Sunday, December 31, 2017

Srirangam Venkatesa Bhavan

77 year old 'Joint Family' restaurant on Therku Vaasal serves the best ‘afternoon tiffin and snacks’ in Srirangam
Akkara Vadisal on Thursday, Kesari on Saturday and Bun Halwa on Sunday 
            Brothers Ranganathan and Anantharaman

A small almost unnoticed 'Palakkad Iyers' Joint Family run Vegetarian Restaurant on Therku Vaasal, opposite the ‘Ranga Ranga’ Gopuram in Srirangam is one of the best eateries, one that has served high quality homely tiffin and snacks for over 75 years.

72 year old Ranganathan Iyer hails from Palakkad. The 1930s had been a financially terrible period for the family and his father, the then 17 year old Venkatraman moved to Srirangam in 1940 in search of a job that could strengthen the finances of the family.

He found a job in a hotel opposite the police station in Srirangam near the bus stand. Within 6 months, seeing the quality of the food served there, a few residents of the temple town suggested to him to start his own eatery and helped him with a place right next to the Ranga Ranga Gopuram on South Uthira Street. It was a very small shop with an overhead thatched roof. 

Theirs was a large family of 9 members and this was intended to lessen the financial burden.They had to pay a rent of Rs. 50 in the 1940s that went up to Rs. 500 by the early 60s.

A full meal at 4annas
In the initial decades, the shop was open from 6am to 10pm serving Idly, Dosai, Pakoda, Kaara Sev, Bhajji and coffee. An idly was sold at half an anna, dosai at 3/4 anna and the sweet savories at half an anna each. Coffee cost one anna while the most expensive was the ‘limited meals’ at 4 annas.

Ranganathan Iyer looks back at life during his schooling days in the 1950s ‘I never had a ‘slipper’ to wear. I would use the same trouser for months. My mother had to auction her wedding jewellery to fund my SSLC examination fees, such was the state of our family in those decades.’

The residents of Srirangam were delighted at these new entrants and enjoyed the high quality of the food served by the Palakkad Iyers. As the family members were involved in the day to day running of the restaurant, the staffing expense was minimal and they have been able to price it economical right from the beginning. And that has remained a big differentiating factor at Venkatesa Bhavan, named after Ranganathan's grand father.

However, they received a jolt. In 1960, two decades after its launch, the Ranganathaswamy temple served a notice on them to vacate the place and they lost the battle.

Soon, Venkatesa Bhavan moved on to Therku Veethi, a hundred yards from the Ranga Ranga Gopuram. They bought out the place in 1972.
Ranganathan Iyer joined his father in 1963 at the age of 18 and he has been there every day since. His elder brothers Ananatharaman Iyer and (late) Ramani Iyer too joined him.

Sweet Specialities
At this new location, they provided a daily 'sweet' special that has been now been a favourite of his guests for close to 50 years.

The specialities include Sevai, Jeera Boli, Akkara Vadisal, Rava Laadu, Bun Halwa and Kesari. There are five decade old regulars who make it every day to this restaurant that serves home like snacks and tiffin.

With the next gen moving away to more lucrative jobs, Venkatesa Bhavan shortened the timings a few years ago and now serves only between 2pm and 5pm each day. And much to the disappointment of the visitors, on most days they run out of stocks within a couple of hours such has been the customer loyalty at the restaurant.  

The Ever Smiling Selvam
Anantharaman and Ranganathan take care of the Kitchen while Ramani’s son Selvam Iyer engages with the guests. Rarely does he ask his guests and serves the days specials in the order he thinks would best suit them. Even the number of idlies and dosais served to a guest are decided by Selvam, such is his friendly nature. And the customers quietly enjoy his servings.   

Many restaurants have sprung up around the temple in recent times but the loyal guests of Venkatesa Bhavan restrict their entry to this over seven decade old eatery.

