Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Srirangam Chitrai Kona Voyali

Gifts from Andal of Srivilliputhur Divya Desam, Display of the 'beloved's' presentation atop the Elephant, Silver Horse Vahana beneath the 'Vandalur Chapparam', Golden Horse Vahana and the Exciting Kona Voiyali mark the 8th day of the Chitrai Brahmotsavam in Srirangam

While the 8th day of the Chitrai Brahmotsavam is popular for the Kona Voyali presentation in the evening, the day is also special for other reasons.
It is the only day when the morning Vahana procession is delayed to 7am as against the 5am/6am on other days. And there is a good reason for that.

Andal's gifts to Lord Ranganatha
Early in the morning, a big contingent from the Andal temple in Srivilliputhur Divya Desam, led by the 225th descendant of Periyazhvar had gathered at the Ranga Vilas Mandapa. It was an occasion to present Andal’s gifts to her beloved Lord Rangatha of Srirangam ahead of the famous Chariot festival the next morning. Mounted atop the temple elephant and led by the beating of the drums as is the traditional centuries old practice, the lead priests of the Srirangam temple went around the four streets showcasing the loving gifts that had just arrived from Srivilliputhur.

Have thus displayed the special gifts to the residents of Srirangam, these were presented to Lord Ranganatha at 7am.

The shining silk vastram presented by Andal is the one worn by Lord Namperumal the next morning on the occasion of the Chariot festival.

Historically, the day leading up to the Chitrai Chariot festival is one of the most crowded days in the year in Srirangam, both inside the temple and outside. But with the statewide bandh call on the day of the ‘Chitrai Ther’, it was a quieter day this year.
The morning Silver Horse Vahana procession around the four Chitrai streets on the specially decorated ‘Vandalur Chapparam’ was watched only by a handful of the local residents, leaving them quite surprised for this is the day when people land up from all the nearby villages in several thousands.
As the day passed by, the villagers started trickling in. Much like the Aruvathumoovar (63 Nayanmar procession) festival day in Panguni at the Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore, the evening prior to the Chariot Festival in Chitrai  in Srirangam is also one when food is distributed in large quantities, especially on the East Chitrai Street. Typical with the eating habits of the people, the food and water packets are littered on to the four streets making it a tricky exercise every year for the carriers of the Lord on the Golden Horse Vahana and the presentation of the Kona Voiyali later in the evening.

Better arrangement by the temple authorities to clean up the garbage meant it was a clean platform for the Sri Patham Thangis (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/04/sri-patham-thangis-srirangam.html)who had gathered in hundreds (Vethal Volunteer Group) to present the once in a year Kona Voyali  of the Lord on the Golden Horse at the Southern end of the East Chitrai Street. This Chitrai Horse Vahana is one of the most eagerly looked for event of the year in Srirangam.

Kona Voiyali
Several hundreds of residents were perched on the roof tops as early as 7pm through the Southern stretch of the East Chitrai Street with their video cameras to capture this unique display of Lord Namperumal.  A few had even climbed the Chariot, that had been colourfully decorated for the next morning’s procession, and positioned themselves on top of it to watch the special skills of the Sri Patham Thangis as they carried the Lord at great speed diagonally one way and then the other  in a zig zag motion. 
It lasted around ten minutes and the traditionalists had seen this for many years. And yet, every time one watches the Sri Patham Thangis in action with this Kona Voiyali display in Chitrai, one gets a new devotional feeling about their skills in presenting the special walking steps of Lord Namperumal within such a small area where people line up the entire stretch on either side of the East Chitrai Street.

The loudest round of applause of the Chitrai Brahmotsavam was heard once the Sri Patham Thangis completed the exciting Kona Voyali presentation in front of the Chariot. One found a great sense of happiness among these carriers of the Lord for having presented them with this great opportunity to showcase this zig zag walking mode of Namperumal.
 ( Video received as a forward)
As the Lord made his way back to the temple just after 9pm on Monday evening, one was witness to the not so happy part of the festival. There was wasted food scattered on South Chitrai Street. Devotees were seen sleeping all over the temple in several thousands in the Ranga Vilas Mandapa, in front of the Sannidhis, on the Manal Veli and in the Nandavanam.  Late on this hot Chitrai evening, there had gathered a sizeable crowd though not in the numbers one is typically used to in the traditional summers in Srirangam.

If one thought the day that had begun just after 5am with the welcoming of the gifts of Andal had ended with the Golden Horse Vahana Procession, the onlookers were left in awe of the devotional fervour of the Villagers. Well past 10pm, as part of their annual prayers, there were many who did ‘anga pradakshanam’ around the four Chitrai streets leaving many of the residents speechless at this total devotion of the villagers who had come in from remote locations of the Trichy District.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

IOB - The Final Bank in TNCA First Division league goes down

'We were never the Glamour Side but one that worked very hard, packed a punch above our weight and took great pride in our performance' - V Krishnaswamy, Player, Mentor and Administrator (IOB)

After SBI, RBI and Indian Bank, IOB has finally succumbed to the hard challenges of running a league team in the city
The last remaining Bank in the top notch of the TNCA First Division has finally bitten the dust. After SBI (which has now gone down to the 6th Division), RBI and Indian Bank, IOB (Indian Overseas Bank) , a renowned cricketing outfit from the 1960s has now been relegated to the second division after failing to win their final plate match yesterday.

