Thursday, November 14, 2019

Indhalur Tula Utsavam

Parimala Rangan provides darshan as Thiruvallikeni Parthasarathy and later atop the White Elephant in a princely attire on the 6th day of the Historical Tula Utsavam

Six Decades ago, there was no place to store Paddy inside the Temple Complex and the Sannidhi Street was full of traditional Vaishnavites - Today, there is no income from the temple lands, there are illegal occupants all around while the original inhabitants are far away in cities
It is just after 6am on the 6th day of the historically renowned Tula Utsavam at the Parimala Rangan temple in Thiru Indhalur, the only Divya Desam where Theerthavari takes place on each day of the Tula Month (Aipasi) and a temple that has a connect with another Thalai Changa Naan Mathiyam, about 20kms East (

Alankaram specialist Srikanthan Bhattar of Sirupuliyur Divya Desam has just decorated the Lord in a grand ‘Thiruvallikeni’ Parthasarathy Thiru Kolam. Historically, the 10 day Brahmotsavam in Aipasi referred to as the 'Tula Utsavam' has been the grandest of the festivals at this Divya Desam even more so than the one in Panguni. Till the 1960s, devotees from across the  State and the highly devoted from Andhra Pradesh congregated in large numbers for the sacred ‘Tula Snanam’ in the Cauvery as well as to watch the Lord go around the streets in different Vahanas in the night. Bhagavathas too participated in a big way during the ten day utsavam. It has been a historical practice for the Devar Adiyars (ladies from the North Street) to dance during the Thiruvanthikaapu with lamps.

Lord and Thayar were decked with glittering jewelries with the priests having a galaxy to choose from for each festive occasion. The devotees lined up the streets to check out the special alankaram of the day and spotted the pathakam and necklaces to go with the day's attire of the Lord. Such was the devotional vibrancy at this Divya Desam till about 60 years ago.

The Changed Scenario at Indhalur
Wednesday (November 13) morning presented a very different picture. There are just a handful of devotees for the Vishroopam just after 7am. As is the case with most remote Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu, there is just the one Bhattar to manage multiple Sannidhis during this Brahmotsavam period. After darshan of Parimal Rangan, the devotees are keen to move on to the Parimala Ranganayaki Sannidhi. However, a few more devotees await darshan of the Lord. During the first hour of the day, the frail looking Sridhar Bhattar shunts at least 10 times between the Perumal and Thayar Sannidhis each time locking the respective sannidhi. This morning was even more complicated for there was also the Utsava Deity positioned outside the Sanctum for the morning street procession. Sridhar Bhattar had to take care of three deities all by himself with a different set of devotees waiting for darshan of Moolavar Perumal, Moolavar Thayar and Utsavar Perumal all at the same time. Such is the morning of priests performing aradhana in historical Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu.

15 hours of non stop work - Muralidhara Dikshithar
Muralidhara Dikshithar has been a priest in Thiru Indhalur for the last 40 years having begun service as a young teenager at the Anjaneya Sannidhi opposite the Parimala Ranganatha temple. He joined service at the Divya Desam after his wedding in 1995 and has been here at the temple for almost 25 years. He is not a salaried staffer and depends only on Thattu Kaasu for his survival. As is the case with the big utsavams, the priest’s day does not end till late into the night. Muralidhara Dikshithar’s service after the evening procession on the 5th day lasted till midnight. On Wednesday morning, he reached the temple at 8am ahead of the purapadu (and worked till 11pm non stop).

Big Challenges ahead of Purapadu
As he entered the temple around 8am on Wednesday morning, he began to encounter problems – existing as well as new ones.The sacred food ahead of the morning procession was not ready. In most Divya Desams, the cooks at the madapalli are not paid enough. In a temple like Srirangam, even formal appointments at the madapalli has not taken places for decades!!! The cook is paid a measly sum in such Divya Desams and there is not enough motivation to prepare multiple menus as is the requirement on such big Utsavam days. The Sri Patham arrived one by one. Even much after the scheduled time, they were not in sufficient numbers to carry the Lord. Add to it, the sky turned dark leaving the question of going around the four big streets. And to top it, there were not too many devotees at the Brahmotsavam Sevai (for the few that turned up in the morning, it was Parikaram related visit). 

A Vibrant Divya Desam till the 1950s
Just over 60 years ago, the entire Sannidhi Street was filled with traditionalists who spent all their time in temple related activities. Divya Prabhandham and Vedic Recital was an integral part of this Divya Desam. There were full time Adyapakars and Vedic Scholars who performed daily service at the temple. Prabhandham Scholars from across the state made it to the Tula Utsavam such was the sanctity of the festival here in Aipasi.

Praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi, Thiru Indhalur is a Pancha Ranga Kshetram where the Lord is seen in a grand Veera Sayana Posture displaying his four hands with the entire moolavar Lord carved on a single stone, an exquisite piece of architecture.  The other Pancha Kshetrams are Srirangam, Srirangapatnam, Koviladi and Kumbakonam. There are several other sculptures inside the temple depicting historical episodes. Also, there are Navagraha stone carvings atop the roof at 6 different locations within the temple. Most of the structures are architecturally appealing. During the Era Pathu Utsavam, the Lord makes his way through the inner most prakara around the sanctum listening to sacred recitals. 
81 year old PS Srinivasan, a former Engineer at Lucas TVS (credited with setting up 14 manufacturing plants), belongs to the hereditary Theerthakar family, who have been performing service for centuries together, and returned to his roots on the Sannidhi Street a decade ago after working in the corporate world for four decades to be with the Lord during his post retirement days. Thiru Mangai Azhvaar himself in his praise refers to service at the Lord's feet for generations and asks the Lord for a darshan.

