Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Saathaatha Vaishnavas

Ramanuja entrusted them with several key and sacred responsibilities in temples
Safe Keep of Jewels, Possession of Outer Keys, Ensuring ‘quiet’ during sacred recitals, leading the procession with ‘Velli Thadi’, Presenting ‘Kattiyam’ and presentation of Flower Garlands and Tulsi Leaves were some of the key activities assigned to the Saathaanis 900years ago

At Srivilliputhur,  Saathaatha Vaishnavas make the sacred parrot and present to Andal in the evening every day of the year. 
If you hear loud shouts of 'Pesaathey' or 'Eth Sarigai Sari ga Sari ga...'  at the Lord Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, you would know that the Saathaatha Vaishnavas are in Service of the Lord. It is a couple of the number of service activities assigned to this set of people by Ramanuja 900years ago.

Ramanuja, who returned to Srirangam after a 12 year exile to Melkote, laid down specific processes to be followed in temples and assigned each of these to a specific set of people. Interestingly, he included people from different walks of life and ensured that they too would participate in the temple activity.

One such set of service activities was assigned to the Saathaatha Vaishnavas. They are referred to as Saathaatha Vaishnavas as they signify their status as True Vaishnavas in all respects except wearing the sacred Poonal ( referring to them as ‘Poonal Saathaatha’ Vaishnavas).

Several of these Saathaatha Vaishnavas accompanied Ramanuja on his sacred trips across the country and were given specific responsibilities during such trips. Ramanuja found them to be so trustworthy that he bestowed several important responsibilities on them as part of the service activities in temples. Ramanuja also gave them tax free lands near temples for them to stay and perform their service.

In a number of temples, they are also referred to as Koil Vaishnavas or Dasa Nambis.

Initial Phase
In the early stages, the Saathaatha Vaishnavas were engaged in sharpening and cleaning out the palm leaves to be used by Ramanuja for his writings. They also used to clear his pathway to the temple every morning and would alert the devotees ahead of time all along the way. The devotees would then lay out beautiful kolams to welcome Ramanuja in front of their homes.

900 old year service tradition
Saathaatha Vaishnavas also played the role of supervisors overseeing a number of activities in temples. In many temples, the Saathaanis were even given possession of the outer keys, such was the trust reposed in them by Ramanuja. In some temples in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, they still play the role of archakas.

Highlights of their Service
Safeguarding Lord’s jewels (Karuvullam) both round the year as well as during his processions, acting as Stores-in- Charge, Thirumeni Kaaval, offering flower garlands to the Lord and Kattiyam (making various announcements relating to the Lord), maintaining silence around the Lord during processions and sacred recitalss are some of the services assigned by Ramanuja to the Saathaatha Vaishnavas. They also have the special right to make the announcement of ‘Eth Sarigai’ that directs the Lord to stop and proceed during processions.

If Uthama Nambi descendents are the ones who have control over the Lord inside the sanctum, it is the Saathaatha Vaishnavas who have control once the Lord has made his way out of the sanctum on a procession.

No Substitutes for Saathaatha Vaishnavas
There are no substitutes for Saathaatha Vaishnavas and they are to carry out all the service activities themselves. On an annualised basis they are paid around Rs.30 for their services through the year. However, Ramanuja assigned them an active share in the Lord’s daily prasadam. Sthaanikas, Archakas and Saathaatha Vaishnavas are the three sets of people who receive prasadams from the Lord every day. For their non- stop service through the year, it is the Saathaanis who receive the maximum share of the prasadams out of these three.

Daily rituals of Saathaatha Vaishnavas
Except for not wearing the sacred thread (which they have been given exception to), all other traditions that are applicable to Vaishnavites are followed by the Saathaatha Vaishnavas including not eating food outside except God’s food or devotees’ presentation. They also have to perform the Pancha Samaskaram.

Kanthadai Ramanuja Mutt is the headquarters of the Saathaatha Vaishnavas. The mutt head always wears a cap similar to the one the Araiyars wear while at temple festival events. During Ramanuja’s time, Pillai Urangavalli Dasa and his wife Ponnaai Chiyaar lived at the mutt and as a symbolic gesture, their idols are still seen at the mutt.

Koil Vaishnavas of Srirangam
At Lord Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, the Koil Vaishnavas (about 10families still live here) perform a number of services through the year including on festive occasions.

Velli Thadi
Koil Vaishnavas lead the procession with the big sacred stick (Velli Thadi) making way for the lord so he can go unhindered. The Velli Thadi that they carry with them is believed to be the two pillars of Sanctum of Lord Ranganatha and was presented to them by Ramanuja himself.

