Sunday, October 16, 2016

Therazhundur Divya Desam



The story of how the invasion of the 'New Political Culture' in the 1960s ruined traditional life in the temple town of Therazhundur and led to a mass exodus of the original inhabitants
Life in the previous 50 years had been almost as described by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar

In 40 verses in the Periya Thirumozhi, Thirumangai Azhvaar provides great insights into how life was in Therazhundur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2007/08/108-divya-desam-therezhendurthiruvazhan.html) 1000s of years ago.


He describes the landscape of Therazhundur. Tall white mansions with high roofs filled the streets that were beautiful, long and wide.

The tanks were full of big fishes which seemed to be continuously hounded by the Stork which finally had to settle for the small fish. Punnai Flowers were seen in big numbers all around Therazhundur. The lakes were always wet and lotus flowers were seen in full bloom. Almost in happiness of these beautiful red lotuses, the swans swam in pairs presenting a special dance.  Cuckoos and Peacock too sang and danced in the gushing waters.

நீரில் பணைத்த நெடு வாளைக்கு
அஞ்சிப் போன குருகு இனங்கள்
ஆரல் கவுனோடு அருகு அணையும்
அணி ஆர் வயல் சூழ் அழுந்தூரே

The lands were fertile and there was rich greenery all around the town. One saw ripe paddy in the fields that brought happiness in the face of the tillers. There were big orchards of Areca trees.

The ladies of Therazhundur
There were beautiful women who paid special attention to their plait. Also, the town of Therazhundur never ceased to hear the beautiful noise arising from the anklets of the girls who were dancing around in happiness ahead of the Lord’s procession.

Festivals
Chariot Festival was popular at Therazhundur. Thirumangai Azhvaar says that big dust rose from the movement of the chariot along the wide streets of Therazhundur. The women were all excited as they lined up the porticos of their homes to watch the Lord in procession. They even used the smoke as perfume for their body.

Vedic Recitals
To invoke the blessings of the Lord for good rain ahead of the monsoon season, young Vedic Seers were seen performing fire sacrifices three times a day. It seemed as if the smoke from the fire sacrifice clouded the high sky. There was non-stop chanting of the Tamil and Sanskrit works by these Vedic Scholars. The conch blew on auspicious occasions almost as an alert to the devotees.
முந்தி வானம் மழை பொழியும்
மூவா உருவின் மறையாளர்
அந்தி மூன்றும் அலை ஓம்பும்
அணி ஆர் வீதி எழுந்தூரே

Life in the 20th Century
Roll on a 1000 years to the 20th Century AD. And it seemed that a lot from Thirumangai Azhvaar’s description of Therazhundur had stood the test of time going by the rich experience of the residents of Therazhundur in the first half of the last century. Till the early 1960s, Vedic scholars and prabhandham experts were seen in full strength with the prabhandham experts leading the way in the procession with Vedic Seers following the Lord..

A Unique Line of Call - Taking Attendance
As per the temple record of 1922, the Manian of the temple used to take attendance of the Vedic Scholars and Prabhandham experts at the Street Procession. Those absent for parts of the procession faced a cut in their one anna fee.  For those who were not present for the entire street procession, the punishment was more severe. Their Thaligai for the day at the temple would be cut. Such was the process followed during the temple rituals. In the early part of the 20th century, only veda adyapakas were allowed inside the madapalli. And only a select few  who performed the duties with ‘Kramam’ had the rights to distribute the thaligai.

Pulling the Chariot
People from 18 villages around Therazhundur landed up in the town on the day of the Chariot Festival to pull the Chariot along the four big streets during the Brahmotsavam to the beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets. It was a grand affair similar to the one narrated by Thirumangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi. 

Big Kutcheris in Therazhundur
In its glory days in the middle of the last century, stalwarts such as MS Subbalakshmi presented kutcheris during festivals. There was a period when three separate Nadaswaram performances would take place on a single street procession.

Fifty years ago, there were 70 Brahmin families in the agraharam, 86 in the North Street and 40 in the Sarvamanya Agraharam (Smarthas). The Pillais, Naidus and Mudaliyars lived in the south street. The Seva Kalam at Therazhundur used to be glorious with Prabhandham experts easily crossing 50 for each of the sessions.

Silver Kudam Theertham from the Gajendra Pushkarani
North Street had a Gajendra Pushkarani from where water was brought every day in a Silver Kudam accompanied by the beat of the drums separately for Shenbagavalli Thayar and Perumal.

Desikar Utsavam – 6 Marakkal Prasadam
The annual Vedanta Desikar Utsavam in Puratasi was one of the grandest festivals of the year with street processions both in the morning and evening till the 1970s. He would go to the mandapam at the Gajendra Pushkarani on each of the 10 days for the Theerthavari. As part of the Desikar Utsavam, 6 Marakkal Prasadam used to be prepared and distributed in large quantities to devotees.

On the occasion of the Theppam (as part of the Vidayatri for Desikar, Thaligai was prepared thrice on the night such was the size of the devotee crowd. 