எந்தை தந்தை தம்மான் என்றென்று 
எமரேழ்  ஏழளவும் 
வந்து நின்ற தொண்டரோர்க்கே வாசிவல்லீரால் 
சிந்தை தன்னுள் முந்தி நிற்றீர் 
சிறிதும் திருமேனி 
இந்த வண்ணம் என்று காட்டீர் இந்தளூரீரே 

Srinivasan learnt the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham during the first 15 years of his life. He and other boys his age were even put to test by the revered Annankaracharya. 

He has vivid memories of the life at this Divya Desam in the 1940s and early 50s  "The North Street was full of musicians, those that played the sacred instruments at the temple. Thiruchinnam signifying the commencement of the procession was so loud and sweet that it could be heard at the far Eastern end of the Sannidhi street. The drums beat aloud almost to deafening levels. We would all make our way to the temple after hearing the sounds emanating from the musical instruments. It took 1.5 hours for the Lord to reach the Eastern End of the Sannidhi Street such was the devotee strength that lined the two sides of the processional deity. Musicians would stand and sing during the Brahmotsavams. Madurai Mani Iyer and Ariyakudi Ramanuja have presented concerts  with the recital  going on for 3-4 hours non-stop during the utsavams."

Wealthy Divya Desam
Till the middle of the 20th Century, the temple had over 900 acres of land spread across the region. The harvest was so bountiful that paddy came in such large quantities that there was no space within the temple complex to store. During the Tula Utsavam, devotees and service personnel at the temple were served so much food and in such varieties that on most days they had to reject the servings for there was no more space (in the stomach) to consume. Madapalli was packed with cooks and parijarakarars in those decades. The land near the tank was a beautiful nandavanam and sacred flowers came from there for the Lord. The temple also had in its possession a ‘Velli Ratham’ built in the first half of the 20th century, one of the very few temples to have his ( Vaitheeswaran Koil was another to have at that point of time in the 1930s).

Many traditionalists and Theerthakars were teachers in local schools. They would perform service till 9am and then leave to the school. They would return to the temple in the evening for Nithyanusanthanam and other rituals. The practice was such that even the school fees for the traditionalists came out of the temple income. There were a lot of open spaces within the temple complex. Temporary tents were put up during Utsavam times to protect devotees as well as the Lord from the heat. Till the HR & CE gained dominance, it was a Trustee run temple and they ensured that traditional practices were adhered to.
But this day was no such. Just after 8.30 am, the Theerthakars (many of them residents in different cities have turned up for this Utsavam) and Adyapakars, were present for the start of the procession as were the young Vedic Scholars, a group of 4 who had made it from Madras to recite the Vedas through the 10 days of the Tula Utsavam. Parimala Ranganatha Swamy in the Parthasarathy Thiru Kolam finally made his way out of the temple just after 9 am on Wednesday morning.

At the Eastern end in front of the Anjaneya Temple, around 10 traditionalists began the recital of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s Thiru Indhalur Paasurams to welcome the Lord into the East Mada Street and then recited the fifth Canto of Periya Thirumozhi through the procession that was slated to go around the Four Big Streets. By the time, the Lord entered the North Street, the clouds had thickened. As seen recently at the Raja Mudi Sevai procession in Melkote (, the HR & CE would not even ensure the sacred streets are in order for a safe procession. The North Street had big bumps and it was difficult for the Lord to wade through the pits and holes. While making his way past this pit filled zone, the front tyres (most of the Divya Desam processions these days are on wheels) turned around in another direction but the Sri Patham held on . 

Almost as if the Lord had had enough of going through this tedious trip on the North Street, heavy rains lashed Indhalur. While the Adyapakars had made their way almost till the end of the North Street, the Lord took a detour and made a quick run back to the temple complex. Just after 10.30 am, the Adyapakars made their way back to the temple in pouring rain reciting the final verses of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s praise on Srirangam.

While the processional activity relating to the Brahmotsavam ended just after 11 am, it took another two hours for Muralidhara Dikshithar to wind up his work for the morning for it was around 1pm when the final set of outstation Divya Desam devotees had darshan of Moolavar Lord.

No Food in the day for the Priest
If one thought, he could go home for a well deserved lunch after 5 hours of non-stop work on this 6th day of the utsavam, he saw alankaram specialist Sirupuliyur Srikanthan Bhattar make his way into the temple to decorate the Lord for the evening procession. And thus Muralidhara Dikshithar combined with Srikanthan Bhattar to decorate Parimala Rangan, now mounted on the Elephant Vahana. By the time, this alankaram of the Lord had taken some shape it was already well past 3pm. The priest had not had food the whole day but continued with the day's work.

While the official Tula Festival invitation that went out from the HR & CE timed the evening procession for 6.30 pm, it was not until 8 pm that the Lord made his way out from the temple on the Elephant Vahana. Factors such as the presence of the Donor, the presentation of Thaligai ahead of the procession, the delivery of Flower Garlands ( many times from Sathari Veethi in Srirangam) and the arrival of Sri Patham with their full team determine the departure of the Lord in such Divya Desams. 

The four streets were dotted with white pulli kolams and the devotees welcomed the Lord, seen in a princely attire, with plantains, a favourite of the white elephant. The Lord made his way into the temple complex with the Adyapakars reciting the final verses of Periya Thiruvanthathi just after 9.30pm.
There was still a lot left on this long day for the Lord. For over half hour, Muralidhara Dikshithar and Sridhar Bhattar got down to the next alankaram. With the Thiru Kalyanam on the 7th day of the Tula Utsavam, it was time for the Lord for another procession, this time to the Thayar Sannidhi. Just after 10pm, he made his way to visit Parimala Ranganayaki Thayar for the  formal 'Engagement Ceremony'. The respective priests of Perumal and Thayar danced their way in a celebratory gesture and presented and exchanged the garlands. 

