Thursday, June 30, 2016

Vithuvakodu Pasuram Kulasekara Azhvaar

When one melts down before the Lord and surrenders, even the pains seem to become softer
In his verses of praise on Thiru Vithuvakodu (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2009/11/thiru-vithuvakkodu-divya-desam.html), Kulasekara Azhvaar describes the town and the scenario that existed there during his time. Vithuvakodu was well guarded by huge walls that were so high that it seemed to touch the sky. The fields were long and were always brimming with water, where fishes mingled in large numbers for that seemed to be the only habitat for them. Similar to the fish, he says that he has no place to go other than the feet of the Lord, despite the fact that the Lord does not even seem to glance at him.

Kulasekara Azhvaar compares the surrender sought by him with the Lord of Vithuvakodu  to a child who despite being kept away by an angry mother as punishment for some wrong doing comes back to the mother for solace. Despite all the troubles inflicted upon him by the Lord, he says he has nowhere else to go but to surrender to him and to seek his blessings.

தறுதுயரம் தடாயேல் உன் சரணல்லால் சரணில்லை
விரை குழுவும் மலர்பொழில் சூழ் வித்துவக்கோட்டம்மானே

அரிசினத்தால் ஈன்றதாய் அகற்றிடினும் மற்றவள் தன்
அருள் நினைந்தேயழும் குழவி யதுவே போன்றிருந்தேனே
  
Like a Virtuous Woman
Kulasekara Azhvaar compares the purity of his surrender to the Lord to a virtuous woman who never thinks of anyone other than her husband.

கண்டாரிகழ்வனவே  காதலன்தான் செய்திடுனும்
கொண்டானை யல்லால் அறியாக்குலமகள் போல்

He cites the example of the subjects who live under a King’s rule even though the king has taken over by power, has ignored them and subjected them to tyranny.

Faith in a Doctor
Despite the fact that the Lord presents numerous difficulties to the devotees, there is no one else to seek other than the Lord himself. Kulasekara Azhvaar compares this to the state of a patient and his utmost faith in the doctor who even cuts open the body for surgery.

வாளால் அறுத்துச் சுடினும் மருத்துவன் பால்
மாளாத காதல் நோயாளன் போல் மாயத்தால்

Kulasekara Azhvaar compares his current state to the birds that while in the middle of an ocean are running on all sides only to finally return back to the ship unable to locate the shore. Similar is the state of the human mind - finally the refuge lies in the Lord.

எங்கும்போய்க் கரைகாணாது எறிகடல்வாய் மீண்டேயும்
வங்கத்தின் கூம்பேறும் மாப்பறவை போன்றேனே

Even when the flame nears the lotus, it does not blossom. Only when the sun shines does the lotus blossom even though the sun is far away in the sky. Kulasekara Azhvaar agrees that one has to go through the pains of one’s Karma. But when he melts down before the Lord and surrenders thus, even the pains seem to become softer.

For many years there may not be rains. But do the crops not look up expectantly at the clouds in the sky. Similarly while there is a clear understanding that one has to undergo pains because of past karmas, as a true devotee, one’s heart has to be in the Lord alone seeking redemption from our ill deeds.

இத்தனையும் வான் மறந்த காலத்தும் பைங்கூழ்கள்
மைத்தெழுந்த மாமுகிலே பார்த்திருக்கும் மற்றவை போல்

மேய்த்துயர் வீட்டாவிடினும் வித்துவக்கோட்டம்மா
என் சித்தம் மிக உன்பாலே வைப்பன் அடியேனே

The rivers that spread in different directions finally join the sea. Similarly devotees wander in different directions but finally land up at his feet for surrender. Through the Lord’s blessings, huge wealth may be placed on one who may not even wish for it. But even in such devotees, the mind should only desire to attain the Lord’s feet.

Even though the Lord may seem to be not considering the devotee’s prayers, one has nothing else to do except surrender to the Lord.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Temple Darshan Photo Video Menace

The issue of Photo and Video Menace flares up again for the third year in a row during the Oyyali at the Narasimha Brahmotsavam at Parthasarathy Temple 

Saint Poets Azhvaars in several Pasurams in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham refer to festivals and Vedic recitals taking place in (Divya Desam) temples and devotees gaining positive energy from these festivals.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi refers to rows of houses, lining up the streets of Therezhandur, in whose porticos beautiful traditional ladies queued up to watch the glittering procession of the Lord with devotion. 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, likewise devotees would come out to the temples to capture a glimpse of the Lord and to seek his blessings. Alas, it does not seem so any more.

