The Historical Manjal Kuli Utsavam of Srirangam is played out every year in Thai at Thiru Nangur Divya Desam
The Thai Amavasya festival expanded to a three day festival in the late 19th Century to include the congregation of the 11 Lords of Thiru Nangur at Thiru Narayana Perumal temple and the presentation of Garuda Sevai
On the final weekend of January, several thousands of devotees were taken back in time to the days of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar as the otherwise quiet town of Thiru Nangur that is home to 11 Divya Desams, near Sirkazhi, reverberated with chants of Divya Prabhandham on the occasion of the three day annual utsavam in Thai. The entire street leading to the Narayana Perumal temple was lined up with stalls. There was some play stuff in the corner of the street for the children. There was even a ‘Patti Mandram’ organized in the evening on Sunday (Jan 29) near the temple tank, one that reminded the devotees of the famous debate between Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Thiru Gnana Sambanthar in Sirkazhi.
On completion of the Adyayana Utsavam in Srirangam, there was a celebration on the banks of the Cauvery with the Lord being anointed with a special Manjal Kuli utsavam. In recognition of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s contribution to the temple and after having listened to his devotional presentation of Thiru Nedunthandagam, Lord Ranganathaswamy of Srirangam felt that he should present a gift to take care of his throat and decided to bless him with the anointment of the sacred Turmeric that was so special to the Lord. He suggested to Thiru Mangai Azhvaar that he celebrate this Manjal Kuli Utsavam in his home town so the devotees too could enjoy the occasion.
As a reminder of this ancient event, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar makes a trip to the banks of the Cauvery in Thiru Nangur for the ‘Manjal Kuli’ utsavam on the Amavasya day in Thai. On the occasion, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar is presented with a Choornabhishekam and honoured with a beautiful flower garland and a Parivattam from the Lords of Srirangam and Nachiyar Koil (where he was initiated with the Pancha Samaskaram).
The 11 Garuda Sevai Utsavam at Thiru Nangur was introduced as an event in the later part of the 19th century similar to the grand festival recognizing NamAzhvaar in Nava Tirupathi. Thus the historical annual ‘Thai Amavasya’ festival expanded into a large and the now popular 11 Garuda Seva festival over the last 120 years.
Consistently across all the verses of praise on temples in and around Thiru Nangur, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar records the presence of learned and knowledgeable vedic seers living in large numbers. These seers were tolerant and generous in their conduct and outlook and everyone there were seen as having a helpful tendency towards the other.
உண்மை மிகு மறையொடு நல் கலைகள்
நிறை பொறைகள் உதவு கொடை என்று
இவற்றின் ஒழிவு இல்லாப் பெரிய வண்மை மிகு மறையவர்கள்
மலிவு எய்து நாங்கூர்
வைகுண்ட விண்ணகரம் வணங்கு மட நெஞ்சே
Warmth of the Nangur residents
This scenario dating back over a 1000 years was seen in its full vibrancy with Prabhandham experts from across the state turning up to chant Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s Periya Thirumozhi verses on the Lords of Thiru Nangur. The residents of Thiru Nangur in line with the ‘helpful attitude’ spoken about in Azhvaar’s verses extended a warm welcome to thousands of devotees who had even come in from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh playing the role of true hosts over that final January weekend including serving them varied delicacies through the day and night.
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar is the only Azhvaar who visited Divya Desams across the country and sung praise describing the features of the Lord and the scenario that existed in and around the temple during his times. In the Periya Thirumozhi, he has dedicated an exclusive decad for each of the 11 Lords of Thiru Nangur and three decads for Thiruvali/Thirunagari.
Thiru Kuraiyalur and Thiru Mangai Madam
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar began this year’s trip on Friday night just after mid night making his way first to his birth place in Thiru Kuraiyalur where his praise on ‘Singavel Kundram’ (Ahobilam Narasimha) was presented at 3.30am. This historical place is now a remote hamlet with very minimal facilities.
Thiru Mangai Mannan had ruled from this region but today the main road leading to the Ugra Narasimha temple is without even a light in the night. The Utsava deities of Lord Narasimha and Thiru Mangai Azhvaar went missing from the temple a few years ago and have still not been found. Once a year, this temple wears a festive look on the arrival of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar from Thirunagari for the annual trip on the occasion of Thai Amavasya.
A couple of hours later, he was off South East to Thiru Mangai Madam and to the Veera Narasimha temple, the second among the Pancha Narasimha temples in this region.
It was at Thiru Mangai Madam that Thiru Mangai Mannan presented food to 1008 Vaishnavites every day for a year as directed by his beloved Kumudavalli. At this place is now a beautiful temple dedicated to Veera Narasimha Perumal. One also finds a handsome idol of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar seen with Kumudavalli Nachiyar.
