Friday, September 30, 2016

Thenthiruperai Divya Desam

Life in the 1930s at Thenthiruperai comprised of Vidukathai and Thaalaattu in the Mel Thinnai - Keezh Thinnai, Paandi and Kaakku Muthu under the watchful eyes of the Lord, a 1 1/2 kms walk every morning to Tamaraibarani for a bath

Othuvars blew the conch every morning at 5am to wake up the residents!!!

1000s of years ago, Nam Azhvaar presented the scenario at Thenthiruperai as he saw it from his birth place of Azhvaar Tirunagari, just 4kms away.

வெள்ளைச் சூரி சங்கொடு ஆழி ஏந்தி 
தாமரைக்கு கண்ணன் என் நெஞ்சினூடே 
புன்னைக் காடாகின்ற ஆற்றைக் காணீர் 
என் சொல்லிச் சொல்லுகேன் அன்னைமீர்காள் 

வெள்ளச் சுகம் அவன் வீற்றிருந்த 
வேத ஒலியும் விழா ஒலியும் 
பிள்ளைக குழா விளையாட்டு ஒலியும் ஆறாத் 
திருப்பேரெயில் சேர்வான் நானே - Thiruvoimozhi ( 7.3.1)

Thenthiruperai, he describes, as a place of joy where the festival atmosphere existed right through the year, sometimes for many days in succession. The entire place reverberated with endless recital of Vedas that sent positive vibrations among the people. Even more interestingly, it was a place where children played in the agraharam giving great joy to the residents.

The Lord (Makara Nedun Kulai Kaathan) who is seen with a crown, conch and discus was so happy on hearing about the happy and playful state of the children that he asked Garuda to move to his left so he could watch their games. To this day, Garuda is seen away from the line of the Lord, a unique feature of this Divya Desam.

Nam Azhvaar describes the fields around the temple as being fertile with big growth of Paddy. The huge tanks were filled with water to the brim. Thenthiruperai was so prosperous that there were huge mansions all around the place.

1930s @ Thenthiruperai
75 years ago, back to the pre independence era, it seemed that none of what Nam Azhvaar had described those 1000s of years ago had changed. Born in 1932, K Ranganayaki is the oldest resident of Thenthiruperai. For over five decades, she has been living in the house right opposite the temple.

She has nostalgic memories of the decades gone by.  As mentioned in Nam Azhvaar’s verses, she watched festivals all through the year till things went bad in the 1980s after a Kalavu, where the jewels of the Lord went missing (one that has still not been found 30 years on).  
Brahmins held in high esteem
There was an interesting understanding amongst the residents of Thenthiruperai. The family that first reaped the harvest for the season had to take care of the expense of one of the Utsavams. This was referred to as ‘Naal Kathir’ utsavam. People from all communities in the region took care of the different festivals. There was an active involvement of Pillais, Konars and Nadars in the conduct of the utsavams. Farmers came from all the nearby villages to witness the festivals especially for the big one in Panguni.

Brahmins were held in high esteem. They chanted the Vedas and Prabhandhams each day of the year and spent most of the time performing service to the Lord of Thenthiruperai.. There was not much income but they would be well fed and generally live a very happy and peaceful life dedicating themselves to the Lord. The entire town was very religious and the men were truly traditional. Even if they were not educated otherwise (schooling/college), Prabhandham was at the tip of the tongue of every Brahmin in Thenthiruperai. The importance paid to the recital of verses in praise of the Lord and their unflinching faith and devotion to the Lord was an overwhelming quality of the people of thenthiruperai.

A number of Brahmins of Thenthiruperai just gave away their lands to the Lord of Thenthiruperai.  During the last century, a dwadasam trust was created and Brahmins were fed on all Dwadasi and Amavasya days in the year. 

In line with the importance accorded to the Brahmins, it was a practice at Thenthiruperai that the Brahmins would go to the field and mow the field first. Only then would the farmers start sowing. The farmers firmly believed that something started with the hands of the Brahmins could not go wrong!!!

Interesting Fact
Very interestingly, ladies rarely entered the temple through the last century except on big utsavam days. While the men folks recited the Prabhandhams early in the morning one that continued into the day, the women were busy making food and taking care of the children. It was also not a practice to provide prasadams to the ladies at the end of the Ghosti.

Ranganayaki’s ancestors belonged to the Dikshithar family. They were blessed with the art of composing songs on the Lord. Once when her grandfather could not pay taxes, he was sent to the prison in Palayamkottai. Later on when they found that he was a great devotee of Thenthiruperai and had written songs on the Lord, the prison authorities sought his forgiveness and released him.

Festive Occasions in the 1950s
Sri Jayanthi was a special occasion of celebration. On this day, the Sri Jayanthi Purana was narrated at the temple in front of a huge devotee crowd. Kaisika Ekadasi was another day when the crowd gathered inside the temple to listen to the recital of Kaisika Purana and the story of Nambaduvan that served as a guiding light to live life.