The IOB cricket team was formed in the 1960s with the then Chairman and Managing Director RM Chettur being instrumental in the promotion of cricket. It entered the TNCA league after winning the Ranga Rao Trophy and then moved up from the 5th division to the 1st division 5 years in a row and had ever since held its pride of place in the TNCA First league. Only recently, in February this year, IOB had felicitated KN Ananthapadmanabhan for his contribution to the bank’s cricket (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/02/iob-honours-ananthapadmanabhan.html).

First Division Cricket from 1968
In the very match in the first division league in the 1968-69 season, the new entrants, IOB, beat Jolly Rovers, the champions from the previous year and a side that boasted the who’s who of TN cricket in a match at the University Union ground. 
Wicket Keeper Batsman S Ramji made his debut for IOB in that match after having been personally interviewed and recruited by the CMD. Ramji, who played five years of first class cricket, recalls the matches from those years of cricket at IOB ‘I had played for RBI for a couple of years and had been performing well but was kept away from recruitment on medical grounds that ‘I was too lean for a cricketer’. It was around the time IOB had made serious progress in league cricket in the city.

The then captain Ram Ramesh who had an eye for spotting talent roped Ramji into the team by pitching with the CMD. In those early years and for several decades that followed, IOB was not known for big names in TN cricket but it always remained a competitive side in the first division cricket finishing in the top four. 'We were always a hard working side wanting to compete with the best.’ 

Led and anchored by R Ramesh, it was the likes of V Rajaram, K Rajendran and Venkatramani who played an important role in that early surge of IOB into league cricket in the city.

How a Jolly Rovers' match cut out Kalli's officer posting at IOB
Former Ranji cricketer B Kalyanasundaram too was offered a probationary officer's post by Ramesh in 1970. Unfortunately on the day of the (written) examination, Kalli had a match for Jolly Rovers. On ethical grounds, he did not have the mind to skip the match and write the exam. And thus, Kalli lost out on an officer's posting at IOB.
He has the highest words of praise for both Ramesh and Krishnaswamy, who he believes contributed in no small measure to the growth of cricket at IOB. During that decade, he found IOB highly competitive and despite having a supremely strong side, Jolly Rovers never took them lightly as they Bankers had the capability to always spring a surprise. 

Nothing Glamourous, Yet Very Competitive
TN opener from the 1970s, V Krishnaswamy(http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/08/krishnaswamy-v.html) has been involved with IOB as a player, mentor and administrator. He feels saddened in the way things have turned out in recent times and with the fall of the team from the first division.

In 70s/80s, players were mostly part timers and were equally committed to the job. But they took great pride in playing for the organisation and were very loyal. ‘We were never the glamour side in the TNCA First Division league but one that worked very hard, packed a punch above our weight and took great pride in our performance. So, we were always a threat to the top glamour sides.’

NP Madhavan (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/05/np-madhavan.html) too chose IOB to many other lucrative offers for his first job. And it was under the mentorship of Krishnaswamy and H Sundaram that he rose in confidence and performed creditably for the bank in partnership with Sundar at the top of the order, before he made his way to a quieter life with SVPB in Udumalpet. 
This culminated in IOB winning The Hindu trophy a few times and also the Buchi Babu tournament. 

‘Eventually, with the team's persistent efforts, we won the league championship in mid 1980s under the captaincy of Vasan even though there were no big stars in the teams except a few who were knocking the doors of state team.’

Krishnaswamy also remembers missing the first division championship by a whisker in 1980/81 under S M Krishnakumar’s Captaincy.

The key during those early decades was that the bank focused on ensuring that the team remained in the 1st division. That was the only way for the public sector undertaking to attract players to the team.

Off Spinner M Santosh Kumar (it is another matter that he was involved in a major controversy within the Bank), Opening bat 'Rocko' Sundar, Ramesh ( Sr. and Jr), TS Mukund and Nitin Parekh were a few who helped IOB continue with the cricketing growth in the 1980s.

During the early 1990s, Ananthapadmanabhan (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/09/ananthapadmanabhan-kn.html) was the only player to have played Ranji Trophy and most others in the side were ‘fringe’ players waiting in the wings for the next big break.  And yet, players like Rajesh Kannan, S Satish Kumar, Devanand, Sreekumar Nair and P Rajesh helped the team stay in contention in the 1st division league. And they went on to win the Palayampatti shield later that decade (However, by the end of the decade, a number of them quit the bank for greener pastures - in a way it was the first signs of cricketers in the city preferring 'corporate' contracts to the previously preferred 'secure' bank jobs).  
In those days, players valued the bank job and remained committed to playing cricket for the bank. Ranji Trophy players were paid a match fees only in the hundreds in those days. And a bank posting was considered secure and valuable. IOB used to participate in 3-4 tournaments every year and the players used to travel together on outstation trips and bonded well with each other.

