Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pullam Bhoothangudi Divya Desam

70 years of Selfless Service in a remotely located historical temple and yet the Wealthy Ahobila Mutt does not deem it worthy to build even a small house for the Bhattar in the Agraharam!!!

And a Salary less than that of  a New Cook!!

கற்பு ஆர் புரிசை செய் குன்றம் 
கவின் ஆர் கூடம் மாளிகைகள் 
பொற்பு ஆர் மாடம் எழில் ஆரும் 
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 
Pullam Bhoothangudi Divya Desam ( is a temple whose tale relates to the legendary episode of Jatayu Moksham from the Ramayana.  Praised in the Periya Thirumozhi by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar as a well laid out city with huge Mansions and Mandapams ( much in contrast to what it is now), Pullam Bhoothangudi was home to scores of Vedic Seers who in their chants through the day spread the message of forgiveness and patience as part of one’s lives.

மறையால்  முத்தீ அவை வளர்க்கும் 
மன்னு  புகழால் வண்மையால்  
பொறையால் மிக்க அந்தணர் வாழ் 
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 

Thiru Mangai Azhvaaar describes the scene around the temple during his time over 1000 years ago in these ten verses at the beginning of the fifth canto.

நறிய மலர்மேல் சுரும்பு ஆர்க்க 
எழில் ஆர் மஞ்சை நடம் ஆட 
பொறி கொள் சிறை வண்டு இசை பாடும்
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 
The temple was amidst huge groves where bees provided sweet musical tunes to the dancing peacocks, Pullam Bhoothangudi, where Lord Rama is seen in a Bala Sayana Posture, was a place with huge water tanks and wet fields in which fish fell prey to the birds that then took their prized scalp to feed their young ones.

பள்ளச் செருவில் கயல் உகள 
பழனிக் கழனி அதனுள் போய் 
புள்ளுப் பிள்ளைக்கு இறை தேடும் 
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 

There were huge coconut groves and coconuts constantly fell from the trees (that is one commonality that existed till the end of the last century as seen in the story below). The scared fish jumped in and out of water and water birds kept flying away. He also praises the place as being home to Vedic Seers who constantly chanted the Vedas trying to understand its inner meaning.
கா ஆர் தெங்கின் பழம் வீழ 
கயல்கள் பாய, குருகு இரியும் 
பூ ஆர் கழனி எழில் ஆரும் 

The temple was surrounded with beautiful red lotuses that seemed to bloom all through the year in the water tanks, where one also found bees drinking nectar and humming sweet tunes. He makes a specific reference to Punnai Trees that sprinkled golden turmeric like pollen.

Water, he says, gushed from the Cauvery with gems being washed ashore on to the banks in Pullam Bhoothangudi. 

While Thiru Mangai Azhvaar has praised the place in such glory, when infrastructure development happened over the last century, this particular location as well as Athanur Divya Desam (, a couple of kms East remained sidelined and became to be classified as a ‘remote temple’ among Divya Desams. 

While several other Divya Desams have flourished because of the infrastructural development and ease of access, Pullam Bhoothangudi has been off the radar and been a rather quiet Divya Desam without too much of a devotee crowd.

For several decades, till the end of the 20th Century, there was no access to this Divya Desam in a sad contrast to having been a ‘Well Laid Out City’ with mansions during Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s period.

Right through the previous century, one had to weed through the green fields North of Swami Malai to reach this temple. And later, over the last couple of decades, a small one way mud road from Swami Malai was the only improvement in terms of access to this temple.

Five Decades of Pooja for very little financial rewards
M Krishnamurthy (Kannan) Bhattachar performed aradhana at this Divya Desam for five decades. Through the early decades, he was paid a salary of just Rs. 25 per month.  He had no house of his own and stayed in the agraharam house right opposite the temple paying a rent of Rs. 5 from out of his salary. 
A contented life in the Agraharam
Despite the lack of financial resource, the Bhattar and his family lead a peaceful life, for they were contended and did not desire things beyond their means.