It was close to 11 pm when the final Thaligai of the day comprising of Kesari, Laddu and Jeera Rice was presented to the few devotees who stayed back till the end. The entire Sannidhi Street wore a deserted look. Most of the residents had hit the bed.  Muralidhara Dikshithar had taken three doses of injection the previous night and he now wore a tired look after a 15 hour day. 
60 years ago, there were 5 full fledged priests who shared the work load among them as a team. Despite the devotional wave hitting TN temples over the last decade, there are not too many to work alongside those like Muralidhara Dikshithar and many times it is a lonely struggle. Added to this are some of the self inflicted challenges of the priests.

God Alone Knows the Truth
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his praise of Parimala Rangan refers to the Lord as the one who can differentiate the Good from the Bad.

சொல்லாது ஒழியகில்லேன் அறிந்த சொல்லில் 
நும்மடியார் எல்லோரோடும் ஓக்க எண்ணியிருந்தீர் அடியேனை 
நல்லார் அறிவீர் தீயார் அறிவீர் 
நமக்கு இவ்வுலகத்து எல்லாம் அறிவீர் 
ஈதே அறியீர் 


There are multiple challenges for Muralidhara Dikshithar. There are health issues on the back of severe work pressure. The new marketing model of the HR&CE that force Bhattars into raising funds from devotees for all occasions has shifted the priests from being full time devotion to the Lord to going around locations to raise funds. Additional Bhattars for support during festival times isn’t easily forthcoming. The next challenging task at Thiru Indhalur for Muralidhara Dikshithar will be to raise funds for the renovation works that is likely to start next year or so.
Huge Tracts of Temple Land- All Gone
The beginning of these challenges for priests in Divya Desams dates back to the 1960s. Once the new political power took over in TN,  HR & CE grabbed power and gained a never before seen domination of temples. As seen with many Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu (, the new political climate spared none in the agraharam of Thiru Indhalur too. Income from the lands reduced drastically. The cart loads of Paddy into the temple complex soon became a thing of the past. Driven by a severe financial crunch, the original inhabitants began selling their traditional homes in the agraharam for a few thousand rupees and left for cities seeking greener pastures in the corporate world. They exchanged the recital of Nalayira Divya Prabhandham and Vedas with Academics in Schools and Colleges.

Over time, in the decades that followed, lands belonging to the temple came to be illegally occupied like the one just next to the Pushkarani on the Sannidhi Street opposite the Raja Gopuram. With the original inhabitants having left for good, only a couple of priests remained in the ancient Divya Desam to serve the Lord. Most of the other service personnel too left for good. Most of the musical instruments that accompanied the Lord during processions have become a thing of the past.

In the recent past, another huge piece of land belonging to the temple has been illegally taken over by a Government official and converted to a petrol bunk, such is the existing scenario at ancient temples praised by Azhvaars. 

Old Inhabitants are coming back
Some of the original inhabitants, now past 60, are back at Thiru Indhalur to spend their post retirement years alongside their Lord whom they had experienced and enjoyed in the teenage days. But far too much has changed at this Divya Desam in the last 50 years. They remain mute spectators to the happenings at the temple having been far away from life at this Divya Desams for so many decades. They present the Divya Prabhandham at the daily aradhana and on festive occasions but are largely unable to turn the clock back to its glory days in the first half of the 20th Century. One will have to quietly wade through this phase and hope that one day, sometime in the near future, this Divya Desam will recover some of its glorious past. 

Thiru Indhalur Divya Desam is about 4kms East of Mayiladuthurai Railway Station. When here, also visit Sirupuliyur Kripasamudram Divya Desam ( and Therazhundur Aamaruviappan Divya Desam (

The Temple is open from 7.30am-12 noon and 5 pm-9.30pm. Auto from Mayiladuthurai bus stand will cost Rs. 50. From the railway station, an auto to the temple will cost Rs. 80.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sathyagala Madhya Rangam Ranganatha Temple

TS Krishna Bhattar served at the temple for 84 years 
Belief is that visiting Srirangapatna, Sathyagala and Srirangam on the same day will fulfill a devotee's wishes

Located on the banks of the Cauvery is the Ranganatha Swamy temple in Sathyagala, referred to as Madhay Rangam, a temple whose legend dates back to the Kretha Yugam. Belief is that one’s prayers will be fulfilled if one visits the three ancient Ranganathaswamy temples located on the banks of the Cauvery on the same day - Srirangapatna (Aadhi Rangam), Sathyagala (Madhya Rangam) and Srirangam (Anthya Rangam) on the same day. For long, the practice with the devotees in Karnataka has been to have Vishroopa Sevai at Srirangapatna at 730am, darshan at Sathyagala at 9am and the third darshan at Srirangam in the evening.

Glorious Times
Till the middle of the 20th Century, the Ranganatha Swamy Temple was under the control of the Mysore Palace and it was glory days for the temple and its personnel. Several Villages around Sathyagala were donated by the Palace towards the upkeep and maintenance of the temple and the conduct of the Utsavams. The income from the 800 acres land was used to support over a 100 Vedic Pundits who lived here and chanted the Vedas each day of the year.

During the time of the Wodeyar, the Raja’s representative Ramaswamy Mudaliar ensured that the temple received paddy in large quantities and that there was no shortage of anything that was required for the conduct of the daily poojas and utsavams. There was a period in the middle of the previous century when cashews were presented in sack full as neivedyam for the Lord.

TS Krishna Bhattar, who passed away a few years ago at the age of 96, was one of the most respected priests in the region. He performed aradhana at the temple for 84years having begun service at the age of 12. Through his devotional commitment he earned the goodwill of the people not just in Sathyagala but across Karnataka.

He was a revered agama practitioner and was on the board of Sanskrit Institutions in Karnataka. During the decades of his service, he also performed aradhana in 5 temples in and around Sathyagala. Even at his old age, he would go around in an old cycle to perform the daily aradhana in these temples in addition to performing full time service at the Ranganatha Swamy temple in Madhya Rangam.

