Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Devadhanam Ranganatha Temple Sridhar Bhattar

With the sincere service of Sridhar Bhattar who has dedicated himself to this temple, devotees have been visiting in good numbers in recent years to have darshan of the 18 Feet Ranganathaswamy 
Encroachments have meant that the hereditary trustee has had to fight tooth and nail to secure the lands back
Hailing from Edur Village in Gummidipoondi, Sridhar Bhattar joined the privately managed Ranganatha temple in Devadhanam just under two decades ago. He had learned the agamas from vidwan Santhanam Bhattar at Pattanam Koil (Parrys). He had participated in the Samprokshanam at the Ranganatha temple and soon after took solo charge as the archaka. 

When this section wrote a story on the temple a dozen years ago, there were no proper roads leading to the temple both from Ponneri and Minjur. Devotees visited in small numbers. Against this backdrop, Sridhar Bhattar started off with one kaala pooja for which he was presented an annual Sambhavanai of 32 Mootai paddy. 

Over the next decade, his sincere service attracted devotees to the temple. When he joined the temple, he had decided that he would not go out to any other temple to perform service or be involved in any other vaideeha activity. 

Saligrama stone 18 feet Ranganatha in Bhoga Sayanam
At this temple, the 18feet long Ranganathaswamy is seen sleeping in a Bhoga Sayanam posture on the serpent bed with 3 folds formed by the 5 headed Adisesha with the right hand of the Lord placed beneath his head and the left hand stretched forward. The moolavar deity is made out of Saligrama stones. Even the jewels of the sleeping lord are of Saligrama stone. At the feet of Lord Ranganatha are Sri devi and Bhoo devi. Anjaneya is seen with folded palms along with Maha Rishi Thumburu inside the sanctum.

Snake Hill behind the Sanctum
On the Western side of the temple behind the sanctum is a snake hill. The belief is that this snake protects the temple and the devotees who visit here.

Prarthana Sthalam
A visit to the temple is said to provide immediate job opportunities, help in marriages and progeny.

Sincere Service lures devotees
Sridhar Bhattar's sincere service led to devotees visiting the temple in good numbers especially for the Thiru Kalyanam on Panguni Uthiram and Bhogi, Rama Navami, Aadi Pooram and Vaikunta Ekadasi. In recent times, they have also been thronging the temple on Pournami with an expansive Thaligai being organised on that day. He also began performing two Kaala Pooja at the temple. In the decade gone by, with growing popularity of the temple, with devotees wanting to having darshan of the huge Ranganatha in Sayana Kolam, proper roads were built making access to the temple lot better compared to the past.
AR Gopi, Hereditary Trustee

Encroachment Challenges
However the temple has had to face some challenges in the recent past. The hereditary trustee of the temple, A.R. Gopinath, has been managing the temple for the last several decades having followed in the footsteps of his forefathers who were Zamins of Anuppampattu . Unsurprisingly for a remote temple, 'political' encroachments have come in the way of the growing popularity of the temple. Over three acres of land belonging to the temple has been illegally occupied with politicians campaigning against the trustee. Gopinath has been fighting a legal battle to secure the land back. “I have produced the documents in courts based on the Old Survey  Register (OSR) dating back to the middle of the 19th Century and have secured an eviction order.”

He has also put a big notice around the temple stating the historical ownership rights relating to the temple.
Despite its remote location, there has been a surge in number of devotees visiting the temple from far and wide. Sridhar Bhattar, who does not have children, has committed his lifetime to this temple, while the hereditary trustee has said that he would fight tooth and nail to secure the lands belonging to the temple.

Devadhanam is located 30kms North of Madras, 4kms from Minjur and about 7kms from Ponneri  The temple is open from 7am-11am and 430pm-7pm. Contact Sridhar Bhattar @ 97868 66895

How to reach the temple
Take a Suburban train from Chennai Central/ Beach and get down at Minjur (27kms- 45minutes) – Gummudipoondi section. From Minjur, take an to reach the temple in about 15minutes.  Buses ply between Broadway (Parrys Corner) and Minjur. Metro is available till Wimco Nagar from where there are regular buses to Minjur.

When here, also visit Varadaraja Perumal temple in Minjur 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Udupi Sukhanivas Mylapore

The Popular restaurant will soon be completing 7 decades at the Luz Junction
Sambar Idly, Semia Bagala Bath, Idiappam and Rava Dosai are the specialties here
The third generation that is now managing the business is confident of taking the seven decades old Udupi(Udipi) Murudi’s Sukhanivas into the next phase of growth despite the challenges relating to the Pandemic and the upcoming Metro Rail work. 39 year old P.H.P. Raghavendra along with his younger brother Rohith have been carrying the legacy of this popular restaurant near the Luz Signal.

From Udupi to Mylapore in the 1940s
Raghavendra recounts the period in the 1940s when his grandfather, P.H.  Rao, who hailed from Udupi, moved to Madras to join the Woodlands as a Dosa Master “My great grandfather who was an accountant passed away when my grandfather was very young. As the Woodlands’ owner too was from Udipi, he roped in my grandfather as a dosa master for his restaurant.
                      PH Rao - Founder Sukhanivas

That was the beginning of a long and trusted engagement with the traditional South Indian food lovers of Mylapore.

Loyal customer base after a slow start
After serving for many years at Woodlands, he decided to start out on his own and launched Murudi’s Sukhanivas (Murudi is their family name) in 1954. There were two other popular joints at that time -Easwari’s cafĂ© and Shanti Vihar.  The early phase was a struggle and business was dull in the first few years but Rao hung on to build a long standing brand, competing against these two other players . 

"Cho, Nagesh and Srikanth were regulars at Sukhanivas. There was a garden by the side and they would sit around it and have their Sambar Idly and Idiappam before leaving for the drama at Mylapore Fine Arts”, Raghavendra remembers his grandfather telling him.

A few years after the launch of Sukhanivas, Rao started Murudi’s lodge in the same complex with around 10 rooms. That continues to run to this day. 

