Friday, December 31, 2010

Thirumangai Vedu Pari December 2010

How a king turned minstrel
The story of Thirumangai Mannan is enacted at the Srirangam temple

The last of the Azhwars - Thirumangai Azhwar - made a significant contribution, visiting and singing the praise of Lord Vishnu in over 85 temples (Divya Desams). While all other Azhwars got things done by showing love and devotion to the Lord, Thirumangai Azhwar alone was different. The only Azhwar with a spear in his hand, he was aggressive, so much so that even the Lord had to humour him to make him sing His praise - a couple of cases in point being Tiru Indalur and Tiru Ninravur Divya Desams.

Initiated into Vaishnavism

Born in Tiru Kuraiyulur, 2 km from Tiruvali-Tirunagari near Sirkazhi, Thirumangai Mannan (king), who belonged to the Kallar Community, fell in love with the beautiful Kumudavalli of Annan Koil (another Divya Desam near Sirkazhi). To get Thirumangai Mannan initiated into Vaishnavism and devoted to Lord Vishnu, Kumudavalli laid down tough ‘wedding' conditions, one of which was to feed 1,008 Vaishnavites every day. Tirumangai Mannan, in this attempt, lost a lot of his wealth. But determined to fulfil her conditions, he turned a thief and resorted to ‘stealing.'

One night, Thirumangai saw a newly married couple, decked with jewellery, coming his way. It was Lord Ranganatha of Tirunagari taking along with him Amruthavalli Thayar of Tiruvali. In that darkness, in Vedarajapuram (the village between Tiruvali and Tirunagari), Tirumangai waylaid the couple threatening them with his spear.

Having relieved the two of their jewellery, Thirumangai put the booty in a bag but found it too heavy to even lift it from the ground. Lord Ranganatha revealed himself and initiated the bandit king into the ‘Ashtakshara Mantra.' The divine couple appeared in their wedding splendour, a sight that moved the reformed ruler, who became Thirumangai Azhwar.

Thirumangai Azhwar wanted Margazhi Festival to be a Tamil Divya Prabhandam festival as against just the Vedic recital that existed before his time. The 10-day ‘Era Pathu' festival called ‘Thiruvoimozhi Thirunaal' was specially created for the Lord to listen to the beautiful compositions of Nammazhwar.

At the Ranganatha temple in Srirangam, the story of ‘Vedu Pari' is enacted every year as part of the eighth day celebrations of the Era Pathu festival.

The episode took place last week. Namperumal seated atop a golden horse was brought to the sand expanse on the eastern side of the temple.

The deity held in his right hand a sword, javelin and arrows while his left hand held the reins. A speciality was the performance of Kona Vaiyali (zig-zag fast-paced movement).

The gathering was also treated to an enactment of Vedu Pari as young members of the Kallar community armed with long sticks surrounded the deity. Thirumangai, who earlier in the evening walked in as the king (Mannan) with a bow and arrow in hand, was seen in a completely different form at the end of the Vedu Pari, dressed as Azhwar, one who had just received the initiation of the Ashtakshara Mantra.

The drama was followed by a ceremony, where the list of the Lord's jewels was read out.

Rare kind

The events of this annual Vedu Pari Utsavam came to an end with Veena Ekantham, a unique and the only one of its kind veena presentation. Srirangam is the only Divya Desam where this Yaazh Isai tradition of waking up the Lord and putting him to sleep is followed.

Namperumal listened in peace for almost an hour from 1 a.m. to the sweet tunes of the four-member Sathya Kootam Veena Vidwans (Srinivasan, Ramanujam, Govindan and Gopalakrishnan) and their presentation of Thirumangai Azhwar's paasurams.

Their final song on the Vedu Pari night – ‘Eth Sariga Sathanambu Ekantha Ranga' (Vijaya Ranga Sokka Nathar's composition) put Namperumal to sleep after a long and tiring evening with the Lord entering his sanctum at around 2 a.m.

