Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sivaganga Sundararaja Perumal Temple

The ancient over 600years old temple is home to the Lords of Two Divya Desams in the Pandya Region - Sundararaja Perumal of Azhagar Koil and Sowmya Narayana Perumal of Thiru Koshtiyur

Located in the heart of Sivaganga is the 14th Century AD Pandya Period over 600years old temple and a one of its kind Abhimana Sthalam that is dedicated to two Divya Desam Lords – Sundararaja Perumal of Azhagar Koil and Sowmya Narayana Perumal of Thiru Koshtiyur and to both the Pancharatna and Vaikanasa forms of worship.

Thanking Gesture to Azhagar
Azhagar of Thirumaliruncholai was the Kula Deivam for many of the Pandya kings. They donated liberally for many of the utsavams of Lord Azhagar. They also build mandapas and rest houses at various places during Azhagar’s long processions.

King Jatavarma Sundara Pandya went on a hunting expedition in handsome princely attire with a majestic crown, a bell on his hip and anklets around his legs. With thieves targeting him, he invoked the blessings of Azhagar. Pleased with his devotion, the Lord appeared in the form of a hunter and assisted him in defeating the opponents.

In a thanking gesture for Azhagar, the king built a temple here at Sivaganga for Sundararaja Perumal so the Lord could answer the prayers of other devotees like him.  

The Name
With the temple having been built by a king who had darshan of Lord Sundararaja Perumal as a hunter, the Lord at this temple is also referred to as Vettai Aadum Perumal.

Similar to the Thiru Maliruncholai temple, this temple complex too has a granite structure under the Somachandra Vimanam. Sethupathi kings later built the front mandapa. Pandya Kings also started festivals here at this temple by donating liberally in the form of gold and gifting of villages. Agraharams were also built. Two big bells were also donated.

Only after Sundararaja Perumal was presented with food in the morning and evening, did the Pandya kings have food such was  their devotion for the Lord of Sivaganga.

It was also the practice that after the big bell at Thiru Koshtiyur Sowmya Narayana Perumal, the temple bell rang here at Sundararaja Perumal temple in Sivaganga.

Sowmya Narayana Perumal at Sivaganga

At the end of each renovation of the temple complex, Sowmya Narayana Perumal of Thiru Koshtiyur came here on a Palanquin and in his presence, Samprokshanam was performed. After he went back to Thiru Koshtiyur and missing the presence of the beautiful Sowmya Narayana Perumal, a Sannidhi was erected for him in memory of his trips from Thiru Koshtiyur.   
The temple complex has a strong foundation with the walls being of old granite structure. Around the prakara, one finds exquisite sculptures on the North and South sides. There are also inscriptions inside the temple that are said to date back at least 500years.
There are four Sangams- Brahmin, Chettiyar, Nayudu and Yadava- who organise Utsavams here at the temple. 
Quick Facts
Moolavar: Sundararaja Perumal East Facing Standing Posture
Moolavar: Sowmya Narayana Perumal East Facing Standing Posture
Time       : 6am-11am and 5pm-830pm
Contact   : Srinivasa Bhattar @ 98437 51030

How to reach
Direct trains every evening/night to Sivaganga from Madras. Sivaganga is about 40kms North East of Madurai. Buses every 10minutes from Mattuthavani bus stand in Madurai. The temple is about 1km North West of the Sivaganga old bus stand.

Taxi from Madurai and back will cost around Rs.500.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Manamadurai Veera Azhagar Perumal Temple

14th Century AD temple on banks of Vaigai
Referred to as Vanara Veera Madura Puri after the Vanara Army was energised here as they resumed their search for Sita
 Located just under 50kms East of Madurai on the Eastern banks of Vaigai is the 14th Century AD Veera Azhagar Perumal Temple in Manamadurai. Vaigai flows in a unique North South direction here at this place.

Pandya Construction
The temple was built during the rule of Ugra Kumara Pandya, Satavarma Pandya and Maavali Vaanathi Raya. There are several inscriptions on the outer prakara dating back to the rule of Satavarma Pandya, King of Tiruppuvanam, Parakrama Pandya, Somadeva Nayak, Maaravarma Pandya and Sundara Pandya.
Maavali Vaanathi Raya ruled this place from his palace about 2kms East of this temple - currently referred to as Kallikottai Mound. It was his daily practice to ride his horse to Azhagar Koil in ThiruMaalirun Cholai for a darshan of KallAzhagar. When on consecutive days, he could not make it to Azhagar Koil, the Lord of Thiru Maalinruncholai asked him to build within his territory a temple for him.

