Friday, January 24, 2020

Murali Bhattar Srirangam Temple Chief Priest

From a hesitant archaka to the Chief Priest of the Ranganathasamy Temple in Srirangam, it’s been a devotionally eventful journey for Murali Bhattar

'No Hunger - No Money ' - Financial Insecurity loomed large in the lives of the archakas not so long ago at the Srirangam Temple

As he was completing his education in the 1960s and 70s, the message from his father and other family members was very clear. The situation at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, as with most other temples at that time, had turned grim and his near ones wanted him to move into service that was away from the temple. This was the case in most Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu. But destiny decided otherwise and Murali Bhattar came into temple service in quite unexpected circumstances. His elder brother was performing service at the temple but with the situation being financially challenging, he decided to move to the US becoming the first priest of Srirangam to make his way to a US temple (he continues to serve at the US temple).

This quite unexpectedly paved the way for the young Murali, who at that time was into menial jobs in Trichy. His father directed him to serve Lord Ranganatha for the rest of his life and thus began his service at the temple that has now lasted close to four decades that has also taken him to the top post among the archakas.

The 1950s scenario
His father joined the temple in the 1940s at the age of 15 and served for over five decades. It had been a very challenging period for the family in the 1950s and 60s. For a temple that is now overflowing with vastrams, the situation back then was quite grim. As a young boy, Murali Bhattar remembers the period at the Ranganayaki Thayar Sannidhi “The saree of Thayar was repeatedly scratched by cockroaches. There was no replacement saree available and Thayar would remain draped in the same ‘torn’ saree for long period of time before the next saree was presented by a devotee.” 

Back home, his father would bring rice late in the evening after his service at the temple. The entire family would eat this the next morning. Through his entire childhood, ‘pazhaya saatham’ was the only food that he consumed. Since his father was popular at the temple, many kainkaryapakas came to his house everyday for a chat. While the outside view was that the family was reasonably well off amongst the Kainkaryapakas, the reality was otherwise. His mother would struggle to make coffee for all and somehow managed to keep it going each day. 7 of them in the family slept under a single fan every night.

Vedic and Agama Initiation
As a teenager, Murali Bhattar was initiated into Shukla Yajur Veda at the Sringeri Patshala, near Amma Mandapam in the early 1970s. He was also initiated into stotras at the Jaimini Sama Veda Patshala on North Chitra Street in Srirangam. Seniors at the Ranganathaswamy temple such as Raghava Bhattar and Krishna Bhattar along with his father Rangaraja Bhattar trained him on the Agamas. The 1950s-70s period was marked by competitive tennis ball matches in front of Murali Bhattar's house on North Chitra Street with teenagers of Chitra Street competing with those from other streets such as Uthira Veethi and Mel Adayavalanjan. The winner of these matches took home a 'kadalai mittai' packet.

He joined the temple in the early 1980s. While the overall service days total to just over 200 annually, the service at the Perumal Moolavar Sannidhi amounts to just 3-4 days every month. In the early phase of his service at the temple, there were three devotees who contributed to a majority of the Thattu Kaasu.  A tailor presented Rs. 20 in the morning, while a Chettiar contributed Rs. 10 at noon. When Bangur Dharmasala chief visited the temple, he placed Rs. 20 on the Thattu. This was shared among multiple Kainkaryapakas. There was minimal Thattu Kaasu outside of these during that phase.

Full Archanai at Moolavar Sannidhi
There was a time when archakas actually performed full fledged archanai both in the Perumal Moolavar and Thayar Sannidhi. Some of the traditional residents of Srirangam in the 1950s and 60s actually paid for a full year of archanai (approx Rs. 50) thus pushing the family members to actually visit the temple to invoke the blessings of the Lord. The archakas got a share in the archanai and this too contributed in a small way to their income. To those in the new gen, it is almost unthinkable that there was a period in the not too distant past when the archakas of Srirangam actually waited for devotees to come and ask for archanai. Today, the devotee does not get more than a second to have darshan, such has been the devotional wave that has hit the temple in the last decade or two.

Thattu Kaasu was almost nonexistent in other sannidhis at this huge temple. Many of the Sannidhis remained shut most of the time. A few kms East, at the Singa Perumal Temple, the Parijaraka would go around the town selling the prasadam to devotees to try and make some money every day. Such was the state of life for the service personnel at the temple.

New Constructions galore
In the 2nd half of the previous century, as a young boy, Murali Bhattar saw extensive new constructions coming up in many of the sannidhis in this huge temple. The new additions not only resulted in dark sannidhis but also led to violations on many other fronts.  He along with most other archakas are delighted that almost all the new additions of the previous century has been brought down and the temple has been restored to its historical glory.

No Hunger No Money
Murali Bhattar remembers those decades in his life “There was neither ‘hunger’ nor money in our lives. We had got used to eating ‘Pazhaya Saatham’.  Having father the service personnel encounter huge financial challenges, there was always a fear inside us in those days that the money from the temple would just not be enough to manage a family.” His father had to sell historical properties to sustain the family finances. And financial insecurity loomed large in the lives of the archakas.

This also led him to join BHEL, Trichy in the 1980s from where he retired earlier this decade. Almost all the archakas of the period went to jobs locally as a solution to the financial challenges that they and their parents had faced. As a consequence, the next gen focused on academics. It was a phase of life when an entire generation of upcoming archakas spent time in school and collegiate education, many of whom also pursuing Masters. Both the sons of Murali Bhattar completed their Masters and went into a corporate life at the turn of the century.

The last decade or so has seen a big turnaround in the temple’s fortunes. From a period 60 years ago, when the archakas waited at the Sannidhi for that elusive devotee, today the overflowing devotee crowd has led to big challenges in crowd management. Interestingly though, this positive financial reversal in temples also led to the sons quitting their corporate jobs and joining the temple service recently.

Sri Jayanthi Utsavam - The Revival
The most delightful restoration for him as an archaka has been the transformation of the Sri Jayanthi mandapam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/09/sripandaram-krishna-jayanthi-utsavam.html). Such was the additional construction in that zone in the previous century that even the traditional inhabitants of Srirangam had come to forget the historical importance of the place. This zone was converted into a madapalli and many service personnel ran this as a ‘business center’. The revival of the Sri Jayathi procession to its earlier grandeur to him has been most significant part of the restoration exercise.

Following the largest restoration initiative at the temple that lasted 18 months(http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/11/venu-srinivasan-srirangam-temple.html), he anchored the grand Samprokshanam and with it also came the huge responsibility of the post of The Chief Priest of the Ranganathaswamy temple in one of the most challenging times for this ancient Divya Desam.

