Sunday, November 27, 2016

Parthasarathy Koil Unaccounted Contributions

With all talks in recent weeks on Unaccounted Money, here is a story on how contributions from devotees go unaccounted at the Parthasarathy Koil in Thiruvallikeni 

I just finished watching PM Narendra Modi’s Mann ki Baat this morning and moved by his passionate speech felt it appropriate to narrate a 3month old story relating to the Parthasarathy temple in Thiruvallikeni. Writing this story (as with the two previous stories on photo menace and high court case) on the Parthasarathy Koil does not give (has not given) any joy for the temple is historical, one that probably has the best recital of the Divya Prabhandham and where the street processions and festivals are organised with great sincerity and devotion. And yet, right in the heart of the city just a few kms away from the headquarters of the HR & CE, affairs are not so straightforward with the officials.

The Samprokshanam of four Sannidhis at the Parthasarathy Koil was slated for Monday August 22, 2016. Leading up to the Samprokshanam was the presentation of all the 4000 verses of the Prabhandham over a four day period. At the conclusion of one of those sessions, at 11pm that Thursday (18 Aug) night, one of the participants in the Prabhandham recital and one who has been bringing together donations for the temple from various quarters came up to me and asked if I could contribute 1+ 6 ceiling fans for the Anjaneya temple opposite the tank on the East side of the temple to be fitted that weekend in time for the Samprokshanam. This was intended to be for the devotees who recite Vishnu Sahasranamam among other slokas at the temple every day.

(Just as a background this person ( who works with a leading air-conditioner company) claimed that he had put together contributions worth over Rs. 50 Lakhs a year ago for the Samprokshanam of the Parthasarathy Sannidhi that took place in mid 2015)

The next morning I checked with a devotee with whom I had been working together on temple support for the last many years on contributing the one fan. She agreed and I decided to contribute the rest of the six ceiling fans myself.

No Official Receipts for devotee Contributions?
These fans were bought and handed over to him at the Anjaneya Sannidhi on Saturday (20 Aug) morning.
He also asked me to hand over the original bill to him so he could get me the receipt for the contribution. I handed him the original bill that same week. For almost two months, I followed up via text messages, voice phone calls and face to face meeting regarding the receipt. The answer was always ‘give me a day or two’. Someone like him who has pooled in Rs. 50Lakhs towards renovation activities not being able to get official receipt for the contributions is a testimony to the accounting practices at this ancient temple.

And then I decided to meet Smt. Jothilakshmi, the DC of the Parthasarathy Koil (she had taken charge a year earlier). When I met her at her office last month, she claimed ignorance about the installation of any new fans at the Anjaneya temple. She instructed her assistant to go and inspect the newly installed fans at the Sannidhi and to hand me the receipt the very next day.

Many reminders (all face to face with her at the temple) later, the receipt is still not forthcoming.  Every time I meet her, she asks 'if I got the receipt' but that only seems like a standard question for she has done nothing to ensure that receipts go to the devotees.

Sources at the temple told me last fortnight that there have been no receipts given out for much larger contributions relating to the Samprokshanams including for any of the electrical fittings or the air conditioners or for any other equipments handed over by devotees. And that it was unlikely that I would get a receipt.

It looks like none of these contributions is ‘accounted’ for at the Parthasarathy temple. At the time of the Samprokshanams and other events, donations are solicited for but rarely do these come into the books or are accounted for. And when a new donor comes forward with an interest to contribute, these old items are just taken away (by whom?) and the new ones installed.