Venkatesa Bhavan is located at 75 Therku Vaasal. They can be reached on 78711 24430 / 97518 06262

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Thiruvidaimaruthur Mahalingam Temple

In the Thirumurai, the Lord is referred to as 'Idaimaruthan' and 'Maruthavaanar'
In the Chozha Period Inscription, Mookambigai is referred to as 'Yogi Iruntha Parameswari'

10 kms East of Kumbakonam on the Mayiladuthurai Highway is the towering Mahalingaswamy temple in Thiruvidaimaruthur located on a huge 20 acre space. 
A huge tank at the Eastern entrance, 7 towers and 7 prakaras welcome one into the sanctum of the Lord who has been loftily praised by all the four Saint Poets.

முந்திச் செய்வினை இம்மைக்கண் நலிய
மூர்க்கனாகிக் கழிந்தன காலம்
சிந்தித் தேமனம் வைக்கவும் மாட்டேன்
சிறுச்சிறி தேஇரப் பார்க்கட் கொண்றீயேன்

அந்தி வெண்பிறை சூடும் எம் மானே
ஆரூர் மேவிய அமரர்கள் தலைவா
எந்தை நீஎனக் குய்வகை அருளாய்
இடைமருதுறை எந்தை பிரானே - Sundarar
Pandya King and Maruthur
In the 3rd prakara, one finds the idol of Varaguna Pandya of Madurai who came here to relieve himself of Brahmma Hathi Dosham. During one of his hunting expeditions, his arrow unexpectedly struck and killed a Brahmin. Bound by Brahmma Hathi Dosham, he came to Thiruvidaimaruthur, had bath in the Cauvery and invoked the blessings of Lord Mahalingam.

Liberated from the sin, he constructed the Western Raja Gopuram and a prakara for Lord Shiva to come on a procession. He also built a temple for his Kula Deivam Sokka Nathar at Thiruvidaimaruthur.

Unique Features
A unique feature of the location is that it is central to his 9 satellites in this region – Vinayaka at Thiru Valanchuli, Subramanya at Swami Malai, Chandikeswarar at Thiruvoipadi, Navagraha at Suryanar Koil, Nataraja at Chidambaram, Bairavi at Sirkazhi, Nandeeswarar at Thiruvavaduthurai, Somaskandar at Thiruvarur and Dakshinamurthy at Thiru Alangudi. 

Another feature is that the temple is surrounded on all the four sides by Saivite Temples – Banapuram in the East, Thiru Neelakudi in the South, Thirubhuvanam in the West and the Idankodeeswaram temple in the North.

In the Thirumurai, the Lord is referred to as Idaimaruthan and Maruthavaanar. Thiru Gnana Sambanthar in his praise of the temple refers to the name of the Ambal as Perunala Mulai.

ஓடே கலன்  உண்பதும் ஊரிடு  பிச்சை
காடேயிட மாவது கல்லால் நிழற்கீழ்
வாடாமுலை மங்கையுந் தானும் மகிழ்ந்து
ஈடாவுறை கின்ற இடைமரு தீதோ

The inscriptions inside the temple refer to the Lord as Thiruvidai Maruthudaiyaar. Another inscription dating back to the Chozha period refers to Mookambigai inside the temple as ‘Yogi Iruntha Parameswari’. She is seen in a penance posture.

Just under a 50 years ago, there were a 100 houses in the agraharam. All the Mada Vilagams were filled with traditional people.

Sage Agastaya undertook penance here invoking the blessings of Ambal. When the Sage sought the blessings of Shiva as well, Ambal too undertook penance along with the Sage to seek the Lord’s presence here in Thiruvidaimaruthur. The Lord first provided darshan as Fire and then as a lingam. When the Sage pleaded for the full darshan of the Lord, He provided darshan seated upon the deer with a ‘Pirai’ on his head much to the delight of Sage Agastya.

During the rule of Vikrama Chozha, donations were made for the perpetual lighting of lamp for Lord Mahalingam. Under Koppara Kesari’s reign, an order was made for the presentation of Chakkarai Pongal to the Lord and 3 Veli Land were allocated to this end. Also, 5 Veli land was given to feed 20 Brahmins every day. Also, during his rule, a donation was made for the Ghee Abhishekam on the night of Thiruvathirai.
There was a donation for the presentation of Thiru Amuthu for Lord Nataraja every No Moon day.

