Friday, June 23, 2017

Sarangapani Koil Thiru Kudanthai

Unique Incentive by the trustees to the Sri Patham Thangis in the 1950s and 60s
84 year old Sounder Desikachariyar has been performing Thiru Aradhana at the temple for the last three decades to keep the tradition going 

The hand of the Bhattar would swell placing the Shatari multiple times in the day
on 200 Vedic and Prabhandham Scholars, half a century ago
In the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Nam Azhvaar praises Thiru Kudanthai as a location where paddy grew in abundance aided by the fertile waters. The Lord was surrounded by huge stone walls. Large lotuses were seen all around Thiru Kudanthai. 
ஆரா அமுதே அடியேன் உடலம்  நின்பால் அன்பாயே
நீராய்  அலைந்து கரைய உருக்குகின்ற நெடுமாலே
சீர் ஆர் செந்நெல் கவரி வீசும் செழு நீர் திரு குடந்தை
ஏர் ஆர் கோலம் திகழ கிடந்தாய் கண்டேன் எம்மானே  - Thiruvoimozhi ( 5-8-1)

He saw people of extremely good qualities around the temple (நலத்தால் மிக்கார் குடந்தை கிடந்தாய்)

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar too praises the place as one abound with greenery (

Big Agraharam, hundreds of Vedic Scholars, Devotional People
Just over half a century ago, this ancient description by the Saint Poets still seemed to hold good. There was an agraharam right opposite the Eastern Entrance with about 30 traditional families residing there. There were 200 scholars presenting Veda Parayanam and Divya Prabhandham recital on big festive occasions. Villagers walked from distant locations to be present for the big chariot festival.Leading into Thiru Kudanthai, one found greenery all around. 

The priests of Thiru Kudanthai lived in a huge extended joint family that sometimes went up to 40 members. No salary was paid to the service personnel at the temple. They just received rice as the daily prasadam. That was sort of their only 'financial' remuneration. And yet they lived a contented and happy life.  

Among the three large Vaishnavite temples in Kumbakonam, the Vaishnavites took care of the Sarangapani Koil, the Sourashtrians the Ramaswamy temple and the Madhwas took care of the Utsavams at the Chakrapani temple.

7Decades of dedicated Service at the temple
Sounder Desikachariyar is 84 years old and a fragile figure now. Inside that lean body is a mentally strong personality, one that has been totally dedicated to Lord Aravamudhan of Thiru Kudanthai for almost the entire period of his life. 
For the last three decades, he has been performing Thiru Aradhanam at the Vedantha Desikar Sannidhi at this Divya Desam and is there early, every morning, unmindful of the scorching summer’s heat and overcoming the challenges relating to old age. He is one of the last remaining members of the Prabhandham Ghosti at the temple. He is also the one who has been assigned the rights for first Theertham at the temple by Patrachariar descendents.

Desikachariyara grew up right in front of the Sarangapani temple and spent his childhood days in a devotional way at the temple in the 1930s and 40s. There were at least 30 traditional families along the Eastern entrance to the temple with whom he enjoyed a great traditional childhood.

His father was a Sanskrit Shiromani and well versed in the Vedas. Sounder Desikachariyar looks at those days in the middle of the previous century as one of great joy ‘Devotion was at its very best with devotees committed to serving with utmost sincerity. For each of the Pancha Parva Utsavam procession every month, devotees would walk all the way from the neighbouring villages to be part of the festivities. For the annual Brahmotsavam, which was celebrated in a grand way, devotees would swarm in large groups from as far away as Papanasam, Thiru Nageswaram and Kottayur walking all the way to the temple along with their entire family.’

Ayya Kumar Desikar's Contribution to the temple
In the 16th Century AD, Navalpakkam Ayya Kumar Thatha Desikar, a renowned Chaturveda Scholar and a vidwan at the court of the Thanjavur king ensured that the vedic chanting continued for the coming centuries advocating total devotion to the Lord and laying importance on the Vedic and Prabhandham recital at the temple. It was also he who helped recover some of the lost idols and installed it at the temple. He is also credited with having created the Komalavalli Thayar Sannidhi in its current form.

In recognition of his contribution, there is a separate sannidhi for Ayya Kumar Desikar at this temple, opposite the Thayar Sannidhi.

The Thanjavur king who had the first rights of ‘mariyathai’ during festive occasions assigned the rights to Ayya Kumar Desikar which has then over the centuries passed on to the Patrachariar descendants.