1970s - Expands from Tiffin to Full Meals
By the 1970s, Sukhanivas had begun to see a steady flow of customers and expanded from being just a tiffin destination to one with a full meals section. The ambience inside the restaurant continues to be simple Udipi style. While Rao resided in Mint, in North Madras, in the 1940s and 50s, he bought a house in Karpagambal Nagar in 1961 where the family has been staying for the last six decades. He managed the restaurant for almost 35years till his death in 1989.
          PH Padmanabhan -2nd Gen

Second Gen - Diversification in the 1990s
Rao’s son PH Padmanabhan, a commerce graduate, took over charge of the restaurant in the late 1980s. He had received intense on the job training from his appa starting out at a very early age. “When my appa took over, he went in for a big diversification. Family crowd had started coming in good numbers in that period and he converted the open terrace to a banquet hall” says Raghavendra on the diversification of the business by his appa.

Third Gen expands business further
Raghavendra and Rohith have both done their Masters in Business Administration. After taking over the mantle from their appa in 2008, the two brothers went for the next major expansion. The entire interiors were re-done just under 15years ago. Raghavendra says that they went in for a major overhaul to reach out to a larger audience "We set up an AC party hall where family functions could be held. In an effort to reach out to a larger set of customers, we also began offering outdoor catering.  Today, we have three generations of customers walking into our restaurant both for our food as well as their family functions’
As part of its expansion, the brothers also launched a new restaurant in Royapuram just over a decade ago and that had seen good growth till the Pandemic.

Challenging Times
Raghavendra is a bit worried on the likely impact of the Metro Rail work “Having coming out of two challenges years of the Pandemic, we have some interesting growth plans but the Metro Rail work has forced us to put those on hold. Currently, it is a wait and watch approach on how the Metro work and traffic regulations pan out. Based on that, we will roll out the next upgrades at the restaurant.”
                    Raghavendra and Rohith (Right)

He says with great delight that over the last seven decades, they have been able to build a loyal set of customers. There are those who come in from as far as Tambaram, Medavakkam and Chromepet to organize their family functions, such has been the customer connect. “SV Sekar regularly comes here to pick up his favourite Semia Bagala Bath. Ghee Roast and Rava Dosai are the other specialties at the restaurant.”

While there have been challenges in the recent past arising out of the Pandemic, and the Metro Rail Work could turn out to be another dampener, Raghavendra and Rohith are optimistic of continuing to take this restaurant business that their grandfather had set up 68years ago into its next successful phase of growth.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Minjur Varadaraja Perumal Jagannathan Bhattar

Over the last two decades, Jagannathan Bhattar has transformed the temple with his selfless service and has made the Vaikasi Brahmotsavam a grand celebratory occasion for the devotees
At the turn of the century, he joined at a salary of Rs. 150 that has now increased to Rs. 2000!!!
While Varadaraja Perumal came out majestically at Chinna Kanchi on Sunday (May 15) morning, a 52 year old priest was awake through the night on Saturday at Vada Kanchi decorating his favourite Varadaraja Perumal for the Garuda Sevai on the third morning of the Vaikasi Brahmotsavam at Minjur, about 25kms North of Chennai. He had not slept since the start of the Brahmotsavam on Friday morning with him doubling up as the cook at the madapalli as well preparing multiple dishes for the Lord each day of this annual festival. On Saturday night, the Prabhai procession did not return till after midnight and then Jagannathan Bhattar worked for over 2 hours till early in the morning decorating the Lord on the Garuda Vahana. By 6am, as planned, Varadaraja Perumal provided darshan at the Eastern Raja Gopuram.

It is one of the biggest days in the year at the temple. The Brahmotsavam had not been held in the last two years and the devotees in and around Minjur were all excited to have their first Garuda Sevai darshan since the summer of 2019. The crowd may not have been jam packed as was the case in Chinna Kanchi but nevertheless the mood at  Vada Kanchi was one of devotion. People from all the neighbouring villages thronged the Sannidhi Street with Varadaraja Perumal stationed for a couple of hours at the Raja Gopuram welcoming the thousands of devotees that gathered at the temple on Sunday morning. It turned out to an eight hour procession, a lot more than what anyone would have expected. By the time Varadaraja Perumal made his way around the four Mada Streets and returned to the Raja Gopuram, it was 2pm on Sunday. Jagannathan Bhattar's eyes had shrunk but his heart was still beaming with devotional excitement watching devotees congregating in such large numbers for the Garuda Sevai.
A Poverty Stricken Family in the 60s/70s
His appa was a hereditary priest at the Ramar temple in Vada Madurai near Periyapalayam (North Madras). He spent decades at the temple when he did not receive even a rupee in the Thattu on most days. He had worked at a salary of Rs. 4. It had been a poverty stricken life. Jagannathan Bhattar grew up in his aunt’s place. As was the trend in the 1970s and 80s, his parents driven by the financial challenges they had faced encouraged their son into a life away from temple from a very early age.

Jagannathan graduated in commerce and then completed Law as well and was headed to the court. He worked for 3 years as an accountant and a couple as a legal advisor under his senior. Just at the turn of the century, his father in law, who belonged to Kattur Village, a km from Minjur, called on Jagannathan asking if he would be interested in taking up the archaka post. As a school boy, he had seen his appa perform pooja and though he was discouraged from getting into temple services, he had developed bhakthi.

A Surprise call from the Minjur Temple
He was not particularly enjoying the legal work in Madras and though he was to be paid just over Rs. 150, a shocking salary for a priest who was to take care of the entire temple, he joined the Varadaraja Perumal temple in Minjur at the turn of the century. The family of the previous priests had been in charge of the temple in the 2nd half of the previous century and he had to start from scratch building the network of devotees. 

Joins at a salary of just over Rs. 150
Jagannathan Bhattar joined the temple over two decades ago at a monthly salary of Rs.156. In 2022, this has increased to Rs.2000. He has been all alone over these two decades managing the daily Thiru Aradhanam, the utsavams and the madapalli.

On Sunday afternoon his eyes pleaded for rest but there was none. There was a Thirumanjanam soon after Perumal returned to the mandapam after the Garuda Sevai darshan. And he was back for another favourite of the devotees. The Hanumantha Vahana procession was slated for the evening and Jagannathan Bhattar was at it again decorating the Lord from scratch, along with his relatives who had joined him to support the Brahmotsavam.  

