Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chennai Trichy Train Travel

Chennai Egmore to Tiruchirapalli 336 kms 2nd broad gauge line launched
Relief for South bound train travellers
Travel Time likely to come down further by 45-60 minutes 
After several years of implementation delay, the two way broad gauge line covering a distance of 336 kms between Chennai Egmore and Tiruchirapalli Junction became fully operational last evening (May 23, 2017) with Madurai bound Vaigai Express being the first train to run on the newly laid track.  The 16 km 2nd line between Valadi (near Lalgudi) and Ponmalai (Golden Rock) station was checked for speed and safety yesterday.

After clearance from the officials, express trains were allowed to run on day one at a speed of 30 kmph between Valadi and Ponmalai. This speed restriction is expected to be released soon and trains can now run at a speed of 90 kmph between Chennai and Tiruchirappalli, without any 'crossing' problems. 

The launch of the 2nd broad gauge line is expected to reduce the travel time between Chennai and Tiruchirapalli by at least 45 minutes to an hour.
Earlier this month, the officials had checked the one other pending work between Vriddachalam and Mathur stations and this too has been cleared for speed and safety.

Rockfort Express to reach Srirangam at 330am
Rockfort Express which leaves Chennai Egmore at 10.30 pm every night was scheduled to reach Srirangam at 4.15 am till last year. This had been brought forward, earlier this year, by around 15 minutes. Come June/July, Rockfort Express is scheduled to arrive at Srirangam at 3.28 am i.e a travel time just short of 5 hours.

Most other trains between Egmore and Tiruchirapalli are likely to cover the distance in less than five hours. This will also have a positive effect on the travel time on South bound trains such Pandyan, Pothigai, Kanniyakumari and Nellai Express to Madurai and Tirunelveli respectively. Most of these trains stop at just one station between Vriddachalam and Dindigul i.e at Tiruchirapalli. These can now cover the distance of 215 kms in 3 hours as against the current schedule that ranges from 3 ½ to over 4 hours.

Soon one can expect Pandyan Express to reach Madurai by 5.30 am (6.10 am) and Nellai Express to reach Tirunelveli by 6.30 am (7.20 am).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Srikanth Kapali Temple

Has presented Parayanam every evening at the Kapaleeswarar temple for over 2 decades, renovated the Nandavanam and Lighted 1500 lamps during Karthigai Utsavam 

Anyone visiting the Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore in the evening could not have missed the Akshara Manamalai Parayanam led by A. Srikanth in front of the Eastern Entrance.

50 year old Srikanth has dedicated his life to the service of Lord Kapaleeswarar. While in class 8 at PS High School, he won the first prize in an oratorical competition in which he spoke on Ramalinga Swamigal.

At that young age, he cared not to open the Thiruvachagam book that came his way as the prize. Later as a teenager, Srikanth acted in Historical Plays of Heran Ramaswamy donning the role of Muruga in Saneeswaran and Kumara Gurupurar in Thirumalai Nayakkar, among others.

In the 1980s, he briefly worked for a distribution firm and later also took distributorship of Rasna. But he was destined for more selfless things in life.

Into his 20s, one evening, he carried along with him that prize winning book to the Kapaleeswarar temple. One read of that inside the temple and he was a changed man. It became a daily process. He started reading each of the 656 songs of Thiruvasagam every day for the next 10 years.

Turning Point
In 1996, he started the recital of ‘Ramana Maharishi’s Akshara Manamalai inside the Kapaleeswarar temple. He calls it all pre-destined for only a few years ago, he had mocked at the elderly doctor (he used to perform pooja for a Shiva Lingam at a Doctor friend’s house in Abraham street) for discussing Ramana Maharishi all the time, what Srikanth at that time referred to as ‘Doctor’s Morning Mokkai’. And here he is today having presented a parayanam of Ramana Maharishi’s Akshara Manamalai non-stop every evening 345 days a year for the last 24 years. He says ‘Just believe in the Lord and follow his directions.’