Trustees managed the temple – A special incentive
In those decades over half a century ago, the temple comprised of 5 trustees and they managed the Utsavams well during those decades. There were 16 Sri Patham Thangis who committed themselves to carrying the Lord on their shoulders on all the utsavams including the big Vahana processions during Brahmotsavam. 
On the occasion of the Brahmotsavam and during the Margazhi festival, the temple reverberated with Vedic chants and prabhandham recital. There were at least 100 scholars on each of these fronts. Veda Parayanam and Divya Prabhandham Ghosti would compete with each other on the devotional front. Not a single rupee was paid to any of them and they just lived a life full of devotion.

There was a unique incentive in those days from the trustees of the temple to keep our tradition going. Those who presented themselves in Pancha Kacham and 12 Thiruman to carry the Lord were given double the quantity of rice on that day.

Shatari on 200 heads on multiple occasions each day
Soundara Raja Bhattar, now into his late 40s is one of the well respected Bhattars at the Sarangapani temple for he is well versed in the agamas having learnt from the then revered 70 year old Raghunatha Sharma in Thiru Kudanthai. The Bhattar who has performed arathana at this temple for over three decades counts learning under this great guru as one of the greatest blessings of his life. 
His father L Srinivasa Bhattachar (Chellappa) too had performed selfless service at this temple for almost three decades through the 1960s and 70s without a salary before collapsing one day at the Chakrapani Sannidhi and meeting with an untimely death when Soundara Raja Bhattar was just 9 years old. On non festival days, Chellappa Bhattar would rarely get any Thattu Kaasu.

Soundara Raja Bhattar recounts the tale of how his father would come back with a swollen hand  on many days ‘My father’s hand would end up swollen as he had to place the Shatari on 200 heads in a most traditional way on multiple occasions each day during these festivals.’

It was not like the current period when Bhattars rush through the Shatari process in a matter of minutes almost as an exercise to complete.

90 kgs rice to the Service Personnel
The huge Uthana Sayana Lord, seen in a beautiful slightly raised sleeping posture is 15 feet plus in length.  Hence 15 kgs of rice had to be presented to him for each of the poojas in the day in line with the agamas which Rice had to be presented to the Lord on the basis of one kg per foot, as per the agamas. And 6 time pooja each day meant 90 kgs of rice was presented to the Lord. 'The service personnel that totalled close to 50 had no salary. We simply shared the ‘rice’ offering every day amongst us.'

The Big Chariot Festival
The Chariot at the Sarangapani Temple in Thiru Kudanthai counts among the biggest the TN temples. Back then in the 1960s, big drum beating in all the nearby villages, a few days ahead of the Chariot festival would serve as an invitation to the villagers to participate in the festival and to help pull the chariot around the four big streets. Villagers in several thousands would gather at the temple the previous night.

100 Bags of rice for a Single Day Utsavam
At the Ramaswamy temple, half a km South of the Sarangapani temple,the Moopanar family who belong to this region presented 100 bags of rice  on the fifth day of the Rama Navami Utsavam, when the Lord comes out on his favourite Hanumantha Vahana, Dhadhyonam was presented in large quantities to every single devotee at the temple. This tradition went on for several years.

For decades, the traditional families had lived in happiness spending a lot of their lives in chanting praise of the Lord.

And then the exodus away from Thiru Kudanthai
Into the 1960s, the real exodus of the traditionalists began to happen. And this continued well into the 70s. With HR & CE slowly gaining a stranglehold on temples in Tamil Nadu and with new land ceiling act coming into play, the traditional residents lost out. In a drastic fall in presentation of prasadam to the Lord, 90 kgs of rice for each Kaalam that was shared by the archakas and parijarakas came down to a total of just 10 kgs for the day. This had a direct negative impact on the state of their lives.

A number of the traditional residents sold their lands in frustration and went away seeking greener pastures. Veda Parayanam that was 100 members strong at this temple dwindled to nil. Prabhandham Ghosti now comprises of a team in single digit in this historic temple down from the 100s. For real big occasions, like a Samprokshanam, experts are roped in from across the state. But otherwise the year long utsavams wear no resemblence to what it was half a century ago. 

Lord on Wheels
The Sri Patham Thangis who had for long been traditional in their attire and conduct are no more to be found.  Lord is now carried on wheels and not on shoulders on most festive occasions around the four big streets.

Income to the HR & CE, Expenses to the Devotees!!!
Once the HR & CE took complete control, the expenses relating to the temple and the conduct of the festivals began to be completely passed on to the devotees as against the centuries' long practice of  the temple conducting it jointly with the support of the devotees (the original concept of ‘Ubayam’ – one of doing jointly). 

