Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Osai Nayaki Thaala Pureeswarar Karthikeyan Shivachariar

Through his devotional service, he has transformed the temple over the last two decades
Bucking the trend of priests getting the next gen into academics, he has sent his son into full time agama patshala education
Every morning, just after 6am, Karthikeyan Shivachariar, the hereditary archaka of Osai Nayaki Thaala Pureeswarar Temple in Sirkazhi performs aradhana for the Lord at home, a tradition that had been followed by his father Gnana Sambandar Shivachariar all his life. It is after this hour long Japam that he heads to the Vairavan Chettiar maintained temple that he has been taking care for the last two decades. It was at this location that Thiru Gnana Sambanthar was presented with 'Golden Cymbals' by Lord Thaala Pureeswarar with Osai Nayaki  presenting the 'Sound' to his sacred verses.Being a Prarthana Sthalam to regain one’s sound chord and to remove the stammering in one's voice devotees visit this temple and several hundreds have found a solution here.The Honey that has been presented to Osai Nayaki is consumed by the devotee  to help regain the voice. 

His forefathers had moved to this temple a century earlier from Madharaveloor, a village west of Kollidam. His grandfather was provided a house in the 1920s and staying in that house performed service for several decades. 

Pooja in 14 temples each day
His father, Gnana Sambandar Shivacharirar, who passed away this year on the Maha Sivarathri night aged 78, too performed service at the temple for many decades. Each day, his father performed pooja in 14 temples in and around Sirkazhi for financial survival. 
Those were the decades when devotees did not turn up here except on festive occasions like the one mentioned above in Chitrai and on full moon days. As he was one of the most respected Shivachariars in the region, he was often called to anchor the Kumbabhisekams and that helped the finances.For a large part over the five decades till the turn of the century, the joint family lived in a hut house near the temple.
                    Appar on Kolakka

A Dumb Child gets his voice
It was during the service of Gnana Sambandar that in 1979 a couple invoked the blessings of the Lord and Ambal for their dumb child who had not spoken since birth. Sitting far away in Nagercoil, the mother lit a lamp at her home in the evening and placed her golden bangles before the Ambal in her pooja room invoking the blessings of Osai Nayaki. To their delight, the child called out for the mother the very next morning. In a thanking gesture, the couple presented the Lord and Ambal with Golden jewellery which is used once a year during the Chitrai utsavam.

The second day of the Chitrai Brahmotsavam at the Sattanathan temple in Sirkazhi is the big one at this temple for it is on that night that Thiru Gnana Sambandar makes his way to this temple from Sattanathan temple. Later in the night, after the Vibhoothi Abisekam, Thalapureeswarar and Thiru Gnana Sambandar go around the streets of this temple in a night long  pancha moorthy procession.

Quits School early, Joins Agama Patshala
Karthikeyan Shivachariar did not take a liking to academics at school and quit school after class V to join the Kanchi Kamakoti Veda Shiva Agama Patshala where he was initiated into the agamas, vedas, sastras, jothisham and the sacred verses by Umapathy Shivachariar. He was later anointed with the title of Shiva Agama Choodamani for his expert knowledge of the agamas. 
Even as a young boy aged 6, he had taken interest in the pooja performance watching his father’s service at the temple including the art of alankaram and the chandanam pasting. That was all in his mind at that young age to perform service to Thaala Pureeswarar and Osai Nayaki. After the patshala education, he returned to Sirkazhi and following his wedding, took charge as the archaka at a monthly salary of Rs. 270. Later, he stopped taking this salary and has been performing the four kaala service as a hereditary archaka. While his grandfather and father had performed every day pooja in multiple temples, Karthikeyan Shivachariar has stuck to three temples including Osai Nayaki where he performs service every day.

Thiru Gnana Sambandar's episode
After having drunk the sacred milk from the Goddess at Sattanathar temple in Sirkazhi, Thiru Gnana Sambanthar came here to Thiru Kolakka as a three year old child carried by his father. On seeing the Lord and excited at the playful fishes jumping in and out of the water in the huge sacred tank opposite the temple, Thiru Gnana Sambanthar rendered a devotional verse clapping continuously with his two hands in a joyous mood. 
As the devotion reached its peak, the child’s hands became red making the Lord anxious. It was then that the Lord initiated the child with the Panchakshara Mantra and presented him with a Golden Cymbals. However, being the original one with Gold, the cymbals did not produce sound!!! As he moved on and presented the songs in front of Ambal, seen north of the Lord, the Ambal blessed him by providing sound to his songs.

In memory of this historical episode, Ambal is referred to as Osai Nayaki (Dwani Pradhambigai) and the Lord as Thaala Pureeswarar (Saptha Pureeswarar).

Sundarar recalls the historical episode
In his praise of the temple, Sundarar describes the way the Lord presented Thiru Gnana Sambanthar with the Golden Cymbals in the full public view including marking the presence of Devas. 

Being the temple where Thiru Gnana Sambandar sang his first verse after gaining his voice, devotees have been visiting the temple for solutions relating to the vocal chord. And there have many instances of them regaining their voice after a visit to this temple. 

Big Improvements at the Temple
Karthikeyan Shivachariar taking over the temple coincided with the devotional wave that was taking off in TN temples at the beginning of this century. The temple has seen big improvements in the last decade thanks his efforts. The temple had been in dilapidated state earlier. The outer wall had collapsed and was rebuilt last decade. A Raja Gopuram is being planned at the Eastern entrance. A new madapalli too had been built as part of the renovation last decade. New mandapams have been built including the Vasantha Mandapam. After three decades, the temple was consecrated in 2017.
Wife doubles up as the 'Prasadam' cook
While there had been paricharakas, othuvars and service personnel at the temple in the century gone by, most had left the town seeking greener pastures. For a major part of the last two decades, Karthikeyan Shivachariar's wife has been the one who has cooked the prasadam for the Lord and Ambal each day of the year. This exertion has taken a toll on her health and she has been experiencing physical challenges relating to the shoulders and arms.

While the priests in most remote temples have chosen to send their next gen to formal school education and many are seen taking to Engineering, Karthikeyan Shivachariar has last year sent his young son to the Patshala for full time initiation into the Agamas. Last week, this section had featured a story on decades experienced Nagaswaram Vidwan of the Kapaleeswarar Temple keeping his son away from temple service by sending him into formal collegiate eduation. But Karthikeyan Shivachariar is keen for the hereditary service to continue.
While life has improved financially and he has constructed a brick based house, the expenses too have shot up including big on amma’s medicines. This year has also seen a few deaths in the family including the passing away of his father and uncle. There are other challenges too in life. But Karthikeyan Shivachariar is undaunted and clear that he would continue to serve Thaala Pureeswarar and Osai Nayaki, one that has been his way of life for the last two decades. Through the first half of a weekday, devotees are trickling in from various parts of the state but there is one thing common in all of them. They have high regard for the sacred service of Karthikeyan Shivachariar and look up to him to invoke the blessings for Swamy and Ambal.