It was Ramanuja, who wanted the veena recital to be an integral part of the daily routine at the Srirangam temple and gave it the most sacred role - that of both waking up the Lord as well as putting him to sleep.

Ramanuja assigned ‘Sathya Kootam,' a clan that belonged to a village near Srirangam for the Yaazh Isai performance. Thus began a tradition at the Ranganatha temple in Srirangam.

This has come to be included in the Limca book of records and the now 76-year old former National College (Tiruchi) Vice-Principal, Veena G. Rangarajan is noted as the 45th descendent of this tradition.

Vedu Pari Highlights

* 8th day of Thiruvoimozhi Thirunal celebrated as Vedu Pari.

* 900-year old ‘Veena Ekantham' tradition.

* Only occasion of Kona Vaiyali inside the temple.

During the 10-day Era Pathu festival, the artists present Yaazh Isai for about an hour every evening. Interestingly, while the daily morning and evening recitals are solo performances with the artist seated, Veena Ekantham during the Era Pathu Thiruvoimozhi festival is presented with the artists standing, the veena tied to their shoulder. In all, they present around 250 paasurams during this Tamil Prabandham festival. In addition, they also present kritis of other composers, including Tyagaraja and Dikshitar.

The tunes are elegant and simple in its presentation and in a conversational style. It takes ten years for an artist to attain proficiency. First, they master the repertoire vocally; then learn to play the veena and finally present the hymns on the instrument.

Different ragas

Every morning at around 5.15, the veena vidwans present for about 30 minutes Thondaradipodi Azhwar's 10 beautiful verses called Thiruppalli Yezhuchi to awaken Lord Ranganatha. The 10 verses of Thondaradipodi are set in five different ragas, one for every two verses - Bhoopalam, Bilahari, Dhanyasi, Malaya Marutham and Saveri.

In the evening for about 20 minutes, from 10 p.m., the team presents Kulasekara Azhwar's Paasurams to put the Lord to sleep. The ragas are Neelambari, Ananda Bhairavi, Sahana, Revati and the recital ends with Neelambari.

They present this daily veena recital for 262 days (there are no recitals on some special festival days) in a year. They also present the recital on another 29 festival days. They were paid Rs. 2.48 a month for their divine service! It is heard that even this miniscule payment has been stopped.

This Story featured in The Hindu Friday Features today ( 31st December 2010)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Periya Thirumozhi Thiru Venkatam Pasuram

Forgive the sins of my Youth

தெரியேன் பாலகனாய், பல தீமைகள் செய்துமிட்டேன்
பெரியேன் ஆயினபின் பிறர்க்கே உழைத்து ஏழை ஆனேன்

கரி சேர் பூம் பொழில் சூழ் கன மா மலை வேங்கடவா
அரியே, வந்து அடைந்தேன் அடியேனை ஆட்கொண்டருளே

Similar to his first Periya Thirumozhi verse, Thirumangai here laments the
sinful and wicked things he did as a young lad.

He says, as he grew up, he worked for others and became poor.

Finally, having experienced the good and bad in life, he says,
he has come here to Thiru Venkatam, where the Lord is surrounded by elephants and groves, to offer himself in complete service of the Lord.

He wonders if the Lord will accept his service!!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sirupuliyur Divya Desam

The Bird versus the Serpent
Baala Sayana posture of Lord Kripasamudran is a special feature at the divya desam

Renovation is under way at the Sirupuliyur Kripasamudra Perumal temple, a divya desam, whose legend dates back to Garuda Puranam, where one finds reference to the battle of words between Adisesha and Garuda, the Lord's vehicle, as to who played a more important role in their service to Lord Vishnu.