‘Ubayam’ (like Ubaya Nachiyar) referred to twin i.e a combination of temple and the devotees, but this was given a new definition under the HR & CE rule.  Today, all the income (which too is provided by the devotees) is taken away by the HR & CE while the expenses are almost completely funded by the devotees.

Housed between two rivers, Cauvery and Arasalaru, the Sarangapani temple has the maximum number (after Srirangam and Tirupathi) of Azhvaars (7 of them) singing praise of Lord Aravamudhan.   After listening to the Tamil hymn 'Aaravamudhe’  composed by Nam Azhvaar, Vaishnavite savant Natha Muni wanted to listen to the entire Naalaayira Divya Prabandham (4000 hymns) and was directed by Lord Aaravamudhan to Azhvaar Tirunagari to compile the works of the Divya Prabandham. Hence this temple is credited with having shown the direction for the revival of the sacred verses. Will the traditionalists come back to this ancient temple town and will the temple reverberate once again with Vedic Chants and Prabhandham recital? 

Will the HR & CE participate financially in the conduct of the Utsavams and the daily poojas in the true meaning of 'Ubayam' or will more and more hundials be placed inside the temple?

Early construction of the temple took place in the 7th Century AD by the famous Pallava King Mahendra Varma while improvements were made later by the Cholas and the Vijayanagara Kings.

There are several hundreds of inscriptions dating back to this period including on the walls of the Komalavalli Thayar Sannidhi. Some of these, it is believed have not yet been deciphered. Sounder Desikachariyar is hopeful of ASI taking steps to bring out a booklet on the inscriptions relating to the temple so the devotees get insights into the contributions made by the legendary kings and the traditions that were followed during that period.

Seeing the sleeping posture of the Lord, a curious Thiru Mazhisai Azhvaar questioned if his tiredness (having fought the battle in Lanka) was the reason for him to be lying down thus. After hearing this, it is believed that the Lord slightly raised his posture to greet the Azhvaar. Feeling the guilt of having caused strain on the Lord, ThiruMazhisai  Azhvaar asked him to remain as is. And the Lord remained so ever after. 

The main sanctum has been conceived like a chariot with wheels drawn by horses and elephants and is truly a splendid sight to watch. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thiru Ezhu Kootrirukkai

A 47 line composition offering absolute surrender to Lord Aravamudhan

In this Pictorial Poem on Thiru Kudanthai, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar invokes the blessings of Lord Aravamudhan to get rid of one’s past karmas and to bring an end to this worldly life

Classical Description: Mounted the ‘Four Feathered’ Garuda to save the ‘Four Legged- Three Ichored-Two Eared’ Gajendra

In the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar composed a unique one of its kind pictorial poem, Thiru Vezhukootrirukkai dedicated to Lord Aravamudhan of Thiru Kudanthai (Sarangapani Temple). 

As the name (Thiru- Ezhu- Kootriru-Kai) suggests, this composition has been created in a 7 tiered structure and is in the form of a chariot. One can arrange the contents of the composition in line with this structure.

It is only a small 47 line composition but is very significant for it is here that Thiru Mangai Azhvaar offers his absolute surrender to Lord Aravamudhan stating that he has had enough of worldly life and seeks refuge in the Lord.

In this composition, he praises the many great qualities of the Lord from his various Avataras.

He describes the Lord’s achievements in his Vamana Avatara, showcases the Gajendra Moksham episode providing relief to the struggling elephant and praises the Lord as the one who conquered the seven bulls to save Nappinnai. He also refers to the Lord as the one who controls the pair of opposites like Joy and Sorrow.

A beautiful description of an Elephant
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar provides a beautiful description of the Lord mounted on the Garuda to save the elephant.  He praises the Lord as being so powerful that when he rode on the ‘Five Feathered’ Garuda to save the ‘Four Legged- Three Ichored-Two Eared’ unique elephant Gajendra one day in the 200 cubit deep water, the four quarters trembled in fear.

நால் திசை நடுங்க  அம் சிறைப் பறவை ஏறி
நால் வாய் மும் மதத்து இரு செவி
ஒரு தனி  வேழத்து அரந்தையை
ஒரு நாள் இரு நீர்மடுவுள் தீர்த்தனை

In the last ten lines of this pictorial composition, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar specifically showers praise on Lord Aravamudhan of Thiru Kudanthai. He gives us a glimpse of what Kudanthai looked like during his time.

