Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Parthasarathy Koil Devotion amidst Chaos

Cell Phone Chats, Photo and Video Shoots and 'whatsup for Dinner' rule Narasimha Brahmotsavam 2015
Where is the Devotion and the 'Folded Hands'?
Holding a phone high over the head and clicking photo and video shots of the Lord in Procession is the new fad at the ongoing Narasimha Brahmotsavam at the Parthasarathy Temple in Thiruvallikeni. Youngsters and Traditional oldies are vying with each other with their latest iPADS, Tablets and Smart Phones to click the first shots of the Lord. 

As a prelude to each day’s evening procession, Lord Narasimha is brought from the Western side of the temple, with the final 20 yards leading to the Nam Azhvaar Sannidhi in a ‘Vaiyali’, the climax to the Pathi Ulaathal event that has in recent times created much excitement among the devotees. Except that with the proliferation of Smart Phones, the photo mania has reached unacceptable levels and has turned out to be a serious distraction to true devotees.

For the 2nd year in a row, this has now become a sour point for a minority of devotees who are unable to have a clear darshan of the Lord in a Vaiyali as the climatic action of the 'Pathi Ulaathal' unfolds every evening just after 6.45 pm in front of the Nam Azhvaar Sannidhi  at the Eastern entrance of the temple.

It was almost a year ago – the second week of July 2014 - on a Sunday evening on the occasion of the eighth day of the Narasimha Brahmotsavam that this issue of 'phone - photo' intervention was brought up in no uncertain manner by a devotee. Exactly a year later, almost a similar story was re-enacted on Monday (29 June) evening at the same venue. Nothing really has changed attitude wise in these 12 months, In fact, with the emergence 'Smarter and Cheaper' phones, the situation has worsened with a majority of those present having their hands up to click the Lord, completely unmindful of the devotees behind them.

Chaos at Pathi Ulaathal
On July 13, 2014, right next to me was a tall man with an infectious smile. He seemed to be quite friendly with his fellow devotees and the officials of the temple and always exchanged pleasantries with them. He probably holds a Government post going by the respect he commands and the style of communication the temple officials have with him!!!

That evening, he showed the other side in him. A devotee who was standing a few yards in front of him had the mobile phone over his head and was clicking a video of the Vaiyali. The Tall Man with a polite smiling gesture requested the other man to keep the phone down so the other devotees behind him could have darshan of the Vaiyali.

A minute later, this process was again followed as the phone had gone ‘overhead’ again. Repeated polite appeals  went unanswered which is when the Tall Man decided to display his other Avatar. 

And for the next 10 minutes with the clock ticking to 7 pm that Sunday evening, the entire North Eastern side of the temple in front of the Nam Azhvaar Mandapa watched in awe the ripping apart by the tall man of the photo tormentor. It was so vociferous that KT Jagannathan (Business Editor of The Hindu) who was also part of the devotee crowd that evening described it as something ‘rarely seen from this man’.  Shortly after the event, KTJ ( who had seen him for almost a decade at the temple) remarked ‘I thought he was a soft person, did not know that he had this aggressive side to him’.

The tall man gave a piece of his mind in a tone that could be heard far away from the location of this episode. Importantly, it was a message from him not just to this arrogant person who persisted with his photo/video shoot despite repeated requests but to all those present there including the officials/service volunteers that raising the phone over head to shoot the Lord causing distraction to sincere devotees was not acceptable at this festival.

Interestingly, that evening exactly a few minutes before the tall man went ‘berserk’ with the sudden unexpected vocal blow on that ‘photo maniac’, the tall man’s daughter seemed to have a sudden bout of cough that she had to go away from the Nam Azhvaar Mandapa. God had deemed that it not apt for her to see her father in this 'never before seen'  demolition drive shouting out at the top of his voice on behalf of the devotee community. The probability of a physical exchange of blows  seemed high for the photographer seemed adamant at his right to photo shoot albeit at the cost of all other devotees behind him. Truly Lord Narasimha has his own ways and kept the daughter from witnessing this fiery side of her father!!!

It was particularly commendable because the Tall Man given his height would have been able to have darshan but not so the others around him. That evening, he had done yeoman service to all the true devotees of the Parthasarathy Koil by taking on boldly the photo man and sending out a strong message to the entire devotee community. It requires such bold men to speak up to put the ‘house’ back in order.

June 2015 Brahmotsavam and the scenario has worsened
Exactly a year later, nothing has changed. Better access now to sleeker phones with good cameras has led to intense competition among the devotees who are now more focused on showcasing their photography and videography skills than offering their devotion to the Lord and enjoying his beautiful evening presentation of the Vaiyali.