He told this writer on a busy Sunday evening that he did not think he would last beyond a couple of years “The first 3-4 years were financially challenging. We had our first child in that phase. At just over Rs. 100 a month, it was difficult to run a family.”

Varadar's blessings
But he was blessed with something big. He could connect with people and was a networking man. With his selfless service he grabbed the attention of the devotees. 66 year old C Rosaiah has lived all his life in Minjur and ran a rice mill in his prime and was a dealer of Aavin and Amul. He has been closely associated with the Varadaraja Perumal temple and has seen the transformation that Jagannathan Bhattar has been able to bring at the temple in the last couple of decades “There was no oil to light the lamp, 50 years ago. Devotees were almost non-existent. There was no vastram for the Lord. The arrival of Jagannathan Bhattar two decades ago has seen devotees become attached to Varadaraja Perumal. Any devotee who enters the Moolavar Sannidhi is simply awe struck and refuses to leave. And then they return again and again. We have not seen the temple in this positive state in the last five decades.”
Though this is a HR & CE administered temple, Jagannathan Bhattar understood very early on that it was only through the community at large that the temple could be revived and hence began connecting with the people in Minjur and around. With each Brahmotsavam, he received a boost from the devotees who saw him as one who was completely devoted to Varadaraja Perumal. He was an alankaram specialist and he decorated the Lord in a different Thiru Kolam in each session of the Brahmotsavam that captured the attention of the devotees “Despite the financial challenges, I was clear that I would dedicate my life entirely to Varadaraja Perumal without any financial expectations.”

People from the villages came in for the monthly Ekadasi Sevai. He has added four Thiru Kalyanams in the year. Vaikunta Ekadasi and Puratasi Saturdays too have been days when devotees have thronged the temple in large numbers. The three day Pavitrotsavam has been revived over the last decade. 

He had become so devotionally attached to the temple that he got his son initiated into the agamas at the Sankaracharya Patshala. “I am keen that he too performs service at the temple” says Jagannathan Bhattar.

Renovation at the temple
Rosaiah along with a group of likeminded devotees have come together to make the big utsavams a grand one “We built the Raja Gopuram, the Kodi Maram, two new mandapams, the Chakrathazhvaar Sannidhi and a mandapam at the Andal Sannidhi. Similar renovation has been undertaken at the nearby Ekabareswarar temple as well.”

A new common chariot for the Ekambareswarar temple and the Varadaraja Perumal temple too has been constructed. On the big Chariot day in Vaikasi, 50000 people participate in the procession.

He says that there has been a big transformation at the temple since the time Jagannathan Bhattar took charge "He has inspired bhakthi among the devotees. Varadaraja Perumal is still carried on the shoulders by the Sripatham." 
            Hereditary Flower Vendor Saravanan

Jagannathan Bhattar talks as one with the flower vendor as well the Sripatham personnel. On Sunday for both the Garuda Sevai and the Hanumantha Vahana processions, Varadaraja Perumal was seen in a flower decoration that was as grand as any. Jagannathan Bhattar credits Saravanan, the descendent of the hereditary flower for this "Every year, on this day, he sees this as his service to the Lord and provides the mega garland without any margin. Else, it would not have been affordable for us to decorate the Lord in such a grand way, twice on the same day."

Many from the next gen in the Sripatham have become devotionally interested to carry the Lord during the procession. The patience with which they carried the Lord for several hours on Sunday is testimony to their devotion and their intent for the utsavam to succeed. And that is a positive development and a welcome change in a remote location as this.

When Jagannathan Bhattar joined over two decades ago, the understanding was that he would be provided housing accomodation by the HR & CE. That wait continues. Rosaiah says that an archaka has to be kept happy for him to create a positive vibration for devotees “hence I decided to support the construction of his small house near the temple.” 

Once a vibrant agraharam
78 year old R Raghunathan, who worked at Enfield in his younger days, is part of this devotional group that is trying to revive the temple to its historical glory “During my childhood days, there was a theerthakar and the archaka families lived in the agraharam that was vibrant.  Former CM Bhaktavatsalam who is the hereditary trustee of the temple took great care of the temple. His grandson continues to be the trustee.”
"There were no transport facilities in those days. Hence devotees flocked in large numbers and stayed here through the entire Brahmotsavam. The night processions used to start well past midnight. On the third evening, Hanuman used to carry Varadaraja Perumal well past 2am and return only after 5am. Devotees stayed awake through the night to watch this procession."

Thiru Kanchi Nambi Utsavam - Revival??
He says that a grand utsavam used to be conducted to celebrate Thiru Kachi Nambi but that had come to a halt in the 2nd half of the previous century.  There was also a Davana Utsavam in the century gone by. In those days, the entire Garuda Sevai procession used to be organised at just Rs. 20. With Jagannathan Bhattar's devotional commitment, these could be revived sometime in the near future.

Doubles up as cook as well 
Jagannathan Bhattar searched around for a cook at least for the period of the Brahmotsavam to prepare and present the various dishes to Varadaraja Perumal but they have been in great demand and the financial expectations of these cooks have become too difficult for him to meet. Hence he, along with his wife, manage the madapalli as well through the Brahmotsavam. 
But the non stop work both in the morning and evening session has taken a big toll on his body.  While he does not even get the time to taste these varieties of dishes the overload on this single individual has meant that he has had to face health issues in recent years. “During these utsavams the BP shoots up beyond permissible limits but there is no choice. Work has to go on in the temple" says the priest.

While his relatives turn up at the utsavam in good numbers to support him on all the ten days, both Rosaiah and Ranganathan are keen that he takes care of his health for they believe it is only then that he will be able to discharge his duties in the same way that he has over the last two decades. 

Its Consecration time again
They are also looking forward to the renovation exercise that is expected to follow the Brahmotsavam. The Vahana mandapam is in a dilapidated state and they are looking to get that back in order. The madapalli too is damaged and extensive repair work is expected to be undertaken.

Its just after 9.30pm on Sunday evening. At the alankaram mandapam, Jagannathan Bhattar is providing the finishing touches to the special Thiru Kolam of the evening – Varadaraja Perumal in a Kothandaramar Thiru Kolam with a bow and arrow seated atop the handsome looking Hanumarseen in a grand green vastram.
Rockets shoot up into the sky on this full moon night to alert the residents that Varadaraja Perumal was all set for the Hanumantha Vahana procession on this first day of Vaikasi. It has been non stop 24 hours of work for Jagannathan Bhattar but the happiness on the faces of the devotees is all that matters to him.