The Vasantha Mandapam was constructed during the rule of Kulothunga III. In Vaikasi, starting on the Punarpusam day 10 day Vasantha utsavam is celebrated in a grand way

18 day Brahmotsavam in Thai is the biggest festival at the temple
10 day Kalyana utsavam in Vaikasi
10 day Aadi Pooram utsavam for Ambal
Pancha Moorthy Procession in Karthigai

Deity: Mahalingam
Ambal: Pragath Sundara Kusaambigai

The temple is open between 6am-12noon and 4pm - 9pm. Contact Dhandapani Gurukal @ 97917 82878

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Koodal Azhagar Pallandu Utsavam

Centuries ago, after his Victory in the debate, Periyazhvaar went atop the Royal Elephant of Vallabha Deva Pandya around the streets of Madurai in a Grand Celebratory Event, While last evening in this annual enactment  of the legendary episode of 'Pallandu Thodakkam', the great Saint Poet went around Koodal on a broken elephant 

Garudu Sevai Alankaram by 16 year Uppili Srinivas was a refreshing feature of the Utsavam
பேர் அணிந்த வில்லிபுத்தூர் ஆணி தன்னில்
 பெருந் ஜோதி தனில் தோன்றும் பெருமானே
முன் சீர் அணிந்த பாண்டியன் தன் நெஞ்சு தன்னில்
துயக்கற மால் பருத்து வத்தை திருமாசெப்பி

வானர மேல் மதுரை வளம் வரவே
வானில் கருட வாகனமாய்த் தோன்ற
வாழ்த்தும் ஈரணி  பல்லாண்டு முதல் பாட்டு
நானூற்று எழுவத்து ஒன்று இரண்டும் எனக்கு உதவு நீயேVedanta Desikar's praise of Periyazhvaar's Royal Procession

The legendary episode relating to the creation of the first decad of verses in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham was played out with historical flavour last evening at ‘Mei Kattu Pottal’,  the location of the historical court of Vallabha Deva Pandya, the King of Koodal Nagar.

When Pandya King Vallabha Deva went, incognito, on his usual late night rounds through the streets of Madurai to understand the sentiments of his people, he met with Soma Sarma, a traditional Brahmin who introduced himself as one on a long pilgrimage from Avanti Kingdom.

He surprised the King with his philosophical view on life, one that gave him sleepless nights ‘What we want for a rainy day is saved during good times. What we need for the night is to be earned during the day. Similarly what one wants after death should be accumulated now, in this very life.’ 

Unable to fathom the inner meaning of this, Vallabha Deva summoned his acharya and head priest Periya Nambi seeking an understanding of this statement. A big prize was announced to the one who provided insights into this. Many renowned scholars of the time tried their best but the king was not convinced and the bag of gold coins hung in the balance. 

The Title of Bhattar Piran
Invoking the blessings of Koodal Azhagar, Vishnu Chittar, who was handed out a special invitation having heard of his devotional powers, arrived in the court of Vallabha Deva and presented his views on 'Parathathuvam' that stunned the Pandya King. His description of Lord Narayana as the Supreme Being and his narration of references from the Vedic Scriptures and the suggestion that worshipping him in one’s life time with devotion was the highest form of worship and was likely to lead one  in the direction of what he or she sought after death thrilled Vallabha Deva Pandya.

Even as he was finishing his speech, the golden coins were showered on him, for Vallabha Deva instinctively realised that he had found the ultimate solution.

It was then that Vishnu Chittar was conferred the title of ‘Bhattar Piran’ by Raja Simhan I (Vallabha Deva). Delighted at this, the king ordered a royal procession for Vishnu Chittar around the streets of Madurai. The melodies of musical instruments resonated everywhere and Bhattar Piran was surrounded by a royal retinue with the Pandya king requesting him with open arms to ascend and mount on to the elephant top. 

As he moved along in the procession in a grand celebratory event witnessed by a huge crowd, Vishnu Chittar heard dissenting voices from his detractors. They asked him if the Lord that he referred to was so powerful, would it be in his powers to show them the Lord.

It was then that Bhattar Piran, once again, invoked the blessings of Lord Koodal Azhagar. And shortly after, much to the delight of everyone there, Lord Koodal Azhagar, appeared on his Garuda Vahana from above the Ashtanga Vimana along with Goddess Lakshmi against the back drop of the clear blue sky.

