Monday, August 12, 2019

Sirupuliyur Divya Desam

One Legged Srikanthan Bhattar has been instrumental in the revival of this once prominent Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praised temple 

He serves the Lord each day of the year with an artificial leg 

The Entire Sacred Tank Zone on the Western Side has been illegally occupied preventing the conduct of the Theppotsavam at this Divya Desam

Till half a century ago, Sirupuliyur, a Divya Desam gloriously praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar, was so prominent among the temples in the erstwhile Chozha kingdom, that it was the main supplier of archakas to other Perumal temples in the region. Such was the vibrancy in the agraharam that this temple town reverberated with Prabhandham Recital and Vedic Chanting all through the year. There were 365 acres of land belonging to the temple and rice was available in plenty at the temple for food presentation to the Lord.

During the time of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar, it stood out as a devotional location for he praises it as one where Vedic Seers chanted the Vedas continuously. It is hard to believe that the sea shore would be so close to Sirupuliyur as it now at least 25 kms away!!! But Thiru Mangai Azhvaar refers to gems being washed all across Sirupuliyur from the eastern sea shore. He says that the temple was surrounded by green fields on one side and by the ocean on the other.

பறையும் வினை தொழுது உய்ம்மின்
நீர் பணியும் சிறு தொண்டீர்
அறையும் புனல் ஒருபால் வயல் ஒருபால் பொழில் ஒருபால்
சிறை வந்து இனம் அறையும்
சிறுபுலியூர்ச் சலசயனத்து
உறையும் இறை அடி அல்லது
ஒன்று இறையும் அறியேனே

As with many other remote Divya Desams, the changing political climate in the State in the 1960s and 70s led to a dramatic downturn in this temple town, one that lasted 3 decades.

G Venkata Gopalan Bhattar is 77 years old now and still active at the temple. He was in his prime when the political take over and HR &CE’s ascendancy to power hit temples across Tamil Nadu. His grandfather had served at the temple for many decades in the glory days in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. His father Govinda Bhattachar too served at the temple for several decades till his death in 1968.

Moves away from Sirupuliyur
Soon after his thread ceremony, Venkata Gopala Bhattar began learning agamas from Srinivasa Bhattar at Thiruvazhundur Divya Desam in the early 1950s. With the overall negative scenario at Sirupuliyur that also included strong opposition to temple activities from the non-traditional residents, he moved to Kuttalam (near Therazhundur Divya Desam) about 25kms West of Sirupuliyur to perform services at the Aadhi Kesava Perumal temple where he remained for three decades performing pooja at a salary of a couple of hundreds. His three sons grew up in Kuttalam.  
Right from his school days in the early 1990s, Srikanthan Bhattar, the 2nd son, began supporting his father at the temple in Kuttalam. After his school, he would go to Therazhundur to learn agamas from the revered Kannan Bhattar (father of Vasan Bhattar) who passed away a few years ago. Even back then, as a young boy, Srikanthan Bhattar’s mind was set on reviving Sirupuliyur Divya Desam where his forefathers had served for so long and he missed being at his hereditary location.

Grim Situation at the Divya Desam
The once vibrant agraharam looked deserted. Samprokshanam had been performed in 1973 but that was just white washing the outer walls. The Brahmotsavam came to a halt in the 1970s including the once popular chariot festival. Over time, the two chariots, one for Perumal and another for Manavala Mamunigal, suffered damage. During those dark decades, almost all the festivals came to a standstill. There were just three utsavam days - Vaikunta Ekadasi, Panguni Uthiram and Vaikasi Hastham- in the entire year. 

By the 1980s, the entire lot of the traditional residents of the agraharam had left Sirupuliyur seeking greener pastures. There was just one man left - the accountant at the temple. There had been no processions for two decades. The entire complex was dark with no lighting. There were no personnel in the madaipalli. No one could adapt to the traditional lifestyle at an ancient temple town. Even today there is none. Seeing the deplorable state of this Divya Desam, the now renowned Vasan Bhattar of Therazhundur, then in his 20s, used to cycle 15kms from Therazhundur to perform aradhana for the Aruma Kadal Lord at Sirupuliyur.

On AV Rangachari’s ( ) request, Venkata Gopalan Bhattar came back to Sirupuliyur in the late 1990s at a salary of Rs. 300 per month. By then, his elder son had moved to Banaswadi Perumal Koil, in Bombay.

Life Changing Story
When Srikanthan Bhattar was growing up in the late 1980s and 90s, even 10-15 rupees brought home by his father would delight the family as it helped in the everyday sustenance. The key was Srikanthan Bhattar did not choose to go away in frustration. Instead he chose to remain devotional committed to Kripa Samudra Perumal who his forefathers had served and one that Thiru Mangai Azhvaar had praised as the ‘Lord in my Heart’ and as one who provides the devotees with a positive change in life.