The temple handed him every day a few kgs of rice for his service. The farmers who respected the Bhattar for his devotional service would come and hand over vegetables before they actually went to the market for the sale as a mark of respect to him. Jaggery too was presented to the Bhattar by the farmer who grew it towards the far end of the agraharam on the Eastern side. There were other residents who presented spices and pulses once in a while for his selfless service to Lord Rama. The then young Gopalan Bhattar, son of Kannan Bhattar, who was in his early schooling in the 1970s, would go to the fields and pluck Makka Cholam that was available in plenty.

Krishnamurthy Bhattar was held in such high esteem for his service to Lord Valvil Rama and that mattered much more to him than any financial rewards.  Despite the limited financial resource, the family was just simply happy that they had a small place to stay and food to eat every day. And that is all they sought in their life. Not once did Kannan Bhattar complain about the lack of money.

A rare Thattu Kaasu of Rs. 2 stolen away by the wife!!!

Krishnamurthy Bhattar received Rs. 2 once in a while as Thattu Kaasu when a rare devotee would make it to the temple crossing the fields from Swami Malai. He would come back home and hide it so it does not come to the notice of his wife. But pressed by the need for daily sustenance, she would somehow find this money and buy tamarind for that week’s Rasam. Angered at losing out even this Rs. 2, the bhattar would leave the house and go back to the temple to invoke the Lord’s blessings. Such was his way of life back in the 1960s and 70s.

The Coconut Falls and Rain seeps in
His wife, Jayalakshmi now aged 86 wonders as to how she managed to run such a big family with so little money in all those decades.She would make Rasam every day and the entire family would eat that along with Naarthangai. But even this was only on days when her husband Bhattar would bring home some Thattu Kaasu. Otherwise they lived their life on 'curd rice' with a fair mix of water (it was freely available then)!!!! 
Residing under the thatched roof, she remembers being woken up often in the middle of the night to the loud fall of the coconut from the huge coconut trees plunging the family into a state of despair for water would make its way through the broken roof into the house during the rains. This fall of the coconut remains the only commonality from Thiru Mangai Azhvaar's description of Pullam Bhoothangudi. The Punnai tree described by him in his verses too fell away recently.

46 year old Gopalan Bhattar grew up in Pullam Bhoothangudi enjoying the ‘Mann Kuliyal’ (Wet Sand bath). Often, he would spread clay across his body for 20 minutes and this would soon become completely dry on the body. Once washed with water, this was considered a sacred bath for it would remove all the dirt from the body and one felt a certain sense of purity after this. He rues the fact that gone are those days of such natural bath.

Brahmotsavam Celebrations
Dhadhyonam was presented to the carriers of the Lord in big numbers during Brahmotsavam. They felt blessed and happy and would carry the Lord with devotion each day. They were paid no money for this service and placed a high premium on the sacred food that was handed to them for this service.

Brahmotsavam was a time for grand celebrations and the agraharam reverberated with devotion during those ten days. These days it is such a humungous task to find enough people to carry the Lord even on this big annual festival.

20 kms walk every day to perform service in temples
The Bhattar who also performed aradhana at the Perumal temple in Innambur ( would for decades walk 20 kms a day making those daily trips morning and evening to Innambur via the fields.

Finally, Gopalan Bhattar's elder brother purchased a cycle for his father for Rs. 100 and during his final years Krishnamurthy Bhattachar cycled his way around Pullam Bhoothangudi, some consolation for a man who had not sat on a cycle for a major part of his life.

Mukkoor Azhagiya Singar liked the devotional service of Krishnamurthy Bhattachar and would lie down at the Bhattar’s house for rest for he considered it sacred to sleep in the home of a person who offered such selfless devotional service. Just this gesture of the chief of Ahobila Mutt provided enough life time happiness for the Bhattar.

