Sunday, April 15, 2018

Kanchi Varadar Pallava Utsavam

18 Adyayams in the Brahmma Puranam provide a great description of the greatness of Athigiri
A Grand Seven Day Celebration bringing back memories of the legendary tale of this historic Temple Tow

என் திசையும் கடலேழு மலைகள் ஏழும்
ஈரேழு வையகமும் படைத்து இலங்கும்
புண்டரீகத்து அயன் புணர்த்த பெரிய வேள்விப்
புனித நறும் போக்கியத்தை உவந்து வந்து

தொண்டையெனும் மண்டலத்தின் நடுவில் பாரில்
தூ நிலம்  மெய்யவிரதத்து தோன்றி நின்ற
தொண்டல் அருள் குணமே நாம் கூறுகின்றோம்
கூர்மதியீர் குறிப்பாகக் கொண்மின் நீரே - Vedanta Desikar
It is a period before the big utsavams in Chitrai and Vaikasi. And summer is just around the corner. This phase is usually a quiet period for the Lord of Kanchi. For seven days ending with Shravanam in Panguni, Lord Varadar enjoyed the extensive presentation of the legend relating to this ancient temple town as part of the Pallava Utsavam.

While the legend has been narrated in great detail in different puranams, during these seven days, the descendents of Thatha desikan present the legend as described in 18 adyayams of the Athigiri Mahatmiyam from the Brahmma Puranam. On the final day, Vedanta Desikar’s Rahasya Grantha on the Lord of Kanchi is also presented.

On each of these seven days, the story from a particular adyayam or set of adyayams was narrated – first as a slokam followed by an exhaustive description of its meaning. 
Srisaila Thathachariar is truly devotional as can be seen from his commitment to Athigiri Arulaalar. He has presented this annual sthalam puranam describing the legendary tale of Athigiri during the Pallava Utsavam. As he sits down talking to me on his presentations from the past, one gets an immediate sense of his devotion. He rolls out beautiful verses from the Brahmma Puranam doling out exciting tale relating to the emergence of Deva Perumal here at Athigiri.

As he presents the story, it is just so full of devotional honesty to the Lord of Kanchi. A sanskrit professor at the nearby college, one almost gets a child like excitement to be at his class each day such is his passionate roll out of this tale relating to Brahmma's Yagna and its outcome. He is also there in the evening on each of the days as part of the vedic recital in front of Lord Varadar.


Creating Kanchi for Brahmma's Yagna
The opening day of the Pallava Utsavam was the day of the introduction - the story of why Brahmma does the yagna, why Kanchi was chosen for this sacred event, the details of the rishis that attended the yagna.It is also the day when the important missing block in this exercise is brought out.  The puranam states that Vashishta alerted Brahmma to the fact the Yagna could not be done in the absence of Saraswathi.

It is a day when the speciality of performing a yagna at Kanchi and its locational significance was narrated in great depth.

The descendant of Thatha Desikan (currently working at Turbo Energy, Sholingur) revealed that ahead of the huge Yagna, Brahmma summoned Sculptor Vishwakarma and directed him to create a city suitable for the occasion. The great sculptor that he was, Vishwakarma went about creating a place similar to the Deva logam with beautiful gardens, huge water filled tanks, hundreds of wells, Maada Maligai with big Thinnais and large Veethis.
எத்திசை நிலனும் எய்தி 
அருந்தவம் செய்த அந்நாள்


சத்தியவிரதம் செல்வாய் 
என்ற ஓர்  உரையின் சார்வாள்

அத்திசைச் சென்றழைத்து 
அங்கு அமரர் இல் எடுப்பான் தன்னை

உத்தரவேதிசெய்  என்று 
உரை அணங்கு இறை உரைத்தான்


On the 2nd day of the Utsava, the tale revolved around a worried Brahmma directing his disciples to locate Saraswathi and to bring her to the yagna. It was also the day when the story behind Saraswathi’s anger was retold and why she went away from Brahmma.

Saraswathi’s Anger
When Saraswathi enquired as to who was better – she or Lakshmi, Brahmma pointed to the latter, leading an unhappy Saraswathi to ask if she was at least the better of the Theerthams. There to Brahmma pointed to Ganga as the more sacred. Having thus been embarrassed in front of the Sabha comprising of Devas and Rishis, Saraswathi went away to the Saraswathi Theertham and performed penance.

As per Brahmma’s instructions, the rishis went in search of her and finally found her at the Saraswathi Theertham. When the rishis request Saraswathi to return and be present at the yagna, she narrates the story behind her anger and suggests that if he is indeed so keen on her presence, he should come and perform the yagna here at this place.

Significance of Kanchi
The many devotees from around the Mada Streets provide an eager ear to the story of Kanchi. The rishis present the greatness of Kanchi and impress upon her about this being a Sthala Kshetram Yagna and hence the merits of it are likely to occur only if done in Kanchi. It is also the day when in several verses the specialty and greatness of Kanchi is narrated. 
‘All sins go away if the yagna is performed at Kanchi and hence the importance of Brahmma conducting the yagna there. ’

However, Saraswathi remains firm and refuses to return much to the disappointment of the Rishis.