Krishna Bhattar was too committed to Lord Ranganatha and financial thoughts rarely crossed his mind. Throughout his life, his message to all his sons and family members was to safeguard the temple by being devotionally committed to the Lord. 

Historically, there were festivals around the year with devotees participating in good numbers. Brahmotsavam was a grand occasion celebrated end of January/early Feb with the Lord visiting the Cauvery for the Theerthavari Utsavam.

The 1970s and the downturn
When the ‘tiller becomes owner’ act came into force, the 800 acres land belonging to the temple began going away. Following the takeover by the HR & CE, the temple has seen dramatic fall in the supplies to the temple. The last four decades have been challenging times for the hereditary priests.

Renovation is due
Till this decade the Eastern entrance was only a Mottai Gopuram. Now idols of Lakshmi Narayana, Yoga Narasimha, Gopala Krishnan and Lakshmi Hayagriva have been installed under the newly constructed Raja Gopuram. One finds several cracks on the walls in many parts of the temple. A proposal for repair works has been sent to the HRCE and the temple is currently waiting for approval. There are no bath or toilet facilities in this temple town. There are also no public transport facilities to the temple. But Sridhar Bhattar the son of Krishna Bhattar is hopeful of the temple being revived to its historical glory sometime in the near future. 

The Legend
Following the boon by Brahmma that he could not be killed by any (existing) weapon, Vrithrasura created havoc among the rishis by constantly disturbing their penance. When the Saptha Rishis approached Shiva for a solution they were directed to Brahmma, as he was the one who had granted the boon of invincibility. On the grounds that he did not have the power to revoke the boon, Brahmma directed them to Vishnu who asked them to seek Indra for a solution to their issue.

When they reached Indra Logam and narrated the challenges they were facing, Indra expressed surprise at him being able to find a solution when the Tri Murthies could not. But since Vishnu suggested that he solve the problem of the rishis, Indra approached Dhathichi Rishi, who had become arrogant due to the extraordinary powers of his Tapas and asked him to sacrifice his life for the sake of protecting the rishis. When he sacrificed his body, Indra created a new Vajraayudham from the back bone of the dead rishi. After performing the final rites for the rishi, Indra took the new weapon and killed the asura.

However, Indra was afflicted with Brahmma Hathi Dosham for taking the life of a Tapaswi like Dhathichi Rishi. Vishnu asked him to bathe in the river and perform penance at Thakshaka Kshetram ( the historical name of this location) invoking the blessings of Ranganatha Swamy. He called upon Vishwakarma, the architect and installed the Saligrama idol of Lord Ranganatha in a sleeping posture as seen in Vaikuntam atop the hooded Serpant all carved on a single stone. A unique feature is the presence of Garuda, the sworn enemy of Adisesha on this stone carving signifying the unity of the people in this region. Historically, the Vadakalaiyars and Thenkalaiyars have lived in harmony in this location.

The temple is open from 730am-1230pm and from 430pm to 8pm. Contact Sridhar Bhattar @ 99012 72621.

How to reach
Sathyagala is about 40 kms South of Maddur on the Malavalli – Kollegal Highway. Buses ply every half hour from Maddur/ Malavalli.

When here also visit the Vedanta Desikar Kote Varadaraja temple, 2kms from Madhya Rangam.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Melkote Raja Mudi Sevai Aipasi

Selva Pillai Sampath Kumar at his resplendent best provides Raja Mudi Sevai on the fourth day of Aipasi Brahmotsavam
The crown was presented to the Lord by Raja Wodeyar, the first king of the Mysore Dynasty

One of the only two occasions in the year when he provides Raja Mudi Sevai
It is a rather quiet afternoon on Thursday (Nov 6) at the Pancha Narayana Kshetram of Melkote, home to Lord Cheluva Narayanaswamy with no indication of the special day and the grand procession that is to feature later in the evening. 

At 4pm, as the temple opened again, 50 odd devotees  enter the temple for a darshan of Cheluva Narayanaswamy blissfully unaware of the Special Sevai that's on offer later in the evening, one of the only two occasions in the year of Utsava Deity Selva Pillai Sampath Kumaran providing Raja Mudi Sevai around the streets of the ancient temple town of Thiru Narayanapuram. 

Earlier in the afternoon, the chief priest of the temple left for the District Headquarters at Mandya to secure from the Treasury the Raja Mudi, the King's Crown that was presented to the Lord by Raja Wodeyar, the first king of the Mysore Dynasty. 

Just after 5pm, the Tahsildar arrived with her retinue to inspect and certify the Raja Mudi. With the development in technolgoy, this entire episode of opening the sealed bag and inspecting every ornament in the Raja Mudi is now Video Recorded. Satisfied with the content, the Tahsildar gives a sign off for the procession.  Soon the priests get on to an hour long alankaram of Lord Sampath Kumaran for this special occasion, with the devotees lining up the Sanctum to have a first glimpse of the Lord in this rare attire.

More devotees from across the region started to trickle in at around 6.30 pm to witness the Raja Mudi purapadu.

Committed Adhyapakars, though few in number
The adyapakas, not in great numbers but ones who have committed to spending their lifetime at Melkote to present the sacred verses of the Azhvaars, wait at the Eastern Entrance for the Lord to arrive.  To the beating of the drums and to the accompaniment of the musical instruments, the screen opens just after 7pm to an aarthi as devotees get a first darshan of Selva Pillai Sampath Kumar adorning the grand Raja Mudi (King’s Crown).

