Sunday, June 16, 2019

Parthasarathy Koil Narasimha Swamy Garuda Sevai

In a rare occurence, NamAzhvaar has Garuda Sevai darshan of Narasimha Swamy on the occasion of his Avathara Utsavam that coincided with the 3rd day of the Brahmotsavam


Devotional commitment of Sri Patham Thangis and Divya Prabhandham Ghosti was seen till well past midnight with two successive processions on the evening
A death in one of the sacred streets of Thiruvallikeni just ahead of the Simha Vahana procession on the 2nd evening of the Narasimha Swamy Brahmotsavam took the service personnel  and the temple staff off guard. Historically, it has been the tradition in the agraharams of Divya Desam that any untoward incidents will be cleared off within the first Naazhigai – 2 ½ hours.

Agama expert and one of the leading Bhattars in Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu Vasan Bhattar of Therazhundur says that there has been historical documentation in the  Aamaruviappan Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/10/therazhundur-divya-desam.html) that has all its residents as signatories wherein the residents have undertaken to clear any obstructions to the Lord’s procession within a couple of hours so as to allow the Lord to pass.  

He says that even the period of an hour and a half is only for the ‘sacred’ activities to be performed after death and scriptures record it that anything after this sacred period, the ‘dead’ body becomes equivalent to that of a dog that lies dead and unattended on the street. Hence, it is the duty of the resident to complete all the sacred formalities within the first couple of hours of death and clear obstructions that will then pave the way for the Lord to go around the streets on the pre slated procession including during the Brahmotsavam. 
In fact for specific lagnam based events such as dwajarohanam and chariot procession, even such untoward events should not stop the pre fixed schedule and the Lord’s events should take place as planned says Vasan Bhattar.

Changing Times and its impact
This was largely followed till a few decades ago in almost all Divya Desams. However, times have changed and the new generation on the back of an anti brahminical wave from the 1960s and 70s (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/thenthiruperai-divya-desam.html) have made their way to the West seeking greener pastures in the corporate world. Given this completely changed scenario, even the once most traditional of residents are playing it tough now and making the Lord wait beyond the once acceptable time for clearing such obstructions reasoning that the descendants have to make their way for the event from other destinations.

In the past, the families stayed together in the agraharam, the service personnel to conduct the activities were also residing in the same area and hence it was possible to finish within the stipulated time. And hence rarely did a procession get delayed for such reasons.

However, things have changed dramatically. For example, at the Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam, the streets on which the Lord makes his procession is now full of shops, eat outs and towering apartments in many cases taller than the Vimanam of the temple. There are big cars parked on the Mada and Car streets that many times affect the easy movement of the Lord.  And in many cases these belong to the traditionalists living in these streets ( Last night just after 11pm, one of the former staffers at the  temple Madapalli, in a moment of anger, removed the air from couple of tyres of a car parked opposite the Rama Sannidhi in the  presence of the Police personnel).

Following the death, there were differing views amongst the service personnel and devotees. There were those who wanted to protest as a group demanding the quick removal of the body where as the devotees were a little apprehensive on the rights of the temple considering the sensitivities involved with this.

While much has changed in the decades gone by in terms of the lifestyle of the traditionalists at the temples in Tamil Nadu, it still remains within the powers of the temple to force a clearance of obstructions on the streets where the Lord makes his way on a procession for that is the unwritten  (in some cases even a written undertaking as seen in Therazhundur Divya Desam) code of conduct that the residents agreed to abide by once upon a time in the sacred streets of Divya Desam. Today they are talking a different language forgetting the historical reasons of having taken up residence in these streets and standing firm on such occasions.

Spotlight turns on the Azhvaar 
As it turned out, the Simha Vahanam procession had to be cancelled on the 2nd evening of the Brahmotsavam as was the popular Garuda Sevai on the 3rd morning as the resident did not agree to clear till the next morning. The devotees also discussed amongst themselves that this was a way for the greatest of the Azhvaars, NamAzhvaar to show his power,  for the 3rd day of the Brahmotsavam also co-incided with the annual avathara nakshatram of the Azhvaar.

And thus the focus on most of the 3rd day of the Brahmotsavam remained with NamAzhvaar with the devotee crowd gathering in large numbers to listen to the Prabhandham recital of the verses of the Azhvaar – Tiruviruttam, Tiruvasaryam and Periya Thiruvanthathi in addition to the 10th Canto of Tiruvoimozhi.

A Rare Occurence - Azhvaar has Garuda Sevai darshan
Also, the delayed clearance on the previous evening led to another unique feature. For the first time, NamAzhvaar had a Garuda Sevai darshan on the occasion his Avathara Utsavam. As the Garuda Sevai procession at the Brahmotsavam features in the morning and the NamAzhvaar Avathara Utsavam procession takes place in the evening, it is rare for NamAzhvaar to have Garuda Sevai darshan of the Lord of Thiruvallikeni. 
                                          
With the morning Garuda Sevai postponed on the third day (Saturday June 15) of the Brahmotsavam to 4.30 pm and with the Satru Murai of NamAzhvaar having been completed just an hour earlier, it provided an opportunity for NamAzhvaar to have this rare Garuda Sevai darshan of Narasimha Swamy at the Parthasarathy Perumal Divya Desam last evening.

Word was sent around to the devotees from across the city who usually gather in front of the Narasimha Swamy Raja Gopuram from 430 am on the occasion of the third day of the Brahmotsavam about the postponement of the Garuda Sevai to evening. And thus a huge crowd gathered around 4pm with each of the devotees wanting to take a vantage position for a first glimpse of the Lord on the Garuda Vahanam.

Shortly after, Namazhvaar made his way around Narasimha Swamy and positioned himself in front of the Lord to listen to the Moonram Thiruvanthathi recital of the Divya Prabhandham Scholars of Thiruvallikeni

The other debate of the day was whether ‘Eysel’, a prominent event of Garuda Sevai would take place.  While the offerings to the Lord on the street procession was done away with, much to the delight of the devotees Eysel was presented as per the original schedule. It was around 7pm that the Lord returned to his abode through the Western Entrance of the Parthasarathy Koil.

Devotional Commitment of Sri Patham and Divya Prabhandham Ghosti
For the over 100+ Sri Patham Thangis, there was very little time to rest for they had to come back within the next couple of hours to carry the Lord on the Hamsa Vahanam procession that was slated for the 3rd evening of the Brahmotsavam. It was commendable on the part of the traditional Sri Patham (one that has come to be almost non-existent in most of the Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu) to carry the Lord for over two hours again from 10pm having just undertaken a 2 ½ hour procession from 4.30 pm but they carried out the task with utmost devotion ( they were also back this morning at 6am for the Surya Prabhai procession after just a few hours of sleep on Saturday night).

And when the Lord on the Hamsa Vahanam came to rest at the Vahana Mandapam, it was well past midnight. 