With the huge swelling crowds topping 70000 on big festive days, his responsibility has increased manifold. He has devotionally managed to perform his duty in as sincere a way as possible straddling between accommodating the huge devotee crowd and sticking to the agamas and pooja procedures. The current scenario presents a completely different challenge from the ones during the days of his father but Murali Bhattar is confident that he will be able to devotionally perform his service in the same way that his forefathers had in the centuries gone by (he has a family tree dating back 300 years of his forefathers having performed service at this temple).

From the hesitant start in the 1980s, he has come a long way to don the mantle of the Chief Priest at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam. This really has been a devotionally interesting journey for the 62 year old Murali Bhattar.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Abhinav Mukund 100 Ranji Matches

Scorching Ranji Century in his 100th match 
Was pitched against the Best of bowlers in the Worst of Conditions in England
A case of what might have been 
                        From his Twitter Page

Way back in 2007, this (current one) is not a story I would have visualised to write at the beginning of 2020 on Abhinav Mukund.  One of my first cricket stories was on the then 17 year old Abhinav Mukund, on the brink of making his Ranji debut (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/09/cricket-pick-of-month-abhinav-mukund.html). He was all set for a top notch long test career for India as he broke domestic cricketing records sooner than most batsmen on the circuit.He has also been the TN player I have tracked and followed the most during this decade as well as the one on whom I have written the most. However, over a dozen years after that story, his has been a case of what might have been. 

This afternoon he scored a scorching century against Railways on the occasion of his 100th Ranji match with his fastest almost run a ball Ranji ton as he batted in an unusually aggressive style (his mentor from his school days S Sharath too got a century in his 100th Ranji match)

Great Start to his domestic cricketing career
By the time he was out of school, he had already scored more runs than any TN school boy in the history of TN cricket. He scored runs every time he went to bat - for his school, in age group cricket and in inter state age group matches. His basics seemed to be strong, coached day in day out by his cricketer father TS Mukund from the time he was five years old. One just could not take the bat out of his hands or the runs from the score sheet every time he went out to bat.
Former South Zone cricketer R Madhavan, a Southpaw himself, was the chairman of TN Selectors  (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/09/interview-with-r-madhavan-tn-selector.html) and he was the one who inducted the teenaged Abhinav into a strong TN Ranji squad. At that time, well over a dozen years ago, I had marked Abhinav as one who would serve India as a long standing opener for he had the inclination to bat long and his domestic success for his age was as good as anyone else's.  Had that story come true, it is unlikely I would be writing this century of Ranji matches story on Abhinav, for he should have been close to that mark in Test Cricket.

The IPL Distraction
Unfortunately, a variety of factors played against Abhinav at the most opportune phases in his career. Soon after his Ranji debut came an unwelcome distraction in the form of IPL that has been a stepping stone for many cricketers in India including his Ranji team mate (in today's match) R. Ashwin. But Abhinav was not made for IPL or T20 cricket. He sat alongside Virat Kohli on the flight to Singapore for the U19 World Cup over a decade ago. The early success of Virat in the shorter form of the game prompted Abhinav to challenge himself in that form. In those very early days in his cricketing career, his mind moved away towards showcasing himself as a successful cricketer in the shorter form as well including in the T20 version. It probably was one of the biggest mistakes he had made in his career. 
                     From his Twitter Page

I remember that day in the terrace at Chepauk when I pleaded with his father coach TS Mukund to get his interest away from T20 but it was not to be. His father- coach remarked that day that Abhinav was determined to succeed in the shorter format and that his son believed that he had it in him to make it big in T20. Unfortunately, he did not and could not. Even though he was included in the CSK squad in those early years, chances weren’t forthcoming in that strong team.

Debut in the West Indies
He continued to amass runs in Ranji cricket that soon earned him a test debut in mid 2011 when he was not yet 22. As destiny would have it, Abhinav’s debut as well as his subsequent full series came overseas in what probably was India’s toughest of the decade. While West Indies did not have a potent attack like in the past, Abhinav’s debut in the West Indies (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2011/05/abhinav-mukund-in-indian-test-squad-to.html?m=0) came on bouncy seaming conditions that any debutant would have found challenging. 

The toughest series of the decade
His next series in England came in almost unplayable conditions against the best bowlers in the world at that time – Anderson and Harmison were all over India in swinging conditions that were completely one sided and favourable to the bowlers. In one of the toughest conditions for an opener for a long time, Abhinav impressed with the bat with a half century that even had Sunil Gavaskar commending his style of play in that series. But the heavy defeat took a toll on the team and Abhinav unfortunately has not had too many chances since. 

Out in the last over of the day
On the come back path, almost 4 years after the English whitewash, Abhinav made his way back into the test team on the back of continued domestic success. It looked like the man was still determined to make it big in Test cricket as he looked assured in that innings against Sri Lanka batting alongside his U19 world cup captain Virat Kohli. However, here again, destiny played against him and rather unfortunately for him, after almost having seen out two sessions without a hiccup, he got out in the last over of the day for 82. Had he seen through that over, he may well have gone on to a big hundred the next morning and the selectors may have been in a quandary over dropping a centurion. That remains his last test innings to-date. 

For a man with close to 10000 runs in first class cricket, destiny played itself against Abhinav at the most crucial time in his career as he was pitched against the best bowlers in the world in the worst batting conditions. It is unlikely that any overseas opener would have succeeded in those conditions and against the rampant duo of Anderson and Harmison.

Had he debuted in India on more favourable pitches for openers, it may have been a completely different story for Abhinav. With his talent, the high concentration levels and the strong coaching foundation given by his father, he may have well amassed thousands of runs for India as a long standing opener of the decade. At important moments in his career, his Ranji and International team mate, R Ashwin had the rub of the green bowling on turning tracks in India helping build his confidence. For Abhinav, it was not to be.

On the domestic front though, there has been no one close to Abhinav this decade on the batting front. He broke most domestic batting records early on in his career, strolling to 3000, 4000 and 5000 runs on the domestic circuit before he touched 25. Early on, he made big tons and has been the rock of the TN batting through the decade. As the years passed by, he went past the records of all the batting legends of TN cricket and all this while he was still very young.

At 30, he may still have many years of domestic cricket ahead of him. If he keeps his motivation going, it is likely that Abhinav will in the coming years break all domestic batting records but for me all those years ago he was meant to break Test records, such was his penchant for scoring runs in the longer format of the game. And yet, like with so many of the TN batsmen in the era gone by, his has thus far been a case of what might have been.

