Friday, December 27, 2013

Murali Kartik Railways' Ranji Turnaround

Murali Kartik mentors a ‘silent’ transformational performance at Railways
Fast Bowling Trio, Team Bonding and 3Outright wins leads Railways into the Knock out phase
25years ago in the summer of 1988, I umpired a practice match at the YMCA Nandanam ground played between two well known academy sides in Madras – YMCA TSR v Vadapalani SC (VSC). A tiny 11year old from the VSC impressed, that day under the watchful eyes of his then coach Mr. Iqbal, not just with his cricketing skills but with his aggression and competitive spirit as well and his determination to help the un-fancied team win. That day he fought till the end to secure victory for the then under-dog VSC side in their ‘away’ match.

The class VII Jawahar Vidyalaya student Murali Kartik bowled left arm over, was quite quick and beat batsmen for pace on that matting wicket at the center YMCA ground. Later, he came on to bat in the middle order and in his aggressive style took his team to win.

Two and a half decades later and with the experience of over 200first class matches, Kartik, 37, has lost none of his aggression and the competitive spirit that was so symbolic of him even before he had touched his teens and he has done this season exactly what I saw him do that day at YMCA – bring together a young and un-fancied team, build the confidence in them, take on the opposition with aggression and beat them.
(the one difference between then and now is that the left arm quickie of Madras became a left arm tweaker when he moved to Delhi when still in his teens)

Unfortunately, despite displaying outstanding leadership taking over the team in a difficult transition phase and securing the kind of results that no cricket expert would have predicted at the start of the Ranji season, the media focus has been on an one off mankading incident – he once again- as he did in England during the county season there last year - did warn the non striker) instead of  his outstanding achievement with this young and rather un-fancied team.

Despite being the best left arm spinner of the last two decades, he was sidelined for reasons that still remain a mystery. Now in his 20th season of first class cricket, Kartik has, over the last two months, quietly mentored a Railways team into the top of the table and the first team into the knock out phase of the Ranji Trophy from this group, with still a league match in hand. While Karnataka grabbed all the headlines for its first ever outright win over Bombay, Kartik was leading his side to a comeback outright win against Services after setting up a bold declaration on the final morning of the match at its home ground in Delhi.

Chalking out a Turnaround story
While the media focus has been on the failures of Sehwag and Gambir in Delhi in the North of the country and the abysmal performance of TN down South, the new look Railways side has gone almost unnoticed with its remarkable turnaround performance this year under the captaincy of Kartik moving up from 5th and 8th in the league phase in the last two years to top of the table with a match still to play.

It is important to put the performance of Railways and the role of Kartik in perspective. Railways has no big names, the team does not possess the ‘best of infrastructure’ that most other Ranji teams boast of. There are no physios to massage the tired legs at the end of the day and to turn around injuries. There are no branded clothes similar to what the more prominent teams have!! In that sense, it has never been easy for Railways and more often than not, they are a self dependent lot having to take care of their own selves.

Over the last 12months, Railways has lost 3 of its most prominent players of the last decade and a half. For the best part of the 90s and through the last decade, Yere Gowda (Gowd) was the back bone of the middle order and anchored the batting providing stability to the team.  Sanjay Bangar made significant contributions both with the bat and ball over the last decade and more. 
On the spin bowling front, the duo of Murali Kartik and Kulamani Parida toiled hard rolling their arm over tirelessly time and again match after match over the last 15years.

Mentoring a young bunch to success
With the retirement of these three experienced players, Murali Kartik, who has also captained the team in the past, has taken over a mentoring role in an effort to bring the team, comprising of players from different Railway divisions, together into a performing unit. What the team lacks in terms of infrastructure, it makes up with determination and team spirit.

Kartik’s eyes light up when he is asked about his new young team that he has taken charge of this season ‘The team is definitely in a transition stage with a number of new faces. At the start of the season, I wanted to make them dream big. I wanted the entire team to believe in themselves and their ability to perform and topple the more fancied teams. I asked them to perform every match to the best of their ability and not be too bothered about opposition names.’

The pace at which Kartik has been able to bring the best out of these talented youngsters and get them to perform as a team striving for success is a great endorsement of his leadership and mentoring abilities. 