A evening routine for over 20 years
At 8 pm, every evening, he starts with Mattitac Punnayam, Gnana Sambanthar’s 10 songs, followed by Manicka Vaachakar’s Shiva Puranam and ends with Ramana Maharishi’s Akshara Manamalai - 30 minutes every evening (On Monday, this goes on for 45 minutes. On Full Moon day, he starts at 7.30 pm). The devotee crowd has gathered in terms of numbers over the years. Several devotees sit in different corners of the temple quietly listening to the parayanam. 

In the early 1990s, he had performed pooja for three years at Virupateeswarar koil including organising the Kumbabhisekam. He also started distributing 10000 ice creams to devotees during the Panguni Brahmotsavam and presenting something to 500 Sumangalis during Navarathri.

Renovating the temple tank Garden
Over the last decade, Srikanth also initiated renovation of the Garden around the Kapaleeswarar temple tank. In the late 1990s, this used to be a discarded stretch of land with glass pieces strewn all over.

In 2002, he dug up the place, filled it with new soil and planted trees. Now one finds Nandyavattai, Thanga Arali, Vrikshi and Maha Vilvam.

He says that protecting the garden has been a big challenge. He has to encounter public nuisance for a lot of them throw bottles and plastics cups/packets inside. Rat is another menace. He is mindless of these obstacles and carries on with his service. He cleans the huge garden and waters the plants every day, one that takes a great deal of effort and time.

He collects the flowers from the gardens and presents it at the Sannidhi.

Lighting the Temple Tank - 1500 Lamps
Also over the last decade, he has initiated the process of lighting 1500 lamps inside the temple tank during 3evenings in Karthigai (and one evening in Vaikasi). He says with modesty that even this was not planned. ‘It is also God’s will. Nothing is in our hands. One cannot be arrogant to think that it is he who has achieved everything. ‘I’ is our biggest enemy in life.’

He gives an anecdotal example Getting a good night’s sleep is peace for each one of us. During that phase of sleep, we don’t carry anything and we are empty but that is the time we are at the most peaceful. Imagine how happy we will all be if we don’t hold on to things during the day as well. Contentment is the ultimate route to happiness but many of us are always seeking for more of everything.”

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pullam Bhoothangudi Divya Desam

70 years of Selfless Service in a remotely located historical temple and yet the Wealthy Ahobila Mutt does not deem it worthy to build even a small house for the Bhattar in the Agraharam!!!

And a Salary less than that of  a New Cook!!

கற்பு ஆர் புரிசை செய் குன்றம் 
கவின் ஆர் கூடம் மாளிகைகள் 
பொற்பு ஆர் மாடம் எழில் ஆரும் 
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 
Pullam Bhoothangudi Divya Desam ( is a temple whose tale relates to the legendary episode of Jatayu Moksham from the Ramayana.  Praised in the Periya Thirumozhi by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar as a well laid out city with huge Mansions and Mandapams ( much in contrast to what it is now), Pullam Bhoothangudi was home to scores of Vedic Seers who in their chants through the day spread the message of forgiveness and patience as part of one’s lives.

மறையால்  முத்தீ அவை வளர்க்கும் 
மன்னு  புகழால் வண்மையால்  
பொறையால் மிக்க அந்தணர் வாழ் 
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 

Thiru Mangai Azhvaaar describes the scene around the temple during his time over 1000 years ago in these ten verses at the beginning of the fifth canto.

நறிய மலர்மேல் சுரும்பு ஆர்க்க 
எழில் ஆர் மஞ்சை நடம் ஆட 
பொறி கொள் சிறை வண்டு இசை பாடும்
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 
The temple was amidst huge groves where bees provided sweet musical tunes to the dancing peacocks, Pullam Bhoothangudi, where Lord Rama is seen in a Bala Sayana Posture, was a place with huge water tanks and wet fields in which fish fell prey to the birds that then took their prized scalp to feed their young ones.