Congrats Abhinav on the big milestone and the century on this momentous day.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

TN Ranji Cricket The Fall


No light at the end of  the TN Cricketing Highway
Flat Unconducive wickets in the first division league, Too much glamour around IPL and TNPL, Lack of focus at the grass roots level and the continuing aggressive corporate warfare have contributed to a downfall in TN cricket
Business minded cricket academies unfairly pushing their players into league and age group cricket  has also damaged cricket in the city
In 1978, TN bowled out AP for 29 and routed them - Four Decades later, Andhra is at the top of the Ranji league while TN is at the bottom
                         TNCA website

Tamil Nadu has had one of the most disastrous starts to a Ranji Season with the team firmly rooted to the bottom (17th out of 18 teams) of the table after 5 games, three of them on home soil. And really this comes as no surprise to those that have followed TN cricket this decade. It has been a long time coming, now.  It has actually been a surprise that it has taken this long to hit the bottom. It has been a decade of IPL and TNPL, the glorification of these formats has led to a loss of focus on the longer version. No great infrastructure development, big success of the IPL team and the initial hype around the TNPL have all taken the focus away from the crying need to strengthen the foundation and improving cricket at the grass roots. Almost all the cricket in the first division league in Madras are on flat wickets, except when the top teams play the bottom ones, when they go for green tops or big turners. TN U16 and U19 teams have been knocked out this year in the league phase and they have not really provided the feeder service for the Ranji team. There are no players U19 players from TN in the National squad.

TNCA League Cricket in the 2000s
In well over a decade of captaining lower division league teams in Madras, I got a sense of where cricket was headed in Tamil Nadu. The last of this was a privately run league team and I managed almost all of the expenses including taking care of the travel expenses of some of the teenaged players.

Cricket turned into a huge business for the ex-cricketers. They saw an opportunity to mint money from upcoming cricketers. As the years progressed, more and more cricket academies including some credible former cricketers approached me with interesting ‘deals’. They offered to take care of the entire expenses for the year (cricket kit, gear, food, water, balls, travel expenses etc) in exchange for opportunities for their wards in the league season. More opportunities in the league meant more money into the academy from the wards. The academies are increasingly under pressure from the parents to get their students into various teams – the first step in that process being an entry into lower division league cricket followed by inclusion in the city teams of U13 and other age group categories. And the parents are willing to pay a price for this, for they see this as an important phase in the child’s cricketing career. Cricket is no more just a sport that it was (in TN) 3-4 decades ago. It is a business. It is a lucrative career.There is a lot of money at stake.

Academies’ and one on one coaching influence on cricket
Roll on, well over a decade later, in a lower division match that I umpired in 2018, a captain known to me for three decades kept going back to a young 15 year old fast bowler despite him being thrashed all over the park. Reason – the bowler was a ward at his one–one academy in Mylapore and there was a need to promote him at all levels, even if it meant being unfair to other bowlers in the team. Wickets in the league would help the boy in the U16 selection.  While other bowlers that day went at 2 or 3 runs an over, this fast bowler bowled his full quota of 15overs giving away 90runs. He did pick up 4wickets. And with statistics playing a vital role, it would not matter that the match was lost because of over bowling the most expensive bowler of the day but those 4 wickets would up add to the tally for the year and improve his chances of a place in the state squad in the age group category At the end of the innings I overheard an innocent question from a young player to his father “Do I need to take one on one coaching to be given bowling in a match”. The father had no answer to the question.

This is not a one off incident anymore. Academies actively push their wards at all levels in cricket. Individual coaches try to push their students through the selectors. Parents are seen at the grounds all the time talking to the selectors.

The Selectors
With the Lodha Committee making a certain number of Ranji matches as a pre requisite to the choice of a state selector, opportunities have quite unexpectedly fallen on those who have not tracked or been associated with TN cricket for decades. While those with Ranji experience from the decades gone by could don the role as sincerely and in as committed a way as possible, the point remains that many of them have not really watched enough of cricket in TN for decades. Will it be fair on the players to have a state selector not watching too many of the matches that they play before the selection.Even the Senior State Selectors ( Ranji Trophy) haven’t really watched most of the matches in recent years and that hasn't instilled confidence in the minds of first division players. Is it not important to watch the players before taking a call especially when many factors other than just runs and wickets can be relevant to a junior player’s selection – the attitude of a player, the circumstance under which he scored runs and took wickets, the contribution to a winning cause and so on, which mere statistics may not reveal.

Conflict of interest – Chairman of selection committee as a Match Referree
Through this decade, Chairman of the TN State Selection Committee also donned the role of Match Referee. These roles come with power, fame and name in addition to a lot of money that’s on offer (for match referees). While there was a TN Ranji match going on in one city, the chairman of the State Selectors was a match referee in another Ranji match several 100s of kms away.

It was power and money at play at the same time. While the Chairmanship offered power and name, the role of the match referee brought in money that was really lucrative, something that would have been difficult for anyone to ignore, even if it meant a conflicting role. There was really no accountability. Should a chairman of selectors be watching his state team play or be at another ground as a match referee? These questions never seem to have been raised. Also during the decade gone by, there seemed to have been no vision chalked out in terms of where they (the selection committee) wanted to take TN cricket. For example, this decade a chairman of the Sr. State Selection committee refused to talk to the media ( including to this writer) on the pretext that he had been asked by the TNCA to not talk about TN cricketing/ selection matters to the outside public and to cricket writers. With so much at stake and a huge fan following, could the chairman of a senior state selection committee remain silent for 5 years not airing his views on the choice of the team and on the direction of TN cricket and the performance of the team. But that is what happened. The Chairman  simply followed ‘instructions’ of the TNCA and did not speak up once during his period as the chairman of the Sr. State Selection Committee. During the decade, one simply did not get a sense of the long term vision for the state team. And we are now seeing the impact of those years of ignored vision with the results in Ranji cricket

Credible Coaches
The choice of coaches too seem to have been baffling this decade. In one year, out another. The relationship between the top players and the coach has not been at its best through most of the decade. Very little seems to have been done on this front.  No one in the cricketing circles in TN has quite understood the process of the choice of coaches and their accountability. For the huge amount of fee paid to them annually, there really seems to be very little accountability. There seems to have been 'no deliverables" chalked out for the state coaches appointed at different levels.

Flat Wickets at all levels
If you look at the results of TN teams in recent years, you will find that the team has performed much better in shorter formats than the longer version, a clear indication of flat wickets in the city. Spinners who are asked to not give away runs in league cricket has been the order of the day. Hence they seem to be better at doing a containing job than in the art of wicket taking. As is well known, it is the bowlers with the wickets that win you matches in the longer format. TN has just not developed fast bowlers or spinners with the wicket taking ability. 

