Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Umpire S Ravi

On the verge of a significant milestone - Set to become India's 2nd most capped umpire behind Venkataraghavan
Has been included in the ICC Elite Umpires Panel for the 3rd year in a row
It’s a proud moment for cricket in Madras. RBI Staffer and International Umpire S Ravi ( has recently been inducted into the Elite Panel of Umpires for the 3rd year in a row. Of particular significance is the fact that the strong professional panel of the ICC that selected him was headed by legendary S Venkataraghavan, the first and the only other Indian to have been on the Elite Panel.

His Umpiring Mentor from his days in the 1990s Radhakrishnan, himself a Board Umpire had said 5 years ago that Ravi had it in him to become the best umpire in the World (

A monumental achievement 
Even more significant is that Ravi is also on the verge of a huge milestone and is likely to achieve that this season. After last evening’s epic clash at Headingly (the biggest run chase there since Sir Don Bradman’s memorable 400+ chase 70 years ago) that West Indies won,  Ravi, who called it one of the best test matches he has stood in, has now umpired 23 tests, just 3 behind VK Ramaswamy. By the end of this 17-18 season, it is likely he would have overtaken Ramaswamy into 2nd place in the all time list of Indian umpires behind Venkataraghavan.

That would rank as a monumental achievement for an umpire  who went through almost two decades in first class cricket in India umpiring just a match or two each season.

IPL transforms his career
It was the IPL that transformed Ravi’s career prospects dramatically. Suddenly he was seen alongside international umpires such as Simon Tauful who was to become his international mentor in the years to come. Creditable performances in the IPL helped him scale into the top league and he finally got into the international panel in 2012, almost 25 years after he took to umpiring. Ravi has officiated in all the ten editions of the IPL, most times under intense pressure.

International Debut- Bizarre Circumstance
He was set to make his international debut in the test between Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka in 2012 but that series was called off at the last moment. And thus his long wait continued. ICC then requested International cricketer turned umpire Richard Illingworth to step aside for the Bangladesh v New Zealand series (Ravi was not scheduled to umpire that series) to accommodate and give Ravi his international debut. Illingworth, who is now in the Elite Panel alongside Ravi gladly acceded to this request, thus paving the way for Ravi’s international umpiring debut.

20 Reviews in 2 tests leads him into the Elite Panel!!!!
Since then, Ravi has made steady progress on the international scene. In the English summer of 2015, Ravi experienced something special that few others have. In the two test series between New Zealand and England, Ravi had over 20 reviews over the two tests with his umpiring partners at the other end having a combined tally of  just 2. With a majority of the reviews going in favour of Ravi’s on field decisions, it set him nicely ahead of the annual selection review of ICC umpires. Ravi received huge commendation from David Boon, the match referee for his decisions in that series.

At the end of that series in mid 2015 came the announcement of Ravi’s induction into the ICC Elite Panel of Umpires, the first and only umpire to-date from India, after Venkataraghavan.

'Good Job' from Venkat
Ravi looks back at that moment with great pride as an Indian Umpire. In a rare word of vocal praise, Venkat had told him at the Lords dinner table that he was doing a 'good job' on the international scene.
‘It was a great feeling as an Indian to be on the Elite Panel. In almost all other countries, there is a maximum of 25 first class umpires on the domestic scene where as in our country, we are competing against 100 other umpires. And to be elevated to the international panel and then very quickly into the top 12 umpires in the World was a special feeling.’

‘And to actually be selected by a panel headed by Venkat was even more special for he has known to be a very tough and unforgiving personality having set very high standards for himself both as a cricketer and an umpire.’.

His Best Year in Umpiring
2016 was one of the best years for Ravi. He was posted for 15 tests, 10 of them on field. Also, during the year he officiated in the first Pink Ball test. Over the last fortnight, he also umpired in another Pink Ball test this time in the first test between England and West Indies.

‘It was an amazing experience and a great honour to have umpired the first ever Pink Ball Test. Umpiring a test during the twilight zone and then suddenly seeing extraordinary amount of swing in the final session in the night needed a sudden mental transformation into another zone. We had never before seen ball swinging so dramatically and such variation between two sessions in a game had never occurred before in a test match. As an umpire, one had to be tuned to a completely different mindset. You even had the team declaring ahead of the final session so as to leverage the hugely swinging conditions in the night.’ 

Elated Feeling - Umpiring at Lords and MCG
He has now umpired thrice at Lords ( And that has been a humbling experience. While he had heard from others of the Lords’ experience, he was stunned at the respect accorded to the officials by the members.

‘At the start of each of the 15 sessions of a test, the members stood up in the long room and applauded the umpires. The traditions of the game are so well maintained there. Nowhere else in the world does one get such an elevated feeling of being thus honoured, every single time one enters the ground.’

