Saturday, October 27, 2018

Kanchipuram Divya Desams Delayed Renovation works

The only set of Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu where the old black and white Raja Gopurams and Vimanams remain
Will the temple authorities and Venu Srinivasan come to an agreement on the restoration exercise at the Varadaraja Perumal temple ahead of Athi Varadar Utsavam in 2019
There are around 10 stand alone ( a few of them are housed inside larger temple complexes) Divya Desams in Kanchipuram praised by Saint Poets – Azhvaars. Each of these are at least a 1000 years old. The Azhvaars provide insights into how these temples were in the period all those centuries ago. The verses also describe in-depth the physical features of the Lord in these temples. Vedanta Desikar in his Prabhandham has showered praises on the Perarulaalar of Thiru Kachi Athigiri. However, sadly, unlike the Divya Desams in the Pandya and Chozha regions, the ones here in the erstwhile Pallava region have remained largely ignored on the renovation front.

It is only here in Kanchipuram among all the Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu that one still finds the historic ‘black and white’ Raja Gopurams and Vimanams. The modern colour coating has engulfed all the other Divya Desams in the State over the last two decades.

While a large temple like Srirangam saw renovation and restoration costs go up to around Rs. 25      crores in the exercise that was undertaken a few years ago, most of the other temples have seen renovation expenses in the order of a few crores over the last decade, almost all of which has been funded by the donors. It has become an unwritten policy for the HR & CE to not spend on renovation from the income generated at the temple with the priests in recent times doubling up as marketing agents sourcing the requisite funds from the devotee donors from across the globe.

It has been the practice in Vaishnavite temples to perform Samprokshanam once in 12 years, though the Agamas do not prescribe this. Historically, repair works used to be a continuous process but in recent decades, renovations have become a mega exercise and Samprokshanams have been conducted once in 12 years. In fact, it has been a big income source Bhattars that has provided the much needed financial assistance to a number of them across the state especially in the Chozha region for their daily sustenance over the last couple of decades.

Pandava Thoothar
Going by this timeline followed in most Divya Desams, it should have been time now for the 3rd Samprokshanam at Pandava Dhoothar temple in Thiru Paadagam (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/10/108-divya-desam-thiru-paadagam.html) since 1984. But the trustee managed Divya Desam has found the going tough all around.  For the conduct of the utsavams, the cost of the Sri Patham has shot up dramatically forcing them to abandon the Brahmotsavam. It has been over 15 years since the last Brahmotsavam was seen at the temple and over three decades since any large renovation exercise has been undertaken here. 
There are no more grand street processions at this Divya Desam. Even more challenging has been the effort to organize the finances for the renovation at the temple. The Raja Gopuram and the Vimanams wear an old look and the huge Lord, whose legendary tale dates back to the Mahabaratha has been waiting for a long while to see if any like minded devotee would turn up to take up the restoration of the temple and its utsavams to its glorious past. But thus far it has remained largely elusive.
Pachai Vannan Pavala Vannan
Just a few kms North lie two temples, a few hundred yards of each other – Pachai Vannan and Pavala Vannan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/10/108divya-desam-kanchipuram-pavalavannan.html), praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar. The Vimanams and Raja Gopuram at Pavala Vannan temple makes one wonder as to why devotees go for construction of new temples when Azhvaar praised temples remain in such state. The madapalli wears an old world look. The previous samprokshanam took place well over two decades ago.
Here too the Street Processions have come to a grinding halt as the exorbitant Sri Patham cost has become too much to bear - the costs have more than trebled from the past.  The priest who has been there for almost three decades at this ancient Divya Desam is paid a monthly salary of just over Rs. 1000 leaving one to wonder as to how one could survive with this kind of low monthly remuneration. The only reason why such priests continue to remain is for historical, hereditary reasons – to  not let go the service to the Lord that their forefathers had rendered at the temple through the 20th century. 
வங்கத்தால் மா மணி வந்து உந்து முந்நீர் மல்லையாய்
மதில் கச்சி ஊராய் பேராய்
கொங்கத்தார் வளங் கொன்றை அலங்கல் மார்வன்
குலவராயன் மடப்பாவை இடப்பால் கொண்டான்

