Bhattars struggled in the 2nd half of the 20th Century ending up in poverty
Revival of Nachiyar Koil driven by the new gen enterprising Bhattars and the new 'Donor' contribution Model
(KAL GARUDA SEVAI TAKES PLACE NEXT WEDNESDAY - JANUARY 4)
(KAL GARUDA SEVAI TAKES PLACE NEXT WEDNESDAY - JANUARY 4)
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar composed over a 1000 verses in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham. Out of these, he accorded a 100 or more verses only to two temples one of which was Nachiyar Koil (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2007/11/108-divya-desam-naachiyaar-koil-thiru.html) where he was initiated with the Pancha Samskaram and hence saw the Lord as his Acharya. Both the Madals – Siriya and Periya Thiru Madal are also dedicated to the Lord of Thiru Naraiyur.
In his praise, he has described the town and its people as it was during his times, the festivals, the greatness of the Lord and has compared the temple with other temples such as Srirangam. He says that he saw the Lord at Thiru Naraiyur as the one he had seen in a handsome standing posture at Thiru Venkatam.
The Green Fields of Thiru Naraiyur
During his times, the Lord was surrounded by Areca and Fruit orchards. The fields were fertile and different varieties of fish danced around in the waters. The Cuckoos came in large numbers and pecked on the Mango Trees. Peacocks danced to the tunes of the bees, swans swam in pairs and drank nectar from the lotuses and soon after slept around the lotuses.
Dripping Honey from Jack Fruit
He also found Jack Fruit with honey oozing out on to the trees. Another stand out feature of Thiru Naraiyur was the huge Plantation fields where huge bunch of bananas were seen slipping out of the branches.
களை கொண்ட பலங்கனிகள் தேன் பரிய
கதலிகளின் தில்லை கொண்ட பழம் கெழுமித்
திகழ் சோலைத் திருநறையூர்
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar saw the birds flying far and wide searching for food and came back later into the resting place in the trees. The White storks went after the big fish and consumed them. Later they too went and drank nectar from the Lotuses. Cranes too were seen in the fields. He says that the groves were full of nectar.
Ripe Paddy grew in the green fields along with beautiful red lotuses. Tall Sugarcane plants were also seen in big numbers in the fields of Naraiyur.
சீர் தழைத்து கதிர்ச் செந்நெல் செங் கமலத்து இடை இடையில்
பார் தழைத்துக் கரும்பு ஓங்கிப் பயன் விளைக்கும் திருநறையூர்
Flowers @ Thiru Naraiyur
Different varieties of flowers were seen in the groves of Thiru Naraiyur. The bees moved from the fragrant Shenbagam and Mullai flowers to the Vakula and Panal flowers.
A speciality of the 100 verses in the Periya Thiurmozhi is a decad dedicated completely to Ko Chenganan Chozhan in recognition of the beautiful construction of the first Mani Mada Koil in a Perumal temple after having completed the construction of70 such Saivite temples (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2014/12/ko-chenganan-and-nachiyar-koil-divya.html).
Mani Mada Koil is a special type of construction to prevent the entry of elephants anywhere near the sanctum (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2014/12/thiruvanaikaval-jambukeswarar.html).
வம்பு அவிழும் செண்பகத்தின் வாசம் உண்டு
மணி வண்டு வகுளத்தின் மலர்மேல் வைகு
செம்பியன் கோச் செங்கணான் சேர்ந்த கோயில்
திருநறையூர் மணிமாடம் சேர்மின்களே
A rich and vibrant location - Cauvery and her greatness
Cauvery is described as a perennial river from where pearls, gold and sandal wood were washed ashore on to Thiru Naraiyur, a town that he praises as wealthy. People came to the banks to pick it up. He compares the red lily to the eyes of the beautiful girls of Thiru Naraiyur and the lotus to the face of these lovely maidens.
