Friday, May 4, 2018

Thiru Kudanthai Akshaya Tritiyai 12 Garuda Sevai

12 Lords provide Garuda Sevai darshan on the TSR Big Street
Historically, five of the ancient Lords followed the Garuda Sevai with a 'Cooling off' session on the banks of the Cauvery on this Hot Chitrai Day
Akshaya Tritiyai in Chitrai marks the Biggest Festive Day of the year at the TSR Big Street in Kumbakonam. The 12 Vaishnavite Lords of this ancient temple are set to congregate in a few hours at the Western End of this Popular business street.

It is 6am on the morning of Akshaya Tritiyai (April 18), a day when Ganges is believed to have emerged on earth with Garuda having played a helpful role in that (hence the tradition of Garuda Sevai on this day). At the Sarangapani temple in Thiru Kudanthai, Soundararaja Bhattar who has been in this devotional service for three decades was working on the Garuda Sevai alankaram. 

At the nearby Ramaswamy temple, Chakravarthi Bhattar had completed the grand alankaram of the handsome Lord and was awaiting the huge sets of flower garland that has been ordered from Srirangam to give the final touches to the alankaram. By 7am, Pattabhirama Bhattar had Lord Chakrapani sporting a majestic look with Garuda draped in a beautiful bright green silk vastram.

The famous TSR Big Street in Kumbakonam where the centuries old 12 Garuda Sevai utsavam unfolded later that morning wore a decorated festive look. A grand long Panthal has been erected in front of the Ahobila Mutt. By 730am, devotees had already begun to take up vantage position on both sides of the Street.

A couple of hours later one heard a loud devotional cheer from the huge crowd on the TSR Big Street signifying the entry of the first Lord of the morning. Within the next half hour, the Vaishnavite Lords of Kumbakonam had taken up their respective positions at the far West End of the Big Street.  By now the crowd had swelled to several thousands on the hot Chitrai day.

Entry of Sarangapani into the Big Street
Back at the Aravamudhan Divya Desam, Prabhandham scholars were presenting the verses of Thirumangai Azhwar on Thiru Kudanthai. 
At 9.30 am, led by Nam Azhwar, Thirumangai Azhwar and Thirumazhisai Azhwar, Lord Sarangapani made his way out of the towering Raja Gopuram.
The devotees and the shop owners welcomed Sarangapani calling out his name ‘Saranga’ in unison. He took his place alongside Chakrapani in the front row with Aathi Varaha Perumal and Raja Gopalan right behind them.

Lord Rama’s delayed arrival
As the clock ticket past 10.30am, everyone wondered on the missing link on the front row. It has been the tradition for a century for Sarangapani Perumal to be flanked by Chakrapani and Ramaswamy. While Lord Rama had been ready for departure early in the morning, a minor pay dispute at the final moment with the Sri Patham Thangis led to a delay. Finally, just after 11am, after all the other Lords had waited almost for an hour, Lord Rama took up his historical position alongside Lord Sarangapani. 
There were different kinds of Garuda Vahanas on display with each of the Bhattars exhibited his Alankaram skill sporting the Lord in different attires much to the delight of the devotees. Aathi Varaha Perumal was particularly special as he provided darshan in Varaha Avataram – a Unique Feature for the utsava deities in Vaishnavite temples always provide darshan only in human form and not in the avataram form.

82 year old G Kunchithapatham, a Chartered Accountant has witnessed the Garuda Sevai for well over seven decades.  He remembers the Garuda Sevai from the 2nd half of the 1940s “I was all of 10 years old. 
'It was a festival that everyone in the temple town looked forward to. Just a single Garuda Sevai is special. And when 12 different Lords provided Garuda Sevai darshan at one place, all of us saw it as a divine opportunity to seek their Blessings. It was with great joy that all of us gathered at the Western End of TSR Big Street to watch the 12 Lords. In those years, all the Lords used to congregate early in the morning around 7am and they used to provide darshan till around 2pm.”