100s of devotees who have stayed back through the evening chat among themselves on the minute aspects of the alankaram. A young girl has just sung the entire Ramayanam at the moolavar sannidhi. Hot Pongal is served to all the devotees and at 10pm Varadaraja Perumal made his way from the alankara mandapam to the Raja Gopuram for the start of another long procession around the four Mada Streets. 

Jagannathan Bhattar is physically tired but there is an enlightened look on his face after the devotional  alankaram and the happiness that he sees on the faces of the devotees. He says it is this devotion of the people of Minjur that has kept him going these two decades. He is  paid just Rs. 2000 as salary but in  his mind the goodwill he has generated among the devotees is a lifetime award that Varadaraja Perumal has provided him something that he did not quite expect in his teenage years when he was looking to a life in the corporate world. 
He has become so devotionally attached to Varadaraja Perumal at Minjur that he has rarely left this town in the last two decades. Even during the Pandemic when the Brahmotsavams were cancelled during the two years and there was severe financial challenges, he placed his utmost faith in the Lord, His is a story of financial returns not being everything in life. For him, the entire life centers around performing selfless service to Varadaraja Perumal. And he believes there is no greater delight than that.

The temple is open from 7am to 11am and from 5pm to 8pm. Jagannathan Bhattar can be reached on 9952930743

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Sunil Subramanian TN Left Arm Spinner

He topped the bowling charts for TN in four of his first five years and took around150 wickets in Ranji cricket in that phase but Zonal Selection remained elusive till into his 6th year
Fiercely Competitive and a man who wanted the ball at all times, he thrived on going after the big guns in the opposition batting order
With his two year-120 games experience as India's first professional manager, he can now look forward to similar opportunities on the domestic front 
An enlightening moment with legend ML Jaisimha transformed his life. And a magnanimous gesture by mentor S Vasudevan within an hour of lifting the Ranji Trophy paved the way for an early Ranji debut. He promised to himself that day that he would not let his mentor and that he would surpass his mentor’s tally of wickets for TN. That confidence reflected in his wicket taking spree for TN as he topped the bowling charts in four of his first five years. He went on to beat Vasudevan’s tally of wickets in the process topping the bowling charts in four of his first season for the state but just like his mentor, he too was given a raw deal at the zonal level. At times, he was seen as eccentric and even a maverick but was one of the fiercest competitors on the field. While he did vent his frustrated feelings every now and then, he allowed the red cherry to do the talking for a large part of his cricketing career and he did that in no small measure. His was a glorious contribution for the State. Here’s the story of one of TN’s best ever left arm spinners. 

High on Academics
Sunil Subramanian belonged to an academically inclined family. His forefathers hailed from the Nava Kailayam Sthalam of Kodaganallur, near Tirunelveli renowned for Sarpa Dosham Parikaram( His forefathers were oil merchants serving the Royal family of Travancore. His Grand Father was an active participant in the World War. His appa, a sports lover, was in the Air Force and his sister and brother held Masters and Doctoral degrees. He himself was a high performing product of KV and was keen to pursue CA. But by the time he was into his late teens, he was already playing U22 as well as for the Madras University. This turned him away from his earlier interest in professional degree into a life that for the next decade focused fully on cricket. But his learnings at KV made a well rounded person.

An unexpected job offer
Quite unexpectedly, his manager on the University tour, H Sundaram, impressed with his varsity performances (Sunil considers that team as the best he has played in), offered him a job at IOB while he was still in his 2nd year at Vivekananda College.  He had not completed his graduation and his family comprised of people professionally qualified in academics. His appa disapproved the teenager joining the clerical cadre at the Bank. It was one of the first occasions when his eccentric character came to the fore. He did not talk with his appa for a couple of years while he was at the Bank.

Sunil recalls the conversations that were to be the last with his appa for a couple of years “I had no offers from any other first division team. While I was excited to lock heads against the best in the state and had made up my mind to take up the job, my appa expressed his displeasure at my hurry in taking up a clerical job even before graduation.”

Off Spinner M Santosh Kumar dominated the spin attack for IOB in those days and much to Sunil’s frustration he did not get to bowl much. IOB opener from the 1970s and 80s M Sundar recounts those two years that Sunil played for IOB “He was under bowled in that period and played for us primarily as a batsman but he did give us crucial breakthroughs whenever he was given the ball.”
One of his big days in that early phase came in the Indian Express Trophy final in 1986 as a batsman. Sundar remembers that day “B Arun was in the Indian squad for the tied test against Australia but not in the XI. He played the final after getting permission from the Indian team. The belting he received at the hands of Sunil - the batsman- was brutal and that is still fresh in my memory. It was not a treatment that too many in the city meted out to Arun. Sunil's batting won us the final and him receiving the MOM award from Kapil was a big boost to his confidence.”

The MLJ Moment 
Quite (un)surprisingly, his life transforming moment came not in TN but outside. When on TN’s U25 tour in Hyderabad, he had someone tapping his back asking if he would come back and play for a Hyderabad club the next year. It was India Legend ML Jaisimha. 

Sunil looks back at that match in Hyderabad as his transformational moment in cricket “ML Jaisimha was my first and biggest motivator in cricket. After watching me bowl, he remarked that this boy bowls like Ravi (Shastri) and raised the question with the TN Manager as to how I had not yet played for TN. His comments boosted my confidence. Not once in the next decade do I recall that kind of motivational talk from anyone in TN cricket. MLJ was simply inspirational and one who made my cricketing life.”

In that phase, MLJ picked an all India youth team every year led by one international senior (Arun Lal that year). Sunil was chosen alongside Snehasish and Sourav Ganguly. As promised to MLJ, he also went on to play for VST in the Moin ud Dowla tournament. Interestingly, playing for VST, he got 7 wickets against TN, a year in which in he got 23 wickets in 3 matches in the tournament

“MLJ boosted my cricketing confidence in that phase and was the one who instilled the importance of game awareness and that a match was never really over until the very end” says Sunil of the legend’s early impact on his cricketing thought process. That fighting spirit remained with Sunil every time he entered a cricket field.