பங்கத்தாய் பாற்கடலாய் பாரின்மேலாய்
பனிவரையின் உச்சியாய் பவள வண்ணா

எங்குற்றாய் எம்பெருமான் உன்னை நாடி
ஏழையேன் இங்ஙனமே உழிதருகேனே - Thiru Nedunthandagam

The sacred tank outside the Pavala Vannan temple also presents a deplorable picture.
Paramechura Vinnagaram
At the monumental ASI maintained heritage temple of Parameswara Vinnagaram (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/10/108-divya-desams-kanchipuram-thiru.html) so highly praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi, many of the ancient sand stone sculptures are in dilapidated state. While many improvements in the outer prakara are being undertaken including the installation of LED lamps around the temple zone, the historical sculptures have undergone erosion over the last 50 years that are now beyond repair. Thus using chemical wash, these are being maintained to the extent possible without further deterioration.
தூம்பு உடைத்தின் கை  வன் தாள் களிற்றின்
துயர் தீர்த்து  அரவம் வெருவ முன நாள்
பூம் புனல் பொய்கை புக்கான் அவனுக்கு
இடம் தான் தடம் சூழ்ந்த அழகா ஆய கச்சி

தேம் பொழில் குன்று எயில் தென்னவனைத்
திசைப்ப  செருமேல் வியந்து அன்று சென்ற
பாம்பு உடைப் பல்லவர் கோன் பணிந்த
பரமேச்சுர  விண்ணகரம் அதுவே - Thiru Mangai Azhvaar

Such Bhattars do still exist - Trivikrama Perumal
At the Ulagalandha Perumal Divya Desam, the Dharma Kartha and Head Priest Kannan Bhattar provides a truly refreshing experience to devotees who throng the temple to take a look at Maha Bali, seen crushed on the ground under the foot of the gigantic Trivikrama “No amount of money can satisfy us. We always want more” is how the head priest addresses the long crowd of devotees on a Friday morning at the temple.  He goes on "you are so lucky to have such a peaceful darshan today for on most other Fridays especially the ones just passed by in Puratasi there would be queue that stretched far to the entrance of the temple".

“Let us just surrender to him without asking for more and more monetary returns” says the priest as he calls out for the service personnel at the temple and hands them a share of the morning Thattu Kaasu, leaving them a delighted lot.

Restoration Exercise at Varadar Temple
At the biggest Perumal temple in the region, the Varadaraja Perumal Divya Desam in Chinna Kanchipuram (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/11/108-divya-desam-thirukachi-athigiri.html), a temple praised in several verses by Vedanta Desikar,  the once in a 40 year Athi Varadar event is just 9 months away. The temple authorities are keen to refurbish the Potramarai Kulam at the Eastern entrance of the temple that has been crying for help for decades. All the hotels and guest houses have already been book almost a year ahead of the event. Lakhs of devotees are expected to take part in the event. There are many zones in the temple that are in terrible shape. The area around the Davana Mandapam, where the Lord makes an annual trip for the Davana Utsavam is thick with bushes. 
The huge area around the Potramarai Kulam is dense with thick bushes and is abound with large snakes. There are other areas  in the temple including the tank at the Western entrance that require restoration. The Eastern entrance to the temple has remained shut for historical reasons.

Temple authorities are keen to secure the assistance of Venu Srinivasan to restore the temple ahead of  the Athi Varadar Utsavam but the modalities have not yet been worked out with the temple also being caught recently in a sea of  Vaishnavite Sect fights with matters being taken to court. Time is running out. There is an opportunity for the temple to be seen in good positive light in terms of restoring it to old glory across the entire temple complex, come next June/July.

வம்மின் புலவீர் அருளாளப் பெருமாளென்றும்
அருளாழி அம்மானென்றும்
திருமகளை பெற்றும் என் நெஞ்சம்
கோயில் கொண்ட பேரருளாளரென்றும்

வியப்பா விருது ஊதும்படி
கரை புரண்ட கருணை கடலை
எவ்வண்ணம் பேசுவீர்,
ஈதென்ன பாங்கே - Athigiri Mahatmiyam, Vedanta Desikar

There is a donor with a proven track record of 25 years willing to contribute to the restoration, though he is known to work on his own terms that is resented by a few. Some voices of dissent is heard within the temple.

