Sunday, July 28, 2019

Maddur Ugra Narasimha

A temple where Narasimha is seen in the angry posture at the time of the killing of Hiranyakashipu
Lord Varadaraja North of Ugra Narasimha temple is similar to the one in Kanchipuram

Located 15kms West of Doddamallur Aprameya Perumal Temple (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/07/doddamallur-aprameya-navaneetha-krishna.html) on the Bangalore Mysore Highway is the centuries old Ugra Narasimha temple in Maddur, where the Lord is seen in angry posture with Hiranyakashipu on his lap.Garuda and Prahalada, both in standing posture, are seen flanking the Lord.

When Arjuna requested Krishna for a darshan of Narasimha Avatara, he was told that the avathara could not be replayed but directed Brahmma to create and install the idol of Narasimha in a posture depicting the destruction of the asura.

Kadamba Rishi created a theertham, had bath and undertook penance invoking the blessings of the Lord. Hence this place was historically referred to as Kadamba Kshetram.

 The Hoysalas renovated the temple that one sees in the current form and structure.

Once upon a time, medicines were made available here for all health issues. Hence this place was referred to as ‘madhu’ that over time became Maddur. Even today those with skin issues and with mental fear are believed to be relieved from these issues after invoking the blessings of the Lord and once the sacred water is splashed on their face. 
On Avani Shravanam, the Lord is decorated with Vennai Alankaram. 15 day Brahmotsavam is celebrated in Chitrai. There are two Thayar Sannidhis at the temple – Sowmya Nayaki and Narasimha Nayaki. A special feature at the temple is the posture of Yashoda holding her child Krishna by her chest. Hanuman is seen in a respectful posture before Lord Rama at a separate sannidhi.
To the North of the temple is the Hoysala Period Varadaraja Perumal temple. The story goes that King Vishnu Varadan’s mother could not make it to Kanchi to have darshan of Varadar as she could not see. The King brought the architects from Kanchipuram and built an idol similar to the one in Kanchi. After a 48 day pooja invoking the blessings of the Lord, the King brought his mother to the temple. And to his mother’s delight, she had darshan of Varadaraja Perumal. 
Hence this Lord came to be known as Kanchi Kan Varadarajar. Similar to Kanchipuram one has to climb 27 steps to reach the Moolavar Sannidhi. Varadar Jayanthi is celebrated in a grand way on Hastham. On the day Ugra Narasimha is decorated with Vennai Alankaram, an abhishekam takes place here for Varadarajar.

The temple is open between 8am – 12noon and 5pm-8pm. Contact Balaji Bhattar @ 90362 92265

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Doddamallur Aprameya Navaneetha Krishna Temple

Committed to the devotional service of Lord Aprameya, Pancharatra Agama expert Radhakrishna Bhattarchaya refused lucrative overseas offers and has served the Lord for 40years without an official posting – He is set to receive a Doctorate Degree this Saturday for his expertise in the Agamas

His father served the temple with utmost devotion for over seven decades, a majority of which at a monthly salary of Rs. 3

A Temple that celebrates the Avathara Utsavam of both Desikar and Manavala Mamuni
Radhakrishna Bhattachar is touching 70. His legs have weakened after over four decades of standing long hours at the Doddamallur Aprameya Perumal temple, one that is renowned for the crawling Navaneetha Krishna. Yet his devotional service has not reduced over the decades as he takes slow steps towards the Aprameya Perumal Sannidhi for the morning Satru Murai. On most days over the years, his stay at the temple has extended to 1pm as tourist and devotee crowd make their way to the temple on their way to Mysore along the National Highway.

Starting from the offer in the mid 1970s, he has let go several overseas opportunities that have come his way over the last four decades and has lived his life with the sole purpose of serving the Lord at Doddamallur, inspired by the verses of Purandaradasa who sung praise of Lord Aprameya.

His father Govindaraja Bhattar served at the temple for over seven decades from 1942, starting with a monthly salary of Rs. 3 and ending 71 years later (when he passed away) with a salary of Rs. 1500 much like O. S Seshadri Bhattar at Kapisthalam Divya Desam, who received Rs. 16 as monthly salary for several decades (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/07/kapisthalam-seshadri-bhattar.html).

