Saturday, August 5, 2017

Thiru Kurungudi Divya Desam

The ancient temple town has been able to maintain its traditional richness

Till 1956, the Mutt had an exclusive 'Temple Maintenance' Department with focus on 'Daily Maintenance'

Salary of the Archakas and the Service Personnel has gone up from Rs. 500 to almost Rs. 10000 in recent years

It is 6 am on a Tuesday morning. Lord Azhagiya Nambi had been out on a Street Procession the previous night providing the Garuda Sevai darshan to the residents of Thiru Kurungudi ( on the occasion of Aadi Swathi. But Jayanthi Mami, clad in a traditional Madisarai, is up early and has already drawn a beautiful traditional Kolam in front of her house on the West Mada Street. Half hour later she is on her way to the temple through the North Mada Street for the Vishwaroopam darshan. As the Big Bell of the temple is rung, one can hear the residents in this street saying that the Vishwaroopam is on.
However, half a century ago, it used to be a late Vishwaroopam with the Sannidhi opening only at 830 am, says her 70 year old husband A Sundararajan, an original inhabitant of Thiru Kurungudi who spent the first two decades of his life here in the 1950s and 60s ‘There was a grand Ghosti every morning with around 30 Adyapakas presenting Thirupavvai. All the four streets had a healthy mix of Vaishnavites and Smarthas.’

In the time that he was a school boy in the 1950s, Sundararajan says everyone lived a temple oriented life. There were no companies in this region and no job opportunities here. His father, Azhvaar Iyengar, was a Prabhandham Adyapaka and many students graduated from his teachings. He also performed Kainkaryam at the Madapalli and did Aradhana at the Malai Mel Nambi Sannidhi atop the hill. Many times he also supported in processions and doubled up as a Sri Patham Thangi. The salary paid at that time was Rs. 5.

87 year old Thiru Narayanan is one of the oldest residents of this ancient temple town and has been an integral part of the temple for several decades having performed Kainkaryam in various capacities including the Srikaryam and the Agent of the Mutt. 

He takes pride in the fact that the glorious recital of the sacred verses on the 8 streets of Thiru Kurungudi during the Brahmotsavam in Panguni would have the people in devotional tears. ‘There were easily over 200 traditional families housed around the temple with Vadakalaiyars and Thengalaiyars in almost equal numbers. There were also close to 50 Smartha families in Thiru Kurungudi.’
‘In those decades prior to the independence, we ‘competed’ with Srirangam and Thiruvallikeni in the recital.’  In the 1930s, as a small boy, he remembers the price of Paddy as being just Rs. 7 for Two ‘Mootai’ that the Mutt would share with the service personnel.  

Dry Lakes and Tank
About 70 years ago, a single rainfall would fill all the tanks and lakes in the 50+ villages around Thiru Kurungudi, says Thiru Narayanan reminiscing his youthful days. But now for the first time in its history, the residents are seeing a completely dry tank and lakes in and around Thiru Kurungudi. Sundararajan says that Thiru Kurungudi was predominantly an agri based village but there was no banana cultivation in those days. In the last few decades, Paddy has been replaced by banana and this has meant a dramatic rise in the water consumption.

The Grand Chariot Festival
Thiru Narayanan, who has now been a resident on the Sannidhi Street in front of the Eastern entrance for over five decades, says the Chariot Festival was one of the biggest days of the years in terms of devotee presence. People came from all the nearby villages for the popular Chariot festival. There would be at least 10000 people on that day with food served through the day from the time the Chariot started its trip early morning.

Sri Patham Thangis and the 12 hour Panguni Garuda Sevai
The most distinguishing feature of this temple town has been that despite all the changes that have taken place over the last century, the traditional activities continue in rich vein unlike many other Divya Desams. The traditional Sri Patham Thangis, who were in large numbers in the early part of the previous century, continue to carry the Lord on their Shoulders on all the festive occasions.
D. Ramanujam, the Maniakaarar (time keeper of the temple) of over 25 years has a tough job on hand during the Garuda Sevai, the fifth day of the Brahmotsavam in Panguni.

The Lord is out on the streets for almost 12 hours providing darshan to devotees on the 8 streets. ‘We have to stop in front of every house on each of the 8 streets as each of the residents want to present their offerings to the Lord in front of their house. On this day as well, similar to that on the Chariot Festival day, there would be close to 10000 people.’

Commendable is the service of the Sri Patham Thangis who patiently and with a great deal of devotion carry the Lord through the night on that occasion. There were 64 Service Personnel at the temple who helped out in different areas based on the requirement of the day, such was the unity among them.

The Prabhandham Ghosti and the Veda Parayanam was a devotional treat to the residents with the numbers crossing a 100 during the Brahmotsavam Procession.

