Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Srirangam Namperumal Jeeyapuram Utsavam

The story of how True Devotion brings the Lord to you
100s of devoted Vethal Volunteers of Srirangam carry Lord Namperumal through a 5 ½ hour long trip to Jeeyapuram through Pits and Pot Holes on a narrow dark path on Friday night

The dark night takes a toll on Sri Patham with one of them receiving a Scorpion bite on the return trip
This week in Panguni sees two of the longest trips of the year for Namperumal, the utsava deity of the Lord Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam. Last Friday (March 23), on the second evening of the Panguni Brahmotsavam, Namperumal left for a night long ‘Stoney’ and ‘Thorny’ 15 km trip to Jeeyapuram, West of Tiruchirapalli and on the Southern banks of Cauvery. In under a week of this trip, he will make another long trip this time across the Coloroon to the Ellaikarai Mandapam North of Srirangam this Thursday (March 29). In between these two long trips, he also makes a ‘secret’ trip to meet his beloved in Woraiyur ( the procession started this Tuesday (March 27) morning at 3am.

The story goes that the Lord answered the sincere prayers of an old lady in Jeeyapuram and decided to come all the way out of Srirangam crossing the Cauvery to provide a surprise darshan to her.

The centuries old trip has historically been one of the most tedious for Namperumal. And this time proved no different.

Leaves his abode in Srirangam
When he set foot for his trip at 9pm on Friday evening, there was a buoyancy at the temple with several hundreds of devotees waiting at the Ranga Vilas Mandapam to accord him a warm send off for a day away from the temple. And as he made his way around the South and West Chitrai Streets, it looked that the devotees were delighted to be part of this long night for the Lord as they lined up both sides of this traditional street in large numbers and walked along with the Lord who was flanked in the front by the Divya Prabhandham Ghosti and in the back by the Veda Parayanam Ghosti.

At the Northern exit point of Srirangam, the Divya Prabhandham Ghosti presented the Satru Murai verses to bid good bye to the Lord for the rest of his trip.

Welcoming the Lord on Melur Road
There has been a big development in recent times on the previously deserted Melur Road on the Western side of Srirangam with big modern residential complexes lining up the road with the centuries old Thathachariar Garden being one of the few remaining groves on the Southern side of the road providing the much needed greenery to this temple town. Hundreds of families have moved into these new complexes and they welcomed the Lord along this stretch. 
Shortly after 11pm, Namperumal entered Melur to a grand welcome from the residents with the entire village staying back late. Fruits, flowers and coconuts were showered on the Lord at different halting points at this small village and there was devotional fervour all around. The Vethal team, a voluntary service unit of the Srirangam temple to carry the Lord on outside street processions, too was all excited till this point. There was vibrancy to this trip till the halts in Melur.

While the 16 HR & CE appointed Sri Patham Thangis carry out the service inside the temple, it is the 100s of Vethal Volunteers who carry the Lord on their shoulders on long processions and on occasions like Voiyali.

But as the Lord left Melur close to mid night, the energy began to sap. A few kms West of Melur, the tar road gave way to a path that was filled with sharp stones. There were no lights on the narrow route. For over two hours, there were no devotees leaving one to admire the selfless service of the Vethal Sri Patham Thangis in carrying the Lord on dark streets, stoney and muddy path that was full of pot holes, with space just enough for the Lord to be carried.

Past mid night, the Lord crossed Butterfly Park on the Western Outskirts of Melur. By 1am, the Sri Patham Thangis already had bruised feet and many sat down to remove the thorns that had penetrated on to their feet.  
As the clocked ticket to 1.30am, the Lord crossed Oosikan paalam to deafening silence with no signs of any devotees in the vicinity. The Lord was flanked on the right by tall Eucalyptus trees said to belong to the temple and on the left by Cauvery.