In the decades gone by, youngsters coming up the ranks played on different kinds of surfaces - matting wickets even in first division league, fast green tops against the best of fast bowlers in the state and many times a square turner. This helped a great deal during the foundation stage of their career. 
However, in recent times, top order players after amassing runs in the local league and age group tournaments on flat wickets have often been caught out on green tops when they play State matches in another region. In the battle for the Palayampatti shield, the top corporates have often put out 'flat' wickets playing it safe. Hence the top Ranji cricketers playing against each other in domestic first division league are not up against challenging conditions. Very rarely in recent years, has one witnessed a top contest between bat and ball among the top teams in the first division. 

It has been years since TN has produced a top class fast bowler for the long format. Aswin Crist and T Natarajan have been the only real fast bowlers in recent years. There is a dearth of fast bowlers who could win Ranji matches for you, especially in away conditions. This year, Natarajan has been at the top of wickets list for TN after 5 matches and yet not once has he been provided with favourable wickets to suit his bowling in our home matches.  Spinners for a large part have been containing bowlers more suited to the shorter formats.

Even at the U16, U19 and U23 levels, it is the same story. Tons of runs in local matches on flat batting tracks and the batsmen found out against good fast bowlers and on turning tracks in away matches in state tournaments has meant that TN has crashed out in all age group tournaments in the longer format this year.

Non Stop Cricket in Peak Summer
This year in peak summer, first division cricketers played non stop cricket through an entire month to finish the schedule of 2019-20 season. And in no time, shortly after, the new 20-21 season had begun. The three day once prestigious long format Buchi Babu Tournament has been dispensed with and made way for the T20 TNPL. Buchi Babu Tourney had for long been the stepping stone for budding youngsters wanting to play for the state.

R Ashwin - The Only real Long Format  Bowler from TN this decade
This decade, only R Ashwin has emerged as a top quality international bowler in tests from the State. There have been no other bowlers, spinner or fast bowler even on the fringe from Tamil Nadu .Of course, he came through a phase when wickets were better and gave bowlers something to work on.
  From his twitter page

As years have passed and with amount of cricket that has been played, the quality of wickets has dropped drastically in the city. No corporate in the city has a second ground of their own. While the focus has been on investment in players and the exorbitant salaries paid to teenaged cricketers these days, the corporates have missed out on improving the cricketing infrastructure in the city so much so that the top batsmen eyeing the next level do not have high quality fast paced/ big turning tracks to bat on, even in the nets. 

The Downfall of TN cricket
Academies’ influence in age group selection right from U13, the emerging role of parents in selection matters, the decades long corporate conflicts and their influence in selection, the glamour of IPL and TNPL and the lack of infra development have all contributed to the downfall of TN cricket. Look at the scenario this year – International cricketers Abhinav, Vijay, Dinesh Karthik, Vijay Shankar, R Ashwin were all part of the TN playing XI for the first match of the Ranji season. And suddenly for the next couple of matches all of them were away for a variety of reasons – personal commitments to injuries to ‘rested’. A star studded line up gave way to many debutants. And suddenly you found 5 new players coming into the playing XI right after the first match of the new season, quite a few not really suited to the longer version of the game. For a state match that included international star R Ashwin, TN played 4-5 spinners in the XI this season!!! Just last week, a U23 state player was informed of his omission through the following text message ‘You are removed for the next match’ leaving him in tears. His replacement in the team was someone who had scored less than one third of the runs of the axed player.The selection process leaves a lot to be desired

It remains no surprise that TN is languishing at the penultimate position in the Ranji Table after 5 matches and has been knocked out of age group tournaments. For long, there has been no incentive to play for the team. A player sacrificing his wicket for the team’s cause is not rewarded in TN cricket and hence you find each playing for his own self and for his own safety in the team. In a story I had written earlier on a match in Coimbatore, AP was bundled out for 29 by TN 4 decades ago  after an incisive spell by Bharath Kumar at the Forest College ground (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/03/coimbatore-cricket-grounds.html). Cricketing life has come a full circle. Today, AP tops the Ranji table while TN is down at the bottom. It is unlikely that there will be a turnaround anytime in the near future unless the coaches, selectors, the corporates and administrators at all levels come together as a group and create a conducive atmosphere for  a fair battle between bat and ball, a meritorious selection policy and an incentive for team play.

The Solution
Play top first division league matches on green tops / turners
Provide green tops and square turners at the nets for first division / State players
Announce a 5 year vision for the State Ranji squad - Build a team for the long term
Choose Coaches and Selectors with credibility and long term commitment
Ensure State Selectors watch all first division matches
Ensure age group Selectors watch school matches and league matches 
Bring transparency into the selection process
Get the hard hitting views of credible and vocal cricketers on the improvement of state cricket and go about implementing their ideas

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Madurai Junction Executive Lounge

Indian Railways launches Modern AC Executive Lounge on Platform 1 at the Madurai Junction
The Lounge has already become a big hit with passengers in the initial phase of its launch 

Over the last 5 years or so, train travellers have witnessed a dramatic and a never been seen improvement in the Indian Railways, especially in terms of convenience and amenities at the Tier 2 and Tier 3 Railway Stations in the country. In yet another public infrastructure development initiative, the Indian Railways has set up a best in class AC Executive Lounge on Platform 1 at the Madurai Junction.  This is in line with and comparable to those available at the best airports in India.

Facilities include bathing (including shower), hi speed internet browsing, breakfast and dinner, favourite TV Channels, business center, free wi-fi and a travel desk. There is a special buffet available over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Al-a-carte items are also available round the clock. The travel desk provides assistance to sightseeing trips around Madurai and offers all kinds of luxury vehicles. 

The AC executive lounge has already become a big hit with the passengers and they have lapped it up with both hands. There are at least a dozen trains that run towards Chennai and Bangalore during the peak hours in the evening. With the high quality food available on platform 1, no more would passengers need to go away looking for the right restaurant for their dinner. This AC executive lounge is ideal for both the morning entrants into Madurai, those that have an official meeting later in the morning and for those to relax for an hour or two before their departure in the night from Madurai Junction. Facilities like top quality lunch also makes it ideal for those who reach Madurai just after noon by the recently introduced Tejas Express. 

Madurai Junction was also one of the first in the Southern Railway to introduce an AC waiting lounge over a decade ago (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/04/madurai-junction-retiring-rooms.html).

The station also easily ranks among the top in terms of cleanliness of platforms and the passenger amenities. The Modi led Government has also upgraded the infrastructure in many of the railway stations across the country.