In decades gone by, a bank job and playing cricket for IOB was seen as a great opportunity. Ananthapadmabhan remembers travelling by second class through the 1990s and sharing room with 3-4 players in all of these outstation tournaments. He also remembers the time when individuals / senior members of the staff used to spend for soft drinks and motivate the players, for the budget was quite limited in those days.

He also remembers an occasion in the late 1990s when during a four day Ranji Trophy break, he came and played a first division match for IOB in the city and went back only on the morning the Ranji Trophy match to play for Kerala. Such was his commitment to IOB and the importance of playing first division league in Madras.

Ramji says that  a key aspect of that period was that all the cricketers worked their way up the Banking Tiers. Even as a clerk, he says he used to slog through the first half of the day before leaving for the nets session later in the day.

IOB promoted many promising cricketers starting from the 1970s. The Bank has been spending reasonable amount of money every year on the cricket team in the TNCA first division league. However, the commitment of the youngsters has come under serious question. It is a reflection of the times one lives in that the players who have been given plump postings in the bank at a very young age do not even feel the regret of having let the team down, says a former player who had played for over two decades for the bank. 

In recent years, despite the bank going through troubled times on the business front, the encouragement to cricket did not diminish and the bank has boasted of several Ranji players, who have been given solid posts in the bank including in the officer cadre. And yet when it comes to performing in the 1st division league, their commitment levels have often come under a cloud.

While Krishnaswamy was always confident that the team would remain in the 1st division, he had noticed a decline in the commitment and loyalty of the players ever since the culture of contracted players came into being just over a decade ago. With the kind of money offered by the corporates, it was becoming very difficult to attract good players but with the efforts of veterans like Shanmugam, Amit Pathak and Rajesh Kannan the team was managing to remain in 1st division for the last few years.

The arrival of the ‘contracted’ players spelt death knell for the bank. With corporates paying a premium for the players, the bank just could not compete with the pay packages offered by these corporates and thus lost out of the quality players. ‘These players were simply playing for the money and had no pride in the team winning or otherwise’ Krishnaswamy says with a tinge of sadness.

Last year, IOB was forced to pick only 'left overs', those that did not find favour with the bigger teams, as they did not have the money power to pay 'contracted players' given that the business was not doing well.

Disadvantages at IOB
There were also many other disadvantages in playing for the bank. For decades, they never were in the favoured and considered set when it came to state selection right from the early days and hence the top players were wary of joining the bank. A top cricketer (now a top 15 umpire with the BCCI) was given an officer posting well over a decade ago but he quit to join a leading corporate fearing being sidelined in the Ranji Trophy selection!!! 

Another downside to playing at IOB was the lack of the home ground advantage. With the bank not having a home ground, the team was always up against the bigger corporate preparing tracks to suit their own team. And thus slowly the bank cricket saw a downturn over the last few years.  With one off performances from the likes of Rajesh Kannan (who scored a century to save his side from relegation a couple of years ago) and M Shanmugam who has been bowling 40 odd overs every match, IOB had managed to stave off relegation in recent times.

It is a sad day for cricket in the city that a renowned public sector institution that had encouraged cricket for several decades and one that was held in high regard in the cricketing circles here has gone out of the first division.  Krishnaswamy hopes of better times ahead but one really wonders if the bank will be able to make its way back again (they had done so once in the 2nd half of the last decade) given the far better bargaining power of the large corporates!!!

It will also be interesting to see in the next few months if the Ranji cricketers from other states, who had been taken care of well by the bank in recent years, would continue to remain with the bank in these tough times away from the lure of the other corporates to try and get the Bank back into first division cricket again.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Srirangam Chitrai Garuda Sevai

A transformational change in the Melur Road 'Garuda Sevai' Procession 
In the 1970s and 80s, Melur Road at the Western end of Srirangam was an untraveled destination except for one day in a year when the residents of Srirangam would make their way as part of the Chitrai Brahmotsavam. There were no street lights in those days. The road off the Poundarikapuram Ashramam was just a mud road with rough stones through the 2km stretch to the Asthana Mandapam.

But the location was supremely serene with huge mango groves (especially being the peak season) and coconut trees dotting the entire stretch, with the expansive Thathachariar Gardens on the left (South) and groves on the banks of the Coloroon on the right (North).  On the third day of the Chitrai Brahmotsavam, Lord Namperumal would make a long 3 hour trip in the morning from his abode in Srirangam to the then largely unexplored village of Melur.