When asked for the exact location, the Lord directed him to a place where Noopura Gangai flows as Vaigai and splits into two. He asked the king to build the temple at one place and the temple tank in the other. Four kms from the temple is Alankara Kulam (named after the sister of King Maavali Vaanathi Raya), the sacred temple tank. Perumal comes here once a year for Theerthavari Utsavam
Anjaneya Sannidhi
In the Thretha Yuga, the vanara army reached here in search of Sita. Finding a Brindavana and a lot of fruits, the vanaras destroyed the Brindavana and ate all the fruits and got themselves intoxicated forgetting the reason behind coming here.  Rama and Lakshmana reached here, boosted their energy and reminded them of the task on hand. Through this, the vanara army got ‘Veeram’ again. Hence this place has come to be referred to as Vanara Veera Madura Puri, which in course of time became Vana Madurai and later Mana Madurai. Even today, this place is referred to as Vanara Veera Madura Puri in all documents.

Hanuman is believed to have come here after the war and enjoyed the Vanam and Vaigai river banks. He told Rama that he would like to stay back here. Vibheeshana is believed to have presented his princely crown to hanuman here.

To ensure that another Ravana should not emerge, it is believed that the tall 6 1/2ft Hanuman stayed here facing south keeping an eye on Lanka in an ever watchful posture.

Sita is also believed to have presented a 3day feast to Hanuman here as a payback to the service rendered by him. The Hanuman idol facing South is said to pre date the temple.

Name of the place
This place is also referred to as Stula Karana Puri, Somanatha Puram and Vilva Vanam.

Chitra Pournami – 10 day Utsavam including Ethir Sevai and Azhagar getting into the Vaigai in his famous White Horse
12 day Aadi Brahmotsavam including Kalyana Utsavam
Hanuman Jayanthi in Margazhi
Paramapada Vaasal on Vaikunta Ekadesi

For the Thiru Kalyana Utsavam, Veera Azhagar makes his way to the Thaayar Sannidhi on the Elephant Vahana.

200years ago, it is believed that Gajendra Moksham event was enacted at Aara Mani Kulam, the tank opposite the temple.

The temple is under the administration of Sivaganga Devasthanam.

Quick Facts

Moolavar: Sundararaja Perumal with Sri and Bhoo Devi in an East Facing Standing Posture
Thaayar   : Soundara Valli Thaayar (Separate Sannidhi)
Utsavar   : Veera Azhagar
Time      : 7am -1030am and 5pm-8pm (Sat – 7am-12noon)
Contact  : SV Gopi Madhavan Bhattar @ 96596 66223/ 92451 99132

How to reach
By train, one can take the Rameswaram Express from Madras. Buses every 15minutes between Madurai and Manamadurai (Rameswaram bound buses)

Taxi from Madurai and back will cost around Rs.600

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

TN Cricket-Make Coaches Accountable

In the last fortnight, we have had three first division league matches here in Madras. The first division one day tournament kicked off in the last week. But the TN head coach was no where to be seen instead choosing the lucrative TV commentary assignment

Tamil Nadu has just had a disastrous season in Ranji Trophy and what does the head coach do. He dashes off straight into Ranji Trophy commentary to leave a true cricket lover completely shocked. With the domestic one day and T20 tournaments coming up, one would have expected the head coach to be watching the local league teams in action in the semi finals and then the final as well as the first division one day tournament.

Instead, he has been enjoying a TV stint at the knock matches in Ranji Trophy. We would have all hoped that his team (Tamil Nadu) would rather be playing the knock outs rather than have the coach do a commentary stint at the knock out stages.

It is difficult to fathom how VB Chandrasekar could skip Palayampatti Semi Finals and Final that took place last week in Madras and opt for the lucrative TV commentary opportunity. Having had a terrible year in Ranji, one would have also hoped that he would have wanted to organise a pre one day/pre T20 camp to try and get the team back together after watching the Palayampatti SF and Final and the local 1st division one day tournament that is currently on this week in Madras.
( Interestingly, Gokulakrishnan was at the ground during those matches ( with Vijay CC being in the SF and then making it to the Final, while TN's fielding coach M Sanjay umpired one of the Semi Finals and hence was also present - in the process getting a chance to take a close look at two of the teams. VB did make it to the league matches at the beginning of the season immediately after his appointment)

For the last two years, I have been trying to talk to the coaches of the state team and almost every time the answer has been that there has been a mandate not to talk. Even the chief of selection committee chose to remain mum ( immediately after VB was chosen as the Head coach) at the beginning of the season when asked for a preview of the season ahead.