Sri Patham, 12 in number, most of whom working in the nearby fields in Melkote arrive to carry the Lord on their shoulder. They are paid a meager amount for carrying the Lord on several processions through each month of the year. 
Prabhandham Recital 
As the Lord reached the Eastern Gopuram, he is welcomed with the Prabhandham Scholars’ recital of Nanmugan Thiruvanthathi. 
நான்முகனை நாராயணன் படைத்தான் 
நான்முகனும்  தான் முகமாய் சங்கரனை தான் படைத்தான் 
யான் முகமாய்  அந்தாதி மேலிட்டு அறிவித்தேன் ஆழ் பொருளை 
சிந்தாமல் கொள்மின் நீர், தேர்ந்து 

These days, the Panguni Utsavam has gained momentum in Melkote when several 1000s congregate for the Vaira Mudi Sevai ( Yet this fourth day of the Aipasi Brahmotsavam has been special for the centuries old Raja Mudi Purapadu. The traditional residents, who have remained in Melkote over the decades, stood in front of their homes to have darshan of the Lord in Raja Mudi attire.

Pits and Hard Stones - Challenging times for the Temple Town
The West Street is full of hard stones with the adyapakars and the Sri Patham having a tough time negotiating the pits. In such remote locations, despite its rich heritage, the powers that be do not pay attention to such difficulties that one has to undergo during the processions. 

There are a few devotees on the North Mada Street who await the arrival of the Lord into their homes. And so do the ones in the East street.

Araiyar Sevai - Padi Etram
Just after 8pm, the Prabhandham Scholars complete the rendering of the sacred verses in the West corner of the temple as the Lord goes around in the prakara.
இனி அறிந்தேன் ஈசற்கும் நான்முகற்கும் தெய்வம்
இனி அறிந்தேன் எம் பெருமாள்  உன்னை இனி அறிந்தேன்
காரணன் நீ கற்றவை நீ கற்பவை நீ

நல் கிரிசை நாரணன் நீ  நன்கு அறிந்தேன் நான்

And shortly after as the Lord makes his way back, Parthasarathy Araiyar, son of the renowned Sri Rama Sarma Araiyar (, dressed in a red cone shaped sacred hat, takes over with his cymbals seeing the Lord through the Padi Etram back into this sanctum. 
In the not so distant past, when the original inhabitants remained at this historical town, Raja Mudi in Aipasi too was a grand celebratory occasion with devotees in several hundreds witnessing the procession of Selva Pillai Sampath Kumaran but now the Panguni Utsavam is the one in the year when the crowd swells to unmanageable proportions while the Raja Mudi in Aipasi is restricted to local devotees and those from the neighbouring villages with the Lord coming back into the temple within 45 minutes (The Vaira Mudi procession takes around 7 hours and is immediately followed by the Raja Mudi).

A Selfless Kainkaryapaka - Thirumal
The occasion is enriched by the presence of a Kainkaryapaka, Thirumal, who spends the entire length of the Aipasi Brahmotsavam selflessly serving the Lord through the processions and at other times during the day. He spends the fortnight consuming the Thaligai from the madapalli, bathes in the pushkarani and sleeps in a small room near the temple. Truly, it is the service mindedness of such devotees that help the smooth conduct of these big annual utsavams. Sometimes he dons the role of a Sri Patham, at other times he carries the Theevatti and does so many seemingly small activities in the whole process of an Utsavam but without each of which, the conduct would face hurdles. By the end of the utsavam he would have moved on to another Divya Desam in Tamil Nadu to perform similar service there.

Despite the lack of a large crowd, it was a devotional delight to watch the Lord at his resplendent best in the Raja Mudi.  The few that remained to witness seemed a happy lot.

The Raja Mudi will make its way on Nov 13 to the Treasury in Mandya till the Panguni Utsavam.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Ariyakudi Thiru Venkatamudayan Temple

Devotional Vibrancy marked the Utsavams in the 1930s and 40s
87 year old S Aravamudhan began performing service at the Thiru Venkatamudayan Temple in Ariyakudi in 1943 when there were at least 40 Vaishnavite families in the agraharam. His family had the Sthaneegam rights at the temple. His father Srinivasa Gopalachariar was both a Vedic and a Nalayira Divya Prabhandham scholar and served full time at the temple through the first half of the 20th Century including taking care of the Vedanta Desikar Sannidhi. 

The  temple is the biggest in the Chettinad Region with a lofty 7 Tier Raja Gopuram welcoming the devotees at the Eastern Entrance. Through the first half of the previous century, the entire town reverberated with Vedic and Prabhandham recitals during the two big annual utsavams. 
There was great devotional vibrancy in the agraharams with over 200 Vaishnavites watching the Lord make his way on grand Golden and Silver Vahanas decked with glittering jewellary during the Vaikasi Brahmotsavam and Puratasi Desikar Utsavam. The temple was well staffed with over 25 service personnel including 5 archakas dedicating themselves to Srinivasa Perumal and Alarmel Mangai Thayar.

Puratasi Thiruvonam
The story goes that when Sevukan Chettiyar fell ill during one of his annual walks to Tirupathi to celebrate Puratasi Thiruvonam, an invisible voice told him that the Lord himself would provide darshan at Ariyakudi. He installed the idol of Srinivasa Perumal and built the first prakara. Subsequently, the 120ft Raja Gopuram was built along with a separate Sannidhi for Alarmel Mangai Thaayar.
Every Puratasi Thiruvonam, Chettiars congregate in large numbers at the temple to invoke the blessings of the Lord chanting the name of Govinda continuously for several hours through the night.It has been a long tradition in Ariyakudi for Srinivasa Perumal and Lord Shiva (from the temple opposite) to go on a day long joint procession around the town on Vijayadasami (this year, this Utsavam co-incided with Puratasi Shravanam) providing darshan to devotees at their door steps. In the evening, Srinivasa Perumal provides darshan to devotees on a Horse Vahana procession across the four streets. 

