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
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 ( 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 (

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.


Anonymous said...

feels as if virtually present there. very nice. Enjoyed reading the whole story especially detailing of every alanakarm, neighbours coming together at one house, Staying a little longer for Devarpiran...

Unknown said...

Very nice. But sad part is HRCE is not taking initiative. UR article is eye opener for all of us to keep our tradition.