Sunday, December 17, 2017

Annan Perumal Koil

The Divya Desam in Thiru Vellakulam stands out as an exception among the temples in and around Thiru Nangur

A Devotee Friendly Bhattar has lured devotees in large numbers to the temple over the last couple of decades
The HR & CE department will be delighted with the role played by 59 year old Madhava Bhattar of Annan Perumal Koil in Thiru Vellakulam over the last 35 years for he has almost single handedly made this a very ‘profitable’ Divya Desam for the department after the financial turmoil of the previous many decades. Like many of his contemporaries in the Chozha region, Madhava Bhattar used the contempt HR & CE had for financially poor temples to his advantage as he took ‘ownership’ of his role and marketed the temple in such a way that over the last decade, devotee crowd has swarmed the temple much to the delight of the department.

The Hundial is overflowing but almost all the expenses of the temple are taken care of by ‘Donors’. Anna Dhanam is in full swing though there are no takers to ‘consume’ the food. Marriage inside the temple is a regular event. The recent renovation undertaken through the donors crossed the Rs. 1crore mark.

The ancient Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu went through a tough time in the 20th century especially for a few decades in the 2nd half. Most were in financially poor state with the priests moving out away from temples. Therazhundur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/10/therazhundur-divya-desam.html), Thiru Mogur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/07/thiru-mogur-kalamegha-perumal.html), Nachiyar Koil http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/12/nachiyar-koil-divya-desam.html) and Erettai Tirupathi (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/02/erettai-tirupathi-transformation.html) were a few cases of how Bhattars were adversely affected in the 2nd half of the previous century.

The worst among them were the set of temples in the Thiru Nangur region. Remotely located about 10kms from Sirkazhi and without bus services and limited access, the set of temples almost went into oblivion.

Temples in Thiru Nangur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2008/05/thiru-nangur-divya-desams.html) remained shut most of the time in the last few decades of the 20th century. A single priest managed not just multiple sannidhis in a temple (as was and is the case with many Divya Desams in TN) but multiple temples in the region.

Annan Perumal Koil in Thiruvellakulam at the far western end of Thiru Nangur off the Sirkazhi – Nagapattinam Highway did not fare any better in the 1950s and 60s.

The birth place of Kumudavalli Nachiyar (wife of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar) and one praised by Thirumangai Azhvaar for its sacred tank, the only such praise of a tank in Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Annan Perumal Koil however survived the horror period in its history thanks once again to the efforts of a Bhattar. The temple is now seeing a glorious revival having seen a one crore plus renovation earlier this decade.

கண்ணார் கடல் போல் திருமேனி கரியாய்
நண்ணார் முனை வென்றி கொள்வார்
மன்னும் நாங்கூர்

திண்ணார் மதிள் சூழ்
திருவெள்ளக்குளத்துள் அண்ணா
அடியேன் இடரைத் களையாயே

In 1950, 18 year old TS Ramaswamy Bhattachar joined the temple with a great deal of devotion. However, for over three decades, he faced severe financial pressure with almost no devotees and no income from the temple. Many historical festivals had to be stopped as a result of this financial crunch.

During this period, he was paid a salary of 10annas per month!!! 
Income from his ancestral agricultural lands helped him bring up his five children. However given the uncertainty at the temple in those decades, four of them went away seeking greener pastures in corporate with Madhava Bhattar being the lone survivor at the temple. He had a special devotion for Lord Srinivasa whom Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praised as one he had seen in Thiru Venkatam.

வேடார் திருவேங்கடம் மேய விளக்கே
நாடார் புகழ் வேதியர் மன்னிய நாங்கூர்
சேடார் பொழில் சூழ் திருவெள்ளக்குளத்தாய்
பாடா வருவேன் வினை ஆயின பாற்றே

A tough three decades
In 1955, Ramaswamy Bhattachar went around from home to home collecting funds for the 81 Kalasa Thirumanjanam. He managed to collect 206 falling short of the requirement by 21/-. For decades, his Thattu Kaasu was just a few annas. They rarely saw rupee notes in those decades. During the 11 Garuda Sevai in Thai, the biggest and the most popular festival in the region, the Bhattar of Thiru Vellakulam would get just Rs. 15. During the ten days of the Brahmotsavam, his additional income was a mere Rs. 30. The  large family had money just enough to eat food every day.