His mentor- S Vasudevan
After he was grossly under bowled in the two years at IOB, Sunil moved to SPIC where he was mentored by Ranji Trophy winning captain S Vasudevan. At the SPIC Nets, he would often bowl to former Bombay and TN Ranji cricketer S Srinivasan for hours challenging him to bat through the nets session without getting out once. Srinivasan recalls the challenge “He was an excellent left arm spinner who used his height to great advantage and got that extra bounce from any pitch. I witnessed some of his superb performances while playing for SPIC. I had the pleasure of playing him at the SPIC nets and it was always a challenge as he had enough & more variations.”

It was also the season in which this writer and Promodh Sharma, now a 100 million dollar businessman in the apparel space, ( bowled alongside Sunil at the SPIC nets. Through that year, Sunil would ask this writer if his action was exactly that of Ravi Shastri. Even as a 21 year old, Sunil’s confidence was sky high and he always visualised himself as one in the bigger league. He would also challenge the Ranji veterans in the team - P Ramesh and V Sivaramakrishnan - to take him on at the nets. While they would go for the big hit into the nearby YMCA ground, he aimed to fox them with his guile. Most times, he was the winner. He carried the same spirit into every match he played. He was aggressive in his mindset and went after the ‘Big’ wickets in the opposition lineup.  He was vocal even in the nets and expressed himself to those around. 

A Great Learner
S Vasudevan (Vasu Ranji Retirement) had told this writer in a conversation in 2020 at his home as to how Sunil spent a number of hours with him wanting to understand and learn the nuances of spin bowling “He was inquisitive and would always ask questions. He was a great learner and looked to sharpen his skills all the time. It was a delight to be engaging in Spin-Talk with him in those two years. As someone who was closely engaged with him in that phase, it gave me great delight that he converted his learnings into great success on the field.”
Sunil looks back at the period under Vasudevan as the one that transformed him as a bowler “Vasu was the one who handed me the real chances in the first division and that helped me showcase my bowling skills. I watched him closely every time he bowled in the nets and the match. It was from him that I learned the art of spin bowling and widened my bowling repertoire.”

While MLJ was inspirational with his words, S Vasudevan kindled the spin spirit in Sunil imparting technical skills. And that was invaluable for Sunil in the late 1980s “I am ever grateful to Vasudevan for sacrificing his place in the TN team when he could have easily played another 3-4 years given the form he was in at that time. I promised to myself after his great gesture that I would not let down the confidence he had in me and that I would surpass him in the Ranji wickets tally one day.” 

Great Debut Season
And he did that in quite an extraordinary manner.  In the 1988-89 season, Sunil was roped into the squad to play for TN against the visiting Kiwis in Goa. In his debut match, he picked up 6 wickets. In his first year in Ranji, he was the highest wicket taken for TN by a long mile with 34 wickets including three five wicket hauls. In four of his first five Ranji seasons, he topped the bowling charts for TN, quite an unprecedented achievement for a left arm spinner. He went on to do that six times in his career.

Chemplast – The Best Cricketing Phase
An offer from Bharath Reddy led him to Chemplast where he worked for over 6years and played some of his best cricket. Sunil says that it was the best period in his cricketing life “We had a terrific side at Jolly Rovers. Chemplast took great care of us and we lived in style. In return we delivered the results. We played hard cricket and grabbed almost every tourney.”

During his stint at Chemplast,  he worked through the day till 8pm even on evenings when there was a train to catch “Vijay Sankar would help me with his car that would pick my luggage from my house and arrive at the station, while I went there directly after my office work.” This non cricketing work would hold him in good stead once he retired from cricket.

An Aggressive Spinner
‘ATG’ S. Sharath ( who played alongside Sunil through that entire phase at Chemplast and for TN rates him as one of the two best left arm spinners (the other being Raju) that he had ever played with or against “He had everything in him. He was an outstanding competitor, an aggressive spinner who always went for wickets and a match winner who you could turn to at anytime. I saw both Raju and Sunil at the same level in the 1990s.”
Sharath says that Sunil was a different personality compared to many others in TN cricket at that time "He was forthright in his opinion and too straight forward a guy to succeed in TN!!! You could argue anything with him on cricket and he would respect and accept the views of his fellow cricketers. I was happy with the way he was. He was not one who would beat around the bush. I do think that anyone who performed as well as he did and did not get to play fair opportunities to showcase his skills at the next level has the right to throw up their views strongly. And Sunil did that a lot of the time in the 1990s.”

The man who transformed Jolly Rovers from the early 1980s, Bharat Reddy ( saw Sunil from close quarters for several years at Chemplast and credits him for being a terrific bowler even on flat wickets. “His outspoken style was often misunderstood for arrogance. He was such a 'mad-cap' competitor that when once his Ranji captain took the ball away from him, he turned towards the D Stand for an entire over (away from the glare of his Captain’s eyes) almost in protest, such was his fierce competitive spirit and most captains found it difficult to take the ball away from his hands.”

Restless Character
By 1992-93, Sunil had already taken over 100 wickets in Ranji Trophy cricket and was well established as the Number one bowler in the team. But his restlessness on 'off- colour' days remained intact.  When he did not get wickets on a whole day in the Ranji match against Hyderabad in November 92, he could not get sleep and sought the suggestions of Hyderabad legend Abdul Azeem. Buoyed by his motivational words (the second such from a Hyderabad player), Sunil just persevered and picked up a hat trick in the very next match played against Kerala at Thiruvalla, a location famous for the Thiruvazh Marban temple (

Now ICC panel umpire and top wicket-taker for Kerala, KN Ananthapadmanabhan ( played that match and picked five wickets as well. Anantha was also in the Chemplast team for two years in the early 1990s alongside Sunil before he moved to IOB. Speaking to this writer from Pune where he has been umpiring IPL matches he said that Sunil was an outstanding bowler especially on flat wickets and was unlucky not to make it to the top.