V Seshadri is now 80+ and has witnessed the festivals in Therazhundur since the 1930s. He says that the Street Seva Kalam Ghoshti both in the morning and evening in those decades used to be similar to those during the Brahmotsavam and their recital used to send positive energetic devotional vibrations along the rows of houses in the streets of Therazhundur that people would eagerly look forward to the next vahana procession.
 
Kamban Festival - Maasi
Vasan Bhattar who has been in Therazhundur for over five decades has fond memories of the Maasi Festival. The temple also used to conduct a three day Kamban festival in Maasi in memory of the great Tamil poet who was born here in Therazhundur.

“On Maasi Punarvasu, Lord Aamaruviappan would come to the end of the Agraharam near the chariot to provide darshan to Lord Shiva who too came from the Thevaram Sthalam of Vedapureeswarar temple (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/03/vedapureeswarar-therezhendur.html) on the eastern side of Therazhundur. It was a unique event of Lord Vishnu providing darshan to Lord Shiva, one that was witnessed with great devotion by both Saivites and Vaishnavites alike.”

Residing in a 200 year old house in the agraharam that still has a traditional look and feel about it, 74 year old S Rajalakshmi came to the agraharam as a newly married bride in 1963 and has been staying in the same ancient house for the last 53 years. She says that Brahmotsavam and Pavitrotsavam were terrific occasions for the people of Therazhundur and there was a devotional fervour all around with people mingling with each other in joy of seeing the handsome Lord. Utsavams used to take place till 1am in the night. Pasurams was rendered with great devotion invoking the Lord’s blessings.

She says that the unity among the people of Therazhundur was a special feature of the town. 400-500 devotees congregated every day on the streets during the festival time. The entire Prakaras too used to be filled with devotees. On many occasions there would be little space to stand.
Warmth of the People
Similar to the ladies of Thenthiruperai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/09/thenthiruperai-divya-desam.html), the women in Therazhundur too rarely went to the temple on normal days till the 1980s. It was only during festive occasions that they visited the temple and many times had darshan of the Lord from the porticos of their homes.  Rajalakshmi mami would always be 10 feet behind her mother in law such was the respect for the elders in the family.

Houses in the agraharam were differentiated as per the model of the house. A few were referred to as Thinnai houses, a few others were Alavadi houses (ones without Thinnai), Kenathaan karaiyan (those that had a well) and Pattammaniyar.

A lot of the times, people used to sleep in the Thinnai with a strong breeze from the outside that led them to a fast sleep. Guests were always welcome into the homes in the agraharam and the North Street. They would be well fed even if they landed up without notice. The residents of Therazhundur were broad minded and even unknown people were seen as their own and they were taken care with love and affection by the mamis. 

260 acres of temple land – No returns
In the first half of the 20th century, 90% of the income from the harvest of the lands belonging to the temple had to be given back to the temple / owners of the land and the tiller took 10%. And then the Government brought in the land ceiling act that dramatically brought down the income. Over a period of a decade or so, the 90:10 agreement was almost reversed to 20:80. And thus the owners lost a majority of their income

The temple had ownership of 260acres of land (Nanjai). In addition there was also Punjai that brought in rent every month.

Therazhundur region comprised of 4 divisions – Keezhayur, Melayur, Perumal Koil and thozhuthalangudi. The Perumal Koil division belonged entirely to the Aamaruviappan temple. It was called the Perumal Koil panchayat. 6000 kalam paddy was to be given to the temple annually. Today, not even one tenth of this is coming back to the temple with only the EB and salary to the bhattars and the staff (which is a miniscule amount) being the only expenses borne by the temple.

Bhattar Kainkaryam for 84 years!!!
Kannan Bhattar (who passed away earlier this year at the age of 96) had been performing kainkaryam at the Aamaruviappan temple in Therazhundur for 84 years!!!! He joined at a salary of Rs. 12 per month and ended 8 decades later with a salary of Rs. 340 per month. During his life time, he had performed almost an unmatched 1600 Samprokshanams across Divya Desams.

When Vasan Bhattar was young, his father directed him to learn the agamas, prabhandham and vedas from each of the experts who resided in the town at that time. His father had wanted him to perfect the art of performing the daily rituals and only then was he allowed to enter the temple precincts such was the value placed on learning the right way.  That early learning has helped him gain recognition as one of the best bhattars in the state. No devotee visiting the Therazhundur Divya Desam is likely to return without the feeling of wanting to return again for a darshan of the Lord such is the devotion of Vasan Bhattar in presenting the Lord to the devotees.

How Politicians destroyed temple life in Therazhundur
There were over a 100 Brahmin families then and the entire agraharam and North Street reverberated with Vedic Recitals and Prabhandham through the day.

With the arrival of the ‘New Political Culture’ in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s, almost all the festivals came to a grinding halt in a matter of a decade with no income coming into the temple. School teachers were tortured in the anti Brahmincal wave that struck the temple towns of Tamil Nadu.  Even the mere survival had become a serious challenge and in frustration they gave up and left the town to safer places searching for greener pastures. There came a stage when even the Therazhundur Andavan Avathara Thirumaligai comprising of 5000 sq feet was sold (1974).