பள்ளச் செருவில் கயல் உகள 
பழனிக் கழனி அதனுள் போய் 
புள்ளுப் பிள்ளைக்கு இறை தேடும் 
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 

There were huge coconut groves and coconuts constantly fell from the trees (that is one commonality that existed till the end of the last century as seen in the story below). The scared fish jumped in and out of water and water birds kept flying away. He also praises the place as being home to Vedic Seers who constantly chanted the Vedas trying to understand its inner meaning.
கா ஆர் தெங்கின் பழம் வீழ 
கயல்கள் பாய, குருகு இரியும் 
பூ ஆர் கழனி எழில் ஆரும் 

The temple was surrounded with beautiful red lotuses that seemed to bloom all through the year in the water tanks, where one also found bees drinking nectar and humming sweet tunes. He makes a specific reference to Punnai Trees that sprinkled golden turmeric like pollen.

Water, he says, gushed from the Cauvery with gems being washed ashore on to the banks in Pullam Bhoothangudi. 

While Thiru Mangai Azhvaar has praised the place in such glory, when infrastructure development happened over the last century, this particular location as well as Athanur Divya Desam (, a couple of kms East remained sidelined and became to be classified as a ‘remote temple’ among Divya Desams. 

While several other Divya Desams have flourished because of the infrastructural development and ease of access, Pullam Bhoothangudi has been off the radar and been a rather quiet Divya Desam without too much of a devotee crowd.

For several decades, till the end of the 20th Century, there was no access to this Divya Desam in a sad contrast to having been a ‘Well Laid Out City’ with mansions during Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s period.

Right through the previous century, one had to weed through the green fields North of Swami Malai to reach this temple. And later, over the last couple of decades, a small one way mud road from Swami Malai was the only improvement in terms of access to this temple.

Five Decades of Pooja for very little financial rewards
M Krishnamurthy (Kannan) Bhattachar performed aradhana at this Divya Desam for five decades. Through the early decades, he was paid a salary of just Rs. 25 per month.  He had no house of his own and stayed in the agraharam house right opposite the temple paying a rent of Rs. 5 from out of his salary. 
A contented life in the Agraharam
Despite the lack of financial resource, the Bhattar and his family lead a peaceful life, for they were contended and did not desire things beyond their means.

The temple handed him every day a few kgs of rice for his service. The farmers who respected the Bhattar for his devotional service would come and hand over vegetables before they actually went to the market for the sale as a mark of respect to him. Jaggery too was presented to the Bhattar by the farmer who grew it towards the far end of the agraharam on the Eastern side. There were other residents who presented spices and pulses once in a while for his selfless service to Lord Rama. The then young Gopalan Bhattar, son of Kannan Bhattar, who was in his early schooling in the 1970s, would go to the fields and pluck Makka Cholam that was available in plenty.

Krishnamurthy Bhattar was held in such high esteem for his service to Lord Valvil Rama and that mattered much more to him than any financial rewards.  Despite the limited financial resource, the family was just simply happy that they had a small place to stay and food to eat every day. And that is all they sought in their life. Not once did Kannan Bhattar complain about the lack of money.

A rare Thattu Kaasu of Rs. 2 stolen away by the wife!!!

Krishnamurthy Bhattar received Rs. 2 once in a while as Thattu Kaasu when a rare devotee would make it to the temple crossing the fields from Swami Malai. He would come back home and hide it so it does not come to the notice of his wife. But pressed by the need for daily sustenance, she would somehow find this money and buy tamarind for that week’s Rasam. Angered at losing out even this Rs. 2, the bhattar would leave the house and go back to the temple to invoke the Lord’s blessings. Such was his way of life back in the 1960s and 70s.