Seeking a solution to their argument, the two arrived at Sirupuliyur and finally looked up to the Lord himself for his opinion. Finding Garuda a little arrogant in his argument, Lord Vishnu, who appeared as Kripasamudran, went in favour of Adisesha. Fearing an angry reaction from the bird, Adisesha looked for protection and was asked by Lord Kripasamudran to coil himself and lie under him. Unhappy with the decision going against him, it is believed that Garuda decided not to fly over this place. Another story goes that the aged Rishi Vyaakrapadha undertook penance at Chidambaram invoking the blessings of Lord Nataraja for attaining moksham. The rishi was directed to go westwards to Srirangam as Lord Ranganatha was the one equipped with the power to grant Moksham.

Owing to his poor eye sight, the rishi lost his way, went southward and reached Kripa Samudiram. Unable to walk any further, he sat in penance at Sirupuliyur. The Lord appeared in his full sayana posture like the one in Srirangam. Since the sage was not able to take in the big form with his feeble eye sight, He appeared in the form of a child - Baala Sayana.

Azhwar surprised

When Thiru Mangai Azhwar visited this place, initially he felt let down by the tiny size of the Lord. Thirumangai, who had seen different displays and different forms of Lord Vishnu, was then impressed upon by Kripasamudra Perumal that this was indeed something very special and that he should savour for the moment. Then he could come to Thiru Kannamangai (Divya Desam about 25 km south-west of Sirupuliyur) for a darshan of his full form in a standing posture. A happy Thirumangai showered 10 verses of praise on Kripasamudra Perumal in his Periya Thirumozhi referring to the Lord as Sala Sayana Perumal and also making a specific reference to Adisesha.

Prarthana sthalam

As this was the place where Kripasamudra Perumal accorded a special status to Adisesha by placing him above Garuda, this temple is of special significance for relief from Naaga Dosha and Kaala Sarpa Dosha. This is the only divya desam where there is a separate temple for Adisesha.

In addition to the overall renovation including the 75-feet five-tier Raja Gopuram and reconstruction of mandapas, the temple is also looking to build a new Hamsa and Simha Vaahana as well a new chariot. Those interested in contributing to this cause can contact: 99946 48980/ 04366 233477/04144 220425

Quick facts...

Moolavar: Kripasamudra Perumal in a south-facing Bhujanga Sayana posture

Thaayar: Thirumaa Magal Nachiyar

Temple Time: 7 a.m.-12 noon and 5 p.m.-8 p.m.

Important festivals: 10-day Brahmotsavam in Vaikasi and 3-day Avataara Utsavam in Maasi.

How to reach the temple

Sirupuliyur is about 15 km south of Mayiladuturai near Kollumangudi off the Mayavaram-Tiruvarur Highway. One can get down at Kollumangudi and take an auto (Rs. 30) to reach this Divya Desam.

The above story featured in The Hindu Friday Features on 10th December 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Araiyar Sevai - Saving a rare Art

Changing Times - From Thirukurungudi Araiyar to Infosys Araiyar

One of my first temple stories was on the Araiyar of Srivilliputhur in early 2007. In the time that has passed, India has seen a severe slowdown. Broadly, the country seems to have come unscathed as can be seen from the frantic hiring by the IT companies.

This is no IT story, though as you will see at the end there could be an IT connection to this!!!

Its that time of the year when the renowned Araiyar Sevai, a visual song and dance enactment of the ‘Paasurams’ that has been performed at Divya Desams for over 1000 years will be seen at its best. The Tamil Calendar month of Margazhi will see Pagal Pathu and Era Pathu Utsavams in Vaishnavite temples where the Araiyars present the Naalayira Divya Prabhandham during the 21day festival.

A ritual that was once performed in several Divya Desams is now down to three in Tamil Nadu- Srirangam, Srivilliputhur and Azhvaar Thirunagari (near Tirunelveli).


The Araiyar originated in Thirukurungudi, a Divya Desam 40kms from Tirunelveli. Legend has it that the Lord used to listen to Araiyar’s Abhinayam hiding behind a wall in Bashyam Street (South Mada Street). In recognition of this significant event, one still finds the name of this street in Tirunelveli’s Gazette.