Presenting the Legend - Two Hours each day
On the succeeding days, this story is taken forward by the Thatha Desikan descendents. Soon after Lord Varadar makes his way to the Asthana Mandapam near the Western Raja Gopuram, the descendents, each of whom take turns every year to present this legendary story stand in front of the Lord and present for well over two hours Brahmma’s Yagna tale and the challenges that he encountered.

Angered at the stubbornness of Saraswathi and her unwillingness to work for the dharmic good of the world, Brahmma decided to go ahead without her justifying to his preceptor that the yagna would be just as successful in the presence of Savitri.

The entire Bhoo Logam and Deva Logam participated in the Yagna except Saraswathi. With the huge participation in sight, Brahmma appointed Brahmins to take care of the guests. 

The Sambhavanai Dispute!!!
The Brahmins in an eagerness to please the Devas presented additional sambhavanai to them infuriating the Asuras. Virata, the head of the Asuras took note of this. However he took a cautious stance. Realizing that Lord Narayana would work for the cause of the Devas, he asked the asuras to remain calm as he worked out a strategy.

Virata sketched a plan to stir up the already angry Saraswathi and decided to seek her support. They went as a group disguised as Brahmins. Once they arrived at the Saraswathi Theertham, Virata presented the story of the happenings at the Yagna and how it had begun in the presence of Savitri who was seated majestically in the place that was meant for Saraswathi. No sooner did he say this, he secured the reaction that he expected.

Even though she knew who they really were, she blessed them as they seemed to be her well wisher.
Saraswathi was fuming in anger at Brahmma’s action replacing her with Savithri and decided to use all her powers to stop the Yagna.  She  crossed mountains and forests at a rapid pace that they came crushing down and everything seemed to be giving way to her to clear her path to Kanchi. As she entered Kanchi, her anger surmounted watching the size of the yagna and the city that had been created. And she vented out her anger in the form of flash floods from river Vegavathi that sought to destroy the Yagna. The rishis and kings who had gathered there ran helter skelter for cover. They all wondered as to how unseasonal this was to have flash floods.

There was chaos everywhere with the sudden inflow into the city. Brahmma sought the help of Lord Narayana for the safe conduct and the successful completion of the Yagna. This was beautifully presented through several stotrams. These purana stotrams also describe the 10 avataars of Lord Narayana and Brahmma requests the Lord to protect him too like he did in those avatars.

Answering his prayers, he presented himself in different places around this ancient city including in a sleeping posture to prevent the river from flowing across to the location of the Yagna and thwarting Saraswathi’s efforts to disrupt the Yagna. Saraswathi stops on seeing the Lord and her anger subsides. Slowing her pace, she nears the Lord and surrenders to him and agrees to go and join Brahmma at the yagna.  It was from here that the river splits into seven different tributaries.

Vashishta gives the green signal to Brahmma to allow Saraswathi at the yagna and it continues.

Devaperumal's emergence on the Hastham day in Chitrai
While Indra, Varuna and Agni were staying right opposite the Yagna, they did not get the desired effect when the ‘Swaaha’ mantra was recited. Bemused at this, they approached Brahmma who told them that this Yagna was directed at Lord Narayana and that it was not to get any fruits. Hence the entire benefit goes directly to Lord Narayana.  This again is so beautifully described and explained in the Purana.
And suddenly there was fragrance all around Athigiri. Much to everyone’s surprise, a Vimana came out of the Yagna from the middle of the fire with Lord Narayana emerging out as Deva Perumal. In around 30 slokams, the entire physical beauty of Devaperumal is beautifully described in the Purana. The appearance of his eyes, his ears, the placing of his feet, the weapons he held and so on.  

The Purana states that the lord emerged here on the Hastham day (Sunday) in Chitrai early in the morning. It really was an exciting third day’s presentation by the Thatha Desikan descendant.

Arathanam Process for Devaperumal
On the fourth morning, after having described the way the Lord emerged at athigiri, the entire arathanam process was described through several beautiful stotrams that brought to life the many different arathanams for Devaperumal. On this day, the many abharanams that the Lord adorns were also described in great detail including the one that Brahmma himself had presented.

On the fifth day of the Pallava Utsavam, the story of Brahmma’s Yagna was brought to a close with the Sambhavanai to all those present and the sending off to their respective places. Having seen the Lord emerge, Brahmma went round and round the Lord like how one would hug a new born, a description that brought tears in the eyes of those present.  This episode of Brahmma’s Yagna ended with Brahmma seeking the boon from the Lord to stay here for ever in ‘Nithya Vaasam’ and provide darshan to his devotees.

Brahmma's sad departure brings tears
On the sixth day, Devaperumal asks Brahmma to go back to Sathya Logam and there are sad tears from the sincere devotees present on the day as Thathachar presents the slow manner in which an unwilling Brahmma left this place. This event is enacted at the temple during the Desikar Utsavam in Puratasi. The Purana relating to this particular episode ends with the entire world talking about this yagna for several years, such was its greatness of having taken place at Athigiri.