MCG has been another great experience for Ravi. He umpired the Boxing Day test in front of 85000 spectators, a feeling that he says is beyond words.

Umpiring alongside former International Cricketers
Ravi had played only first division cricket in Madras. Officiating alongside former international players has been another special experience for Ravi. Kumara Dharmasena, Richard Illingworth, Paul Reiffel and Ian Gould had all played good amount of cricket for their country, while Ravi had not even played first class cricket in India. 

“Initially I was a little apprehensive. But over the last five years I have been able to prove to the world that I can compete with the best in business. And that not playing at the highest level is not necessarily a hurdle to the growth of an umpire.”

Taking to Golf for Fitness and Networking
He has recently taken up to Golf and is often seen at the Golf Course here in Madras. On the world scene, he 'competes' with the best of former cricketers turned Golf amateurs such as Jeff Crowe and Richard Illingworth. This has also helped him with his fitness levels as well as build his networking capabilities.
A Photo of Ravi at the Golf Course in Madras
 just ahead of the Eng v WI series this month

Umpiring Prospects from India
He has encouraging words for Nitin Menon who he believes has the potential to be on the Elite Panel in the future. He is also of the view that J Madanagopal and KN Anantha Padmanabhan, both former first class cricketers, have it in them to scale up to the international level in umpiring, if given the right opportunities. 
Long Term Commitment bears fruits
Ravi is a perfect example of how long term commitment in life will finally yield results. Through the 1990s and 2000s, there was scope for frustration for he simply did not get the chances that he merited. There was no fast track system for the best umpires in the Indian Domestic Circuit. They simply had to go through the grind. Year on year for two decades, he simply stuck to his role umpiring just a couple of first class matches each season. He went out there and tried to perform his duties to the best of his capability in the limited opportunities that came his way.

And now past 50, Ravi is reaping for the rewards for his decades of hard work and the patience that he showed. Three years in a row on the Elite Panel is a clear endorsement that he is amongst the very best in the world.

And when he becomes the 2nd most capped umpire from India later this season, it will be a momentous occasion for him to be alongside Venkataraghavan as the two All Time Best Umpires from India. And that’s no mean achievement for a man who took to umpiring just to meet his monthly expenses as a teenager way back in the mid 1980s!!!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Tuti Patriots Dream TNPL run

Two Early Buys that has paid off handsomely 
We saw Washington Sundar as a complete Package for T20 and hence he was our 2nd pick right after Dinesh Karthik – Head Coach Madanagopal 

In the inaugural TNPL auction in 2016, two reasonably ‘non-star’ status players were picked up very early by Tuti Patriots. While all the focus on Tuti’s dream run this year has been on Washington Sundar (and his opening partner Kaushik Gandhi), not many know that Washington Sundar was the 2nd Pick for Tuti Patriots in the inaugural TNPL auction in 2016 right after Dinesh Karthik and ahead of Abhinav Mukund and L Balaji, two star international players, who were picked subsequently in that inaugural auction by Tuti Patriots. 

 J Gokulakrishnan had as the state U19 coach worked closely with Washington Sundar as a young 15 year old boy. Kaushik Gandhi, who Madanagopal had worked with closely in the past on the opener’s batting technique and mental aspects was another early pick by Tuti in that inaugural auction last year. 
These two relatively unknown names were big and surprising calls made by Madanagopal and Gokulakrishnan and did not quite catch the attention at that time and largely went unnoticed. But by the end of TNPL 2, these ‘surprising early picks’ by Tuti’s coaches have become the biggest names of the TNPL!!! Kaushik Gandhi heads the batting aggregate over the two years of the tournament with over 600 runs while Washington Sundar topped the batting aggregate in season 2 with over 450 runs ( in addition to picking up 15 wickets). He has already played in the IPL and made a big impression there. 

These two big calls made dominant contributions in several wins for Tuti Patriots over the two seasons. While Kaushik Gandhi’s performance in the knock out phase last year helped them to the tournament win, Washington’s all round performance was the primary reason for Tuti Patriots to have the dream run this year till their loss at the final hurdle (when he failed with both the bat and the ball). 

TNPL was touted as a stepping stone for young talent. It was that that Madanagopal and Gokulakrishnan seized with both Washington and Kaushik. While Washington was raw, Kaushik was on a low after being unceremoniously dropped from the TN state team by the B Kalyanasundaram led TN Selection Panel despite a good show in the initial phase of his Ranji Career about 5 years back but the Tuti coaches saw in them, both, a huge amount of talent waiting to express itself on the big arena. 

The Washington call – A Complete ‘T20’ Package 
Madanagopal is delighted that their call to pick Washington ahead of many other big ticket players has been testified with his star all round performance “We spotted in him the unique value he could bring to the team. He was a tall left hander who we knew could strike the long ball with ease. He has long levers and his off spin in the shorter formats is quite extraordinary given the fact that he can bowl both in the power play and death.’

