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.
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.
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.
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.