பெருமையுடை அத்திகிரிப் பெருமாள் வந்தார்
பேராத அருள்பொழியும் பெருமாள் வந்தார்
அருமறையின் உச்சிதனில் நின்றார் வந்தார்
அங்கமுடன் அவையாகும் அரியோர் வந்தார்

திருவுரையாய்த் தாம் பொருளாய் நிற்பார் வந்தார்
திருவருளால்  செழுங்கலைகள் தந்தார் வந்தார்
மருவலர்க்கு மயக்குரைக்கும் மாயோர் வந்தார்
வானேற  வழி தந்தார் வந்தார் தாமே

The Final Day Action (April 10)
On the final day, Vedanta Desikar made an early morning trip from Thoopal Divya Desam to the Varadar Temple. Marking the concluding day’s celebrations, of the seven day utsavam, Lord Varadar was treated to an hour long Thirumanjanam.


Gajendra Aradhanam in Tretha Yugam
The Thathachariar descendant then went on to describe the Gajendra Aradhanam the story of how Maha Shathar Rishi undertakes severe penance. Indra who felt insecure at the severity of the penance sent beautiful girls to distract the rishi.  

Later the rishi meets Brigandu Maha Rishi who directs him to Kanchi explaining the greatness of the place and asks him to take bath at the Chakkarai Theertham there. He asks him to invoke the blessings of Narasimha (at the entrance to the Malai Perumal) before seeking the blessings of Devaperumal. He asks the elephant to clear the place so he could do aradhana for the Lord. The Gajendra Moksham episode is described here in around 30 slokams.

Brihaspathi Aradhanam
This was followed by a description of Brihaspathi Aradhanam. Following a curse, Brihaspathi is born in the bhoo logam. Here he hits a dog that comes seeking asylum at a house. The dog tells him that he is at fault for this wrong action and that he will have to repent. Brihaspathi comes to Athigiri and does Gayathri Jabam to relieve himself of his sins. Perumal comes as a 16 year old before Brihaspathi. When the latter asks him to go away, the young boy asks him to take care of his lean body and informs him that he will soon be relieved of his sins.

This entire episode is narrated by Narada to Brigu Maha rishi highlighting the fame of Athigiri. The Puranam ends with Brahmma describing the Ashtanga Yagnas.

On the final evening, Lord Varadar was decorated with several different varieties of garland. As the clocked ticked to 6 pm, devotees in several hundreds congregated in front of the Pallava Utsavam asthana mandapam for this final evening’s celebrations. For their devotional seven day presentation in front of the Lord narrating in depth the legendary tale of Brahmma’s Yagna at Kanchi, the Thatha Desikan descendants were presented with the Lord’s garland in a thanking gesture. 
Vedic Recital continues to be a strong hold at Kanchi and the vedic scholars presented all the four Vedas before the Lord.

How about Rs. 5 from each for the Theertham?
While the devotees (in large numbers) were missing during the devotional rendition of the Athigiri Mahatmiyam on each of the seven days, they suddenly seemed to arrive from nowhere during the presentation of Theertham and the hot Pongal and Dhadhyonam (a feature seen in many temples in Tamil Nadu). And just the presentation of the prasadam took almost half an hour, such was the devotee crowd .
Shortly after 8pm, the handsome looking Varadar made his way to the Anjaneya temple west of the Raja Gopuram. Led by the presentation of the Periya Thirumozhi Verses on Pullam Bhoothangudi, he made his way back to the temple even as the agraharam residents continued to shower him with their offerings. 

After a week long stay for the Pallava Utsavam, the Utsava deity made his way back to his abode at the Malai Koil just after 9pm bringing to end a historical Utsavam that brought back memories from the legendary tale of Kanchi.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Chidambaram Maasi Magam Utsavam

A through the night trip from Chidambaram to Kille
When as part of his humble offering, a young puncture shop owner on the outskirts of Chidambaram kept his shop open well past 10pm and filled air to the tyres of the Lord’s vehicle and saw it as the service he could render to the Lord on the night when Chitrakoodathullan, the Utsava deity of Chidambaram Divya Desam began his 15km trip to Killai for the Theerthavari Utsavam at the Eastern Sea Shore on the occasion of Maasi Magam, one was reminded of Thiru Mangai Azhwar’s praise of the greatness of Thillai Thiru Chitrakoodam and what the Lord expects from his devotees.

In his very first verse of praise of the Lord of Chidambaram, he says that one did not have to undertake severe penance by holding one’s breath or by stopping the five senses. Just visiting Thillai Nagar Thiru Chitrakoodam and having darshan of the Lord was enough to please the Lord and gain his blessing.


செந்தளிர்வாய் மலர் நகை சேர் செழுந்தண்  சோலைத் 
தில்லை நகர் திரு சித்திரகூடந் தன்னுள் 
அந்தணர்கள் ஒரு மூவாயிரவர் ஏத்த 
அணிமணி ஆசனத்து இருந்த அம்மான் தானே

Unmindful of his age, 85 year old AV Rangachari, former Economic Professor of Annamalai University, was at the Chidambaram Divya Desam two hours ahead of Lord Chitrakoodathullan’s trip to Killai and ensured that the Seva Kalam took place on time facilitating the timely departure of the Utsava deity for the night long procession.
He has spent almost his entire life in and around the huge ‘Twin Temple’ complex at Chidambaram. Unsurprisingly, Saivites and Vaishnavites, alike, have great regard for the contribution he has made. He was just 15 years old when he took up the responsibilities of the Theerthakar at the Govindaraja Perumal Divya Desam way back in 1948. Rangachari has been an integral part of the Seva Kalam at this Divya Desam ever since. By the time he turned 18, he was inducted into the Board of Trustees, one of the youngest to take up such a responsibility in a Divya Desam.  By this time, he had also taken up the responsibilities for the conduct of Utsavams.