குன்றா மது மலர்ச் சோலை வண்கொடிப் படப்பை
வரு புனல் பொன்னி மா மணி அலைக்கும்

செந்நெல் ஒண்  கழனித் திகழ் வனம் உடுத்த
கற்போர் புரிசைக் கனக மாளிகை
நிமிர் கொடி விசும்பில் இளம் பிறை துவக்கும்

Referring to the reclining posture of the Lord, he says that the temple was surrounded by huge flower groves that seemed to give out nectar. There were betel creepers that, seemed to produce a special fragrance,through the year, thanks largely to being watered by the sacred Cauvery.

செல்வம் மல்கு தென் திருக்குடந்தை
அந்தணர் மந்திர மொழியுடன் வணங்க

ஆடு அரவு அமளியில் அறிதுயில்
அமர்ந்த பரம

Also the lands in Thiru Kudanthai were fertile with greenery all around. The entire place was filled with Vedic Seers and recital of Vedas was a regular feature here. It seemed to have a reverberating positive effect on the people.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar also praises Thiru Kudanthai as a place that had high mansions and it looked as though they were touching the moon.

நின் ஆதி இணை பணிவன்
வரும் இடர் அகல மாற்றோ வினையே

In conclusion, he invokes the blessings of Lord Aravamuthan to get rid of his past karmas and to bring an end to his worldly life and praises the Lord as the only one who can do this. He asks for permission to perform daily service to the Lord here at Thiru Kudanthai.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Somanathaswamy Temple Pazhayarai

Birth Place of Mangayakarasi, one of the 63 Nayanmars
Several beautiful sculptures of Narasimha and Prahalada depicting legendary tales

Located 3kms East of Patteeswaram and half a km West of Nathan Koil Divya Desam is the several centuries old Somanathaswamy Temple in Pazhaiyarai, a location whose legend dates back to the Pallava period. In different period of time, this place has come to be referred to as Mudikonda Chozha Puram, Aagavamalla Kulakaala Puram and Raja Raja Puram. The temple complex housing Lord Someswarar has been constructed in a way that horses are driving the Lord on a wheeled chariot. 

Nandi undertook Penance - Nandipuram
Legend has it that Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva, wanted to meet Lord Vishnu at Vaikuntam and in his eagerness to meet entered without securing the permission of the security guards (Dwarapalakas). This angered the Dwarapaalakaas who cursed the Nandi who then looked up to Lord Shiva for solution. As per his directions, Nandi undertake penance at this place and was relieved from the curse at this place. In memory of this legendary episode, this region came to be known as Nandipuram. 

In each of his 10 verses of praise on Nathan KoilVaishnavite Saint Poet Thiru Mangai Azhvaar refers to this place as Nandipura Vinnagram.  Nandipuram served as the capital of this region during the Chozha Period. 

In the Thevaram verses, this place was referred to as Palasai, Pazhaiyaarai and just simply as Aarai.
Thiru Gnana Sambanthar's in his verses of praise on Patteeswaram temple makes a reference to this place in two of his verses. 
Moon God's Pooja
It is believed the Moon God invoked the blessings of the Lord at this place. Hence the Lord is referred to as ‘Soma’ Nathaswamy. 

Birth Place of Mangayakarasi
This is the birth place of one of the 63 Nayanmars Mangayakarasi who later went on to marry a Pandya King. She promoted Saivism in great style in this region.

Komali (Cow) performed pooja at this temple. Hence the Ambal is referred to as Soma Kamalambigai. Another cow ‘Vimali’ performed pooja in the nearby Nurayur where there is another ancient Saivite temple dedicated to Nayaki Dharmapureeswarar.
The temple tower is entirely of brick construction similar to the one at Gopinatha Swamy temple West of Patteeswaram. Similar to that temple, the temple tower here too is in dilapidated state and has remained half complete. While the outer Gopuram is a brick construction, the entire temple complex inside is of a strong granite structure and looks strong even today. 

Pundarikakshan Temple in Thiru Vellarai near Srirangam also has a temple tower similar to the one here in Pazhayarai.
Inside the temple one finds several exquisite sculptures depicting legendary tales including those relating to Narasimha and Prahalada and the Lord’s fight with the asura. There is a stone carving of Lankan king Ravana lifting the Mount Kailasa.
There were also several inscriptions inside the temple dating back to the Chozhas that provided insights into Rajendra Chozha’s directions on contributions relating to temples. Many of these have been erased with the passing of time. 
During the Chozha rule, there was a majestic palace in Pazhaiyaarai and was referred to as Madurantakan Thiru Maaligai. There was also a reference to Rajendra Chozha Mandapa within the Palace here at this place.