And into the 1980s, even one padi rice was not available at the temple for presentation to the Lord. It was left to the bhattars to go from house to house collecting rice to present a Thaligai for the Lord each day, such had become the state of affairs at Therazhundur with the invasion of the politicians.

In the North Street, there was the famous Veda Kaavya Patshaala that had been launched in 1922.All the young Brahmins of Therazhundur and outside undertook vedic education there for almost five decades. Unfortunately as things turned for the worse in the 70s and 80s, not even one from the succeeding generation studied there!!!!

Rs 1 Thattu Kasu per month!!!
There was a time in the 1980s when Vasan Bhattar used to get Rs. 1 in the Thattu every month. At its worst, the 100 plus Brahmin families came down to just four in this once famous town, praised so highly by Thirumangai Azhvaar.

And then as times changed, there was a period when the Lord was without even rice and one when there was not even a single Veshti to wrap around the Lord bringing tears to the eyes of Rajalakshmi. There were no ornaments for the Lord in the 70s and 80s. The Tank  in front of the temple too dried up and became a play ground with young kids taking up to tennis ball cricket.

And then came a time when there were no Vathiyars even to assist in Tharpanam. She rues the fact that all the Brahmins have gone away from the town selling their houses.

In the early part of the last decade, even electricity was cut off from the temple for non payment of the bill. And the once glorious temple had been brought down to such a state by the politicians in their quest for votes.

Therazhundur Railway Station
The station at Therazhundur was once a famous one. Devotees used to get down there and walk down a km south along the mud road to reach the temple. But with Brahmins leaving the city and the temple having a deserted look, the station was dismantled. In those days, devotees even used to stop the train by a show of hand to board after the completion of the festival such was the friendly relationship.

Bus service was infrequent and restricted to just one service (SMT) coming to Therazhundur from Kutralam. One more was added in the 1970s from Mayavaram. Most of the residents walked across to Kutralam.

A Slow Revival in the last decade
It was due to the efforts of the enterprising Vasan Bhattar that the festivals were slowly revived one by one. Today, along with his son Hari Sundar Bhattar, Vasan Bhattar is bringing the temple back to its best in terms of the infrastructure at the temple. All the vahanas are now decked with gold. There is an abundance of vastrams and ornaments for the Lord and Thayar. This week the temple tank gushed with water ahead of the Desikar Theppotsavam. Lord Aamaruviappan and Vedanta Desikar were led out of the temple by the loud beating of the drums reminding one of the golden days of Therazhundur.
 


Thaligai presentation
The cook at the Madapalli has remained stable for the last 15 years. At the Desikar Utsavam that concluded this week, Thaligai presentation was back to what it was in the early part of the last century. Devotees were presented with different varieties of food and had a stomach full and went back happy.

Vasan Bhattar's son has in the last few years completed his Vedic Education and is well versed in the agamas like his father and grandfather. He is also an alankaram expert and takes special efforts in decking up the Lord for the different utsavams. On each of the 5 Saturdays of Puratasi this month, Hari Sundar Bhattar presented the Lord in a new attire and alankaram much to the delight of the devotees who are now coming back to the temple once again, at least for the big festivals.
Vasan Bhattar who has spent the last three decades in the revival of this divya desam also takes care of the requirements of the entire staff. He has exciting plans for the ancient temple town. He wants to build a 'Go Shaala'. With severe water shortage, he has plans to construct a bore well.  There is also the issue of water now flowing through from the original source to the tank and into the town. This issue too has to be sorted out by tackling the hurdles enroute the water flow.

And the most exciting project of Vasan Bhattar is the plan to build a Golden Chariot for Shengamalavalli Thayar.

He has himself anchored and performed over 700 Samprokshanams in temples across Tamil Nadu in the last three plus decades.  The salary itself from the HR & CE remains at a lowly Rs. 340 but the original inhabitants are back to support the temple festivals. Youngsters are coming back from the US to be part of the annual Brahmotsavam.
The good news is that many of whom had gone overseas are now looking buy their homes back in the agraharam and the North Street.

It is hoped that over the next decade or two the vedic seers and prabhandham experts too would be back in Therazhundur to truly take this  historical temple town back to its golden days. 

Vasan Bhattar can be reached on 80568 69235

3 comments:

Dog said...

The moment you bring politics in your writing there is a sense of frustration from within. They have destroyed every common mans peace and dignity. They have brought in a culture when there is no way the honest can survive.

What goes around will come around may not be in my lifetime but they will pay for what they have done to our society as a whole. They have made us all weak.

Good one Prabhu very nice insight feels so refershed where you wrote the green fertile fields were surrounded, I think our future generations can only relate to these articles(if they survive) on how our ancestors lived and how are country was.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant as usual... It brings tears when you see that the average increment for the Bhattar has been a very very princely Rs 4. And that too over a period of 80 years... Shame on us !! Guess we would be well off without the spineless HR&CE... Let us run our own temples, let us take care of our own people !!

Acharya said...

Very well written about a neglected centre of vaishnavism.