Lesson of his Life – Saivite – Vaishnavite Unity
The greatest initiation to him as a young boy from the elders was to have a cordial relationship with the Saivites. As one watches him from a corner, every devotee to the temple including to the Nataraja Sannidhi pays regards to him with folded hands seeking his blessings. His philosophy has always been quite simple ‘If you are straight forward and offer your service to the Lord with Devotion, people will trust you’.

After a grand alankaram by the priests, Chitrakoodathullan left his abode at Chidambaram on 28th (Feb) evening along with Sri and Bhoo Devi Thayar. 

All along the first couple of hours of his trip, many other devotees comprising of Petrol Station owners, staff of hospital and employees of provision stores accorded a warm welcome to the Lord presenting their offerings to him.

100s of devotees at Nakkara Vanthan Kudi
As the Lord passed by into Nakkara Vanthan Kudi, a remote Village East of Chidambaram late into the night, one was even more humbled with the unflinching devotion of the villagers with over a 100 of them gathering in front of the Draupadi Amman Temple with flowers, garlands and variety rice to be presented to the Lord on his only trip of the year to their village.  And when Chitrakoodathullan reached their Village well past 10pm, they sung verses of praise on him in unison. In line with Kulasekara Azhwar’s praise, devotees thronged to see and enjoy the Lord of Chitrakoodam. And almost as following the devotional steps, the devotees of Nakkara Vanthan Kudi, old and the young alike offered worship with bowed heads and folded hands. 
The story goes that in centuries gone by, the villagers pleaded with the Lord during this trip to make his way through the green fields as they believed that the Lord’s presence on their agricultural land would prove to be a great blessing for the coming harvest season.

Silk Shawls at Pinnathur Village
As the clock ticked to 11pm, the Lord bid farewell to these delighted devotees for another year and continued his march to the next destination through the dark streets lit up only by the Moon light.

It was the big day of the year for the devotees at Pinnathur, a small village 5kms off Killai. The entire village came together in large numbers to receive the Divya Desam Lord from Chidambaram even though it was well past mid night.
For half hour, the villagers comprising mainly of farmers and their families showered the Lord with a wide range of colourful silk shawls and sought his blessings. 

Revival of Theppotsavam - Next Year
It was at the ancient Rama temple in Pinnathur Village that historically the Utsava Deity of Thillai Chitrakoodam Divya Desam took part in a Theppotsavam on his return trip from Killai. With the temple in a dilapidated condition, the Theppam had to be stopped a few decades ago. However with the renovation under way to get the temple back in shape, the authorities are hoping to revive the Theppotsavam next year at the temple.

By now, the Lord had been on road for over 5 hours. As he moved on from Pinnathur, the streets wore a deserted look. There was silence all around in the middle of the night.

1am and the Procession Continues
The Sri Patham Thangis’ motivational talks spurring each other to move the Lord onto the final destination at Killai was the only noise that could be heard as the Lord touched the Chidambaram Pichavaram Highway. It was almost 1.30am when the Lord reached Killai where at the Anjaneya Temple he rested for the night.

Historically, this used to be a weeklong utsavam with Veda Narayana Perumal of Valaimadevi (near Neyveli) and Varaha Perumal of Perumathur too joining the Chidambaram Divya Desam Lord in this annual Maasi Celebrations.

Theerthavari at the Sea Shore
The next morning Lord Chitrakoodathullan was up early to make his way to the Eastern Sea Shore for the annual Theerthavari utsavam on Maasi Magam that was then followed by a Thirumanjanam at Killai. 
Later in the day, he made another long trip, this time westwards to Bhuvanagiri. As per the Chitrakoodam Puranam, the Lord of this Divya Desam enjoyed the Thiru Kalyana Vaibhavam at Vellaanthankarai ( Bhuvanagiri) in Maasi. As part of this legendary episode, the Thiru Kalyana Utsavam was performed at the Saurashtra Mandapam on the banks of Vellaaru in Bhuvanagiri.

After three days, having provided darshan to thousands of devotees in several villages around Chidambaram, the Lord began his trip back on Saturday (March 3) evening to reach his abode at Chidambaram at 930pm.

And much to the delight of the devotees who were awaiting his return, Chitrakoodathullan and Bhoo Varaha Perumal of Sri Mushnam, who too arrived there after the Theerthavari in Killai provided a joint darshan at the Chidambaram Divya Desam thus bringing to end the Maasi Magam Utsavam.