High Intensity Player
India U19 batsman from 1988 World Cup G Shyamsundar played with Sunil both at the age group level as well as at Chemplast “He was hard working to the core. His intensity of involvement was very high. On days that he did not bowl well, he would go back to the nets the same evening and bowl for hours. He was a good hearted fellow. Even while at Chemplast, he knew all the nuances of spin bowling.”

Record Breaking Match – 14 wickets at Chepauk
And he came back even stronger with a 10 wicket haul at Chepauk against a very strong Karnataka batting line up helping TN register a win taking them into the knock outs. And there he registered the best ever match bowling performance for TN with 14 wickets against Assam, a team that he was going to play for later in his career. It was a match that also saw M Senthilnathan notch up his highest Ranji score. With this performance Sunil equaled the 14 wicket Ranji record of legends AG Ram Singh and VV Kumar. The record still remains intact three decades later. It was dream run with Sunil taking 31 wickets in three matches after going wicket less against Hyderabad end of November 1992 !!!
In his first five years in Ranji cricket, he had taken around 150 wickets but could not break through into the zonal team, one that left him deeply hurt and frustrated. He was a strong willed cricketer like Ravi Shastri and thrived in a crisis situation. Despite this extraordinary start to his Ranji career, he did not make his Duleep Trophy debut till he picked well over 150 wickets, something that was not entirely new to TN cricketers. In the previous generation, Kalli and his mentor S Vasudevan too did not play for the Zone. 

It was the above performances in 92-93 that finally led him into the Duleep Trophy too he picked up 5 wickets on his debut against North. However, his Zonal stint was short lived. For a man with close to 300 first class wickets, he just played 6 Duleep Trophy matches. Even the lone ROI match he played was a last minute call after the original choice spinner Utpal Chatterjee became unfit. That was the closest he came to national reckoning. He was never selected for India A!!!
Your guys don’t back him- Brijesh in the 1990s
Two decades after his retirement he recalls to this writer the conversation his Chemplast boss PS Vijayakumar had with Karnataka legend Brijesh Patel “When he boldly asked Brijesh about my non selection for Zone, the latter quipped ‘Even your state selectors don’t back him.” Sunil found that the Karnataka selectors were always solidly behind their players while the same could not be said of those here in the 1990s. "Even when Raju was on national duty, a left arm spinner from Goa was picked ahead of me for the Zone despite me picking all those wickets over a long period of time", says Sunil, of his times from the 1990s.

Sunil - A Maverick
Former TN middle order batsman and now a match referee, Arjan Kripal Singh was one of Sunil’s closest friends in Cricket. The two of them played at age group level from U19 and for the State, where they were roommates on many occasions. “He was a terrific bowler and should have played at a higher level than he ended up doing. His performances on the field warranted opportunities at the next level but he was not backed by the state at that time.”
However, Arjan is critical of some of his traits “As a personality, Sunil was a maverick. He was a very moody guy and made comments at the wrong moments that he could very well have avoided. He was not a diplomatic guy for sure and may have rubbed people that mattered the wrong way. It is difficult to say though if his ill timed comments were the reason for TN not backing him at the Zonal level.”

1994 Buchi Babu match - His Best
He counts the Buchi Babu semi final against Sungrace Mafatlal comprising of Tendulkar, Kambli and Sugwekar as his best “Led by VBC, we shocked them in the semi final with me picking up 9 wickets and scoring 85. I took Sachin’s wickets in both the innings and also his wicket the only time I came up against him in a Ranji match.”

Loses Ranji Final, moves to the UK League
After TN lost the Ranji final against Karnataka in 1996, when Sunil went wicketless, he felt he had missed the ‘national’ bus especially with Sunil Joshi coming into prominence. He wanted to take a shot at the lucrative UK league and took the call against the wishes of his bosses at Chemplast. He recalls the decision “Warne and Maninder Singh had been the first two choices. Aussie spin legend pulled out at the last moment while the passing away of Maninder’s dad led him to withdraw.” 

Beats Sobers' three decades record
He went on a record breaking spree capturing over a 100 wickets in the process surpassing Sobers’ decades old record of 97wickets. His century of wickets helped Stone Cricket Club with the championship after 15 years and he was on a high. After his extraordinary performance for Stone, three counties evinced interest in him for the next season.

But by the time he came back, he had lost his job at Chemplast. N Sankar ( who passed away last month was firm that an exception could not be made. And after almost a decade of first division cricket, he was left without a club. Being away from office and the first half of the cricket season was not acceptable to the management and they had made it known to him before he made his decision to play in the UK league.  Bharath Reddy clearly remembers the conversation he had with Sunil “The policy was clear at that time and Sunil exactly knew the repercussions of his decision to be away for such a long time. He was a star bowler at that time and I could not have replaced him with another star bowler for a certain number of matches till he came back.”

He was already 29 and with a young family. It was not an age where he could take chances and hence he neither went back to the league nor explored the county options. 

Plays Second Division Cricket!!!
As seen in last month’s story on PC Prakash(, HCL took to cricket in 1996 and supported a 2nd division club. In the year that PCP moved out of SPIC after a decade and anchored the building of this team, he had God’s blessings coming his way quite unexpectedly. Sunil was jobless and with half the season gone, there were no takers for him in the first division. “We were looking to take Kohinoor to the first division and the fact that Sunil was looking for a club was a blessing in disguise for me. In a normal situation, it would have been highly unlikely for a player of his stature to be playing for a 2nd division club but we signed him up and he did very well for us not just in cricket but as a staffer at HCL. Everyone at work seemed to like his hard working style and he earned a good name for himself at HCL.”

Always shared his cricketing knowledge
The two had played together the year Sunil joined SPIC and PCP had a special liking for him. “I knew him from his KV days. He was a very committed guy, meticulous and organised in everything he did. He had great regard for elders. Only those who were close to him knew how sweet he was. He was very intelligent and had good values. Many a time he bordered on over confidence and this may have reflected in the way he spoke. People felt he was brash but it was just that most often he did not take things lying down.”
“He has always been someone who was willing to share his knowledge with others. At HCL, even after we entered the first division, he was a great cricketing guy to have. One could throw the ball at him anytime and he would grab it with delight and work towards providing the breakthrough.”