Even as a young boy, Aravamudhan would grind the sandalwood on a big stone inside the temple for 3-4 hours at a stretch. He took special interest in decorating Desikar during the avathara utsavam. His devotional involvement also extended to Ramayana Parayanam on the Rama Navami day and the presentation of Bhagavatham on the occasion of Krishna Jayanthi.

He has happy memories of spending his childhood at the temple “The biggest day of the year was on the occasion of the Chariot Festival. 1000s gathered from all the neighbouring villages to pull the chariot around the four streets. This was followed by a grand Theppotsavam. The agraharams were vibrant and there was joy all around with people mingling with each other. Renowned Vaishnavite scholars also presented Upanyasam during the period of the utsavam.  Music and Dance were an integral part of the Brahmotsavam celebrations.”

In additional to the local experts, he remembers his father bringing in Veda Parayanam and Prabhandham Scholars from Kanchipuram and Srirangam for the Vaikasi Brahmotsavam and Puratasi Desikar Utsavam. The entire 4000 sacred verses were presented on these occasions.

Carnatic Music legend Ramanuja Iyengar resided just two houses from Aravamudhan’s on the Sannidhi Street. An archival record dating back to 1937 features a kutcheri presentation by him here at Ariyakudi “As a young boy, I have seen him and my father spending several hours sitting on the Thinnai discussing various topics including music.”

He also has vivid memories of DK Pattammal presenting a Kutcheri at Ariyakudi.

A Grand Brahmotsavam
The Brahmotsavam in Vaikasi had been a grand event till the 1950s and 60s. Thirumalai Bhattar, whose forefathers had served at the temple for well over a century says that for his father, who did aradhana for over 65 years till his death a couple of years ago, the biggest motivation came from the devotees who thronged the temple to get a first glimpse of the ‘alankaram of the day.’ The jewellary that the Lord and Thayar wore on processional days has always been a specialty at the temple “My father would carefully choose the original jewellary to go along with the decoration and the vahana. During each of the days of the Brahmotsavam, he would spend hours in the alankaram of the Lord.” 
Till very recently, the Lord provided Vaira Mudi Seva on the fifth day of the Brahmotsavam, an event that attracted devotees from all the neighbouring locations. However, this has been done away with for safety reasons.

Prabhandham recital was so special that often the comment to a young upcoming scholar was to direct him to Ariyakudi and participate in the devotional recital during the Brahmotsavam. There is a plan to start a Veda Patshala to encourage young children to get into tradtional learning.

On the fourth day of the Brahmotsavam marking the Golden Garuda Seva procession, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar would begin the presentation of the Pancharatna Keerthanai at the start of the procession and carry on till the end.

Lord decked with Jewels on Street Processions
Aravamudhan and his forefathers also had custody of the temple jewellary “We were in possession of the keys and maintained the inventory. During the two big utsavams, we would hand over the jewels to the archakas. As the Lord made his way around the streets, one could feel the happiness among the devotees watching him in a grand alankaram and decked in glittering jewellary.” 
Unfortunately, by the 1970s, the financial situation at the temple had turned sour and most of the traditional residents including Aravamudhan had begun leaving the agraharam in search of greener pastures in the city.  Now, the agraharam bears no resemblance to the decades gone by, with just a few Vaishnavite families, mainly archakas, remaining in Ariyakudi.

While he relives those happy moments of a vibrant agraharam from his childhood days, Aravamudhan is also conscious of the need to support the temple and get it back in some form to the good old days. His son, Srinivasa Gopalan, who runs a technology firm in Chennai, initiated the process of clearing the debris along the canals in Ariyakudi to allow rain water to flow into the farming land as well as into the temple tank. He has also been financially supporting the temple during the utsavams. 

Funding Support from Devotees
In the not so distant past, there was a separate chariot for Vedanta Desikar and he provided darshan as part of the Avathara Utsavam. The chariot is no more functional. The temple is looking to build a new chariot for Desikar and to resume the chariot festival during the Desikar Utsavam. The temple also has plans to revive some of the historical utsavams including the Pavitrotsavam. Given the rising costs, managing the Brahmotsavam is becoming increasingly challenging and the temple is looking for devotees to fund the utsavams. The good news is that the Lord continues to be carried on the shoulders during all the vahana processions despite all the challenges relating to service personnel. It is hoped that more such original inhabitants will come back to support the temple.

Those interested to support can contact 94866 34228.

The temple is open from 730am-12.30pm and 430pm-8pm

How to reach
The temple is about 3 kms from the Karaikudi Railway Station. An auto from the station costs Rs.80. Mini buses ply from Karaikudi bus stand to the temple.

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

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Manavala Mamuni Utsavam Thiruvallikeni

Aipasi Moolam is the biggest day in the year at the Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam with a Grand Celebration of the birthday of Vaishnavite Acharya Manavala Mamunigal

18 Sacred Umbrellas signifying his 18 works during the street procession add a devotional flavour to the festivities on Friday morning 

Upadesa Ratna Malai and Tiruvoimozhi Nootranthathi presentations mark the sacred recitals by the large Prabhandham Ghosti on the final day of the ten day utsavam
     (Photo Credit: Shri. 'Insurance' Sampath)

It is just after 930am on Friday (Nov 1) morning. Over a 100 members of the Ghosti team have lined up on either side of the Namazhvaar Sannidhi at the eastern entrance of the Parthasarathy Perumal Koil at the Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam. With the traditionalists having moved away in the 1970s and 80s from their hereditary locations seeking greener pastures in bigger cities, the presence of a strong Prabhandham Ghosti is now more an exception than the norm at most Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu. Even considering the move of the Vaishnavites to cities and the consequent large presence in a city like Madras, this line up presented a rare sight for a Divya Desam, with a few 80+ Adyapakars standing alongside boys who were still not into their teens. The monsoon had set in and rain had played spoil sport the previous two evenings leaving everyone worried about the prospects of this big day. And this was a working day one that followed the long (Deepavali) festival weekend and the procession had been postponed by two hours from the originally scheduled 7.30am. But it seemed nothing would deter either the office goers or the school and college boys of Thiruvallikeni from a grand celebration of the birthday of the revered Vaishnavite Acharya, Manavala Mamunigal. And even the Sun seemed to support this celebration for it turned up on Friday morning in full vigour quite unlike the earlier days in the week.