( A version of this story featured in The Hindu Friday Review dated April 13)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Mannar Koil Bhattar Priest Salary case

Periya Nambi descendant Narasimha Gopalan takes up the cause of the Priests in TN temples 

Long Serving Priests  in around 50 ancient temples around Ambasamudram get less than Rs. 1000 per month  

Pleads with the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court to direct HR & CE to pay fair and reasonable salary to Priests
After making repeated pleas over the last many years to the HR & CE about the financial plight of the Archakas and other temple servants in ancient temples in Tamil Nadu and the critical need to revise upwards their salary to a reasonable living standard, Periya Nambi Narasimha Gopalan, the Head Priest at Sri Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Azhwar Temple, Mannar Kovil, Ambasamudram Taluk and the 29th descendant of revered Acharya Periya Nambi (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/03/periya-nambi-narasimha-gopalan-acharya.html), has filed a Writ Petition against the HR & CE at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court that the current salary paid to him (and to priests and temple servants similar to him in remote temples managed by HR & CE) is so abysmal that even the basic survival is becoming increasingly difficult for these priests.

Narasimha Gopalan at the time of filing the Petition was getting a monthly salary of Rs. 750 which itself is up three fold from Rs. 250 that he had been receiving for almost a decade. His father performed service at the temple in the 1980s at a salary of just Rs. 55 per month. Currently, there are six other full time service personnel at the temple each of whom gets just a three figure salary every month.

Shocking Salaries to Priests
Shocking is the fact that a priest at the nearby Vilvanathar temple in Pathamadai is paid a salary of Rs. 19 per month while at the historical and ancient Kailasanathar temple in Brahmadesam, the priest is paid a salary of Rs. 215 per month. Even in the now popular Nava Tirupathi Divya Desams on the Eastern Side of Tirunelveli, the official salaries to most priests continues to be low and it is the monthly 'Sambhavanai' from Venu Srinivasan to each of the priests over the last two decades that has helped them sustain their family.

Similar is the fate of most other priests in the region. Narasimha Gopalan has put together data on the salary paid to Priests and other temple service personnel in close to 50 ancient temples in the Ambasamudram region.

As per the data, in almost all the temples, the service personnel including the priests receive only up to three figure salaries every month. One has to wonder as to how a priest can run a family with such a low income all through his life.

He cites a verse from the Thirukural “ஆ பயன் குன்றும் அறுதொழிலோர் நூல் மறப்பர் காவலன் காவான் எனின் .” If the ruler does not take care of his subjects and does not give them their fair dues, the cow count will decrease and the Brahmins whose job it is to chant and teach the Vedas will leave and go to other jobs.

‘Frustration is bound to increase and unless corrective action is taken, it is likely that in the decades to come they will all move away from temple service in line with what Thiruvalluvar stated all those centuries ago’ says Narasimha Gopalan

With such low salaries, most of the temples located in remote areas have been finding it difficult to attract service and support staff. And thus one finds that in many remote temples, the priest is left all alone to take care of all the daily maintenance work as well in addition to performing the pooja.

Salary restriction based on income of temple
HR and CE also has a restriction on payment of salaries to staff that cannot go beyond 40% of the total income of the concerned temple.

In his petition, Narasimha Gopalan says that irrespective of the income of the temple, the nature and working time of rendering services by the archakas are by and large one and the same. It is also to be borne in mind that priests in such remote temples have to take care of all the sannidhis at the same time and all through the day. Determination of salary and discrimination based on the income of the temple where they are employed is unconstitutional.

T.R. Ramesh, President, Temple Worshippers Society who has filed a number of cases in the Madras High Court against the HR & CE says that the fundamental problem lies in the classification of temples based on their incomes and not based on their religious significance like Thevaram Sthalam or Divya Desam.
 “They are not classified by how big the temples are and how many sannadhis they have or based on the extent of immovable properties that belong to the temple. Every Divya Desam and Thevaram Sthalam should have adequate number of priests and that is possible only by giving the priests a reasonable monthly income and benefits. It is ethically incorrect for the HR & CE to put a salary disbursement cap of 40% of the temple’s income and pay such shockingly low salaries to the priests.”

Even though the Archakas are admittedly office holders under Section 55 of the HR&CE Act, 1959 and most of them have been providing service for several decades having completely dedicated themselves to the service of the Lord, they are continued to be paid meager three digit salary.

Narasimha Gopalan has said in his petition that non consideration of priest’s livelihood and not to let them to lead a decent life is abrupt violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It falls to the government to initiate steps in order to secure them a decent living and minimum wages, says Narasimha Gopalan.

Ramesh says that the priests are placed at par with sweepers and below drivers in designation. This is totally unfair. Priests have to learn the Vedas for at least 7 years and learn and train in shastras for 3 years.  The position of Priests must be much higher and salary fixed accordingly

Fair and Reasonable Salary to Priests
In his petition, Narasimha Gopalan has pleaded with the Court to invoke its extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India and direct the HR & CE to fix a pay scale for Archakas and other servants who are directly associated in the temple service.

He is of the view that at least Rs. 400 per day (Rs. 12000 per month) would be a reasonable salary for full time long serving temple priests and service personnel in remote temples in Tamil Nadu.