கள்ளம் மனம் விள்ளும் வகை,
கருதிக் கழல் தொழுவீர்
வெள்ளம் முதுபரவைத் திரை விரிய
கரை யெங்கும் தெள்ளும் மணி திகழும்
சிறுபுலியூர் சலசயனத் துள்ளும்
எனது உள்ளத்துள்ளும்
உறைவாரை உள்ளீரே

Srikanthan Bhattar, then not even in his teens read a story in the 1990s narrating the pitiable state of the Sirupuliyur temple. Citing the scenario of even Oil and Thiri not being available to light even a single lamp, the story requested devotees to present these at this divya desam so at least one lamp could be lit. Srikanthan promised that day that he would serve the Lord of Sirupuliyur for the rest of his life and would work towards reviving the Divya Desam. Ever since, his sole aim in life has been to get the temple back to its past glory.

It was Vasan Bhattar who helped anchor the revival of the utsavams, first with a five day Brahmotsavam. He was a mentor to many of the archakas in the region and he played an active role at Sirupuliyur in supporting the initiatives of Srikanthan Bhattar.

Letting go one’s EGO
The legend of this Divya Desam relates to a story on the letting go of one’s ego. Believing that he was closer to the Lord and performing better service to the Lord, Garuda questioned the role and service contribution of Adisesha. When the latter sought the help of the Lord, HE provided darshan here at Sirupuliyur in a Bala Posture like a young boy and slept atop Adisesha. Humbled at the lesson, Garuda realized his mistake and stood on the ground. Hence at this Divya Desam, Garuda is seen in a unique posture of standing low on the ground. From a devotion point of view, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar says that not just humans but also Gods in large numbers visited Sirupuliyur to have darshan of Sala Sayana Perumal who he praises as one seen in a sleeping posture atop the five hooded Adiseshan.

Referring to the kid like image of the Lord, he says that he not seen any Lord like this anywhere else. And as an indication of the two rishis at the feet of the Lord, he says that those who worship the Lord’s feet at Sirupuliyur will find a positive change of heart towards devotion. He asks the devotees to surrender to the Salasayanam Lord and see for themselves as to how their sins are cleansed. 
Every day when Srikanthan Bhattar narrates the Sthala Puranam to devotees and presents aloud the verses of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar from the Periya Thirumozhi, he remembers the legend and the tale of the temple town that once was and reminds himself to dedicate his life to the Lord and to seek nothing else. And that’s how he has lived the last two decades at this Divya Desam.

The Revival over the last decade
When he joined the temple just under two decades ago as a teenager, his first priority was to provide basic amenities to visiting devotees- bath and toilet facilities outside the temple. In those days, his mother, who sported a smile all the time (she passed away all of a sudden over a decade ago) played a great host to all visitors to this Divya Desam feeding them to a sumptuous meal despite a financially challenging situation in the family.

He then went about reviving the utsavams. In 2007, Srikanthan Bhattar revived the Pavitrotsavam with the help of Vasan Bhattar who has been an integral part of the transformation at this temple. Earlier this decade, the temple saw a full scale renovation for the first time in a century giving it a fresh look. While the samprokshanam in 1973 was followed by two dark decades, this samprokshanam 4 decades later in 2012 led to a complete revival of the temple. Brahmotsavam was restarted with vahana processions.

However, in the decades of the slowdown, the Entire Sacred Tank Zone on the Western Side and the South Western Side came to be illegally occupied. Challenges in evicting them has meant that the temple has not been able to conduct the Theppotsavam at this Divya Desam. It is hoped that the authorities will take steps to clear the zone and help revive the Theppotsavam.
Last week in recognition of Vasan Bhattar’s three decades of support, Srikanthan Bhattar, in a thanking gesture, posted a large banner outside the temple during the Pavitrotsavam.

A road accident that took away a leg
In February 2013, a bus ran over Srikanthan Bhattar’s legs and he lost a leg in the accident. HR & CE and the TN Government did nothing to compensate. It was Vasan Bhattar who through devotees helped him have an artificial leg planted. For six years, he has continued to serve the Lord in the same devotionals manner as before despite getting a salary of just around Rs. 1000 per month, an amount completely inadequate these days. Srikanthan Bhattar is currently in the process of building two new chariots, one for Perumal Brahmotsavam and another for the Manavala Mamunigal utsavam at a cost of over Rs. 30 Lakhs. Srikanthan Bhattar and his father also double up as the cook in the madapalli. Srikanthan Bhattar is also the one who over the last decade has decorated the Lord ensuring a certain grandeur in terms of jewels and vastrams. 

It is solely due to the efforts of such devotionally committed Bhattars that remote Divya Desams have stayed alive and continued into the next generation.

Kripasamudram Perumal Divya Desam in Sirupuliyur is open from 730am-12noon and 5pm to 830pm. Contact Srikanthan Bhattar @ 91598 67324.

How to reach Sirupuliyur
Sirupuliyur is 2kms from Kollumangudi and about 10kms from Mayiladuthurai on the Tiruvarur highway. Auto from Kollumangudi will cost Rs. 75.

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