The 12 Garuda Sevai Lords
Over the last century, it has been Sarangapani, Chakrapani, Ramaswamy,  Aathi Varaha Perumal, Rajagopalan (Thoppu Street), Rajagopalan (Bazaar Street), Santhanagopalan Krishnan (Malluga Chetty Street), Patabhiramar (Kamakshi Street), Navaneetha Krishnan (Mela Kottaiyur), Navaneetha Krishnan (Patrachar Street), Varadaraja Perumal (Mela Cauvery)  and Srinivasa Perumal (Pulianchery near Swami Malai – Did not make it this year) that have made it to the Garuda Sevai on the Akshaya Tritiya day.
It has historically been a festival hosted by the shop keepers of TSR Big Street. 73 year old V Kannan, a jewellery shop owner on that street has been an integral part of this festival for over 50 years ‘Devotees used to arrive very early on the morning with their family having walked all the way from the neighbouring villages to witness this grandest Garuda Sevai of Kumbakonam. Since the early 1960s, we have been presenting Panagam and Butter Milk to all the devotees who visit the Garuda Sevai.  
'This year we organized 10000 glasses. I remember as a school boy in those decades in the 1950s and 60s having watched the grand preparation on the Big Street with great interest. The ground work used to start one month ahead of the festival. The entire street used to have a huge Panthal with plantains and coconuts being part of the decoration.'

The return trip on a littered street
By noon, as is the case these days during big festivals, the entire street wore an untidy look. Unmindful of the fact the Lords were to make their return trip through this Street, food particles, cups and waste papers were littered in thousands right in the middle.

Having provided darshan to the huge devotee crowd, each of the Lords began their return journey to the respective abodes with the bare footed Sri Patham bearing the brunt of the sweltering Chitrai heat and having to evade the dirt that had now filled the entire street.

Revival of ‘Cooling off’ Trip after the Garuda Sevai
A century earlier, five of the 12 Garuda Sevai Lords used to go the banks of the Cauvery after providing darshan on TSR Big Street to cool off and as a resting exercise after spending the first half of the day in the hot Chitrai Sun. These are the five ancient Vaishnavite Lords of Kumbakonam that also make the trip for the Theerthavari Utsavam on Maasi Magam. Tents used to be set up on the banks of the river and prasadam used to be distributed late in the evening.  When financial constraints arose, the post Garuda Sevai exercise was restricted to a trip to the Rajagopalan temple on Bazaar Street and this went on for about two decades. Around 60 years ago, this too came to a halt. 
Revered Vaishnavite Scholar VS Karunakaran Swamy has now revived a part of that tradition with Lord Sarangapani making his way on a palanquin to Raja Gopalan temple after the Garuda Sevai. 

Karunakaran Swamy is hopeful of a full revival very soon ‘We have started off with the revival of Divya Desam Lord Sarangapani’s trip. We are hoping that next year Lord Chakrapani too will be able to join on this cooling trip and then sometime in the near future, Lord Ramaswamy too would be able to join like in the first half of the previous century.”

Karunakaran Swamy had also organized the renovation of the Raja Gopalan temple a few years ago including the installation of an integrated idol for Nadathur Ammal and his disciple Vedanta Desikar. During the annual Brahmotsavam in Maasi, Nadathur Ammal and Desikar go on a street procession with Lord Raja Gopalan.
An interesting feature of the new temple tower is that the life story of Nadathur Ammal has been sculpted in the front with the life story of Krishna on the back. Also, sculpted are the seven Azhwars who sang praise of Lord Aravamuthan of Thiru Kudanthai.         

After having spent the entire evening listening to a devotional rendering of Koil Tiruvoimozhi, Sarangapani returned to his abode just after 9pm bringing to end the Akshaya Tritiyai Utsavam.                                                                           
(A version of this story featured in Today's The Hindu Friday Review)

1 comment:

markiv said...

Thank you sir for this article