If the authorities do not act fast, time may run out and many of the current infrastructural issues may continue to remain at the time of the huge utsavam next year. As seen above with so many other Divya Desams in Kanchipuram, there may not be too many others easily willing to give time, effort and money into renovation exercise to get these ancient temples back into shape. 
The Athi Varadar Utsavam presents itself with an opportunity to spruce up a number of the ancient Divya Desams in Kanchipuram. It is unlikely that Pandava Dhoothar, Pachai Vannan and Pavala Vannan will see light before the utsavam but there is a credible donor waiting to contribute to the restoration of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple. It would make sense for the trustees of the other Divya Desams in Kanchipuram to see if it is possible for Venu Srinivasan and his trust to also restore those temples prior to the mega event in Kanchipuram next year.

One has to wait and watch as to how this story pans out over the next few months.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Kaalayar Koil Kaleeswaarar Temple

Thiru Gnana Sambanadhar praises the Lord of Kaanapper as one who provides peace of mind and happiness to true devotees

The 155 feet Raja Gopuram is one of the tallest in the region 
The 200th Thevaram Sthalam at Kaalayar Koil, praised by Thiru Gnana Sambandhar, Appar and Sundarar, is unique in that there are three Separate Sannidhis for Lord Shiva and Ambal inside the temple complex. It is one of the biggest managed by Sivagangai Rani. The temple tank – Gaja Pushkarani - too is huge and is associated with a legendary tale relating to Indra’s elephant.

Raja Gopuram
While the historical entry to the temple was through the 90 feet Raja Gopuram for Kaleeswarar built by Maara Varma Sundara Pandyan in the 7th Century AD, the current entry point to the temple is through  a more recent 155 feet Raja Gopuram South of the old Gopuram for Someswarar built by Maruthu Pandyan, in the 18th Century.  This again is one of the tallest in the region.

While Kaleeswarar was the original temple at Kalayar Koil, the Sundareswarar temple and the 100 pillared mandapam were later additions and built by Varaguna Pandya. It is at this mandapam that alankaram for the deities, music and dance events and sacred discourses take place.

Gaja Pushkarani and the Float Festival
Legend has it that Airavatham, the famous elephant of Indra, flung a flower garland presented by a rishi, as a result of which he was cursed by which a man’s eyes were not to fall on the elephant. When the elephant came here to Kalayar Koil for liberation from the curse, a man looked at the elephant instantly sending the latter down below in the earth. In the thundering force of breaking through the earth, water gushed out and turned up as ‘Gaja-Theertham’ (referred to popularly as ‘Yaanai- Madu’) at this temple. 
It is believed the Lord Rama had bath at this Theertham to liberate himself from Brahmma Hathi Dosham after defeating Lankan King Ravana.

The float festival is celebrated in Vaikasi at this Pushkarani. There was a period in the previous century when devotees used to go by boat to have darshan of the Lord and Ambal in the middle of the tank. However, there has been no water in the Pushkarani for over a decade now.

Special Path laid for Sundarar
When Saint Poet Sundarar reached the entry point of this temple town after having had darshan of Thiru Meni Nathar at Thiru Chuzhi, he visualised the path leading to the temple as filled with Shiva lingams and wondered as to how he could place his feet on the Lord. Pleased with the devotion, it is believed that the Lord sent his sacred cow (Kaalai) and created the path for Sundarar to make his way to the temple. An invisible voice asked him to walk along the path specially made for him by the cow to reach the temple. In memory of this episode, the temple came to be referred as Kaalayar Koil.