Backed by their captain, the most successful fast bowling trio in the country have bundled out oppositions with a great amount of consistency. Kartik has extracted the best out of Anureet Singh, K Upadhyay and R Mali and that really has been one of the big success stories this year for the Railways – that of consistently bowling out opposition. The trio have bowled over 80% of the overs bowled by Railways this season and the wicket taking strike rate is quite commendable.

Consistently bowling out opposition in under a day
A look at Railways’ performance this year points to the fact that they are probably one of the best bowling units in the country, this despite the fact that Kartik has held himself back through most of the early season. Of course, they have played most of their matches on green tops but Kartik is all for such wickets to improve the quality of cricket in India. He even called the experience of playing against Rajasthan in Jaipur and against TN at Jamia as similar to a match at Wimbledon!!!

Kartik has also pushed spinner Karn Sharma (ahead of bowling himself) to take up more responsibility and perform in crunch situations to help him move up the ladder into the next level. Kartik has bowled and batted only when absolutely required and has mentored his young teammates to strong and successful performances this year.

Madras and Delhi - Contrasting matches
What a contrast to what has been happening in Kartik’s home town here in Madras. Earlier this week, three spinners bowled over a 100overs for TN without any success conceding the first innings lead easily to an under performing Rajasthan side (one that had beaten them in the Ranji Final a couple of years ago at the same venue), up North at Delhi, Kartik had his 3fast bowlers bowl a 100overs (yes, of course the IPL lad Karn Sharma surprised everyone with  8wicket haul in the match) helping fashion a stunning comeback win against Services after Kartik declared on the final morning leaving Rawat stranded just 8runs short of a century.

The Railways team has also had to counter foggy weather in the North of the country over the last fortnight or so. And the decision to declare on the final morning also assumed significance on account of this ( the threat of  weather knocking off play on the final day) for he had to take a calculated risk in terms of timing the declaration and allowing his bowlers enough time to bowl out Services. (remember only around 30overs were possible on the last two days against TN)

Kartik says with pride ‘This is a team that comprises players who put the team ahead of themselves. Hence it was an easy decision to make, in that sense. Railways had 6points to gain and just 1point to lose. We sacrificed Rawat’s century in a bid to try and achieve a victory on the final day. And our bowlers did just that.’

Kartik’s key contribution with the bat
Railways had surrendered the first innings lead to Services after a dismal opening day batting.  Kartik himself played a key role as an opener in the comeback win as it was his 70+ opening partnership with Shukla that brought Railways back into the match and set up the competitive 2nd innings score.

Last month, after his fast bowlers had run through Saurashtra on day 1, Kartik helped his team to a vital first innings lead with an unbeaten 43 after his team was struggling at 100/6 chasing Saurashtra’s 165.

The trio of Mali, Anureet and Upadhyay took 18 of the wickets against Baroda’s Rayudu, Pathan and Co., securing an innings win for Railways, another feather in the cap of Murali Kartik and his young team. This also included bowling the more fancied opponents in under 50overs!!

While the more talked about teams in its zone, Tamil Nadu, Bengal and UP are still struggling, the under-dog Railways reigns supreme under Kartik.

This is only a beginning
With one league match still to go, the team now has a lot of time to plan for its knock out phase, though the opposition or the venue will not be known for some time yet (till the final league matches are concluded). The team is confident now but our feet is firmly on the ground says Kartik reminding his players that this is only a beginning and there is lot of work yet to be done this season. While a couple of the players in the team have already signed up with IPL teams, Kartik is keen in them aiming for Duleep Trophy and Irani Trophy next year so they can set their sights on the longer version of the game. Kartik believes exceptional performances this season will drive them in that direction.

Playing on Green Tops
Kartik has also particularly liked the green wickets that the team has played on. “It is important for the fast bowlers to keep themselves under control and bowl the right areas on such wickets to induce the edges. It makes for a good contest when there are seaming conditions and fast bowlers make the batsmen hop on their feet and induce edges into the slips at constant intervals. That is what the contest between bat and ball is all about. And that is what I have experienced consistently over the last decade playing county cricket. Of course, ideally I would also like the ball to turn on day 3 and 4 of a Ranji contest so the batsman’s ability is put to test against the spinners as well.”