Near to this temple is another Saivite temple in Panchavan Maha Deveeswaram, one dedicated by Rajendra Chozha to his mother Panchavan Maha Devi. 
A Kumbabhishekam was performed last year after a  gap of almost 400 years along with the Kumbabhishekam of the Patteeswaram temple. 

There is a Veera Durgai Sannidhi on the Northern corner of the temple.

Lord Nataraja is taken out on a procession on the occasion of Aruthra in Margazhi.
On Chitrai Rohini, the birthday of Mangayakarasi, a special abhishekam is performed with a procession accompanied by the recital of the sacred songs.

In decades gone by, Brahmotsvam used to be celebrated in a grand manner with street processions  but today the temple wears a deserted look. The priest  who comes from Patteeswaram performs a one-time pooja and it is the security who takes care of the temple for the rest of the day.
The temple is open between 6am- 1pm and 6pm-8pm.  

Contact Sabesa Gurukkal @ 99525 30576 / Balakrishnan Security @ 95007 18152 / Balaguru @ 96554 80486 (a long time resident of Pazhayarai)

How to reach
An auto from Patteeswaram will cost Rs. 75. One can reach also reach Pazhayarai from Kumbakonam via Korukkai.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Venkatramana M

The First Test Cricketer from Madurai was given a raw deal with the Indian team 
Compared with Prasanna for his natural flight and arc in the late 1980s, he was alongside two other spin legends on his two overseas tours but played just the one test in his career!!!
Yet another case of cricketing talent from TN that was not nurtured, protected and grown

Ramana sorely missed a mentor and Godfather!!! - R Dinesh 
(JMD, TVS & Sons), the man who spotted him in Madurai
In a matter of 3-4 years in the late 1980s, a young cricketer from Madurai had shot into prominence at the National Level, this after he gave up Basketball for cricket earlier in the decade. Everything seemed to be going in the right direction for the shy non English conversant man from the districts. M Venkatramana had a remarkable debut season in Ranji Trophy with 35 wickets, one that earned him an immediate test call. 

His Alwarpet and TVS teammate, K Srikkanth was alongside him on his first overseas tour to the West Indies. Legendary S Venkataraghavan was his cricket manager on that tour. On his 2nd overseas tour, another of the famous Spin quartet, BS Bedi was the coach. In between he was remarked as a probable successor to another of the spin greats Erapalli Prasanna, for his flight, arc, bounce and turn.  No other off spinner since Prasanna had shown that amount of natural zip off the wicket in India. It would have seemed a dream come true for any youngster to have had some sort of association with three of the spin greats.

But his confidence was shattered as quickly as it rose. And yet another talent had been sacrificed even before the bud was allowed to bloom.

Venkatramana was a high flying Basketball player at school and led the Madurai U 16 team and it seemed likely that he pursue that sport till the time R Dinesh, Joint Managing Director, TVS and Sons spotted him in a practice session and later watched him bowl against his team.

Venkatramana also played cricket for his school - the not so renowned (for cricket) Madura College Matriculation School. For the first time in its history, the off spinner led his team to victory against the fancied TVS School. 

From Basketball to Cricket- The Transformation
Dinesh was introduced to Venkatramana in a practice session way back when he was in his mid teens. He remembers that first encounter against the young offie in a match ‘He bowled very well against us, was very accurate and showed a lot of promise. I could see that he an ability to take wickets.’ Watching Venkatramana in action, it struck Dinesh that this teenager had it in him to play for Tamil Nadu, at the least. 
Finding his potential, TVS School immediately roped him in for class XI and XII.  Dinesh was also looking for a good off-spinner for TVS Cricket Club, his league team in Madurai. Having been impressed with Venkatramana’s potential, it was Dinesh who recommended to the team’s Coach to rope him in ( He was playing for Majestic CC at that time and had previously started off his Club cricket in Madurai with Jolly Rovers).  

Dinesh was a senior at school. He was so impressed with Venkatramana’s talent that he would pick him up for all the matches in those early years, discussing about cricket while travelling together. It was those inspirational daily chats with Dinesh that led Venkatramana to quit basketball for cricket. It was one of the first transformational moments in Venkatramana’s life. Dinesh mentored Venkatramana over the next few years. 

