Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Azhagar Koil Thiru Maliruncholai

60 years ago, devotees thronged to Azhagar Koil in multiple bullock carts from afar and stayed through the 10 days to watch the grand Brahmotsavam celebrations

8 different musical instruments were played out before the Lord every day
Koodal Iyizhaittal was a historical game played by girls seeking to be united with their beloved

100s of Mooligai Paintings have been painted White by the HR & CE, Mirasu Personnel have lost their rights, income is not spent on the temple, Quantity of Thaligai has come down drastically!!!

The long agraharam in the South that once resonated with Vedic Chants and Prabhandham recital is now gone 
Azhagar Koil at Thiru Maliruncholai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2008/01/108-divya-desams-azhagar-koil.html) on the outskirts of Madurai is one of the Divya Desams praised by several Azhvaars in all its glory 1000s of years ago. In a much earlier praise in the Paripatal belonging to the Sangam period, Thiru Malirun Kunram finds a detailed praise (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2015/11/paripatal-maliruncholai-balarama.html). The most fascinating description of Thiru Maliruncholai in the Paripatal is of Balarama and the extent of worship dedicated to him in this region, the reference to his chest ornaments and the beautiful single ear pendent. One wonders as to how the worship of Lord Balarama got dispensed with at the temple. The devotees who throng the roads to the hill are advised to worship the hill itself as it is seen as the seat of the God who removes all worries and destroys the sins of devotees.

Koodal Iyizhaittal – A historical game at Thiru Maliruncholai
In the Nachiyar Thirumozhi provides insights into the astrological predictions referred to as Koodal Iyizhaithal. Andal presents to us a historical system that was in vogue even during her time that of Koodal Iyizhaithal where one looks at the set of lines to decide the fate of the lovers. Andal addresses the angel and asks if the omens are good for her to unite with her beloved.
 Historically shells were used in a game through one of the two processes – either by putting them together in small groups or by drawing a number of concentric circles and seeing them in twos. If the final result ended in even number, it was seen as a Good Omen and the wishes of the lover was said to be fulfilled.

Koodal Iyizhaittal was a historical game played by young girls who were looking to be united with their beloved. By the end of the game based on the result, they get an indication on whether they would unite with their lover. This is a game of dots and lines drawn to see if the final formation ends in a good omen.

She invokes the blessings of the Lord of Thiru Maliruncholai to ensure that the lines drawn will form the right concentric circles so it ends up in good omen.

Garuda Bhattar and Kuthirai Bhattar
Into the 20th Century, there were two different sets of the Bhattar clan that managed the temple. One set was called Garuda Vahana Bhattar (clan) and the other Kuthirai Vahana Bhattar. As from the name, one set took care of the popular Garuda Vahana Utsavam while the other set took care of the other popular utsavam – The Horse Vahana Purapadu. 
There was a big agraharam south of the temple with 40 families residing there. The entire agraharam resonated with both Veda Parayanam and Divya Prabhandham till the mid 1960s.

Huge Service Personnel
32 different sets of people managed the temple. Sathatha Vaishnavas (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2014/12/saathaatha-vaishnavas-saathaanis.html) and Kanakkupillais were an integral part of the system at the temple. Every single kainkaryam was a Mirasu in those decades through the 20th century. Even to wash the Lord’s clothes, there was a Mirasu person assigned. There was an Aasaari, Kothanaru, Ochan and Thiru Kai Valakkam (Light Man) at the temple. The Pandaris who held the maximum land at the temple were assigned the Pushpa Kainkaryam service.There was no salary for these service personnel but they took great pride in serving the Lord. Mirasu personnel had a lot of freedom and power and they used it with a lot of devotion and responsibility.  The only Mirasu left are the two archakas.

There were service personnel managing the Saamaram, Kudai, Suruti, Theevatti, Theemara and Bandham and they were all devotionally attached in performing their respective roles at the temple.

8 different Vathyams
Different musical presentations for each of the Pooja Kalams was a special highlight at the temple. 8 Vathyams were used at different times in the day and there was a big display board that gave details of the day’s presentations. Thiru Changu, Chinnam, Serandi, Thavandai, Nagara, Nadaswaram, Thavil, Thaalam and Oththu were all in Vogue till the 2nd half of the previous century. Entry of the HR & CE saw the exit of most of these Vathyams and just three remain now. Most of them were Mirasu and they only got prasadam for their round the year service. Interestingly, the Thiruvabaranam box was carried by the villagers and they too received just the prasadam for this service.

Vaishnavites lived in large numbers.  The traditional Sri Patham Thangis, who carried the Lord during the big Vahana processions, were a treat to watch in their devotional presentation.

An Opportunity to serve the Lord
In his early school days in the 1950s/60s, Parthasarathy Bhattar, who had a major part of his education here, would run behind Lord Kallazhagar during utsavams and he would yearn to get one flower from the Lord. And then for over two decades, he has had the blessings of standing in front of the Lord and offering service to the Lord including presenting flowers every day to him.

He says that no amount of money can equal the opportunity to serve the Lord by standing alongside him and the satisfaction he gets from it.

He recounts the devotion of the Keerai Vendor who would never accept cash from the Bhattar. She would always ask for rice or paddy that they had received from the temple as an exchange for the Keerai that she sold.

Kallazhagar and his trip to ‘Alankara’ Nallur
Centuries ago, Kallazhagar entered the Vaigai in a chariot as it was scorching hot in Chitrai. He would go on a pallakku to Alanka Nallur. It was there that he mounted on the horse vahana after the Alankaram. Hence that place came to be called ‘Alankara’ Nallur (now Alankanallur). It was from there that he went to Thenoor where he entered the Vaigai on Chitrai Pournami.