அகில் குறடும் சந்தனமும் அம் பொன்னும் அணி முத்தும்
மிகக் கொணர்ந்து திரை உந்தும் வியன் பொன்னித் திருநறையூர்
The place resonated with Vedic Chants of the Seers who, he says, even surpassed Brahmma and Shiva in the sincerity of their chants. They practiced each day to perfect the art of the recital of the four Vedas. The streets were filled with people who he compared in their handsome features to Manmatha.
நலம் கொள் வாய்மை அந்தணர் வாழும் நறையூரே
An interesting episode
He narrates the story of an angry female crab at Thiru Naraiyur. A tired male crab had slept the night in the lotus flower buds of the sacred tank at Thiru Naraiyur. The partner who waited all night long showed her anger in the morning on his return to the fields.
Round the Year Festivals
Thiru Naraiyur was a place where there were endless festivities all through the year. Thiru Mangai Azhvaar makes a specific mention of the festivals there.
He praises Thiru Naraiyur as a place where one heard festive sounds emanating from the temple every day of the year and the Lord enjoying the festive beats on the streets.
He says that Thiru Naraiyur was a place of ‘endless’ festivals.
வேள்வும் விழவும் வீதியில் என்றும் ஆறாத ஊர்
நாளும் நறையூர் நாம் தொழுதும் ஏழு நெஞ்சமே
Lord compared to other temples
He says that he searched for an equivalent of the Lord of Thiru Venkatam and finally found him in Thiru Naraiyur. He is also the one who he had seen earlier at Vayalali. In fact, he refers to seeing the Lord of a number of other temples (divya desams) including Vayalali, Moozhikalam, Kudanthai, Kottiyur, Neer Malai and Meiyam here at this temple. It is probably for this reason that one sees the idols of all the Divya Desams at this temple (near the Moolavar Sannidhi).
Roll on a 1000 years and into the 20th Century
This had been one of the richest temples in the region with over 100 veli of land. Naidus were the ones who managed the temple as trustees prior to the entry of the HR & CE officials in the early part of the 20th century. All the utsavams were conducted by the temple. There was no concept of ubayams and donors. Not one rupee was taken from the donar for the conduct of the festivals. The devotees just had to be part of the festivities and offer their prayers to the Lord and seek his blessings. The trustees acted in a fair and transparent way and there was happiness all around.
Grand Utsavams without the glamour factor!!!
The 2 Brahmotsavams were celebrated in a grand way as were other festivals such as Pavitrotsavam, Adyayana Utsavam and Navarathri. There was one Thiru Kalyana Utsavam in the year. The Theppotsavam in the huge tank North of the temple took place in Margazhi while the Chariot festival took place in Panguni. There was also a Panch Parva procession every month. Till the middle of the 20th century, the utsavams evoked memories of what Thiru Mangai Azhvaar described in his Periya Thirumozhi verses. The devotees numbered only a 100 or 200 even for the Kal Garuda utsavam but there was extreme devotion. The mada vilagam were strewn with beautiful kolams artistically drawn by the ladies of the household welcoming the Lord into their respective streets. It was all about devotion to the Lord.
The Sirpanthigal carried the Lord on their shoulders on all the street processions where Petromax lights were used. There were 25 of such Sirpanthigal in earlier days. After HR & CE’s entry, this number has now come down to just 6.
Over 25 Vaishnavite families had lived a healthy and satisfactory life before going into financial turmoil from the 1960s. There were over 50 Rayar families and 10 Saivite families in the agraharam/Mada Vilagam. Almost all of them have exited the place since the takeover of control by the HR & CE.
In earlier periods, prior of HR & CE coming into force, they had had the daily share of ‘provisions/ koil thaligai’. And they were a contended and happy lot.
Debt ridden Bhattar Families
And then the traditional Bhattar families at Thiru Naraiyur went into debt and in despair were forced to auction their ancestral house on Sannidhi Street for just Rs. 500. They had no income in the 1960s and 70s.