Crowds are thronging temples in big numbers these days. And it seems there is a ‘devotional’ wave sweeping across Tamil Nadu. But unfortunately the reality on the ground at the temples is very different. With phones becoming ‘smarter’,holding a phone high over the head and clicking photo and video shots of the Lord has become a new fad. The first activity of an utsavam as the screen opens during procession is not to worship the Lord with folded hands but to get the camera ready for the first click, mostly at the cost of darshan for many of the devotees at the back row. Narashimha Brahmotsavam 

For the third year in a row, this was a sour point at the Narasimha Brahmotsavam that concluded last night at the Parthasarathy temple in Thiruvallikeni. For a minority of devotees, it has become difficult to have a clear darshan of the Lord during the Oyyali, a special walk of the Lord leading to the NamAzhvaar Sannidhi, that has in recent times created much excitement among the devotees. Better access now to sleeker phones with good cameras has led to intense competition among the devotees who are now vying with each other to showcase their photography and videography skills than enjoying the Lord's beautiful evening presentation of the Oyyali, all this completely unmindful of the devotees behind them. This photo and video mania is turning out to be a serious distraction for some of the true devotees. 


And what is even more worrying is that it is the traditional people with Panchakajam and sporting broad Thiruman who are clicking such shots repeatedly of the Lord despite pleas from more sincere devotees. In fact, the pleas are silenced with a response that this is a public place and that the devotees have the right to click their shots in whatever way they want.

Frustrated at the group of residents not acceding to his repeated requests, Shri. K Parthasarathy, a long time resident of Thiruvallikani, last Sunday lodged an official complaint with the Deputy Commissioner of the temple on the use of Camera Phones during Oyyali.

Shri. Parthasarathy has been watching the Oyyali at the Parthasarathy temple from the time he was a young school boy in the mid 1960s. He says that he has not seen such unruly behaviour among residents in the last 50 years. ‘In the decades gone by, devotees including a number of children used to come from across the city to specially watch the Oyyali.’

‘No one has a right to obstruct the darshan of a devotee. For the last three years, I have placed continuous request to keep down the mobile phones during Oyyali but the scenario has only deteriorated. Clearly, the use of mobile phones has had a negative impact on the traditions of the temple. The latest fad is of devotees taking ‘selfies’ with the God and that surely is not in good taste.’ 

Shri Parthasarathy also wonders at the decision to allow the Ghosti to have mobile phones in their possession during the Prabhandham recital when they are not allowed to wear a wrist watch.

In the letter to the Dy. Commissioner, Shri Parthasarathy says ‘Some of the devotees raise their mobile phones and large iPADS above their shoulder greatly hampering the darshan for old and short devotees (especially ladies) standing in the back during the Oyyali. When requested, the devotees gang up together and fight back. This is a very unfortunate situation and many devotees have to suffer silently through the Brahmotsavam.’

He has requested the temple officials to take corrective action so as to facilitate peaceful darshan for all. In his letter, he has also requested them to update him on the action taken by them in this regard. Almost a week later, he is still awaiting their response.


The scene is not very different in the ancient Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram or the Ranganatha Perumal temple in Srirangam.

 Shri. Malai Mel Krishna, who has been in Kanchipuram for the last ten years performing kainkaryam, says that things have definitely changed for the worse in the last few years at the Varadaraja Perumal temple. ‘We try our best to educate the devotees on the need for self discipline but with the sleek phones, they manage to take continuous shots disturbing the darshan of many of the sincere devotees. The first thing a lady asked recently on entering was if she could take a photo. It has almost become an exhibition kind of event and it is no more devotional.’

At the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, Saathatha Vaishnavas have the responsibility to make the announcement relating to maintaining silence and disallowing photo and video shots of some of the sacred events.  Vaishnava Sridharan, whose family has been performing this sacred service for a 100 years at the temple, was shocked, recently, when he received a video recording on whatsapp of a sacred traditional event that he had strictly shouted out as a ‘No Photos No Videos’ prior to the event.

For the first time, these sacred and events exclusive to the Srirangam temple that had been protected for centuries together as an event to be only experienced at the venue and not meant for public distribution are being posted out in public forums now. And that is a very disturbing feature.

