Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sarangapani Koil Garuda Sevai

First the Manian was not seen, then the archakas went missing on the procession
The Big Umbrella was forgotten
Protection from the rain came at the very end with the big shawl around the Lord's body on a Chilly Margazhi evening in Thiru Kudanthai

Finally an indifferent Bhattar climbed on to Garuda's hands to remove the Garland and threw it down on the floor - A sign of times we live in

The Sarangapani Koil in Thiru Kudanthai (Kumbakonam) is dedicated to Lord Aravamudhan, the one who directed Saint Natha Muni to Nam Azhvaar at Thiru Kurugur and helped revive the sacred 4000 verses that had been lost to the world at that time.
As per the Sri Prasna Samhitai slokam in the Pancharatra Agama, being present and offering one’s sincere devotion to the Lord at the three utsavams starting from Karthigai and end in Thai will liberate from another birth.

டோலாயா மாணம் கோவிந்தம்
மஞ்சஸ்தம் மதுசூதனன்
ரதஸ்தம் கேசவன் த்ரிஷ்ட்வா
புனர்ஜன்ம நா வித்யதே

The 10 day Dolotsavam starts in Karthigai is then followed by the Pagal Pathu and Era Pathu Utsavam in Margazhi and then culminates in the Chariot festival on the 21st day on Sankaranthi.

Lord Sarangapani does not place his feet on Garuda
The legend of the Garuda Sevai at Thiru Kudanthai is of the Lord Sarangapani rushing on his vehicle Garuda to answer the call of devotee Gajendra who is struggling for life. As this is a sudden call, the Lord is seen in an ‘Avasara Thirukolam’ during the Garuda Sevai at this temple.  Typically a special path is laid out for the Lord (King) by the servants for him to come forward. And then the Ratna Pathai is presented for him to place his feet on. And usually, the Lord takes the permission of Thayar before leaving on any mission.

When he calls on Garuda for the trip, the vehicle asks him for a little time so as to ready himself but the Lord is on an emergency mission to save his devotee and has no time to wait for Garuda’s alankara. Hence he presses his feet on Garuda’s shoulders and generates the speed of movement to reach the destination faster.

At the Garuda Sevai here in Thiru Kudanthai, one does not find Garuda carrying the Lord with his hands and the Lord’s feet are seen pressed on his shoulders. Hence in this Divya Desam, unlike the ones in Kanchipuram and elsewhere, both the feet of the Lord are not ‘tall and straight’.
This is a Divya Desam praised by as many as Seven Azhvaars and the legend relates to the Lord coming directly from Vaikuntam on his chariot to marry Komalavalli Thayar. In centuries gone by, festivals were grand and Azhvaars paint a beautiful picture of the scenario around the temple. The river Cauvery gushing with water all the time, huge mansions of Thiru Kudanthai, the green ripe fields all around and the happy traditional seers chanting the verses in praises of the Lord.

Missing Devotees / Manian/ Archakas/ Umbrella!!!!
It is the day of the Garuda Sevai but devotees are few. Clock has ticked to 730pm, the prabhandham Ghosti is ready, the Sri Patham Thangis have also arrived but there are no devotees at this ancient Divya Desam that is said to have helped the revival of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham.

There are thick clouds around and the time keeper of the utsavam (the Manian) calls out for the big umbrella to protect the Lord and his vehicle from the rains.

But the attention of most is on the phone and taking early shots of the Lord atop the Garuda Vahana. And the big umbrella is forgotten.

As the Lord makes his into the East Street, there are early signs of the rain with drizzle dotting through the two small umbrellas which are not large enough to protect the handsome looking Lord decked in beautiful jewelry.

A 20 minute wait in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road, the Lord’s procession is brought to a halt. Blissfully unaware of this development, the Ghosti have gone far ahead chanting Thirumazhisai Azhvaar’s Nanmugan Thiruvanthi. The Manian shouts out for the big Umbrella which he had originally ordered. The rain gets heavier and now the Manian is missing. The archakas, who have been at the temple for several years, are unaware of the next action. By now, the Ghosti that had made its way into the South Street leading to the Ramaswamy temple had made its way back wondering as to why Lord Sarangapani had not followed them. 20 minutes passed and the Lord had stood in a stationary position with the small umbrella trying its best to offer protection from the rain.