The first activity of the Utsavam is no more worship of the Lord with folded hands - Iru Kai Koopi Uraikkum Ivvinnappam Onru Kelaai..... as suggested by Desigar in his Prabhandham - Its now to get the camera ready for the first click and mostly at the cost of darshan for many of the devotees at the back row.

It was evening of Day 3 and another Sunday at the 2015 version of Narasimha Brahmotsavam. It looked like a re-enactment of last year’s episode. 

This time it was a man clad in a Panchakacham and sporting a broad Thiruman who was clicking shots repeatedly of the Lord with the phone held high over his head. The tall man was at it again requesting with a broad smile to keep the phone down but this time with the daughter next to him, he was not allowed his freedom of last year. And he remained silent after a couple of 'mild' shouts.

Story Trigger
A day later, today the 4th day of the Brahmotsavam (29 June) and to the event that triggered this story. 

It was 6.55 pm on Monday evening and to the climax of the evening's Pathi Ulaathal. And it was the same story yet again. Another person was right up there in the front holding the phone high preventing those at the back from a darshan of the Vaiyali. And the tall man for the 2nd day running repeatedly requested the other man to keep it down.

When the other man refused and continued to video shoot holding it high up, the tall man went up to him and brought the phone down and held it down!!!! A great bold initiative again by him. 

The Official's Right to Shoot!!!!! 
Unfortunately, though, the tall man this evening was further frustrated by the dramatic turn of events following the above episode. As he was performing this service holding down the phone of one man, he was shocked to find a Quasi Official of the temple (who is an integral part of the power group of festival organisers) right in front of the Lord in the middle of the path holding his phone high and clicking shots one after another completely insensitive to the fact that there was a huge devotee crowd right behind him trying to watch the Vaiyali. It did not occur to him that his action was blocking the darshan for several others behind him.

All that mattered to the Quasi Official was to avail of his exclusive right to stand right in front of the Lord to take any number of photo and video shots. 

It just seems that temple worship is going the wrong way – Photo posts on Facebook and photo exchanges on Whatsapp are the  order of the day. Even the traditional Vaishnavites are now being taken in by the 'Phone Photo Mania'. Awards seem to be on offer for the fastest photo post of Lord Narasimha that the devotees of Parthasarathy temple are vying with each other for the first and exclusive photo post. 

A lady remarked over the weekend that her relative from the US pinged on whatsapp within minutes of the commencement of the festival to confirm receipt of the 'launch' photograph. The instant drive to showcasing their presence at the festival is taking people away from the essence of why they are there in the first place and the reasons for their temple visits. There is a new found eagerness to show that they 'belong' to this new modern world of hi-tech phones. As they head back home every evening, the question asked is 'if you took a good photo shot of the Lord' and not 'did you have a good peaceful darshan.'

Azhvaars’ praise of Utsavams in Divya Desams
The festivals at this Divya Desam and others including the Brahmotsavam date back over a 1000 years, for Azhvaars in several Pasurams in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham refer to festivals and Vedic recitals and devotees gaining positive energy from these festivals.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi refers to rows of houses lining up the streets, in whose porticos traditional ladies queued up to watch the festivals and the glittering procession of the Lord of Therazhandur. He also makes a mention of the Chariot festival that used to take place at the temple during his time. In one of the verses, he refers to ‘Dust arising from the Chariot Festival’ at Therazhandur.
Describing the grand manner of the celebrations of the festivals at Nathan Koil (Nandipura Vinnagaram), Thirumangai Azhvaar says that the drum beats were so loud that it sounded like thick thunderous monsoon clouds coming together. During such festive times, peacocks happily danced around the beating of the drums creating happiness among the devotees who thronged in big numbers praying with folded hands.

Many verses in the Divya Prabhandham talk about the vibrancy around the temples during festivals and how people came out of their homes to have a glimpse of the Lord in different vahanas. And the Azhvaars describe the happy state of the people in such times.

One thought devotees would likewise come out to the temple to capture a glimpse of the Lord and to seek his blessings offering their sincere prayers. Alas, it does not seem so here.

Mrs. Bhooma Venkatakrishnan’s story
Earlier this month on 9th June - the 2nd morning of the recital of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham and the conduct of the homam leading up to the Samprokshanam -   a story featured in the Faith section of The Hindu where Mrs. Bhooma Venkatakrishnan (wife of the former HOD of Vaishnavism of the Madras University) quoted the Periya Thiruvanthathi verses of Namazhvaar to explain the opportunities provided by the Lord for Moksham and the route to Vaikuntam. Interestingly, the story went on to say that there were limited seats at Vaikuntam and hence if every devotee was perfect and offered his/her prayers as desired by the Lord, He would struggle to accommodate them at Vaikuntam.