TVS had a philosophy of ensuring that cricketers had enough time to scale up and practice their game rather than worry about money in a professional job.  Venkataramana was one of those from Madurai chosen to be supported by the Group.

‘Once we realised his capabilities and he started integrating into the team, he not only built up his game, but also became a key player by representing our teams in Chennai as well, and we decided to support him financially.’ 

It was Dinesh and TVS that opened the doors for more opportunities in cricket for Venkatramana. Immediately after his graduation from Madura College, Dinesh provided him with the much needed job security at TVS and Sons, Madurai.

Dinesh remembers Venkatramana from those days in the early 80s as a well mannered and tenacious cricketer, not necessarily aggressive. ‘He became a little more ambitious as he grew up and once he started tasting success.’

It was at the TVS Club that Venkatramana also came under the watchful eyes of PK Dharmalingam who coached TVS (both in Madurai and Madras) that decade. The coach would coach the TVS team in Madurai through the week from Monday to Friday  and return for the weekend to Madras to coach Alwarpet. 
Dharmalingam was closely associated with Venkatramana during his teenage days. He saw a lot of potential in Venkatramana ‘He was very sincere and hard working. Throughout that period, Venkatramana did not miss a single session. May be he was not all that ambitious but he was a totally committed boy wanting to give his best all the time. He had long fingers and used his height well to gain extra bounce.’ 

Dharmalingam suggested to K Srikkanth in Madurai during an inter TVS Club (Madras vs Madurai) to pick him up for Alwarpet in the first division league in Madras.

Srikkanth's role 
Srikkanth instilled the sense of aggression in Venkatramana not seen much in an off spinner in the state in the decades earlier. He attacked and went for wickets unmindful of giving away runs. It was thanks to Srikkanth that he remained an attacking bowler throughout his career with sole focus on disturbing the batsmen with bounce and turn. 
Within a year at Alwarpet, he was in the State U22 and U25 squad. Strong performances in the next couple of years in the first division league, age group tournaments as well as Buchi Babu tournament earned him a place in the TN Ranji Squad in 1987-88. 

'You will go places' - Kripal Singh
After watching him bowl, AG Kripal Singh, the then Chairman of TN Selection committee called him one day and told him that he saw great potential in the off spinner and that he would go places. 

A dream debut season
What a debut season he had in Ranji Trophy in 87-88 as he played a stellar role in TN lifting the trophy topping the wickets tally nationally with 35 wickets including three five wicket hauls under the guidance of S Vasudevan. 

In January 1988, in the final league match, he had his first big moment in the Ranji Trophy. Against a strong Karnataka team comprising of GR Vishwanath and Brijesh Patel, Venkatramana picked up his first five wicket haul. In the very next match, the quarter final against UP, he grabbed headlines again with another five wicket haul. He played another crucial role in the Semi Final win as well. Up against a rampant Sidhu at Chepauk, Tamil Nadu was in a spot of bother despite amassing a 600+ score. It was Venkatramana’s double blow including dismissing Sidhu that swung the match decisively in Tamil Nadu’s favour to take them through to the final. And he ended the season with 80 wickets in the final against Railways. 

An year with Vasudevan
Spending his entire debut year alongside S Vasudevan was a great learning experience for Venkatramana as he learnt further the nuances of spin bowling. Like in international cricket, where he missed Srikkanth's presence, here at the domestic level, Vasudevan made a surprise retirement announcement ( to provide opportunities for the upcoming Sunil Subramaniam) after lifting the Ranji Trophy. And that was a big blow to Venkatramana as the presence of Vasudevan for the next couple of years would have helped him sharpen his 'spinning' skills.
Vasudevan saw great potential in Venkatramana and believed he had it in him to scale the peak ‘Ramana was a very good off-spinner with high-arm action and was able to get a good bounce & turn that got him a lot of wickets. He was one of best offies in India in the late 80s and early 90s.’

The best compliment of his life
The then Chairman of National Selection committee Raj Singh Dungarpur too was excited after watching Venkatramana bowl. In an unforgettable moment for Venkatramana, Raj Singh came up to him and told him that he saw Prasanna in this young off spinner and that he had never before been this excited at the prospect of watching an off spinner bowl. It was probably the biggest compliment Venkatramana could have received at that point in his career. 