Thaala Pureeswarar temple in Thiru Kolakka, now Thiru Thaala Mudayar Koil, is located two kms South West of Sattanathar temple in Sirkazhi.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sembanar Koil Nagaswaram Mohan Dass

Growing disrespect for Nagaswaram artistes leads four decades Vidwan to pull his son away from the hereditary art
Mohan Dass presented Nagaswaram at Mayuranathar Temple, Mayiladuthurai for 25years and has been the Asthana Vidwan at Kapaleeswarar Temple for the last 15years
Much like the NextGen archakas (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/11/bhattars-gurukals-move-away-from-temples.html), the ones among the service personnel too are on the way out away from temples into the corporate world. For 20 generations the Nagaswaram family from the Thiru Gnana Sambandhar and Thirunavukarasar praised Sembanar Koil (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/02/sembanar-koil_14.html) has been rendering Nagaswaram recital in historical temples in Tamil Nadu. Kapaleeswarar Temple’s Asthana Vidwan of the last 15years Sembanar Koil Mohan Dass is the last of the descendants to perform this.

While he himself has been performing in temples for four decades, he has been seeing a declining trend in respect in the society for Nagaswaram artistes. In line with this thought, he has kept his teenaged son away from Nagaswaram performances. What this means is that Mohan Dass will be the last in the Sembanar Koil clan to present Nagaswaram in temples. Except him, every other descendant had already gone the corporate way in the past, away from the traditional art.

School Drop Out, Early Initiation into Nagaswaram
Sembanar Koil SGRS Mohan Dass had very little school education and dropped out before he was 10 for Nagaswaram had captured his imagination as a very young boy. He would watch every presentation at the historical Atheenam administered Mayurathanathar temple in Mayiladuthurai(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/04/mayuranathar-temple-mayiladuthurai.html), where his forefathers had come to settle well over a century ago. It was also at this temple that he presented his first Nagaswaram recital.
His appa, Sembanar Koil SRG Sambandam, was his first Guru and he learnt the early Nagaswaram lessons from him. He also began presenting the Thalaams when his father performed in utsavams “My appa noted my early interest in Nagaswaram and began initiating me very early on. I would also listen to audio recordings all the time at a young age.’

Performs at Kapali Brahmotsavam as a 13 year old
Aged 13, he came to Mylapore to to perform on the Arubathumoovar day of the Panguni Brahmotsavam at the Kapaleeswararar Temple in 1979. In earlier times, his father had performed earlier on multiple days of the Brahmotsavam at this temple. 

As his appa was performing round the year, Mohan Dass was initiated into the nuances of Nagaswaram presentation by the revered Sembanar Koil SRD Vaidhyanathan “I learned the mallaries under his guidance for three years. It was he who taught me as to how to present in temple utsavams and in kutcheris.”

Following his forefathers’ tradition of performing during all the utsavams at the Mayuranathar temple, Mohan Dass too began presenting Nagaswaram during all the street processions from the early 1980s, one that went on for 25years.  “In his prime, my father would travel on a bullock cart to kutcheri locations. To perform on all the ten days of Brahmotsavam in Aippasi, I was paid Rs. 350 at the Mayuranathar temple. Two decades later, this had gone up to Rs. 700.”

"On normal days, we would be thrilled at receiving Rs. 2 for our performance. While the remuneration was not high, we were respected for our performance as the Nagaswaram artistes were held in high esteem during that period."

To Kapali from Mayuranathar
While Mayuranathar had been the temple where his forefathers had performed for over a century, he took a special liking for Kapaleeswarar where he and his father had been performing off and on during the annual Brahmotsavam in the 70s and 80s. At the turn of the century, he began performing at the Kapaleeswarar temple. For eight years, he was paid a daily wage of Rs. 100 before he received a confirmation from the HR&CE and he is now the 'Asthana Vidwan' at the temple.

Opportunities to outside artistes
In an effort to provide opportunity and promote Nadaswaram Vidwans, Mohan Dass has been organizing Nagaswaram and Tavil artistes for the evening processions at the Brahmotsavam from remote locations in Tamil Nadu over the last decade.
 
Earlier this year,for the Brahmotsavam he organised 5 troupes from Kottur, near Tiruvarur, Irumbuthalai, near Thanjavur, Thirumai Gnyanam near Poonthottam, Thirumahaalam near Peralam and the renowned vidwans of the Kalyanapuram Perumal Koil, near Thiruvayaru to perform on five evenings. He also brought in a special troupe to perform at the Adhikara Nandhi procession. 
But even while he moved to Chennai, he found a unique problem “I found that people were hesitant to give a house on rent to Nagaswaram artistes and I found that shocking. While they should have been encouraging us, they were apprehensive of having us as tenants.”

“Respect is not there in the society anymore for Nagaswaram artistes. There was a time when the renowned Needamangalam Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai insisted that he would give his daughter only to a Nagaswaram artiste. Today, clearly no one wants to look the side of a Nagaswaram family.”

Contract Wedding and its challenges
He says that contract wedding has spelt death knell for Nagaswaram players. "By handing out a budgeted contract for a wedding, the remuneration to the artiste has come down in recent times with wedding contractors working out bulk and multiple deals with artistes. There is a negotiation of rates every bit of the way. And with it the quality is coming down.”

Five decades ago, the Nagaswaram artistes lived in financial challenges but there was mental happiness as people respected them for their devotional performances in temples "When we entered the temple, everyone would stand up. Today even at weddings, the artistes are neglected and the performance has become a side show."

He does not see this reviving anytime in the near future.

End of Sembanar Koil Clan's Nagaswaram
While he continues to perform every day with devotion at the Kapaleeswarar temple, Mohan Dass will be the last from his clan to perform, at least anytime in the foreseeable future. His son has taken to commerce at college and has not been initiated into Nagaswaram “After four decades of service, I still do not have a home in my name. In the hour of the performance, people listen with interest and then we are a forgotten lot.”

His cousins and nephews have already moved away from Nagaswaram performance into the corporate world "They left long ago and each of them have a home and a car to themselves."

Mohan Dass is still reminded of the bullock cart days of his appa!!!

Only a handful of priests in the non- financially strong temples have stayed back in the challenging phase over the last few decades. Most in the next gen priests have already moved away from temples into academics and the corporate world. And many more in the current generation too are pursuing academics (especially Engineering) to seek the greener pastures of the corporate world. 

The kind of challenges that Mohan Dass has faced in his life as a Nagaswaram artiste, financial and non financial and now Societal has led him to take a call to keep his son away from their hereditary art. As an asthana vidwan of the Kapaleeswarar temple, it is likely he will continue to perform till his retirement but the next generation of devotees will no more have access to the Nagaswaram recital of the renowned Sembanar Koil clan.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

TNPL 2021 Gokulakrishnan Madanagopal

A First in TN Cricket
Elder Brother Match Referee, Younger Brother On field Umpire 
Former South Zone cricketer brothers to come together for the first time in this role of Referee-Umpire
For the first time in the English season last year, Stuart Broad took the field with his father and English cricketer from the 1980s as the Match Referee. Stuart was in a fiery and combative mood in the 2nd test after having been ‘rested/dropped’ for the first test. He had made an aggressive statement in the media after being left out of the first test in line with English Selectors’ rotation policy.  Given the Covid Situation, only English umpires officiated in the 2020 English summer and the match referee too was an Englishman for the first time in a home series after neutral umpires and referees came into play. There was tension all around and one wondered as to how Stuart would react in the next test after coming back into the playing XI. All eyes were also on the match referee, his father. It was in this context that Stuart Broad was asked as to how he expected his father match referee to react if Stuart became over aggressive on the field. Stuart’s reaction (more in jest) that day was “My dad (match referee) would not be on this year’s Christmas card list if any action was directed against me”. It had been hoped same period last year that Stuart would not do anything untoward on the field to put his father Chris in an embarrassing situation.