And finally the big umbrella arrived and the decision was taken to see through the full procession around the four big streets of Thiru Kudanthai.

Where are the two Archakas!!!
Into the South Street, even more commotion was seen. This time the archakas had gone far too ahead of the Lord and the devotees with coconut and flowers were made to stand in front of the Lord with their presentation awaiting the return of the archakas.

By the time the Lord made his way into the deep end of the West Street, the rain had got heavier and the streets soggy making it extremely difficult for the Sri Patham to take a run with the Lord. A decision was taken to wrap the silky shawl around the Lord to protect him the nature’s fury.
The Sri Patham team was quite patient all along on this rainy evening until they made their way into the Sannidhi Street at the entrance of the Raja Gopuram.

The two wheelers placed right on the way of the procession were given a kick and those went tumbling down on the road.

It had ticked past 930pm when the Lord made his way back into the Vahana Mandapam. It was now thanks giving time to the donors of the day. However, by now, impatience had got the better of the bhattar.

The fate of the beautiful 8 Garland Alankaram
It was an eight garland alankaram that Chakravarthy Bhattar had put together for over two hours earlier in the evening giving the Lord a grand look. But Raman Bhattar, who was to remove the garland to present to the donors had no such patience. Climbing atop the vahana with both his legs on the hands of Garuda, he untied the knots with the scissors and threw the large garlands down on the floor for his colleague to pick up and place around the shoulders of the donors such is the respect presented to them at the end of the event.
It seemed that Raman Bhattar had forgotten that at this utsavam even the Lord did not place his two legs on the hands of his vehicle Garuda but the Bhattar in full view of the donors and a few other devotees who stayed back to receive the Lord back into the temple after the procession watched him climb on to the hands of Garuda to remove the garlands.

It is a sign of times that most of us are in a hurry all the time and the need is to get on to the next engagement gets the better of us and devotion takes a back seat in this process.

Finally past 10.30 pm, the Lord provided an Ekantha Sevai bereft of garlands and jewelry as he made his way back into his abode for the night’s rest on a rather indifferent evening of Garuda Sevai at this historic Divya Desam in Thiru Kudanthai.

It seemed appropriate to ask like Thirumazhisai Azhvaar asked in his Thiruchandha Virutham verse if the Lord was indeed tired at the end of this day for he had been made to have multiple unplanned stops and had to bear the brunt of the rain.

நடந்த கால்கள் நொந்தவோ
நடுங்க ஞாலம் ஏனமாய்
இடந்த மெய் குலுங்கவோ
இலங்கு மால் வரைச் கரம்

கடந்த கால் பரந்த
காவிரிக் கரைக் குடந்தையுள்
கிடந்த வாறு எழுந்திருந்து பேசு
வாழி கேசனே - திருமழிசை ஆழ்வார்

PS: Earlier in the evening at the Moolavar Aravamudhan Sannidhi, a young school boy, still in his formal uniform, stood in front of the Sleeping Lord for almost 5 minutes with devoted folded hands invoking the blessings of the Lord, a rare sight these days. It was unlikely that the boy would place anything in the Thattu and the priest took a similar stance (with his eyes closed) and ignoring the boy's presence and not presenting him with the Theertham. The boy waited but the priest ignored and realising the futility of his wait, the boy left!!! 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Srirangam Venkatesa Bhavan

77 year old 'Joint Family' restaurant on Therku Vaasal serves the best ‘afternoon tiffin and snacks’ in Srirangam
Akkara Vadisal on Thursday, Kesari on Saturday and Bun Halwa on Sunday 
            Brothers Ranganathan and Anantharaman

A small almost unnoticed 'Palakkad Iyers' Joint Family run Vegetarian Restaurant on Therku Vaasal, opposite the ‘Ranga Ranga’ Gopuram in Srirangam is one of the best eateries, one that has served high quality homely tiffin and snacks for over 75 years.