Margazhi and narration of Lord’s Parvam!!!
Margazhi was a special month for the residents of Thenthiruperai. On each of the 10 first days of the Pagal Pathu Utsavam, the Lord would go to the Thayar Sannidhi in the South and a parvam (phase of life) of the Lord would be narrated as a tale through the pillai songs of Periyazhvaar.

On the 2nd set of 10 days, the Lord would go the Thayar Sannidhi in the North (Thiruperai Nachiyar).
This practice of going to the Northern Thayar Sannidhi has been done away with in recent decades. 
Archaka Family in the early 20th Century
Through the decades from the 1930s, there were hereditary archakas in the agraharam. They later lost in the battle for survival with very little income coming their way and left the town looking for greener pastures never to return. In the 1990s, things had turned drastically for the worse and there were no bhattars at the temple to even perform the daily poojas let alone the conduct of the festivals. Priests came in from Sri Vaikuntam and Azhvaar Tirunagari after finishing the poojas in their respective temples.

Thenthiruperai Divya Desam temple would remain closed till 9.30am/10am on most days. This model was just not working for the residents all of whom felt saddened by the turn of events from the grandeur of the 30s and 40s.

A New Bhattar from the 1990s
And then a young 24 year old Bhattar (Thiruvenkatanathan) who was well versed in the agamas and Prabhandham was roped in by the Thenthiruperai authorities. He hailed from Thiru Mogur Divya Desam and had the opportunity before him to perform poojas at Kalamegha Perumal temple.

But he decided to take the service up at Thenthiruperai Perumal temple. Such is his commitment that Ananthu (as known to the people in this region) Bhattar does not go back home during the period of the Brahmotsavam for it is usually 2am by the time he finishes the service on each night of the big festival and with the alankaram for the morning procession slated for very early morning, he sleeps inside the temple on those days.

The residents like Ranganayaki and her daughter Ambujam are delighted that the temple festivals have come back. In fact they are all praise of the new ‘non-resident’ bhattars who have come in the last couple of decades ( the other one being the very active AKK Bhattar from Kanchipuram). Clearly these two bhattars stand out amongst the bhattars of Nava Tirupathi Divya Desam in all aspects of devotion. 

Reviving old festival memories
All the original inhabitants of Thenthiruperai who moved to bigger cities and to overseas destinations come together for the Panguni Utsavam. And that, the 82 year old Ranganayaki says rekindles memories of her teenage days when the entire town celebrated the 10 days in a grand manner. It is during this festival that all the sincere devotees find Garuda leaning by a side to allow the Lord to rest his feet in a comfortable way.  

Most other festivals including Pavitrotsavam, Oonjal Utsavam and Adhyayana Utsavam are also back to the glory of the past.

The Vaikasi trip to Azhvaar Tirunagari
Her eyes lit up when asked about the now famous 9 Garuda Sevai of Nava Tirupathi. She remembers the Lord's trip every Vaikasi to Azhvaar Tirunagari for the congregation of all the Lords at Thiru Kurugur. This was a very festive trip with the prabhandham experts of Thenthiruperai making their way to the birth place of Nam Azhvaar along with their Lord along the banks of Tamarai Barani. The entire town of Thenthiruperai including the ladies would walk along with the Lord and stay the whole day at Azhvaar Tirunagari. And they would then return along with the Lord the next morning. It was a memorable event for it also gave the residents of Thenthiruperai an opportunity to meet with the people of Azhvaar Tirunagari and the other Nava Tirupathi Divya Desams.

Pulavars of Thenthiruperai
Thenthiruperai in the 1st half of the last century was home to a number of Pulavars. The ladies of Thenthiruperai Divya Desam were particularly blessed with the special ability to compose songs on the Lord. They have even brought out a few books with these compositions.

Wake up – It is 5 am
Othuvars, the clan assigned to blow conch at the temple would arrive at the temple and wake the residents with a sound of the conch sharp at 5am every morning. 

The architecture of the homes
Yet another feature of Thenthiruperai was the presence of a Mel Thinnai and a Keezh Thinnai with a mud road separating the row of houses on the left and right. On the knock of eight in the evening, the residents would gather at the Thinnai to exchange the day’s highlights with each other. Vidukathai was an activity for the late evening on the Thinnai. Those getting the right answer were treated to a Lala Kadai ‘Nela Kadalai’ (the man would ring the bell in his cycle around the streets of Thenthiruperai with his different varieties of sweets).

The thalattu right was bestowed with the mother or grandmother who would sing verses from Periyazhvaar Thirumozhi. This was both a process of initiating good thoughts in the minds of the young ones through slokas as well as finally putting them to sleep each night. Thinnai was also the place where historical stories were told to the young ones. Thus from a very young age, the children imbibed the right way to live and moral highness was a speciality of the people here. The moral lessons that they learnt in the Thinnai stayed with them for the rest of their lives.  

The Mel and Keezh Thinnai was also the place where elders taught the young ones the monthly stars and the auspicious dates of the year. By the time they turned into teenagers, the girls were completely clued in on all the stars and important dates of the year. Today, the newer generation do not seem to be clued in on the Tamil stars.