The  Divya Prabhandham and Vedic scholars too had had a very long day having begun the day just around 10am with the postponed procession relating to the 2nd evening that was followed by Thirumanjanam for Lord Narasimha and Namazhvaar. The extended recital of Namazhvaar’s verses on the occasion of his Avathara Utsavam took almost three hours on this last day of Vaikasi. And then they were back at it in the evening for the two long Vahana processions. It was also a long and tiring day for other service personnel such as the archakas, paricharakas, the madapalli personnel and the nadaswaram players to move from the procession in the morning to the hectic activities that followed during the course of the day.
The two differentiating features of this Divya Desam continues to be the traditional way the Lord is carried, with the extraordinary commitment of the Sri Patham Thangis  like the ones in Srirangam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/12/sri-patham-thangis-srirangam.html) and the  Divya Prabhandham Ghosti who are seen in large numbers through the entire Brahmotsavam to present the 4000 verses over the 10 days of the festival (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/07/thiruvallikeni-prabhandham-ghosti.html). 

It was also touching to see the leader of the Divya Prabhandham Ghosti, MA Venkatakrishnan, unmindful of the injury to his leg, standing for over three hours in the afternoon presenting the verses of NamAzhvaar on the occasion of his Avathara Thiru Nakshatram, such is the commitment of the Ghosti at Thiruvallikeni ( http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/05/ma-venkatakrishnan-thiruvallikeni-divya_16.html).

PHOTO COURTESY: SHRI THIRUMALAI VINJIMOOR VENKATESH 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Nava Tirupathi Garuda Sevai

Thousands of devotees stay through the night to witness the Traditional Nava Tirupathi Garuda Sevai at Azhvaar Tirunagari

Former IT Staffer and Srirangam Madapalli service person now moves to Azhvaar Tirunagari performing selfless service at this Divya Desam

Bhagavathas present Bhajans through the night around the streets of Thiru Kurugur
NamAzhvaar
It is just after 5am on Monday morning. As one stands outside the Eastern entrance of the Polintha Ninra Piran Aathi Nathan temple in Azhvaar Tirunagari, there is a pleasant surprise. Lakshmi Narasimhan, former IT professional who quit the Srirangam Madapalli (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/07/srirangam-madapalli-transformation.html) within 9 months of joining is seen with a heavy Kudam on his shoulder carrying sacred water for the morning Vishwaroopam. Later in the day, he is seen carrying the sacred food on his head during various events that unfold as part of the 9 Garuda Sevai in Nava Tirupathi as part of the 5th day celebrations of the Nam Azhvaar Utsavam. As he goes about his service, one is reminded of his commitment and devotion that he displayed at the Ranganathaswamy Swami temple in Srirangam.
Traditional in his attire and even more traditional in the way he carried out his service to the Lord showcased how service personnel should conduct themselves in front of the Lord.  The unanswered question remains as to how such a devoted person quit the Srirangam Temple / was allowed to let go by the temple authorities in Srirangam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/11/lakshmi-narasimhan-quits-srirangam.html).

The temple personnel at the Aathi Nathan Divya Desam point out that starting from the Ramanuja Utsavam last month, he has been at the temple providing various kinds of services in a quiet way. He rarely talks with people. He eats only the sacred food and that in very limited quantity. He probably bathes in the Tamaraibarani and he even sleeps in the space available in the Nandavanam.

He has generally won the admiration of the service personnel at the temple for his devotional service.

With the Vaikasi utsavam being celebrated this time in the first fortnight of June, the fifth day utsavam co-incided with the onset of the South West monsoon. The thick early morning clouds and the light rains meant that each of the Nava Tirupathi Lords had to wait it out at different locations before making their entry into Azhvaar Tirunagari.
By 6am, the temple wore a noisy look with highly devoted Telugu Bhagavathas from Andhra presenting themselves in large numbers for the Utsavam. After the daily morning rituals at the Azhvaar Sannidhi, Nam Azhvaar was decorated in a grand alankaram. At 10am after the Thodakkam of Tiruviruttam, the 5th day Iyarpa Paasurams,  Namazhvaar positioned himself at the mandapam at the Eastern Entrance of the temple to welcome each of the Nava Tirupathi Lords.
As per the protocol, the message was sent out to the Jeer Mutt at the West end of Azhvaar Tirunagari that Nam Azhvaar was waiting to receive the First Three Lords. Kallarpiran from Sri Vaikuntam, Em Idar Kadivaan from Natham Varagunamangai and Kaisina Venthar from Thiru Pulingudi began their trip from the North Car Street one behind the other with the Sri Patham having to adjust to the heavy morning traffic, this now also being the Tirunelveli- Tiruchendur Highway.

Mangalasasanam of the Nava Tirupathi Lords
It is past 11am when the first three Lords reach the temple entrance to a rapturous welcome from the several hundreds of devotees who have been there for an hour to listen to the mangalasasanam by Araiyar Natha Muni of Nam Azhvaar’s Tiruvoimozhi verses on these three Lords. For the next 90 minutes, Parthasarathy Bhattar of Madhava Perumal Temple in Mylapore provides a running commentary on the specifics of the event as one Lord after another are welcomed by Nam Azhvaar.

It is close to 1pm when the mangalasasanam of the visiting Nava Tirupathi Lords is complete and each of them have made their way into the temple and positioned themselves in their respective locations allocated for them.
Led by the Ghosti that rendered the Tiruviruttam verses, Nam Azhvaar provided darshan around the 8 streets of Azhvaar Tirunagari for the next hour including having a stopover at the Uthiradi Mutt.The events of the morning ended with the Tiruviruttam Satru Murai in front of the temple leaving everyone with a couple of hours of rest after a hectic programme in the first half.
As the evening dawns, the entire Sannidhi Street wears a historical festive look with stalls lined up through the entire street (many of them food stalls selling non-traditional food varieties in line with the modern trend).

Simultaneous Thirumanjanam of the visiting Nava Tirupathi Lords was the highlight of the evening with devotees taking vantage positions to watch the sacred bath of their favourite Lord. 

Devotional Prabhandham Ghosti
At the eastern entrance of the temple where Nam Azhvaar had taken position through the 2nd half, a large contingent of prabhandham scholars present a loud and devotional rendering of the fifth canto of Tiruvoimozhi giving us a glimpse of how things would have in the centuries gone by in this ancient Divya Desam. Particularly impressive was Elayavalli Srinidhi who for an hour gave it his utmost presenting the verses in full high pitch ( one could hear his differentiated voice far away)  almost bringing tears in the eyes of the devotees who listened to the recital.

Garuda Sevai Alankaram
 The next couple of hours served as the time for the alankaram of the Divya Desam Lords for the Garuda Sevai Purapadu. Each of the teams worked on showcasing their Lord as the best. However, in the process a few of them also took to modern alankarams. Tradition has it that on the night each of the visiting Divya Desam Lords has to be decorated in the Raja Alankaram providing darshan to the Azhvaar who was seen in a welcoming posture with a Kanniunnd Siritha ambu maalai and with a Kaalimaaran Kondai

The Raja alankaram involves the Lord placing one hand on his knees and holding a parrot in the other hand. But in the process to impress the audience, alankarams of Lords from Perungulum, Erettai Tirupathi were seen with rose garlands, fruits elakkai garland, LED blinking bulbs much against the tradition that left the traditionalists disappointed at the turn of events.