And the clear message is that when receipts are not handed out for contributions (even in the form of physical items) running into several lakhs, why follow up on a miniscule contribution of a few thousands.
PS: On Monday evening, 24 hours after I had written the story, I got a call from the HR & CE department, Parthasarathy Koil asking me to collect the receipt for the ceiling fans. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ENTRY IN THE STOCK REGISTER AND THE RECEIPT FOR ALL THE (PHYSICAL EQUIPMENTS CONTRIBUTIONS MADE TOWARDS THE RENOVATION IN 2015 AND THE RENOVATION IN 2016 THAT RAN INTO LAKHS!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thirupper Nagar Koviladi Divya Desam

‘Jewelled Mansions’ on the banks of Cauvery to dilapidated houses in the Agraharam
The last temple praised in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham
Thirupper Nagar (Koviladi) is a divya desam that has the everlasting glory of being the last temple to be praised in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham. It is believed that Namazhvaar attained Moksham after singing praise of Thirupper Nagar, a temple that is just over 20kms from Srirangam along the banks of the Cauvery.

A Prosperous Location in centuries gone by
During the days of the Azhvaars, this seemed to have been a very prosperous town. Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi says that very orthodox Brahmins lived here reciting the Vedas all times of the day. Even the fish felt happy listening to the Vedic Chants in Thirupper as they jumped about and dancing in joy amidst the groves flushing with water in almost an enlightened feeling. There are many inscriptions inside the temple dating back a 1000years.

நலம் கொள் நான்மறை வல்லார்கள்
ஒத்து ஒலி ஏத்தக் கேட்டு
மலக்கு பாய் வயல் திருப்பேர்
மருவி நான் வாழ்ந்த ஆறே
The prosperity can further be seen from the fact that he describes Thirupper Nagar as having tall mansions that according to him seemed to be almost touching the moon.
திங்கள் மா முகில் அணவு செறி பொழில்
தென் திருப்பேர்

Mansions in Tirupper were covered with Gold.
செம்பொனார் மதில்கள் சூழ்ந்த 
தென்  திருப்பேறுள்

He describes the fields as being fertile and the green groves filled with nectar.

செய் அலர் கமலம் ஓங்கு செறி பொழில்
தென் திருப்பேர்
பை அரவு அணையான் நாமம் பரவி நான் உய்ந்த ஆறே

தேன் அமர் பொழில்கள் சூழ்ந்த
செறி வயல் தென் திருப்பேர்

Both Thirumangai Azhvaar and Nam Azhvaar constantly refer to the big walls of Thirupper Nagar.

திண்ண மா மதில்கள் சூழ்ந்த  
தென் திருப்பேருள் மேவும்

The Sleeping Lord
On the greatness of the Lord of Thirupper, Thirumangai Azhvaar says that the Lord, who is seen in a reclining posture on the hooded serpent, provides an opportunity to serve (him) to all those devotees who seek no gains from him and compares the greatness and speciality of Thirupper to Srivaikunam. Those who offer sincere prayers at Thirupper are accepted as his ‘devotees’ by the Lord and they are likely to stay for ever as his true devotee.

Sweet Parrots and Humming Bees @ Thirupper
In the Tiruvoimozhi, Nam Azhvaar describes Tirupper’s location as being on the Southern banks of the Cauvery where precious gems are being washed ashore. He could see bees humming sweet tunes amidst the groves. The groves were surrounded by sweet parrots that jumped from one tree to another. He refers to the town as home to’ jewelled mansions’ and ‘mountain like mansions’ where Vedic Scholars lived.

கிளி தாவிய சோலைகள் சூழ் திருப்பேரான்
‘வண்டு களிக்கும் பொழில் சூழ் திருப்பேரான்’

He specifically praises the feet of the Lord of Thirupper saying that miseries will not come near one who seeks the feet of the Lord here.

Thirupper Koviladi in recent times
While in the Prabhandham verses, there are references to sweet parrots and humming bees, the temple had, unfortunately, descended to a low in the last decade. Instead of the humming bees, one found a number of bats inside the dark sannidhis that flew around especially near the dark Thayar Sannidhi. Even the basic requirements at the temple seemed to be missing like the oil/ghee to light the lamp.This was compounded further by the ‘going away’ of Jawahar Bhattar, one of the most committed Bhattars of Divya Desams arising out of a feud between the ‘Rayar’ family and HR & CE. And the temple came under the control of HR & CE just under 10 years ago.