Exactly two hours after this story featured in print the author was chatting away on phone continuously sitting right behind the Goshti group in front of the Andal Sannidhi and just 10 yards away from Shri Venkatakrishnan who was also part of the Prabhandham recital that morning.

Even the Ghosti group have scant regard
Well unfortunately, this attitude of utter disregard for the Lord does not end with the devotees and officials. It extends to the revered Ghoshti group as well as seen in the  Era Pathu Utsavam in the first week of January this year.

One of my favourite night festivals is the Veenai Ekantham at the Srirangam temple (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2009/12/veena-ekantham-at-srirangam-ranganatha.html). It is an event of putting Lord Ranganatha to sleep with the devotional tunes late in the night. You could hear a pin drop during their recital such is the respect given to the Veenai  artistes there.

Over the last two years, some young musicians have presented truly heart rendering music on the occasion of Era Pathu Utsavam at the Parthasarathy temple ( the young girl who played the violin readily comes to mind). 

This year, as part of this Utsavam, the elderly couple, and flautists, KT Jagannathan and Sudha Jagannathan were bestowed with the opportunity to lead Lord Parthasarathy back to his sanctum.

The clock was ticking to 11pm in the night and the two of them played a few devotional tunes as the entire place reverberated with devotion but not for two of the most senior people in the Ghoshti. They had had their day of Prabhandham recital and it was now time for them to discuss things away from the temple. To them, Jagannathans’ devotional tune was not important nor were they sensitive to the fact that there were 50 odd devotees enjoying this soft music. That evening one even saw a smile in the face of Lord Parthasarathy who seemed to appreciate these two praising him with their divine flutes.

Maniam Balaji asked the two Prabhandham Scholars to keep quiet, first when the Jagannathans passed the Flag Post and then a second time as they continued their presentation passing the Garudan Sannidhi. Thankfully, that night the Jagannathans seemed oblivious of the noise around them for they were engrossed in the music played to delight the Lord.

However, it seemed to occur to the two distinguished Prabhandham specialists that it was not within Balaji’s rights to instruct them to remain quiet. And as KTJ reached the climax with Lord Parthasarathy having settled down in his seat came a shocker from the Prabhandham Scholar.

It was particularly disappointing for me, for this Prabhandham exponent is the one whom I have admired the most here as I watched in utter disbelief his retorting back to Balaji in an unflinching voice that 'he will talk loudly and no one has a right to stop him' and definitely not Balaji. 

It was difficult to fathom that such a senior Prabhandham Acharya who had rendered the sacred recital for several decades at this temple could disregard the sanctity of the temple with such contempt and with such a public posturing of his rights to talk loudly while Lord Parthasarathy was being carried back to his sanctum, completely unmindful of the devotional music that was being played alongside the Lord that night.

Of course, there are folks in the Ghosti Group who chat continuously with their colleague throughout the recital of the Prabhandham. Obviously, they are seeing nothing wrong in talking with their colleagues on a variety of topics while sitting within the group.

And picking up calls on their mobile phone while being part of the Ghosti is a normal occurrence. Here again they seem to see no wrong in talking over the phone while others in the Ghosti are reciting the Prabhandham.

Where is true Devotion to the Lord?
Crowds are thronging temples. And it seems there is a ‘devotion’ wave sweeping across Tamil Nadu. But unfortunately the reality of 'Devotion' on the ground at the temple is very different. You have a senior executive coming in a posh car to the Parthasarathy temple every evening for his daily walk. There is no problem with using the temple as a walk area - huge temples such as Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy temple actually have a walk path 
(http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2007/05/mannargudi-rajagopalaswamy-temple.html). However, it is disrespect to the Lord if the walker combines his walk time with talk time both with his co-walker as well as on the Blackberry.

The non-stop chat on the phone, typing of messages, updating their near and dear ones on the status of the procession via the instant messaging system and taking photo shots at all times at all places leaves one wondering as to where we are headed with devotion. If the hands are always in possession of a photo phone, where is the possibility of the 'folded hands' before the Lord?

Vincent D’Souza and his reaction at the Church
Vincent D’Souza, the Editor of Mylapore Times and who has been rendering great community service, remarked earlier this year that anyone speaking in a loud tone during his time at the Sunday Church would get a mouthful from him. Something on the lines of what the Tall Man dished out at the 2014 Brahmotsavam!!!!

My description on the current trends at the Parthasarathy temple left him shocked. He was upset that I was a silent spectator and wished me well that January evening in my endeavour to create a positive transformation in temples and to get us back into the days of peaceful, undisturbed worship.