Only Lords from Thenthiruperai and Srivaikuntam were seen exclusively with only traditional flowers such as Arali, Mallipoo and Vritchi garlands. Soon after 11pm when the screens opened, devotees went from one Lord to another around watching the different alankarams.
                   Nigaril Mugil Vannan
Most of them gave the top position to the Nigaril Mugil Vannan, the Lord from Thenthiruperai who had the most traditional of and the grandest of flower garlands.

An apple and orange garland for Mayakoothan the Lord of Perungulum seemed a bit of place at this traditional festival but that has come to be the norm in many temples with un-traditional ways of alankaram to please the devotees and to showcase how one is different from the other.
Through the night procession
It was well past 1am when the big door opened at the Eastern Entrance for the last of the Lords, Vaitha Maa Nidhi from Thiru Kolur to make his way out of the temple for the night long Garuda Sevai procession around the 8 streets of Thiru Kurugur. Right from 10pm, the bhagavathas who had congregated at the temple from across the state and from Andhra presented bhajans in different groups sitting on the sacred streets. The residents sat with in front of their respective homes waiting with their presentation for the Lord. Finally just after 1.30am, Polintha Ninra Piraan led the way with Nam Azhvaar on Anna Pakshi Vahana following the Lord from Azhvaar Tirunagiri. For the next 5 hours, the Lords from Nava Tirupathi along with NamAzhvaar and Madura Kavi Azhvaar provided darshan to the devotees of Thiru Kurugur.

Devotees presented the Service Personnel with juices and milk to energise the Sripatham in their night effort. A disheartening feature in the Divya Desam in this region is that unmindful of the difficulties of the Sri Patham, the carriers of the Lord, it has become customary for every resident in the 8 big streets to present their offerings to each of the Lords only in front of their homes. This has necessitated stoppages at every single house during the procession. One really wonders as to why 3-4 of the traditional residents cannot offer their presentations in front of their neighbours' home and why they expect the Lord to stop right in front of their homes. This meant that the Lord stopped in front of every single home through the 5 hour procession making it even more tedious for the Sripatham. It was commendable of them that no one seemed to be complaining.

As the Lords made their way on to the North Car street, now also the Tiruchendur highway,  a few of the support service personnel from some of these temples showcased their power. With the clock ticking past 4am, the first set of buses carrying devotees to Tiruchendur made their way to Azhvaar Tirunagari. However, with the service personnel refused to allow these public transport buses to move ahead as the Lord was carried right in the middle of the road. Each of the stopovers too were less to the left leaving the big vehicles no option but to wait it out. When it was brought to the notice of the support staff of these temples, pat came the reply that the 'buses can wait'. The so called traditional residents of the street who only few hours earlier had recited the Divya Prabhandham too did not deem it fit to present their offerings from the road side and in each of the homes, they too stood right in the middle  of the road preventing vehicles from moving past. It is time that these traditionalists understood devotion in its true spirit. It seemed to the onlookers that this night belonged to them and that no one could ride past the Lord on the night.
Namazhvaar bids Farewell 
Just after 6am on Tuesday morning, Vaitha Maa Nidhi Perumal made his way to the eastern entrance where the prabhandham scholars were waiting for the rendering of the sacred verses bringing to end the Garuda Sevai procession. For the next 45 minutes, the archakas from the respective temples began winding down as the Lord shifted from the Garuda Sevai alankaram onto the simple palanquin for their return trip back to their divya desams.

As with the previous morning, when Nam Azhvaar waited at the entrance to welcome each of the Divya Desam Lords, he stayed this Tuesday morning to send off each of them after a rendering of the sacred verses relating to each of these Divya Desams. A highlight of this farewell event is that for Devarpiran alone, the Lord from Rettai Tirupathi, who the Azhvaar saw and praised as his own father and mother, he stayed a while longer till the time the Lord reached the far eastern corner of Azhvaar Tirunagari as a mark of an additional respect for his parents.

By 9am, there was a certain quietness about this Divya Desam. The stalls were gone. People got down to their daily routines. It had been a long 30 hour 5th day festival the grandest of the utsavams in the Nava Tirupathi region. Most of the archakas had had very little sleep over the last day and a half beginning with the pre trip alankaram at their respective Divya Desams on late Sunday night.

The role of HR & CE
The entire Nava Tirupathi Divya Desams is administered by the HR & CE. However, as with thousands of other temples across Tamil Nadu, they played a minimal role in terms of financial outlay for this biggest festival of Nava Tirupathi. The Sripatham for this Garuda Sevai festival alone cost upwards of Rs. 30000 for each of the visiting Divya Desams. The flower decoration for the festival cost at least another 30000 or so. In addition, there were Thaligai presentations to be made during the day and ahead of the purapadu. With the HR & CE not being able to take care of these expenses, they even suggested to pull out of the participation. And then at the last moment, as has been the case in recent times, it was left to the archakas of the Divya Desams to look out for donors to support the utsavam.
                     Devapiran, Rettai Tirupathi

Without exception it has now come to be that the HR & CE will grab every income opportunity at the temple but will not take responsibility for any expense at the temple festivals. And as was the case this year, they are comfortable with the Lords not making the temple to Azhvaar Tirunagari under the pretext that there weren’t donors to fund the festival and that the temple on its own did not have the financial wherewithal to run the festival trip.  The archakas had to use their ‘relationships’ with devotees to fund the festival to ensure that the Lords made the trip to Thiru Kurugur but clearly the lack of initiative and participation from the HR & CE has to be questioned.  Even the food arrangements for the 1000s of devotees who made the trip for the Garuda Sevai darshan came from the locals – either through the Mutts or the residents with the HR & CE not playing a role in feeding the visiting devotees.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Uthamar Koil Varadaraja Bhattar

After almost 60 years of devotional service, 75 year old Varadaraja Bhattar is still awaiting his pension, 15 years after his official retirement
At this ancient temple renowned for the Tri-Murthies Procession on Thiru Karthigai, the priest started with a monthly salary of Rs. 25 and retired four decades later at a salary of Rs. 60 per month

Looking at Service to Lord as an opportunity of a life time is the way he spent his life- a reason why even to this day devotees look up to his archanai and seek his blessings                     
In his Periya Thirumozhi praise, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar referred to Lords from four different temples in a single verse. Out of these, he has anointed the Lord of Uthamar Koil as the 'Perfect One' calling him as the Uthaman of Karambanur.