 ‘To top it, he was also a top fielder with the ability to field anywhere. We saw him as a complete package and that was the primary reason for us to choose him immediately after Dinesh (Karthik).’
 ‘Low on Confidence’ Kaushik Gandhi 
Having watched Kaushik Gandhi closely for a long time, Madanagopal knew exactly what his strong points were and the value that he could bring at the top of the order ‘Picking Kaushik at the top was a no brainer for us, having watched him play in earlier years. As you can see now, he has really grown in confidence after his performance in the first edition of the TNPL, one that was reflected in his Ranji performance last season.’ 

His performance in season 1 of TNPL gave him the much needed visibility and it was his solid match winning performance in the TNPL that led him back into a permanent slot in the Ranji team, one that had eluded him earlier ‘Kaushik is a very smart cricketer who understands the game flow and is very good at executing his roles. He is a captain’s delight and brings a lot of positivity to the change room.’ 

Dressing Room atmosphere 
 Madanagopal recounts as to how the entire coaching staff as well as the captain Dinesh Karthik focused on creating a positive atmosphere both on and off the field and encouraged the boys to express themselves and play fearless cricket while at the same time learning from their mistakes. Tuti team analyst Rama Subbu played a key role providing important feedback to the coaching staff on the players. Physio Sakthi, who also is the physio for one of the India Cements teams in the first division league, and Masseur Iyappan worked tirelessly on the players’ fitness right through the tournament ensuring that the players maintained top fitness levels till the very end. 

While the fans only see the on field performance, Madanagopal revealed some of the back room work that actually led to this tremendous run this year,We had several rounds of discussion in the change rooms. We encouraged active participation from the players in these discussions and the collective knowledge and information that came out was just amazing and this helped formulate the strategy for this season.” 

Stand in Captain Anand and his pivotal role 
Gokulakrishnan is full of praise for the ‘stand in’ captain Anand Subramanian. With both Abhinav and DK were away from the TNPL in the initial phase, we spent several hours discussing the captaincy issue and finally agreed on Anand. It was Gokulakrishnan who had a long chat convincing him to take up the captaincy.

Looking back on his captaincy and the dream run of Tuti, Gokulakrishnan says ‘Anand played a pivotal role both on and off the field generating many ideas that worked for us. He not only came up with important cameos at many crucial moments but also led the team brilliantly till the time Dinesh Karthik took over.’ 

 Madanagopal says that the entire focus in those team meetings was to reiterate repeatedly that Tuti was not a team about individuals but one where every individual selflessly strives for the common cause. This culture was set up by the captain and the players. This was something that Madanagopal had also imbibed in the teams that he coached in the first division over the last few years. 

In addition to the success on the field over the two years, Madanagopal says that the one thing that he is proud about the team is that Tuti had one of the best off field camaraderie at all times. And this reflected in the performance on the field. Every individual made an important contribution at some stage in the tournament. 

Every Player contributed 
‘The satisfaction for me as a coach comes from seeing under rated players such as Akash Sumra and Ganesha Moorthi evolving as star performers over the course of the two seasons. Players like SP Nathan, who can be a clean striker, too contributed at important moments and contributed to the success of Tuti. Aushik Srinivas has not got the credit he has deserved for his performances in the TNPL. There had specific roles assigned to each and every player in the team. In that scheme of things, rarely did Aushik and Akash let us down in these two seasons as they kept it tight most of the time.’ 

'Challenging Times' to a 'Dream Run'
Just ahead of TNPL 2, the very participation of Tuti Patriots had been in doubt with a lending bank seeking an injunction on their very participation on the issue of a pending payment. CEO of Tuti Patriots Sudarshan and Manager Madhusudhan ensured that the team stayed away from such distractions helping the players and the coaching staff focus on the cricketing activities in those important few days leading to the start of the tournament. 

A month later, Head Coach Madanagopal and Bowling Coach Gokulakrishnan left together for the glamorous TNPL final at Chepauk last Sunday evening with the elder brother riding a ‘not so glamorous’ old two wheeler. But that’s the way they have always lived cricket- Simple, hard working cricketers focusing on giving their best to their team in the role that they have been engaged for.
Very rarely during the tournament did you find them in front of the cameras (which anyway seemed intent on focusing all the time on VB Chandrasekar and his family as well as some of the more renowned names with international tags!!!). The brothers sat way behind in the dugout focusing purely on their role as the coaches away from the visibility of TV interviews. The real reward for their unflinching commitment to the team has been the two finals that the team has managed to achieve in successive years. And that’s all that matters to these ‘down to earth’ brothers.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Kaushik Gandhi Tuti Patriots

I would not be where I am today if it was not for 'Coach' Madanagopal - Kaushik Gandhi, TNPL's most successful batsman over the two seasons
'I did not think that I could even be part of a T20 side but Madanagopal instilled the confidence in me and created a transformational change in me'
Kaushik Gandhi has been the most consistent and the most successful batsman over the two years of the TNPL scoring over 600 runs for Tuti Patriots, a team that reached the final in the both the editions. This year he formed a formidable opening partnership with Washington Sundar and the starts they provided were a prime reason for the record winning streak that they achieved between the end of last season through to the final. 