In the TNPL that starts on Monday (July 19), elder brother and former South Zone all rounder J Gokulakrishnan will referee his younger brother and former South Zone middle order bat J Madanagopal, now a top BCCI umpire, who will officiate on field end of this month at Chepauk.

Throughout a majority of their playing career, the two of them did not play together for the same league team in the first division with Gokulakrishnan settling down at India Cements very early on in his career, while Madanagopal played for multiple teams through the 1990s before moving to India Cements almost a decade after his first division debut. Even at the state level, the two did not play many matches together with the elder brother having made his debut many years prior to Madan and then having moved on to Goa.  

Madan takes to Umpiring, Gokul on to State Coaching
In the first decade of this century, after their retirement, each took to their own ways. While Madanagopal took to Umpiring, Gokulakrishnan went the coaching way being the longest serving coach of the period as he was with the TN team for five years. He also coached at the age group level for five years.  Madanagopal has been a BCCI umpire for 15years now. After his coaching stint with the State, Gokulakrishnan moved on the role of a BCCI Match Referee following a suggestion made by former hat rick man of TN cricket, B Kalyanasundaram, a  Match Referee himself.

Brothers as coaches win TNPL in their debut season together
Finally after decades, the two came together in the TNPL in 2016 as coaches of franchise cricket. In their first year together, the two fashioned a tournament victory in the TNPL. Just under three decades earlier, in their first year in cricket, the two had played together in the TNCA league with the team achieving promotion in the fifth division.
And now, end of this month, the two will be together at a cricket match again albeit in different roles with the elder brother overseeing the action of the younger on the field!!! The concept of match referee and third umpire is recent having taken off at all levels in the last two decades. While the two may have dreamt of playing together for the State or coaching a team together, it is unlikely that either of them would have visualized a day of one monitoring and overseeing the action of the other in a cricket match. Just like on field umpires, the role of a match referee is to ensure smooth conduct of the match. It will have to be Gokulakrishnan taking the lead and communicating his thoughts ahead of the match to his umpire brother Madanagopal. Also, it will be his duty and responsibility to present his formal feedback on his brother at the end of the match.

For almost their entire career, the two brothers have been completely professional and understated. Very rarely have they been in the limelight for they have allowed their action on the field to talk for themselves. This one though will be interesting – Madanagopal on the field umpiring a TNPL match and elder brother Gokulakrishnan watching his every move from inside the match referee box atop the terrace at Chepauk.

With both of them actively pursuing this as a career, Madan as an umpire and Gokul as a match referee, this TNPL contest later this month could be the beginning of many years of the two brothers being part of a cricket match.

Best Wishes to the two of them. This section will track the developments of the brothers working in sync in a cricket match with the common goal of conducting the match well.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Sempon Sei Koil Ramani Deekshithar

Devotional Archaka Service at 72
Ramani Deekshithar of Mannargudi has performed the role of a sole archaka for 26years at  Sempon Arangar Divya Desam
He overcame the early loss of his father and poverty in childhood to serve as a Headmaster of a School near Thiru Nangur for over three decades and to be associated with this temple for over 60years
Praising the Lord as Per Arulaalan, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar described  Sempon Sei Koil as being in the middle of Thiru Nangur
Having lost his father aged five, Ramani Deekshithar fought through poverty in the 1950s and 60s to rise to manage a school for 35years as its Head Master. For almost seven decades he has been associated with the Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praised Sempon Arangar Divya Desam in Thiru Nangur, supporting the then Bhattar for almost 40years and then managing the temple all alone for the last 26years as an archaka. Despite a financially challenged childhood, he did not seek to leave Thiru Nangur and has lived in the Sannidhi Street for seven decades opposite Sempon Sei Koil.  Here’s the story.

From Mannargudi to Thiru Nangur 90years ago
Ramani Deekshithar’s father Ramaswamy Deekshithar belonged to Raja Mannargudi and was a hereditary archaka at the Raja Gopalaswamy temple (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2007/05/mannargudi-rajagopalaswamy-temple.html) with about 20days service annually. After his wedding, Ramaswamy Deekshithar was invited by the Sthalathars of  Thiru Nangur to take care of three Divya Desams in this region  “My amma was the only daughter of my grandmother, who had lost her husband. My grandmother too invited my appa to move to Thiru Nangur about 90years ago so he could perform round the year archaka service here."

He nodded to this invitation and thus the family settled down in Thiru Nangur around 1930. Two other long time resident families too had left made Mannargudi in the first half of the 20th Century. S Venkatesan, who was struck by Polio in his childhood went on to become the CFO of Sundaram Finance and served the NBFC for four decades (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/09/venkatesan-s-sundaram-finance.html). R Madhavan's forefathers belong to Raja Mannargudi and they moved out of the temple town in the early part of the 20th Century. With passion for cricket, Madhavan played for TN in the Ranji Trophy in the 1980s and was on the verge of playing for India end of 1984 after a strong performance that year including a century against David Gower's England (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/10/r-madhavan-tn-cricketer-1980s.html).

For over two decades, Ramaswamy Deekshithar performed archaka service at three Divya Desams in Thiru Nangur – Narayana Perumal, Kavalambadi and Thiru Mani Koodam. He would go to Raja Mannargudi whenever his days in the year came up at that temple.

Childhood in Poverty, No Devotees at Temple
The sudden and unexpected death of Ramaswamy Deekshithar at a young age sent shock waves in the family. Ramani Deekshithar recalls that week in 1954 “He was unwell for a couple of days. There were no medical facilities in the region. He was in bed for two days and we expected him to recover but he passed away without any medical treatment and quite unexpectedly.”

Ramani Deekshithar’s elder brother was already married at that time and had moved away to the in-law’s location after his wedding. The untimely death of his father meant Ramani Deekshithar’s childhood was spent in poverty in Thiru Nangur. Through the first three decades of his life, he lived in an old fashioned small ‘Ottu Veedu’ “My amma’s amma had a piece of land in Thiru Nangur and it was income from that land that helped us survive the financially challenging phase in the 1950s and 60s. My three sisters (a fourth and his elder brother had married while his father was alive), my amma and Patti all lived together in the hut.”

Archaka Service Support during School Days
Ramani Deekshithar did his early schooling at Nangur Elementary School and then moved to Nangur Government School for his high school education. While his father had served three Divya Desams at the same time for over two decades, the above three temples were handed over to another Bhattar after his death as Ramani Deekshithar was too young to manage a temple. 