A 5 year Agama course in Mysore
Soon after Radhakrishna Bhattar received Dikshai at the age of 16, he joined his father at the temple supporting him in the daily activities. Having completed his schooling in Doddamallur, Radhakrishna Bhattar studied Pancharatra Agama for five years at the Mysore Sanskrit College, the most renowned college in those days. From the stalwarts of those days, he learnt Desikar Prabhandham, Mimamsa and other Mantras.  The jeer of Parakala Mutt took a personal liking for the devotional conduct of the then young man in the 1970s and would ask him to recite the Desikar Prabhandham. 

No official posting for Radhakrishna till 2013
There was only one official posting at the temple and since his father held that, Radhakrishna Bhattar could only offer support activities and for much of his life has not been an official staffer of the temple. In the mid 1970s, when Radhakrishna Bhattar was in his 20s, he was offered a posting at the Pittsburg Perumal temple, an offer that was so lucrative that few would have refused.

His father, who was on a monthly salary of Rs. 3 was keen that his son accept the offer as it would have given great financial stability and growth to the family and tried his best to pursue his son to accept the offer but the son’s mind lay elsewhere even at that young age. The peace of mind that Radhakrishna had experienced in the first two decades of his life serving the Lord helped him forge a strong devotional bonding with the temple and he simply refused to leave Lord Aprameya and the crawling and handsome child like Navaneetha Krishna.
Not only did he instantly reject the offer, he also decided that he would not leave the Lord of Doddamallur at any point of time in life to serve at an overseas temple. In the ensuing decades, several other offers from temples in different continents came his way but Radhakrishna Bhattachar resisted the temptation to make the move away from Lord Aprameya. In fact most residents in the agraharam in his age group moved away from the town in the 1970s and 80s. Many of them went on to hold top posts in their lives including the head of HMT, BEML, Police (DGP) and one in the atomic energy space.

Radhakrishna Bhattar, for his part, also refused full time jobs within the state including a Professor’s posting at the Mysore Govt College, for he did not want a life outside of the temple. For over two decades, he taught part time at a local school and later also taught agamas and sculptures in a college.

It was this devotional commitment that helped the popularity of the temple grow over the last few decades. During the harvest season, the farmers in all the neighbouring villages would present their first offering at the feet of this Bhattar family, such was the regard they had for the family. 
The Legend
In the Brahmanda Purana, Lord Aprameya has been described in 12 Adyayams. Inscriptions dating back to 400AD refer to the temple. Lord Aprameya also finds mention in other historical scriptures. The story goes that when one dug three feet at this place, one got pure sand. Hence it was referred to as ‘Manalur’ (Maavalur in Kannada) which in later period became Malloor.  Another story goes that King Sarangadara ruled over 20 villages in this region. When once the opposition forces over powered him and cut him into pieces, he invoked the blessings of Lord Aprameya and to the surprise of everyone, his hands came back. Hence this place was called ‘Molaitha’ Ooru.

The Moolavar Lord is seen in an East facing standing posture with a conch and chakra. Aravinda Valli Thaayar is seen in a separate sannidhi. There are also sannidhis for Vedantha Desikar and Manavala Mamunigal.  
During the Brahmotsavam, the Lord is carried on the Vahanas around the four streets of Dodda Mallur.

A once Vibrant Agraharam
Not so long ago till the early part of the second half of the 20th century, there was a vibrant agaraharam opposite the temple with over a 100 traditional families residing in the street. It was such an integral part of the town that all communication from here went with a reference to the agraharam of Doddamallur.

Historically, there were four Perumal temples and four Shiva temples in each of the four sides. Gopalakrishna Temple in the East,  Janardhana in the West, Rama in the South and Lakshmi Narasimha in the North.  Arkeswara Temple in the East, Kalyana Natheswara in the West and Varadeswara in the South and Kaileswara in the North.There are several inscriptions within the temple in the inner prakara.
In recognition of the contribution of the improvement initiatives at the temple, there is a stone image of a Vijayanagara ruler.
Festivals
A Grand Brahmotsavam continues to be celebrated in Chitrai with Chariot Festival on Hastham. It is the fortnight in the year when almost all the traditionalists congregate in the agraharam. A number of cultural initiatives especially for children have been initiated by Radhakrishna Bhattar around the Krishna Jayanthi Utsavam. A 4 day Pavitrotsavam  in Avani is also celebrated . Unlike most of the temples in Tamil Nadu, both the Vedantha Desikar and Manavala Mamuni Utsavams are celebrated in a grand way at this temple. 