On the back of his success in the first edition of the TNPL, Kaushik Gandhi amassed close to 800 runs in the 2016-17 Ranji season including scoring his maiden double hundred and has thus cemented his place in the Tamil Nadu team.

However, it has not been a smooth sailing for this 27year old over the last 5-6 years. It was former TN middle order bat J Madanagopal who mentored him during his formative years spending time with him every afternoon at the Vivekananda College ground both on fine tuning his batting technique as well as making him mentally stronger.

And yet, Kaushik Gandhi was in for a huge shock when he was dropped by the then B Kalyanasundaram (Kalli) led TN selection panel after a 80+ knock in Ranji Trophy. It took a while for him to come back into the squad.

And it was 'Head Coach' Madanagopal once again who gave him the big break by picking him in the Tuti Patriots team for the inaugural edition of the TNPL that transformed Kaushik Gandhi’s rather fledgling career.
Kaushik looks back at his association with J Gokulakrishnan (bowling coach of Tuti Patriots) and J Madanagopal (Head Coach, Tuti) with a great amount of emotion ‘It has been a huge bonus as a cricketer having them both, not just in the TNPL but right from my youth days. They have had a tremendous influence on what I am today as a cricketer.’

He  heaps special praise on the role of Madanagopal in his cricketing career over the last decade ‘It was Madanagopal who roped me into his first division team when I was a very young boy. He has been the one who taught me everything connected to cricket right from preparing for a game to executing and applying the learning in 'LIVE' match situations.
Kaushik  says that even he is surprised at his own success in T20 cricket over the last year ‘Before the first edition of the TNPL, I did not think that I could even be part of a T20 side, let alone achieve any success in this format.’

Madanagopal's mentoring role
It was Madanagopal who instilled the confidence in Kaushik that he could be a success story in the T20 format as well. And that has helped him transform into a solid T20 player 'Madanagopal  worked very hard on me to mentally prepare and equip me for the T20 format.' 

Success over the two editions of the TNPL has now given Kaushik the confidence that he ‘belongs’ to this format, in addition to the longer version which he is more naturally inclined towards.

Despite not having the raw muscular power, Kaushik has been able to adjust and play according to the needs of the different formats of the game and achieve success in each of those. Thanks to his innovative Stroke play, his ‘Strong Zones’ and the wide range of shots against both spinners and fast bowlers, he has now got the confidence to match anyone on strike rates in the shorter format of the game.

With the confidence and backing of Madanagopal and the resultant success, Kaushik believes that he has matured quite a lot over the two TNPL stints.

Transformational Changes
Working on a mindset change, mentally preparing hard towards approaching each innings, laying a high premium on his wicket and making the opponents earn his wicket the hard way have been big transformational changes in Kaushik Gandhi that have contributed to his huge success over the last 12months both in the shorter format as well as in the longer version of the game.

While it is the performance on the field that the world at large appreciate, Kaushik sees the dressing room atmosphere as being one of Tuti Patriots biggest strengths 'Even when we were on the verge of exit in the first edition of the TNPL, the dressing room atmosphere was always calm and composed. The entire credit for this goes to the Tuti coaches who played a vital role in keeping our motivation levels high during those critical moments in TNPL 1.'

And this year, even during the continuous winning streak Gokulakrishnan and Madanagopal made sure that 'we treat each game with the same intent and give our best.' That way the entire team was always well grounded and approached each match with the same intensity.

The result is there for all to see!!! 

This is just the beginning of the 'second' innings for Kaushik Gandhi and this one for sure is likely to be a long and successful one. 

 As for Madanagopal, he is now set to return to his umpiring career after the month long 'coaching' stint at the TNPL. He umpired the Ranji Trophy Semi Final this year which seemed to indicate that he was in the top 5-10 umpires of the BCCI but was shockingly overlooked for the entire IPL tournament this year . With yet another successful TNPL and a dream run that unfortunately ended with a loss in the final, Madanagopal is now all set for another new season in Umpiring. It is hoped that by this time next year, he would have had a full stint in the IPL.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Chidambaram Thillai Thiru Chitrakoodam

A Temple that testifies, best, the Saivite - Vaishnavite Unity
Devotees are eagerly awaiting the commencement of ‘Brahmotsavam’ Celebrations  at Chidambaram Divya Desam, where 3000 Vedic Seers offered worship everyday in ancient times. Temple Activist Ramesh says No Brahmotsavam is possible for the Divya Desam Lord at Chidambaram as per the Act.