This story triggered by the Monday evening's action of the ‘Tall Man’ is a first step to try and get those who read this to offer peaceful darshan in temples. Phone calls and chats can be done through the day and night outside the temple. And the photos can be taken without disturbing the 'devotee eco-system and peace'.

I hope this will also serve as a wake up call to the officials/quasi officials and the service volunteers of the Parthasarathy temple that they have a duty of devotion to the Lord and that the power they think they are holding does not necessarily translate into automatic rights to photo and video shoot. Definitely not at the cost of distraction to the devotees.


kondangi thirumalai jagannathan said...

Good one Prabhu Liked your narrative, and agree with the broader point your are making

Anonymous said...

Good post.

This (obsession with shooting pics) is omnipresent these days.

Anonymous said...

Really hope it brings about constructive change in the society.

Congrats on the effort.

Anonymous said...

Superb. Hope this triggers more action.

Anonymous said...

I loved the post... But I don't see those idiots changing at all... they will hide behind the e-darshan argument :(

Unless we have many TALL MEN who enforce consistently, there wouldn't even be an iota of change. It will only get worse...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

BTW, not sure if you know... I always switch off my mobile phone a minute before I enter a temple. And I insist that anyone coming along (as my party) do this.

I can proudly say that my mobile phone has never been ON inside a temple since the day I had a mobile phone.

PRabhu S said...


Truly proud of you.

Ungala maathiri ellaarumey irunthaal the temple
ambience will change.


PRabhu S said...

Dear KTJ,

Thanks for the Kind Words.


PRabhu S said...


Kandippa change will happen for the good.

Perumal irukkarey to support me:)


Anonymous said...

Very nice!! Really makes me think about it!! did u see the crowd with phone moving front and back last night during Yesal??

Really could see very less folded hands..

I very rarely take my phone out for photos..

Anonymous said...

Good that you brought this up.

cell phone and short pants should be banned from temples.

BTW I would have loved to know the names of the people you have praised like the violin girl , that would have helped the artist as well.

PRabhu S said...

Thanks for the comments.

I neither know the name of the Tall Man nor the violin artiste.

The names I knew are featured in the story.

And yes will fight for the ban on phones and shorts, among many other
things I am fighting for.

You are lucky there in the US- it would all be peaceful prayers.


Anonymous said...

Very insightful

Anonymous said...


A bold article - in fact, like Thirupathi/ Bandharpur Vittal ( recently visited by me) temples, where people are prohibited from taking Mobile/ Camera inside the temple, our temples also should follow this rule strictly . Of course, in Veedhi ula, it will be difficult to implement.


Anonymous said...

Very well written and it brings out your – why our – frustration out in full.

We have to only find peace and devotion amidst chaos!


Sudha said...

Good bhavam, Sir. I feel lack of TRUE knowledge of the archaa form is the root cause of these sins.

PRabhu S said...

Yes Madam.

It has become process oriented - try for as quick a darshan as possible, go around on a pradakshanam 'xyz' number of times with the mind already on the Chakkarai Pongal. And enjoy the food delicacy licking the finger till the final Puliyotharai is consumed.


Sudha said...

True Sir. That mechanical attitude is because, deep down, most people think of the Lord as just an idol. Moreover, the Lord is saatvikam personified and is tolerant. Wonder if these people would do this in front of an extremely fearsome deity. Not sure - maybe they would.

Meenakshi said...

Prabhu, thanks for sending me this link.

Superb points and extremely well-made - I can sense the sadness behind the seemingly-clinical write-up! I empathise entirely - having been a victim of such 'party-line devotees' whose intent in visiting temples is largely to make an arrogant social point about their religiousness, and very little about a quiet one-to-one interaction with the Almighty. It's almost as if they expect to be rewarded by God for having made time for the visit in their busy schedules and for demonstrating their superior multi-tasking ability vis-a-vis simpletons who can focus only on worship!

A further shocking phenomenon is when the same peace-disturbers seem to develop a blind spot to their own behaviour and are vociferous in criticising others for similar behaviour! It's almost as if their sideline conversations and tech-shenanigans are essential components of their superior-status bhakti while other mere mortals have to toe the line!

Another irksome thing is when people pull rank on God himself and lay claim to superior rights and privileges in full view of others who play by the rules! Ah, but that is enough matter for an entire new chapter altogether!

The nuisance has reached a point where one is tempted to focus on conjuring up the divine, peaceful atmosphere of a temple amidst one's own home and in one's own mind!


Prabhu.S said...


You have reached a point of 'any where' Bhakti.
I am yet to get there.
I have to use the temple route to try to get to that destination.

Your points are very relevant on how devotees are using the temples..
Will discuss offline when we meet next time.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. We go to temples to unite with God . Mobile phones should be banned in all temples. Good post. Thanks for sharing.