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. 


Anonymous said...

Romba research pannirukel

And you write so well! Really. Lots of history and information and rich detailing, wow.

And the batters are also dedicated souls

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece and very insightful

Anonymous said...

As a small boy till early 70s when I lived in Thiru Kudanthai, I have seen atleast 100 Sri Vaishnavas in Veda Parayana Goshti and 40-50 in Prabhandam Goshti. Chellappa Bhattachar Swami who has been mentioned the article is well known for his muscial Archana style with Raga and Alapana. It used to be treat to Devotees' ears.
His untimely demise really in the Lords feet was a shock to the devotees in the town, Amudhan had different plans for him. Those days, not a single day used to pass without his father Lakshmana Bhattachar Swami and my late father spending atleast an hour or so in discussing Bhagwat Vishayam and temple related matters in the hall of our house (which we used to call as Mantapam since Amudhan and Swami Desikan used to have one day Utsavam each in our house as Mandagapadi of the House owners who were Saurashtrians). I faintly recall the "will" of the house was so written that tenants can only be Sri Vaishnavas and if inherited owners break the Mandagapadi tradition, they will lose inheritance of the house. Whether its legally valid or not today, it shows the devotion those owners had towards Perumal and Sri Vaishnava tradition. Today the town has developed well, considered as one of the best maintained Municipalities in TN, but there are very few traditional Sri Vaishnava devotees in town. Rich natives living in all parts of the world might be willing to pump in money but tradition and devotion of those days cannot come back. Sad reality.
Above all, Thiru Kudanthai is a unique town where all three Sidhanthas flourished equally with no conflicts or clashes. Fortunately traces of all the three still remains. Native Sourashtrians in the town are as staunch Sri Vaishnavas as much as Iyengars. During my recent visit it was a pleasant surprise to know that Govt. hasn't changed the name of Iyengar Street in the process of removing caste names.