Managing the Temple all alone
The reference of Shenbagam flowers in Kulasekara Azhwar’s verses motivated him to convert the huge open area in the outer prakara of the 5 ½ acre temple into a Nandavanam. He sowed the seeds in 2008 and today it compares with the best with a wide variety of flowers that includes Shenbagam, Malligai, Iruvatchi, Magilam and Parichatam. With the idea of providing resting and nesting place for birds and parrots, he added Thothagathi, Naaval and Maruthai trees as well. In recent times, he has also started to grow 70 teak trees.


For over a decade, he has taken care of the maintenance of the temple almost all alone. Today, the temple wears a fresh look. All the Sannidhis and prakaras are clean. Unlike in the past, the lamp now glows at the temple, a significant improvement from the decades gone by.

Naamam Potuttaan??
When he once heard the phrase ‘Naamam Potuttan’ (a reference of the sacred ash of Vaishnavites being used to indicate a cheat), he raged in anger. He moved the Madurai High Court pleading an order to restrain the use of this terminology both in movies as well as in public places. He is hoping the judgment would be delivered soon in his favour (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2014/11/periya-nambi-acharya-fights-for.html).

He has also made himself a party to the dress code case in the High Court and is planning to go on an appeal against the earlier verdict. He asks if it will be acceptable in the corporate world for an interviewee to go to a job interview in shorts and T shirt saying that his strength is in the intelligence of the mind and not in the dress that he wears. He strongly believes that there is a certain dress code required for presence at temples to create the devotional environment.

It is hoped that the HR & CE will realize the unfair treatment meted out to priests in thousands of temples across the state and fix a fair pay scale that will give financial respectability to the priests. In the absence of such a step, it may be left to the Courts to forcibly make the HR & CE take corrective steps and reverse the injustice done to the priests over the last many decades.

(A version of this story featured today in The Hindu Friday Review)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Thiruvanaikaval Pancha Prakara Utsavam

The legendary episode of Jambukeswarar and Akilandeswari swapping their roles and providing darshan to Brahmma on the Rohini day in Panguni was enacted at the Thiruvanaikaval temple

Teenagers provide a Grand Re -Entry of the Divine Couple with a non stop 2 hour exhilarating 'Periya Udal' and Brahmma Thaalam Presentation
The Pancha Prakara Utsavam, the biggest festival at this ancient Thevaram Sthalam, marks the culmination of the long Brahmotsavam at the Jambukeswarar temple in Thiruvanaikaval. It is the only day in the year when the two provide darshan in all the five prakarams.

Located on the Northern banks of Cauvery is the Lord Jambukeswarar temple in Thiruvanaikaval, one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams, where Lord Shiva manifests himself as ‘Water’ (among the five elements). Hence this is referred to as a ‘Neer’ sthalam (‘Appu’ in Sanskrit). Thiru ‘Aanai’ kaval is home to Nava Theertham, with the Pancha Prakara Utsavam relating to one of them, the Brahmma Theertham, where Brahmma undertook penance to liberate himself from a grievous sin.

The story goes that after having created a beautiful girl in this world, Brahmma cast his eye on the beautiful girl when he should have seen her as his own daughter. Inflicted with Brahmma Hathi Dosham, he came here, bathed in the Theertham south of the temple and undertook penance invoking the blessings of Jambukeswarar. A pleased Lord Shiva decided to provide darshan to Brahmma and liberate him from the Dosham.

However, as he was preparing to leave, Goddess Akilandeswari too wanted to join. Shiva cautioned that Brahmma had got into this situation lured by the beauty of a young girl and did not want to take a chance once again. Thus a unique feature of this historical festival is that as a cautionary gesture, they decided to interchange roles – Shiva took the form of Akilandeswari and the Goddess went there as Jambukeswarar and provided darshan to Brahmma. It was only after liberating Brahmma from his Dosham, that they moved back into their original forms.

This legendary episode of Jambukeswarar and Akilandeswari swapping their roles and providing darshan to Brahmma on the Rohini day in Panguni was enacted at the Thiruvanaikaval temple at the Brahmma Theertham at the South end of the 5th Prakara and liberating him from his sins was enacted at the Pancha Prakara Utsavam at Thiruvanaikaval on Monday (April 2) night. 

A Grand Alankaram
It is 5 pm on Monday evening. The temple wears a quiet look and the devotees are having a darshan of the moolavar deity, Jambukeswarar, manifesting himself as Water inside a small enclosure in the sanctum.

Not too far away from here, the alankaram experts are quietly at the task of transforming Ambal into Jambukeswarar and vice versa. Adi Sankara had himself presented the Goddess with two beautiful ear rings – Thaadagam with Sri Chakra. The alankara process for beautiful looking Akilandeswari is a very special feature at this temple. Decked with Jewels and thick long garlands, the couple is ready by 7pm for the night long trip. The first two inner most prakarams were completed in fairly quick time. 
It is a night of the year when the legendary Thevaram sthalam stays awake to welcome the divine couple into their homes.  Just after 8pm, 25 vedic scholars gathered at the entrance of the 3rd prakaram. Alongside the divine couple, there were around 50 devotees ready to begin the recital of the Thevaram verses.
The Procession through the 3rd Prakaram
At the western entrance of the 3rd prakaram vedic chanting began with the young boys’ devotional recital. The first stop of the long festive night was at the Eastern End of the 3rd Prakaram. It was well past 9 pm and the decades long Gurukal alerted that the devotees will start swarming into the temple when the couple enter the 3rd prakaram. And so it was. As the two stopped over at the mandapam at the Eastern end,  devotees gathered in several hundreds to watch the beautifully decorated couple . Around the divine couple, activity gathered steam. 