Theerthakar responsibilities @ 15, Inducted into the Board of Trustees @ 18, 70 years of selfless service at this temple, Renovation Support Services to over 50 Divya Desams - ‘If you are straight forward and offer your service to the Lord with Utmost Devotion, people will trust you’ – Prof AV Rangachariar 
84 year old AV Rangachariar (AVR) recites the very first verse of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s praise of Chidambaram Divya Desam ( and feeds the early morning devotees with Dhadhyonam after the Thiruppavai Satru Murai, for which he is present every morning, unmindful of his old age. 

‘There is no need to starve and penance when you are here at this Divya Desam. Just offering your sincere prayers to the Lord and Thayar will secure you their blessings.’ And thus he first feeds all those who visit this Divya Desam.

ஊன்வாட உண்ணாது உயிர் காவல் இட்டு
உடலில் பிரியாப் புலன் ஐந்தும் நொந்து
தாம் வாடத் தவம் செய்ய வேண்டா
தமதா இமையோர் உலகு ஆளாகிற்பீர்

கான் ஆட மஞ்சைக் கணம் ஆட மாடே
கயல் ஆடு கால் நீர்ப் பழனம் புடைபோய்த்
தேன் ஆட மாடக்  கொடி ஆடு
தில்லை திருச்சித்ரகூடம் சென்று சேர்மின்களே

Kainkaryam at this Divya Desam since 1948!!!
Similar to Sivaraja Dikshithar, who has spent over 8 decades in Chidambaram, AVR too has spent almost his entire life in and around the huge ‘Twin Temple’ complex at Chidambaram. Unsurprisingly, Saivites and Vaishnavites, alike, have great regard for the contribution he has made to the temple over the last 7 decades or so. 

He was just 15 years old when he took up the responsibilities of the Theerthakar at the Govindaraja Perumal Divya Desam way back in 1948.

He has been an integral part of the Seva Kalam at this Divya Desam ever since. Soon after, he took up the responsibilities for the proper conduct of the round the year Utsavams. By the time he turned 18, he was inducted into the Board of Trustees, one of the youngest to take up such a responsibility in a Divya Desam. 

He was initiated into Divya Prabhandham and Vedic recital very early on in his life by his father Ashtagotam Maha Vidwan Venkatachariar. AVR was immersed in the Vaishnava Sampradaya and learnt the Agamas. He also learnt the Rahasya Granthas, especially of Saint Ramanuja and began presenting Kalakshepams from a very young age.

His father was a revered Acharya at the Vedic Patshala near the temple and several students graduated under him. He served as an acharya till he was 84. The Dikshithars of Chidambaram also learnt from him. He also wrote a Suprabatham for Natarajar. 
Reciting the Thevaram Verses at School!!!
AVR had his primary education at Navalar School. It was the practice there to recite the Thevaram Verses of the great Saivite Poets between 8am and 9am every morning. While being a staunch Vaishnavite,  AVR was ahead of others in the recital of the Thevaram Verses as well.

Father's Devotional Move
As soon as he completed his college education, his father secured him a teaching job at the Annamalai University. His father’s thought process was simple. He wanted his son to perform lifelong service to the Lord of Thillai Thiru Chitrakoodam and believed that a job at the nearby University would facilitate this. 

AVR has been associated with the Annamalai University for over five decades.  While he was an Economics Professor, his proficiency in Tamil and his quest for knowledge led several led other departments to invite him frequently for a ‘Wordly’ lecture to their students. 

Over a period of time, the entire student community of the University became his 'informal' disciples and they would assist him in his renovation Kainkaryam that he performed at various temples across Tamil Nadu over many decades.

And just as the father wished, AVR has performed Kainkaryam here at this Divya Desam for 70 years.

Vaishnavite Agraharam – West Street
His eyes light up as he looks back at the life in and around the temple in the 1930s and 40s ‘The Mela Vaasal was a street where Vaishnavites lived in large numbers. In those days, it was the exclusive domain of the Vaishnavites. But over decades, the numbers have reduced as the Vaishnavites looked for greener pastures and left this temple town.’

Lesson of his Life – Saivite – Vaishnavite Unity
The greatest initiation to him as a school boy from the elders was to have a cordial relationship with the Saivites. For 8 decades, he has followed that early piece of advice he received. Today, as one looks at him from a far corner of the Natarajar Sannidhi, one finds every devotee to the temple paying regards to him with folded hands seeking his blessings. He is the ‘Go-To’ man for them for any help.

He is quite philosophical about this ‘If you are straight forward and offer your service to the Lord with Utmost Devotion, people will trust you.’ Every devotee should endeavour to be true to his/her conscience especially when one encounters difficult situations in life and not swerve from the Dharmic path that God expects the devotee to follow.