The Coconut Falls and Rain seeps in
His wife, Jayalakshmi now aged 86 wonders as to how she managed to run such a big family with so little money in all those decades.She would make Rasam every day and the entire family would eat that along with Naarthangai. But even this was only on days when her husband Bhattar would bring home some Thattu Kaasu. Otherwise they lived their life on 'curd rice' with a fair mix of water (it was freely available then)!!!! 
Residing under the thatched roof, she remembers being woken up often in the middle of the night to the loud fall of the coconut from the huge coconut trees plunging the family into a state of despair for water would make its way through the broken roof into the house during the rains. This fall of the coconut remains the only commonality from Thiru Mangai Azhvaar's description of Pullam Bhoothangudi. The Punnai tree described by him in his verses too fell away recently.

46 year old Gopalan Bhattar grew up in Pullam Bhoothangudi enjoying the ‘Mann Kuliyal’ (Wet Sand bath). Often, he would spread clay across his body for 20 minutes and this would soon become completely dry on the body. Once washed with water, this was considered a sacred bath for it would remove all the dirt from the body and one felt a certain sense of purity after this. He rues the fact that gone are those days of such natural bath.

Brahmotsavam Celebrations
Dhadhyonam was presented to the carriers of the Lord in big numbers during Brahmotsavam. They felt blessed and happy and would carry the Lord with devotion each day. They were paid no money for this service and placed a high premium on the sacred food that was handed to them for this service.

Brahmotsavam was a time for grand celebrations and the agraharam reverberated with devotion during those ten days. These days it is such a humungous task to find enough people to carry the Lord even on this big annual festival.

20 kms walk every day to perform service in temples
The Bhattar who also performed aradhana at the Perumal temple in Innambur ( would for decades walk 20 kms a day making those daily trips morning and evening to Innambur via the fields.

Finally, Gopalan Bhattar's elder brother purchased a cycle for his father for Rs. 100 and during his final years Krishnamurthy Bhattachar cycled his way around Pullam Bhoothangudi, some consolation for a man who had not sat on a cycle for a major part of his life.

Mukkoor Azhagiya Singar liked the devotional service of Krishnamurthy Bhattachar and would lie down at the Bhattar’s house for rest for he considered it sacred to sleep in the home of a person who offered such selfless devotional service. Just this gesture of the chief of Ahobila Mutt provided enough life time happiness for the Bhattar.

Sacred Learning to serve the Lord vs 'Learning to leverage financially'
During the 1980s, Gopalan Bhattar learnt Prarthana Sooktham and Anna Sooktham, these were secret interactions that Bhattars have with the Lord seeking HIS permission for each of the processes in the temple. Gopalan Bhattar learnt all the sookthas that were to be useful behind the scene (inside the curtain). All his relatives and friends scoffed at him for not learning sookthas that would turn out to be financially lucrative in life (for example for Sudarshana Homam).

But he was clear that he would not go after money and that his life would be dedicated to performing service to the Lord.

After Gopalan Bhattar took charge of the temple after the passing away of his father in 1998 (he received just Rs. 45 as his monthly salary in the year of his death), he has revived many of the ancient utsavams.

A sad noting in the diary
There were plans to revive the historical Pavitrotsavam at the temple in the 1970s/80s but the authorities did not approve the plans. In the diary of Krishnamurthy bhattachar is found a jotting where he records with sadness his inability to perform the Pavitrotsavam during his life time even though this was discussed with the authorities as an important utsavam to perform for the Lord. In those decades of his father, the Lord had just a single piece of Vastram for the entire year which was considered a sin that they committed on the Lord keeping him tied to a single cloth through the year.

When Gopalan Bhattar chanced upon those notes in his father’s diary, he was keen to realise that unfulfilled dream of his father and started a three day pavitrotsavam after convincing the authorities. 
Over the last couple of decades, Gopalan Bhattar, as the single bhattar has performed dedicated service to Lord Valvil Rama much like his father had done earlier for several decades. And yet recognition from the hugely wealthy Ahobila Mutt hasn’t come easy.  For his couple of decades of single handed management of poojas and utsavams, he is still paid much lower than the temporary staffer in the Madapalli (who threatens every now and then to quit).