That evening, mounted on a majestic Garuda Vahana, Namperumal, flanked by the Mango groves on one side and tall Coconut trees on the other, made a joyful return trip amidst the cool breeze providing Garuda Sevai darshan to the devotees.

Last evening (April  20) the huge infrastructural transformation, in recent times, of this historical temple town was visible to those that had witnessed the Chitrai Garuda Sevai in the 2nd half of the last decade.

The huge groves that had lined up the entire Northern stretch is now gone having made way to large apartments. Through the Western end of Melur Road, one now finds beautiful colourful branded apartments with the occupants having moved in. This stretch at the far end of Melur is now likely to house several thousands of new residents. A previously uninhabited place, even a mini bus service has been introduced in recent times between Srirangam and Melur. Many of the new occupants, who were planning the house warming function of their branded new apartments the next morning, felt blessed that Lord Namperumal had provided darshan on the Golden Garuda Vahana on the eve of their big day. 
The entire 2-3kms stretch is now a tarred road with the Sri Patham Thangis now being able to make a swift move through to the Dasavatharam Sannidhi Street in a matter of under 30minutes unlike in olden times when their feet would burn under the strike of sharp stones. 
Lord Namperumal had reached the North Chitrai Street by 7pm and was welcomed by the large Ghosti that had gathered there to present the verses in praise of the Lord. He was back at the temple an hour later.

While the new Tar Road facilitating easy movement for the carriers of the Lord is a welcome addition as is the overall infrastructural development of the place that has now expanded far into the Western end of Srirangam and with the new ‘smallish/ mini’ Golden Garuda Vahana (so unlike the huge Garuda one has accustomed to), the nostalgic procession of the Lord mounted atop his favourite vehicle wading through the two huge groves in the evening procession amidst the large numbers of ‘Bandham’ (Ghee lit torch) was sorely missing for those who had experienced this utsavam in decades of the previous century. As he made his from Melur, Garuda seemed to slightly turn to the right as he passed the Thathachariar Gardens to show to his Lord in almost a thankful gesture of this huge mango grove on the South remaining largely unaltered. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sri Patham Thangis Srirangam

The special art of carrying the Lord has remained largely traditional at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam
As part of their apprenticeship, the Sri Patham Thangis used to practice on the Manal Veli for hours together in perfecting the different walking steps of Lord Namperumal

In the last 50 years, with the strengthening of the HR & CE department,  this historical selfless service assigned by Ramanuja has become a Government Job!!! 
A special and differentiating feature of the processions of Lord Namperumal at Srirangam is the way he is carried. The carriers of the Lord, referred to as Sri Patham Thangis were assigned by Ramanuja around a 1000 years ago. Ramanuja divided the Kainkaryam of carrying Lord Namperumal at Srirangam among the four Sthalathars – Uthama Nambi, Parasara Bhattar, Annangar Swamy and Rangachar with the rights to man each of the four corners resting with one of them.

In those days there were 16 of them with one Chief manning each of the four corners based on seniority. There was also an order in the way the postures were taken. Left side of the Lord was first, then the right side followed by the right side on the back and finally the left side on the back took position. And it was not a straight forward case of appointment in the centuries gone by. One had to start off as a helper to the senior members of the team.

In a year, they carry the Lord on their shoulders on well over 200days in the year.

As a mark of respect to the Lord and in recognition of the special service provided to them by Ramanuja, the Sri Patham Thangis wear the coloured turban (Ramanuja’s Kashayam coloured) on their head. This vastram on the head is a speciality at the Srirangam temple. A differentiating facet of the Sri Patham Thangis of Srirangam is that throughout the procession they carry the Lord on their shoulders. Yet another differentiating feature is the coloured turban they wear on their head while carrying the Lord through processions. Only after the Lord is finally placed dowtn at the Asthana Mandapa, do they remove the turban. 
They are also accorded a special invitation with the Saattai of the temple beating the floor to get them to march to the sanctum to carry the Lord. Only after this invitation, do they step into the sanctum to take their positions. Such is the special respects provided to the carriers of the Lord at the Srirangam temple.

The walking beauty of Namperumal and Sri Patham Thangis
Given that Lord Namperumal is renowned for his walking beauty, the Sri Patham Thangis, in the past, would practice the different walks of the Lord including Voyali, Simha Gathi and Sarpa Gathi each day in the Manal Veli on the Eastern side of the Ranganathaswamy temple.

In the early part of the century gone by, the new entrants would have to first prove their capability at the Kamalavalli Nachiyar temple in Woraiyur before being given an opportunity to carry Lord Namperumal at Srirangam.

There are 16 full time Sri Patham Thangis at the Ranganathaswamy temple, 4 for each of the four corners. All of them are now full time employees of the HR & CE department. On days that they do not have processional services, they perform Kainkaryam in smaller Sannidhis of the temple or manage the ticket counters.

