Friday, June 22, 2018

Othuvar Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar Malaikottai Thayumanavar Temple

For almost six decades, the legendary 81 year old Othuvar from Thiru Kodikkaval has presented the Thevaram Verses at the Thayumanavar Temple in Malaikottai - a voice that was heard on the banks of Kollidam

He refused a Lucrative Offer in the 1990s from a temple in London and has continued to be dedicated to the Lord of Malaikottai from a small house at the foot of the rock temple
Othuvars have been in the limelight in the recent past with a High Court order by the Madurai Bench directing the HR & CE to pay them a fair remuneration for their services.

Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar, who turned 81 the Sunday before last, is the oldest Othuvar in action in the Saivite Saint Poets praised Thevaram Sthalams and has been part of the Kasi Mutt of Thirupananthal for six decades presenting the verses at Thayumanavar temple but despite all his years of experience, he is paid only Rs. 2400 per month up from Rs. 70 when he started off way back in the 1960s.

For his age, he has remarkable memory of the Thevaram verses as he rolls out one after another from each of the four prominent Saivite Saint Poets. His vast experience of almost 6 decades has equipped him with the power to pull out the meanings from 5000 verses and to give detailed explanations. "These verses even contain information on what to look for in a girl, how to conduct marriages and the art of living a good dharmic life".

Formative Years
Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar belonged to Thiru Kodikkaval (, a remote location near Mayiladuthurai that is home to one of the few temples dedicated to Yama and Chitragupta. He had his primary schooling there before moving on to Sirkazhi for higher secondary education.

1950s – Thevaram Initiation - A Legend in the making
Later, he was initiated into the sacred Thevaram verses for over 5 years at the Dharumapuram Aatheenam in Thirupananthal. His Acharya was the brilliant R Velayutha Othuvar who also trained well over 300 other Othuvars in Tamil Nadu.  The revered scholar used to identify talented students very early into his training. He saw the light in Muthu Kandha Desikar and identified him as one with the potential to be a legend in this service. When Muthu Kandha Desikar was in the very first year of his Thevaram initiation, his Guru brought him into the 5th year class and made him sing along with them. It was a privilege none others had received in his lifetime, such was the potential that the acharya saw in this young student. 
Muthu Kandha Desikar came out of school in 1958 after 5 years of Thevaram initiation and went to the Kasi Mutt in Thirupananthal. He became a Kattalai Othuvar there. He presented service at the Thiruvannamalai temple and a few others in the initial period but even as a teenager Thayumanavar found a place in his heart and he seemed to have a permanent connect with the Lord of Malaikottai.

Dedication to the Lord of Malaikottai
One day he went up to the authorities at Kasi Mutt asking for him to be stationed permanently at Thayumanavar temple in Malaikottai, Tiruchirapalli. Earlier, the HR & CE had wanted him to join the Thayumanavar temple as an employee but Kasi Mutt did not approve him becoming a staffer there. Later he joined the same temple under the condition that he would not be exclusively bound to them. For over five decades, he has presented the Thevaram verses at the Siva Siva Ul Mandapam in Thayumanavar Sannidhi for an hour each day. 
HR and CE invited Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar as a full time staffer at many temples including Madurai Meenkashi Amman Temple and Palani Dhandayudhapani temple but he refused all these offers sticking to his presentation at the Thayumanavar temple.

A Voice that was heard till Kollidam!!!
In the 1960s, his voice over the speaker system was heard on the banks of Coloroon, such was the clarity in the voice of his devotional rendering and modulation of the verses.  Even after the current infrastructure development in the Srirangam- Tirichirapalli region, his voice is heard till the banks of the Cauvery. Over these decades, he identified and developed several Ragams for the Thevaram verses.

An irresistible Offer in UK Pounds!!
When he once presented these verses in a highly devotional tone in London, so impressed were the authorities in the temple that he was offered an extremely lucrative ‘deal’, one very few would have refused. Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar distinctly remembers that day in history “It was so high that I could have built four houses in Malai Kottai. But I was committed to presenting before Thayumanavar and hence let go of the financially remunerative move.” 
Students who learnt from him in London went on to release CD and Thevaram albums. They were so grateful for his initiation that they funded a entire trip of his to London on another occasion.