Who are Araiyars

Araiyars (King of Music) are descendents of Nathamuni, who is said to have introduced the Araiyar Sevai. Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam himself gave the Araiyars the right to perform the unique musical chanting at the temples and presented them with the cone-like cap, two cymbals and the sacred garland (which they wear around their neck when they perform).

The Araiyars first recite the Paasuram, they then explain its inner meaning and finally perform the Abhinaya, a unique art/dance performance with their hands and legs explaining the Paasurams with special musical effect.

The Araiyar Sevai requires a deep knowledge and understanding of the Paasurams. It is not an easy art, as can be seen from the fact that it takes nearly 20 years to learn and perfect the ‘Abhinaya’.
One of the special ‘Araiyar Sevai’ occasions that is of particular significance is during the Paghal Pathu (10 days) and the Era Pathu (10 days after Vaikunta Ekadesi), when one is treated to a real spectacle with the Araiyars enacting the ‘Story of Andal’ growing into a young beautiful girl through their Abhinaya.

Will Araiyar Sevai become a thing of the past?
Between the slow down and the recovery, we are possibly seeing a dramatic change in the lifestyle of Araiyars.

One Araiyar is now flying high, literally – he has become a pilot, another has just completed BE in Computer Science and might soon land up a job at one of India’s high profile IT companies.
50years ago, they took up jobs as teachers in Schools. Today, they are moving into high pressure jobs in Corporates.

Of worry is the fact that only a handful of Araiyars are keeping this most difficult art going and even they seem to be giving into the lure of the financial world. It is possibly true that they have lived a financially insecure and unstable life for several decades without any form of support, either from the temple or elsewhere.

And hence, the next generation of Araiyars will move to cities like Madras and it is quite possible that we may soon see a deterioration in the enactment of the paasurams, the beginnings of which were seen last year at the Prabhandham Festival in Srirangam where the Araiyars fumbled with the Paasurams and forgot the steps!!!

Araiyars by location vs Araiyars by Profession
In centuries gone by, Araiyars used to be known by the place they belonged to. Hence, you would find a Thirukurungudi Araiyar, Srivilliputhur Araiyar, Thirukannapuram Araiyar, Srirangam Araiyar and so on.

Some time in the near future, they could be known by 'Infosys Araiyar' and 'Pilot Ariayar'.

In some sense, it is a shame that we are losing sight of history, not just the society at large but also those few sacred people who offer their divine services at temples.

In many ways, it is a reflection of the direction that the world is headed towards – A materialistic way of life is the standard norm and not the exception anymore.When one looks back in time, we will find that we have come through lot more difficult phases in history (did we not see the duels between Azhvaars and Nayanmars, did we not protet Srirangam from the Islamic invasion) and hence we should be able to get through this testing phase as well.

Meter Gauge Trains

Over the next year or two, we will sadly see the end of meter gauge lines in Tamil Nadu bringing to end an era where people travelled in smaller compartments, by slower trains, stayed under the bulbs ( lighting) and sat on wooden seats!!! And yet did not seem to complain.

Its another matter that no more do we drink water from the village pumps on the rice fields of Thanjavur or Nellai or travel by cycle rickshaws in Madras and hence not having meter gauge trains seems to be yet another obvious sign of development!!!

With the last phase of gauge conversion (meter gauge to broad gauge) currently taking place, there are only a few sections in Tamil Nadu that still officially remain meter gauge- Madurai-Coimbatore (now Podanur) section, Mayavaram- Tiruvarur, Madurai- Bodi, Tirunelveli- Ambasamudram-Tenkasi and Shengottai-Quilon.

Possibly in 2011-12, we will see the end of meter gauge lines in Tamil Nadu and one more nostalgia of the 'Black & White' days will get into the history books.

Below is a photograph of a meter gauge train moving towards Madurai from Dindigul in its final days ( this section too has got converted to broad gauge)