82 year old Parthasarathy Iyengar performed this service for 50 years between 1950 and 2000. In the early days, he was paid a monthly salary of Rs. 27 which was then hiked to Rs. 35. Finally at the time of retirment, he received a salary of Rs. 4000 per month.

After performing only Sri Patham Kainkaryam for many years, towards the end of the 20th century they were also provided Sannidhi Kainkaryam and each of the Sri Patham Thangis began to take care of an individual Sannidhi at the Ranganathaswamy temple.

A Selfless Service becomes a Government Job!!!       
Only in the last 100 years or so, this became a paid service (employees) from the Kainkaryam that the four groups performed previously.  Times had become difficult and there were financial constraints. The British Government took over all the powers from them says 80 year old Singaperumal Uthama Nambi, a descendent of Uthama Nambi clan and a resident of Mela Uthira Veethi in Srirangam for over 70years.

He says that when HR & CE took over control of the temple, they started appointing Sri Patham Thangis as full time employees of the temple as against the historical precedence of this being a selfless service activity carried out by the four sthalathars.

The properties of Uthama Nambi too were taken away says Singaperumal Uthama Nambi with a tinge of sadness as to how this 1000 year old art went away from a ‘selfless service’ model to a ‘Government’ appointed job in the recent decades.

Singaperumal Nambi says that in centuries gone by they used to perform this sacred service of carrying the Lord with the help of their disciples. The disciples used to get the sacred food as a return for their service and they accepted it as a great blessing to be presented each day of the procession with the prasadam that included Dosai and Dhadhiyonam. And that was a great source of satisfaction for the Sri Patham Thangis for having carried the Lord on the day.

56 year old K Srinivasan is now the leader of the Sri Patham Thangi group. He had been trained to carry the Lord from a very early age. He was fascinated by this service and hence chose this.  He applied for the Government posting in the 1980s and has been a Government staffer for the last 30 years.
Voluntary Group of 300+ to carry the Lord
Over the last 50 years, Srirangam Vethal Service, an informal group of over 300 volunteers based in and around Srirangam, have been providing selfless service of carrying the Lord, especially on long street processions, in addition to the official temple ‘Sri Patham Thangi’ appointees. It is with the support of these volunteers that the long trips of Namperumal are managed. Last week, it was pleasing to watch these volunteers gather in large numbers during the Panguni Brahmotsavam. They were seen at their best as hundreds of them took devotional turns to carry Lord Namperumal on his annual Panguni trip to Jeeya Puram on the outskirts of Tiruchirapalli. They were also present in big numbers on Saturday (April 8) evening for the Kona Voyali presentation on East Chitrai Veethi.
Devotionally, it would have been a happy scenario had Sri Patham Thangis remained a fully selfless service oriented group as was the case in the centuries gone by.  But despite the move to becoming Government staffers, the carrying of the Lord has remained traditional at Srirangam as they continue to carry the Lord on their shoulders even on long trips to Woraiyur and Jeeyapuram and during the procession on all the Uthira and Chitrai streets on the Panguni Uthiram day.  

At a time when the Lord is now carried on wheeled tyres in many Divya Desams including during Brahmotsavam and is placed on stools at regular stop-overs during processions, this special art of carrying the Lord on the shoulder with that distinctive coloured turban has remained traditional and operational without much deviation at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam.

And that is something to cheer about.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thiru Nagai Divya Desam Bhattars

Sriraman Bhattar of Thiru Nagai Divya Desam is a role model in service to Lord

‘Do not do anything for Publicity, Expect nothing (in return) in Kainkaryam and Make full use of the opportunity provided by the Lord to perform selfless service’

The Soundararaja Perumal temple in Thiru Nagai Divya Desam 
(http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2007/08/108-divya-desam-thiru-nagai.html) is a perfect example of the transformation, in the funding source, that took place in Perumal temples in Tamil Nadu from the 1960s/70s. Till the 1960s, all festivals at this temple, praised in the Periya Thirumozhi by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar were organized and conducted by the temple authorities/ the trustees.

Transfer of political power and a new strategy towards the running of temples led to a shift (in funding base) that today has translated into a mega set of events. 
Temple Service for almost Six Decades without a salary
Rangaraja Bhattar has been performing pooja at this Divya Desam for 56 years having started out in 1961.In those early decades, there were hardly any devotees, the only ones comprised of Kallars and the Fishermen. The temple generally wore a forlorn look during the week days. Even during the weekends, he would welcome a maximum of 50 devotees at the temple.

With the Bhattar only holding the ‘Sthaniga’ rights, he has never received a salary from the temple in these 5 ½ decades of service. For financial survival, he worked in a nearby school who were generally supportive of his services at the temple.

In the first half of the 20th Century, there had been 200 Brahmin families around the temple and in the agraharam. There were also 30 Ganapadigals. Nagapattinam is also renowned for the Kayarohaneswarar Swamy temple (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/04/kaya-rohana-swamy-nagapattinam.html), ½ km North West of here.