Lankans – The most devoted people
He has gone to Ceylon 49 times to present in two Padal Petra Sthalams there. During Vaikasi, he presents the sacred verses at Thiru Konamalai (Ravana performed pooja for this Lord), a temple that Thiru Gnana Sambandhar sang praise of from the shores of Rameswaram. On the Maha Sivarathri night, he presents Thirumurai at Thiru Kerichalam, a temple where Raja Raja Chozhan contributed in rich measure. 
In the decades of his visits to Sri Lanka, he found the devotion among the people there to be the best. He says that the people of Lanka have inherited the bhakti of Ravana, a great devotee of Lord Shiva “Each time I present before the Lord, I found that tears rolled down like a river from the eyes of the devotees – both men and women – there. That indicated the intensity of their Bhakti.  I have not seen such bhakti anywhere else including in Tamil Nadu, the UK, Singapore and Malaysia.”

Yaazh was such a popular devotional musical instrument and finds place in several verses of the Saint Poets. It was also Ravana’s favourite instrument. Hence, the place was referred to as Yaazh Paanam. 

Differentiated Presentation
Innovation in his presentation has been a key differentiator. He gave special effects to the Thevaram verses to arouse the bhakti in devotees and those who heard him once wanted to come back again and listen to his devotional rendering. Such was the devotional style of his presentation. His imaginative mind, his ability to create and change Thaalam and Ragam kept the devotees engrossed in temples during his recitals. 

Muthu Kandha Desikar has received 40 prestigious awards for his devotional rendering over these 6 decades including the Kalaimamani award and the TTK Memorial Award for outstanding service in temples.

The Next Generation – His Hopes on Somasundaram Othuvar
In the last few decades, he also passed on this art to students but as is the current trend many could not withstand the rigorous process and guidelines and pulled out mid way. Thevaram verses are quite difficult and presentation by the Othuvars requires years of effort as they have to understand the meanings and present in musical form.

Typically, at a Patshala, the students are initiated into 200 verses that would come into use in their every day presentation. It is then left to the students to expand their horizon and learn the entire set of the sacred verses of the Saint Poets.

The best of his disciples is the 29 year old Somasundaram in whom he has a lot of confidence to take this service into the next generation of Othuvars. Somasundaram completed a 5 year diploma course in Thevaram Isai Kalaimani from Annamalai University. Since then he has been performing at Kandha Kottam, Abirami Koil (Dindigul) and Thiruvasi (Trichy). He also continues to perform the hereditary service at the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, him being the 21st descendant.
Somasundaram has applied for the Othuvar posting at Thayumanavar Sannidhi and has gone through the interview process. He is hoping that with the background and the proven track record of his grandfather having performed for six decades at the sannidhi, he would get the order soon.

Othuvars - The Diminishing Numbers
Once upon a time there were Othuvars in all the temples in Tamil Nadu. During the reign of Raja Raja Chozhan, Othuvars sang in big numbers in the Big Temple at Thanjavur.  In centuries gone by, there used to be Othuvars Ghosti on Swami’s street processions but all that too has become a thing of the past given the shrinking numbers of the Othuvars. Othuvars have reduced dramatically in the last few decades and they are just in a few hundreds across the state. Salary is inadequate to run and take care of a family and many have sought other avenues, given the financial constraints.

Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar Othuvar himself started off with Rs. 70 month. Over the six decade period, this has gone up to just Rs. 2400. Typical of him, he is not too concerned and shrugs off the financial issues saying ‘No amount of money can equate the happiness of presenting the Thevaram verses before the Lord. The inside character of a person is the true reflection of a devotional personality and not the external colour. Thirumurai contains everything for our real way of life and we should follow that." 
He continues to live a simple life from a small house on the South Mada street at the foot of Malaikottai and continues to present the sacred verses of the Saint Poets at the Thayumanavar temple.  Truly Contended with what God has given him. It is unlikely one will find another Othuvar like him again!!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nicely written.