Gopalan Bhattar, who has been a resident of the agraharam for much of his five decades, still does not a have house of his own despite Ahobila Mutt owning land in the region.  With money pouring in from overseas, it would not be too much of an ask for the Mutt, in recognition of the 70 years of service of the father and son at this remote location, to build a house for the Bhattar in the agraharam. One wonders if the Chief of the Ahobila Mutt is even aware of the reality at the temple or is this all the recognition for a Bhattar family that has provided seven decades of selfless service. No house after 70 years and a salary lower than that of the cook do not add credibility to the management of the Mutt. During the Brahmotsavam, Gopalan Bhattar is seen all alone decorating the Lord in a special alankara each day. And after the procession, he is seen unwinding the Lord late into the night that sometimes goes as late as 2am.

The temple saw a big renovation over the last decade an example of which can be seen from the Raja Gopuram. But when it comes to rewarding the priest for his service, the mind does not come forward easily. It seems questions are always asked of the priest irrespective of the sincerity of their service thus bogging them down to the limited financial pay.

And yet unmindful of leading a financially insecure life, there are those like Gopalan Bhattar who continue to perform their duty with sincerity and devotion in the sweltering Summer's day without any of the modern day cooling equipment to assist them in this remote, not easily accessible Divya Desam of Pullam Bhoothangudi. They see this as an exclusive opportunity to serve the Lord and financial reversals don't bog them down.

( A more recent temple at Innambur without any of these historical legends - managed and administered by The Hindu Family pays almost three times the salary of the Divya Desam Bhattar !! Such is the reality of life)

Athanur Divya Desam

The situation was no different at Athanur Aandalakkum Divya Desam 2kms East of Pullam Bhoothangudi. 58 year old Balu has been the Mei Kavalar (Security) for almost the last two decades. His father had played the same role for over 40 years. He is now paid a salary of Rs. 1500. For several decades in the 2nd half of the 20th century Ramabadran Bhattachar took care of the aradhana at the temple while now 80 year old Sadagopachariar, who was born and brought up in Athanur performed the Madapalli activities, in return for which they received 6 Kalam and 5 Kalam rice respectively and a salary of Rs. 100 per month.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in the Periya Thiru Madal refers to the Lord of Athanur as one who measures time – The yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
அன்னவனை ஆதனூர் ஆண்டு அளக்கும் ஐயனை
நென்னலை இன்றினை நாளையை

These Bhattars and the security staff have been counting on the prospect of 'Good Time' but that has seemed an endless wait.

With absolutely no access to Athanur from Swami Malai and no transport facilities, one had to walk all the way across the fields or take a bullock cart ride through the pits and holes from Swami Malai one that would be far more tedious than a walk.  Rarely would a devotee turn up at the temple. Despite these, Brahmotsavam was performed in a grand way with the local residents playing the role of Sri Patham Thangis and carrying the Lord around on Vahana Processions across the streets of Athanur. 
Over the last 15 years, Balu has been opening the main door at 630am and stays on till 12.30pm. He comes back again at 4pm and stays on till 730pm in the evening. With better roads and slightly improved bus services, he says that the devotee crowd has increased over the last decade but still nowhere like the temples in the main town of Kumbakonam and other bigger towns and cities. One has to still keep the temple open and wonder if a devotee will turn up on a week day.

With his devotional attachment to the temple, he has also doubled up as a garland maker and knots flower garland every day for the Lord in addition to the security services for which he is paid an extra 500 per month by the Ahobila Mutt. 
Over the last 15 years, Seshadri Bhattar has taken over and has been performing arathana service staying in a small thatched house North of the temple. 

