Changing Times - From Thirukurungudi Araiyar to Infosys Araiyar
One of my first temple stories was on the Araiyar of Srivilliputhur in early 2007. In the time that has passed, India has seen a severe slowdown. Broadly, the country seems to have come unscathed as can be seen from the frantic hiring by the IT companies.
This is no IT story, though as you will see at the end there could be an IT connection to this!!!
Its that time of the year when the renowned Araiyar Sevai, a visual song and dance enactment of the ‘Paasurams’ that has been performed at Divya Desams for over 1000 years will be seen at its best. The Tamil Calendar month of Margazhi will see Pagal Pathu and Era Pathu Utsavams in Vaishnavite temples where the Araiyars present the Naalayira Divya Prabhandham during the 21day festival.
A ritual that was once performed in several Divya Desams is now down to three in Tamil Nadu- Srirangam, Srivilliputhur and Azhvaar Thirunagari (near Tirunelveli).
The Araiyar originated in Thirukurungudi, a Divya Desam 40kms from Tirunelveli. Legend has it that the Lord used to listen to Araiyar’s Abhinayam hiding behind a wall in Bashyam Street (South Mada Street). In recognition of this significant event, one still finds the name of this street in Tirunelveli’s Gazette.
Who are Araiyars
Araiyars (King of Music) are descendents of Nathamuni, who is said to have introduced the Araiyar Sevai. Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam himself gave the Araiyars the right to perform the unique musical chanting at the temples and presented them with the cone-like cap, two cymbals and the sacred garland (which they wear around their neck when they perform).
The Araiyars first recite the Paasuram, they then explain its inner meaning and finally perform the Abhinaya, a unique art/dance performance with their hands and legs explaining the Paasurams with special musical effect.
The Araiyar Sevai requires a deep knowledge and understanding of the Paasurams. It is not an easy art, as can be seen from the fact that it takes nearly 20 years to learn and perfect the ‘Abhinaya’.
One of the special ‘Araiyar Sevai’ occasions that is of particular significance is during the Paghal Pathu (10 days) and the Era Pathu (10 days after Vaikunta Ekadesi), when one is treated to a real spectacle with the Araiyars enacting the ‘Story of Andal’ growing into a young beautiful girl through their Abhinaya.
Will Araiyar Sevai become a thing of the past?
Between the slow down and the recovery, we are possibly seeing a dramatic change in the lifestyle of Araiyars.
One Araiyar is now flying high, literally – he has become a pilot, another has just completed BE in Computer Science and might soon land up a job at one of India’s high profile IT companies.
50years ago, they took up jobs as teachers in Schools. Today, they are moving into high pressure jobs in Corporates.
Of worry is the fact that only a handful of Araiyars are keeping this most difficult art going and even they seem to be giving into the lure of the financial world. It is possibly true that they have lived a financially insecure and unstable life for several decades without any form of support, either from the temple or elsewhere.
And hence, the next generation of Araiyars will move to cities like Madras and it is quite possible that we may soon see a deterioration in the enactment of the paasurams, the beginnings of which were seen last year at the Prabhandham Festival in Srirangam where the Araiyars fumbled with the Paasurams and forgot the steps!!!
Araiyars by location vs Araiyars by Profession
In centuries gone by, Araiyars used to be known by the place they belonged to. Hence, you would find a Thirukurungudi Araiyar, Srivilliputhur Araiyar, Thirukannapuram Araiyar, Srirangam Araiyar and so on.
Some time in the near future, they could be known by 'Infosys Araiyar' and 'Pilot Ariayar'.
In some sense, it is a shame that we are losing sight of history, not just the society at large but also those few sacred people who offer their divine services at temples.
In many ways, it is a reflection of the direction that the world is headed towards – A materialistic way of life is the standard norm and not the exception anymore.When one looks back in time, we will find that we have come through lot more difficult phases in history (did we not see the duels between Azhvaars and Nayanmars, did we not protet Srirangam from the Islamic invasion) and hence we should be able to get through this testing phase as well.