Thursday, June 29, 2017

Srirangam Ranganathaswamy Renovation Issues

‘The request for repair works of the Moolavar idol came from the decades long Archakars. The Sthalathars and Theerthakars not only approved of the need to conduct repairs, they also inspected and approved the quality of the work - Pon Jayaraman, JC, Srirangam Temple

'All repair works done as per Agama Sastras and in line with keeping the heritage structure intact'

'All one needs to remember is that Periya Perumal is keeping a watch on each one of us - the devotees, the officials, the service personnel' 
Ever since the biggest renovation exercise seen at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, one that was completed in late 2015, there have been many questions raised. I worked on this story over a long 18 month period tracking each of the Sannidhis at the temple, speaking to thousands of devotees who are regulars to the temple, some for several decades, interacting with archakars in many different sannidhis to get their view on the huge restoration exercise. 

Having myself been a regular at the temple for over four decades, this was easily the best renovation exercise in almost half a century in terms of devotional experience. Many of the Sannidhis that had remained largely closed for decades are now fully functional.  The pathway to the 1000 Pillared Mandapa from the Thayar Sannidhi too had remained dysfunctional for decades. That has been completely cleaned up and for the last year and a half it has been refreshing for the devotees to explore that path.

In the 1970s and 80s, a devotee could stand in front of the Moolavar for as long as he or she wished. There were times in those decades when local residents would revisit the Moolavar several times in a day. This continued to be the case even in the early 90s.

However, that has changed dramatically over the last decade or two with the devotee crowd increasing manifold, from the hundreds to several thousands on each of the weekdays. On Friday and over the weekend, one’s prayers is restricted to a few seconds at the Moolavar Sannidhi, such is the size of the crowd. The days of multiple visits are behind us. In such times, it is but natural to create convenient pathways for devotees to make it an easier devotional experience.

Crowd Management on Panguni Uthiram
The darshan of the divine couple on the occasion of Panguni Uthiram is a prime case in point. Over the last decade, many different crowd management models have been tried out but most have not work out. Given a 12 hour time frame and a crowd of 50000+, one has to find practical solutions to assist peaceful entry for darshan and a safe exit, for there are thousands of senior citizens who too make it on this day. 
It is important to remember that the temples here are one of devotional experience and hence LIVE monuments. There is a certain devotional fervour to the visits, especially of some of the renowned ancient temples.  Hence while some newer 'exit' paths are created, in such large temples with such a huge rush on certain festive occasions, such decisions have become a reality.

Sacred Verses off in a Sannidhi
In another Sannidhi, a couple of sacred verses that had been inscribed from decades ago had to make way during the renovation. It is a devotional loss to the devotees but in the larger scheme of things, one had to accept some of these losses for the larger good of the temple.

No more going around the inner prakara
Decades ago, it was a great experience to go around the inner prakara including through the Kili Mandapa. Unfortunately given the huge crowds that one now witnesses even on week days, it is a challenge to allow entry and exit through the eastern side of the inner prakara. It is a bit saddening as a devotee of not being able to do what one did for several decades but for most devotees this is quite understandable as there are on the ground practical challenges relating to managing the huge crowds these days and hence certain restrictions such as these actually help in larger interests of a peaceful and safe darshan.
Clarification on the Moolavar Idol of Lord Ranganatha
Given the many different comments that have been spread around relating to renovation of moolavar idol of Lord Ranganatha, I raised the issue with the HR & CE and sought the official story and their version posing a number of questions. 

Shri. Pon Jayaraman, the Joint Commissioner of the Srirangam temple is communicative, easily accessible and provides a hearing to all those who want to share information or raise temple related issues with him. 

It may not be possible to keep all the devotees happy at all times but he surely has put in an effort to action every positive suggestion given by the devotees at the temple. There may still be many wrongs taking place at this huge temple. And he in many of the discussions I have had has promised time and again to try his best to solve the issues relating to the devotees and to give them the best possible devotional experience at the temple.

In an Exclusive response to prtraveller’s detailed questions about the perceived replacement of the moolavar idol (in parts), the HR & CE has said that the entire renovation of the temple in 2015 has taken place in an open and transparent manner and without any damaging any structure in the temple.