A Bullock Cart every morning to perform pooja
Kannan Bhattar’s ancestors also performed kainkaryam at Nathan Koil Divya Desam. His father would come early in the morning on a 10kms bullock cart trip to Nachiyar Koil after finishing pooja at Nathan Koil and would then go back to Nathan Koil after the evening pooja.
In those days, arathanam at temple was considered important. The priests lived in poverty but even in that state did not do anything in expectation of contribution from devotees. Their dedication and devotion was to the Lord.Daily Thattu Kasu of 25 Paise
Kannan Bhattar and his family spent a life of every day survival. His mother would typically shout out at his father for provisions in the morning. But there was no money. His father would say ‘Do not worry. God would show the way.’ That day some devotee would turn up and present Rs. 2 on the plate. And he would pass it on to his mother. And that day had been survived. They slogged through the day but barely got anything in return from the HR & CE. There were days when the daily Thattu Kasu was just 25 paise which they had to take back home. There were no holidays for the Bhattars. Through the 60s and 70s, they had to be at the temple through the year without a break awaiting the visit of the unlikely devotee. There were months through those dark decades when Thattu Kasu did not top Rs. 10 in a month. But Bhattars of that generation from Nachiyar Koil did not complain. They related themselves with God and performed the duty to him without fail each day of the year.
Once HR & CE came into being, even the quantity of Thaligai prepared at the madapalli that they banked on for every day survival was dramatically reduced.
Pakshirajan Bhattar ( Kannan Bhattar’s elder brother) who had performed pooja for several decades at Nachiyar Koil and who passed away a few years ago was paid a monthly salary of Rs. 25 by the HR & CE from the 1960s.
Till the 2nd half of the 20th Century, Prabhandham recital was a daily feature at the temple. Smarthas presented Veda Parayanam every evening at Nachiyar Koil. Theerthakars were also present. Now there are just three Adyapakas. There are just a couple of Brahmin families in this once sacred town that had been praised with a century of verses by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar as one that was wealthy and prosperous.
Every ‘Expense’ passed on to ‘Donors’ from the late 80s
From the late 1980s, yet another dramatic negative transformation took place at Nachiyar Koil in the conduct of its daily activities. HR & CE directed the move to ubayams and shifted all the expenses of the temple to the donors.
Today, there is very little coming back into the temple from the HR & CE from the income generated at the temple. Even genuine allocations made towards festivals and daily thaligai are not passed on by the temple authorities to the priests/madapalli.
Gopinathan Bhattar, who has been there for almost the last three decades, is still not a temple staffer and gets no salary from the temple. He has been the most recognizable face for devotees since the turn of the century. He has pooled together devotees from across the country to help the temple survive the HR & CE onslaught.
It has become customary for even a ‘pay back’ to the ‘authorities’ from the donor contributions to allow the smooth conduct of the festivals and for the officials to grant the permission.
Despite all this, credit should be given to the Bhattars of Nachiyar Koil for having survived the testing times over the last 50 years and for having kept this huge temple in good shape. It is their single minded devotion to the Lord that has helped securing the grandeur of some of the centuries old festivals that are exclusive to this temple.
The huge Nandavanam in the outer prakara that had been in a dilapidated and uncared for state is now being revived once again by Gopinathan Bhattar. The Vasantha Mandapa at the Western End of the temple in the outer prakara too is being revived and one can expect the Vasantha Utsavam to see ‘summer days’ once again.Today, the income from the temple goes to the HR & CE and the expenses are funded by the devotees. And the temple has survived half a century of tyranny solely due to the efforts of the untiring and devoted Bhattars. Else, Thaligai would be in minimal quantity, flower garland would be down to a single simple one, musical accompaniments would be out during festive processions.
Without the efforts of these Bhattars, who do not want to let go service that their ancestors had performed selflessly through their lives, it is likely that the vibrant activities at Nachiyar Koil would have been brought to a standstill by the HR & CE like has happened in many remote temples of Tamil Nadu.