The Koil Vaishnavas have the honour of beautifying the mandapas ahead of Namperumal’s procession. Ramanuja assigned the Saathaanis with the right to stand in front of the Lord and Thaayar and sing praises during procession on festive occasions.

Maintaining Silence - Pesaathey
During chanting of Divya Prabhandham and other sacred recitals including during Araiyar Sevai and Ghosti, the Koil Vaishnavas are assigned the task of shouting out ‘Pesaathey’ to silence the devotee crowd and to listen to the recital in peace and to maintain order.

During procession of both Namperumal and Ranganayaki Thaayar, Dasa Nambis have been bestowed the rights to present Kattiyam – the process of announcing the arrival of Lord/Thaayar for the procession and praising him on such occasions. They have been given rights to present 12Kattiyams including  a few verses in Sanskrit.  They present special verses of praise on Lord Namperumal during the 10days Pagal Pathu Utsavam and also on 5days of the Era Pathu utsavam. In addition, they also present verses in praise of Ranganayaki Thaayar during the Navarathri Utsavam.

Eth Sarigai during processions
It is after they shout out ‘Eth Sarigai’ does Namperumal stop during processions. It is only after they give the green signal by shouting out ‘Eth Sarigai Sariga Sari’ can Namperumal start moving again during the procession.

(Eth Sarigai is a caution to the Seemaanthaangis, who carry the Lord on their shoulder, to take care of the Lord during the procession and to move him to the final destination in a cautious way wading through the big crowd that is having darshan of him)

Pantham It is also the Saathaatha Vaishnavas who carry the Dasa Nambi Pandham. They would pour Ghee into the Pandham. Centuries ago, it was the ghee lamp lit on a long vertical stick that provided light for the Lord during processions and hence it is a particularly significant service that they rendered.

On Ekantha Seva occasions of Namperumal and Ranganayaki Thaayar, Dasa Nambis have the special privilege of being presented ‘Vedrapani’ Arulapadu – Recital of ‘Naayinthey’….. and ‘Sriranga Vibho Daya Vijay Bhavo’ that Lord is believed to listen without any worries – a recital that requests the Lord to bless all the true devotees with victory in their every day endeavour.

It is also the Dasa Nambis who shout out ‘Aahoo’ and ‘Oohoo’ before any sacred moments for the Lord. Through this they are calling out the two Gandharvas who had been cursed to an elephant and crocodile and who were liberated from their curse through the Gajendra Moksham episode.

Opening of the Sacred Screen
After the archaka has performed the pooja for Lord Ranganatha and after the Mangala Aarathi, Dasa Nambis are the ones who have the rights to open the screen at the Gayathri Mandapa for the devotees to have darshan. At the Ranganatha Sannidhi, the Koil Vaishnavas have the right and responsibility to be present at the eastern entrance to the sanctum.

Margazhi Divya Prabhandham Utsavam in Srirangam
Come Margazhi and the Saathaanis have special set of activities assigned to them. On Thiruppavai Satru Murai days and on the occasion of Nam Azhvaar Moksham that is celebrated in a grand way at the Ranganatha temple, the Saathaana Vaishnavas present sacred Tulsi leaves in big numbers in the sacred vastram laid out by Paricharaka who then hands it over to the archaka for placing at Lord’s feet.

Kaisika Ekadesi – Padi Etra Sevai
Srirangam is one of the two Divya Desams where Kaisika Ekadesi is celebrated in a grand way. On the night, the dresses worn by Namperumal through the year are showcased following which Araiyars present sacred verses of Nam Azhvaar. Late into the night, the descendents of Parasara Bhattar present the story of Kaisika Puranam.

On the morning after Kaisika Ekadesi is a special event that takes place at the western entrance of Santanu Mandapa. With Namperumal making his way back up the steps to the sweet songs of the Araiyars, the Saathaana Vaishnavas are bestowed the exclusive rights to shower Pachai Karpooram on Lord Namperumal. This is a much looked for event as part of the Kaisika Ekadesi Utsavam referred to as ‘Pachai Karpooram Padi Etra Sevai’.

Dasa Nambis also have right to close the gate of the Jaya Vijaya entrance mandapa and to present Ramanuja Muthirai.