The TN spin twins of the 1960s and 70s were equally matched by the trio (Sunil, Ramana and D Vasu) of the 1990s. Right till the end, he continued to be TN’s highest wicket taker of the season including in 95 and 96 seasons. Injury towards the later part of the 1990s meant that he faded away quietly for TN. He played for Assam for a year as a professional helping them reach the knock out but injuries had taken a toll on him and he quit cricket never to enter a ground for many years. 
He looks back at his dozen years in first class cricket with great happiness “I always gave my best and went after wickets. While I was angry at different points of time in my career, I understood that selection was not in my hands.”

Long ago, Spin Legend S Venkataraghavan (Venkat @ 75) had told this writer that in cricket, the number of matches one plays really depends on circumstances, team composition and such factors. Sunil may have been unfortunate that the combination of these factors did not work in his favour in the 1990s.

A Glorious Working Phase at India Pistons
Much against the trend of the players from the 1990s, Sunil moved away from cricket to a full time corporate role at India Pistons where he took care of their aftermarket sales and collections. “I did not want sympathy as almost every cricketer in that phase remarked that I should have played for the country. It did not sit well with me.”

The first decade of this century was a glorious working phase for Sunil completely away from cricket. Interestingly he was joined there by another cricketing maverick his TN team mate S Mahesh (

Sunil travelled the length and breadth of the country creating a new market for the manufacturing major.  “I did not enter a cricket ground for several years. I was given complete independence and created a new strategy at IP to boost their aftermarket performance. My appa had worked in the Air Force and I had travelled a lot in my childhood. I was comfortable with multiple languages and hence I grabbed the opportunity to play a national role at IP at a time when people in Chennai did not fancy taking up roles elsewhere. I asked for Mahesh to be moved to my team. He was an outstanding performer and the two of us would even lift the boxes at the warehouses all by ourselves. There was no work that we did not do there.”
Back to cricket 
After over a dozen years, by when he had also made peace with himself and cricket, Sunil quit India Pistons to return to the cricket field and full time coaching. Over the last decade or so, he has been associated in various engagements including at the TNCA academy. He also worked with R Ashwin during challenging phases in his life.

The First Professional Manager of the Indian Team
He had great similarities with Ravi Shastri- the height, action, determination to succeed and thriving in a challenging scenario. With the number of wickets he took early in his Ranji stint, he should have been an ideal choice for the zone and consequently to move up the cricket ladder. But it was not meant to be.  In his second innings in cricket, in a scenario where cricket and cricket management has become lot more professional, he bagged the coveted administrative manager’s post after going through a stringent interview process.
It was the first time in Indian Cricket history that a professional manager was being appointed and Sunil was proud that he was picked from a wide range of candidates from across the country. While he did not get to play for India alongside Ravi though he was right up there with the sheer number of wickets he took over several seasons, three decades later, he did manage to sit alongside him for 120 international games as the first professional manager of the Indian team. It was his greatest cricketing experience as he shared the same dressing room with Ravi Shastri and his former Chemplast and TN team mate B Arun. 

When LS ( saw Sunil bowl in the early 90s, he remarked to Bharath Reddy “You have one more test cricketer in your pocket’. Alas that was not to be. Sunil ended up not even playing for India ‘A’ quite a shocker for someone with close to 300wickets who bowled well in all conditions and was especially good on flat wickets. He took five wickets in an innings 20times, 7 wickets in an innings 7 times and on four occasions picked up a 10 wicket haul in a match. In a fortnight, he will be completing 55 and is raring to go further in his second innings in cricket. With the professionalism that has come into domestic cricket, Sunil can now look forward to donning the role of a professional manager of the TN team sometime in the future, given the rich experience he has had with the Indian team over a two year period.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Madhava Perumal Temple Kodi Erakkam Event

The archakas were going to start the Kodi Erakkam Process on the 9th evening of the Chitrai Brahmotsavam even while the Prabhandham members were reciting the Thiru Nedunthandagam verses 
It is a tradition on the 9th evening of the Brahmotsavam to present the 9th and 10th Canto of Thirumangai Azhvaar’s Thirumozhi, and sometimes the 11th Canto as well during the street procession. The Prabhandham members then recite Thiru Kurunthandagam and Thiru Nedunthandagam at the temple complex in case they are not able to complete these verses during the procession.

Thirumozhi presentation during the Street Procession
On Monday evening at the Madhava Perumal temple in Mylapore, this went to plan. The Prabhandham members completed the 9th, 10th and 11th Cantos of Thirumozhi during the street procession. Once Madhava Perumal, in a Pushpa Pallakku, returned from the procession, the Prabhandham members began their recital of Thiru Kurunthandagam and Thiru Nedunthandagam. 

It was past 10.30pm and even as they were mid way into Thiru Nedunthandagam, Madhava Perumal made his way into front of the Kodi Maram and the archakas were going to start the process of downing the flag.
When this writer (as a devotee), objected to this action of the archakas to start the process of Kodi Erakkam while Prabhandham Seva Kaalam of Thiru Nedunthandagam was still going on, they said that the Prabhandham members could continue their recital while they (the archakas) start this process.

When 1-2 of the Prabhandham members pleaded with the archakas for a few minutes to complete the Seva Kaalam, the archakas relented and stopped the process.
MA Venkatakrishnan who has been anchoring the Prabhandham Ghosti for the last four decades at Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam confirmed to this writer that it was inappropriate to start the Kodi Erakkam process when the Thiru Nedunthandagam Seva Kalam was still going on. But he also clarified that these days such processes are decided by the strength of the respective temples. If the archakas are strong, they decide the course of action, while the Prabhandham members play only a supporting role even though presentation of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham in an important and integral part of the Brahmotsavam.

In temples where there is no structured and a strong adyapaka ghosti, the Prabhandham recital is pushed to the background. He pointed out that even in Samprokshanams in remote locations, one would find the Prabhandham members sitting in one corner of the temple and reciting the sacred verses.

A devotional presentation by Prabhandham Ghosti
While a group of around 10 members presented the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham with great devotion through the Chitrai Brahmotsavam presenting the Iyarpa, the first 1000 verses and Thirumozhi over the first nine days, unmindful of and insensitive to their presentation of Thiru Nedunthandagam, the Kodi Erakkam process was going to be initiated until better sense prevailed based on their request to complete the few remaining sacred verses.