A continuing piece of historical tradition is that the temple closes for the day when there is a death in the agraharam.

The official posting - Takes over from his father
Only after the death of his father in 2013, did Radhakrishan Bhattar get the posting in the temple, over five decades after he began performing service at the temple, supporting his father. Interestingly, there are notices at different locations at the temple that direct devotees to present ‘Thattu Kaasu’ only in the official Hundials!!! In the years that Radhakrishna Bhattar has performed service and his special connect with the devotees at large, the annual hundi collection in the temple has gone up from Rs.40000 to Rs. 40 Lakhs but as with temples in Tamil Nadu, the salary of the priest has remained abysmally low.

In recognition of his four plus decades of devotional service at the temple, promotion of spiritual activities and his expertise and presentations on the Pancharatra agama, he is being conferred a Doctorate this Saturday (July 27) jointly by a University in Bangalore and in the US. 
Quick Facts
Moolavar: Aprameya Perumal
Thayar    : Aravinda Valli Thayar
Separate Sannidhi: Crawling Navaneetha Krishna seen with butter in his hand

The temple is open from 730am-1pm and 430pm to 8pm. Contact: 080-29783127

How to reach
Doddamallur is about 60kms from Bangalore on the Mysore Highway, 3kms after Channapatna. From Channapatna Station, an auto to the temple will cost Rs. 70 (96636 70125 Arasu).

Share autos are available from the bus stand. Express bus may not stop at Doddamallur.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tiruvoimozhi Pillai Konthagai

The descendants of the Acharya, who transformed Azhvaar Tirunagari into a beautiful temple town, have dedicated their lives to the service of the Lord and Azhvaar at this ancient Divya Desam 

Monthly Divya Prabhandham presentation and a grand Avathara Utsavam still a feature at his Birth Place in Konthagai
Located 15kms East of Madurai is the centuries old Deivanayakan temple in Konthagai, the birth place of Acharya Tiruvoimozhi Pillai. While the temple itself is in fine state, the once vibrant agraharam that comprised of traditionalists chanting Vedas and Prabhandham, is non-existent and as with many other historical locations, this too has faded with passage of time.

The young Gopalakrishnan Bhattar is one of those few among the modern gen who has chosen to stay back in a remote temple town and perform aradhana for the Lord. His uncle had previously been undertaking pooja for several decades.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many visitors to the temple despite this being an Avathara Sthalam of a Vaishnavite Acharya. To those that do visit, the priest with great delight refers to this as a location that Arjuna visited as part of his pilgrimage. 
                                  The temple in Konthagai
Every Moolam, the Adyapakas make a trip to Konthagai all the way from Koodal Azhagar to present prabhandham at the temple here. On Vaikasi Visakam, the birth day of Tiruvoimozhi Pillai, the acharya goes on a grand street procession, as part of the Avathara Utsavam celebrations.

Being a Pancharatra Agama temple, Koodal Azhagar temple refused to administer this remote temple and hence this comes under the administration of Meenakshi Amman Koil, the only Perumal temple under their control.

The temple is open from 7am to 11am and 530pm to 8pm. Contact Gopalakrishna Bhattar @ 97887 26611

Tiruvoimozhi Pillai and Azhvaar Tirunagari
While his Avathara Sthalam has turned remote in modern times, far away down South in Azhvaar Tirunagari, the location where Tiruvoimozhi Pillai resurrected the forest region into a beautiful temple town and brought back the idol of Nam Azhvaar from Kerala,  there is a certain vibrancy with his descendants continuing his legacy of performing service to the Azhvaar.