A street named after them
They have been accorded the rights to bring flower garlands for Ranganatha, Namperumal and Ubaya Nachiyars and to present directly to the archakas and to also hand over the sacred Tulsi leaves for Thiru Aradhana of the Lord. Every evening they present flower garland to Ranganayaki Thaayar on a Silver plate accompanied by sound of music.
Over the last few centuries, the Saathaanis have also got into the business of selling flowers in a street South of the Ranga Ranga Gopuram. This street where they have lived for centuries has come to be referred to as Saathaara Vaishnava Veedhi and this is now the wholesale flower market in the Trichy region with street buzzing with activity from 3am-7am every morning.

Saathaatha Vaishanava Sridharan has been performing these services at the Ranganathaswamy temple over the last decade. He is an integral part of all the festivals and the processions of Namperumal at the temple. His father Vaishnava Srinivasan performed this service with true devotion to the Lord for seven decades in the 2nd half of the 20th century.

Till middle of the last century, Saathaanis were involved in participation in Ghosti following the recital of Nalayira Divya Prabhandham and they actually had a role in the presentation of two verses.

While this privilege has lost its way with passing of time due to a variety of reasons, they are, to this date, accorded the sacred Sadagopan respects at Karthigai Mandapa at the end of the Ghosti.

Three days in a year – Sankranti, Theppam and Sri Jayanthi- the Saathaatha Vaishnavas are accorded a special honour for their services. From the temple, they are taken on an elephant and ‘dropped’ back home accompanied by Melam and Thaalam.

The making of the ‘messenger’ parrot in Srivilliputhur
Ramanuja also assigned many important tasks to Saathaanis in several other Divya Desams. At the Divya Desam in Srivilliputhur, parrot holds a special significance. Andal Nachiyar used the parrot to send message to her beloved Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam to come fast and marry her.

The Saathaatha Vaishnavas have the privilege of making and presenting the special parrot every evening to Andal Nachiyar for the Thiru Aradhana pooja at this Divya Desam. This is quite an arduous task and takes 6hours every day.

Dasa Nambis use Plaintain leaves as a basic input for the first layer inner layer. They then add Maravalli Kizhangu leaves on top of that as the 2nd layer. Mica (‘Kaaka Ponn’) is added to beautify the parrot. The parrot’s nose is made using the outer layer of Pomegranate.

For the parrot’s tail, they use White Arali and Nandhyavattai leaves. The parrot’s ear is brought to life by shaving off the top layer of bamboo and reconstructing that using their artistic skills to make the Nachiyar's ears!!! 

They present this artistically made parrot to Andal Nachiyar every evening at the Srivilliputhur Divya Desam - 365days a year. The Saathaatha Vaishnavas make no money out of this and do it purely as a service to Andal. The parrot is not for sale!!!!

Saathaatha Vaishnava Sethuraman has perfected this art of making parrot over the last 25years. His forefathers have been rendering this service for the last several centuries. This service by the Saathaatha Vaishnavas in Srivilliputhur has been in vogue for the last 750years.

The Dasa Nambis have also been assigned the task of taking care of the security of the room that houses Lord’s jewels – Karuvullam. They have also been bestowed the right to accompany the Lord/Andal Nachiyar on their Vahana procession.

At Srivilliputhur, the Dasa Nambis live in the same street right next to the archakas, an indication of the high status given to them by Ramanuja.

Dasa Nambis in other Divya Desams
A few centuries ago, some of the Saathaanis of Srivilliputhur moved to Vanamamalai to perform the selfless service at the Thothathri Nathan Divya Desam. After the ghoshti, the Dasa Nambis have the privilege of presenting Namazhvaar’s sacred verses at the temple in Vanamamalai.

In Margazhi, as part of Vaikunta Ekadesi festival, the Dasa Nambis present Raya Ramanuja Dasa Arulapadu. At some point of time, over 400years ago, they may have been assigned as the representatives of Raya clan and hence possibly that arulapadu has come to be referred to as Raya Ramanuja Dasa Arulapadu.

At the Aathi Nathan Divya Desam in Azhvaar Tirunagari, the Saathaatha Vaishnavas are accorded special respect on the last day of Vaikunta Ekadesi festival for their selfless service that they render through the year. Also, like in Vanamamalai, they have the privilege of rendering a few of the sacred verses of Namazhvaar, after Ghosti. 

At the Sowmya Narayana Divya Desam in Thiru Koshtiyur, the Dasa Nambis are called Bhattar Piran Dasa. At the temple where Ramanuja was initiated with Thiru Manthiram on his 18th visit, the Saathaanis take care of the temple jewels. 

At Sriperambudur, during processions they have the task of taking care of Lord’s jewels - a service referred to as ‘Thirumeni Kaaval’. 

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