Repair Works of the Moolavar Idol
Pon Jayaraman said that it was the several decades experienced Archakars of the temple who had initially brought some of the challenges, relating to the Moolavar idol, to the notice of the HR & CE and requested them formally to inspect the idol and take corrective measures (a copy of this letter dating back to Sept 2015 is available with this writer).

Further to this request, a meeting of the Sthalathars, Archakars and Kainkaryapakas took place in the same month and a decision was taken with the consent of all concerned to inspect and undertake repair works of the Moolavar idol. The written consent for this was also obtained from Sri Ranga Narayana Jeer in addition to the others mentioned above ( a copy of this too is available with this writer). 
Pon Jayaraman, who oversaw the repair works at the temple says, with a devotional authority, that almost defies the personality of a typical HR & CE official ‘Only those parts that were referred to by the archakars were touched upon.  In the entire renovation activity across the temple, I can say with devotional truth that we have ensured that the heritage aspects are protected and none of the structures or idols have been altered anywhere.’

He adds, something very rarely heard from a HR & CE official ‘Do not forget that Periya Perumal is watching me from a distance of a few hundred yards every day of my stint here. Any one, be it a devotee or an official or a service personnel, who acts against the wishes of the Lord here cannot escape the fury of the mighty Lord.’

It is particularly pleasing to hear a Joint Commissioner repeatedly remark about ‘the importance of devotional truth and how no one who conducts himself against the Lord’s interest at this temple is likely to be spared.’

'There has been not an inch of activity that has taken place during the renovation that was against the Agama Sastra' he says, once again bringing a devotional touch to the conversation.

He points out that neither the hand nor the leg has been replaced as has been made out to be by people working against the interest of the temple.

'During the period of the repairs, the Sthalathar and Theerthakar of the temple conducted two inspections and were fully satisfied that the works were carried out as per the agamas and recorded this with the HR & CE at that time.' (a copy of this statement too is available with this writer)

Best Renovation Initiative in their life time
Multiple archakars, each with decades of service at this temple, spoken to over the last 18 months state that this has been the best restoration they had seen in their lifetime of service and that it was unlikely that such a restoration effort was possible again in the foreseeable future. ‘Given the size of the temple and the number of sannidhis involved, this was an effort that is unlikely to be replicated in another temple of this size’ says a Bhattar who has been at the temple for over two decades and who also performs  service at an independent sannidhi inside the temple. Of course, these Bhattars also spoke about additional things that they would have liked to have been done in different Sannidhis. For example, the Madapalli work in one of the Sannidhis remains incomplete to this day but they are of the view that smaller issues of this nature was always likely when there is a renovation of this magnitude and are hence hoping that such minor pending issues will be completed in course of time.
The truth is there for all to see. Those who have been regulars to the temple and who have seen the temple and the Lord for decades know what a transformative change it has been at the temple in the last couple of years. 

In this blog, there have been several stories written on issues relating to HR & CE and Divya Desam temples across Tamil Nadu. A huge temple such as the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam will continue to have different kinds of issues on an ongoing basis. One can only hope that the authorities will keep taking proactive measures to better the devotional experience for the visitors to the temple. 

As crowd swells in the face of this new devotional wave that is sweeping TN temples, newer challenges will continue to arise and hopefully each of these will be looked into and solved in the best interest of the devotees. 

And here at this temple in Srirangam, with an Executive Officer whose doors are always open for devotees, there is always an opportunity for devotees to share their grievances and to find an acceptable solution to the problems. And that is a step in the right direction, one that other HR &CE officials across the temples in TN would do well to emulate.


Anonymous said...

Lovely Story. We had a great experience at the temple last weekend.

Anonymous said...

Very nice to know that there are people in HR & CE who think of Lord as a Person and not Vigraham.

Anonymous said...

Is this a set-up article after UNESCO inspection?

Usha said...

Very detailed report. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Interesting & comforting too when one sees that Agama Shastras are strictly adhered to in renovating this Divyadesam.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article