Issues relating to recent renovation
And then a renovation was planned. The walls were in dilapidated condition. There were beautiful murals that needed to be protected. The renovation took place earlier this year and the temple wears a new look but challenges remain. Some of the murals have been destroyed in this activity. The flooring on the outer prakara is being re-laid within a year following the renovation. The painting in some of the Sannidhis has been unsatisfactory as only one coating took place as against the two that was originally planned. And multiple parties sought to take rights relating to the renovation activity.  Setting aside of provisions to the Madapalli has been reduced The Chakra painting seen in the inner prakara on the South West is supposedly being sold commercially as a photo/calendar.

It is important not to see renovation as a money making opportunity but one to preserve the historical importance of the temple. While collections relating to renovations take place in an aggressive way, it does not seem to translate into a better maintenance of ancient temples.

The future
It is a historical Divya Desam, one that is believed to pre date Srirangam. It is one of the Pancha Ranga Kshetrams. Five Azhvaars praised Thirupper Nagar as a location that was vibrant and abuzz with Vedic Chants.

Given the challenges of the remote location, the temple has seen 8 Bhattars in recent decades leading to instability. Bhattars generally lived a very difficult life with minimal income as devotees rarely visited. In the interest of serving the devotees better, the two bhattar families could consider alternating between Perumal and Thayar Sannidhi each fortnight instead of taking full rights of the temple for the entire fortnight.
Shri. Varadarajan, Head Cook, at the Madapalli has been the only one who has been stable having been here for over three decades and been responsible for the presentation every evening of ‘Appam’ to the Lord, which is a speciality at this ancient temple.

A beautiful Agraharam
Till the last century, there was a beautiful agraharam on the western side of the temple with the ancient styled houses on both sides of the row of the houses. Over 50 Vaishnavite families lived here and all the festivals were celebrated in a grand manner and the recital of Prabhandham was a constant feature at Thirupper.
Most of the houses in the agraharam are now in a dilapidated state. Many are in a locked state with the original inhabitants having gone abroad. The Cauvery is seen dry with a strong growth of large bushes all along the banks. In the decades gone by, there was just one Public Call Office that was used by the residents to make phone calls from this temple town, the sign board still exists in the building in the far corner of the agraharam.
Most of the devotees visiting the temple are seen as coming from Srirangam en-route to Divya Desams around Kumbakonam. The temple does not open till 8am and the early visitors feel impatient and skip darshan and continue with their trip towards Kandiyur/ Thanjai Maa Mani Koil and Kumbakonam. And continuing with the recent trends at this trend, the relationship between the young Ramanujam Bhattar and the experienced Raman Bhattar (of Thirucherai Divya Desam) remains sour after the disagreements surrounding the conduct of the Samprokshanam earlier this year.

It is a Divya Desam that is quite remote. For long, it has remained a challenge to reach the temple with minimal public transport facilities to this place. There were no street lights along the way from Kallanai and the 10 km trip was a difficult one to make for most devotees. Given these challenges, it is hoped that the current bhattars will lure the devotees with devotional conduct of the poojas. Temples like Therezhendur have seen a big revival with sincere efforts from Bhattars like Vasan Bhattar.

In the absence of such a devotional conduct, this historical Divya Desam could become even more ignored, into the future.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thiru Pugalur Agneeswarar Temple

The Place where Saint Poet Appar attained Mukthi
The Red Brick turned into a Golden Brick on the night when Sundarar lay asleep on the brick saddened by the likelihood of not being able to present Anna Dhanam on Panguni Uthiram day 
Prarthana Sthalam for successful House Construction

Located 25kms from Nagapattinam on the Kumbakonam Highway and 1km North of Thiru Kannapuram Divya Desam (Vishnu temple) is the Agneeswarar Swami temple in Thiru Pugalur, a temple with 5 prakaras and one with inscriptions dating back to the period of Raja Raja I. The temple is steeped with legendary episodes. The temple has been praised by the three Saint Poets Appar, Thiru Gnana Sambanthar and Sundarar. This is the birth place of Muruga Nayanar, one of the 63 Nayanmars.