Trichy Junction(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/09/new-ac-lounge-at-tiruchirapalli.html) and  Coimbatore Junction (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/07/coimbatore-junction-retiring-rooms.html) among many other stations in the Southern Railway have upgraded the passenger amenities manifold in recent times. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Kattu Mannar Koil Annan Srinivasan Bhattar

The Head Priest at the Avathara Sthalam of Natha Muni and Alavanthar joined the Veera Narayana Perumal temple at a salary of Rs. 75 per month and has served with unflinching devotion for over two decades keeping the temple alive and vibrant
Annan Srinivasan Bhattar has been the head priest at Kattu Mannar Koil the Avathara Sthalam of Natha Muni for over two decades now having joined the temple in the late 1990s. As a young boy, he learnt the Pancharatra Agamas and was certified by the revered Kannan Bhattar of Therazhundur (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/10/therazhundur-divya-desam.html).  As has been the case with many historical temples in remote locations, it has been a challenging two decades for him. His grandfather Narayanan Bhattachar had performed service at the temple till 1965. His father was a Maniyakaarar at the temple. As a young school boy, he performed service at the temple through the 1980s that included carrying the Ghee torch during processions, holding the Umbrella atop the Lord and carrying the Lord on his shoulders. As described in Kulasekara Azhvaar’s Perumal Thirumozhi, the young Annan Srinivasan would hold on to the pillars watching the Veera Narayana Perumal, Natha Muni and his grandson Alavanthar during his entire school days.
Joins at Rs. 75 per month
In the early 80s, there were over 20 families in the agraharam. But by the time he was into his mid teens, most of them had left this legendary Vaishnavite location seeking greener pastures in cities. And he was in a confused state. He too did contemplate to leave following in the foot step of the seniors in this temple town. But God decided otherwise and held on to him at Kattu Mannar Koil. His uncle Sampath Bhattar had been performing service in the Sannidhi in the 80s and early 90s. In the mid 1990s, when he became unwell, Annan Srinivasan Bhattar took over and joined the temple as the Priest at the age of 17 in 1996-97. There were severe challenges when he began not the least the lack of devotee crowd and the financial returns. He joined at a salary of just Rs. 75 per month. 

10 hour service each day of the year at Rs. 3000 per month
While there were temptations to introduce innovations, he stuck to the agamas and followed that diligently. He was clear that he would not introduce any new procedural creations just to attract crowd as has happened with many other temples in the last two decades.  Despite financial challenges, he has stuck on for over decades.  His salary increased to Rs. 400 per month after a decade!!! And now after two decades, he is paid Rs. 3000 per month having to take care of the daily poojas at all the sannidhis as the only priest. His elder brother who works at the temple office supports him as and when required.

His devotional rendition of archanai is a special feature at this temple and it is unlikely that any devotee who has visited this temple would not have been moved by his service to the Lord and the acharyas.

During utsavams such as the one going on currently (Adyayana Utsavam), his  daily service over 20 days is also physically challenging having to be at the temple just after 430am for the Margazhi sevai followed later in the day by the Pagal Pathu Utsvam. During such days, his daily service at the temple extends to well over 12 hours performing aradhanam and alankaram all alone. Rarely do they get substitutes in such remote locations. In addition to the financial challenges, he has also had to encounter health issues given the long working hours at the temple.  But it is something he is devotionally committed to engage in for the rest of his life for how many would get serve at a temple that was responsible for the recovery of Nalayira Divya Prabhandham.
It was Natha Muni who was responsible for bringing back the Naalayira Divya Prabandham that had been previously lost to the world. Nathamuni, who mastered himself in Vedas at a young age, was very attached to Veera Narayana Perumal at Kattu Mannar Koil and spent most of his time performing daily poojas for the Lord here. One day, while he was performing his daily poojas, he heard a set of devotees who had come here from Thiru Narayanapuram in Melkote chanting the Aaravamuthey song (Nam Azhvaar’s Tiruvoimozhi verse praising the Lord of Kumbakonam).These devotees ended with the words ‘these 10 out of the 1000’.
ஆரா அமுதே அடியேன் உடலம்  நின்பால் அன்பாயே
நீராய்  அலைந்து கரைய உருக்குகின்ற நெடுமாலே
சீர் ஆர் செந்நெல் கவரி வீசும் செழு நீர் திரு குடந்தை

ஏர் ஆர் கோலம் திகழ கிடந்தாய் கண்டேன் எம்மானே  - Thiruvoimozhi ( 5-8-1)

 Nathamuni was drawn to these songs and asked them to sing the rest of the 990 verses. However, they knew only these 10 songs. A restless Nathamuni went to Kumbakonam, where Lord Aaravamudhan asked him to go to Thiru Kurugur where he secured the entire 4000 songs- Naalaayira Divya Prabandham and brought it back to Kattu Mannar Koil from where he began spreading the messages from these sacred verses.

உழலை என்பின் பேய்ச்சி முலையூடு 
அவலை உயிருண்டான் 
கழல்கள் அவையே சரணாக கொண்ட குருகூர் சடகோபன் 
குழலின் மலியச் சொன்ன ஓராயிரத்துள் இப்பத்தும் 

மழலை தீர வல்லார் காமர் மானேய் நோக்கியர்க்கே

Along with his nephews, Keezhaiyagath Azhvaar and Melaiagath Azhvaar (the Araiyars are descendents of these two), Nathamuni gave the Naalayira Divya Prabandham a musical (creating Raagam and Thaalam) and dance form and presenting it in a form that the world could experience and enjoy . To him goes the credit of creating the Araiyar Sevai, a visual song and dance enactment of the ‘Paasurams’ through Abhinayam. He went to Srirangam and performed the Araiyar Sevai, of the Thiruvaai Mozhi verses, with his two Nephews, and once again started the Adhyayana Utsavam at Srirangam which had been discontinued after the time of Thirumangai Azhvaar.
Nathamuni’s grandson Alavanthar was born in Kattu Mannar Koil and he travelled often to Srirangam to spread the dharmic messages of Vaishnavism. It was he who nominated Ramanuja as the ’to be’ acharya after his death. Natha Muni and Alavanthar Avathara Utsavams are celebrated in a grand way at Kattu Mannar Koil.

Despite the salary not being financially lucrative, Annan Srinivasan Bhattar feels blessed to have been born at this Avathara Sthalam of two great acharyas and to be serving the Lord every day of his life. It is the commitment of such lonely priests who stuck through with the God through dark days that has kept ancient temples such as this alive and vibrant for the devotees to now enjoy.