At the far end, as has been the tradition over the decades, prasadam in large quantities were presented to every devotee that was to serve as dinner on the night. At another corner of the prakaram, upanyasakars had congregated to present the inner meaning of the Theveram Verses. Flanked by musicians, they presented the learnings from the sacred verses of the Saivite Saint poets through the night.
As the time ticked to 10.30pm, the loud beating of the drum signified that the couple are ready to move past the towering Western Raja Gopuram into the fourth prakaram – referred to as the Ul Thiru Veethi or the Car Street.

A heartening feature of this sthalam is that the Ul Veethi still houses traditional residents living life the way they used to centuries ago. From the physical attire to the way they address the guests gives one a glimpse of the people from the centuries gone by. Any new comer to the North Ul Thiru Veethi is invited to sit on that old Thinnai at the entrance of the house and offered a glass of water from the pot. The modesty of communication is enlightening and one is left to wonder if such people still exist. 
The entire street was dotted with white pulli kolams, each of which welcoming the couple in their own devotional way. As the couple make their way to the northern gateway of the temple, the experience is even more delightful. Several boys aged below 20 with the sacred ash on their body are seen learning the Vedas. They offer their respects to the couple in front of the Sankara Mutt that has produced scores of vedic scholars. The sincerity of the young boys and their commitment to a devotional life has to make a new entrant happy.

As the couple passed through this most traditional street of Thiruvanaikaval, many old time residents remembered the legendary story behind this temple’s architecture.

Ko Chenganan's First Maada Koil
Thiruvanaikaval is the first of the ‘Maada Koils’ built by the great Chozha King Ko Chenganan. The story goes that a Spider provided shade to the Lord through its cobweb, while an elephant performed pooja removing all the dirt around the lord, bringing water for Abhishekam, plucking flowers and fruits and providing sandalwood. One day, angered at finding a cobweb above the Lord, the elephant swung his tail and hit out at the web as he saw it as dirt. In retaliation, the spider entered the nose of the elephant. Stung with unbearable pain, the elephant died. The spider caught inside elephant’s body too died of suffocation. When they entered Kailasam, and asked for a wish, the elephant asked for this place where he performed pooja with sincerity to be named after him. Hence this place came to be called Thiru ‘Aanai’ Kaval. The spider asked to be born as a King who would build everlasting temples. 
The spider was thus born as Ko Chenganan Chozhan. He carried his anger into this life as well. Ko Chenganan built over 70 Saivite temples all of which were such that the elephant could not enter. It was either a small entrance into the sanctum or a high rise that an elephant could not climb. Ruling from Uraiyur, the then capital of the Chozhas, Ko Chenganan crossed the Cauvery and found an idol of Shiva beneath the tree. He also remembered his life as a spider when he had provided shade right above. His devotion touched a peak and he built Thiruvanaikal as his first Saivite temple.

The First Long break on the night
As the couple reach the far end of the North Ul Veethi, they are presented with silk vastrams. The entire street reverberated with loud devotional chants of the Vedas and the Thevaram verses. It is just past mid night when they reach the mid point of the South Ul Veethi. And it is time for the longest break of the night. For well over 90 minutes, the nagaswaram and band vadhyam sat right in the middle of the mid point of the South Ul Veethi and played devotional numbers. 
The residents of the South Ul Veethi presented butter milk among other offerings to the hundreds of devotees who accompanied the couple through the procession as well as to the service volunteers who were driving the couple on separate wheeled vehicles. Unfortunately, for decades, the procession has moved from carrying the couple on the shoulders to a procession on wheels. That was the one sour point of the procession.

It was 2am when Jambukeswarar and Akilandeswari continued their procession on the South Ul Veethi. At the far end of the street, near the sacred tank, the musicians sat down once again, this time for a 30 minute presentation. It had taken over 4 hours to complete the Ul Veethi, the 4th prakaram purapadu. Past 2.30am, the couple readied themselves for an even longer trip around the huge 5th prakaram, the huge walls of which is believed to have been built by the Lord himself. The traditional local residents of the Ul Veethi made their way back home promising to join the couple in the morning at a point on the 5th prakaram.

Vibhuthi Prakaram – The 5th Prakaram
The largest and outermost prakara – the fifth prakaram is referred to as the Vibhoothi Prakara. The story goes that several thousands of labourers toiled hard through the day to construct the prakara. As a reward of their hard work, these committed labourers were each given Vibhoothi as prasadam. As they went back home, to their pleasant surprise they found that the Lord’s Prasadam had magically turned into money – a testimony to the truth that the Lord rewards those who offer their sincere prayers and work sincerely in their daily lives.