The historical story - From administration of Kingdom to Vaishnavism
With the then Pandya King dying early and his son too young to be crowned as the next king, Thirumalai Azhvaar, the original name of Tiruvoimozhi Pillai, was mandated by the ministers in the kingdom to take over the administration till such time the prince came of age. It was around this time that the Mughals invaded the Srirangam temple. Along with others, Pillai Lokacharya brought the idol of Namperumal to Kodikulam, near Narasingam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/12/yoga-narasimha-narasingam-madurai.html). Thirumalai Azhvaar had been initiated by his acharya Pillai Lokacharya with the Pancha Samskaram when he was very young.

It was during his stay there that he identified the devotional powers of Thirumalai Azhvaar and called upon Koora Kulothuma Dasa to initiate him in the traditional path.

Once when Thirumalai Azhvaar was going around the city of Madurai on an inspection round, he found Koora Kulothuma Dasa reciting the Tiruviruttam verses of Nam Azhvaar. Not finding him yet ready to take on the challenge of traditional services, Koora Kulothuma Dasa refused to explain to him the significance of these verses. When he narrated this incident to his mother, she informed him of the wishes of his acharya and the role assigned to Koora Kulothuma Dasa.

Yet another time, when Thirumalai Azhvaar was on elephant top on another inspection of the city and its people, he spotted Koora Kulothuma Dasa amidst the crowd. This time there was a spark and Thirumali Azhvaar requested Kulothuma Dasa to initiate him into the verses in the mornings during the period that he was applying the sacred Thiruman before his departure to perform the administrative duties in the kingdom.

It was also the time that Nam Azhvaar’s idol had been taken away to Kerala as a precautionary measure to guard from the Mughal invasion. Tholappar sought the help of the Pandya forces to recover the idol that had been hidden under a deep pit. It was finally Tholappar who dived into the pit to help reclaim the idol. However, in the process of trying to climb back he lost his life. In memory of his contribution to the recovery of the idol, he is to this day presented with Theertham and sacred garland after the Thiru Arathanam every day at the Aathi Nathan temple in Azhvaar Tirunagari.

Soon, he quit the kingdom and made the transition to a life of a Vaishnavite. Tiruvoimozhi Pillai left for Azhvaar Tirunagari, a location that at that time resembled a huge forest. Given his administrative experience at the Pandya Kingdom, he got down to the task of renovating the entire place and converted it into a beautiful temple town with the temple in the heart of it. Taking a special liking to Namazhvaar’s Tiruvoimozhi, he began practicing it all the time at the temple that he (Thirumalai Azhvaar) came to be referred to as ‘Tiruvoimozhi pillai’.

The descendants
Sridhar Tiruvoimozhi Pillai is one of the descendants continuing to reside at Azhvaar Tirunagari and one who also takes care of archaka service at Thiru Mogur Divya Desam. His forefathers had dedicated their entire lives in the service of the Lord of Thiru Kurugur but it was a financially challenging time for them during the 20th century. For several decades, it was the sishyas who helped them survive that phase of life. The sishyas presented cows that helped his forefathers secure milk for the day. For half a century, the entire family just had one meal a day. His father did service at the Thiruvenkatamudayan Sannidhi South of the Athi Nathan temple at a salary of Rs. 22 for many years. 
During the Adyayana Utsavam in Azhvaar Tirunagari, the descendants of Tiruvoimozhi Pillai are given the first respects on the first day. Financially they do not get anything at the Azhvaar Tirunagari Divya Desam except for some quantity of rice as prasadam. The descendants are also the Sthalathars at Thiru Kolur Vaitha Maa Nidhi Divya Desam and are bestowed with the keys of the temple. There, they serve as Adyapakas and present Veda Parayanam and are also the hereditary Arankavalar. Given that he ruled the kingdom, Tiruvoimozhi Pillai had first rights of theertham at Srivilliputhur, Azhagar Koil, Thiru Mogur and Konthagai in the Pandya region.

The financial revival
It was in the 2nd half of the 20th century that one of the descendants was handed over to Thiru Mogur Divya Desam after the original Mirasu there did not have successors. Only after this adoption and after the revival in the 1990s of the temple located in the outskirts of Madurai did the descendants of Tiruvoimozhi Pillai find an improvement in their livelihood. At the Kaalamegha Perumal temple, the descendants of Tiruvoimozhi Pillai present the Puranam on the occasion of Kaisika Ekadasi, Sri Jayanthi, Gajendra Moksham( Maasi) and the Sthala Puranam in Vaikasi.