Worried that evil eyes should not fall on this beautiful Lord, seen in this immaculate posture with his beloved Goddess Lakshmi,Vishnu Chittar falling into a trance, showered verses of praise expressing concern for the Lord’s safety using the bell tied to the elephant as his Thaalam. 

16 year old's Garuda Sevai Alankaram
A most refreshing feature of the Pallandu Thodakkam Utsavam at the Koodal Azhagar Divya Desam on the evening of the Pagal Pathu Utsavam was the 2 hour alankaram of Koodal Azhagar by 16 year old Uppili Srinivas, under the able guidance of his father Rajagopalan Bhattar. 
The alankaram was befitting the description given later in the evening at the Mei Kattu Pottal by the descendent of Periyazhvaar who recited the entire puranam relating to this legendary episode. Starting from the attire of Garuda, the Class XI student was meticulous in decorating the Lord paying attention to the minute details of the alankaram.  With an alankaram as beautiful as this and patience he showed in  decking up the Lord gives one hope for the future that the next gen will be involved in the service to the Lord.

Periyazhvaar atop a Broken Elephant
 If the alankaram of Lord Koodal Azhagar atop the Garuda Mount was a delight to the hundreds of devotees who gathered at the Eastern entrance of the temple, the elephant vahana left them worried at the lack of commitment of the HR & CE officials. 
While Periyazhvaar went on this legendary trip around the streets of Madurai on a Royal 'Patta' Elephant, one that was used by Vallabha Pandya alone, the vahana on this evening was seen in a broken state with cracks all over the elephant’s body leaving one saddened with the affairs of the administration.

This episode of ‘Pallandu Thodakkam’ at the Koodal Azhagar Divya Desam on the eve of Pagal Pathu is the only one of its kind in a Divya Desam. And this event dates back to a legendary episode relating to the first decad of the 4000 sacred verses. And yet for this once in year event, one where the elephant is so integral to the festival, the officials have paid scant regard for the importance of the vahana.

All those centuries ago, Periyazhvaar went on a royal elephant while he now goes on a broken elephant in as prominent a Divya Desam as Koodal Azhagar, in the heart of Madurai.
Starting at 8pm, led by Periyazhvaar atop the white elephant, Koodal Azhagar made his way to Mei Kattu Pottal, the historical location of the legendary episode. It is the state of the modern times that even during this once in a year one of its kind utsavam, Periyazhvaar and Koodal Azhagar were separated by town buses plying on the Netaji Road!!!

In a devotional tone, Veda Piran Bhattar, the descendant of Periyazhvaar, decked in a beautiful cone like blue cap on his head and a cymbal in his hand, presented the ‘Pallandu Puranam’ starting with the hereditary description of Vallabha Deva and his forefathers followed by the specifics of this episode that led to Periyazhvaar’s Pallandu Praise on the Lord of Koodal.
On sighting the Lord in the high air, verses poured out instantly and he sung for the Lord’s long life. It is the only set of verses among the 4000 verses where an Azhvaar has sung benedictory hymns of the Lord.

Periyazhvaar suggests to the devotees who live with the only desire of serving the Lord to carry immediately talc paste and those with fragrances. He asks them to resist worldly pleasures and to come together as true devotees letting go vain glory and to sing the sacred mantra. 

Periyazhvaar says that it is important for us to give up our old bad habits and to connect with the Lord. He cautions that no one whose thoughts are just on food shall be allowed here. He wants all of us to continuously utter the 1000 names of the Lord and sing benedictory praise wishing for his long life.

It was seen as so sacred that Thiru Pallandu became the first decad of the Naalayira Divya Prabhandham.