Given its remote location, this temple had earlier been in a dilapidated state at the end of the previous century. About 15 years ago, this temple, with big walls on all four sides, a Raja Gopuram and a big Nandavanam, was completely renovated and today Lord Veera Narasimha sports a majestic princely look with a transformation that has been largely credited to the devoted service of the young Balaji Bhattar. It is a remote temple but is now buzzing with devotees from across the state willing to contribute in large measure to the Utsavams and to the development of the temple. Balaji Bhattar's initiatives at Mangai Madam is also a testimony to the fact that enthusiastic, sincere and devote Bhattars can actually create a vibrant atmosphere at the temple.
After a trip to Kavalampadi, Thiru Mani Koodam and Parthan Palli temples, he made his way to the banks of the Cauvery for the historical ‘Manjal Kuli’ Utsavam on Saturday afternoon. The sacred verses of praise on the Lords of these two Divya Desams were presented reminding the devotees of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s special liking for them.
After a trip to Mani Mada Koil, Van Purushottaman, Vaikunta Vinnagaram, Sempon Sei Koil, Thiru Thetriyambalam and Arimeya Vinnagaram temples, he rested at the Mani Mada Koil for a few hours ahead of another long festive day. In each of these temples, the respective decad of praise from the Periya Thirumozhi was presented before the Lord.
Congregation of the 11 Lords - Mangalasasanam
By Sunday afternoon, the crowd swelled in even larger numbers and gathered in front of the Mani Mada Koil where the 11 Utsava deities congregated having made their way through the day from their respective abodes. Each of the Lords decked with glittering necklaces was seen in a grand alankaram. Sincere devotees stood in front of them admiring the handsome features of the Lord that seemed to remind them of the description in Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s verses well over a 1000years ago.
Starting at 3pm, for over three hours, each of the 11 Lords positioned themselves one after another in front of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and listened to a verse of praise from the Periya Thirumozhi that was so devotionally rendered by a large group of Prabhandham experts.
Choice of the Best Decorated Lord
Following a quick Thirumanjanam, the priests worked as a team to showcase their respective Lords in the best possible alankaram atop the Garuda Vahana. When the screen was opened at around 9pm, the devotees just could not take their eyes away from the Lords as they moved from one to another. For almost three hours, one saw devotional fervor at its peak inside the Narayana Perumal temple with devotees rejoicing and expressing aloud their description of the beauty of the Lord.
One Lord was seen with a long Kaasu Malai, while another sported a large set of Pathakams on his chest. The huge and colourful garlands on the shoulders of the Lords and their sheer variety attracted the attention of the devotees as they went about praising the speciality of these flowers. The silk vastrams on the each of the Garuda idols were colourful and the draping on the Lord’s vehicle had a distinctive feel about it.
Just when one set of devotees found a particular Lord as the best decorated, they had a change of heart on seeing the next one. On the night, one simply could not make that exclusive choice, for the years of artistic alankaram experience of each of the priests came to the fore and they presented the Lords of Thiru Nangur with a grandeur that left a number of the devotees in tears of joy.
Streets dotted with Traditional Kolams on the night
Finally just around mid night on Sunday, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Kumudavalli Nachiyar in a Hamsa Vahana made their way out of the Mani Mada Koil to the loud cheer of the devotees.
As they stood in front of the tank, each of the Lords made their way out on to the streets for the long four hour procession on the majestic Garuda Vahana. Late into the night, devotees lined up the four big streets of Thiru Nangur with beautifully drawn traditional white pulli kolams welcoming the 11 Lords and the Azhvaar to their homes and seeking their blessings. All around one could hear the sweet sound of the anklets and bangles of girls moving around eagerly awaiting the Lords into their street.
இளைய மங்கையர் இணை அடிச்
சிலம்பினோடு எழில் கொள் பந்து அடிப்போர்
கை வளையின் நின்று ஒளி மல்கிய நாங்கூர்
On the final day of the three day Utsavam, after each of the Lords had made their way back to the respective temples, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar started on his return trip enjoying the presentation of the respective decads of praise at Thiruvellakulam and Thiru Thevanar Thogai on the way.
The grand Thai festival of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar culminated with Garuda Sevai both in Thiruvali and at his abode at Thirunagari late on Monday (Jan 30) night leaving the devotees with a fulfilling devotional experience.
As referred to in the Periya Thirumozhi, over a 1000 years ago, the devotees seemed to have gone back with an elevated spirit after having seen and experienced the 11 Lords on the night.
சீர் அணி மாட நாங்கை நல் நடுவுள்
செம்பொன் செய் கோயிலினுள்ளே
கார் அணி மேகம் நின்றது ஒப்பானைகண்டுகொண்டு உய்ந்தொழிந்தேனே