Unlike many others from the present generation, none of the descendants of Tiruvoimozhi Pillai have tried to seek livelihood outside of the temple service. There are six in the family currently as the descendants.

How to reach Konthagai
From Madurai, take a bus to Silaiman ( 12kms). From Silaiman, an auto South to Konthagai temple will cost Rs. 80, crossing the Rameswaram National Highway. Contact auto:84897 22346.
Share autos every 10minutes from Madurai Ring Road to Silaiman.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kapisthalam Seshadri Bhattar

For six deacdes  he has served at the  Gajendra Varadar Divya Desam with devotional commitment
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With the untimely death of his father (there were no medical facilities at that time in Kapisthalam), O. S Seshadri Bhattar took over as the archaka at the Gajendra Varadar Divya Desam in Kapisthalam, one of the Pancha Krishna Kshetrams, when he was just 19, in 1961.  For almost 60 years now, he has been performing devotional service, all alone, every day of the year at this Divya Desam. 

Seshadri Bhattar was one of the well respected priests in the region even at that young age in the 1960s for he had learned the Vedas and Agamas for a decade from 1949 from the revered Oothukadu Sankara Ganapadigal at the renowned centuries old Raja Patshala in Kumbakonam.  He wanted to become a teacher but the sudden death of his father meant that the responsibility of the temple service came to him at a very young age.

Vibrant Agraharam – Strong Service Personnel
In the 1960s, Kapisthalam too was vibrant with 21 traditional families including one Saivite and Rayar family, in the Agraharam. With the presence of Adyapakas, Divya Prabhandham Ghosti was an everyday feature at the temple. All the residents in the agraharam would gather at the temple in large numbers for Nithyanusanthanam in the evening that was followed by the presentation of Sundal to the Lord.

That decade, the temple had 11 service personnel including Mei Kaavalar, the garland maker and paricharakars, in addition to four who played the sacred musical instruments. For 15 years, Seshadri lived a financially challenging life. He would receive a maximum of one anna a day and it was with that, that he ran the family. His elder brothers found their way into life outside of temple service as did his younger brother leaving him as the only one in the family continuing the hereditary service. In the 1960s, Seshadri Bhattar also ran a Patshala in Kapisthalam teaching over 20 students. Most of his students have done financially well in their lives but very few have come to serve their Guru or help him financially in his tough times.

In those initial decades at Kapisthalam, he resided in what is now the Vahana Mandapam at the Eastern entrance to the temple, a 200 sq ft room. With support from the residents of Umayalapuram, he built the small home opposite the Gajendra Varadar temple which is where he has been residing for decades. 
Umayalpuram Perumal - An Additional Temple in charge
In September 1976, his uncle who had been performing service at the Rajagopalan Temple in Umayalpuram, a few kms East of Kapisthalam went in pursuit of overseas opportunities and asked Seshadri to perform ‘two time’ aradhana at the temple. Umayalpuram was a vibrant location in those decades with 60 traditional families residing in the agraharam. All the residents loved Seshadri Bhattar for his devotion to the Lord. He would cycle his way between Kapisthalam and Umayalpuram each day. He was paid a monthly salary of Rs. 150 for his service there, which came as a welcome addition, financially.

Heartbreak - A Deaf And Dumb Son
His son was born partially (or at least that’s what Seshadri Bhattar thought) deaf and dumb in 1981. Through that entire decade, he spent his entire earnings and more on the medical treatment for his son including taking him to JIPMER but nothing progressed. There were different versions and solutions that gave Seshadri Bhattar hope but his son has remained speechless for almost four decades now, though the father has kept the verbal communication going from his side. And over time, his son began to understand the messages from his father, especially those relating to temple activities.

Utsavams
There has been no Brahmotsavam at the temple for over a century, though when he joined service he found many of the Vahanas. But even during the time his grandfather served at the temple, there had been no Brahmotsavam.

The Lord provides Garuda Sevai darshan on Akshaya Trithi. In the 1960s, the Gajendra Moksham episode used to be enacted in a grand way at the tank South of the temple. Thirumanjanam on Puratasi Saturday and Ramaa Mani Thayar purapdu on Aadi and Thai Fridays have been regular features at the temple. But most of the grand festivals have come to nought in recent decades with almost the entire agraharam residents moving away to cities seeking greener pastures. In the last decade or so, Navarathri has been celebrated in a grand way with participation from the local community.