Where is temple worship going?
It just seems that temple worship is going the wrong way – Photo posts on social media and photo exchanges on Whatsapp seem to be the order of the day. In decades gone by, the typical comment from a mother was to get the child to pray with folded hands in front of the Lord. But now, even young children are being encouraged to take video shots. And at the end of one such event earlier this week, a kid was appreciated and given a pat on the back by the adoring mother for a great video shot of the Lord. The mothers even teach the young children with the best angles and positioning for the photo and video shots. 

The instant drive to showcasing their presence at the festival is taking people away from the essence of  devotion. 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 of the Lord' and not 'did you have a good peaceful darshan'. If the hands are always in possession of a camera phone, where is the possibility of the folded hands before the Lord? The non-stop chat on the phone even while performing a pradakshanam, typing of messages, taking photo shots at all times at all places leaves one wondering as to where we are headed with devotion.

Temples and the streets surrounding it are not mere public places. There is certain sanctity to it especially during procession. There is an unwritten devotional code of conduct that one needs to adhere to when one is near the Lord.

It is hoped that the official complaint lodged by the devotee at the Parthasarathy temple this week will trigger the HR & CE to seriously look into this issue and find a long term solution to this menace that will allow peaceful darshan of the Lord. 

A top corporate chief Shri. R Shiv Kumar has been a regular at the Kapaleeswarar temple for the last many decades and recites the sacred verses there all alone in a peaceful state every morning at 5am for an hour or so. He is completely frustrated at the changing scenario and probably sums best the feelings of the few remaining devotees. 

'Honestly, I feel like running away, ignoring the world and being one with HIM. We are nor reformers. At best we express frustration and take half-hearted moves that won't solve the problem and will only add to our frustration. This is the age of Kali and it is at its worst in Tamil Nadu.'


(a different version of this story featured yesterday in The Hindu Friday Review)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thiru Koshtiyur Renovation Issues

Periyazhvaar's Praise of Thiru Koshtiyur and what it is today
Not Just Cricket, Even Temple is a business now
Velukkudi Krishnan markets for the Renovation with an Upanyasam in Coimbatore - Road Shows no more the exclusive domain of corporates

Periyazhvaar reserves the highest form of praise for the people of Thiru Koshtiyur. In the Periyazhvaar Thirumozhi, he brings out the greatness of their generosity with a beautiful example. ‘During famine, grains sell at such a premium that even a handful of grains cost a gold coin. But even during these most testing of times, the people of Thiru Koshtiyur feed the guests with honour as if everything was normal. They do not use such tough times to hide their stocks and claim shortfall to their guests. Would you not sell yourselves as bonded slaves to such high quality people’ asks Periyazhvaar.

He praises them as those who always spoke the truth and who were blemish-less with almost no faults and without enemies. You could find no one with malice. From a young age, they cultivated good habits. He goes to the extent of saying that when their feet touched the ground, the earth got sanctified and became purer. Just seeing them seemed to fill one’s hearts with good thoughts. He says that such is the purity of the place that even the asuras aren’t likely to steal grains at Thiru Koshtiyur

That was over a 1000 years ago. The picture today bears no resemblance to the praise extolled by Periyazhvaar on the people of Thiru Koshtiyur. One wonders how he would have sung today if he visited the temple and met the residents of the town.

So what is the scenario now at Thiru Koshtiyur?

Temple Road Shows following the Corporate Model
It is that time of the season to make money at the cost of others. It is Renovation time. The previous renovation had taken place 17 years ago. There are road shows being organised for collection of money to fund the renovation ( yes road shows are no more the exclusive domain of companies looking to go in for IPOs or to raise funds through other routes). 

A recent one was anchored by the celebrated Velukkudi Krishnan in Coimbatore addressing a set of leading industrialists there - a beautiful model of an Upanyasam that was combined / followed with a funding pitch by the renovation team. This one though was particularly surprising, given the background of team, as Shri. Krishnan is careful with his brand promise but this may have been one occasion where he may have failed to keep up to that. 

(The renovation team shared this with me (when I was in Thiru Koshtiyur last week) with a lot of pride - the fact that they had roped in Velukkudi Krishnan for that road show)

Unauthorised collection of cash
As one is about to step foot into the temple, one is welcomed by a voice that seeks any money for the renovation - Rs. 10 to Rs. 10000!!!! No such collection of cash is allowed as per HR & CE rules (this is a Sivagangai Samasthanam temple but the audited accounts are to be presented to HR & CE). And the devotees with good intent keep feeding into the unsolicited pitching for money.

And as one stays on there at the entrance to the Raja Gopuram, one finds even more disturbing issues. Rs. 35 is being collected for car parking and Rs. 100 for mini bus parking but the receipt books don't indicate that amount (it is much lower). 