The temple is open from 730am-12noon and 430pm-9pm Contact Annan Srinivasan Bhattar @ 99522 76110

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thiru Vathigai Veerataneswarar

The temple where the Lord relieved Thirunavukarasar of his Stomach pain
Appar sung the first of the Thevaram Verses on Veerataaneswarar at this temple  
His life is a lesson in unflinching devotion and unwavering belief in God 
All the transformational episodes of his life are played out during the Appar Utsavam in Chitrai at this temple in a grand manner

Legendary Saivite Saint Poet Thirunavukarasar (referred to as Appar by his contemporary Thiru Gnana Sambandar) sang his very first Thevaram verse in front of Lord Veerataneswarar at Thiru Vathigai pleading before the Lord for relief from the unbearable stomach pain that he had been stuck with. 
கூற்றாயின வாறு விளக்ககிலீர்
கொடுமை பல செய்தன நான் அறியேன்
ஏற்றாயடிகே இரவும் பகலும்
பிரியாது வணங்குவன் எப்பொழுதும்

தொற்றாதென் வயிற்றின் அகம்படியே
குடரோடு துடக்கி முடக்கியிட
அற்றேன் அடியேன் அதி கைக்கெடில
வீரட்டானத்துறை அம்மானே– Appar's First Thevaram Song

In his first verse, he accepts that he has done many wrongs in life but promises to perform lifelong selfless service night and day till the very end if he was to be relieved from the 'Soolai' pain that he was encountering then. And as a testimony to keeping one’s word with the Lord that serves as a devotional lesson to everyone even today, almost 1500 years later, he kept his word right till the end sweeping and cleaning the garbage at the Agnipureeswarar temple at Thiru Pugalur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/11/thiru-pugalur-agneeswarar-temple.html), where he attained Mukthi.

By the time he had sung his 10th verse, he is a transformed Saivite and begins performing cleaning service at the Veerataneswarar Temple in Thiru Vathigai.

The Tragic Early years
Born as Marul Neekiyar (the one who dispels darkness) in Thiruvamur about 10kms West of Thiru Vathigai on the Panruti – Thiru Navalur (birth place of Sundarar) highway, Thirunavukarasar encountered tragedy in the early phase of his life. The wedding of his elder sister Thilagavathiyar, who was to mentor him all through his life, was postponed when the bridegroom, Kalipagayanar, a Pallava Chieftain from Kanchipuram had to go to war against the marauding forces from the West. Unable to bear the indefinite postponement, his father died and much to his shock, his mother jumped into the pyre. More tragedy was to follow. When she heard the news that her bridegroom was killed in the war, Thilgavathiyar too wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps but Marul Neekiyaar pleaded with her to mentor him and play the role of both his mother and father. And thus she began to live a life for him.

Conversion to Jainism
Unfortunately, it was the period of Jainism gaining strangle hold and Marul Neekiyar was swayed by their philosophy and followed in their footsteps much to the disappointment of his sister who had sacrificed her life for him. For years, taking the name of Dharmasena, he remained rooted to Jainism and travelled round the country  going on to become one of their leaders while Thilagavathiyar, frustrated and embarrassed at this negative turn of events, moved from Thiruvamur to Thiru Vathigai. It was here at the Veerataneswarar temple that she invoked the blessings of the Lord each day of her life to bring her brother Marul Neekiyaar back on to the Saivite path. Finally, she managed to please the Lord with the sincerity of her prayers and He promised to make her brother a legendary name in Saivism.

Marul Neekiyaar becomes Thirunavukarasar
Stuck with unbearable stomach pain and unable to find relief in the solutions provided by the Jains and with nothing working, he finally turned to his sister for solution and made his way back to Thiru Vathigai. Early into the morning, an devotionally excited Thilagavathi cleans the temple entrance and draws a beautiful white kolam welcoming his brother and seeking his transformation into Saivism. 

As he makes his way into the temple through the towering Raja Gopuram at the Eastern Entrance, he is devotionally stuck with the cleanliness and Kolam drawn by his caring sister. After applying the sacred white ash on his forehead, he presented himself, along with Thilgavathy, in front of Lord Veerataneswarar and poured his first ever verse cringing from Stomach pain and asking for relief. Through the verses, he promises to dedicate the rest of his life to selfless service of Lord Shiva. 

As another lesson to devotees, he does not feel embarrassed to speak the truth in front of the Lord and accepts the mistakes he has made in the past but he wants to be given an opportunity to redeem himself and offer in service to the Lord. 

சலம்பூவொடு தூபம் மறந்தறியேன்
தமிழோடிசை பாடல் மறந்தறியேன்
நலந்தீங்கிலும் உன்னை மறந்தறியேன்
உன் நாமம் என் நாவில் மறந்தறியேன்

உலந்தார் தலையிற் பலி கொண்டுழல்வாய்
உடலில் ஒரு சூலை தவிர்த்தருளாய்
அளந்தேன் அடியேன் அதி கைக்கெடில
வீரட்டானத்துறை அம்மானே

The sincerity in the devotional verses pleased the Lord and by the time he finished his verses, the stomach pain had vanished. And he was called out by the Lord as Thirunavukarasa, the one with the golden devotional voice. 

From that day, he became completely dedicated to Lord Shiva and began performing physical cleaning service and singing praise out of happiness that came of this service at temples. The legendary episode of the ‘to be’ Saivite Saint Poet Thirunavukarasar (Appar) surrendering himself before Lord Veerataneswarar asking for relief from the unbearable stomach pain, applying the sacred ash on his forehead, singing the first verse and being immediately blessed by the Lord is re enacted at this temple on the first day of the ‘Appar’ Avathara Utsavam in Chitrai that culminates in his Mukthi on Sathayam.

The transformation story played out on Day 1 of Appar Utsavam
On the morning of the 1st day of the Appar Utsavam in Chitrai, Thirunavukarasar dressed in a white dress, the only day in the year he is so dressed, comes to the Thiruneeratran Mandapam, where he is joined by sister Thilagavathiyar. The Shivachariar presents Thirupalli Yezhuchi verses at the Mandapam, the very same location where he sported the sacred white ash on his forehead for the first time. The Othuvar, specially brought in for this day, render the first Thevaram verse of Thirunavukarasar. This entire episode of Marul Neekiyar transforming into Thirunavukarasar is played out at this mandapam on that morning.

In memory of his transformation from Jainism back to Saivism, there is a historical Jain Idol at the Eastern entrance of the temple.

Jains threaten, Appar unshaken with unflinching devotion
Angered at this sudden transformation and unable to bear his selfless service at Saivite temples, the Jains tried to disrupt his services and tortured him repeatedly in many different ways, each of which is enacted during the 10 day Utsavam in Chitrai. On the 2nd day of the utsavam, the episode of Appar made to sit upon a huge flame is enacted. 