In memory of this episode, every morning, a flower garland initially presented to the Lord at the Golden Palliyarai is then handed to Sundarar. 
Gnana Sambanthar’s Praise
In his praise of the Lord of Kaanapper, Thiru Gnana Sambandhar says that those who invoke the blessings of the Lord offering their sincere prayers will find peace and happiness in life. Historically, this place was referred to as Thiru Kaanapper as is seen from the verses of the Saint Poet. 
Freedom Struggle at Kaalayar Koil
In the first of its kind battle against the British in this region, the then leader of the Sivagangai Samasthanam Muthu Vaduka Naatha Periya Udaya Devar, who ruled here for 22 years between 1750 and 1772 fought out a heroic battle at Kaalayar Koil before being struck down by the bullets of the hidden soldiers. In memory of this battle, the stone sculpture of the brave warrior is seen at the entrance of the temple. 
Vedic School
In the century gone by, there was a popular Vedantham Mutt near the temple. Several scholars graduated from here. This was one of the most vibrant locations for Vedic Education in the state.

50 Vaishnavite families lived in harmony with 200 Dikshithar familes in the first half of the 20th Century in Kalayar Koil. There were around 60 service personnel  to take care of the different functions at this huge temple but this has come down dramatically to just a few in the last few decades.

Three Grand Festivals
Annual Festivals are celebrated in a grand way for each of the three deities with the Chariot Festival on Thai Poosam for Swarna Kaleeswarar, on Vaikasi Visakam for Someswarar and on Aadi Pooram for Swarna Valli Amman.

Quick Facts

Moolavar: Kaleeswarar, Someswarar, Sundareswarar
Ambal    : Swarnavaalli, Soundaranayaki, Meenakshi
Praised by: Thiru Gnana Sambandhar, Thirunavukkarasarar and Sundarar

The temple is open from 6.30am- 12.30pm and 5.30pm - 7.30pm. Contact Rathna Kaleeswaran  @ 70945 12412 / 04575 232516. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Shozhanganallur Gopalakrishnan Temple

84 year old Sethurama Iyengar rides a TVS motorcycle every morning from Killiyanallur to light the lamp and perform pooja but HR & CE has completely ignored this ancient temple that has been lying in dilapidated condition for several decades

Snakes and Bats welcome him inside the dark temple  but his devotion has led him to fearlessly perform pooja

Growth of trees around the Vimana has led to the ancient stone structure falling off 

The Utsava Idol has been in safety locker at the temple in Kodiyalam on the Southern Banks of Cauvery 
It is one of those temples that has not benefited from the recovery that many (temples) have seen in the last two decades and continues to remain in a dilapidated condition in a remote location in the midst of large barren piece of land.

The Centuries old Gopalakrishnan Temple in Shozhanganallur, 5kms North of Sirugambur near Mukkombu is reminiscent of the State of many of the ancient temples in Tamil Nadu in the 1970s and 80s. While many, especially the Azhvaar praised Divya Desams, saw a restoration starting from the 1990s, this one remains completely ignored with the HR & CE paying no attention to the ravaged state of the temple. With restoration in mind, Balalayam was done 50 years ago but the repair works haven’t even started in the five decades that has passed.

84 year old Sethurama Iyengar stays in Killiyanallur (on the Trichy – Namakkal highway) about  10 kms from the temple. His forefathers had performed pooja at this temple for many years in the 20th century. His grandfather walked all the way bare footed from Killiyanallur in the hot sun to perform pooja at this temple. There was a Madapalli too in those decades that was fully functional. ‘Amuthu Parai’ stands as proof. 
In the later part of the 20th Century, the temple found no takers and remained in a locked condition for several years till finally the Villagers joined hands and approached Sethurama Iyengar to take care of the temple.  Over two decades ago, he re-opened the temple and has been performing pooja every day since.

Notwithstanding his old age, he starts his TVS XL motor cycle (gifted to him by his son!!) and rides through the pit filled road via Sirugambur to reach the temple every morning to light the lamp.
The Hissing of the Snake
Similar to what happened in many temples (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/02/erettai-tirupathi-transformation.html) in the dark days of the 70s and 80s, Sethurama Iyengar enters the temple cautiously watching out for snakes that have lay crawled in one of the corners. Every morning, he has to undergo this trauma. He says that there were times when the snake would hiss when he entered. For a while he has not heard that hiss but is always worried that it might turn up one morning in that dark little sannidhi. There are bats as well. It is truly scary to enter the temple even during the day.