100s take turns to carry the Lord on the Dark Road
Every 15 minutes, the Vethal Volunteers took turn to carry the Lord. A number of temple staffers and the priests/ Kainkaryapakas took the easy option of making it directly via the Coimbatore National Highway to the banks of the Cauvery at Jeeyapuram leaving the Vethal Volunteers to their own to wade through the holes, stones and sliding pits that were a continuous feature all through a long stretch of the narrow pathway after Oosikan Palam. A couple of Theevattis was the only source of light. 
It was almost close to 2 am when the Lord crossed Kuthu Adi Amman Koil, another landmark on this long journey to Jeeyapuram. A few of the Sri Patham Thangis took time out here to attend to their injuries and bruises while the Lord continued on his trip.
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No Devotees in sight for over two hours
A van with a power generator led the Lord in the front but unfortunately through the entire trip the lights hit directly into the eyes of the volunteers and proved more of a distraction than a help to the Sri Patham Thangis. Repeated requests to turn down the focus light went unheard causing additional stress on the volunteers.

Srinivasan, the Sri Patham Thangis Head has been on this trip for three decades and as he walked along, he narrated the tale from his younger days in the 1980s and 90s ‘In the decades gone by, the Lord used to go further North West of Melur, cross the Coloroon, visit Kiliyanallur  and Karugamanickam villages  before coming back into the Melur road. I myself have carried the Lord across the Coloroon to these two villages till the mid 1990s.” 
“But the big advantage in those earlier decades was that Lord Namperumal would cross the Cauvery West of Melur  near the Vrikshi Mandapam making it a lot easier for the Sri Patham Thangis.  From the end of Melur, the Lord waded through the Cauvery to reach Jeeyapuram. However, the construction of a number of burial grounds alongside the Cauvery has made it unviable for the Lord to use the historical pathway through the Cauvery. It is easier to carry the Lord through the sand of the Cauvery as it provides for a better grip. This current route through sharp stones and very narrow path makes it a very difficult journey and it is commendable of the Sri Patham Volunteers to carry the Lord non-stop for over five hours despite the deep strain caused to them, physically.”

Finally after five hours, the Lord reached the Northern banks of Cauvery at 2am. There were about a 100 devotees waiting there at the Cauvery waiting to have a darshan of the Lord. The Lord made his way through the thigh deep water in the Cauvery to reach the Southern banks. 
It had been a breathtaking 5 ½ hour effort by the Sri Patham Thangis to carry the Lord on their shoulders without placing the Lord on the artificial stools even once, a unique feature of the processions of Namperumal.

The clock had ticked to 2.30 am when the Lord reached the Asthana Mandapam in Jeeyapuram to halt for the night. The first phase of this long trip had been done but there were no official arrangement from the temple for these volunteers and all of them had to find their own accommodation for the night.

Curd Rice and Keerai for the Lord – Reminiscing a historical episode
Three hours later, at 5.30am on Saturday (March 24) the Veda Parayana Ghosti presented Vedic Recital following which the Lord was presented with a special Thaligai comprising of mangoes, keerai and curd rice.

For the next 4 ½ hours, the Lord went around Jeeyapuram and the surrounding villages including Vellala Street, Ammangudi and Anthanallur providing darshan to the devotees. As he made his way through this historical agraharams, the residents reminded themselves of the story of the old patti and how true devotion can lure the Lord your way as they folded their hands to invoke the Lord’s blessings.

True Devotion brings the Lord to you
A grandmother hailing from Jeeyapuram doted on her shepherd grandson. She was a staunch devotee of Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam though she had not seen him being in this far away Jeeyapuram. Invoking the blessings of Lord Rangantha, every day she would send curd rice and keerai to her grandson for lunch. The story goes that Lord Ranganatha was so moved by the sincere devotion of this old lady and her care for her grandson that He decided to provide darshan to her by coming over here. Disguised as the grandson, he reached Ammayar Pandhal in the afternoon. As usual the grandmother made her way to hand over the lunch to her grandson. A pleased Lord had a filling lunch and thanked the grandmother. In the evening when the grandson returned home, he enquired as to why she had not brought food that day and if all was well with her. When she told her grandson that she had indeed come that afternoon and that he had enjoyed the food as always, the boy denied it.

It was then that the Lord of Srirangam appeared before her and applauded her for the curd rice and Keerai that he had taken earlier in the day and provided darshan to the delighted grandmother.

It is in memory of this episode that Lord Namperumal makes this annual trip to Jeeyapuram to reach here on the third morning of the Brahmotsavam in Panguni. 