In this hour of despair, he shows unshakable belief in Veerataneswarar. He sings another memorable devotional verse saying that with the Lord having saved him from the life threatening stomach pain, he fears nothing else in life and no flame can consume him.

And much  to their shock and displeasure, the flames actually stay cool on him, reminding one of the episode from the Ramayana when the fire set on Hanuman actually gave him a chilly feeling.

They later send the King’s elephant to kill him but that too backfired on them for the elephant  trampled on the Mahout and returned to the Jains. All of these are played out on the 2nd day of the Utsavam.

The name Cuddalore - Thrown into the Sea
 On the third day of the Chitrai Appar Utsavam, yet another grave torture of him being thrown into the Sea, East of Thiru Vathigai is enacted. This is the day of the Theppotsavam. It is the only day in the year that Appar is seen in a Silver Kavacham. 

Unmindful of the threat of sinking in the sea, he goes with folded hands saying that there is no fear to one who believes in God. And much to the shock of the Jains, he is back alive. It is in memory of him coming out of the Sea unscathed, that the place came to be called ‘Cuddalore’.

Nothing from the King’s forces could unnerve him. The story goes that the Pallava King fell for the devotion of Thirunavukarasar and drove back the Jains and became a follower of Appar’s devotional verses.

His trip to Pennadam
He began his travel singing verses in praise of the Lord and went to the Pralayakareswarar Pennagadam (now Pennadam about 70kms West of Thiru Vathigai) where he inscribed his hands with the Trishul and Sacred Ash. This episode of his trip to Pennadam is played out on the fourth day of the Utsavam.

Meeting with Gnana Sambandar and The Name ‘Appar’
As he moved on, he met Thiru Gnana Sambandar in Sirkazhi, where his contemporary called him out as ‘Appa’. And the name stuck with Thirunavukarasar coming to be referred as Appar.
Thingalur
When he came to Thingalur, 2kms East of Thiruvayaru on the Northern Banks of Cauvery, he encountered something that he had not witnessed anywhere else. At every nook and corner of this Chandran Sthalam, he found references to his name. The place where ‘Butter Milk’ was handed out was called Thirunavukarasar Butter Milk Pandal and every other place was attributed to Thirunavukarasar. It was there that he found a great follower of his, Appoothi Adigal, who had named everything and everyone, including his two sons after Thirunavukarasarar. He was so committed to serving Appar that even when the snake had bit his elder son Appothi Adigal continued to serve the Saint Poet. Appar called for the son to be brought into the house and brought him back to life through the blessings of the Lord.

This entire episode that played out in Thingalur is presented on the 5th day of the Appar Utsavam with Appar going out on a procession in the morning to Thilagavathi Nandavanam opposite the temple complex. The devotees are presented with Butter Milk through the day. On his way back, the devotionally dramatic episode of the snake bite and Appoothi Adigal’s son regaining his life is presented in front of the temple.

Presents Songs and gets food for the Lord’s devotees
As he moves along to Thiruveezhi Mizhalai, he finds the Lord’s devotees in dire straits, struggling to meet even their daily needs. Unhappy on seeing their plight, he invokes the blessings of the Lord through a set of verses. Much to their delight, the Lord shells out in Gold ensuring that everyone is fed in full.

This is played out on day 7 of the Utsavam along with the episode of the Lord shutting the door on Thiru Gnana Sambandar after his very first song while opening the door after Appar’s songs.

Continuing his cleaning service, he moves to Thiru Pazhayaarai where the Jains strike again hiding the idol of the Lord. Once more, his unflinching devotion to Lord Shiva came through as the Lord came out of his hiding on hearing the devotional voice of Appar.

 On the final day of the Utsavam, the episode of Appar receiving Kailaya darshan is presented. He was stuck with old age and could no more walk up the Himalayas and crawled up like a kid and then even used his chest to push himself up the steep mountain. So pleased was the Lord with his devotion that he asked him to dip himself in the nearby Theertham and as he came out he had been ‘shipped’ to Thiruvayaru (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2014/11/thiruvaiyaru-pancha-natheeswarar-temple.html) from where he had Kailaya Darshan. Finally, just after midnight on Chitrai Sathayam, Appar attaining Mukthi at Thiru Pugalur  is played out in a grand manner at the temple.

 AshtaVeera Sthaanam
Thiru Vathigai is one of  the Ashta Veerasthana Sthalams where Lord Shiva killed Asuras after a battle with bow and arrow. Thiru Kurukkai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/thiru-kurukkai-verateswarar-temple_13.html) and Thiru Kandiyur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/kandiyur-brahmma-sira-kadeeswarar.html) are two among the Ashat Veeratanam temples. 

 Three asuras had gained the boon of invincibility anbd continuously attacked the rishis and prevented their penance. Lord Veeratesawarar came on a chariot with Chandran and Suryan as the wheels and with Brahmma as the Charioteer to kill the asuras. It was Sara Narayana Perumal, west of this temple, who handed the bow and the arrow to Veerateswarar for him to kill the three asuras in smiling posture. Two asuras attained Mukthi and serve as Dwara Palakas at this temple. This episode of Tripura Samhara is played out on Vaikasi Swathi on the 9th day of the Brahmotsavam with Tripura Sundara Murthy providing darshan atop the Chariot similar to the way he killed the evil forces from atop the chariot after Sara Narayana Perumal (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/07/thiru-vathigai-sara-narayanan.html) comes and presents his bow and arrow. This is the only day in the year this Utsava Idol comes out of the temple on a procession. 

In Chitrai, Tripura Samhara Murthy provides darshan at the Vasantha Mandapam as part of the Vasanthotsavam inside the temple.
 This is one of the Thevaram Sthalams that historically had Lord and Ambal providing Kalyana Kolam darshan to Sage Agastya, the others being Kanchipuram and Vedaranyam. In memory of this historical event, both of them are seen in a grand Kalyana Kolam Posture behind the beautifully sculpted Moolavar Lingam. 

Episodes relating to all Ashta Veerata Sthalams are sculpted on the outside walls of the prakara, giving devotees an insight into the episodes relating to each of the Veeratana Sthalams. 
The Vimanam atop the Moolavar Sannidhi is a delight to architectural experts with its shadow not falling on the ground. It is believed that Raja Raja Chozhan studied this Vimanam before beginning construction of Brihadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur and the one in Gangai Konda Cholapuram.