Tanks and Canals of Thenthiruperai
As praised by Nam Azhvaar in his Thiruvoimozhi verses, the tanks and canals continued to abound with water 50 years ago at Thenthiruperai. As a youngster, Ranganayaki Maami would go along with other ladies of the town to the canal to wash the vessels. In another direction, she would walk across to the banks of the Tamaraibarani which always seemed to overflow in those days (the state this week of the Tamaraibarani at Thenthiruperai brought tears to the eyes of the maami huge shrubs have grown with very little water east of Srivaikuntam) for her morning bath.

‘Gone are those days when we used to walk 1 1/2kms to the river and bring water of the purest quality.’

She rues the fact that many of the houses in the agraharam are seen with modern tiles. ‘Water is now purified through the filter’ as tears roll down her cheeks once again.
 She remembers the time from the 1950s when she and her friends would bend their bodies (the flexing of muscles in manly terms) to wash the clothes. It was a great form of exercise for the body. Now she says with a tinge of sadness that washing machines have found their way into the homes even in the ancient temple town that the days of washing clothes by the hand are long gone.

Men would also often swim across the Tamarai Barani to have darshan of Erettai Tirupathi Lords. 

The ladies spent the day making milagai vathal, appalam and maavu mix. Almost nothing was bought from outside!!! Every evening there would be some kind of home-made snacks that was ready in time for the children’s return from school.

Games that Thenthiruperai Lord witnessed
What Namazhvaar described as a town full of child’s play was seen in the mid half of the last century. The street opposite the temple was abuzz with games such as Paandi, Kaakku Muthu, Pallankuzhi and Thaayam. Ranganayaki says that they would even glance at the Lord from the outside to see if he was taking a look at their games.

The Thenthiruperai Personality - Kolusu, Maruthani, Kunjalam
Maruthani was a must for the girls on festival occasions/ Thirunaal. Girls took delight in wearing those on their palms and fingers. Kolusu and bangles were worn with great pride and each one would make different musical notes as they walked and ran around to the praise of the residents. A Kunjalam on the head and coloured ribbon made them look even more beautiful. Pinnal was a speciality with the ladies.

Ranganayaki maami is sad that this much differentiated feature of ours is missing in the younger generation including in her grand and great grand children!!!

The food pattern from the 60s and 70s
Breakfast in all the houses in Thenthiruperai in the 50s and 60s comprised of Vengalai Paanai Saatham – rice from the previous night was consumed adding a bit of water!!! On Ekadasi and Amavasya days, idly and dosai was served. There was no dearth of vegetables in every house and that gave a lot of strength to the households here. Most of the houses would have a big garden at the back yard where different varieties of vegetables were grown. Most of the days, the children of the house would just sit in a circle and the elderly lady would place thayir satham in their hand. There was no need for plates such was the unity among the children!!!

‘It was such a delight to feed them all with our hands as they silently placed their hands in the front to receive. The dinner was a delightful get together of the households. These days they eat food watching TV or with their phone in hand.’

Great discipline at a young age - 6pm to 7pm
For several decades, it was customary with the residents of the agraharam to recite Sahasranamam and other stotrams between 6pm and 7pm every evening. The kids were expected to be back home at 545pm from the evening play and be ready for the recital by 6pm. This also inculcated in them a sense of discipline in their way of life. No resident of Thenthiruperai ever left the house without prostrating before their parents and seeking their blessings. Even in their hurry, they would not skip this practice.  

The tide will change - The cycle will return!! 
And finally Ranganayaki ends on a mixed note. She had bought a house for just Rs. 2000 decades ago. She now feels financially rich with the huge upswing in the value of the property but sadly the peace of mind that was an integral part of the lives of a Thenthiruperai resident is absent. The happiness that she got sharing the house with almost 10 others in the family is no more there. Her children are spread across the globe. Each of them and her grandchildren still love her a lot and treat her with affection but she has to spend time away from Thenthiruperai to be with them. And being away from Lord Makara Nedun Kulai Kaathan, their friendly Lord and away from the agraharam is not something she prefers.

She finds the greatness happiness in this quiet surrounding amidst the Lord and his Vahana processions.

However she is positive about the likely change. ‘The tide will turn. The cycle will come back. And the original inhabitants of Thenthiruperai will all come back to their loved Lord for it is here that you get the real peace of mind.’

(Thenthiruperai Divya Desam is around 35kms from Tirunelveli on the Tiruchendur Highway)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent Story. There will be more tales similar to this in other villages

RS

Anonymous said...

Very informative and well written Prabhu

Anonymous said...

Very touching story! Thanks

balaji said...

Very interesting and like it.

KANNAN R said...

Wow, the article is written in detail. Excellent Narration

முகில் said...

Very interesting.
1. Womenfolk and girls use to visit temples during utsavams.
2. Most girls used to pick up Makizham poo to compose garland for the Lord
3.Bullock carts were the mode of transport to visit Alwarthirunageri during Guruda Sevai utsavams
4.Many use to walk in groups.
5. Spending night time at temple , even upto one AM during utsavams were delightful experiences.