Over the last decade, Kartik has followed up a full county season (April-September) with a full Ranji season. Having turned 37 just a few months back, Kartik’s still has undying passion for the game and that keeps the adrenalin ticking for him. “I still feel the ball comes out of my hand as well as it did 10years ago.’

Many who have seen him bowl this year think that he is still the best left arm spinner in the country (Definitely the Englishmen including Nasser Hussain who have seen him perform in English county cricket vouch for him as the best left arm spinner they have played from India in the last two decades and they hold him in high stead where ever he goes in England) and that is yet another motivator for him to continue on the domestic scene here in India.

It is another question if he can do a ‘John Traicos’ in India!!! Given that Railways are in the knock out phase and are likely to give the best a run for their money ( irrespective of who they face in the Quarters and onwards), one hopes the selectors will keep a close watch on this veteran and if merit warrants, select him once again for India, his age notwithstanding.

Kartik must be commended for this transformational performance of bringing together quite an un-fancied team. If the team keeps its spirit going, it would be no surprise if they lift the Ranji Trophy in a few months time. By the time the season ends, his fast bowling trio could become house hold names in Indian cricket.

Kartik on this part says his immediate focus is to continue the good work with the team and get them to give their best in the next match. He says the knock out is still far way off, but when it does come, he says his team will be motivated to give their best and find happiness in each others’ success.

In the end that is what sport is meant to do.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kethandapatti Aravamudhan Perumal Temple

Mel Kudanthai – a temple dedicated to Lord Aravamudhan West of Thiru Kudanthai
The processional Utsava deity of Lord Aravamudhan was presented to the Kethandapatti temple by the Lord of Thiru Kudanthai

Located 6kms North of Jolarpet, off the Jolarpet-Vaniyampadi Railway route is the Aravamudhan Temple in Kethandapatti, a serene village dating back to the 16th Century AD and to the Nayak rule.

The Story
The village was donated by the Nayak rulers of Thanjavur to Nallaan Raghunatha Chakravarthy of Srimushnam. Following this, a saint from Srimushnam came here to Kethandapatti and performed daily aradhana on the banks of the river Kallaar. In course of time, invoking the blessings of the Lord of 5 Perumal temples, he carved out of the rock sacred foot prints dedicating it to the five Lords- Srirangam, Kanchipuram, Kumbakonam, Srisailam and Ahobilam.

To this day, one finds the rock cut sacred foot prints dedicated to the five Lords on the banks of Kallaar, one km west of the temple just off the Jolarpet-Vaniyampadi railway line.

It was during this period that a temple for one of these five Lords was built dedicated to Varadaraja Perumal and Perundevi Thaayar.

Aravamudhan Idol from Thiru Kudanthai
A couple of centuries later, the now famous Kethandapatti Swami of Lakshmipuram (a village near Kuppam- Chittoor in AP) went with his disciples to the Sarangapani Divya Desam in Thiru Kudanthai and brought a utsava idol of Lord Aravamudhan from there and installed it here at Kethandapatti and introduced year long festivals at this temple.

With this, the temple came to be referred to as the Aravamudhan temple of Kethandapatti. Similar to the divya desam at Thiru Kudanthai, the idol of Komalavalli Thayaar was installed here. Being West of Thiru Kudanthai, this Aravamudhan temple is also referred to as ‘Mel-Kudanthai’.
Grand Avathara Utsavam in Aippasi
Even today, the avathara utsavam of Kethandapatti Swami is celebrated in a grand manner in Aippasi (Moolam) in Srirangam, Kanchipuram, Kumbakonam, Thiruvahindrapuram and at his birth place in Lakshmipuram.

There is a handsome looking Garuda Vahana at this temple.