However, it seems that the head coach has been provided an exception to this mandate and a free hand to share his views with the media, going by the number of comments and interviews he has given over the last 6months. You have the head coach talk pre season, during season and at the end of a lacklustre performance by the team.

One also wonders the reasoning behind Tamil Nadu choosing to go for a head coach who almost over the last decade has not had a direct coaching stint with any of the state teams though his achievement as a player for TN is commendable. 

He was associated with the  CSK team for a while but not with the TN state team. In fact, he has not even been involved with the Indian Cements’ first division league teams in terms of coaching.

Obviously, TNCA saw something new earlier this season that they did not over the last decade when VB was very much in the city.

It may be recalled that VB as the chief of the selection committee controversially brought in S. Suresh as the captain of the Ranji team a decade ago when several cricketers in the local circuit believed that arguably Suresh may not have found a regular place in the team during that period. (The story goes that VB controlled the team from outside)

It seems that the same story has come to haunt the players once again. Several sources that I spoke to have expressed displeasure in the way the head coach has treated the players, though this cannot be the sole reason for their poor performance this season. In the middle of the season, you had one of the players who had played a key role last year bidding goodbye to Tamil Nadu cricket. Questions are being raised as to what led to this decision.

Given the hectic Ranji season over the last 2-3months, VB was also not seen in his academy. The budding youngsters at his academy would also be wondering as to when they can insights from him for it is for his brand value that many of the parents choose to send their kids to the VB academy. He was quite bullish well over a decade ago in a 3hour chat I had with him at his house in Mylapore on the prospects of the cricket academy he had just launched. However, in the dozen years since then, not too many cricketers have emerged out of the academy that was launched with a lot of visibility at that time.

If one’s focus is on cricket commentary in the media, then it is difficult to focus on a particular team or academy as a head coach. That is a reason why you have not had Gavaskars and Shastris of the world not get into full time academies or coaching domestic teams.

VB has to decide where his priority lies for there is a lot at stake for the TN team. If his priority is with Tamil Nadu and the state team, he should be spending time this month watching local 1st division (related) matches and organising a camp to get the team ready for the one-dayers and T20 rather than be watching other Ranji teams play. He should also be spending time understanding the players and trying to get the best out of the players.

It is also questionable as to how TNCA permitted VB to undertake a quick stint with the TV commentary between the Ranji and domestic one tourney. Was he not mandated to watch the SF and Final of the First division league? Was he not directed to watch the league one day tournament to get a feel of who are the key players ahead of the domestic one day tournament?

There were 44players playing earlier this month in the two semi finals – a few of whom have had a bad Ranji season, a few are hopefuls for the one day and T20tournaments. What purpose does it serve if the head coach watches other Ranji teams in action instead of watching these prospects with whom he will be spending time in the coming month during the one day tourney?

 One had hoped that he would play a pivotal role with the CSK team but that too did not last long.

Dedication to Coaching Career
 Despite not having been directly involved with cricket coaching at the state level (age group or any others) for a long time, his appointment earlier this season saw media reports eliciting his credentials.

While it is too early to dismiss off his likely contribution and value to the TN team and the state team could actually come back strong in the one day and T20 tournaments, cricket followers would rather like the head coach to be involved a lot more with the players, analysing their strengths and weaknesses rather than head off for commentary stints, especially given that there is a lot at stake for a number of players here, many have been on the verge of national selection, some are hoping for national calls in the near future.

While coaches like J Gokulakrishnan and TS Mohan have dedicated their careers as coaches (after their playing days), there are others like VB who have not shown that kind of commitment to coaching at the state level ( age group and above), over a long period of time.

We need coaches who are dedicating their careers to coaching and who are tracking and monitoring the players closely so they can provide the value addition that the players look for ( many of the TN players have also had international exposure with them being part of the IPL).

One also wonders why the TN Selectors did not travel this year for away matches ( this was not the case in the earlier year).