One only has to hope that the Chieftains at the Mutt would also look closely at the lives and the livelihood of these bhattars in addition to focusing on 'big ticket' items and that there would be a turnaround sometime in the lives of these bhattars.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Desikar Mahavira Vaibhavam Ayodhya Canto

Enforcement of one’s right is not the way to a Dharmic life but fulfilling a father’s wish is
Rama as the 'Lord of Dharma'
Having showcase the teenage valour of Rama in the first 20 Churnikas through the Bala Canto ( , Vedantha Desikar showcases first Dharmic qualities of Rama, the importance he placed to fulfilling his father’s wishes above all else and then his noble qualities in the Ayodhya Canto that comprises of a short eight churnikas. 

Desikar brings out Rama’s love for his brother Lakshmana after the latter had built a beautiful home in Chitrakoota and how his presence had made his stay in the forest so enjoyable and without pain. 

Towards the end of this canto, Desikar sets the stage for the upcoming Cantos by showing Rama’s love for Sita as well as his invincible powers that even Indra, Shiva and Brahmma could not match. He has had a lovely and happy time during this phase alongside Sita and his dutiful brother Lakshmana.

அன்ருதபய முஷித ஹ்ருதய பித்ரவசன பாலன 
ப்ரதிஜனாவஜனாத யவ்வராஜ்ய

Desikar having showcased Rama’s valour of breaking two bows in succession and returning to Ayodhya with his wife Sita towards the end of the Bala Kaandam now showcases the dharmic side of Rama.

He begins the Ayodhya Canto with a simple churnika where he crowns Rama as the Lord of Dharma. All was set for his coronation the next day and grand celebrations were on at Ayodhya. People were eagerly looking forward to the Prince taking over the kingdom from Dasaratha.

It was at this time that Manthara angered at the celebratory process all around poisoned the mind of Kaikeyi and made her call out for the two unfulfilled boons that her husband had granted her earlier for saving his life.

Shocked at her making such an outlandish attitude of invoking an old promise at this inappropriate moment, the great emperor swooned following which Kaikeyi called on Rama and revealed the fulfilment of his father’s promise – that of him spending 14 years in the forest and crowning her son Bharata as the king and the predicament he was in, in conveying these to his beloved Rama.

It is in relation to this background that Desikar brings out the Dharmic qualities of Rama. To him, nothing was more important than making his father fulfil his promise.

It is a great lesson in life on the way to Dharmic life. In this heart warming Churnika conveying a great message, Desikar says that Rama did not battle an eyelid at hearing this piece of information from Kaikeyi. To most others, this would have been shocking news but not to Rama.

To him, the state of mind on hearing the news of the coronation, earlier, and that of now being despatched to the forest were the same. Fulfilling his father’s wish was paramount to him. Not for a moment could he visualise a scenario of his father’s promise being broken. Wearing the robe of a crown prince or that of one in a bark in the forest- both were the same to him for each was the wish of his father.

In this churnika, Desikar showed through Rama’s conduct that enforcement of one’s right is not the way to Dharmic life but fulfilling a father’s wish is.

நிஷாத ராஜ சௌஹ்ருத சுசித ஸுசீல்ய சாகர
பரத்வாஜ ஷாசன பரிகிரஹித விசித சிட்ரகூட கிரி கடக தட ரம்யாவசத

Rama and Nobility
Desikar then goes on to the next quality of Rama- Nobility towards people of all classes and strata.

When he reached the banks of the Ganges, he greeted hunter and boatman Guha with a warm embrace, unmindful of the fact that Guha was a mere tribesman. He did not forget that Guha was a friend from earlier times and illustrated to the world through this episode as to what friendship meant to him.

Having spent time with Guha, Rama moved on to the ashrama of Sage Bharadwaja crossing the Ganges. The sage directed him to the plains below the hills of Chitrakoota and Rama instantly followed the Sage’s instructions. There Lakshmana built a Home so beautiful that Rama felt at peace with himself in the midst of birds and parrots and was full of beautiful colourful flowers and fruits.

He had fallen so much in love with that place that rarely did he miss the richness of his wealthy kingdom and felt that he could spend the rest of his life in this beautiful place.