Support Service at Sempon Sei Koil
His mother’s uncle, Lakshmana Bhattar had taken charge at Sempon Sei Koil in 1945. In the late 1950s and through the 60s, Ramani Deekshithar would support him in the daily activities at the temple before and after his school hours. During his childhood, Ramani Deekshithar remembers the Sempon Arangar temple being in a dilapidated state with falling roof and walls. At Sempon Sei Koil, there were no vahanas and processions on select occasions would be of Lord being carried on simple pallakkus. He recalls the special Thaligai at Narayana Perumal Koil as a special attraction. The Brahmotsavam there was an important occasion for people in this region and everyone would gather there for the processions.
 “There was no electricity at the temple. Lakshmana Bhattar himself did Thaligai each day of the year and presented to Sempon Arangar. Till the Samprokshanam of 1962 performed by Kuttrala Narayana Pillai, Thalaichanga Sundara Ramanujam and Trustee Krishnamachari (Sthalathar), the temple had been in dilapidated state and we were always worried that the roof would fall one day. The powder from the ancient brick structure was constantly coming off and in my childhood we used to play with it spraying on one another as if it was red chilli.”

Following this, there would not be another consecration for another 38years.

He recalls the entire Nangur having just one house of Srinivasa Mudaliar with first floor construction till the 1970s. “While the agraharam comprised of Iyengars, the Nangur region was dominated by Mudaliars with 300 of them living in and around Nangur.”

Pays College Hostel fees through amma's loans
After completing his SSLC, Ramani Deekshithar went to the Teachers Training College in Thanjavur for two years. “While there was no term fee to be paid, I had to shell out Rs. 85 every month as hostel fees. As we were financially challenged, my amma took loans and paid the hostel fees. I received a monthly stipend of Rs. 18 which I spent on my food and coffee.”

HM at Neppathur School from 1975
After having worked in the Panchayat Board for a couple of years, he was roped in as the Head Master of the Government aided school in Neppathur in 1975 and was assigned the task of managing the entire affairs of the school. “In those days, only Grade Two teacher could become a Head Master. Since I had completed SSLC and also secured the teachers training degree, I was appointed as the HM. I taught all the subjects to class IV and V students and served there for over three decades."

For over 15years, he cycled his way to the school that was six kilometers from Sempon Sei Koil.

He spent a lot time in those early decades with the renowned VS Lakshmana Deekshithar of Parthanpalli Divya Desam(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/10/parthanpalli-nangur-divya-desam.html). It was from him that he learnt the Pooja Kramas. Ramani Deekshithar recalls Lakshmana Deekshithar telling him several decades ago of the scenario that existed at these Divya Desams in the 1940s and 50s “There were no visiting devotees to the Parthanpalli Divya Desam. Lakshmana Deekshithar would shut the gate of the temple and sit in front of his house at the end of the Sannidhi Street waiting for an outstation devotee that proved elusive most of the time. But when a devotee family finally turned up in a car, he would run to the temple to open the door. After performing pooja in all the Sannidhis, he would receive a Sambhavanai of 25paise.”
The scenario was no different at Sempon Sei Koil in those decades. Devotees were elusive and even when they turned up at infrequent intervals the sambhavanai was so minimal that it would be just enough to take care of the expenses of the large family for just a few days. 

From the early 1970s, through till 1995, he continued to support his grand uncle Lakshmana Bhattar at the Sempon Sei Koil in all the daily activities.

Morning and Evenings at the Divya Desam
In addition to his discharging his duties at the school, Ramani Deekshithar was also actively involved in the conduct of the Utsavams including the celebrations on the Vaikunta Ekadasi day. Outside of this, the key events at the temple, whose Lord Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praises as Per Arulaalan, have been the Thirumanjanam on Swathi every month, a procession on Tamil New Year day, the Margazhi Utsavam and the 11 Garuda Sevai on Thai Amavasai(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/03/thiru-nangur-11-garuda-sevai.html).

With old age issues affecting his health, Lakshmana Bhattar handed over the baton completely to Ramani Deekshithar in 1995 and he has been taking care of the temple all alone since then for the last 26years. Under the one pooja a day scheme, the HR&CE pays Rs. 700 every month!!!
 
Turnaround at Sempon Sei Koil
It was at the turn of the century that things turned positive for the Divya Desam thanks to the efforts of Muralidhara Swamigal who organised Sambhavanai for the priest as well as took care of the expenses of the temple.  In recent years, a devotee from Coimbatore has organized for the construction of all the vahanas. With the raising of a flag post, Brahmotsavam has come to be organised every year in Aipasi over the last four years. The belief here is that if one offers sincere prayers to Sempon Arangar, one would recover his lost wealth and this too has brought in crowds to this temple.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar described Kreedam is back
In the last decade or so, Ramani Deekshithar says that the devotee crowd has increase dramatically from the times he experienced in the late 1950s. Big improvements have been taking place at this temple with devotees offering Kreedam and Kavachams for the Lord.  Thiru Mangai Azhvaar who described Sempon Sei Koil as being at the heart of Thiru Nangur praises the Lord as one is seen adorned with glittering Kreedam.

வசை அறு குறள் ஆய் மாவலி வேள்வி  மண் அளவிட்டவன் தன்னை 
அசைவு அறும் அமரர் அடி இணை வணங்க 
அலை கடல் துயின்ற அம்மானை 
திசை முகன் அனையோர் நாங்கை நன் நடுவுள் 

செம்பொன் செய் கோயிலினுள்ளே 

உயர் மணி மகுடம் சூடி நின்றானை 
கண்டு கொண்டு உய்ந்தொழிந்தேனே 

Dedicated Service at 72
Ramani Deekshithar has lived almost the entire seven decades of his life on the Sannidhi Street opposite the Sempon Arangar Temple. The financial challenges from his childhood and the poverty stricken life with no devotees at the temple and with no money to even fund his basic education now seem like a distant memory for Ramani Deekshithar. Through sheer hard work and under the care of his grandmother and amma, Ramani Deekshithar grew to become the Head Master of a school in Nangur while at the same time being associated closely with Divya Desam service. For a long time, he also doubled up as the cook at the Madapalli. 

Life has turned around for him in the last two decades. In 2005, he received an award from the TN Government for long time outstanding service in the education space as a high quality teacher in a remote town. He now leads a secure life with monthly pension having retired from a Government School. He has Ramanujam to assist him in making garlands and to unofficially perform the role of a Mei Kavalar at the temple.

At 72, when one could lead a quiet retired life, Ramani Deekshithar, unmindful of the heart surgery he had in 2017, has chosen to dedicate himself to Sempon Arangar  and performs archaka service through the year at this historical Divya Desam including anchoring the annual Brahomotsavam in Aippasi.


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Ahobilam Yogananda Narasimha

Thiruvallikeni School boy and Narasimha devotee Prahladh spots the interchanged Yogananda Narasimha at Ahobilam Divya Desam - Officials now confirm the reversel of the idols during the Previous Samprokshanam
In May last year, this section had featured a story on 10 year old school boy from Thiruvallikeni and his devotional passion to hand sketch Narasimha idols (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/05/prahladh-devotional-drawing.html). A version of this story had also featured earlier in The Hindu Friday Review.

A couple of years ago, this writer had seen the young Narasimha devotee stand in front of the Yoga Narasimha sannidhi at the Parthsarathy Perumal Divya Desam in Thiruvallikeni and within hours sketching the Moolavar idol of Narasimha.