Blessing Agni with a Structure
Historically, Agni had no bodily structure. Seeking one, he invoked the blessings of Brahmma and Vishnu.  He was directed to perform pooja at a place where Lord Shiva was seen with a Thilakam. Pleased with his sincere prayers, Lord Shiva blessed him with one. At this temple, Agni is seen with two heads, 7 hands, 3 legs, 7 Jwala and with 4 Korai teeth. He also requests that having answered his prayers, the Lord be known with his name. Hence the temple here at Thiru Pugalur is referred to as Agneeswarar temple. Also, the Saayi Rakshai takes place at this temple only after pooja for Agni. It is believed that if one seeks the blessings of Lord Agneeswarar here at this temple, even impossible things are likely to happen.

King is blessed with a child
Another story goes that the King of Saranya Puri Samasthanam was childless. Directed by the Lord of Thiru Pugalur, he performed a Putra Kameshti Yagna and  a child rose from flames of the Homam, whom he named as Sooligai. As the Lord blessed the king of Saranya Puri with a child, he is also referred to as Saranyapureeswarar.

This is believed to be a Sani Kshetram, where the Lord Saneeswarar is seen in a West facing posture. It is said that one has to come here first before making the trip to Thirunallar. King Nala and Saneeswarar are seen in the same sannidhi. After he bathed in the sacred tank here, the kind heard an invisible voice stating that Saneeswara will leave him aT Thirunallar and that his bad days will be behind him.

Dead End- Mukthi Kshetram
The temple is surrounded on all four sides by sacred tanks, quite a unique feature. The temple marks a dead end, signifying the path to Mukthi. There is no path way past the temple. Also there is only one entrance to the temple and one has to enter and exit through the same place unlike other Saivite temples where there two or 4 entrances..

Punnai Tree
It is a temple where Vishnu performed Pooja invoking the blessings of Lord Shiva seeking to be present here as the Sthala Vriksham. Today this day, he is believed to remain here at the Punnai Tree.

Asura’s devotion to his mother
Banasuran’s mother sought to perform pooja with 108 lingams at Kasi. To meet this requirement, the asura plucked lingams from different temples. Having picked up 107, he came here for the 108th. Unable to remove the idol, he tried to dig a pit all around but that only resulted in water oozing out. Frustrated at his inability to fulfil his mother’s promise, he told the Lord that he wanted to end his life. Pleased with his devotion and commitment to his mother’s words, the Lord is said to have turned slightly towards North in a mode of turning towards Kasi and providing darshan to his mother. Hence the Lord is also known as ‘Kona’ Piran.

A unique feature at this temple is that it is surrounded by sacred water on all four sides.

Protecting a Sincere Gurukal
Once when a sincere Gurukal had left the temple, the king of the region made his way into the temple for darshan. To protect the Gurukal from the King’s anger at his absence, the Lord himself is believed to have taken on the role of the Gurukal and performed pooja after which he went back to his original location. Hence the Lord is also referred to as ‘Prathyaksha’ Nathan.

Positive Energy into one’s life
The chakra of one’s life is dependent on the karmas from the previous life, the karmas of the forefathers and the one’s own karma in the current life. To bring about a positive change in one’s life there are idols inside the temple for each of these karmas – Kadantha Kaala Nathar, Nigazh Kaala Nathar and Varung Kaala Nathar. Offering sincere prayers to each of these idols is expected to bring about positive energy in one’s life.

Saving a Pregnant Lady
When floods hit the nearby village of Polagam, a pregnant woman faced a difficult situation of finding a doctor. Answering her sincere prayers, Ambal is believed to have presented before the woman as a doctor and taken care of her. Hence Ambal is referred to here as Karunthar Kuzhali. As a symbolic gesture of having played the role of a nurse, a white saree is presented to Ambal during the night pooja. It is believed that even impossible things will turn around if one presents the white saree to the Ambal and seeks her blessings.