When Sumantra who had stayed back on the banks of the Ganges in the hope that Rama would return was convinced that it was now a forlorn hope, he returned to Ayodhya to convey the news to King Dasaratha, on hearing which the King breathed his last.

ப்ரணத பரத மகுட தட சுகடித பாதுகா கர்யாபிஷேக
நிரவர்தித சர்வலோக யோகக்ஷேமா

When Bharata who was at his uncle’s place was called back to be informed of the developments, he promised to return with Rama.  On reaching Chitrakoota after dispelling the suspicion of Guha, he tried his best to convince Rama to return but Rama remained steadfast in the fulfilment of his father’s wish.

Unable to convince Rama, Bharata carried back with him the pair of Sandals of Rama and placed it on a throne in Nandigrama where he performed the coronation ceremony for Rama and ruled the kingdom through the Sandals.

Despatches the crow on a Worldwide Trip
பிஷித ருசி விஹித துரித வள மதன தனய பலி புகுணுகதி சரபஸ
ஷயன    த்ருண ஷகள பறிபதன பய சகித சகல சுரமுனி வர பஹுமத மஹாஸ் ட்ர சாமர்த்ய

திருஹிந ஹர வலமதன துராலக்ஷ்ய ஷர லக்ஷ்ய

Desikar moves on to the next and the last episode in the Ayodhya Canto and to his invincible powers, one that showcased his dear love for Sita. This episode also set the scene for the upcoming trauma that he was to undergo.

When a crow pecked at Sita, while Rama was asleep on her lap, he rose and angered at the pain caused to his wife, invoked the power of the Brahmastra and directed a simple blade of grass towards the crow.

Unable to get protection from any of the renowned sages as well as from Shiva and Brahma, the crow came back and sought protection from Sita. Her compassionate gesture meant that Rama forgave the crow by taking out just one eye, bringing loud cheer from the celestials and the Sages.

Setting the stage for the purpose of his incarnation

தண்டகா தபோவன ஜங்கம பாரிஜாத

Having seen the return of Bharata, Rama was keen to shift locations for he expected the residents of Ayodhya to turn up in large numbers to convince him to return. Around the same time, the sages who were continuously harassed by Khara suggested that he leave this place. Thus Rama moved into the Dhandakaranya forest where after meeting Sage Atri and his wife Anasuya, he moved on further. A number of the rishis there requested his help in protecting them from the asuras.

It is in this connection that Desikar refers to Rama being like a Parijatha. While the tree provides everything to those who ask from a stationary position, Rama was mobile moving from one to another demolishing asuras thus fulfilling the wishes of the rishis.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Thiru Vellarai Raja Gopuram

7 Tier 125 Feet Raja Gopuram to come up in Thiru Vellarai Divya Desam in 2-3 years
When constructed, this complete 'Lime Mortar' Tower will rank amongst the tallest Temple Towers in Tamil Nadu
Petitioner Ramesh says there can be no Raja Gopuram unless the HR & CE Act and GO 171 are amended
The Towers at the main entry point of two prominent and ancient Divya Desams near Trichy had been left as Mottai Gopuram and remained as such till the 1980s when a decision was taken to construct a world beating Raja Gopuram at the Southern entrance to the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, that now stands tall at 236 feet.

The other one, the Pundarikakshan temple at Thiruvellarai Divya Desam ( dates back to a period when 3700 Vaishnavite families lived in the town. For reasons, unrecorded, the Raja Gopuram at the Northern entrance remained unfinished.

A few years ago, the then CM of Tamil Nadu (Late Ms. J. Jayalalitha) announced in the assembly plans to construct a Raja Gopuram at Thiruvellarai.  

The hereditary priests of the temple are all excited that their temple too would get a Raja Gopuram similar to the one at Srirangam as one of the priests guides me up the dark and steep steps into the inside of the battered Raja Gopuram that is also home to several bats. From the inside of the current structure, he turns South and points to the towering Raja Gopuram at Srirangam with the Rock Fort temple in its background and is optimistic that one day Thiruvellarai too would have a towering temple tower that the residents would be proud of.