The temple is open from 6am to 12noon and from 4pm to 9pm. Contact Gnanasekar Gurukal @ 94439 88779/ Kalyan Kumar Gurukal @ 94863 90376 / Srinivasa Gurukal @ 94427 80111.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Thillai Vilagam Kothandarama

One of the Pancha Rama Temples
The Hereditary Priest Kothandarama Bhattar has not participated in a single event outside of the temple in three decades having committed himself fully to Veera Kothandarama at Thillai Vilagam

48 year Kothandarama Bhattar decided even as a young boy that he would dedicate his entire life to the service of Veera Kothandarama at the Dhandakaranya Kshetram of Thillai Vilagam, one whose legend dates back to the Ramayana. After defeating Ravana, and on his way back to Ayodhya, Rama stayed here in the ashram of Baradwaja Rishi. The five feet tall Moolavar Rama at Thillai Vilagam is seen in a majestic posture sporting a handsome smile. To his right is Sita seen in a Kalyana Kolam.  Kothandarama provides a ‘Tribangi’ Sevai at Thillai Vilagam. The neck has one kind of a curve, the hip a different curve and the leg another curve but all three are in a straight line, a truly unique posture.
Devotional Commitment of Bhattar
Kothandarama Bhattar was initiated into the agamas by the renowned Kizhayur Sowmya Narayanan Bhattar and Koneri Raja Puram Srinivasa Bhattar. He came into the temple as a young teenager in the 1980s and has been here for three decades. Earlier, his father had performed service at the temple for several decades. He has not performed a single samprokshanam or participated in a homam outside of the temple. Even when a wedding takes place inside the temple, he does not participate though there has been an opportunity to make money out of the event. His devotional commitment and attachment is only to Lord Rama and hence does not associate with anything other than service to the Lord. He also doubles up as the cook at the temple to present Thaligai every day to the Lord. Number of devotees do not make a difference to him for he performs aradhana to the Lord irrespective of the presence of devotees engaged in a one on one interaction with the Lord.

During the days of Kothandarama Bhattar’s childhood in the 1970s, there was a long agraharam on the South Street with at least 20 traditional families residing in big numbers. Today there are just three – One Bhattar Family, one Gurukal Family and a Purohit. Unmindful of the exodus of the traditionalists, Kothandarama Bhattar stuck to the Lord and has never left Thillai Vilagam for a Samprokshanam or a Homam in search of financial glory. As a hereditary archaka, he is not paid salary for the daily service. Over the last three decades, Thattu Kaasu, if any, has been the only source of income to him for his temple Kainkaryam. 

Grand Panguni Brahmotsavam
Brahmotsavam is celebrated in a grand way at the temple with experienced priests from Divya Desams anchoring the decoration of the Lord. Staying here through the 11 days of the Utsaavam, Raman Bhattar from Nathan Koil has been conducting the Brahmotsavam festivities over the last many years while Kalyanarama Bhattar of Senkalipuram had managed the annual utsavam in the decades gone by. The Villagers from in and around Thillai Vilagam come together during the Brahmotsavam to take care of the entire expenses with each village managing a day’s Utsavam. The Brahmotsavam also sees the villagers organizing traditional events including Bommalattam, folk dances as well as debates on epics. The Vahana Procession starts every evening after 10pm and goes on till midnight. 


On the 10th day of the utsavam, Rama Pattabhibhisekam is performed with the Lord seen with a special crown. The Deer Vahana Procession on the 11th day of the Brahmotsavam is a speciality at the temple.

Distinctive Features of Rama
The Moolavar idol of Kothandarama is believed to be at least a 1000years old. Rama is holding the bow in his left hand. On a close look at his hands, one is able to see the nerves, the ring and his sharp nails. One is also able to see the sharp distinctive fingers on each hand just like a human hand. On his right hand, Rama is seen holding the arrow that contains the writing ‘Rama Saram’, the only one of its kind in a Rama temple. These writings refer to his philosophy of life – Oru Sol (Rama would not go back on the word he has given), Oru Il (Only one wife – he would not look at another woman) and Oru Vil (The special bow). 
Another interesting feature of the moolvar Rama is the distinctive marks. One is able to also see clearly the nerves and moles on the legs of Lord Rama. Also, one is able to see the knee cap on both the legs of the lord.  On his left leg, one finds the Raksha bandhan tied by mother Kausalya when Rama was young to protect him from evil forces.

Anjaneya’s Dasa Posture
Anjaneya is seen in a Dasa Posture with his right hand close to his mouth in a whispering posture. Belief is that presenting curd rice to Anjaneya at this temple would liberate the devotee from problem associated with marriage and navagriha dosham.
In recent years, the devotee crowd has increased with around 25 devotees visiting the temple on Saturday to perform archanai. Aadi Amavasai and Thai Amavasai days are sacred at this temple. Couples who bathe in the tank West of the temple on either of these two days are believed to be blessed with children. Once a month, devotees, mostly those from nearby villages, perform Thirumanjanam on their birthdays/wedding days.

Hereditary Trustees
The Pancha Loka idols of the Thillai Vilagam Rama temple were found buried in the ground to the west of the temple in the early 19th century by Velu Thevar. The temple in its current form was built subsequent to that by Velu Thevar, whose clan are now the hereditary trustees of the temple. 

Chidambareswarar Temple
Just adjacent to the Kothandarama temple is the Chidambareswarar Umayambigai temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, where one also finds the idol of Nataraja. The two temples of Shiva and Rama are seen next to each other almost in the same complex with an entrance on the Northern side of the Rama temple into the Shiva temple similar to the Chidambaram Temple (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/05/chidambaram-thiruchitrakoodam.html). It is in this context that the place came to be referred to as ‘Thillai’ Vilagam. Renovation works have been pending for almost 25 years at the Shiva temple but is expected to begin early in 2020.

Pancha Rama Temples
Veera Kothandarama at Thillai Vilagam is similar in facial posture to the ones at Baalya Rama, Mudikondan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/12/mudikondan-jawahar-bhattar.html), Hathambavur Rama at Sri Vanjiyam, Eri Kaatha Rama at Madurantakam ( http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/11/madurantakam-eri-kaatha-raamar.html) and Saligrama Rama at Punnai Nallur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/01/saligrama-kothandaramar-koil-punnai.html).
  
The temple is open from 830am-1230pm and 5pm-8pm Contact Kothandarama Bhattar @ 80568 56894.

How to reach
Thillai Vilagam is 30kms South of Mannaragudi Rajagopalaswamy Temple off the Tiruvarur / Thiruthuraipoondi Muthupet highway 19 kms East of Thiruthuraipoondi and 6kms West of Muthupet. Buses ply every 30minutes from Thiruthuraipoondi to Muthupet. One should get down at Gopala Samudram. Mini bus will take one to the temple (2kms).  From Tiruvarur, cab to the temple and back will cost Rs. 1250. One can also reach the temple from Pattukottai (35kms) or Vedaranyam (40kms).