Alongside Srikkanth and Venkat in WI
It seemed at that time that all was going his way. His performances in the Ranji season coupled with TN lifting the Trophy earned him instant recognition. That same year, he was picked in the squad for the Bombay test against New Zealand but he did not play in the XI. Later that season, he was picked to go on a long trip to the West Indies alongside his club captain K Srikkanth and TN team mate Robin Singh. Venkataraghavan was the team manager on that tour. Everything was adding up nicely for Venkatramana in that phase. 

But how soon all that changed!!! Srikkanth received a terrible blow in his hand just ahead of the first test ( in the final one dayer) and had to return home. That was a major blow to Venkatramana for Srikkanth was a senior and influential member of the Indian team in that phase. He probably knew Venkatramana and his potential the best. 

Venkatramana had Venkataraghavan by his side throughout that tour but for a shy youngster from the districts who was not conversant with the English language, it was not easy to approach the legendary off spinner. 
While Venkatramana seemed to bowl reasonably well in the tour games, he did not get to play till the final test of the series - end of April 1989 - that had gone so drastically wrong for India.  The morale was generally low on tour with India having been beaten soundly in the one dayers and not having performed creditably in the earlier tests. Even that opportunity rose after an injury to a fast bowler and Venkatramana was informed only an hour ahead of start that he was playing. The pitch at Sabina Park was not made for spinners and Venkatramana did not get to bowl much. In the second innings, he picked up Desmond Haynes as his only test wicket - that in the last over of the series!!!

Left out of the Pak tour under Srikkanth
India toured Pakistan next in November 1989 but Venkatramana was told by the selection committee that he was being protected from that tour as it was expected to be a fast bowling dominated tour. Srikkanth was the captain on that tour but Venkatramana once again missed out on an opportunity to be alongside his club captain (India performed creditably on that tour with Manoj Prabhakar and Kapil Dev shining with the ball but off field controversies led to Srikkanth losing his captaincy).

Venkatramana continued to perform well with the ball in the domestic tournaments. In the final of the Duleep Trophy he picked up 6 wickets against West Zone to help South Zone lift the trophy. 

Shattering Experience in New Zealand
He earned a recall for the three test tour to New Zealand in early 1990 alongside TN team mate VB Chandrasekar (who had struck back to back centuries in the Duleep Trophy).  But it turned out to be the most shattering experience of his cricketing career, one that set him back by a year or two. 

Legendary spinner BS Bedi was the coach on tour.  He tried to modify Venkatramana something that did not quite suit him. Worst still, the training regime on that tour was the worst he encountered in his career. It was unsystematic, tiresome and completely burnt him out, more so that he didn’t play in any of the tests on that tour and was generally warming the benches at different venues. 

He lost his rhythm on that tour and returned with fatigue, both physical and mental. His bowling had deteriorated after being restricted to bowling in the nets day in day out on that tour. 

VB Chandrasekar, for whom too this was the last international series, had told me way back in 1998 about the trauma he had undergone in New Zealand having been made to run up the hill repeatedly on that tour as part of a supposed fitness regime.  It was not something Indians were used to – to run 10-15kms up and down the hill every day of a cricket tour (VBC had had a great tour opener with strong knocks in both the innings and yet the man from TN was overlooked for the tests when by all counts he would have merited a test place on that tour). 

Post retirement, Bedi was keen on keeping himself fit. As a youngster and especially being part of the spin fraternity, Venkatramana was susceptible to ‘crude’ lessons, became an easy bunny and never quite recovered from that experience.

Former Ranji and India team mate WV Raman, who too was on both those tours and watched him closely says with a tinge of sadness that 'Venkatramana was unlucky not to get the right breaks.'

Tormenting Times
Returning after that tour and with confidence low of having sat out most of the time on the international arena, he was caught in that typical indecisive zone - should he get into the corporate world to try and work his way up the ladder or should he focus on cricket and try and regain his place in the national squad. He opted for the latter and kept pegging on at the state level at a time when there was little money on offer for state cricketers. 

Five years later, he earned a call with the India A team that comprised of Ganguly and Dravid among others for a tour to Sharjah, thus opening the doors for him to press his claims once again. For the third overseas tour in succession, he did not get the chances he merited. He was the only player in the entire squad not to play a single match on tour. He was not even allowed an opportunity to ‘fail’. It was a tormenting feeling to be sitting outside on three big tours. Many a time he felt it was better for him to not be there (playing cricket). In those dark days, sleep often deserted him as he was left wondering if he would ever get an opportunity to bowl. 