While Thiruvallikeni Ghosti led by a strong and vocal man like MA Venkatakrishnan can hold their own during utsavams, in many other locations in temples in TN, the Ghosti members largely play only a second fiddle to the entire festivities and they adjust themselves to the way the Utsavam is conducted, says MA Venkatakrishnan

Prabhandham members pushed to the side on the street
On the 8th day of the utsavam, as Madhava Perumal was making his way to the four Pillared Mandapam from Bazaar street, the Sri Patham pushed the Prabhandham members to the side and moved past the Ghosti recital only for the archaka to pull the Lord with all his might and prevent the Sri Patham from going past the Prabhandham members.

The HR&CE officials were not present on the occasion.

That day as well as on the 9th evening of the Brahmotsavam, the Prabhandham members' conduct was of the highest order, one that Thiru Mangai Azhvaar would have endorsed for they continued their recital in a very devotional way  leaving the rest to Madhava Perumal.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Vijay Sankar Jolly Rovers takes over Cricketing Reigns

Great news for Sanmar Players and the cricketing fraternity in the country
N Sankar had managed Jolly Rovers for over five decades winning the Palayampatti Shield a record 21times - Son Vijay Sankar set to continue the cricketing legacy 
Sankar's Final Cricketing Wish - 'He took a promise from me that I would support Vijay till the time he needed me' - Bharath Reddy, Cricket Manager, Jolly Rovers
In an interaction last year with this writer, N Sankar, who passed away two Sundays ago, had expressed apprehension at the way the first division was being sidelined in city cricket and the challenges cricket promoting corporates were facing. Though minimal cricket had taken place in the last two years in local cricket, he had directed Bharath Reddy, his cricket manager, to pay the full professional fees to all his players so they were all taken care during the downturn.

Bharath Reddy, who is completing four decades this year after joining hands with Sankar, too had been frustrated at the way the TNCA was defocusing on the Palayampatti shield and turning its attention to the shorter version TNPL.

The two, who had formed one of the most successful cricketing partnerships in the country, had wondered if it was worth continuing supporting cricket in the current environment. However, the five decades cricket passion of Sankar finally shone through.

On the sidelines of a memoriam event organised in the city on Sunday evening, Bharath Reddy told this writer that Sankar had called on him to take a promise which he could not refuse to the man he saw as his ONLY MENTOR in life “Whenever Vijay takes over the cricketing reigns at Sanmar, please promise me that you will support him like you have supported me over the last four decades” Sankar told Bharath Reddy.
“To the man who has been everything to me since 1982, I handed the promise that I will be with Vijay till the time he wants me.”

Interestingly, in a conversation with this writer in November 2020, Vijay Sankar had said that his focus had all been on managing the large number of companies under the Sanmar banner and that in the foreseeable future, his appa would continue to anchor the cricket management.

Right through his teenage days, Vijay was just as passionate in cricket as his appa and would travel to the city grounds to watch the local league matches. He also managed Kohinoor for a limited period before he went overseas to pursue his higher education.

Former India Cricketer who was one of the first cricketers to arrive on Sunday evening offered his condolences to Vijay Sankar and spoke to him about appa's greatness "My first big offer in cricket came from Sankar in the late 1970s much before I was selected for India. He always spotted early the potential in players."
Srikkanth told this writer at the event that it was because of those like Sankar that several cricketers were able to make their mark in cricket in the late 60s. "He came back in a big way in the 1980s promoting cricketers and providing them with the much needed opportunities to showcase their talent."
In a tribute to N Sankar, tennis legend Vijay Amritraj said "Sankar was majestic in the way he played tennis. He was very special in every way and inspired me to play tennis. Whenever you entered his room, you knew you were in the presence of a leader, someone who made you better as a human being. The way he carried himself and conducted himself was a big learning for me in life."

In a country as large as India, the Sanmar Tennis League was the only one of its kind and he left a lasting legacy.
He also taught another important aspect about sports "Take up a sport, play to the best of your ability and make friends for life."

India's greatest all rounder Kapil Dev, one of Bharath Reddy's closest friends in the country, has made it to every big cricketing event at Sanmar in the last few decades. He said that he considered N Sankar as his role model in life "Sometime in life you look up and see who you want to be. For me, he was the role model. He created happiness in some many people. In Indian cricket, there has not been a cricketer who has not benefitted from Sankar."
Vijay Sankar takes over the Cricketing Reigns at Sanmar
If there was any doubt on whether Vijay Sankar would continue to support cricket in the current environment, he set it to rest on Sunday evening. In a conversation with this writer,  a tired looking Vijay confirmed that he will be anchoring the cricket management and continuing to support the two clubs that they are currently running.
Sankar had said in earlier conversation with this writer that Vijay was indeed interested in the team’s cricket activities but his professional role at Sanmar and his continuous travel on work had delayed his entry into cricket management at Sanmar but with age catching up with him (Sankar), it was only a matter of time before his son took over the cricketing reigns. Sankar’s passion kept him going right till the end. He would have been happy to see Alwarpet get back into the first division and may be Jolly Rovers winning the Palayampatti shield yet another time.

Happy News for Sanmar Cricketers
The good news for the cricketers from Jolly Rovers is that Vijay Sankar will be continuing to support the club that his father had from the late 1960s. In a speech on Sunday evening, he told the audience of over 700 that when he asked his appa on taking up more responsible roles at Sanmar, he had been told that the transition would take place seamlessly even without him realizing. And Vijay said that it had indeed happened that way. However, in cricket, with the passing of Sankar, for the first time in several decades, there will be a new cricketing leader at the top. 

Having seen Vijay hop on so passionately from one ground to another in the 1980s and 90s and one who has tracked cricket quite closely over the last three decades, this writer is confident that just like in the corporate role, this transition would be seamless and the cricketers of Jolly Rovers and Alwarpet would find Vijay just as passionate as his appa.

In fact, with age on his side, Vijay Sankar would be an ideal man to make his way into the TNCA. He has already been involved with the TNTA in recent years and it would be good for TN cricket if he explored a role in the TNCA. His appa had been associated for a year in the early 90s.

Here’s wishing Vijay Sankar the very best in his new role as the Leader of Sanmar Cricket.