72 year old Ranganathan Iyer hails from Palakkad. The 1930s had been a financially terrible period for the family and his father, the then 17 year old Venkatraman moved to Srirangam in 1940 in search of a job that could strengthen the finances of the family.

He found a job in a hotel opposite the police station in Srirangam near the bus stand. Within 6 months, seeing the quality of the food served there, a few residents of the temple town suggested to him to start his own eatery and helped him with a place right next to the Ranga Ranga Gopuram on South Uthira Street. It was a very small shop with an overhead thatched roof. 

Theirs was a large family of 9 members and this was intended to lessen the financial burden.They had to pay a rent of Rs. 50 in the 1940s that went up to Rs. 500 by the early 60s.

A full meal at 4annas
In the initial decades, the shop was open from 6am to 10pm serving Idly, Dosai, Pakoda, Kaara Sev, Bhajji and coffee. An idly was sold at half an anna, dosai at 3/4 anna and the sweet savories at half an anna each. Coffee cost one anna while the most expensive was the ‘limited meals’ at 4 annas.

Ranganathan Iyer looks back at life during his schooling days in the 1950s ‘I never had a ‘slipper’ to wear. I would use the same trouser for months. My mother had to auction her wedding jewellery to fund my SSLC examination fees, such was the state of our family in those decades.’

The residents of Srirangam were delighted at these new entrants and enjoyed the high quality of the food served by the Palakkad Iyers. As the family members were involved in the day to day running of the restaurant, the staffing expense was minimal and they have been able to price it economical right from the beginning. And that has remained a big differentiating factor at Venkatesa Bhavan, named after Ranganathan's grand father.

However, they received a jolt. In 1960, two decades after its launch, the Ranganathaswamy temple served a notice on them to vacate the place and they lost the battle.

Soon, Venkatesa Bhavan moved on to Therku Veethi, a hundred yards from the Ranga Ranga Gopuram. They bought out the place in 1972.
Ranganathan Iyer joined his father in 1963 at the age of 18 and he has been there every day since. His elder brothers Ananatharaman Iyer and (late) Ramani Iyer too joined him.

Sweet Specialities
At this new location, they provided a daily 'sweet' special that has been now been a favourite of his guests for close to 50 years.

The specialities include Sevai, Jeera Boli, Akkara Vadisal, Rava Laadu, Bun Halwa and Kesari. There are five decade old regulars who make it every day to this restaurant that serves home like snacks and tiffin.

With the next gen moving away to more lucrative jobs, Venkatesa Bhavan shortened the timings a few years ago and now serves only between 2pm and 5pm each day. And much to the disappointment of the visitors, on most days they run out of stocks within a couple of hours such has been the customer loyalty at the restaurant.  

The Ever Smiling Selvam
Anantharaman and Ranganathan take care of the Kitchen while Ramani’s son Selvam Iyer engages with the guests. Rarely does he ask his guests and serves the days specials in the order he thinks would best suit them. Even the number of idlies and dosais served to a guest are decided by Selvam, such is his friendly nature. And the customers quietly enjoy his servings.   

Many restaurants have sprung up around the temple in recent times but the loyal guests of Venkatesa Bhavan restrict their entry to this over seven decade old eatery.

Venkatesa Bhavan is located at 75 Therku Vaasal. They can be reached on 78711 24430 / 97518 06262

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Thiruvidaimaruthur Mahalingam Temple

In the Thirumurai, the Lord is referred to as 'Idaimaruthan' and 'Maruthavaanar'
In the Chozha Period Inscription, Mookambigai is referred to as 'Yogi Iruntha Parameswari'

10 kms East of Kumbakonam on the Mayiladuthurai Highway is the towering Mahalingaswamy temple in Thiruvidaimaruthur located on a huge 20 acre space. 
A huge tank at the Eastern entrance, 7 towers and 7 prakaras welcome one into the sanctum of the Lord who has been loftily praised by all the four Saint Poets.