பேராணை குறுங்குடி எம்பெருமானை
 திருத்தங்காள் ஊரானை
கரம்பணுர் உத்தமனை

But it is not all so perfect at the moment at this ancient Divya Desam whose legend relates to Lord Shiva reaching here in a bid to find salvation from Brahmma’s curse. It was here at Uthamar Koil that Goddess Lakshmi herself filled the vessel with food thus ending Shiva’s hunger. He found salvation from the curse finally at Kandiyur Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/04/108-divya-desam-kandiyur.html).

75 year old Varadaraja Bhattar has been at the Divya Desam serving Lord Purushottamar and Poornavalli Thaayar for almost six decades now. He has seen through the highs and lows during this long period of time. He came here as a young 6 year old boy after his father Satyamurthi Bhattar acceded to the request from his relatives at Uthamar Koil to move here from their hereditary archaka service at Thiru Meiyam Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/03/thiru-meiyam-divya-desam.html).  

Satyamurthi Bhattar was a popular priest at Thiru Meiyam and devotees specifically visited the temple while he was on duty (7 days in a month).  Pudukottai Rai Bahadur Krishnamachiariar was one such devotee who was particularly fond of Satyamurthy Bhattar’s sweet rendition of the archanai.

No money to pay school fees in Srirangam
Varadaraja Bhattar had studied only till class 8, for his father did not have the financial wherewithal to send him to school at Srirangam. The school fees in Srirangam was just Seven Rupees Fifty Paise (Rs. 7/50) at that time but the salary at the temple and income from Thattu Kaasu at Uthamar Koil was just not enough to give his father the financial strength to send his son to high school education in Srirangam.

Instead his father sent him to learn agama from Valadi Ramakrishnan Bhattar and  Rama Jada Varadan at Uthamar Koil. His father passed away when Varadaraja Bhattar was not yet 20.  And thus he began his service at this Divya Desam at the age of 18 in the early 1960s at a monthly salary of Rs. 25. He would also be given three Kalam of Paddy.

In those decades, this was not an easily accessible Divya Desam being on the Northern Banks of Coloroon. There were very few devotees who would visit the temple in the 1960s. Varadaraja Bhattar would sit at the entrance of the Sannidhi waiting for the devotees so he could present the legend of the temple to them but most of the time they remained elusive. On peak days, he welcomed a maximum of 10 devotees for a return of Rs. 3 as Thattu Kaasu. In those days, his eyes would light up when he saw a 25 paise coin for even that was a rare occurrence. It was a financially challenging couple of decades for Varadaraja Bhattar and his family. 
A special feature in those decades at Uthamar Koil was that this was the location for Weddings. Even those from Srirangam organised their wedding at Uthamar Koil. Once in 1965, 95 weddings took place on a single day at this Divya Desam. Of course, the priests did not benefit financially from these weddings as it was usually a very simple ceremony. Following the wedding, meals was organised at the surrounding huge mango groves, which is where the crowds gathered.

No share in archanai tickets
Historically, the archakas were paid Rs. 2 for every archanai ticket but with HR & CE gaining dominance in TN temples, this has come to be stopped in recent decades with the HR & CE coughing up the entire income from archanai tickets. In fact, at a financially weak moment, the HR & CE took it from the service personnel at the temple that they would not demand any share from HR & CE’s income at the temple. Unfortunately, this has had a negative impact on the Sirpanthigals who became even weaker, financially.

Four Delicious Meals a day turns into simple white rice now
Till the 1960s and 70s,  the Lord was fed a sumptuous meal through the day with high quality Ghee Pongal in the morning, Curd Rice for Lunch, Vadai in the evening and Aravanai as the final meal of the day. With HR & CE ‘s power increasing across temples, the authorities cut off the menu for the Lord completely a few decades ago, even though the temple owned over a 100 acres of land.

In recent decades, the Lord has come to be presented with just the simple white rice!!! And the delicacies have become a thing of the past at this Divya Desam. As with most other temples, there is very little income accruing to the temple from the lands owned by them.

After his father’s death, Varadaraja Bhattar performed pooja at four other nearby temples to garner some additional income to help sustain his family.  It was the income from these temples that helped him buy new clothes for his family every Deepavali. As with many priests across remote Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu, Varadaraja Bhattar went through turbulent times between the 1960s and 80s. His entire youth was spent waiting for the devotee and some thattu kaasu that he could take back home.

The gaining popularity of Guru Peyarchi and the belief in its related positive financial transformation for devotees led to a sudden influx  at the temple from the 1990s. The Brahmma and Saraswathi Sannidhis gained prominence and devotees have been thronging these two Sannidhis of late.

Gets Rs. 35 more per month after 43 years
After four decades of performing pooja, Varadaraja Bhattar retired officially about 15 years ago at a monthly salary of Rs. 60 that is an increase of Rs. 35 over a period of almost 43 years, handing over the reins to his eldest son. Since his retirement, he continues to visit the temple every day and perform service at the temple.

His mantra over a six decade has remained consistent and is symbolic of the life style of many of the bhattars from that period. A contented lifestyle, spending well with the means, looking at service to Lord as an opportunity of a life time is the way he has spent life and that is the reason even to this day devotees, young and old alike, look up to his archanai especially at the Thaayar Sannidhi and seek his blessings. 

At the age of 75, he continues to present the legend of the temple to every single devotee almost making a specific reference to Lord Shiva in each of his presentations (the Bikshandar Sannidhi is just behind the Thaayar Sannidhi at this Divya Desam).

His 4th Samprokshanam at the temple next month
Early next month, he would be overseeing the much delayed Samprokshanam at this Divya Desam, the fourth in his lifetime. That remains one of his happiest memories from his service at the temple – to be able to have the opportunity to perform four Samprokshanams in a single Divya Desam. The popular garment house of Saradas has been supporting the renovation activities over the last five decades ever since the time of his father.

In Thiru Meiyam Divya Desam, there were utsavams all through the year when he was a young boy. Here at Uthamar Koil, historically, there have been only 13 days of street processions, including 11 during the annual Brahmotsavam.

In a festival to celebrate the presence of the ‘Tri Murthies’ in a single Divya Desam, on the occasion of Thiru Karthigai, Brahmma, Shiva and Vishnu come out together on a procession providing a joint darshan to devotees around the four Mada Streets of Uthamar Koil in Thiru Karambanur on the Northern banks of Coloroon near Srirangam, the only such combined display of the Tri Murthies at a Divya Desam. 

No Pension 15 years after retirement
Even though it is 15 years since his retirement, Varadaraja Bhattar has still not got his pension with the HR & CE not having initiated action. Of course, it is not an isolated case for the Sthalathar Kulothuma Dasar at Thiru Kannapuram Divya Desam (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/11/thiru-kannapuram-divya-desam.html)  has not received his pension two decades after his retirement.


Only one of the sons has been provided the official employment as the priest at the Divya Desam. 35 year old Venkatesan Bhattar, who supports his elder brother,  is philosophical about the way temple worship has turned in recent times “Devotees no more have patience even with the Lord. Even as they enter this temple their mind is already on their next destination. They grow impatient when the screen is on even for ten minutes for an alankaram or a thaligai. But that is the general trend everywhere and temple is no different.”
 "Everyone eats well, three times a day. But we are not bothered about leaving the Lord hungry each day of the year. This Divya Desam was once renowned for the quality of the Thaligai. It is said that even those from Srirangam would visit this temple to taste the Thaligai. But now, the Lord is presented just a simple plain rice every day, while all of us continue to enjoy different varieties of food at home and outside." 