The car parking rights had in the past been tendered for a few lakhs annually but in the recent past that too has been withheld. Thus the entire collection is completely unaccounted for. And it is a financial loss to the temple with the parking fees going to a set of individuals.

Anna Dhanam
There is also collection of money for the Anna Dhanam scheme but it looks like this amount is not being deposited into the official account to which it is supposed to be. The donar gets prasadam on time just as a convincing methodology (and an acknowledgement to him of his donation) but the money may not be going to the Anna Dhanam, the purpose of the donation. A peep into the record books will tell the real story behind this. At a conservative estimate of about 100 donars every month, there is around Rs. 20000 going almost unaccounted.

That's the story outside the temple.

Pillayar Sannidhi brought down
Now to the inside. On the ground floor of the temple is the Shrine for Shiva that finds a mention in Thiru Mangai Azhvaar's Periya Thirumozhi verse on Thiru Koshtiyur. He praises the Lord of Thiru Koshtiyur as one who has accepted Goddess Lakshmi as well as Lord Shiva as being part of him ( his own self). In this case, it is meant as being 'part of the temple'.

Structural changes are being planned at the Shiva Sannidhi that includes the replacement of stones and a possible replacement of the Lingam ( though this may be said to be currently on hold).

It is the Pillayar Sannidhi that is first built on the South West corner of a Shiva Sannidhi. The Pillayar Sannidhi that possibly dates back to the time of the Shiva Sannidhi has been demolished and is being reconstructed.

As per the renovation rules of HR & CE, no ancient structure can be brought down without the express orders of HR & CE.

More demolition on the anvil
Also, on the plans are restructuring of Ramanuja and Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi Sannidhi, Narasimha Idol/Peedam and a replacement of the iconic Nambi idol on the third tier of the temple (just next to the stone sculpture of Ramanuja).

All of a sudden, yesterday, the Ashtanga Vimana work (that includes a Gold Rack installation) has been put on hold by the EO (who is an appointee of the Sivagangai Samasthanam). 

A Coat Hanger inside the Moolavar Sannidhi
As I entered the Moolavar Sannidhi on Tier 1, I found a coat hanger inside. And it was meant to be for the EO to place his Shirt while he was at the Sannidhi. Shirts are not allowed inside the Moolavar Sannidhi at this temple. But to have a coat hanger installed for a private individual  seems quite disrespectful to the Lord.
HR & CE has taken some initial steps towards an enquiry but it will have to probe deep and get to the base of the facts. 

I have also spoken to the ASI chief for an exploration to ensure that this ancient structure does not get diluted with structural changes to centuries old Sannidhis and idols.

The Moral: Temple has become a business (not just Cricket - the other topic that I write on)

A different version of this story featured in The Hindu Friday Review on June 17

Friday, June 10, 2016

VB Chandrasekar TNPL

 VBC becomes owner of TNPL team
2010- 'Do you call that cricket' (on IPL)
2016- 'It is a breeding ground for spotting and grooming talent' (on TNPL)
Many years ago, in the aftermath of quitting CSK, VB Chandrasekar ( what ever he does he will remain one of my favourite cricketers from the 80s) had remarked to me ‘Do you call that (IPL) cricket’? Yes, if it was not cricket ( that we had all come to live with), it was fine not to be part of it. 'It is not real cricket'.

How things and perspectives change in life. And how we, as human beings, grab luring opportunities letting go of our past comments and our philosophies on even things that are so close to our heart ( and real cricket is for VBC).

Over the last couple of months, VBC grabbed a high profile Tamizh commentary opportunity to take IPL  to the Tamizh households. He was away from his VBCA flood lit summer camp most of this summer instead engaging in an IPL commentary stint from the studios in Bombay.

And yesterday he has become a proud owner of a TN PL (PL) team.  Do you call this cricket in 2010 has now in 2016 become ‘this is a great talent spotting arena’. 

'TNPL is where you can spot talent and groom them for the future'!!!!

Michael Holding remains one of the very few prominent past cricketers to publicly make his displeasure known (about T20) and to stick to that and stay away from the financial lure.

The lure of Name and Fame and the possibility of huge bucks in the long term (and may be a return to IPL once CSK is back) has got VBC back into the Premier League much against his stated views on PL and this shorter form of cricket.

One hopes he will have a longer stint  in this shorter form than he has had with the Indian team (as a player), the IPL (as a mentor) and the TN team (as coach) now that he is the owner and has the ultimate decision making power.