Role of the Pothu Dikshithars at this Divya Desam
The keys to the three important entrances to the Divya Desam complex are with the Pothu Dikshithars and hence the service personnel at this Divya Desam are dependent on the Dikshithars for the opening and closing of the Sannidhis. However, over several decades the relationship between the Saivites and Vaishnavites has been very friendly. 

There are times when the Divya Desam Lord comes back late in the night after the procession. During such times, the Dikshithars stay back for the Lord to return before closing the door.

There are also a few other interesting agreements between the two sides. The ‘pathway’ in front of the Natarajar Sannidhi and Govindaraja Perumal Sannidhi ‘belongs’ to both.
No Hundials at the Chidambaram Temple
One of the interesting features of this temple that stands out from all other temples across the State is that there are no Hundials anywhere inside the Temple Complex except the Divya Desam Sannidhi
(which is administered by the HR & CE!!!). Also, there is  no temple office within the complex unlike the HR & CE managed temples in Tamil Nadu where a lot of space is allocated to the office complex!!! 

There are no Salaries to the Pothu Dikshithars.

No Perumal Procession on the Big Festival Days of Natarajar
Also, on the days of the big utsavams for Natarajar, there are no processions for the Divya Desam deities. Processional deity of the Saivite Lord takes precedence over the procession of the Divya Desam Lord/Thayar.

3000 Vedic Seers at this Divya Desam
This is a Divya Desam where over a thousand years ago, 3000 Vedic Seers offered worship every day to Lord Devathi Devan here at Chidambaram as seen from the praise of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Kulasekara Azhvaar.

மூவாயிரம் நான்மறையாளர் 
நாளும் முறையால் வணங்க
அணங்கு ஆய சோதித் 
தேவாதிதேவன் திகழ் கின்ற 
தில்லை திருச்சித்ர கூடம் சென்று சேர்மின்களே -Thiru Mangai Azhvaar

The Annual Brahmotsavam expected to be back soon
Through his unflinching efforts over a long period of time, AVR has been able to secure an order from the HR & CE Commissioner to restart the Brahmotsavam at the Divya Desam. Because the Saivite and the Vaishnavite Sannidhis are housed next to each other, the Commissioner directed the Divya Desam authorities to discuss with the Pothu Dikshithars and fix up a suitable date for the Brahmotsavam that will be acceptable to both the sides. Discussions are currently on to agree on a date that will not clash with the Utsavam of the Saivite deity.

செந்தளிர்வாய் மலர் நகை சேர் செழுந்தண் சோலை 
தில்லை நகர் திருச்சித்ர கூடந்  தன்னுள் 

அந்தணர்கள் ஒரு மூவாயிரவர் ஏத்த 
அணிமணி ஆசனத்து இருந்த அம்மான் தானே  - Kulasekara Azhvaar

Temple Activist TR Ramesh, who was involved in the process to secure the Dikshithars the victory in the Supreme Court case says that no new 'Annual' Festivals can be introduced in an ancient temple if that festival was not in order in 1947.  A festival that had not taken place for the last 170 years or so cannot be introduced in this historical temple. 'The HR & CE Commissioner has no legal right to issue such an order' says Ramesh. Hence, the Brahmotsavam in the Divya Desam cannot be introduced now or in the future. Brahmotsavam can take place only for the Saivite Lords at the Chidambaram temple.

Dikshithars carry the Divya Desam Lord during Utsavams 
Except for the Brahmotsavam, the other Utsavams have been celebrated with great devotion at the temple with the Saivites being an integral part. It is the Dikshithars who carry the Utsava deity Lord Parthasarathy on processions. Also, the entire women folks of the Dikshithar family participate in the procession, especially of Thayar.

There is a grand Garuda Sevai procession on the night of Chitra Pournami and on the morning of Vaikasi Visakam.  On the day of the Jeshtabhisekam in Aani and on Panguni Uthiram, the Lord goes around on a procession in the Sesha Vahana.

5 Day trip to Killai for Maasi Magam
On the occasion of Maasi Magam, the Lord goes out on a five day procession to Killai, a village about 10 kms from here.

There are several inscriptions on the huge outer walls dating back a 1000 years providing insights into the contributions to the temples in the centuries gone by.
For his lifetime contribution to the Vaishnavite cause and to the maintenance of several Divya Desams, Rangachari is set to receive LIFCO’s ‘Ramanuja’ Service Award this Sunday (August 20, 2017) at Vani Mahal in Madras, a truly well deserved recognition for a man who has dedicated his entire life to the selfless service of Lord Govindarajan of Chidambaram.
And when the Brahmotsavam Celebrations commence at this Divya Desam, AVR would have had a great role to play in fulfilling the devotees' wishes to witness the annual grand festivities comprising of Vahana Processions and providing them with the sacred opportunity to pull the Chariot around the streets of Thillai Thiru Chitrakoodam.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Meenakshi Amman Temple Renovation

A First in Indian Temple History
UNESCO halts Construction of New Pillars around the Potramarai Tank at Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

Raising New Raja Gopuram at Thiru Vellarai and Thiru Kolur not legally tenable - Temple Activist Ramesh
Probably for the first time in the history of Indian temples, an overseas organisation has stopped work at an ancient Indian temple. Paris, France headquartered UNESCO has directed halting the construction of New Pillars around the Potramarai Tank at the ancient and historical HR & CE administered Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai following their inspection recently. 