There is clear move towards attaining financial glory in the minds of everyone and people in all walks of life are pursuing a goal in that direction. He finds the hurried nature of the devotees as a disturbing trend “When I supported my father as a young boy in the 1990s, I found the few devotees who came this way spending some time at the temple understanding the legend and its historical importance. But of late, the tide has turned towards Brahmma driven by Guru Peyarchi and what it could do to a devotee’s financial growth. This has been endorsed by the clear reduction in devotee crowd in the last 3 ½ years after the Balalayam of the Brahmma and Saraswathi sannidhi.” 
The delayed renovation activities and the closure of few of the sannidhis has meant that the devotees have stayed away from the temple in recent years causing a severe dent in the finances of the priests. It is hoped that if the Samprokshanam takes place as planned in the 2nd week of July, the crowd would start making their way back to the temple later this year, especially to seek the blessings of Brahmma.

Varadaraja Bhattar though has absolutely no regrets in life. The non receipt of a single rupee by way of pension does not bother him. Neither did the lack of a reasonable salary in his life time. After six decades of service, the devotees look up to him and reach out to him for his archanai and blessings. They see his happy face as a sign of prosperity for them. He is happy that he has been able to marry off his sons and daughters and  been able to provide them with a roof over their heads. Financially things have turned around for the family in recent decades following the devotional wave in the state. More than anything else, he believes in the Lord of Karambanur and to this day, continues to perform service in the same devotional way like he did when he began all those decades ago as a young teenager.

The temple is open from 6am – 12.30pm and 4pm – 830pm

How to reach Uthamar Koil
Uthamar Koil is located about 2kms North of the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam on the Northern banks of Coloroon on the Trichy-Salem highway. Auto from Srirangam will cost Rs. 100. By bus, one can get down at Toll Gate and walk 10 minutes to reach the Divya Desam.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Thiru Gnana Sambandar Mukthi Utsavam Achalpuram

The Legendary Episode of Thiru Gnana Sambandar's Wedding on Vaikasi Kettai and his attaining Mukthi the very next morning on Moolam was played out in front of 1000s of devotees at Achalpuram

It is believed that entire temple town attained Mukthi that morning along with Thiru Gnana Sambandar and his wife
It was a festival to showcase the devotional commitment of the great Saivite Saint Poet Thiru Gnana Sambandar. The series of events in the life of young Thiru Gnana Sambandar is a great lesson to the devotees that sincere surrender to the Lord leads one to reach Him faster. If one invoked the blessings of the Lord with utmost sincerity and sought to reach Him, it is likely that the devotee will be shown the right path to attain Mukthi. In his specific case, the Lord was so moved by the devotion that He accepted the Saint Poet’s longing to be with Him and on the same night of his wedding provided Mukthi, not just to the Saint Poet and his newly married wife but to every single resident in the temple town of Achalpuram.

His 7th and Final Trip
Thiru Gnana Sambandar made frequent trips to different locations singing praise of the Lord in several temples before returning to Sirkazhi. It was during his 7th and what turned out to be the final trip that he reached Achalpuram. He sang the last of his verses on the Lord of Achalpuram. Referring to the Lord as Nallur Perumaan, he introduces himself as one from Sirkazhi and assures the devotees that those who offer their sincere prayers to the Lord at Achalpuram are sure to be liberated from their sins and attain Mukthi.   

The Legendary Episode of Mukthi
Ever lost in his thoughts of the Lord, Thiru Gnana Sambandar was disinterested in marriage but his father Shiva Paatha Iravayar suggested to him that the world would blame the parents for not finding the right match for their son. Accepting this emotional reasoning, he reluctantly agreed but his mind continued to be focused on reaching the Lord. The wedding formalities were performed at Achalpuram and he tied the knot to Poornaambigai, the daughter of Nambandar Nambi Embar, who belonged to this place. In memory of this episode, Thiru Gnana Sambandhar is seen in a separate sannidhi along with his wife in a wedding posture.

As he took his wife around the sacred fire, he received the message from Lord Thyagesar, who showed him the Shiva Logam signifying that his time had come. Soon after, a delighted Thiru Gnana Sambandar, along with his newly married wife, merged with the Lord here at this temple.

When the residents ran away seeing the huge fire behind Lord Thyagesar he asked Nandi to educate them on the importance of the true devotion of Thiru Gnana Sambandar. All the devotees were directed to bathe in the Panchakshara Theertham opposite the temple, following which they were enlightened and in the rarest of rare happening, every single resident of Achalpuram is believed to have attained Mukthi immediately after this legendary episode.

The sequence of the sacred thread ceremony of Gnana Sambandar, the entire wedding festivities, his final procession around the streets of Achalpuram and finally his merging with the Lord on the night of his wedding was played out in the most traditional way at the Shiva Loga Thyagesa temple in Achalpuram on Vaikasi Moolam on Tuesday (May 21).

   
Sacred Thread Ceremony of Bachelor Sambandar
The morning began with the sacred thread ceremony of bachelor boy Gnana Sambandar. Ahead of the event, Othuvar Swaminathan Desikar who had come all the way from Karur presented the life story and contribution of Thiru Gnana Sambandar in the form of a musical kutcheri. 
Following this, for one and a half hours starting 10.30am, the thread ceremony was performed in a traditional way ending with the three sacred strands of the thread that included ones in Gold and Silver, placed across the chest of Gnana Sambandar. The young boy went on a one hour procession around the streets of Achalpuram including the long agraharam before resting for a few hours at his historical house north of the temple.

Playing out a traditional Brahmin Wedding
By 8pm, several thousands of devotees had gathered from across the state to witness the wedding of Thiru Gnana Sambandar with Poornambigai. 
A special feature of the evening’s proceedings was the fact that the entire formalities of a traditional Brahmin wedding was played out in the outer prakaram. This included mappillai azhaippu, exchanging of garlands between the bride and the bridegroom and the oonjal activities, before the bride and bridegroom sat for the wedding at the grand stage created for the occasion. 
Merging with the Lord
Just after 2am, the newly married couple went around the streets of Achalpuram for the first and only time. Sharp at 4am, the Dikshithars from Chidambaram recited the sacred verses of Thiru Gnana Sambandar. Soon after the devotees in thousands saw a huge fire at the Moolavar Sannidhi and in a dramatic devotional moment, the great poet along with his wife entered the fire and merged with the Lord bringing to end the Vaikasi Moolam Utsavam that brought to life the legendary episode of Thiru Gnana Sambandar attaining Mukthi.