For long, the Moolam day in Aipasi has been the biggest occasion in the year at this Divya Desam with the morning procession of Manavala Mamunigal along with Parthasarathy Perumal amidst 18 Grand large sized umbrellas being a sight to behold. This is the only day in the year and it is only during the celebration of  the Acharya's birthday when the entire range of Umbrellas is on display at the street procession in Thiruvallikeni.

The Periya Veethi Purapadu
The devotees would simply not take just the Siriya Mada Veethi procession on this day as had been murmured the previous evening following an untoward incident in one of the sacred streets. With the co-operation of the Prabhandham Ghosti members (, it was decided to finish day 4 celebrations of the Pey Azhvaar Avathara Utsavam in the morning so as to give the temple an opportunity to decide on the Big Streets procession. And to the delight of everyone, the green signal was given for the 3 hour long procession around the Four Big Mada Streets and the temple tank.

By 6.30 am scores of young photographers had gathered at the temple entrance (this is a recent trend – of amateurs photographers picking up different festivals – both religious and cultural - in the city to capture images) excited at the challenging photo opportunity that was on offer - getting to shoot all the umbrellas along with the Lord and Acharya.

Upadesa Ratna Malai and the Grand Procession
While crackers have become part of celebrations of this Utsavam (it went on for almost 4 hours on Sunday night during the day 5 procession), the loud bursting noise to announce the beginning of the procession marred the opening verses of the Upadesa Ratna Malai in front of the Nam Azhvaar Sannidhi. And shortly after, as Manavala Mamunigal led the way into the South Mada Street, followed by Parthasarathy Perumal in a glittering Ratnaangi, barrage of photographers raised their hands to click the first photographs of the Lord and Acharya under the large sized umbrellas.
Upadesa Ratna Maalai describes the greatness of the Azhvaars and Acharyas providing details of their birth stars, dates and locations, the vyakyanam for Azhvaars’ verses and the greatness of these Vyakyanams. The verses end describing the greatness of Pillai Lokacharya and the greatness of his Sri Vachana Bhoosanam.

His 18 works and the 18 Kudais Procession
18 Umbrellas on this procession signifies the 18 works (including original works and commentaries) of Manavala Mamunigal through which he spread the Vaishnavite Sampradaya, says MA Venkatakrishnan, the leader of the Prabhandham Ghosti at this Divya Desam. He is also delighted at the support of the Prabhandham Ghosti members “Not only have they come in good numbers through the ten days of the festival but have also presented the verses, especially the Tiruvoimozhi presentation late at the end of long days through the Utsavam, in an unhurried manner.”

After making their way to Pey Azhvaar Sannidhi, the two provided darshan to devotees for well over two hours on a surprisingly hot day with the ‘Kudai’ being the much talked about subject among the residents. Photographers went atop high rise buildings to capture the scores of Umbrellas along the sacred streets of Thiruvallikeni. 

A refreshing rejection 
As Parthasarathy Perumal reached the entrance of  Narasimha Raja Gopuram, an old lady handed her smart phone to a young lady devotee to capture a photograph of the Lord amidst the Grand Umbrellas. Quite refreshingly, the young lady refused to take the photo shot informing much to the disappointment of the old lady that she does not take photographs of the Lord on processions. If we had more of such youngsters, the procession will become a lot more devotional as against the current scenario of hands going up as one at all places during the street procession with devotees' focus on capturing the Lord with their phone forgetting the importance of the  'folding of hands' in front of the Lord.

Just after noon, the Prabhandham Ghosti presented the final verses of Upadesa Ratna Malai at the Eastern Entrance of the temple bringing the once in a year grand procession to an end.
      (Photo Credit: Shri. 'Insurance' Sampath)

Mangalasasanam Vs Kaithala Sevai
Earlier in the day, the proceedings had begun at 530 am with the Mangalasasanam - Manavala Mamunigal visiting each of the sannidhis within the temple complex. During the earlier 9 days of the Utsavam, this was an important occasion for the residents of Thiruvallikeni as they gathered in large numbers to listen to the stotrams by and on Manavala Mamunigal. 

But not so this morning, for one had to decide between the sacred Mangalasasanam and the once in a year ‘Kaithala Sevai’, that of the priests carrying Parthasarathy Perumal by hand to provide an early morning birthday gift to Manavala Mamunigal. And most of the residents of Thiruvallikeni opted for the latter as they took vantage positions inside the Moolavar Sannidhi ahead of the Kaithala Sevai from the Sanctum.
    (Photo Credit: Shri. 'Insurance' Sampath)

The mangalasasanam presentation is broken up into two parts – 20 slokas (Ethiraja Vimsathi) of Manavala Mamunigal on Ramanuja and then a few of the important ones from the 100 slokas of Manavala Mamunigal’s disciple Erumbi Appa’s Vara Vara Muni Shatakam. In his praise, Manavala Mamunigal refers to the process of saving oneself from the sins committed.

During the Mangalasasanam, Ameena Seshadri, the time keeper of the Utsavam, showcases to a Bhagavatha Kainkaryapaka on the way to present the two Cymbals - a service that he had learnt four decades ago from his Acharya at Sriperambudur.