A professional Coaching System
TNCA would have to devise a more professional system whereby coaches are chosen based on their commitment to coaching at the state level and their ability to communicate and interact with the players and earn the respect of the players in a way that each of the players benefit, individually, while at the same time the state sees a gradual progression from Point A to Point B ( what ever point A and point B are) over a period of time.

Once chosen, the coaches should be assigned a clearly laid out task and should know in no uncertain terms their roles and responsibilities with the team. They should then be tracked against certain mutually agreed metrics over a period of time. Feedback from players is also important (which it is hoped TNCA would have taken note of this year especially relating to the way the team was handled during the Ranji season and the reasons for the poor performance).

One hopes that given the strong base of league tournaments here, TNCA would leverage this strong fundamentals and translate the potential into a strong Ranji team that could function as a unit in its endeavour to capture the Trophy sometime in the near future.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Melattur Varadaraja Perumal Temple

Presentation of Mythological stories through a rare art form takes place in front of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in May every year as part of the Bhagavata Mela 
Located 18kms North East of Thanjavur on the Southern banks of Cauvery is the over 400years old Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Melattur dating back to the 16th Century and the rule of Achuthappa Nayak. Historically, this place was referred to as Unnatapuri, an indication that this was a ‘Town in an elevated place’.

It is believed that, centuries ago, Varadaraja Perumal was brought from Asthagiri in Kanchipuram Divya Desam.

In centuries gone by, there were 450-500Brahmin families with a traditional agraharam around the temple. However, this has come down to just a few families now, with most of them having moved out looking for ‘better opportunities’. Seetharama Bhattachar is the 7th generation priest taking care of this temple.

Bhagavata Mela
The Bhagavata Mela at Melattur is an annual event through which historical and mythological events and stories are presented through the night in an art form involving music, dance and drama. The story goes that the Nayak Kings in the 16th and 17th Century gifted a village to 500Brahmins to enable them to practice and present this rare art form of theatre every year during the Narasimha Jayanthi celebrations. In memory of Achutha Nayak’s contribution to the temple, this place is even today referred to as Achuthapuram (ennum Melattur).

Beginning on Narasimha Jayanthi day every year, the story of Prahalada, Harishchandra and Kamsa, among others is presented on a specially erected stage in front of the Varadaraja Perumal temple.

Every evening, during the Bhagavata Mela, Lord Narasimha comes out on a procession and watches the presentation of the historical stories through the night that goes on sometimes even till 5am the next morning. Towards the end of the Prahalada Charitram, a centuries old mask of  'Lord Narasimha' that is seen inside the temple is worn by the artiste playing the role of Narasimha as he prepares to display his true aggressive form to Hiranyakashipu.

The age old belief is that the spirit of Narasimha is invoked through this enactment by the actor on the night of the Prahalada Charitram (This year, Prahalada Charitram will be enacted on the night of May 23 at Melattur)
 Some of the well known episodes from the Bhagavata Purana have been composed into a Music-Dance-Drama form of presentation by Venkatarama Bhagavatar of Melattur in the 18th Century AD.

The story also goes that Narayana Theertha, a great exponent of the Bhakti Movement in the 16th and 17th Century AD composed Paarijaataa Paharanam for the enactment by Bhagavatars of Melattur through the Dance-Drama form.

(More on the Bhagavatha Mela in May this year)

 A 10 day Brahmotsavam in Chitrai- Vaikasi ( ending on Akshaya Thrithi day) with street processions every morning and evening during this period.
Lakshaarcharnai for Perumal and Thaayar during Navarathri
Lakshaarchanai for Anjaney is also performed
Narasimha Jayanthi
Quick Facts
Moolavar : Varadaraja Perumal East Facing Sitting Posture with Sri and Bhoo Devi
Thaayar   : Perundevi Thaayar
Special Sannidhi: Narasimha
Time        : 8am-12noon and 6pm-8pm
Contact    : G Seetharama Bhattachar @ 99449 94691

How to reach
Direct Town bus from Thanjavur – Route 34 and 48 (bound for Thirukarugavur). There are also Mofussil buses that ply between Thanjavur and Kumbakonam through Melattur.

Melattur is just over 25kms from Kumbakonam on the Aavoor- Karugavur- Thittai-Thanjavur route
between Thirukarugavur and Thittai.

Taxi (both ways) from Thanjavur will cost around Rs.450 and from Kumbakonam will cost around Rs.550
Contact Taxi:  99945 46416 (Kumbakonam) / 94435 88102 (Thanjavur)