Thursday, March 9, 2017

Periya Nambi Narasimha Gopalan Acharya Mannar Koil

Transforming a huge ancient temple all on his own working all alone at a 'princely' monthly salary of Rs. 750!!
The Periya Nambi Thirumaligai in Mannar Koil is one of the two vibrant ones still functioning in TN
It is the one day in the year when the temple is buzzing with real activity. The occasion on Wednesday (Maasi Punarvasu) evening is the birthday celebrations of Kulasekara Azhvaar who was out on the Anna Vahana Processions around the streets of Mannar Koil providing a special once in a year darshan to around 250 devotees. It is a moment of utmost joy to play host to hundreds of devoted souls for a man who has committed himself to the Lord of Mannar Koil keeping aside tempting financial offers to perform temple service elsewhere.

It takes huge amount of dedication and devotion to the Lord to lead life at a monthly salary of Rs. 750. A lot of the new gen youngsters have already moved away leaving aside the hereditary roles in temples in TN to take up ‘modern’ jobs in cities. 34 year old Periya Nambi S. Narasimha Gopalan Acharya of Mannar Koil (Ambasamudram) is clearly an exception. Not only is he donning multiple hats at different times in the day at the temple, but is also taking up a number of noble causes.

This 29th descendent of Periya Nambi has neither worn a shirt nor a slipper in over a decade. He sports a tuft and has not travelled past the Tirunelveli region in decades for he is too attached to the historic Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy temple. He does not know what a city life is like. He is the only one aged below 35 years continuing to perform pooja in a Vishnu temple in this region. It is no wonder he is still unmarried.
The turning point in his life came when as a teenager he was being initiated into some specific and difficult verses of the Divya Prabhandham by his grandfather LS Srinivasa Iyengar, a renowned scholar in Sanskrit at Azhvaar Tirunagari. The insights from the Vedic Scriptures and narration of the innermost meaning of each of the prabhandham verses completely changed the life of the then young Narasimha Gopalan. 

பத்தியிலாத பாவிகள் உய்ந்திட
தீதில் நன்னெறி காட்டி
எங்கும் திரிந்து அரங்கனெம்மானுக்கே

காதல் செய் தொண்டர்க்கு
எப்பிறப்பிலும் காதல் செய்யும் என் நெஞ்சமே

The verses of Kulasekara Azhvaar and his advocacy of selfless service and devotion to Lord had a profound influence on him. So moved was the young boy that he decided to dedicate his life to the service of the Lord at the Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy temple.

காண்ணீர் களால் வார நிற்பவர்
தாளிணைக்கு ஒரு வாரமாகும் என் நெஞ்சமே

Transformation of the temple
Typically an Acharya does not perform pooja at temples. With no archaka coming forward at a salary of Rs. 245 per month, and also to save the temple from further dilapidation, Narasimha Gopalan took that up and started performing daily Thiru Arathanam just over a decade ago. When he took charge while still in his early 20s, bats were the main inhabitants of the temple. There was no income from the temple and the sight of a devotee was rare even during the weekends.

A lot of Narasimha Gopalan’s early days at the temple were spent trying to keep the bats away from the Sannidhis using thorns from Indian Plums. Since then, he has completely transformed the temple in every aspect. It was through his determined efforts that a major restoration service took place at the temple after a gap of over 300 years. It was also his single minded devotion that helped revive the annual Theppotsavam that had been stopped for several decades.

The reference of Shenbagam flowers in Kulasekara Azhvaar’s verses motivated him to convert the huge open area in the outer prakara of the 5 ½ acre temple into a Nandavanam. He sowed the seeds in 2008 and today it compares with the best with a wide variety of flowers that includes Shenbagam, Malligai, Iruvatchi, Magilam and Parichatam. With the idea of providing resting and nesting place for birds and parrots, he added Thothagathi, Naaval and Maruthai trees as well. In recent times, he has also started to grow 70 teak trees.
For over a decade, he has taken care of the maintenance of the temple almost all alone. Today, the temple wears a fresh look. All the Sannidhis and prakaras are clean. Unlike in the past, the lamp now glows at the temple, a significant improvement from the decades gone by.

 'Naamam Pottutaan' Files a High Court Case
When he once heard the phrase ‘Naamam Potuttan’ (a reference of the sacred ash of Vaishnavites being used to indicate a cheat), he raged in anger. He moved the Madurai High Court pleading an order to restrain the use of this terminology both in movies as well as in public places. He is hoping the judgement would be delivered soon in his favour (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2014/11/periya-nambi-acharya-fights-for.html). 

He has also made himself a party to the dress code case in the High Court and is planning to go on an appeal against the earlier verdict. He asks if it will be acceptable in the corporate world for an interviewee to go to a job interview in shorts and T shirt saying that his strength is in the intelligence of the mind and not in the dress that he wears. He strongly believes that there is a certain dress code required for presence at temples to create the devotional environment.

Magical 1000 Samasrayanams 
Being a descendent of the revered Periya Nambi, who was the acharya of Ramanuja, one of Narasimha Gopalan’s primary tasks is in initiating disciples with Samasrayanam, the process of becoming a true Vaishnavite. In the last 2 years alone, he has initiated this for well over 650 disciples. By the time of the 1000th birthday of Ramanuja, he is hoping to touch the magical number of 1000.

Also, as part of Ramanuja’s inclusive philosophy, he has identified 100s of unknown tribal families living atop the Pothigai Hills in the dense forest near Papanasam and is planning to support the education of around 1000 children through his disciples who are spread worldwide.