By the time Manavala Mamunigal positioned himself in front of the Parthasarathy Perumal Sannidhi, he found much to his surprise 100s of people already there. Those few that accompanied Manavala Mamunigal on the mangalasasanam were left behind at the Kaithala Sevai as they could not wade their way through the packed Maha Mandapam.

While this is one of the only two Acharya utsavams in the year when the 4000 sacred verses are presented in full at the Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam, the other being the Ramanuja Utsavam, the Kaithala Sevai of Parthasarathy Perumal on Aipasi Moolam is the only one in the year presented to an Acharya or Azhvaar.

Adyapakars' contribution to the Utsavam
For well over a Century, the Manavala Mamunigal Kainkarya Sabha has been contributing to the celebration of the ten day utsavam at Thiruvallikeni, with the Adyapakars allocating a specific sum from their  round the year Seva Kaalam Sambhavanai for this Utsavam. Last year, the adyapakars contributed close to Rs. 20000 to the Sabha for this Utsavam.
Venkatakrishnan says that historically it was contribution from this Sabha that helped conduct the Manavala Mamunigal utsavam (times have changed now and devotees pour in with contributions for this festival). It has also been a historical practice for the Madapalli to present a separate “Ishta Vinaiyogam” exclusively to the Adyapakars as part of the Tiruvoimozhi Seva Kalam. Venkatakrishnan says that during the debate in the Madras High Court that handed them the rights for Prabhandham presentation, this Ishta Vinaiyogam was brought to the notice of the Judge as a historical practice at the temple.

Tiruvoimozhi Nootranthathi – A unique Composition
 After the 18 Kudai procession, a few of the Adyapakars continued their devotional engagement on the day with the Thirumanjanam proceedings that lasted an hour. The Prabhandham Ghosti in real good numbers for a Friday afternoon presented the final Cantos of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s verses followed by Manavala Mamunigal’s Tiruvoimozhi Nootranthathi, a very unique composition presenting in Quintessence every 10 verses of Tiruvoimozhi in a single verse with some complex ingredients in it such as the naming of Nam Azhvaar being a pre requisite, the first and last words to start and end in the same way as in Nam Azhvaar’s Tiruvoimozhi and at the same time to be in Venpa.
(During the Thirumanjanam on each of the previous 9 days, the adyapakas present Vadivazhagiya Kattiyam describing the personality of the Acharya from top to bottom. Among the Azhvaars and Acharyas, only Ramanuja and Manavala Maamunigal are presented with the Kattiyam during the Thirumanjanam).

Manavala Maamunigal
Vaishnavite Acharya Manavala Mamuni spent his early childhood days in Sikkil Kidaram (his mother hailed from here - now referred to as Kotham Kulam) before moving to Azhvaar Tirunagari. He took it upon him to propogate Ramanuja’s philosophy. At Srirangam, Lord Ranganatha listened to his Bhagavad Vishaya Kalakshepa explaining the meaning of and providing insights into the Tiruvoimozhi verses. As Guru Dakshina to Manavala Mamuni, the Lord is said to have presented the Dhaniyan ‘Srisailesa Dayapatram…’ which to this day is recited at prominent Divya Desams ahead of the Prabhandham recital. His contribution includes Vyakyanam, in Manapravalam, for Pillai Loka Charya’s Sutras

ஸ்ரீசைலேச தயா பாத்ரம்
தீபக்த்யாதி குணார்ணவம்
யதீந்த்ரப்ரவணம் வந்தே

ரம்ய ஜமாதரம் முநிம்

Tireless Prabhandham members
Soon after the Thirumozhi Satrumurai, the ghosti members were back in front of the Nam Azhvaar Sannidhi for the final procession of the 10 day Utsavam. Manavala Mamunigal and Parthasarathy Perumal made their way through the four big streets and the temple tank listening to the recital of Ramanuja Nootranthathi. 

Around 10pm, they began the presentation of the final Canto of Nam Azhvaar’s Tiruvoimozhi inside the temple. The devotional commitment of the Prabhandham Ghosti members towards their Acharya is truly commendable for on almost all of the ten days of the Utsavam, they were present in large numbers.
Concluding Events
While the gift from the Lord in the morning was a special 'Kaithala Sevai', Parthasarathy Perumal presented his own garland to  Manavala Mamunigal just after 11pm marking the conclusion of the 10 day utsavam.

It was past midnight when the two made their way back from the Tiruvoimozhi Mandapam bringing to end the grandest day of the year at the Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam.

It was invigorating to find Octagenarian Adyapakarsen  who have been presenting the  verses here at this Divya Desam for over six decades present on the final morning the Upadesa Ratna Maalai verses alongside young boys  who have just begun their initiation. The devotional  commitment0 of the Prabhandham members of Thiruvallikeni towards the recital of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandam as well as the stotras of Manavala Mamunigal will be hard to beat.

While the commitment from the Ghosti members was highly commendable, the Manavala Mamuni Utsavam has historically been one of the toughest for the Bhattars at this Divya Desam. While the two Brahmotsavams are challenging, this one puts to test their physical and mental commitment to the fullest for unlike the Brahmotsavam, there is a Thirumanjanam and Prabhandham recitial in the afternoon and a Tiruvoimozhi presentation much after the evening street procession. So while most of the devotees return after the sacred verses (around 11pm), the Bhattars have at least an additional hour of service late into the night ( the historical practice also is to shut each of the sannidhis at the temple only after return of the Lord/Acharya after the Tiruvoimozhi presentation in the night). And then the next morning, they have to return early for Vishwaroopam Sevai. For many, there has been very little sleep during the ten days of the Utsavam in the decades gone by. However, in the last year or so, with the increased devotee crowd at the temple, a few additional Bhattars have been posted and thus the work amongst the Bhattars have been split between the routine daily service and the specific utsavam service making it a little more relaxed for them.

PS: A paragraph has been subsequently removed from the story after the original posting