முந்திச் செய்வினை இம்மைக்கண் நலிய
மூர்க்கனாகிக் கழிந்தன காலம்
சிந்தித் தேமனம் வைக்கவும் மாட்டேன்
சிறுச்சிறி தேஇரப் பார்க்கட் கொண்றீயேன்

அந்தி வெண்பிறை சூடும் எம் மானே
ஆரூர் மேவிய அமரர்கள் தலைவா
எந்தை நீஎனக் குய்வகை அருளாய்
இடைமருதுறை எந்தை பிரானே - Sundarar
Pandya King and Maruthur
In the 3rd prakara, one finds the idol of Varaguna Pandya of Madurai who came here to relieve himself of Brahmma Hathi Dosham. During one of his hunting expeditions, his arrow unexpectedly struck and killed a Brahmin. Bound by Brahmma Hathi Dosham, he came to Thiruvidaimaruthur, had bath in the Cauvery and invoked the blessings of Lord Mahalingam.

Liberated from the sin, he constructed the Western Raja Gopuram and a prakara for Lord Shiva to come on a procession. He also built a temple for his Kula Deivam Sokka Nathar at Thiruvidaimaruthur.

Unique Features
A unique feature of the location is that it is central to his 9 satellites in this region – Vinayaka at Thiru Valanchuli, Subramanya at Swami Malai, Chandikeswarar at Thiruvoipadi, Navagraha at Suryanar Koil, Nataraja at Chidambaram, Bairavi at Sirkazhi, Nandeeswarar at Thiruvavaduthurai, Somaskandar at Thiruvarur and Dakshinamurthy at Thiru Alangudi. 

Another feature is that the temple is surrounded on all the four sides by Saivite Temples – Banapuram in the East, Thiru Neelakudi in the South, Thirubhuvanam in the West and the Idankodeeswaram temple in the North.

In the Thirumurai, the Lord is referred to as Idaimaruthan and Maruthavaanar. Thiru Gnana Sambanthar in his praise of the temple refers to the name of the Ambal as Perunala Mulai.

ஓடே கலன்  உண்பதும் ஊரிடு  பிச்சை
காடேயிட மாவது கல்லால் நிழற்கீழ்
வாடாமுலை மங்கையுந் தானும் மகிழ்ந்து
ஈடாவுறை கின்ற இடைமரு தீதோ

The inscriptions inside the temple refer to the Lord as Thiruvidai Maruthudaiyaar. Another inscription dating back to the Chozha period refers to Mookambigai inside the temple as ‘Yogi Iruntha Parameswari’. She is seen in a penance posture.

Just under a 50 years ago, there were a 100 houses in the agraharam. All the Mada Vilagams were filled with traditional people.

Sage Agastaya undertook penance here invoking the blessings of Ambal. When the Sage sought the blessings of Shiva as well, Ambal too undertook penance along with the Sage to seek the Lord’s presence here in Thiruvidaimaruthur. The Lord first provided darshan as Fire and then as a lingam. When the Sage pleaded for the full darshan of the Lord, He provided darshan seated upon the deer with a ‘Pirai’ on his head much to the delight of Sage Agastya.

During the rule of Vikrama Chozha, donations were made for the perpetual lighting of lamp for Lord Mahalingam. Under Koppara Kesari’s reign, an order was made for the presentation of Chakkarai Pongal to the Lord and 3 Veli Land were allocated to this end. Also, 5 Veli land was given to feed 20 Brahmins every day. Also, during his rule, a donation was made for the Ghee Abhishekam on the night of Thiruvathirai.
There was a donation for the presentation of Thiru Amuthu for Lord Nataraja every No Moon day.