Prahladh spots the interchanged idols
In quite an unbelievable devotional absorption power, Prahladh, who visited the Ahobilam Divya Desam over the weekend spotted the interchange of Swayambu and Pratishta Murthy at the Yogananda Narasimha Sannidhi. Prahladh had been given photographs of the Sannidhi in its previous form and the current structure.  When he returned home on Sunday evening and began sketching the idol, he found something odd and his drawing came to an instant halt.

When Prahladh looked deep into the two photographs, he found that the Swayambu and Pratishta idols had been interchanged and his inquisitive instincts enquired as to how and why this had happened.
OLD YOGANANDA NARASIMHA SANNIDHI, AHOBILAM

Multiple officials related to Ahobilam that this writer spoke to over the next 48 hours were clueless that such a change had taken place. Ananthapadmanabhanchariar, Upanyasakar and Srikaryam of the Ahobilam Mutt, told this writer that he was not aware of any such changes to the Yogananda Narasimha Sannidhi.

Venu Srinivasan's Ahobilam Restoration but not of Yoga Narasimha Sannidhi
In November last year, this section had featured a story last year on Venu Srinivasan undertaking restoration of the Ahobilam Divya Desam (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/11/ahobilam-temple-restoration.html) but interestingly he had not performed any restoration work in the Yogananda Narasimha Sannidhi for the repair works had already been completed prior to his taking up the restoration work at Ahobilam. 
Sources say that the Jeer may have requested Venu Srinivasan to undertake the restoration work in the rest of the Ahobilam Divya Desam temples after seeing the 'modernised' work at the Yogananda Narasimha Sannidhi.

Tiled works and Modernisation of Yoga Narasimha Sannidhi
The Thiruvallikeni devotee also brought to this writer’s attention the modernization of the Yogananda Narasimha Sannidhis as compared to other sannidhis in Ahobilam - with the difference in the stone structure from the earlier period and now clearly visible..
NEW YOGANANDA NARASIMHA SANNIDHI -REVERSED IDOLS 
AND TILED BACKDROP

When contacted, a source related to Ahobilam who has been associated with the Divya Desam for the last two decades said that the renovation of the Yogananda Narasimha Sannnidhi had been performed a Mutt Sishya as a one off exercise and that this had indeed been completed before Venu Srinivasan took up the works at the Divya Desam.

Clearly, in the one off exercise, one finds tiles replacing the ancient stone structure at this sannidhi.

Historical Background to Prathista Idol
Between 1995 and 98, the Swayambu Idol of Yogananda Narasimha had been damaged. The Power Agent of the time had directed and organised a Prathista Murthy to be sculpted.  Till then, there had been only the Swayambu Idol at the Yogananda Narasimha Sannidhi.

When the then Jeer of the Ahobilam Mutt came to know of this development, he ordered that the Swayambu Idol cannot be done away with and directed the repairs of that historical idol. During the 1998 Samprokshanam, both the idols were consecrated. At that event, the Swayambu idol was in the front while the newly sculpted Prathista Murthy was in the background.

Recently, when the consecration of the Yogananda Narasimha Sannidhi took place after the repairs exercise by the private donor, the idols were swapped and one now finds the Swayambu Idol at the back and the Prathista Murthy in the front. Agama experts say that the current order of placement of the two idols is the way it should have been in the original instance.

On Tuesday evening, the official of the Divya Desam confirmed to this writer that the idols were indeed interchanged in the recent Samprokshanam.

Hats off to the 11 year Prahladh for spotting the change!!! It indeed is a reflection of his devotion for Narasimha and his attention to minute details while sketching his favourite Narasimha drawings on a white sheet of Chart paper.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

R Venkataraman Catholic Syrian Bank Syndicate Bank

The small town school boy in Dindigul who aspired to become a Maths Teacher rose to great heights in the Banking Sector becoming the Chariman and CEO of Catholic Syrian Bank
It is not often that you have someone who has spent the first two decades of his life in a quiet Tier two town in Tamil Nadu with very little exposure to city life reaching the top of the Banking World. R Venkataraman is clearly an exception. While he aspired to be a Mathematics Teacher for all his life, opportunities at 22 led him into the banking space and he grabbed it with both hands and made a mark for himself in four different banks. While he was roped in by the promoters of the Catholic Syrian bank to head the Kerala headquartered bank as its Chairman and CEO in his late 50s, Syndicate Bank remains his favourite bank for it helped him to graduate to what he is today. He also played a role in  the IT industry where for TCS he set up the Virtual Banking Services and Treasury Products. A cricket fanatic right from his childhood days, he watched at the Wankhade Stadium that unforgettable incident of K Srikkanth’s run out in his debut test match in 1981. He remained a close confidant of the late VB Chandrasekar and had met him just a few months before his death.  Here is the story of a remarkable Banker who made his way to top of the leader board without a  God Father.

Early Decades in Dindigul
R Venkataraman’s forefathers hailed from Kodimangalam, a village near Kumbakonam. But his father had moved to Dindigul very early on in his life and served in the Co-operative Bank there till his retirement in 1971. Dindigul was renowned for the historical Sundararaja Perumal Temple in Dhaadi Kombu (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/10/thaadi-kombu-soundararaja-perumal.html) that is abound with beautiful sculptures but there was not much of exposure in those early years other than leading a religious life visiting the neighbourhood temples. 

Venkataraman's childhood in Dindigul was largely uneventful and there was no inkling of him becoming a banker for his early interest was in Mathematics. His interest had become so addictive that after his centum in Maths in SSLC, he aspired to spend his life as a Maths Teacher. He was a Gold Medalist in SSLC and a Topper at College as well.

Outside of academics, he was an active participant in elocution contests, where he won many prizes and at the cricket ground where he bowled off spin. Later on, he captained the Arts College cricket team during his three years as a B. Sc Maths student. His association as a lover of cricket has remained right to this day and he rooted for the country in the recent World Championship final watching the entire match from his home in T. Nagar.

His amma’s musical interest led him to attend kutcheris right from his days as a teenager at the temples in Dindigul including Abirami Amman, Mariamamman, Kottaikulam Hanuman and Srinivasa Perumal Temple (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2012/11/dindigul-srinivasa-perumal-temple.html). “It was the Nagaswaram recitals in temples that led to my decades long interest in Kutcheris.” 

Aspires to become a Maths Teacher
With an eye on pursuing a career in teaching, he moved to Madurai for his Post Graduation in Mathematics under the tutorship of Dr. M Venkataraman. As things turned out, there were no new vacancies for a Maths Teacher in any of the colleges. Around the same time, the BSRB called in for an examination to recruit officers “I got through the competitive examination and joined Syndicate Bank as an officer in Vellore in 1972. While I wanted to explore opportunities as a teacher, my appa asked me to take up the bank job as it offered long term security.”

And there ended Venkataraman’s dream of becoming a Maths Teacher.

Life Changing Experience in Bombay
After a brief period in Erode, he moved to Bombay in 1975 and worked there for a dozen years, one that he considers as a life changing experience “Professionally it was the best corporate experience in my life. The opportunity to interact and work with the top bankers in the country, the engaging experience of travelling to office in a Suburban train and managing tough customers with high expectations taught me a lot in my banking career. It was a very fast paced life there but if someone wants to get to the top of the business world in India, a stint in Bombay will provide a rich learning experience that will stand him in good stead later on in his career.”