This historical utsavam ended with ‘Pallandu Thodakkam’ – the adyapakas presenting the entire first decad of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham at Mei Kattu Pottal in front of Koodal Azhagar. Being the location of Pallandu, this utsavam of ‘Pallandu Thodakkam’ is unique to this Divya Desam. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Annan Perumal Koil Madhava Bhattar

The Divya Desam in Thiru Vellakulam stands out as an exception among the temples in and around Thiru Nangur

A Devotee Friendly Bhattar has lured devotees in large numbers to the temple over the last couple of decades
The HR & CE department will be delighted with the role played by 59 year old Madhava Bhattar of Annan Perumal Koil in Thiru Vellakulam over the last 35 years for he has almost single handedly made this a very ‘profitable’ Divya Desam for the department after the financial turmoil of the previous many decades. Like many of his contemporaries in the Chozha region, Madhava Bhattar used the contempt HR & CE had for financially poor temples to his advantage as he took ‘ownership’ of his role and marketed the temple in such a way that over the last decade, devotee crowd has swarmed the temple much to the delight of the department.

The Hundial is overflowing but almost all the expenses of the temple are taken care of by ‘Donors’. Anna Dhanam is in full swing though there are no takers to ‘consume’ the food. Marriage inside the temple is a regular event. The recent renovation undertaken through the donors crossed the Rs. 1crore mark.

The ancient Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu went through a tough time in the 20th century especially for a few decades in the 2nd half. Most were in financially poor state with the priests moving out away from temples. Therazhundur (, Thiru Mogur (, Nachiyar Koil and Erettai Tirupathi ( were a few cases of how Bhattars were adversely affected in the 2nd half of the previous century.

The worst among them were the set of temples in the Thiru Nangur region. Remotely located about 10kms from Sirkazhi and without bus services and limited access, the set of temples almost went into oblivion.

Temples in Thiru Nangur ( remained shut most of the time in the last few decades of the 20th century. A single priest managed not just multiple sannidhis in a temple (as was and is the case with many Divya Desams in TN) but multiple temples in the region.

Annan Perumal Koil in Thiruvellakulam at the far western end of Thiru Nangur off the Sirkazhi – Nagapattinam Highway did not fare any better in the 1950s and 60s.

The birth place of Kumudavalli Nachiyar (wife of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar) and one praised by Thirumangai Azhvaar for its sacred tank, the only such praise of a tank in Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Annan Perumal Koil however survived the horror period in its history thanks once again to the efforts of a Bhattar. The temple is now seeing a glorious revival having seen a one crore plus renovation earlier this decade.

கண்ணார் கடல் போல் திருமேனி கரியாய்
நண்ணார் முனை வென்றி கொள்வார்
மன்னும் நாங்கூர்

திண்ணார் மதிள் சூழ்
திருவெள்ளக்குளத்துள் அண்ணா
அடியேன் இடரைத் களையாயே

In 1950, 18 year old TS Ramaswamy Bhattachar joined the temple with a great deal of devotion. However, for over three decades, he faced severe financial pressure with almost no devotees and no income from the temple. Many historical festivals had to be stopped as a result of this financial crunch.

During this period, he was paid a salary of 10annas per month!!! 
Income from his ancestral agricultural lands helped him bring up his five children. However given the uncertainty at the temple in those decades, four of them went away seeking greener pastures in corporate with Madhava Bhattar being the lone survivor at the temple. He had a special devotion for Lord Srinivasa whom Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praised as one he had seen in Thiru Venkatam.

வேடார் திருவேங்கடம் மேய விளக்கே
நாடார் புகழ் வேதியர் மன்னிய நாங்கூர்
சேடார் பொழில் சூழ் திருவெள்ளக்குளத்தாய்
பாடா வருவேன் வினை ஆயின பாற்றே

A tough three decades
In 1955, Ramaswamy Bhattachar went around from home to home collecting funds for the 81 Kalasa Thirumanjanam. He managed to collect 206 falling short of the requirement by 21/-. For decades, his Thattu Kaasu was just a few annas. They rarely saw rupee notes in those decades. During the 11 Garuda Sevai in Thai, the biggest and the most popular festival in the region, the Bhattar of Thiru Vellakulam would get just Rs. 15. During the ten days of the Brahmotsavam, his additional income was a mere Rs. 30. The  large family had money just enough to eat food every day.