The Vasantha Mandapam was constructed during the rule of Kulothunga III. In Vaikasi, starting on the Punarpusam day 10 day Vasantha utsavam is celebrated in a grand way

18 day Brahmotsavam in Thai is the biggest festival at the temple
10 day Kalyana utsavam in Vaikasi
10 day Aadi Pooram utsavam for Ambal
Pancha Moorthy Procession in Karthigai

Deity: Mahalingam
Ambal: Pragath Sundara Kusaambigai

The temple is open between 6am-12noon and 4pm - 9pm. Contact Dhandapani Gurukal @ 97917 82878

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Koodal Azhagar Pallandu Utsavam

Centuries ago, after his Victory in the debate, Periyazhvaar went atop the Royal Elephant of Vallabha Deva Pandya around the streets of Madurai in a Grand Celebratory Event, While last evening in this annual enactment  of the legendary episode of 'Pallandu Thodakkam', the great Saint Poet went around Koodal on a broken elephant 

Garudu Sevai Alankaram by 16 year Uppili Srinivas was a refreshing feature of the Utsavam
பேர் அணிந்த வில்லிபுத்தூர் ஆணி தன்னில்
 பெருந் ஜோதி தனில் தோன்றும் பெருமானே
முன் சீர் அணிந்த பாண்டியன் தன் நெஞ்சு தன்னில்
துயக்கற மால் பருத்து வத்தை திருமாசெப்பி

வானர மேல் மதுரை வளம் வரவே
வானில் கருட வாகனமாய்த் தோன்ற
வாழ்த்தும் ஈரணி  பல்லாண்டு முதல் பாட்டு
நானூற்று எழுவத்து ஒன்று இரண்டும் எனக்கு உதவு நீயேVedanta Desikar's praise of Periyazhvaar's Royal Procession

The legendary episode relating to the creation of the first decad of verses in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham was played out with historical flavour last evening at ‘Mei Kattu Pottal’,  the location of the historical court of Vallabha Deva Pandya, the King of Koodal Nagar.

When Pandya King Vallabha Deva went, incognito, on his usual late night rounds through the streets of Madurai to understand the sentiments of his people, he met with Soma Sarma, a traditional Brahmin who introduced himself as one on a long pilgrimage from Avanti Kingdom.

He surprised the King with his philosophical view on life, one that gave him sleepless nights ‘What we want for a rainy day is saved during good times. What we need for the night is to be earned during the day. Similarly what one wants after death should be accumulated now, in this very life.’ 

Unable to fathom the inner meaning of this, Vallabha Deva summoned his acharya and head priest Periya Nambi seeking an understanding of this statement. A big prize was announced to the one who provided insights into this. Many renowned scholars of the time tried their best but the king was not convinced and the bag of gold coins hung in the balance. 

The Title of Bhattar Piran
Invoking the blessings of Koodal Azhagar, Vishnu Chittar, who was handed out a special invitation having heard of his devotional powers, arrived in the court of Vallabha Deva and presented his views on 'Parathathuvam' that stunned the Pandya King. His description of Lord Narayana as the Supreme Being and his narration of references from the Vedic Scriptures and the suggestion that worshipping him in one’s life time with devotion was the highest form of worship and was likely to lead one  in the direction of what he or she sought after death thrilled Vallabha Deva Pandya.

Even as he was finishing his speech, the golden coins were showered on him, for Vallabha Deva instinctively realised that he had found the ultimate solution.

It was then that Vishnu Chittar was conferred the title of ‘Bhattar Piran’ by Raja Simhan I (Vallabha Deva). Delighted at this, the king ordered a royal procession for Vishnu Chittar around the streets of Madurai. 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 elephant top. 

As he moved along in the procession in a grand celebratory event witnessed by a huge crowd, Vishnu Chittar heard dissenting voices from his detractors. They asked him if the Lord that he referred to was so powerful, would it be in his powers to show them the Lord.

It was then that Bhattar Piran, once again, invoked the blessings of Lord Koodal Azhagar. And shortly after, much to the delight of everyone there, Lord Koodal Azhagar, appeared on his Garuda Vahana from above the Ashtanga Vimana along with Goddess Lakshmi against the back drop of the clear blue sky.