Balasubramaniam and Balachandran have been residents of the Agraharam in Jeeyapuram for several decades having been born and brought up here.
They have seen the Srirangam Lord’s trip from close quarters over the decades “There were periods when Cauvery was to the brim and the Lord would wade through high waters to reach the Southern Banks. It was a great sight to watch the Lord cross the Cauvery in the decades gone by. To this day, curd rice and keerai is presented to the Lord on the morning of his trip here.”

Govindarajan and his family have been residents of the agraharam at Jeeyapuram for the last five decades. It is one of the very few houses in the agraharam to retain the ancient traditional look ‘We decided long ago not to modernize the house as this house reminds us of the old world charm and the times we lived in.’ 
As the Lord made his way through the different streets of Jeeyapuram, there was frenetic call to take him quickly past the railway gate for it was time for the morning train to pass by. The Sri Patham Thangis rushed just in time before the gate came down at the Jeeyapuram station. During the trip not only did they have to steer clear of stones and pits but also had to be mindful of the train timings to prevent the Lord from getting stuck at gates. 
A full 4 ½ hours later the Lord was back at the Jeeypuram asthana mandapam following a Theerthavari in front of the dry tank!!

The entire place wore a festive look through the day with temporary shops lining up entire Jeeyapuram. Children from all the neighbouring villages were seen in large numbers. The stalls made brisk business selling balloons and toys for the kids to play with.

By 5.30pm, thousands of devotees had positioned themselves atop the big mound overlooking the Cauvery to have a darshan of Namperumal for one final time on this annual trip. Sharp at 6pm, Namperumal began his long trip back to Srirangam through the same narrow stone filled path.
A Scorpion Bite!!!
The 10 hour procession (5 ½ hours to Jeeyapuram the previous night and the 4 ½ hours around Jeeyapuram on Saturday morning) had taken a big toll on the Vethal Volunteers, Many were seen with bruised shoulders and bleeding feet. And to top it, one of the Sri Patham Thangis was bitten on the night by a scorpion from inside the bushes just past the Butter Fly Park near Melur.

As the Lord crossed Melur after a few Mandagapadis, the Sri Patham Thangis were in no mood for anymore stopovers and thus the residents in the residential complexes on the Melur Road were given a go by with the Lord rushing back at a fast pace to the Melur Road Junction in Srirangam, where a huge crowd had gathered to welcome the Lord back to their abode.

Joined by the Prabhandham Ghosti at the North Chitrai Street, the Lord made his way back to the Sanctum just before mid night on Saturday bringing to end a long and tiring trip.

Sri Patham Thangis’ Commendable effort on two successive nights
The role of the Vethal Volunteers had to be commended, for without battling an eyelid and keeping their devotional commitment through the 30kms trip, they carried the Lord on difficult unlit roads unmindful of the physical injury. 
Ahead of the Utsavam, it would not have cost the Srirangam Temple much to lay a tar road, either in association with the Corporation or from the Temple Funds, leading to the Northern Banks of Cauvery at Jeeyapuram to make it easier for the Sri Patham Thangis especially given that both the trips (to and fro) take place in the dark and a well laid road would prevent physical leg injuries to the Sri Patham Thangis. But that was not to be. No temple staffer walked along with the Lord through these two trips. Some took the easier route of reaching Jeeyapuram through the National Highway while a couple of them sat on the van.

Just before mid night on Saturday, the Sri Patham Thangis were offered a sumptuous dinner at the Natha Muni Sannidhi. Their shoulders were seen with blood clots and their feet bruised. But to them, many who had come from Madras, the service to the Lord was foremost and they were back the next morning for the 4th day procession along the Chitrai Streets. 

A 11 hour trip to Jeeyapuram and back offers a great devotional opportunity to the residents of Srirangam to be exclusively alongside the Lord and to experience the joy of long trips of the Lord. But no devotee from Srirangam stayed through the trip with the Lord with all of them taking the easier option of receiving him in Jeeyapuram on Saturday morning and at Srirangam on Saturday night. That way they will appreciate better the efforts and devotional commitment of the Sri Patham Thangis.

1 comment:

markiv said...

Thank you for another enlightening article, very touching indeed. Respects to the volunteers. HR and CE's corruption is intolerable.