His wife, also a banker who rose to be a Chief Manager at India Bank, hails from Srirangam. Her grand father was the family doctor of this writer's family in the 1960s.

Multiple Diplomas
It was also during this period in Bombay that he realized the importance of expanding his Banking knowledge. He completed CAIIB and followed that with Diplomas in International Banking, Business Management and Financial Services. In this phase, he was also a member of the Group of ForEx experts at FEDAI.  While in Bombay, he had begun delivering lectures in Staff Training Colleges on Credit and ForEx. He was also a visiting faculty in the Bankers Training College of RBI.

Alongside his professional growth, he expanded his musical interest and was a regular at the Shanmugananda hall in Bombay during the 1980s.

Srikkanth’s Debut Test
India’s upcoming test series against England took him back to the memories of the test match in 1981. It was during his long phase in Bombay with Syndicate Bank that he had the opportunity to watch that unforgettable debut test match of K Srikkanth (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/10/abhinav-mukund-bizarre-dismissal.html) at the Wankhade Stadium “It was a great experience to be watching a Test match at the ground in those days. The stadium was packed and we were against Willis and Botham. As one from Tamil Nadu, I was excited to watch our hero Srikkanth open alongside the legendary Gavaskar but was completely saddened by the way he strolled out of his crease to tap the pitch and run out by John Emburey.”

For the first time in his life, he moved to Madras in 1988 at the Regional Inspectorate/Vigilance department. After about five years in Madras, he moved back to Bombay as the Divisional Manager (International Banking Division) where he was the head of Systems and Processes as well the ForEx Head. 

He considers his 23years at Syndicate Bank as the best in his banking career “It was those two decades at Syndicate Bank that laid the foundation for my career growth in later years. The solid foundation there helped me graduate the next level in other banks.”

Private Sector Bank offers him a niche role
He had settled down well at Syndicate Bank and was enjoying his role there when an unexpected call came his way in 1995. Private Sector Bank, Bank of Madura, was on an expansion spree and had turned into a popular bank having caught the eye of the customers in that phase. As part of that expansion, they were look for a professional to head their Foreign Exchange Division and  they offer him that niche and specialised role.

He joined the Bank as an AGM in September 1995 and played an important role in their transformation over the five year stint by anchoring the integration of the ForEx and Treasury. At Bank of Madura, Venkataraman travelled to the Middle East and Malaysia to integrate the Rupee Drawing arrangements. He recalls his modus operandi of handling what could sometimes be a tricky operations“I was cautious in my approach and the key was to not incur any loss in ForEx. I had laid out a clear policy guideline and adhered to the safeguards advised by the RBI, especially in ForEx dealings. There was no flashy trading or leveraging opportunities to make quick money for the bank. It was a safety first model of working.”

In this period, he was deputed for a reputed Euro conference organised by Citibank in Thailand. He was a regular at the IFMR as a visiting faculty for management lectures.
With the then PM of India, AB Vajpayee

Seven years at Lord Krishna Bank
The talks of the BOM’s merger with ICICI Bank coincided with a call from Lord Krishna Bank. After one and a half years of ForEx role in Delhi, he moved to the Ernakulam HO as the GM and Head of Operations and worked there till 2007. He made inroads in ForEx profitability despite it being a small bank. It was also Venkataraman who automated the whole operations in ForEx “Even though it was a smallish bank compared to Bank of Madura in terms of size, it was a rich experience for me to manage the operations at Lord Krishna Bank.”

During his time as the ForEx Head at Lord Krishna Bank, Venkataraman made several trips to Saudi Arabia, Muscat, Bahrain and Doha to finalise Rupee Drawing arrangements interacting with Non Resident clients and to bring in Non Resident investments.

Chairman and CEO of Catholic Syrian Bank
Having tracked his progress, the promoters of Catholic Syrian Bank saw him as an ideal candidate to head the bank and roped him as the Chairman and CEO end of July 2007. It was almost a dream come true for the man from Dindigul, where there was almost zero exposure to corporate life. He moved from Ernakulam to the CSB’s headquarters in Trissur. During his three year stint, the bank’s profitability peaked and was able to pay dividend of 30%. 

Doubles Business, Anchors Automation
He had taken over as the Chief when the Bank’s business was just over Rs. 7000cr. Under his leadership, business grew rapidly and doubled. It was a phase that saw a large expansion of the branch network as well as the biggest automation seen at the bank. He anchored three AGMs in a phase when talks were rife of the merger with Federal Bank. He was at the center of attention and for a while was hounded with queries on the merger.

During this phase in Kerala, he was one of the invitees to the Credit Monetary Policy Review in 2008.He also travelled to Greece deputed as a leading banker from India to demonstrate and give feedback about technology products in the banking space. 

Having spent almost a decade in Kerala, he retired end of 2009 around the time when the merger talks had hit a roadblock. He calls the phase in Kerala as a fulfilling experience “I enjoyed working in Kerala. Personally, I was able to deliver results for both Lord Krishna Bank and Catholic Syrian Bank and a fulfilling experience for me to have worked in Ernakulam and Trissur. More importantly, the promoters were very happy with my performance and wanted me to continue for another year but I was keen to return to Madras.”

He was missing the Margazhi Kutcheris as by then he had become a big music buff!!!

From Banking to Teaching
Having worked for almost four decades, he took a short breaking from the Banking circuit and took to his favourite option – Teaching. For a brief while, he served as a guest faculty at LIBA teaching Banking and Finance and enjoyed what was he loved most in life.  

Banking in the IT Industry
However, another offer came soon after this time another unexpected one from the IT industry. TCS wanted him as a Consulting advisor and for three years he worked onsite at the Whitefield center setting up the Virtual Banking services as well as Treasury Products which they  were to cater to many banks worldwide. For another year, he worked offsite in the Banking space at TCS.

Prior to the Pandemic, he would not miss a day of the Margazhi Kutcheri and would jump from one Sabha to another each day of the season.

Syndicate Bank - His Favourite
Despite all his successes at Lord Krishna Bank and CSB at Senior Management roles, Venkataraman looks back at his over two decades stint in Syndicate Bank as his favourite “Syndicate Bank remains my favourite. I joined afresh from College  with all my thoughts till that time having been on wanting to become a Maths Teacher and it was my experience there in varied roles that helped me graduate to what I am today. Syndicate Bank gave me the exposure across departments that were to serve as great value to me later on in my management stints.”
Venkataraman is 73 and the Pandemic has locked him inside his Syndicate Bank constructed Quarters in T. Nagar off North Boag Road for 15months. Just a couple of years back, he lost a long time friend in cricketer VB Chandrasekar (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/01/vb-chandrasekar.html) for whose family he had been a close confidant for several years. He himself has also not enjoyed great health in the recent past. Despite the restrictions and the challenges, the credibility he has enjoyed over several decades has led to offers continuing to pour in for consultancy roles in the Banking space. 