A Towering Recognition
Way back in 1963, when he was just 21 years old, Thiru Kudanthai Andavan of Andavan Ashram conferred the title of ‘Mantra Mani for having rendered Vishnu Homam for 20 hours nonstop in Kumbakonam without a water or a toilet break. But financial rewards have eluded Seshadri Bhattar all through his life.

All alone without support
Unlike many other priests in the region, Seshadri Bhattar has not been in the thick of action performing Samprokshanams in other Divya Desams/ Temples, an activity that has been financially lucrative. Given the physical state of his son and being stuck all alone at the Kapisthalam temple, he has rarely participated in Samprokshanam activities in other temples. Thus for a major part of his life, he has had to manage with the two digit salary at the Kapisthalam temple and the slightly better remuneration at the Umayalpuram temple. As decades passed, the service personnel too reduced at the Kapisthalam Divya Desam and for a number of years he has now been all alone at the temple.

In the last few years, the devotee numbers has been on the rise and so has the Thattu Kaasu.
What he has found remarkable is that his wife has never complained once in her life about the financial challenges. He proudly says that she eats the food available on the day, even if it’s without salt. That has been her commitment to him and this Divya Desam. A couple of years ago, after several years of search, Seshadri found a lady who agreed to marry his son giving the 77 year old Bhattar peace of mind that there would be someone to take care of his son after his time.

Seshadri Bhattar is truly a one of his kind having spent the last six decades at the Kapisthalam Divya Desam. He has never complained in his life about the financial challenges and has served the Lord with devotion every day for he has largely remained contented with the way of life that God has provided him. His son has been very dear to him and he has spent the last four decades trying to give him as much happiness as possible communicating to him in whatever he could. With the passing of every decade, his son has improved and is now able to help devotees with darshan.

As a security for his son, 77 year old Seshadri Bhattar is hopeful that one day some devotee will help him run a Go-Shala in Kapisthalam

He can be reached on 04374225434.

Friday, July 5, 2019

VB Gokulakrishnan TNPL

The once 'Dreaded Duo' in the City League join hands once again with VB Chandrasekar roping in J Gokulakrishnan as the coach of his team in the TNPL 
One will have to wait and watch if this combination will make it happen again like they did in the 1990s
                       
Just over 25 years after they formed one of the potent combinations in the city league, former captain of India Cements VB Chandrasekar and his new ball bowler of the time J Gokulakrishnan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/03/gokulakrishnan-j.html), who spearheaded the bowling attack of India Cements in the 1990s and anchored many a victory that decade have come together again, this time in the fourth edition of the TNPL.

As soon as he decided to throw himself into the local TN T20 league, VBC ( http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/01/vb-chandrasekar.html) was keen to rope in his mentee from the 1990s. However the terms did not work out at that time. While Gokulakrishnan along with his brother Madanagopal coached Tuti Patiriots to two successive finals  (including winning one), VBC’s team has not fared particularly well in the TNPL so far (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/tnpl.html). 

When the duo moved on to the Coimbatore team last year, it was the match against VB’s team that undid the season for them as they collapsed chasing a mediocre target.

VBC once again looked for Gokulakrishnan ahead of the new season that is set to start in the third week of this month. However, with Gokul committed to the Coimbatore team, it seemed that the once feared combination may not come together yet another time.

But things turned around suddenly over the last week as Gokul and Madan parted ways with the Coimbatore team. And finally, after three years, VBC as he always does has had his way even if it has come a little late this time and has signed up Gokulakrishnan as the coach for his team.

For both VBC and Gokulakrishnan, winning was a driving force in the way they played their cricket. And it is likely that this combo will go all out this season to give it a winning shot.

It will be interesting to wait and watch as to how this once dreaded combination fare this time around. 
(Teams from the TNPL have shown interest in roping in Madanagopal, who has been rated highly as a coach and mentor by the players in TN.  However, if nothing works out soon, he may take the call to make himself available to umpire for the first time in the TNPL, this season)