which it is supposed to be. The donar gets prasadam on time just as a convincing methodology (and an acknowledgement to him of his donation) but the money may not be going to the Anna Dhanam, the purpose of the donation. A peep into the record books will tell the real story behind this. At a conservative estimate of about 100 donars every month, there is around Rs. 20000 going almost unaccounted.

That's the story outside the temple.

Pillayar Sannidhi brought down
Now to the inside. On the ground floor of the temple is the Shrine for Shiva that finds a mention in Thiru Mangai Azhvaar's Periya Thirumozhi verse on Thiru Koshtiyur. He praises the Lord of Thiru Koshtiyur as one who has accepted Goddess Lakshmi as well as Lord Shiva as being part of him ( his own self). In this case, it is meant as being 'part of the temple'.

Structural changes are being planned at the Shiva Sannidhi that includes the replacement of stones and a possible replacement of the Lingam ( though this may be said to be currently on hold).

It is the Pillayar Sannidhi that is first built on the South West corner of a Shiva Sannidhi. The Pillayar Sannidhi that possibly dates back to the time of the Shiva Sannidhi has been demolished and is being reconstructed.

As per the renovation rules of HR & CE, no ancient structure can be brought down without the express orders of HR & CE.

More demolition on the anvil
Also, on the plans are restructuring of Ramanuja and Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi Sannidhi, Narasimha Idol/Peedam and a replacement of the iconic Nambi idol on the third tier of the temple (just next to the stone sculpture of Ramanuja).

All of a sudden, yesterday, the Ashtanga Vimana work (that includes a Gold Rack installation) has been put on hold by the EO (who is an appointee of the Sivagangai Samasthanam). 

A Coat Hanger inside the Moolavar Sannidhi
As I entered the Moolavar Sannidhi on Tier 1, I found a coat hanger inside. And it was meant to be for the EO to place his Shirt while he was at the Sannidhi. Shirts are not allowed inside the Moolavar Sannidhi at this temple. But to have a coat hanger installed for a private individual  seems quite disrespectful to the Lord.
HR & CE has taken some initial steps towards an enquiry but it will have to probe deep and get to the base of the facts. 

I have also spoken to the ASI chief for an exploration to ensure that this ancient structure does not get diluted with structural changes to centuries old Sannidhis and idols.

The Moral: Temple has become a business (not just Cricket - the other topic that I write on)

A different version of this story featured in The Hindu Friday Review on June 17