The story of the Vibhuthi prakaram is one of extreme devotional to the couple of the Thiruvanaikaval. The non traditionalists may not know the Thevaram verses or may not be in the traditional madisar or panchakacham of the Ul Veethi but they clearly showcased on the night that their devotion to the Lord and Ambal is as pure as of anyone. Every house on the narrow streets around the 5th prakaram welcomed the couple in a devotional way offering coconuts and garlands invoking the blessings of the couple. It was well past 330am on the North Vibhuthi Street but even young children aged 5 were up with folded hands to invoke the couple’s blessings, such was the devotion of the residents of the prakaram.

Leading the couple in the front were Othuvars and Bhagavathas comprising of elderly men and women as well as young children who through the entire night chanted aloud Verses relating to different Thevaram Sthalams including Sundarar’s verse on Thiru Aanaikka where he refers to an interesting episode that every devotee should first offer their present to the Lord before consuming it. A Queen who was a gifted a set of glittering necklaces adorned herself and showcased it with all joy. After bathing in the Cauvery, she found the necklaces missing. Shocked at this loss, the king and the queen invoked the blessings of Lord Jambukeswarar to help find the necklaces. Shortly after, as the priest provided the Lord with the sacred bath the necklaces were seen on the Lord’s Lingam making them realise that in their hour of joy and greed, they had forgotten to first thank him for their state of happiness.

This story so beautifully narrated by Sundarar as a message to all devotees that we should not forget the Lord in our hour of happiness was sung with devotional fervour as part of the procession through the Vibhuthi Thiru Veethi. 
By the time the  Moon slid into the far western end of the sky giving way to the Sun in the East, the couple had made their way to South Vibuthi Street where after an early morning bath, residents with bright sacred ash on their forehead had darshan in front of their homes. It was almost 8am when they reached the South West end of the South Vibhuthi Street (now referred to as ‘Single Street’).

Exhilarating Devotional Drums
And then all of a sudden as the clock ticked to 8am, the procession saw a dramatic and a quite unexpected reverberation. It looked like the best moments of the 15 hour procession was reserved for the very end.

Out of no-where, around 10 boys all in their teens brought out the traditional ‘Udal’ (the sacred drum) and for almost two hours presented a nonstop devotional beating. It is only during such presentations that one’s belief in God is endorsed.  They showcased to the world that morning that with true service minded devotion to the divine couple, anything in possible.
Karthik is seen on the extreme right in this photo

Karthik, son of Sami Kannu who is performing pooja at the near by Pachai Amman Koil, is just 16 years old and has a good academics record at school. He is studying computer science in the Srirangam Boys High School.

One day over the next decade, he may join the corporate world but that morning on the West Vibhuthi Street, he showcased a devotional beating of the drum that would not be seen in any other Thevaram  Sthalam or Divya Desam. One had to wonder as to how a young lean teenaged boy could render such a hard paced devotional beating of the drum nonstop for two hours. And yet as every minute passed by that morning, one’s belief in God had to increase.

During those two hours, fruits were offered, fruit juices, butter milk and many more eats came his way and that of the other boys playing alongside him. There were others who watching their extra ordinary offered Sambhavanai to the set of artistes. But they would have none of it. The Panguni Sun was beating down as the clock ticked past 9am. Sweat poured like thick water down his brow. His cheek had turned red. Every vein in his body was activated. The small chest had expanded to its widest.   
It looked like Karthik had moved to a different world – a world devoted and dedicated to God. The beating of the Periya Udal got louder as he used the small cane in his right hand to magical effect with the speed of his strike reaching unbeatable levels. At his peak, Karthik would have reached speed levels of well over 60 strikes a minute and even as his team mates handed over their drum to another member, Karthik continued to increase the speed of the beat. There were other boys who played the Brahmma Thaalam in tune with the beating of the Periya Udal. Every now and then, Karthik instructed his members just with his eyes on the right tune to be played to be in synch with the beating of the Periya Udal.

Totally the boys number around 25, all having learnt this art by watching and practicing in their free time while they are away from school. Most exhibit the same intensity of devotion to Lord Jambukeswarar. With the Periya Udal tied to their shoulder, they forget the world around them. They also play instruments such as Kombu, Thiru chinnam, Kutta thaarai and Gowri Kaalam at Kumbhabhishekams in temples. They also help in cleaning large temples.

They are also learning the sacred verses of the Saivite Saint Poets.

They see this as service to God and do not take any money for their presentation!!! Quite unbelievable in this modern world where most services are billed!!! But these young boys strongly believe in not billing for this service to God.

It is almost close to 10 am and the couple are finally back at the Western entrance of the Ul Thiru Veethi, a spot in the fourth prakaram that they had left 7 hours earlier. With a Magudi Nagaswaram presentation, the couple made their way back to their abode bringing to end the 15 hour Pancha Prakara Procession.
The final word though rested with the drum beaters. Chanting Thiruchitrambalam and reciting a Thevaram Verse and thanking the couple for this opportunity, they beat the drums one final time at an exhilarating speed and that devotional rendition by these young boys brought to end Thiruvanaikaval’s longest and biggest utsavam, the 15 hour Pancha Prakara Utsavam.