Appar’s Mukthi at Thiru Pugalur
All three Saint Poets have sung praise on the Lord of Thiru Pugalur. This is the only temple where all three saint poets have sung praise of the Lord as ‘Shiva Logam’.

After having first visited here, Appar made his way to Tiruvarur, Rameswaram and Vedaranyam. He later comes back here and explains the meaning of the Thiruvathirai Pathigam here at this place. To test his sincerity, the Lord is said to have put across a number of challenges including presenting beautiful women in front of him. Appar passed each of the tests convincing the Lord that he was interested in nothing else but the blessings of the Lord and wanted to merge with the Lord. He attained Mukthi here on Chitrai-Sathayam after performing Kainkaryam at this temple. In memory of this episode, there is a separate Sannidhi for Appar. 

Liberation from Dhanur Rasi issues
Out of the 12 Rasis, three are related to Agni. This temple relates to the Jwala Agni – Dhanur Rasi. Hence this is believed to be a parikara sthalam for issues relating to Dhanur Rasi

Prarthana Sthalam for House Construction
 After his wedding, Sundarar was keen to present Anna Dhanam on Panguni Uthiram but he was short of funds. He told his wife that he would go to Thiru Pugalur and invoke the blessings of the Lord there. When he reached here, it was already late evening and the temple was closed. Disappointed at this, he picked up a brick and placed his head on the brick and slept thinking of the Lord. In his dreams, the Lord assured him that he would take care of his noble cause. The next morning when he woke up, he was surprised to find the brick having turned to gold.

Delighted at this, Sundarar presented 11 Pathigams in praise of the Lord asking the Lord that since the brick had turned to gold, he should also bless all the devotees who came there with issues relating to house construction and help in the successful completion. Belief is that those who present a few bricks and perform Vaastu pooja here at this temple will be able to buy/build a house within the next one year.
Special Features at the temple

Temple is at a dead end – hence a Mukthi Sthalam
All three Saint Poets having praised as ‘Shiva Logam’
Sundarar blessed with a golden brick
A Separate Sannidhi for Agni seen with a Bodily Structure

3 Major Festivals
10 day Appar festival in Chitrai ending on Sathayam
On each of the days, both in the morning and evening, an episode from Appar’s life is enacted showcasing his achievements and contribution to the society. On the 10th day, Homam, Abhishekam takes place. At mid night, he goes out on a procession on the Pushpa Pallakku. The next morning at around 4.30am, after the presentation of ‘Ennugey Ennugey’ Pathigam, Appar merges with the Lord.

10 day Vaikasi Brahmotsavam including the enactment of Lord Chandrasekarar providing darshan to Agni

Thai Poosam Procession
At 4am on Thai Poosam, the Lord makes his way on a 24 km procession to Saranya Puri where theerthavari takes place on the Rishaba Vahana. He makes his way back to the temple at 11pm that night.

Renovation work is expected to start at the temple in 2017.

The temple is open between 6am and 12.30pm and 430pm-930pm. Contact S Saravana Gurukal @ 94442 64982.

The current Gurukal has been there for just the last year and a half. But he explains the significance of each homam and each prarthana/parikam in a simplistic and easily understandable way that gives a lot of confidence to the devotees.

How to reach
Get down at Thiru Pugalur/Thiru Kannapuram Arch on the Nagapattinam Kumbakonam Highway. From Mayiladuthurai and Thiruvarur, get down Sannanallur and board the Kumbakonam-Nagapattinam bus ( 6kms to Thiru Pugalur). Get down at Nannilam railway station and board the Kumbakonam-Nagapattinam bus to get down at Thiru Pugalur.

Auto from Sanna Nallur junction to the temple will cost Rs. 100 (6kms)