On the 8th day of Brahmotsavam, the Lord used to get one Pattu Vastram, the only vastram for the Lord in a year in those decades.Unlike the now popular festivals in Margazhi, in those decades there were no devotees at the temple during this month. Even on Vaikunta Ekadasi and the now well marketed Puratasi Saturdays, devotees were few. There were no shops in the entire region and one had to go all the way to Sirkazhi even for basic requirements. There were temple lands but no income accrues to the temple from these lands. Historically, there were ‘Kattalai’ for different utsavams but those too don’t accrue to the temple anymore.

It was solely through the untiring efforts of Ramaswamy Bhattachar that the temple survived through those tough times in the middle of the last century. 

Entry of Madhava Bhattar
After his class VIII exam, Madhava Bhattar quit school and spent 6 years through the mid 1970s in Srirangam learning Divya Prabhandham from Kozhakodi Singam Iyengar at the Patshala and later agamas from Mannargudi Sona Dikshithar and Mohana Rangan Dikshithar in Guindy. He undertook the agama exam in Mannargudi and secured first class.

He took full charge as the sole priest at Annan Perumal Koil in the mid 1980s at a salary of Rs. 60 per month. The situation was so bad during that decade that Madhava Bhattar even played the role of a guide for the Nangur Divya Desams. A document dating back to that period shows a pending Electricity Bill of Rs. 30/-, such was the plight of the temple in those decades. Similar was the state in Therazhundur Aamaruviappan Divya Desam even 15 years ago, when the electricity department even pulled off the plug at the temple for non payment of the dues!!!
However, the enterprising Madhava Bhattar was determined to revive the fortunes of the temple. Over the last three decades, he has re-launched 21 festivals including Panguni Uthiram that had previously been stopped for lack of funds. He reached out to donors across the world and helped conduct the festivals and processions. The sacred tank, a speciality of this Divya Desam, that had been in a dilapidated condition has been refurbished in recent years. A new chariot has been built. The temple walls have been reconstructed.

Before passing away in 1985, his father shared with him an important message that Madhava Bhattar remembers to this day – Do not add anything new to the temple and keep the ancient ritualistic practices as is.

His life though has been full of challenges. 15 years ago, he wanted to lay coconut trees around the Mada Vilagam but the residents objected to this. Now one sees Coconut groves all around the temple, a pleasant sight for all devotees. 

Controversies continue to surround him but he is unmindful of these and tries his best to serve the Lord with devotion. 

Annan Perumal Koil remains by far the most devotee friendly temple in the region. Madhava Bhattar looks back at his 35 year stint with a great sense of happiness ‘The greatest satisfaction one can get is of performing service with complete devotion to the Lord. Follow the principles of Krishna's sayings in the Gita and do not worry about the results is a constant message that he reiterates to himself at constant intervals.

In 2008-09 when Madhava Bhattar was hospitalized in a serious condition in Madras, the entire devotee community prayed for his recovery. 'How blessed I am that devotees in high thousands invoked the blessings of the Lord to get me back to the temple'!!! That love from the devotees is what keeps him going. His salary after 35 years has risen to a princely Rs. 3200 per month!!!

He continues to keep his life simple. He travels around locally on his TVS XL moped and spends most of his time with Annan Srinivasa Perumal presenting his beautiful archanai and reciting Thiru Mangai Azhvaar's verses on Thiruvellakulam for the devotees to go back in time to the days of the Azhvaar and Kumudavalli. 

Annan Perumal Koil is a standing example of how an enterprising Bhattar can create belief among devotees and get them lured to the Lord. The fact that this is an entry point in Thiru Nangur is a big advantage to this temple but it is credit to Madhava Bhattar that he has grabbed this location advantage with both hands and helped develop the temple. He performs archanai in his unique style of invoking the blessings of other Divya Desam Lords. He presents prasadam to all the devotees who visit the temple. For long, he has been the one who organizes guides for the trips to Thiru Nangur from Annan Perumal Koil. It is also this temple among the lot that is open for the devotees visiting from far and wide. Such an approach has helped him gather support for the temple from the devotees. 

Madhava Bhattar is soon to turn 60 but the HR & CE seems to be so delighted with him that it would be no surprise if he continues in service, for a replacement for a priest as devoted and committed as him in such a remote location will be difficult to find!!!

PS: Madhava Bhattar passed away in Thai 2020