Some of the ground work had started at the Divya Desam but the Madras High Court order restraining renovation in temples meant the work came to a grinding middle of last year.

Subsequently, with the High Court directing the appointment of a Panel to decide on the merits of renovation in temples, Thiru Vellarai seemed to get a life line with the Panel issuing an order to strengthen the existing structure at the Northern Entrance based on the technical reports.

Agama Objection to a Northern Raja Gopuram
The Vaikanasa Agama expert too had raised objection on the construction of a Raja Gopuram on the ‘Northern Side’ but the temple authorities through the Pancharatna Agama experts pointed out and clarified that their agama does not impose any such restrictions.

Northern Entrance shut, Eastern Entrance Opened
The Northern entrance which has for long been the preferred entrance to the temple has now been closed and the eastern side of the temple has been completely revamped and the entrance there reopened after several decades. 
The strengthening of the existing structure, it is being claimed, is being done through the best of modern technology. In fact a small model gopuram using these materials has been built and placed near the Northern entrance. This process of strengthening which began a few months ago is likely to take another few months. Over 30 cracks had developed in the structure and these are being rectified.

Once the existing structure is strengthened, the authorities will seek a formal approval from the panel for the construction of the Raja Gopuram. The authorities see this as a mere formality and are confident of securing the approval from the panel as they say they have followed the directions of the panel.

The construction of the 'Lime Mortar' Raja Gopuram, the authorities say, is expected to commence later this year and the plan is to complete the 7 Tier, 125 feet plus towering structure in 2-3 years.

When complete, the Raja Gopuram will rank amongst the top five tallest towers in the Divya Desam list and thus in a matter of three decades Mottai Gopurams in two ancient temple towns near Trichy would have seen towering Raja Gopurams!!!

While the temple authorities are thus confident of going ahead with the construction of the Raja Gopuram after following the due processes as laid down by the court appointed panel, TR Ramesh, President, Temple Worshippers Society, who has petitioned many a case at the Madras High Court relating to alterations to temple structure is of the opinion that this will not stand the test of law ‘There is no Executive Officer for the Srirangam temple as the Position of the EO expired on 16th July 1966 ( Thereafter no EO has been appointed to the Srirangam temple. Consequently, there can be no EO for the Thiruvellarai temple (as this is a sub- temple of Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple). As a result, the initiatives taken under the EO’s order is Void Abinitio, in law.’
Quoting the Government Order 171 (a copy of which is available with prtraveller) passed by the Tamil Nadu Government in 2013, Ramesh says that that particular GO categorically states that any construction in a heritage site must be done in accordance with the principle of conservation of monuments laid down in the Venice Charter of 1966, Article 4 and Article 6 of which state that ‘it is essential to the conservation of monuments that they be maintained on a permanent basis’ and that ‘Conservation of a monument implies preserving a setting which is not out of scale. Wherever the traditional setting exists, it must be kept. No new construction, demolition or modification which would alter the relations of mass and colour must be allowed.’

Based on these, Ramesh says that it is clear there can no new construction or modification at the Thiruvellarai temple and that the proposed construction is impossible as long as Section 116 of HR and CE Act (One can only do preservation and maintenance of heritage structures) and GO 171 are not amended.

While petitioner Ramesh now sports a new look (as compared to the one in January of this year), it looks like the temple will not have it easy on having its own new look anytime in the near future, given his determination to take them on based on the rules governing alteration relating to heritage structures!!!

Varadaraja Acharya, a descendent of Engal Azhvaan and a resident of Thiru Vellarai for several decades is devotion personified. Sitting in a far corner of the temple in a devotional posture, he says 'it is all up to Lord Pundarikakshan to decide what is good for the devotees and that if he wills, the towering Raja Gopuram will come up.'
One will have to wait and watch as to the direction in which this story unfolds in the coming months.