His daily route includes lighting the lamp and presenting an arathi to Lord Gopalakrishnan. If there are devotees coming the way of the temple, he stays back to help them with the darshan of the Moolavar Lord and the Azhvaars. Else, he returns carefully maneuvering the two wheeler through pits along the muddy road to Sirugambur.

The Sacred Well
There was a sacred well  too inside the temple complex but that too has remained untouched for decades with plants growing thick around the inner walls.
As seen in the story on Uthamar Seeli (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/10/uthamar-seeli-venugopalan-temple.html), the processional deity here too has been kept far away in 'safe custody' at the Perumal Temple Kodiyalam for several decades. The Moolavar deity, Gopalakrishnan, looks handsome but has been left alone in this remote village in the company of snakes and bats. 

Even during his grand father's time at the time, he says, the Lord of Shozhanganallur used to send an annual gift to Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam. The service personnel at this temple used to carry the gift on a long 20km trip, with a couple of the personnel holding the Theevatti in the front to light the path. But that too has become a thing of the past.

Dilapidated State
The temple is currently in a badly damaged condition now. The path leading to the temple is full of thorns. Every devotee who enters the village is welcomed with the same message “Will the temple finally see the light.” The villagers point out that the talk of renovation and restoration of the temple has been going on for several years and that they don’t believe this story any longer. The prakaram is full of sharp stones and it is unlikely anyone can escape a bleeding of the feet.

The roof is in danger of falling any time. The outer wall is broken. The entrance to the temple is bereft of any wall- it is already gone. Utsavams have not taken place for several decades, with the processional idol at Kodiyalam temple on the Southern banks of Cauvery. The Vimana is surrounded by a thick growth of trees that has caused damaged to the ancient stone structure, one that is now falling off .
There is even talk of ASI taking over this heritage structure.

The temple is administered by the HR & CE but as is the case with ‘revenue-less’ temples, the department is not too eager to undertake any repair works.  The Villagers are hoping that some enlightened soul will turn up one day and restore this small temple. 

Sethurama Iyengar @ 97875 72556 is readily available through the day to take the 10 km ride to showcase the state of the temple to any interested devotee.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Uthamar Seeli Venugopalan Temple

Will processions be revived at this historical Chozha period temple now administered by the HR & CE

The handsome Utsavar Idol has been in lock and key at the Jambukeswarar Temple in Thiruvanaikaval for Several Decades – The last horse vahana purapadu took place way back in 1956 a few year prior to the huge floods in the Cauvery

Efforts to conduct a Garuda Sevai this year failed, with the HR & CE refusing to release the Utsava Deity in the current heated environment 
It is an ancient temple but forgotten for all accounts by the HR & CE who are playing it safe. Four decades ago, the road from Srirangam to Koviladi via Kallanai along the banks of the Cauvery was a dark narrow stretch with no street lights along the 25km path. The  road was full of pits right through to Appakudathan despite this serving as the shortest route to Kumbakonam from Srirangam via Thiruvayaru. The most popular temple on this route was the Appakudathan Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/11/108-divya-desam-koviladi-appakudathaan.html), 10kms West of Kallanai, but that too lay in complete darkness for a long period of time.

Even as one passed Thiruvanaikaval on to the Kallanai Road, one found greenery all around on the Northern side with the Cauvery running along the Southern stretch.

Rarely did devotees stop by for any temple on this route till they reached the Appakudathan Divya Desam in Koviladi (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/11/thirupper-nagar-koviladi-divya-desam.html). One of the ancient temples that got the slip each time was the Venugopalan Temple in Uthamar Seeli, a few kms East of Kallanai.

However, this entire stretch from Srirangam to Koviladi has seen a dramatic infrastructure improvement in recent times. Street lights now glow bright through the 25 km route along the Cauvery banks and the road has been widened beyond one's imagination.

Uthamar Seeli and the worst floods in half a century
Just over 50 years ago, when the Srirangam belt saw its worst floods in almost 75years, it was this village of Uthamar Seeli that bore the brunt, for the excess water from the Cauvery was let out into this village to prevent flooding along the banks on this stretch. Thankfully the large temple believed to have been constructed in the grand old period of the Chozhaz remained strong and safe.