Financial Struggle through the decades
It has been a struggle in many of the ancient temples in Tamil Nadu with the low salary making it financially not viable to continue performing pooja services. Narasimha Gopalan’s parents had lived a hard fought life and had to even sell their vessels for their daily food.
His father Periya Nambi Srinivasacharya taught him the entire Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Upanishads and the Vedas. Despite the financial struggle, his father was keen to keep the revered Periya Nambi Thirumaligai going and wanted his son to continue to safeguard the sacred home. 

In line with the teachings of his father, Narasimha Gopalan rolls out with extreme devotion verses from Kulasekara Azhvaar’s Perumal Thirumozhi to reason out his logic for staying away from the lure of a more lucrative city life.

வாழ்த்தி மால்கொள் சிந்தையராய்
 ஆட்ட மேவியலந்தழைத்து அயர் வெய்தும் மெய்யடியார்கள்
தம் ஈட்டம் கண்டிடக் கூடுமேல் 
அது காணும் பயனாவதே

At the peak of his powers as the ruler of Madurai, Kulasekara Azhvaar had renounced his kingdom and chose a path of service to the Lord. This did not go well with many who branded him as mad. However he hit back at them stating that it was they who were mad for they do not realise as to how blessed he was having been taken away from the world of materialistic desires to one of true life time devotion.

மொய்த்துக் கண் பனி சோர மெய்கள் சிலிர்ப்ப ஏங்கியிளைத்து நின்று
எய்த்துக் கும்பிடு நட்ட மிட்டெழுந்து ஆடி பாடி இறைஞ்சி
என் அத்தனச்சனரங்கனுக்கு அடியார்களாகி அவனுக்கே
பித்தராமவர் பித்தரல்லர்கள் மற்றையார் முற்றும் பித்தரே

And that is exactly the life Narasimha Gopalan has come to live. He performs the role of an archaka in the mornings and evenings, prepares the sacred food for the Lord donning the hat of a cook and turns into a gardener watering and plucking flowers from the huge garden that he himself had created from scratch and performs Samasrayanams for his disciples, in addition to taking up other noble Vaishnaite causes. 

A few years ago, he had received a luring offer to perform services in a temple overseas. Had he accepted that and gone there just for a few years, his financial status would have seen a big positive upturn. But he resisted the temptation for he had long ago decided to commit himself to the Lord of Mannar Koil.

When he was reminded again of this lucrative prospect with the suggestion that all temples are the same and that he would still be performing service to the Lord, he retorted to that person if 'Kulaseakar Azhvaar's Thiruvarasu would be present there in that overseas location'!!! And with that ended the discussion on that topic...

Unmindful of the lack of financial and resource support, he has managed to enjoy his role of providing undivided attention to Lord Rajagopalaswamy at Mannar Koil and performing the daily service to the Lord. Truly, Narasimha Gopalan is an odd man out in the fight for survival.
The Periya Nambi Thirumaligai in Mannar Koil is one of the two vibrant ones still functioning actively in Tamil Nadu, the other being in Srirangam. Narasimha Gopalan Acharya may be reached on 04634 252874

Features of the Temple
The three tiered Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy temple in Mannar Koil is located 5kms from Ambasamudram off the Tenkasi highway. The temple is  named after Kulasekara Azhvaar who spent the last years of his life here performing service and attained Moksham here. There is a separate Flag Post for the Kulasekara Azhvaar Sannidhi. 

The Lord is seen in three forms - standing posture at the ground level, sitting posture in tier 1 and in a Sayana Kolam in Tier 2 under the Ashtanga Vimana. In recognition of Rajendra Chozha’s big contributions to this temple, this place was referred to as Rajendra Vinnagaram. Inscriptions refer to Rajasimhan donating several pieces of land and Jatavarma Chozha Pandya as well as Nayak kings making contributions to the temple.

The temple is open between 7am-11am and 4pm-7pm.

7 comments:

Melasevel group said...

The entire renovation of this great and ancient temple, after a lapse of many many years took place few years back, through the contribution of a native of this village who is now settled down in USA. It is the mere devotion of the temple Bhattar that every day's rituals are carried out with utmost devotion and dedication. We were told by him, even now, the members of the Royal family of Travancore Samasthanam visits this temple, stay for a day or two and worship the deity. Adjacent to Bhattar's quarters, separate portion, with basic facilities is maintained for the use of members of the Royal family. Kulasekara Azhwar belongs to the Travancore Royal family and hence his descendents are still visit his Brindavan now and then.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant and moving

PRabhu S said...

The devotee from the US, who hailed from Mannar Koil, contributed to the Raja Gopuram and Ashtanga Vimanam (about 50% of the overall work).

The rest of the restoration work and the Samprokshanam support was done by different devotees.

Prabhu

senthil said...

Known him since childhood.If you ask him anything there will be no no's in his answer. Generous, Kind and loyal to the people who believes in him. By the way great article.

appa sadagopan said...

sri
Emberumaanaar
adiyen dasan moved by this narration
such savants keep the world moving
kamalaapati kalyaana gunaanvita nishevaya
Poornaaya mahate tasmai poorna kaamaaya namo nama:
Poornaacharya was full in himself and led the way for Raamaanusan and thereby for all of us
adiyen dasan

Anonymous said...

Srimathe Ramanujaya Nama:

Swami, This is Jagan from Vedapuri Mannarkovil Periya Nambi Tirumaligai. Nice to review your blog.

Yours sincerely,
Jagannathan

Thilipan said...

I had visited once in few months ago. an ancient temple to visit sculptures of this temple reflect our art of living. And also no words for MR. Periya Nambi Narasimha Gopalan Acharya his service thorough out the temple really such dedicative.