The Alankaram Expert from Kondal, Sirkazhi

Babu Gurukal has been performing pooja at the Kondal Murugan temple, near Sirkazhi for 30 years. His father had been an alankaram expert for six decades. Babu Gurukal was specifically roped from Kondal  for three different alankarams- first Gnana Sambandar as a bachelor boy for the sacred thread ceremony in the morning. 
Later in the evening, he decorated the bride in a simple style for the Mappilai Azhaippu. Finally, the alankaram that gave him a great sense of satisfaction- Thiru Gnana Sambandar and Poornambigai in a grand wedding attire decked with 1kg of Golden jewelry and silk vastrams, one that took him close to two hours. The alankaram also included presenting the scented Shenbagam garland and cardamom garland.

Achalpuram is located 5kms east of Kollidam on the Northern Banks of the Cauvery. The temple is open from 630am-12noon and 430pm-8pm.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi Avathara Utsavam

The Avathara Utsavam of the Revered Acharya of Ramanuja was celebrated over 10 days at Thiru Koshtiyur Divya Desam 

Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi was seen in a grand Nachiyar Thiru Kolam at his birthday procession around the streets of Thiru Koshtiyur on Monday ( June 3)
It is the morning of Vaikasi Rohini, the birthday of the legendary Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi, the acharya of Ramanuja and the one who is credited with initiating Thiru Mandhiram and Charama Slokam secrets in his disciple. 

While the Brahmotsavam receives attention and is well supported by devotees, the contribution of revered acharyas is often forgotten in such remote locations. In the century gone by, the entire East Street comprised of families belonging to the Nambi family. 100s of Nambi descendants lived in the vibrant agraharam.  West of the temple was where the Vadakalais lived. There was great unity in those times between the Thengalayars and Vadakalaiyars. There were also the Smarthas who lived on the Northern side of the temple. Thiru Koshtiyur was renowned for its Patshalas that taught all the four Vedas. 

However, with the passing of time the traditional families have come down to just a few. The descendants of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi led by Adyapaka Ramanuja Nambi continue to live in the Thiru Maligai on the Eastern street and the family has been trying its best to celebrate the  10 day Avathara Utsavam of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi in as traditional a way as possible at the Sowmya Narayana Perumal temple in Thiru Koshtiyur. 

Adyapaka Ramanuja Nambi had roped in prabhandham scholars from different divya desams including from Srirangam to present the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham over the 10 days of the Utsavam.

The descendants of Nambi too have the rights with respect to the Sannidhi including decorating the acharya on festive occasions. 

It is just after 7am on Monday morning (June 3). Adyapaka Ramanuja Nambi and his son Srinivasan are giving the final touches to the alankaram ofThiru Koshtiyur Nambi. At 8am,  as the screen opens in front of the Nambi Sannidhi, one finds him in a grand silk vastram with glittering jewelry.
The Sri Patham Thangis who had committed to making that morning are not to be seen leaving the Nambi descendants in a quandary. The adyapakas themselves then take it upon themselves to carry the acharya to the Sowmya Narayana Perumal for mangalasasanam. After the recital of the prabhandham verses, the huge garland adorned by Sowmya Narayana Perumal was presented to Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi in recognition of his services and for sharing the secret mantras with Ramanuja giving him a majestic princely look.

This was followed by mangalasasanam at Thirumamagal Sannidhi and Andal Sannidhi.

As is the case these days in many divya desams, especially in remote locations, shortage of and absence of Sri Patham Thangis meant that the street procession of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi was dispensed with and he had to accept a simple procession around the outer prakara. The few devotees that gathered at the temple on this sacred occasion enquired about street procession but there simply weren't enough personnel to carry the Acharya on this hot summer morning around the four big streets that would have taken well over an hour to complete.

While there are issues with carrying the Lord and acharyas in remote locations, the descendants of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi had made arrangements for adyapakas to present the 4000 sacred verses over the 10 day period. For around 90minutes, they presented in a highly devotional tone the 10th canto of Tiruvoimozhi followed by Upadesa Ratna Malai in the presence of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi and his disciple Ramanuja.

It was almost 2 pm on this hot summer day in Vaikasi when the long Satru Murai concluded.  By now local residents had gathered in large numbers. Adyapaka Ramanuja, who anchored the 10 day utsavam, provided a sumptuous meal to those present at the temple much to the delight of the local residents leaving them with a happy feel. Many others who came late too were fed well by Nambi's descendants.
The evening of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi’s Thiru Nakshatram is usually the time for a grand Pushpa Pallakku street procession around the four big streets of Thiru Koshtiyur.  Shortage of staff as well as donors meant that this grand procession too was called off leaving Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi to make his way around the streets on a simple palanquin. However, devotees were enthralled to witness Nambi in a terrific Nachiyar Kolam alankaram decorated by the descendants of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi.

Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi's contribution
Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi, an Acharya of Ramanuja, is credited with bringing fame and spreading the name of Ramanuja to the world at large. It is also an indication of the greatness of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi that the Lord of Srirangam himself directed Ramanuja to visit Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi and secure the secret mantras from him so that can be spread to the world for the devotees to benefit.

One of the beliefs is that Lord Narayana who provided darshan as Lord Nambi in Thiru Kurungudi was born as Nam Azhvaar in the Udayanangai Kshatriya mada Nadar Kulam  (referred to as Thiru Kurungudi Piran) and that he was born as Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi also referred to as Thiru Kurugai Piran.

Ramanuja, in his 30s, visited Thiru Koshtiyur 17 occasions to meet Nambi and secured one relevant message each time. It was only on the 18th trip that he undertook by walk from Srirangam that he was initiated with the Thiru Mandhiram secret as well as the Charama Slokam.

Ramanuja gets Emberumaanar Title at Thiru Koshtiyur
Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi initiated the secret Mantra at his house on the East Street, subject to one condition that Ramanuja would not share it with anyone else and that if he failed, he would go to hell. Having learnt the Thiru Mandhiram, Ramanuja came up to the 3rd tier of the towering Sowmya Narayana Perumal temple, called out for the people and recited the Thiru Mandhiram to the world at large.

Shocked at this ‘break of promise’, Nambi questioned Ramanuja on his failure to keep up the promise and the consequence of this ‘public’ utterance. In a stunning reply, Ramanuja said ‘By sharing the Thiru Mandhiram, I alone (one person only) will go to hell but by having shared it with the world at large, several people will get Moksham.’ And hence, he was ready to go to hell.

Delighted with Ramanuja’s reply, Nambi called him ‘Ne Emperumaal Aanar’ (you have become my Lord). Hence the credit for the title of ‘Emberumaanar’ goes to Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi. It is also believed that it was with the intention of spreading the life time messages to the world and to showcasing the greatness of Ramanuja and his determination to secure the secret mantras that Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi decided on making Ramanuja visit Thiru Koshtiyur 18 times.

In memory of this episode, there are separate sannidhis for both Ramanuja and Nambi at the eastern entrance of the temple. Outside the Nambi Sannidhi is a board that contains the list of 18 messages that Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi initiated Ramanuja with.