It may not be long before he is back to serving the Banking Sector again with his rich experience and expertise. For the moment, he is spending his time listening to the favourite songs of Bombay Jayashree, Ranjani Gayathri and Sanjay Subrahmaniam and is eagerly looking forward to India’s Test Series in England. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Golf Referee K Sundar

Circumstances forced him to let go his Big Basketball dream four decades ago but Passionate Sportsman Sundar is now back into the serious sporting arena and on the verge of  an overseas debut as a Golf Referee from Madras
Sundar was a Born Leader and the Best Player in our Team in the late 1970s - Former National Basketballer Surya Sekar
He is in the list of Top Golf Referees in India and the opportunity in Overseas Tournaments should come soon - Ishwar Achanta, Top International Referee and Treasurer IGU
In 1977, opening batsman S Kedarnath(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2021/06/kedarnath-s-opener-from-1970s.html), who was in prime form that year, was invited by batting legend GR Viswanath to move to Bangalore so he could explore options to play for Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy. When he came home to inform the news to his father, his enthusiasm was crushed as he was asked to stay back in Madras and continued his work at SBI. And there ended his Ranji cricketing dreams. Hailing from T. Nagar, another youngster from that era could easily have become a member of the Guru team at Somasundaram ground and pursued the favourite sport of the time but he chose one that was played just 50yards west of the YSCA tennis ball team (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/11/ms-gurumurthy-ysca-somasundaram-ground.html). At the turn of that decade, a star basketball player, who was just coming out of his teens cherished dreams of playing for the state. Much like Kedarnath in cricket, he too was told by his father to stop his sporting pursuits and settle down in a stable job. There ended his basketball dream and he almost never entered the court again. Touching 60, he is back now with that same passionate sporting interest that he had displayed all those decades ago and this time is confident of scaling global heights in Golf, if things go his way in the next couple of years. Here is the story.

Another sportsman from T. Nagar but this one in Basketball
K. Sundar,a student of T. Nagar High School, took to Basketball at an early age though he played a bit of cricket and tennis as well during his childhood years. Every evening were spent at the basketball court on Venkatnarayana Road (opposite Natesan Park) with boys his age under the tutelage of JBC Sampath. The bunch of boys took part in many tournaments during their teenage years both at this court as well as the popular one at Somasundaram ground and had become a team to reckon with in the city. His elder sister was a rank holder in Class X and he was constantly told by her to focus on academics. 

While he did follow her advice, his early sporting success easily outshone the performance in academics. By mid teens, he was part of the State Junior squad in Basketball. Sundar recalls the role played by his basketball Guru and coach at the Venkatnarayana court “JBC Sampath was an outstanding example of a selfless coach whose sole aim was to get the best out of his students. He never took money from his wards. In fact, he went out of his way and spent money for us. He would buy shoes for the deserving students. He was a phenomenal disciplinarian and those that did not stick to the timelines had to sit out.”

As seen later in this story, it is that discipline that is currently helping Sundar as he takes a second shot at achieving sporting glory.

57 year old Surya Sekar, who is now a Senior Manager at Indian Bank, played for India in the 1980s ( his wife too was a national player) and looked up to Sundar in his enjoyable teenage phase in Basketball in T. Nagar. He has great memories of playing alongside Sundar in the 1970s While Sundar had a flair for all sports, we were fortunate that he chose to pursue Basketball. He was a toughie on court and easily the best player in our group, and a dominant one at that. He was technically superior. Even at that young age, his leadership qualities came to the fore.  He was an extrovert and his communication was crystal clear. Everyone in the team would quietly listen to his talk ahead of matches or important sessions.”
“If we beat the best of teams in the city in that period, Sundar was the reason. He played a stellar role in all our victories.”

A First -  A Strong Basketball team at Viveka
After having carved a name as a budding talent in the city Basketball circuit, Sundar did his PU at Vivekananda College and found to his dismay that the entire sporting focus there was on cricket. He along with his group of T Nagar teammates who had also joined the college that year met the Physical Director of the college. Sundar remembers those moments in 1977 “When we met him asking for a team to be set up in Basketball, he almost dismissed us as this sport had almost never been played at the college. It was after the endorsement from our mentor and coach that Ramakrishna Raju finally gave way and for the first time in college’s history, a strong Basketball team from Viveka took on the big weights in the inter collegiate circuit.” 

Sundar played for the city colleges team and did well. He was selected for the state U19 team and played for the state in the Junior Nationals in Pune. He was also in the selection camp for the Indian Junior team. At that moment, he cherished ambitions to play at the state (Men's) level and was clearly focused on pursuing his sporting interests “As a youngster, I believed I could reach the national level in Basketball.”

Has to let go his Sporting Dream at 21
His father was a Government staffer and one with sporting interests having played tennis almost all through his life including till just before his death at the age of 78 but through the teenage phase of Sundar, he was completely unaware of the sporting success of his son much like the parents of that generation. When Sundar’s name featured in The Hindu as part of the team chosen for the state, he gathered courage and went up to his father to show the news report to his father. “It was only then that he came to know that I was doing well in the sport. And from that moment would often introduce me to others as ‘State Basketball player’.”

Declines a Sports Quota Job
Soon after graduation, Sundar was offered a ‘sports quota’ job in a Government organisation in Bangalore but his father was keen for his son to explore opportunities and a career in the private sector. He declined the offer “Had I taken that up, my life could have taken a 'sporting turn' as I may have pursued my sporting interests for the rest of that decade.

However, as directed by his father, he took to the private sector and joined HCL in 1982. He did not enter the Basketball court with the same seriousness again. Like any youngster, Sundar was disappointed having to give up a sport he loved at that age “I was hugely saddened that I had to give up my dream for ever and could not be at the court again after having played very competitively for 10years, but in those days there was no choice really. You did not go against the father’s word. Also, I had lost my mother very early and my father meant everything to me. While I was disappointed having to let go Basketball, I trusted my father on his advice.”

Surya Sekar, who joined Indian Bank at 18 on sports quota recruitment, says that Basketball was in a very primitive stage in the country that decade “Basketball was not a financially lucrative sport. We were given a Rs. 120 worth wrist watch or a Rs. 80 worth wall clock for tournament  victories. The player of the tournament would have got a tiffen carrier. If he had pursued the sport, he would have definitely played for the State and progressed well. It is also likely he would have secured several offers from organisations that promoted sportsmen but he had to quit early and moved into business where he became very successful.”

Very soon, he quit the job at HCL and for the next three decades, enjoyed life as a businessman. His elder brother and his friends had set up a marketing venture and then a manufacturing firm and Sundar joined them early. 

Leads T. Nagar Club to Tennis Championships
After staying away from sports for over a decade, he came back and took to Tennis. He played Tennis for several years including captaining the T Nagar Club in inter club tournaments. It was under his captaincy that the club gained promotion from Division E to C in the 1990s.

Addicted to Golf
At the turn of the century, he took a call to move into an unlikely sport, the third of his life. Like many in the corporate circles in the city, playing golf in the local courses was taking off and he too joined the bandwagon “I gave up tennis to take to Golf. I was warned that it would be very addictive but I was up for it. While it was time consuming, I did very well and began to enjoy the sport.”
Just under a decade ago, he shut down his manufacturing business and moved into another area in Golf. It was a ‘semi professional’ call at that time. From playing, he moved into the role of a Golf Referee. Within three years, he had gone through four different levels of exams and was certified in 2015 in Malaysia with one that made him eligible to officiate in international golf tournaments.