Sacred Learning to serve the Lord vs 'Learning to leverage financially'
During the 1980s, Gopalan Bhattar learnt Prarthana Sooktham and Anna Sooktham, these were secret interactions that Bhattars have with the Lord seeking HIS permission for each of the processes in the temple. Gopalan Bhattar learnt all the sookthas that were to be useful behind the scene (inside the curtain). All his relatives and friends scoffed at him for not learning sookthas that would turn out to be financially lucrative in life (for example for Sudarshana Homam).

But he was clear that he would not go after money and that his life would be dedicated to performing service to the Lord.

After Gopalan Bhattar took charge of the temple after the passing away of his father in 1998 (he received just Rs. 45 as his monthly salary in the year of his death), he has revived many of the ancient utsavams.

A sad noting in the diary
There were plans to revive the historical Pavitrotsavam at the temple in the 1970s/80s but the authorities did not approve the plans. In the diary of Krishnamurthy bhattachar is found a jotting where he records with sadness his inability to perform the Pavitrotsavam during his life time even though this was discussed with the authorities as an important utsavam to perform for the Lord. In those decades of his father, the Lord had just a single piece of Vastram for the entire year which was considered a sin that they committed on the Lord keeping him tied to a single cloth through the year.

When Gopalan Bhattar chanced upon those notes in his father’s diary, he was keen to realise that unfulfilled dream of his father and started a three day pavitrotsavam after convincing the authorities. 
Over the last couple of decades, Gopalan Bhattar, as the single bhattar has performed dedicated service to Lord Valvil Rama much like his father had done earlier for several decades. And yet recognition from the hugely wealthy Ahobila Mutt hasn’t come easy.  For his couple of decades of single handed management of poojas and utsavams, he is still paid much lower than the temporary staffer in the Madapalli (who threatens every now and then to quit).

Gopalan Bhattar, who has been a resident of the agraharam for much of his five decades, still does not a have house of his own despite Ahobila Mutt owning land in the region.  With money pouring in from overseas, it would not be too much of an ask for the Mutt, in recognition of the 70 years of service of the father and son at this remote location, to build a house for the Bhattar in the agraharam. One wonders if the Chief of the Ahobila Mutt is even aware of the reality at the temple or is this all the recognition for a Bhattar family that has provided seven decades of selfless service. No house after 70 years and a salary lower than that of the cook do not add credibility to the management of the Mutt. During the Brahmotsavam, Gopalan Bhattar is seen all alone decorating the Lord in a special alankara each day. And after the procession, he is seen unwinding the Lord late into the night that sometimes goes as late as 2am.

The temple saw a big renovation over the last decade an example of which can be seen from the Raja Gopuram. But when it comes to rewarding the priest for his service, the mind does not come forward easily. It seems questions are always asked of the priest irrespective of the sincerity of their service thus bogging them down to the limited financial pay.

And yet unmindful of leading a financially insecure life, there are those like Gopalan Bhattar who continue to perform their duty with sincerity and devotion in the sweltering Summer's day without any of the modern day cooling equipment to assist them in this remote, not easily accessible Divya Desam of Pullam Bhoothangudi. They see this as an exclusive opportunity to serve the Lord and financial reversals don't bog them down.

( A more recent temple at Innambur without any of these historical legends - managed and administered by The Hindu Family pays almost three times the salary of the Divya Desam Bhattar !! Such is the reality of life)

Athanur Divya Desam

The situation was no different at Athanur Aandalakkum Divya Desam 2kms East of Pullam Bhoothangudi. 58 year old Balu has been the Mei Kavalar (Security) for almost the last two decades. His father had played the same role for over 40 years. He is now paid a salary of Rs. 1500. For several decades in the 2nd half of the 20th century Ramabadran Bhattachar took care of the aradhana at the temple while now 80 year old Sadagopachariar, who was born and brought up in Athanur performed the Madapalli activities, in return for which they received 6 Kalam and 5 Kalam rice respectively and a salary of Rs. 100 per month.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in the Periya Thiru Madal refers to the Lord of Athanur as one who measures time – The yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
அன்னவனை ஆதனூர் ஆண்டு அளக்கும் ஐயனை
நென்னலை இன்றினை நாளையை

These Bhattars and the security staff have been counting on the prospect of 'Good Time' but that has seemed an endless wait.