On the third tier, on the Southern side, there is a beautifully sculpted statue of Ramanuja in a sitting posture to mark the ‘Thiru Mandhiram’ pronunciation to the world.

Nambi assigns Kidambi Aachan as Ramanuja's cook
When Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi heard that Ramanuja was on a fasting spree after being poisoned on a trip around the streets of Srirangam to collect food, he reached the banks of the Cauvery. When Ramanuja saw his acharya, he fell down in full stretch at the feet of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi in the scorching hot sun on the sands of the Cauvery. Much to everyone’s shock, Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi did not ask his disciple to get up leaving the entire body of Ramanuja burning in heat.  An angry Kidambi Aachan, a prime disciple of Ramanuja, questioned this seemingly unruly act of Nambi.

Delighted at this enquiry, Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi presented the real reason for his trip to Srirangam and that Kidambi Aachan was the ideal student to serve Ramanuja. He assigned Kidambi Aachan as the cook to serve food to Ramanuja from that day.

His own son as Ramanuja's disciple
Later, Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi also assigned his son Therkaazhvaan as a student of Ramanuja to be initiated under him.  Thus his own son became the disciple of his disciple for he considered Ramanuja as the greatest Vaishnavite Acharya.
  
The Bottomline
While the programme schedule pasted on the walls of the temple under the signature of Severkudiyan, the EO of the Sivaganga Samasthanam administered temple, indicated a big street procession in the morning and a Pushpa Pallakku procession in the evening on the occasion of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi's birthday, the EO was not present on this sacred occasion to celebrate the birthday of the acharya of Ramanuja, such is the scant respect provided to a revered acharya by the Sivaganga Samasthanam. It is the temple administrators who role it is to ensure that Sri Patham Thangis are present in sufficient numbers for the procession and also ensure the orderly conduct of the Utsavam in a manner as per the official announcement. 

However almost everything is left in the hands of the descendants of Nambi, as far as this Utsavam is concerned - to secure the donors, the Sri Patham, the flower garlands, among other things.

Slow renovation efforts
Renovation efforts too are going at a snail’s pace at the temple. The initiative of the golden vimanam had begun almost 15 years ago but nothing has progressed on that front leaving devotees to wonder as to why that can’t be deferred to a future period if the Samasthanam is not keen on the Golden Vimanam at the moment. The Shiva Sannidhi that had been dug up a few years ago continues to be closed. 

One of the devotees who turned up on the morning of the Nambi's avathara utsavam and wanted to perform an archanai at the Shiva Sannidhi was informed that it was closed and darshan was not possible. This has been the state for a few years now at the Shiva Sannidhi and many other sannidhis at the temple that have been under ‘balalayam’.
The only saving grace of the utsavam was that the descendants of Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi  seem to continue to serve their forefathers with devotion presenting the sacred verses each day of the avathara utsavam wanting to do their best in conducting the utsavam in as traditional a way as it once was. They are also looking to renovate Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi's historical Thiru Maligai and are hoping that the disciples residing worldwide would come forward and support the rebuilding initiative.

The temple is open from 7.30 am –12.30 pm and 5 pm-8 pm

How to reach 
Thiru Koshtiyur is 8 kms South West of Tirupattur, 25 kms North of Sivaganga and about 30 kms West of Karaikudi. Buses ply every 10-15 minutes between Tiruppatur and Sivaganga

Direct trains ply every evening from Chennai Egmore to Sivaganga.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

MA Venkatakrishnan Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam

One of a kind personality in the Vaishnavite Sect
- Leader of Prabhandham Ghosti, Head of Vaishnavism Dept, Madras University, Author of 25 books with special interest in Palm Leaf Manuscripts, Editor and Publisher of a Journal for 40 years, One of the first to provide LIVE TV commentary on a Divya Desam Utsavam, Upanyasakar and a Fanatic ‘Thengalayar’ supporter 

He has just completed prsesenting the 4000 sacred verses along with prabhamdham ghosti at the two 10 day utsavams at Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam- firat the Brahmotsavam and then the Ramanuja Avathara utsavam.

Unmindful of the hot sun, the 64 year old  Dr. MA Venkatakrishnan will soon be off to the Varadaraja Perumal  divya desam in Kanchipuram to be part of the prabhandham Ghoati at the ten day Brahmotsavam there. Such is his commitment to the prabhandham ghosti as well as to protecting the rights of the Thengalayars.

He may have just as many detractors as supporters even within Thiruvallikeni but he is vocal in safeguarding the rights of the Prabhandham Ghosti. Also, he has no qualms at the general perception of him being a Thengalai Fanatic. Be as that may be, MAV, as he is fondly called, is a rare personality in the Vaishnavite community with stellar achievement over the last five decades. He has provided quite a diverse mix of services in the Vaishnavite world, one that almost none others have possessed in the decades gone by. This rather unique story of this one of a kind personality began right at birth or rather even when he was in the womb of his mother, for in a family of four brothers he turned out to be the only one with strong interests in Vaishnavism.

Leading up to his birth, his mother, Rukmini spent 48 days in the historical temple town of Thiru Narayanapuram in Melkote (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/10/thiru-narayana-perumal-in.html) going around the Pushkarani and invoking the blessings of Lord Selva Pillai. She would then listen to the Kalakshepam of Thirumalai Iyengar and have her first meal of the day only after noon, most times well after 1pm.
It was the fruits of such a sincere penance  at Melkote (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2012/04/vaira-mudi-utsavam-melkote.html) that she was blessed with a son who through his entire life of over six decades has been associated in a strong way in promoting Vaishnavism. Even in her final days, when she found it difficult to walk, his mother (she passed away last year) would take delight in listening to her son’s explanation of the inner meaning of the Divya Prabhandham verses of the Azhvaars.

It was not for MAV to play tennis ball cricket around the streets of Thiruvallikeni in the 1950s and 60s much like the other boys his age and most of his other family members. Instead right from the time he was 6, MAV spent time going to Kalakshepams of Annankaracharya Swami along with his athai (aunt) Krishnammal. He knew no sport or any other pastime other than listening to historical stories of the Lord. Through most of his childhood, he was surrounded by idols and vahanas. Alankaram of the Lord and decoration of the vahanas were the only games he knew of. His forefathers belonged to the Mysore Pradhans and were ministers in the province. In this large family of brothers and aunts, MAV emerged as the first with such a serious intent to promote Vaishnavism. 

With his aunt taking him around to Kalakshepams, almost his entire childhood was spent under the tutelage of Annankarachariar Swami, who spotting the devotional interest asked him to get initiated into the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham. He would often throw up probing questions at the young kid in public on Divya Prabhandham verses and get Venkatakrishnan to answer. By the time he was 16 years old, Annankarachariar Swami coronated him with the title of ‘Medhavi Mani’. He would also get the young kid to present a few verses all of a sudden in front of a large audience. It was one such announcement that led MAV to present his first ever Upanyasam on the Thiruppavai verses before he had touched 20. Seeing the early interest of MAV, he initiated him into the entire process of publishing including proof reading, composing pages and printing. In 1974, when Annankarachariar Swami was to put together a detailed commentary on Tiruvoimozhi, he handed Rs. 1Lakh to MAV and asked him to manage the entire process of the publication which comprised of 6 volumes each running up to 500 pages. This gave Venkatakrishnan both the administrative capability as well as an extreme interest in publishing books on Vaishnavism.