When he was overlooked for every single game for India A, he saw it as the final nail in his ‘cricketing’ coffin and he could bear it no longer. He went seeking greener pastures in the UK where he played league cricket. It was also the beginning of his move from a player to a coach. He played there for 5 English summers, something that was to pave the way for his coaching stint in Singapore. He was the head coach of the Singapore National team for many years from 2005. Surprisingly for someone not too conversant in English, his coaching career has been far more satisfying than his playing days. 

A dozen years with the State had fetched him close to 250 wickets but really he had the potential to have done a lot better. 

Vasudevan who himself was undone by lack of opportunities even at the Zonal level during his playing days feels sad even today at the lack of opportunities for this talented off spinner ‘For some unknown reasons, he could not get the right opportunities to prove himself and play longer in the National Team.’
Dinesh is even more specific and forthright in his views on the 'Madurai Man' missing out ‘In those days, you needed a ‘Godfather’ to support you by making sure the selectors recognised you.’ Venkatramana did not have one to push his ‘justified’ case. 

Venkatramana looks back at those early days as one of ‘innocence’. While in the West Indies, he was far too scared to go Venkataraghavan, the one in New Zealand was an experience of being under a ‘dictator’. He was just far too subdued and the time just passed sitting on the sidelines. While the selectors backed him on two tours, the team management kept him away restricting him to nets sessions and tour games. ‘It never occurred to me that I was being unfairly treated. I thought this was the way it was and kept pegging at it. Only on reflection, does it now seem that it could have been so much better if I had been given chances on the field of play.’ 

Having seen him emerge into a competent cricketer after discarding Basketball, Dinesh thinks that ‘Ramana definitely did well (more than what had been in my dreams when I first met with him) for himself.’  But, by the same token he regrets that it could have been better if he had been mentored extensively with the intention of becoming an international cricketer ‘Venkatramana missed a mentor who could have helped him build his capability as a bowler and may be further sharpen his off-spin skills. If that had happened, it is likely he would have scaled greater heights and played significantly for India.’

2nd phase of his cricketing life - Coaching Stint
Last year, Venkatramana was appointed as the head coach of Dindigul Dragons, a team in the TNPL that in some sense took him back to his roots in the districts down South.

Off Spinner VDS Guru Kedarnath, who also plays league cricket in Australia, was one of the beneficiaries at Dindigul Dragons. He made an important contribution as the Dindigul Dragons impressed for a major part of the tournament.
Kedar credits Venkatramana for his creditable performances in the TNPL last year "He helped me improve my action with subtle adjustment to get more alignment in my action that resulted in more body into the ball.'

Venkatramana too had tactical understanding of both the bowler as well as the match situations and provided several important inputs to Kedar that included bowling to different players,situations,field setting and surfaces.

Like  Venkatramana in his playing days, one found Kedar bowling with an attacking mindset through the tournament. Bowling most of the time in the power play, he tempted the batsmen to go over the top by having a sweeper and deep mid wicket and without deep fielders in the straight field, thus creating a wicket taking option early on!

In the last few years, Venkatramana has also been associated with the BCCI performing coaching duties at the NCA. Just past 50, he is finally reaping some kind of financial rewards for his 3+ decades in cricket, albeit through coaching.
But really his has been a story on yet another great talent going amiss due to the callous attitude of the powers that be in not taking care to nurture, protect and grow a youngster in his prime. It showcases to the cricketing world the fickleness of the sport - as to how one’s confidence can shoot up like a meteor and fall at just the same speed never to rise again.

Being a top wicket-taker in the Indian domestic season in a debut season is something rare. And to follow that with match winning performances in Duleep Trophy, one sensed that a genuine off spinner had come to stay. But neither at the State level nor at the national stage did anyone come forward to take care of such a rare talent from the districts. By the turn of the decade, he wore a shattered look.

There were no video analysts in those days. The ball wasn’t coming out of his hand in the way he would have liked after that NZ tour but he was left to fight his own battle. 

It was all fluid for him in that phase in the early 90s. But he had stuck his neck out far too much into cricket for him to look beyond. For a TN cricketer it was yet another case of ‘what might have been’. He was undone by lack of opportunities at his prime. 

The first cricketer from Madurai to play test cricket, Venkatramana had it in him to contribute a lot more to Indian Cricket. But it was not to be. Despite having legendary spinners on both his international tours, this talented off spinner from Madurai ended up playing just one test and mostly warmed the bench and faded into oblivion much sooner than one expected.

He has dreams of coaching the State. It is hoped that his coaching stint will be lot more successful and that he is provided with the opportunities to scale to the highest level in this 2nd phase of his cricketing life.