In the early phase, he found Golf Refreeing quite challenging “Unlike most other sports, the role of a referee in Golf is extremely challenging. The field here is not clearly defined, there are many variables and no fixed rules. More importantly, Golf is played in different terrains, on different types of courses where the size too varies. One has to be mentally alert and take quick decisions. It is physically demanding as well."

If Sampath mentored him in Basketball in the 1970s, it was Ishwar Achanta, the only Indian Golf referee to have officiated in US, British and Australian Opens, who initiated Sundar into Golf Refereeing “Ishwar is a  Golf Rules Encyclopedia and was the man responsible for my initiation into Golf Refereeing. He has guided me over the last decade and played an important role in this phase of my life as I looked to develop my skills as a referee” says Sundar.

Since 2012, he has officiated in over 50 tournaments in the country and his commitment has led him to travel almost nine months every year. In 2018, he officiated in the Asian Tournament that took place in the Prestige Golf Course in Bangalore, one that remains his favourite todate.  Last year he was to officiate in one of the most prestigious national tournaments – The Hero Open in Delhi - but unfortunately the Pandemic led to the cancellation of the tournament. 
With the experience of officiating in several leading tournaments in the country, he has also moved up to don the role of 'Tournament Director'.  

Should make his Overseas Debut soon
His mentor Ishwar Achanta, who helped Sundar understand the rules better, says that he has all the qualities required to be a top notch golf referee "Sundar is a very meticulous person, organised, process oriented and disciplined in everything he does. Golf rules are typically understood by those who have discipline in life.”
Ishwar believes that Sundar has a good chance of doing well in overseas tournaments as a referee He has the interest and passion to perform at the top level but opportunities will not land up in his lap. He has to stay patient and committed."

"The Indian Golf Union does recommend the top referees to international tournaments based on seniority and ability. Sundar is on that list and should get an opportunity soon to make his overseas debut.”

A Second Coming with Serious Sport at 60!!!
40 years ago, he had given up dreams of taking to serious basketball but at 60 he is now cherishing a new sporting ambition - That of making an overseas foray and officiating in international golf tournaments. Way back then, in 1982, he was just one step away from playing for the Senior State when he gave up Basketball, a sport that he still considers as his favourite. In 2021, he is just that step away from making his debut as a Golf Referee in overseas tournaments. Will it be a second time lucky for Sundar. 

This section will track his progress in the next couple of years.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Kedarnath TNCA letter

In a rather surprising move, former city cricketer S Kedarnath has sent a stinging letter to the TNCA and made several suggestions to improve cricket in TN
Reformat the Buchi Babu Tourney and Get the best out of the 'Failed' TNCA Academy

Former All India State Bank cricketer S Kedarnath (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2021/06/kedarnath-s-opener-from-1970s.html) has been running a cricket coaching academy in T. Nagar for the last twenty years. Currently there are a whopping 300 students in the academy. He has also been coaching the PSBB School for close to four decades. He has also been a state selector and a coach with the junior state team. During his playing days, he was at the receiving end of selection misgivings and lost out on an opportunity to play for the state. But rarely in the past have cricketers, past or current, taken to writing strongly worded letters to the TNCA. Just over 40years ago, Ranji Cricketer K Balaji (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/09/a-blossoming-cricket-career-was-cut.html) raised some important issues relating to TN cricket while still being an integral part of the state team at that time. Another former State Bank staffer R Chandrasekaran (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/09/r-chandrasekaran-sbi-globe-trotter.html) has been one cricketer who from the 1980s has sent a number of letters to the BCCI.

A Strongly Worded Letter
In a rather surprising move and in possibly a first of its kind occurrence in TN cricket in recent decades, 66 year old Kedarnath has sent quite a hard hitting letter to the Secretary of the TNCA this week. He played cricket for State Bank for close to 20years including last five years as what he calls a 'Playing Spectator'. After quitting the bank, he launched his own academy that has consistently seen an overflow of cricketing students, most of them in the 13 to 19 years age group.  Over the last couple of decades, he has not sent any such formal and written communications to the TNCA on improvements in TN cricket. Reasoning out the  letter to the TNCA, he says that he wanted to put together his thoughts as a former cricketer who has also served the association as an U19 selector and an U25 coach and was keen to get the talented cricketers in the state to come to focus. 

In the two decades of him running the coaching academy, this is the first time he has chosen to write a formal letter to the TNCA with his views on cricket in the state.

Reformat the Buchi Babu Tourney
Leading the list of suggestions is the reformatting of the Buchi Babu Tournament. He says that the tourney had served as an ideal platform, during his playing days, to spot players with potential and mould them for the future. In his suggestion to the TNCA, Kedarnath has said that the top two teams in the first division, the U19 state side, the combined districts and the city college team should compete in the tournament along with only two outstation teams. This he says would help spot the unknown potential both from the city as well as the districts.

As seen this year, Buchi Babu tourney has long taken a back seat with TNPL gaining precedence over this and even the Palayampatti shield.

T20 cricket – An early exposure
Kedarnath has asked the TNCA to identify and select the best players from the fourth and fifth divisions of the league and have a separate team in the TNPL for them to get an early exposure into T20cricket. 

Hits out at the TNCA Academy
In a stinging accusation, Kedarnath says that the TNCA Academy for U12, U14 and U16 have been conducted without any result and the regular camps relating to these age segments have been organised only to give assignment to the coaches ‘There is nothing that is coming out from these camps and it has failed.'

Without naming specific cricketers and citing examples, Kedarnath has said that a lot of cricketers with potential had been left out in recent years despite their outstanding performances in all categories. He has also questioned the players selected for the academy and says in the letter that a number of them have been average cricketers. If this be the way of selection, he asks as to how the TNCA would get players to win the Ranji Trophy. He says that these age groups are at the ‘root level’ and the TNCA should give more importance to this instead of ‘filling up’ the candidates for the camp. 

Through the letter, he has also announced his availability to be associated with the TNCA "Cricketers like me are still fit enough to serve the association and those that have not crossed the age of 70 and who are willing to serve should be utilized by the TNCA."

On TNCA League
Kedarnath has made suggestions on the running of the TNCA league. In line with his thoughts on providing early exposure to T20 cricket, he has suggested that the 5th division league be run on T20 format and the 4th divisions as 30overs matches (also if the issue relates to inability to complete the TNCA matches in lower division) while the 3rd and 2nd division matches could continue to be 50overs.

One wonders though on this suggestion that of encouraging T20 at fifth division level which is to lay the foundation for upcoming cricketers.

TNCA to look into his suggestions
When Balaji pointed out some issues all those decades ago, he did not see the desired action from the TNCA that left him frustrated and he quit cricket to move into his family business of running The Hindu. While Kedarnath remained silent for several decades including during the late 1970s when he felt aggrieved at being ignored by the State, he has now chosen to speak out and that has reflected in this rather strongly worded letter. 
In response to Kedarnath's letter, RS Ramaswamy, Secretary of the TNCA has said that he would definitely look into the suggestions made by him and that these would be placed in the appropriate forum. 

This section will track the developments.