Decades in the dark
But like in so many other Divya Desams (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/10/therazhundur-divya-desam.html), with the introduction of ‘Land Ceiling’ act, here too the sources of income were taken away from the Brahmins. They ‘surrendered’ their agricultural lands and made the move seeking greener pastures, elsewhere.

The temple had 35 Veli of land under its ownership, that had been written out to them to manage the temple activities,the utsavams and more importantly to take care of the service personnel. From the income arising out of this, the temple carried out all the utsavams and managed the expenses. There were 18 people performing service in the temple in the 1960s including 6 people in the Madapalli alone ( it is another matter that most of the madapallis in Divya Desams are short staffed now). Each of them was handed out a specified quantity of rice daily. 

Into the 1970s, with several Acts coming into force including the Revenue Act, the income from the land did not accrue directly to the temple. The presentation of the daily rice drastically reduced. Also, the authorities stopped funding the festivals, which then came to be conducted in a toned down way. The Yadavas and Kallars were the ones who helped in carrying the Lord during processions in line with Ramanuja’s philosophy of involving everyone from the community in the service of the Lord!!! There were very few festivals through the year. For a couple of decades, life in the temple progressed without much action. Everything was at a low key.

Service Philosophy
Rangaraja Bhattar lived on the philosophy that their duty was to perform ‘Kainkaryam’. He says with a lot of devotion that never in his life has he looked at what the devotee presents in the ‘Thattu’ as he believed it would influence his thoughts towards the devotee. Irrespective of the presentation in the Thattu, his service to every devotee remains the same, a personal code of conduct that he has practised for close to six decades. His father, Ramaswamy Bhattar, too had remained steadfast in his devotion to Soundaraja Perumal for almost 50 years till 1967.

Rangaraja Bhattar’s son Sriraman Bhattar, who will turn 40 shortly, has performed service in the temple for over 20 years says that he came into the temple expecting ‘no financial rewards in Kainkaryam’. He had completed his Agama and Vedic education from Mannargudi and had also obtained a degree in Economics. Even through those early years in academics, he would take a bus on Friday night to reach the temple to offer service to Lord Hanuman every Saturday. And ever since, he has shown unflinching commitment in his service to the Lord.  
Even in the temple context it is rare to hear this line of thinking these days ‘Money will come and go. My satisfaction comes from performing service to Lord.  One will be tempted with desirous thoughts but one’s aim cannot be to become a crorepati. It is important for the 'Shraddha' to not reduce for those performing pooja!!!’ says Sriraman Bhattar in a humble and devotional tone.

His loud and clear rendering of the archanai and the presentation of the prabhandham can often be heard at the Eastern entrance of the temple.

வம்பு அவிழும் துழாய் மாலை தோள்மேல் 
கையன ஆழியும் சங்கும் ஏந்தி 

நம்பர்நம் இல்லம் புகுந்து நின்றார் 
நாகரிகர் பெரிதும் இளையர் 

செம்பவளம் இவர் வாயின் வண்ணம் 
தேவர் இவரது உருவம் சொல்லில் 

அம்பவளத் திரிலேயும் ஒப்பர் 
அச்சோ ஒருவர் அழகியவா 

The greatest sense of satisfaction to Sriraman Bhattar comes from the fact that nothing is being done commercially at this temple.

HR & CE and the conduct of Festivals
While the Bhattars on one side continue to perform service with sincerity, the mandate from the department starting from the early 1970s became loud and clear. No more was the conduct of the utsavams, especially taking care of the expenses, the role of the department. The HR & CE found a weak target and turned the onus of the conduct of the festivals and related expenses on the Bhattars of the respective temples who then had to market the Lord with the devotees!!!

At the Soundararaja Perumal temple, this series of activities began in the 1990s with the setting up of a Sabha. Over the last two decades, it is this Sabha that has secured the funding for all festivals through the year and the overall funding source has topped Rs. 13 crores.
This model of reaching out to the devotee-donor has made its way to such an extreme extent that there is almost no financial contribution from the HR & CE, except them approving the expenses of the devotee donor!!!! It has now fully become a donor led exercise.

Thus today well ahead of all festivals, the devotional pitch is made by the Bhattars, and the donors take care of the respective expenses. 

This is a significant turnaround that has happened in all Divya Desams with the expenses shifting from the administrators to the devotees!!! Any request from the priests for funding an expense  is met with ‘Find a devotee donor’. And thus constantly Bhattars, who were traditionally to take care of the poojas are now making long distance trips to market the utsavams, the thought process being that Bhattars who are the front face to the devotees at the temples are better placed to market the utsavams than the department, whose approaches to the devotees was likely to result in a lukewarm response!!! Fanciful Utsavam Invitations with colourful photographs are the order of the day.