Margazhi Utsavam – Temple opens at 5am this month
Aadi Pooram
Panguni Uthiram
Ugadi- Moolavar Thirumanjanam

Quick Facts
Moolavar: Varadarajan East Facing Standing Posture
Thaayar  : Perundevi Thaayar
Utsavar   : Aravamudhan
Utsavar Thaayar: Komalavalli Thaayar
Time       : 6am-9am and 5pm-8pm
Contact   : Narasimhan Bhattar/ Sowmya Narayanan Bhattar @ 86082 40944/ 98411 77333

How to reach
 Auto from Jolarpet Railway Station will cost Rs. 120/-. Town bus from Jolarpet will take about 30minutes.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thirumangai Azhvaar Thiru Kadal Mallai Trade and Business

Thirumangai Azhvaar refers to 'Gold and Gems' being shipped along the shores of Thiru Kadal Mallai (Maamallapuram)

Maamallapuram was once a famous and an important port town and a business center with traders dealing here through the barter system.  One finds an interesting reference to trade in Thiru Mangai Azhwar’s Periya Thirumozhi verse:

புலன்கொள்  குவையோடு  
புழைக் கைம்மா கனிற்றினமும்
நலங்கொள்  நவமணி குவையும்

சுமந்து எங்கும் நான்று ஒசித்து

காலங்கள் இயங்கும் மல்லைக் 

கடல் மலை தல சயனம்
வளங்கொள் மணத்தார் 

அவரை வளங்கொள் என் மட நெஞ்சே
Here, he refers to ships carrying heaps of Gold and loads of Gems along the shores of Maamallapuram, a place where, he says, one finds Lord Vishnu providing darshan.

Thirumangai Azhwar highlights the unique ‘reclining on the ground’ sayana posture of the Lord in his another verse ‘நன்னாத வாழ் அவுணர்  தளசயன்னது உறைவாரை’ 

He says that among the many different Sayana Postures of Lord Vishnu, this is a special form, one of reclining on the ground.
He refers to this place as ‘Kadal Mallai’ in his praise of the ‘Thalasayanam’ Lord whom he compares with the Standing Lord of Thiru Ninravur and the Sleeping Lord of Thiru Meiyam (on Adisesha).

In his verses, Thiru Mangai Azhwar consistently makes reference to the ‘cool groves’ of Kadal Mallai giving us an indication of the scenic surroundings around the temple over a 1000years ago.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bhoothath Azhvaar Avathara Utsavam Thiru Kadal Mallai

The Avathara Utsavam of Bhoothath Azhvaar (Aipasi Avittam) was celebrated in a grand manner at the Sthala Sayana Perumal Divya Desam

Born in Maamallapuram, Bhoothath Azhvaar made his way to Thiru Kovilur, on one stormy night, where he met with Poigai Azhvaar and Pey Azhvaar (the three of them are referred to as Mudhal Azhvaars) and sought refuge for the night at the ashram of Mrugandu Rishi. Delighted at having had darshan of Lord Ulagalantha Perumal that night, Bhoothath Azhvaar sang 100 verses of praise referred to as the ‘Second Thiruvanthathi’ among the Iyarpa composition in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham. In his first verse ‘அன்பே தகளியா ஆர்வமே நெய்யாக’, Bhoothath Azhvaar says that with love as the lamp, eagerness as the ghee and a sweet heart as the wick, he lights the ‘lamp of knowledge’ showering praise on Lord Narayana.

Sayana Posture without Adisesha

Eager to place 1008 lotus flowers at the feet of the Lord of Thiru Parkadal, Pundarika Rishi made his way in the Eastern direction but found to his dismay the sea water blocking his path. Undeterred, he put his mind and effort every day in clearing his way by removing the water with his hand. Pleased with the effort of the Rishi, Lord Vishnu came here disguised as an old hungry Brahmin asking for food.

Leaving aside the work of removing the water, the Rishi placed the 1008 flowers near the hungry old man and went away to bring food . On his return, he found to his delight Lord Vishnu reclining on the ground in a sleeping posture adorning the Lotus flowers that the Rishi had left behind. In memory of this event, the Lord here is called Sthala Sayana Perumal and one finds Pundarika Rishi at the feet of Sthala Sayana Perumal offering Lotus flowers. Interestingly, the sleeping lord is seen here without Adisesha, quite a unique feature.

Kaithala Seva

The day long celebrations on Monday morning began with Bhoothath Azhvaar being treated to a special Thirumanjanam (sacred bath).  At 10am, clad in a bright mango coloured silk dhoti and with a glittering crown on his head, Bhoothath Azhvaar made his way around the temple seeking the blessings first of Nilamangai Thaayar and then of Sthala Sayana Perumal. 