Issues relating to renovation had arisen at the Meenakshi Amman Temple specifically relating to the replacement of pillars around the Potramarai Kulam. This along with issues relating to replacement of stone slabs and the new flooring at the 1000 pillared mandapa have been a bone of contention for temple activist and former Citi-Bank staffer TR Ramesh, who has been taking up the issue of alterations to temple structures with great vigour in recent years.

Ramesh, who is also the President of the Temple Worshippers' Society, has filed several petitions in the High Court against modifications at temple sites and raising new structures like Raja Gopurams at ancient temples. He questions the construction of the new mosaic flooring at the 1000 pillared mandapam. Ramesh also poses the question as to why the same stones could not be used for the reconstruction, even if there was a dire need to reconstruct the pillars. He is also not convinced about the quality of the material used in the reconstruction and if it conforms to the requirement of 'not altering' the structure.
Wrongful appointment of JCs/EOs
Ramesh has also recently sent a notice to the Commissioner of HR & CE relating to the wrongful appointment of Joint Commissioner at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam and the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, among several other temples. 

He says that the term of the JC/EO in all these temples had expired way back in 1966 and hence the appointment of a JC/EO does not have a legal standing and is untenable (

Ramesh is yet to receive a reply from the Commissioner. He says that he would take the case of wrongful appointment in the court if he does not receive a response from the HR & CE within a reasonable period.

A Two Decade Exercise
The Current Joint Commissioner of the Meenakshi Amman temple N Natarajan, who is seen as a straight forward human being and is generally well respected by the devotees at large says that the replacement of the pillars or the stone slabs was not a sudden decision taken by him or his team ‘It is an 18 year old issue. Way back in 1999, cracks were observed at the Eastern entrance of the Ashtasakthi Mandapam and Veera Vasantha Rayar Mandapam, on the roof of stone slabs in Amman Sannadhi in the 2nd Prakaram and in the stone pillars around the Potramarai Kulam.’ 
The Tamil Nadu Government in its order No.385 TDC&RE department dated 16 June 1999 formed an 8 member expert committee to inspect the reason for the formation of cracks in the above said structures and to propose a solution to repair those structures. This committee also included Muthiah Sthapathy.

In 2006, Muthiah Sthapathy came up with a report stating that the Pillars had weakened and that new Pillars had to be built and that it will have to be a ‘Comprehensive Renovation’.

PIL in 2006
However, following a PIL in the Madurai High Court in 2006, the court directed appointed of an expert committee to review and provide their recommendations. An 18 member expert panel was constituted and they came up with their recommendation a year later on carrying out of rectification works relating to the cracks on the ceiling stone slabs and pillars in the 2nd Prakaram of Amman Sannathi and at the Veera Vasantha Rayar mandapam. They also suggested the replacement and renovation of the pillars around the Potramarai Kulam.

High Court Appointed Panel
In December 2016, another expert panel this time as recommended by the Madras High Court was appointed and they looked into the issues relating to the renovation at the Meenakshi Amman Temple.

In the meeting of Panel Experts,  the Archaeological Expert enquired as to 'why the same stones cannot be used in the reconstruction.' 

Natarajan told that Panel that ‘they had ‘multi cracked’ and damaged in the centre. Works in the cracks on the ceiling stone slabs and pillars in the second prakaram of Amman Sannathi were undertaken with new stone slabs replacing the old ones. Similarly action was taken to carry out repair works on Veeravasantha Rayar Mandapam. 
Natarajan says that every reconstruction activity undertaken at the Meenakshi Amman Temple is in line with the stringent processes that they follow and that the relevant approvals had been received from the expert committee on multiple occasions before any work had been undertaken.

However, soon after the entry of UNESCO at the temple, they asked the temple authorities to stop the Pillar construction work on the Eastern side of the Potramarai Kulam. Thus, one finds that the series of pillars on the Eastern side remains dismantled and is partly complete (as seen in the photo below). 
The temple authorities claim that this had already been a long drawn process and that it had gone through several rounds of inspection by the experts. And that the work had been undertaken only after the experts found that the renovation and reconstruction activity had become a necessity. 