The HR & CE may never have imagined that one day they would be in a position to not spend a single rupee on the temple and that every single expense would be taken care of by the donors. And that the hundial income would not be spent on the utsavams!!!
At the Thiru Nagai Divya Desam, the Brahmotsavam (currently on at this temple) expenses runs up to close to a million rupees. Not even 10% of this is funded by the department which has come up with a novel ‘external’ option to managing expenses. The donor funded route had once reached such high intensity at this temple that in one of the earlier years, even the single digit percentage offer from the department was turned down by the priests. In addition, every year, there are new golden and silver ornaments and accessories added to the temple armoury, all provided for by the devotees through the efforts of the Bhattars. 

For all this, the abiding memory of the last many decades at the Thiru Nagai Divya Desam will be the devotional service provided by the ever smiling three generations of the Bhattar family.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Kaya Rohana Swamy Nagapattinam

A temple praised by Appar, Sundarar and Thiru Gnana Sambandhar as one by the Sea Shore
Like the number of perumal temples that existed in Mamallapuram on the eastern sea shore, there is said to have existed a 108 temples dedicated to Shiva on the shores of Nagapattinam, but as with Mamallapuram, most of these were washed away by the sea over the centuries.

12 temples have survived the test of time here in Nagapattinam, the most prominent among them being the Kaaya Rohana Swamy temple. It is probably the only temple where the four major streets around the temple are named after the Ambal, Neela Devi.

Pundareeka Rishi was keen to have ‘Shiva Logam’ darshan and in his quest towards achieving this undertook penance at Kasi and Kanchipuram. He then undertook penance at Kumbakonam. From there, he was directed to Nagapattinam. 
After bathing in the sacred tank (now referred to as Pundareeka Theertham in his memory) in the West of the temple, Pundareeka Rishi installed a Lingam and invoked the blessings of the Lord by performing severe austerities. Pleased with the sincerity of the prayers, Lord Shiva appeared on Aani Ahilyam in a Somaskanda posture, hugged Pundareeka Rishi and provided him Mukthi. It was on Aani Ahilyam that Lord provided. Hence the Lord is referred to as Kaaya - Rohana (accepting the body of the devotee).There is a stone carving of Pundareega Rishi on the pillar at the entrance in memory of this legend.

Saptha ‘Vidangal’ Kshetram
This is one of the Saptha Vidangal Kshetrams. Musukuntha Chozha (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2015/12/thiruvarur-thyagaraja-temple.html) was handed 7 Lingams by Indra. He installed one of those here in Thiru Nagai. As the one here was the most beautiful, it came to be referred to as ‘Sundara Vidanga’.

The Saptha Vidangal temples include Vedaranyam, Thiru Kuvalai, Thiru Nallar, Thiru Voimur, Thiru Kaaravasal and the most prominent among them, Tiruvarur.

True Devotion to the Lord
One of the 63 Nayanmars, Athi Bhakta Nayanar attained mukthi here. To this day, when a descendent of his clan attains mukthi, he is brought to the entrance of temple and the Lord’s garland is placed on the body as a mark of respect. 
He went to the sea every day to catch fish for a living. At the end of the day, he would dedicate the best fish of the day to the Lord and would allow it back into the sea. One day he received a Golden fish as part of his kitty. Unmindful of the prized catch that would have solved his financial poverty he presented it back to the sea as his offering for the day.

Over a period of time, much to his surprise, he received just one fish a day and as was his devotion presented that single catch back to the sea. He and his family lived in hunger given the lack of catchings.

Delighted at his devotion, the Lord provided darshan, seated on the Rishabha Vahana. This episode is enacted every year on Aani Ahilyam.

Praised by three Saint Poets
The Saint Poets have praised the temple as one being by the Sea Shore and the Lord as 'Kaa-Rohanar'.
Sundarar was presented with gold and pearls here at this place in recognition of his great contribution. 

7 town Procession
A devotee in Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh) was destined to live just for 16 years due to a disease from birth. Invoking the blessings of the Lord Kaaya Rohanar through sincere prayers, he was blessed to remain 16 forever. When Yama came on the appointed day to pick him up, he understood the blessings of the Lord and dropped him back at Thiru Nagai. 
In recognition of this event, the King Salisa came here with his retinue and performed Linga pooja in 7 temples around Thiru Nagai. This event is enacted every year in Aani with a 7 town temple procession. There is a stone sculpture of the King on one of the pillars in memory of this event.

Dasaratha’s connection to this temple
When Saturn struck Ayodhya, King Dasaratha was directed by his Kula Deivam, the Sun God, to install a Bala ‘Sani’ Idol at Thiru Nagai to liberate himself from the Sani Dosham. In memory of this episode, all the Navagraha idols at this temple are seen facing the Lord.

Panchaakshi Peedam
This is also one of the 5 Aakshi Peedam place of Ambal, the others being Kasi, Kanchi, Madurai and Thiruvarur. There is a separate flag post for the Ambal at this temple. When the Lord sent Nandhi to offer protection to Ambal, a saddened vehicle turned one eye in the direction of the Lord to show his devotion to the Lord. Hence, one of Nandi is seen turned towards the Lord.