Worried that evil eyes should not fall on this beautiful Lord, seen in this immaculate posture with his beloved Goddess Lakshmi,Vishnu Chittar falling into a trance, showered verses of praise expressing concern for the Lord’s safety using the bell tied to the elephant as his Thaalam. 

16 year old's Garuda Sevai Alankaram
A most refreshing feature of the Pallandu Thodakkam Utsavam at the Koodal Azhagar Divya Desam on the evening of the Pagal Pathu Utsavam was the 2 hour alankaram of Koodal Azhagar by 16 year old Uppili Srinivas, under the able guidance of his father Rajagopalan Bhattar. 
The alankaram was befitting the description given later in the evening at the Mei Kattu Pottal by the descendent of Periyazhvaar who recited the entire puranam relating to this legendary episode. Starting from the attire of Garuda, the Class XI student was meticulous in decorating the Lord paying attention to the minute details of the alankaram.  With an alankaram as beautiful as this and patience he showed in  decking up the Lord gives one hope for the future that the next gen will be involved in the service to the Lord.

Periyazhvaar atop a Broken Elephant
 If the alankaram of Lord Koodal Azhagar atop the Garuda Mount was a delight to the hundreds of devotees who gathered at the Eastern entrance of the temple, the elephant vahana left them worried at the lack of commitment of the HR & CE officials. 
While Periyazhvaar went on this legendary trip around the streets of Madurai on a Royal 'Patta' Elephant, one that was used by Vallabha Pandya alone, the vahana on this evening was seen in a broken state with cracks all over the elephant’s body leaving one saddened with the affairs of the administration.

This episode of ‘Pallandu Thodakkam’ at the Koodal Azhagar Divya Desam on the eve of Pagal Pathu is the only one of its kind in a Divya Desam. And this event dates back to a legendary episode relating to the first decad of the 4000 sacred verses. And yet for this once in year event, one where the elephant is so integral to the festival, the officials have paid scant regard for the importance of the vahana.

All those centuries ago, Periyazhvaar went on a royal elephant while he now goes on a broken elephant in as prominent a Divya Desam as Koodal Azhagar, in the heart of Madurai.
Starting at 8pm, led by Periyazhvaar atop the white elephant, Koodal Azhagar made his way to Mei Kattu Pottal, the historical location of the legendary episode. It is the state of the modern times that even during this once in a year one of its kind utsavam, Periyazhvaar and Koodal Azhagar were separated by town buses plying on the Netaji Road!!!

In a devotional tone, Veda Piran Bhattar, the descendant of Periyazhvaar, decked in a beautiful cone like blue cap on his head and a cymbal in his hand, presented the ‘Pallandu Puranam’ starting with the hereditary description of Vallabha Deva and his forefathers followed by the specifics of this episode that led to Periyazhvaar’s Pallandu Praise on the Lord of Koodal.
On sighting the Lord in the high air, verses poured out instantly and he sung for the Lord’s long life. It is the only set of verses among the 4000 verses where an Azhvaar has sung benedictory hymns of the Lord.

Periyazhvaar suggests to the devotees who live with the only desire of serving the Lord to carry immediately talc paste and those with fragrances. He asks them to resist worldly pleasures and to come together as true devotees letting go vain glory and to sing the sacred mantra. 

Periyazhvaar says that it is important for us to give up our old bad habits and to connect with the Lord. He cautions that no one whose thoughts are just on food shall be allowed here. He wants all of us to continuously utter the 1000 names of the Lord and sing benedictory praise wishing for his long life.

It was seen as so sacred that Thiru Pallandu became the first decad of the Naalayira Divya Prabhandham.

This historical utsavam ended with ‘Pallandu Thodakkam’ – the adyapakas presenting the entire first decad of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham at Mei Kattu Pottal in front of Koodal Azhagar. Being the location of Pallandu, this utsavam of ‘Pallandu Thodakkam’ is unique to this Divya Desam.