With absolutely no access to Athanur from Swami Malai and no transport facilities, one had to walk all the way across the fields or take a bullock cart ride through the pits and holes from Swami Malai one that would be far more tedious than a walk.  Rarely would a devotee turn up at the temple. Despite these, Brahmotsavam was performed in a grand way with the local residents playing the role of Sri Patham Thangis and carrying the Lord around on Vahana Processions across the streets of Athanur. 
Over the last 15 years, Balu has been opening the main door at 630am and stays on till 12.30pm. He comes back again at 4pm and stays on till 730pm in the evening. With better roads and slightly improved bus services, he says that the devotee crowd has increased over the last decade but still nowhere like the temples in the main town of Kumbakonam and other bigger towns and cities. One has to still keep the temple open and wonder if a devotee will turn up on a week day.

With his devotional attachment to the temple, he has also doubled up as a garland maker and knots flower garland every day for the Lord in addition to the security services for which he is paid an extra 500 per month by the Ahobila Mutt. 
Over the last 15 years, Seshadri Bhattar has taken over and has been performing arathana service staying in a small thatched house North of the temple. 

One only has to hope that the Chieftains at the Mutt would also look closely at the lives and the livelihood of these bhattars in addition to focusing on 'big ticket' items and that there would be a turnaround sometime in the lives of these bhattars.


Anonymous said...

What is the point in building Raja Gopurams at such huge cost if you are not able to pay a fair salary to sincere bhattars under your management and keep them happy especially when they have served the temple for so many decades.

Srikanth Srinivasan said...

Excellent writing as usual. My heart goes out to Pulla Bhoothangudi Divya Desam. I wish some of us join together and create a crowd fund to support such noble causes. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Good Story.
It hurts, but also gives some hope . Such bhattars are real bhakthas

Usha Sampath said...

Very good to know people exists like these and sad to know they have not been taken care.

Anonymous said...

Very Excellant,beautiful &marvellous Write up on Pullambudangudi Kshethram,its rich ancient hoary past,interspersed with Alwar Pasyurams&the history & selfless devoted service of Krishnamurthy Battachariar,sincere,simple humble, honest,reticent,reserved,non controversial contented,never aspired for money ,was a legendary figure!It is astonishing how he brought up his family on megre salary &resources.Thanks to his devoted,dedicated ,selfless ,devotonal service,all his sons are well of,who came up in life by their hard work;sicerity&devotion!A word of praise to Gopala Battachar,who has profound Knowledge of Agamas&Sasthras,who is very intelligent,knowledgeable,&his Alankaram&Sathupadi Kainkaryam is par Excellance!! He is intelligent beyond his years!! All due to Valwil Rama's Adaksham& his fathers Beessings! It is a pity that decades of sincere;selfess servce of Krishnamurthy Battar &his fsmily has not been given due recognition & not even a small housing Accomodation has been given to the family ,especially when the AhobilaMutt owns do much property in the village! One hopes that the Powers that be & the Mutt Authorities ,fullfil the genuine &legitimate wishes of the Dedcated family! BEST WISHES TO GOPAL!!! A Well Wisher!

Maddy said...

Why wait for Mutt or someone else to pay these great devotees who serve Him. Can you create a trust through which like minded people who read this blog pass on money which will provide some financial assistance to these great devotees of Lord Balaji who have served Him for decades? How else do we help them?? Do you know of any trust that does such a service? If so please post details.

Vijayakrishnan nairgs said...

I had been to this temple. But my experience was not that nice with the priest. We were rushed at shouted at by this man. He wanted to close the temple before 7pm. We had come from Trivandrum to The Ramarkovil and Tiruathanur Divyadesams on our way to Mannargudi.At Athanur here was no priest at 7.10pm but Mr Balu a very nice person did all that was necessary. and gave us prasadams. Mr Balu definetly qualify for better treatment for his sinceriaty. May the Perumal bless him.