There are several inscriptions dating back to the Chozha period.  
Festivals
23 day Brahmotsvam in Vaikasi
10 day festival in Aadi

The temple is open between 6am-12noon and 4pm-9pm. Contact: Shiva Kumar Gurukkal @ 99760 91450 / Raman Kanakku Pillai@ 98942 34731

How to reach
Auto from the Nagapattinam railway station will cost Rs. 50. One can also walk to the temple through the Big Bazaar street ( 15 minutes from the station).

When here also visit Thiru Nagai Soundararaja Perumal Divya Desam
http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2007/08/108-divya-desam-thiru-nagai.html

and Thiru Kannangudi Divya Desam
http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2008/06/thiru-kannangudi.html

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Achalpuram Shiva Loga Thyagaraja Temple

The place of Thiru Gnana Sambandhar’s Wedding and Mukthi – This legendary episode is enacted on Vaikasi Kettai and Moolam every year
Sacred Ash is presented in the Ambal Sannidhi in memory of the historical event

It is 5.30 am on a Monday morning in this remote location 5 kms east of Kollidam and 11 kms from Chidambaram on the Northern Banks of the Cauvery. The small town is already buzzing with devotional activity. The pooja items at the shops outside near the huge temple tank are ready in several hundreds. Inside the temple, the  temple staff are putting together the tokens for the first batch. One of the Gurukals is already present and the other one follows soon after. 



Every Monday morning, a special prarthana pooja is performed to fulfil one’s wishes. This pooja is performed for 10 Mondays followed by a special Abhishekam on the 11th Monday.

By 6.30 am, the second batch of devotees were locked in a queue to pick up the tokens for the second batch of 'Sankalpam'. A few hours later, one finds happy faces of devotees having completed the Prarthana pooja and having had darshan of the Lord and Ambal.

This huge Shiva Loga Thyagaraja Swamy temple in Achalpuram is the place where Saivite Saint Poet Thiru Gnana Sambandhar attained Mukthi immediately after his wedding. The episode of the Saint Poet’s wedding is played out in its entirety similar to a traditional Brahmin wedding on Vaikasi Kettai followed by the event of his merging with the Lord the next morning. 
The last of his verses
Thiru Gnana Sambandhar sang the last of his Thevaram verses on the Lord of this temple.  He made 7 long trips from Sirkazhi and back. It was on the 7th trip that he reached Achalpuram. 
In his verses, he refers to himself as being from Sirkazhi and assures the devotees that their sincere prayers at Nallur Perumanam (the ancient name of this place) will see them being liberated from their sins.

In another verse, he specifically refers to the names of both the Lord and Ambal.
 
Several of the great rishis including Sage Vashishta and Sage Vishwamitra undertook severe penance seeking darshan of the Shiva Logam. They were directed to go to Achalpuram for their wishes to be fulfilled. Here after bathing in the Panchaakshara Theertham opposite the temple, the revered sages had darshan of the Shiva Logam.

Wedding and Mukthi on the same day
Thiru Gnana Sambandhar was disinterested in marriage but his father Shiva Paatha Iravayar suggested to him that the world would blame the parents for not finding the right match for their son. Psyched by this emotional reasoning of his father, Thiru Gnana Sambandhar reluctantly agreed. The wedding formalities were performed here at Aachalpuram and he tied the knot to Poornaambigai, the daughter of Nambandar Nambi Embar, who belonged to this place. In memory of this episode, Thiru Gnana Sambandhar is seen in a separate sannidhi along with his wife in wedding posture. 
As he took her around the sacred fire, he received the message from Lord Thyagesar, who showed him the Shiva Logam that his time had come and soon after merged with the Lord here at this place.

Name of the Place
The place is named after Ambal as ‘Achal’ Puram. ‘Achal’ Ambal had appeared here and handed the sacred ash to those that had been present for Thiru Gnana Sambandhar’s wedding. Also, in memory of this episode, she is referred to as Thiru Veneetru Umaiammai and the sacred ash is presented in her sannidhi to devotees.

There is a 5 Tier Raja Gopuram on the East with huge walls on each of the four sides. There are several inscriptions dating back a 1000 years to the Chozha period on the outer walls of the 2nd prakara. The Lord is also referred to as Nallur Perumaan.
The temple is administered by Dharumpuram Atheenam.

Festivals
Enactment of the legendary episode of Thiru Gnana Sambandhar and his attaining Mukthi will take place on Kettai/Moolam days in Vaikasi
Navarathri is celebrated in a grand manner

The temple is open 630am-12noon and 430pm-8pm. Contact: Balaji Gurukal @ 98653 26636

How to reach

Buses ply every 15-20minutes from Kollidam. There are also direct buses from Chidambaram to Achalpuram. Auto from Kollidam will cost Rs. 100.