After the recital of 20verses of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s Periya Thirumozhi praise of Thiru Kadal Mallai and Thalasayana Perumal, Lord Sthala Sayana Thuraiyaar (Ulaguyya Ninraan), the Utsava deity of the Divya Desam, presented a special birthday gift to Bhoothath Azhvaar by providing him an exclusive ‘Kaithala Seva’.

Just after 1230pm, Bhoothath Azhvaar made a 1km trip to the cave temple of Aadhi Varaha Perumal, one of the two ancient Perumal temples that continue to exist here at Maamallapuram.

After a few hours of rest, Bhoothath Azhvaar was back for the evening celebrations. The highlight of the evening was the joint procession of Lord Ulaguyya Ninraan and Bhoothath Azhvaar around the four Mada Streets of Maamallapuram. The birthday celebrations ended well after midnight after a visibly happy Bhoothath Azhvaar had enjoyed the recital of 250verses of Nam Azhvaar’s Tiruvoimozhi.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bhoo Varaha Swamy Srimushnum requires TN CM’s immediate intervention

Cracks in the Rajagopuram unaddressed 
Renovation efforts at the HR & CE controlled ancient Bhoo Varaha Swamy temple in Srimushnum has gone off track in recent months. The temple, which is one of the 8 Swayambu Kshetrams – a list that includes Srirangam, Tirupathi and Vanamaamalai - in its current form and structure is believed to have been constructed by four Nayak kings- Achuthappa, Ananthappa, Govindappa and Kondappa Nayak.

Sources say that while HR &CE had sanctioned a large amount for the complete renovation including undertaking repair works, painting the temple and giving the mandapas a new look. However, devotees are worried that the critical ‘health of the Raja Gopuram’ related issues are being completely ignored in the renovation process. There is a fear that a ‘Kalahasthi’ kind of episode may be repeated here.  

In fact, the top Tier of the Raja Gopuram has developed cracks and debris has been falling onto the Tier beneath. It is likely that the Raja Gopuram could be fully damaged in a matter of time if this issue is not taken care of. And yet, it looks like this serious issue has been given a quiet pass.

From the looks of it, the renovation seems to be more like a painting initiative rather than carrying out the major repair works and safeguarding a historical temple. Each of the top tiers of the Gopuram requires immediate attention but as seen from the photograph, the Raja Gopuram has already been painted and given a new look on the outside while the inside of the Gopuram has critical repair work to be undertaken.

In addition to the inactivity on the inside of the Rajagopuram, some of the idols/sculptures that have developed cracks have also been painted and given a new look without repairing the cracks (see photograph).

It is also learnt that the date for the Samprokshanam is being finalised and it could possibly be as early as February of next year.

Immediate Steps
It would be appropriate if an expert committee of Vaishnavites with experience in temple renovation activity is immediately appointed so they can take stock of the situation and recommend corrective action.

It is hoped that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister will take immediate notice of this misdirected renovation initiative at the temple and direct the authorities to take steps to safeguard the Raja Gopuram well ahead of the Samprokshanam. It would also be appropriate to not hurry the Samprokshanam and to postpone it to a future date after the entire repair works is completed.

Legend has it that Lord Vishnu created the Pushkarani with the sweat emanating from his body after his battle with Hiranyaksha.  On his death bed, Hiranyaksha asked as his final wish the Lord to turn towards his direction. Hence Bhoo Varaha’s face is seen turned towards South in the direction of the asura, while the body bearing a human shape is facing West in the direction of the devotees. The Lord here is in the form of a small idol signifying the Varaha Avatar.

Prarthana Sthalam
This is a Prarthana Sthalam for childless couples. Ladies, who bathe in the sacred temple tank and recite the Varaha Kavacham are said to be blessed with children.  This is also a Prarthana Sthalam for unmarried people who on offering their prayers at the Saptha Kannigal Sannidhi are said to find their spouse immediately. Belief is also that Lord Bhoo Varaha helps devotees in the purchase of house and car.

(Part of this story featured in The Hindu Friday Review on Friday 29 Nov)