Muslim Invasion and the Uthamar Seeli Temple
Seven Centuries ago, when the Muslim invaded this region and the Srirangam temple was affected, this temple too felt an impact. The Moolavar idol dating back to that period was damaged but was protected. To this day, one finds within the temple complex that ancient idol with a broken hand.

The Handsome Standing Posture
The handsome Venugopalan, seen in a tall standing posture is playing the flute flanked by Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi Thaayar. There is a separate sannidhi for Aravinda Nayaki Thayar. Within the surprisingly huge temple complex, one finds a beautiful nandavanam with tall trees forming part of the outside prakaram, leaving devotees surprised at the existence of such a large temple on the banks of the Cauvery, near Srirangam (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/09/108-divya-desams-srirangam-lord.html).

No Procession in 60 years
The beautiful utsavar deity of Venugopalan has been placed in security at the Jambukeswarar temple in Thiruvanaikaval (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2014/12/thiruvanaikaval-jambukeswarar.html). Efforts were made to secure release of the processional deity for a Garuda Sevai this year but given the issues relating to theft of idols across HR & CE administered temples the department refuse to release the idol from their custody, leaving the devotees to wonder the purpose behind having a processional idol when an ancient temple is not able to conduct utsavams and street processions for them to have darshan. 
The temple comes under the administration of Uthamar Koil Divya Desam (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/05/108-divya-desam-uthamar-koil.html).

Three Generations of Service but at no Salary from the HR & CE
The Parijarakar, who also doubles up as the Bhattar, has been here for three generations with his father and grandfather too having donned the role at this temple. The villagers are hopeful that in the current environment where one is seeing a devotional wave across temples in Tamil Nadu the historical utsavams will be revived at this temple by the HR & CE.

It is the same story relating to the salary of the priest as well. For decades, the priest/parijaraka has not been any salary by the HR & CE that is worth mentioning. Over the last 10 years, devotees have come together to contribute a reasonable amount for his daily survival and that is how this temple has seen at least some maintenance on a daily basis.

Previous Horse Vahana Purapadu in 1956
Prior to the huge floods in the early 1960s, Horse Vahana Purapadu was a regular feature at this temple in Chitrai, with devotees from all the nearby villages up to Kallanai gathering here to witness Lord Venugopalan on the Horse Vahana. The last of this procession took place in 1956. For the last 60 years, the HR & CE have consistently refused to release the utsava deity on the pretext of safety issues at the temple. The Horse Vahana, with a broken front leg, is still seen inside the temple complex. 
The general view is that it is pointless to have a processional deity locked up 15kms away in another temple thus preventing processions of the Lord both inside the temple and outside. Devotees were keen to revive the procession on the occasion of Krishna Jayanthi this year but that too died down without hope for the same reason.

Once in a while, Thirumanjanam takes place for the Lord but that is all there is at the moment in terms of celebrating the Lord with the current generation of devotees not having seen the Utsava deity at all at this temple.

The Utsava Deity should remain at the same temple
It is this attitude of the HR & CE that prompted Narasimha Gopalan Acharya of Mannar Koil, near Ambasamudram to file a case in the High Court asking for the respective temples to house the Utsava deity in its own complex as against HR & CE’s practice of keeping it locked far away in a more popular temple, thus preventing processions that are sacred to a temple’s annual exercise. 
Time will tell if the HR & CE officials at Uthamar Koil (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2011/12/tri-murthy-utsavam-in-uthamar-koil.html), where the annual Tri Murthy Utsavam takes place in Karthigai with a grand purapadu, will release the Utsava Idol and house it back at Uthamar Seeli that will allow for the first procession of the Lord in over 60 years.

One will have to wait and watch.

The temple is open between 730am and 12noon and between 4pm and 7pm. Contact Sridhar Bhattar @ 97502 52299.

Uthamar Seeli is about 10kms from West of Thiruvanaikaval on the Northern banks of Cauvery along the Kallanai Road. Buses ply frequently between Chatiram bus stand and Kallanai.