Launches Monthly Journal at 24
Following this experience, Venkatakrishnan exchanged a number of letters expressing interest to start a monthly journal of his own to propagate Vaishnavism. Annankarachariar Swami was initially apprehensive for it was not easy to put together content every month within a certain deadline, let alone managing the process of printing and marketing the journal.
Once again, MAV’s convincing ability came to the fore and with the blessings of Annankarachariar Swami (who suggested that it be named after the Lord of Thiruvallikeni as Gitacharyan), he launched the first edition of the journal as a young 24 year old in 1978. This has now seen four decades without a break.

He had by then already provided LIVE Commentary on Doordarshan for the Kal Garuda Sevai at Nachiyar Koil.

After being initiated with the sacred verses by Goplan Iyengar of Vanamamalai Mutt, in Thiruvallikeni in the late 1960s, Venkatakrishnan began what was to be one of his closest relationships in his early life. He learnt the rest of the Prabhandham verses from Kavalkani Ananthacharya Swami (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/07/thiruvallikeni-prabhandham-ghosti.html) who was the secretary of the Prabhandham Ghosti at Thiruvallikeni. If the association with Annankarachariar Swami led him into understanding the nuances of Divya Prabhandham, his association with Ananthachariar Swami gave him an entry into kainkaryam at the temple.

A Puny Sanskrit Teacher at 20 addressing 90 plus students
It was a phase he also learnt Sanskrit from Damal Srinivasan (almost four decades later, Venkatakrishnan and Perundevi (Damal Srinivasan’s daughter) .shared the stage together on Doordarshan to present LIVE commentary for the Samprokshanam at the Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam a few years ago). That initiation led him into being the only applicant for BA Sanskrit at the Vivekananda College (the rest of the students were ‘forced’ entrants). No sooner did he complete his graduation, he was offered a lecturer’s post at the college. Just past 20 and puny in stature, he was apprehensive of addressing a strong 90+ student batch of PUC. However, his professor convinced him of his inherent talent and he began teaching Sanskrit, a post that he held for a decade. This experience was to hold him in good stead during his three decade long association with the Vaishnavism Department at the Madras University.

Prabhandham Acharya
By the mid 1970s when he just in his early 20s Venkatakrishnan had already begun teaching Divya Prabhandham to young kids in Thiruvallikeni. The strength of the students numbering over 50 remains the highest to this day at Thiruvallikeni. Many of his students are now an integral part of the Ghosti.

His Magnum Opus
Listening to the Kalakshepams of Govinda Narasimhachariar Swami, who came all the way from Srirangam exclusively for MAV and having already been exposed to the publishing route, MAV began a long journey of publishing books. The Magnum Opus of his life has been the publication of an 800 page book comprising of anecdotes from the Divya Prabhandham interspersed with intricate meanings of the verses of the Saint Poets.  It has been such a hit with the readers that it has gone into 7 reprints. He was also presented the Doctorate in Literature for this effort.

Palm Leaf Manuscripts
Yet another of his differentiated interests in life was to read from Palm Leaf manuscripts. After intense efforts of searching historical literature, he came up with a Vyakyanam for the Iyarpa verses. The effort included searching and finding relevant manuscripts, physically checking each of the 700 folios, oiling and cleaning the manuscripts and reading each one with lens. It was with support from his wife  whom he married in November 1982 that he was able to successfully complete this book. The two would sit for three hours each evening from 9pm to scan through the entire manuscripts.  

MAV and Vaishnavism Dept at the Madras University
When the 125th anniversary celebrations of Madras University were to be held, advocate NC Raghavachari, who fought many of the court cases relating to the temple, sought MAV’s help in idea generation for the event. It was on MAV’s suggestion that the Vaishnavism department was launched at the University. Much to MAV’s surprise, he was asked to be part of the launch team. Thus he began his Vaishnavism teaching career alongside the then stalwarts M Narasimhachari and Raghavan, a career that extended for almost the next three decades.

Though Narasimhachari was the HOD, he was a rather quiet personality and it was MAV, the marketer who built a strong network within the University so much so that many in the University would come searching for MAV, the HOD. Such was the humility of Narasimhachari that he would let it be and would often inform the visitors that HOD Venkatakrishnan had gone out and that he would inform the HOD once he is back. This was a story that he would often narrate to an embarrassed MAV, one that would end with the remark ‘You will anyway head and steer this department one day’.

After the launch of the Vaishanvism department, MAV encouraged his wife to take up Vaishnavism and later she on went on to become a lecturer at the University. And the two worked together in the department for over two decades.

Temple Service
The late 80s and the 90s saw him move closer to temple service though it was a rather quiet time for him as a Ghosti member. 
He was keen on performing the Kattiyam service while he could anyway be part of the prabhandham recital even standing even in the last row. It was only after the successful conduct of the Samprokshanam in 1992 (that MAV anchored in terms of fund collection), that he was finally asked to join the adyapaka team. In 1999, he became the Secretary of the Adyapaka Ghosti, a post that he has now held for 20 years. It was a phase that has seen a big revival of the Ghosti, now seen in big strength at the temple.

MA Venkatakrishnan has many achievements to his credit over the last five plus decades – author of 25 books, running a monthly journal for over 480 issues, 45 years of Upanyasam, anchoring and managing the success of the Ghosti for over two decades, heading the Vaishnavism Dept at the University for a decade and more recently training the next generation of Kalakshepam scholars. He has been a prominent face in this Divya Desam that is renowned for Prabhandham recital. And it is likely that he will continue to be a motivating force for the next generation of Prabhandham experts. 

For all his push for the Thengalai rights, Venkatakrishnan had just over a decade ago tried to stitch together a solution that should have been seen as a step in the right direction. Forming a committee with representatives from all the Mutts including from Ahobila Mutt and Andavan Ashram, he tried to take the first step in resolving the long standing issues in temples through arbitration. However, the initiative was nipped in the bud with differences of opinion even at the formation stage with the result that the last decade has seen growing number of cases in courts.

Arbitration within the community may still be the way to resolving issues and MAV is hoping that someday the community will come together to discuss hard and find an amicable solution to the pending issues. If the arbitration model takes shape one day, there may be yet be a day during his lifetime when the Prabhandham Ghosti of Thengalayar and Vadakalayar will be seen together in Thiruvallikeni, Thiruvahindrapuram and Kanchipuram.

For now, though, he will be spending the next week or so on the sacred streets of Kanchipuram trying to continue the Prabhandham recital on the return trip of Varadaraja Perumal to the temple during the Brahmotsavam.