During the utsavam of Meenakshi Amman, the procession of the deity takes place in the respective months and streets - Maasi Utsavam on Maasi Streets and Chitrai Utsavam on Chitrai Streets. The grand 10 day festival now celebrated in Chitrai still takes place in the Maasi Streets indicating that this utsavam was once celebrated in Maasi. With the intention of making this the biggest festival, the Maasi utsavam was moved to Chitrai in the 16th century during Thirumalai Nayak’s rule to coincide with Azhagar’s trip (Also the farmers were not ready with their harvest in Maasi and could only bring them in Chitrai). Azhagar’s trip was extended to Madurai from the previous destination of Thenoor.

The Closed Raja Gopuram
The Raja Gopuram is closed through the year except during the 10 day utsavam in Aadi when Chakrathazhvaar makes his way there. At the entrance is a Sannidhi for Karuppanswamy, the Kaaval Deivam. Devotees throng from across the erstwhile Pandya Kingdom to invoke his blessings.

Description in Divya Prabhandham
Andal in her praise of the place refers to the tall and fragrant groves where elephants played all the time. She calls the peacocks that are seen flocking and spreading their feathers wide as beautiful dancers and seeks their help in attaining the Lord.  

The place she says is full of Kavuvilai, Pata and Kaya flowers and Mullai Creeper that filled her heart with instant love for the Lord. She says that this place was also home to Kala fruit. This was also the place of the ‘Kongu’ trees. Andal also refers to the big lake around Thiru Maliruncholai that was full of red lotuses.

Like Andal, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar too refers to peacocks flocking in groups and dancing at their best making a pleasing sight for everyone at the temple. Repeatedly he makes a mention of overflowing honey dripping flower groves in the hills of Thiru Maliruncholai. He says that with so many flowers of different kinds, the bees are having a good time collecting honey from the mountain flowers. The tall groves of the Vengai trees as described by him give us an indication of the seasons of the year.
 தடங் கடல் முகந்து விசும்பிடைப் பிளறித்
தடவரைக் களிறு என்று முனிந்து
மடங்கள் நின்று அதிரும் மாலிருஞ்சோலை....
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar describes to us a scene during the monsoon season when he found the lions mistaking the thick clouds arising from the ocean for the roaring of an elephant. And he says that in their typical aggressive style, the lions roared back in extreme anger.

சிலம்பு  இயல் ஆறு உடைய திருமாலிருன்சோலை
He also makes a mention of Nupura Ganga (the place where Durvasa cursed Subadavasthu rishi) that flows through Thiru Maliruncholai hills.

Tuft and its embarrassment
Parthasarathy Bhattar and their forefathers never considered quitting temple service even when times were tough and they were financially poor. Parthasarathy Bhattar’s uncle was an archakar at the Madana Gopalan temple in Madurai. He would get an income of Rs. 1 a day but did not complain!!!

While he and his family survived the onslaught of the HR & CE in the final decades of hte the century gone by, Parthasarathy Bhattar is not so sure of what might happen into the future. He is also saddened that the community has been going down in recent decades. When once upon a time, tuft was considered an integral part of the Vaishnava Personality, today the Vaishnavites almost consider it an embarrassment to their lifestyle. Even on the biggest festive occasions, those that carry the Lord don't have a tuft.Traditionalists have been lured into the modern way of life.

Entry HR & CE and Traditions take a back seat 
As HR & CE took over and gain monumental power, the focus shifted to increasing the income. They pushed the priests to expand the donor base. There are now a whopping 453 Mandagapadis during Azhagar’s trip to Madurai for the Chitrai festival i.e 906 stops on the way to Madurai and back. Just the deposit to secure the Mandagapadis runs into several lakhs. And each devotee donor has also to pay Rs. 2000 for the Sevai at his location. That is a huge amount of income for the HR & CE from just one festival. And yet, the money does not come back into the temple.

In the 70s and 80s, there were no barricades, no tickets. Today over 10000 devotees visit over the weekend and it is ticketed. In those decades, with limited bus service, devotees would walk a long way to reach Thiru Maliruncholai. They would stay overnight at the mandapas to have darshan of the Lord the next morning.

60 years ago, devotees came along in bullock carts from afar and stayed through the 10 days to watch the grand Brahmotsavam celebrations. There were no proper roads to the temple and one had to wade through a forest path to reach the temple.

In 1965, the temple tank was closed. There was a fort around the temple at the entrance in the South. That was demolished and with those stones the tank was closed. Decades later it was reopened by the Wodeyar.

Mooligai Paintings lost forever
In the Vasantha mandapam, there were 100s of beautiful historical Mooligai paintings. Agamas were taught here and several students graduated from here. It was named as Azhagar Koil Gurukulam. The Mooligai Paintings at the Vasantha Mandapam have all been painted white after the HR & CE came into power. And thus the centuries’ old paintings have been lost forever. 
After HR & CE took over, service personnel were cut and reduced drastically. From every service having the hereditary Mirasu tag in the earlier centuries, today almost all have moved into the HR & CE’s control except the archakas, where too an effort is being made to get them under their control. Several of the traditional practices have come to a halt. Almost all the vaishnavites have been shown the way. In earlier decades, Hundial money was spent on the temple but not anymore.

The Thaligai quantity presented everyday to the Bhattars too has reduced drastically. This too has to now be funded out of devotee contributions. Madapalli always had spirituality to it. Now it is all gone and is more like a job to be done every day. Aacharam and Anushtanam that were so sacred at the temple has become a thing of the past. Absence of Acharya at TMC is a big loss to the region

Earlier it was all devotional service with no money. Today it is all money with no devotion.

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