Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thiru Cherai Saranatha Perumal

Bhattars had to auction Family jewels for survival in the 1970s

Most Festivals that had come to a grinding halt in the 70s and 80s including the Big Chariot Festival have been revived through the efforts of Raman Bhattar over the last decade

Trustees, a pre requisite at temples in TN, done away with at Thiru Cherai temple for decades 

Renovation/Samprokshanam slated for next year
Historically, the Saaranaatha Perumal temple in Thiru Cherai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/12/108-divya-desam-thirucherai.html) was praised as a location that had big and wealthy jewel like mansions so tall that it seemed to touch the moon.

கண் சோர வெம் குருதி வந்திழிய
வெம் தழல்போல் கூந்தலாளை
மண் சேர முலை உண்டு மா மதலாய்
வானவர் தம் கோவே என்று

விண் சேரும் இளங் திங்கள் அகடுரிஞ்சு
மணி மாட மல்கு
செல்வத் தண் சேறை எம் பெருமான்
தாள் தொழுவார் காண்மின்
என் தலை மேலாரே – Periya Thirumozhi 7.4.1

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his subsequent verses refers to the temple being amidst fragrant sandal groves with bees humming all around (‘வம்பலரும் தண்  சோலை’/ ‘தாதோடு வண்டலம்பும்’ / சந்தப்  பூ மலர்ச்சோலை)

HR & CE’s Power spells doom
The temple went through a tough phase in the 2nd half of the 20th Century with the Bhattars finding it difficult to live even a reasonably secure life. Raman Bhattar first performed Aradhana at this Divya Desam in 1979 when he was in his mid 20s. He had completed his Agama education from Ramaiah Sastrigal and had undertaken the examination in Tirupathi and Mannargudi.

His family /fore fathers had performed service at the temple for seven generations. The kings had written the Agraharam for Brahmins to help them perform pooja in a devotional way. During the Nayak period, lands were given as gifts to Brahmins.
However, unfortunately for Raman Bhattar, his entry into the temple coincided with the HR & CE gaining administrative control over the temple. The entry of HR & CE and their quest for power spelt doom for the temple and the Bhattars at Thiru Cherai Divya Desam. Gradually, the HR & CE took back a lot of the rights away from the trustees which culminated in the termination of the appointments. Earlier the leading shots of the temple town were the trustees. They were dependable and managed the temple well. They were a team that the residents of Thiru Cherai trusted. 


Thyagaraja Swamy (Elayur Pillai) never ate the temple food because he believed that he could not take the Lord’s property!!!

After HR & CE took over, they cancelled the committee office that had been in existence for several decades. For a one Kuzhi of land (12x12), the Bhattars were given Re.1 for Punjai. For a typical 100 Kuzhis that they held, they were to be given Rs.100 but with HR &CE taking over, this was completely stopped. The Uchchi Kaalam Pooja too was done away with. For over 2 ½ decades, the monthly Pancha Parva Utsavam too had stopped.

Incentivising Chariot Pullers
Chariot Festival was the biggest day in the temple’s festival calendar. Interestingly, 50 paise was given to the person pulling the chariot as a mark of respect for their effort. Similar to the Sarangapani temple (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/06/sarangapani-koil-thiru-kudanthai.html) where the trustees incentivized the Sri Patham Thangis who were present in proper attire (12 Thiruman/Panchakacham), the trustees here motivated devotees to come in large numbers and participate.

As per the description of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar, the lakes around the temple had a large number of blue coloured lilies (வந்டு ஆர் நீலம் செய் விரியும்).
The farmers, who came here, removed these lilies with their feet only to find nectar spilling over from the flowers on to their feet. He says that his heart goes out to those who are blessed to worship this Lord at Thiru Cherai.

விளை வயலுள் கரு நீலம் களைஞர் தாளால் தள்ள
தேன் மணம் நாறும்
 தண் சேறை எம் பெருமான் தாளை நாளும்
உள்ளத்தே வைப்பாருக்கு இது காணீர்
என் உள்ளம் உருகும் ஆறே

Farmers and their families from 26 villages came for the grand Chariot Festival on the Thai Poosam day. Each of the Village heads would be asked to hand over details of the number of people present from their respective villages. With HR & CE taking over power, the Chariot too came to a halt in the 1970s!!!

Bhattar auctions jewels for basic survival
The decade of the 70s and 80s was a torrid period for the Bhattars at the temple. As they were hereditary Bhattars, there was no salary. Raman Bhattar’s father Santhana Krishnan Bhattar would get Rs. 2 per week. He auctioned his wife’s jewelry in the 1970s to pay the electricity bill. His grandmother Lakshmi ran a betel nut shop. If she received Rs. 2 on any day, the family bought provisions and this helped them continue their ‘survival’ mode.
Entry of Political forces into temple administration sent shock waves in the hearts of the Bhattars. A frustrated Raman Bhattar went away for a couple of decades to a temple in Bombay as he found it a futile exercise to handle the HR & CE officials. Many of the annual utsavams came to a halt.

There has been no appointment of trustees at the temple for decades, similar to many other Divya Desams. Through this period, a few like Raman Bhattar went westward for survival, while others participated in a support role during festive occasions at nearby Divya Desams to help make ends meet.

Speciality of Aadi Utsavam - Cauvery's Penance here at Thiru Cherai
In the early 1990s, a temple dedicated to Cauvery was planned to be built near the sea shore in Poompuhar. The permission of Periya was sought for this by the villagers. Showcasing Thiru Cherai as the place of Cauvery's penance, he directed them to the original penance location of Cauvery here in Thiru Cherai. Every time, Periyava came to Thiru Cherai, he would walk around and visit the exact location of the penance of Cauvery. 
As per his direction, the 32 feet idol still lay in Poompuhar, un-erected. The grand annual festival invoking the blessings of Cauvery takes place here in Thiru Cherai on Aadi 18/28.

Bhattars now turn Marketing Officers for the HR & CE
In recent times, the rate for 'Thaligai' has increased dramatically and more than doubled for some of the devotee favourites.  As per the unofficial mandate, the Bhattar has to pitch this with the devotees and secure that income for the HR & CE. Hence, these days you find a number of Bhattars from across HR & CE administered temples in Tamil Nadu making frequent trips to cities pitching for various kinds of donations for the temple activity. Renovation activities could begin soon with the Samprokshanam slated for next year (the walls of the prakaram below shows its current state) and it will be the Bhattars with the Kainkarya Sabha team that will once again pitch for devotee contributions for the renovation activity.

It was only after the enterprising Raman Bhattar came back to Thiru Cherai in the early part of the last decade that the temple saw a revival. Devotees had until then ignore making a trip to this temple. Those visiting Kumbakonam would visit Oppiliappan temple and then stop in this direction with Nachiyar Koil. They would travel no further. And hence Thiru Cherai was often ignored.

The Chariot did not run till 2003 and was revived only through the efforts of Raman Bhattar along with SSS Kainkarya Sabha. Using his networking skills, he has brought back the traditional utsavams at this temple over the last decade. The Pancha Parva Utsavam too has revived.

Hoping for the Trustees to come back
Raman Bhattar is hopeful that the income from land belonging to the temple will come back. At one point of time, 2500 kalam of rice used to accrue to the temple twice a year (once in Puratasi and another in Thai). This was distributed amongst the Sirpanthigal and Archakas. 
More importantly, he is hopeful that in the not too distant future the independent trustees will be back at the temple for they were ones that the Bhattars banked on for conducting the poojas and festivals in a devotional way.

1 comment:

Lakshmi Varagan said...

Proud to be a one of the sishyan of Raman battar