However, the multi national agency from France has taken a different call over ruling all the Indian experts including the Archaeological expert and the Sthapathy who had earlier recommended a 'Comprehensive Renovation' thus leaving the temple authorities in a state of flux on the next action.

One will have to wait and see as to how this unfolds but for the moment work has come to a grinding halt and a number of new stone pillars are lying on the the Eastern side of the sacred tank.

Renovation in temples had taken off in a big way since the 1990s with the overall size of renovation activity running into several hundreds of thousands of crores. Prior to that, maintenance of temples was an ongoing concept and temples (especially Vaishnavite temples) were kept in order every year.  In the decades gone by, it was seen as a routine exercise to maintain the temple in good shape as against a mega renovation exercise as has become the trend now in the last couple of decades.

A typical renovation of a reasonable sized temple with multiple Sannidhis now runs into a few crores with additional budget for specific new construction such as a Chariot, a Golden Vimana or ‘Golden’ Vahanas.

Huge Financial Exercise
The renovation exercise at the Ranganatha Swamy temple in Srirangam is believed to have cost around Rs.40crores. Added to the huge financial aspects of the renovation is the sudden new found need over the last two decades to build new Sannidhis and take up new construction work at these temples. Most of the renovation work is outsourced to ‘donors’. Interestingly in case of large projects, these are taken up by ‘single’ donors.

The Golden Vimana (100kgs gold) alone at the Sowmya Narayana Perumal temple in Thiru Koshtiyur Divya Desam undertaken by ‘Thiru Koshtiyur’ Madhavan will run up to over Rs.25crores.
For example, the preliminary work relating to the construction of a new multi tier Raja Gopuram is currently on in full swing at the Pundarikakshan temple in Thiru Vellarai Divya Desam ( This work taken up by a single donor from Coimbatore is believed to cost around Rs. 10crores.

Last week, inspection was on at the Thiru Kolur Vaitha Maa Nithi Perumal Divya Desam ( in the presence of Muthiah Sthapathy as part of the preliminary work to construct a new Raja Gopuram there.

Renovation and Demolition
As part of the renovation exercise, one has also witnessed demolitions and replacements aplenty across temples in Tamil Nadu. In 2004, the Shiva Sannidhi in Thiru Kurungudi Divya Desam was brought down and moved to another location within the temple complex. Outcome of a ‘Prasannam’ is believed to have been the reason for the shifting of Sannidhi there (

Last year, there were similar issues at the Thiru Koshtiyur Divya Desam with the Shiva and Pillayar Sannidhi (

During the renovation of the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam in 2015, a previously non existent wall was erected in the course of a night between the Desikar idol and the Hayagriva idol that left many shocked. The Lakshmi Narasimha idol, which was previously beside the Hayagriva idol, was removed and moved to a separate location within the Desikar Sannidhi complex.  The Desikar Prabhandham inscribed on a stone was removed during the renovation and hasn’t been brought back since.  

Abnormal Delay
In Thiru Kurungudi and Thiru Koshtiyur temples and many others such as these, renovation work had been announced long ago but the work has been pending for several years due to ‘issues’ surrounding the renovation leaving the devotees in a sad state. It is also well over five years since the renovation work was announced at the Thothadri Nathan Divya Desam in Nanguneri.

At the Chitra Ratha Vallabha Perumal temple in Kuruvi Thurai (, near Madurai renovation was delayed by many years after a politician took up the work as a single donor.

The renovation exercise at the Narasimha Divya Desam in Sholingur was delayed by many years following the taking up of ‘Gold ornamentation’ by a single donor.

In many of these temples, the renovation work takes place under the supervision of the ‘Donor’ and the workers undertake work inside the temple as directed by the ‘Donor/Donors’.

No new Raja Gopurams in Ancient Temples
On construction of new Raja Gopuram atop Mottai Gopuram, Ramesh is confident that both in Thiru Vellarai and Thiru Kolur ‘no Raja Gopuram can and will come up.’  

He says that there is a clear ruling against such new constructions altering the existing structures of ancient heritage temples.’

Pon Jayaraman, JC at the Srirangam temple that also administers the Thiru Vellarai temple says that one will be surprised at the commitment shown by the Donor at Thiru Vellarai ‘The technology and quality of material used in the strengthening of the structure is of the highest order. The donor is physically present to monitor and oversee every minute detail of the work undertaken. The work there will match the best of renovation work undertaken in temples in Tamil Nadu, such is the effort put into the strengthening of the structure there at Thiru Vellarai.’

At Singaperumal Koil, about 50kms from Madras, the outer wall had been brought down to facilitate the construction of a new Raja Gopuram.

While the strengthening of the existing structure is nearing completion at Thiru Vellarai, Ramesh says that construction of a new Raja Gopuram will be in violation of the act and that he will fight tooth and nail against this and any such constructions in other Divya Desams in the appropriate courts.