On the 8th day of Brahmotsavam, the Lord used to get one Pattu Vastram, the only vastram for the Lord in a year in those decades.Unlike the now popular festivals in Margazhi, in those decades there were no devotees at the temple during this month. Even on Vaikunta Ekadasi and the now well marketed Puratasi Saturdays, devotees were few. There were no shops in the entire region and one had to go all the way to Sirkazhi even for basic requirements. There were temple lands but no income accrues to the temple from these lands. Historically, there were ‘Kattalai’ for different utsavams but those too don’t accrue to the temple anymore.

It was solely through the untiring efforts of Ramaswamy Bhattachar that the temple survived through those tough times in the middle of the last century. 

Entry of Madhava Bhattar
After his class VIII exam, Madhava Bhattar quit school and spent 6 years through the mid 1970s in Srirangam learning Divya Prabhandham from Kozhakodi Singam Iyengar at the Patshala and later agamas from Mannargudi Sona Dikshithar and Mohana Rangan Dikshithar in Guindy. He undertook the agama exam in Mannargudi and secured first class.

He took full charge as the sole priest at Annan Perumal Koil in the mid 1980s at a salary of Rs. 60 per month. The situation was so bad during that decade that Madhava Bhattar even played the role of a guide for the Nangur Divya Desams. A document dating back to that period shows a pending Electricity Bill of Rs. 30/-, such was the plight of the temple in those decades. Similar was the state in Therazhundur Aamaruviappan Divya Desam even 15 years ago, when the electricity department even pulled off the plug at the temple for non payment of the dues!!!
However, the enterprising Madhava Bhattar was determined to revive the fortunes of the temple. Over the last three decades, he has re-launched 21 festivals including Panguni Uthiram that had previously been stopped for lack of funds. He reached out to donors across the world and helped conduct the festivals and processions. The sacred tank, a speciality of this Divya Desam, that had been in a dilapidated condition has been refurbished in recent years. A new chariot has been built. The temple walls have been reconstructed.

Before passing away in 1985, his father shared with him an important message that Madhava Bhattar remembers to this day – Do not add anything new to the temple and keep the ancient ritualistic practices as is.

His life though has been full of challenges. 15 years ago, he wanted to lay coconut trees around the Mada Vilagam but the residents objected to this. Now one sees Coconut groves all around the temple, a pleasant sight for all devotees. 

Controversies continue to surround him but he is unmindful of these and tries his best to serve the Lord with devotion. 

Annan Perumal Koil remains by far the most devotee friendly temple in the region. Madhava Bhattar looks back at his 35 year stint with a great sense of happiness ‘The greatest satisfaction one can get is of performing service with complete devotion to the Lord. Follow the principles of Krishna's sayings in the Gita and do not worry about the results is a constant message that he reiterates to himself at constant intervals.

In 2008-09 when Madhava Bhattar was hospitalized in a serious condition in Madras, the entire devotee community prayed for his recovery. 'How blessed I am that devotees in high thousands invoked the blessings of the Lord to get me back to the temple'!!! That love from the devotees is what keeps him going. His salary after 35 years has risen to a princely Rs. 3200 per month!!!

He continues to keep his life simple. He travels around locally on his TVS XL moped and spends most of his time with Annan Srinivasa Perumal presenting his beautiful archanai and reciting Thiru Mangai Azhvaar's verses on Thiruvellakulam for the devotees to go back in time to the days of the Azhvaar and Kumudavalli. 

Annan Perumal Koil is a standing example of how an enterprising Bhattar can create belief among devotees and get them lured to the Lord. The fact that this is an entry point in Thiru Nangur is a big advantage to this temple but it is credit to Madhava Bhattar that he has grabbed this location advantage with both hands and helped develop the temple. He performs archanai in his unique style of invoking the blessings of other Divya Desam Lords. He presents prasadam to all the devotees who visit the temple. For long, he has been the one who organizes guides for the trips to Thiru Nangur from Annan Perumal Koil. It is also this temple among the lot that is open for the devotees visiting from far and wide. Such an approach has helped him gather support for the temple from the devotees. 

Madhava Bhattar is soon to turn 60 but the HR & CE seems to be so delighted with him that it would be no surprise if he continues in service, for a replacement for a priest as devoted and committed as him in such a remote location will be difficult to find!!!

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