Kallazhagar’s Brahmotsavam at Thiru Kurungudi
Kallazhagar, the Utsava deity of Azhagar Koil (Thiru Maliruncholai Divya Desam) was brought here during the Muslim invasion. He stayed here for a period of 6 years. An inscription, facing South - at the Eastern Entrance - records the presence of the Lord of Azhagar Koil at this temple.
During that period, the annual Brahmotsavam for Azhagar in Aadi was organized here at Thiru Kurungudi with Kallazhagar providing darshan to the residents of Thiru Kurungudi on Nambi's Vahanas on each of the days of the utsavam. 

On the Aadi Uthiradam day, when the Chariot Festival (of Azhagar) was on, an old lady on the South Mada Street felt sad that she could not present anything to the Lord other than Kaana Pongal and Kaathodikkaai (a form of Brinjal). It is believed that there was a sudden positive vibration on the South Mada Street and Lord Kallazhagar stopped in front of her house to accept her devotional offering.

In memory of this episode, this tradition of presenting Kaathodikkai to the Lord is followed at many Divya Desams in this region accompanied by the recital of verses relating to Azhagar.

It is believed that Lord Nambi presented Kallazhagar with his ‘Gathai’ as he made his way back to Thiru Maliruncholai after the Muslim Invasion as a parting gift.

13 Musical Instruments
Historically, there was a designated person playing each of the 13 musical instruments during aradhana and on festive occasions. Now the number of those playing the instruments has come down to just three but all the 13 instruments are still played. Deva Dasis were also integral part of the temple activity. They were the ones who presented ‘Nrutyam’ as part of the Vishwaroopam every morning.

It was here at the Azhagiya Nambi temple that Araiyar Sevai was introduced just over a 1000 years ago by Natha Muni. The South Mada Street was exclusive to the Araiyars. But that's now a thing of the past. Even for the Kaisika Ekadasi utsavam, the Araiyar makes it here from Srivilliputhur (

Sara Vilakku lighting the Sannidhi
29 year old Nambi Rajan has a Master’s degree to his credit but has decided not to pursue a corporate career. He has spent almost all of his three decades in Thiru Kurungudi. He says that as a young boy he had a beautiful experience at the temple ‘There was not a single electric light till the time TVS and Venu Srinivasan began supporting the temple. The entire temple was lit with ‘Sara Vilakku’. It was truly a great feeling to see the Ghee Lit lamps.”

Aadavargal, who also carried the torch lights (Theevatti) during utsavams, were the ones who provided the ghee for the lamps each day. This was in return for the homes (they were given to stay) and the lands that they were given by the Mutt. Over the last decade or so, this historical practice has stopped and they provide Ghee only during Utsavams.

Nambi Rajan’s father Rama Bhattar joined the temple at a salary of Rs. 36 in the 1960s. In addition to the salary, he was also given paddy in good quantity by the Mutt. The archakas and the service personnel were also presented food at the temple by the Thiru Kurungudi Mutt that manages the temple. Till the end of the previous decade, Rama Bhattar’s salary had not crossed Rs. 500 over a long five decades service at the temple. There were years when the monthly salary was increased by just ONE RUPEE!!!!!

PKS drives away the Bats
Till the early 90s, bats were an integral part of the Sannidhis and there were hundreds of them inhabiting the rather dark Sannidhis. 86 year old Periya Nambi K Srinivasan, the son of the 47th Jeer of the Thiru Kurungudi Mutt performed Kainkaryam at the temple for several decades. He is the one who is credited with initiating the exercise of driving away the bats.
He was also the one who documented the events of the Kaisika Ekadasi day way back in 1980 and later wrote a book on Thiru Kurungudi in 2004. He says that the temple personnel had been an integral part of the enactment of the Kaisika Natakam on the night of the Kaisika Ekadasi when the event would start at 9pm run till 3am in the morning ( It is only in the recent decade that artistes from outside Thiru Kurungudi have been brought in to present on the night.

The Historical BELL
Historically, the kings had presented the temple with vessels in Silver and Gold and to this day, all the vessels here are either in Silver or Gold.  
NamAzhvaar in the Thiruvoimozhi describes these in his praise of the Lord of Thiru Kurungudi. He refers to the beautiful features of the Standing Lord that lure the women of Thiru Kurungudi towards him as they remain in tearless tears seeking a union with him. He is praised as one with Lotus eyes and Coral Lips. The young girl simply cannot take her eyes and thoughts away from the Lord who is seen with a sacred thread, beautiful ornaments in the ears, a golden crown, the jewels along his chest and a Tulasi garland. ‘Countless Jewels’ is how the Lord of Thiru Kurungudi is praised.

பூந் தன் மாலைத் தண் துழாயும்
பொன் முடியும் வடிவும்
பாங்கு தோன்றும் பட்டும்
நானும் பாவியேன் பக்கத்தவே

In the 1950s, it was his father, who during his stint as Srikaryam of the temple had secured for the temple Gold ornaments and vessels as contribution from Chapra Rani, a queen from the Eastern state of the country. There is a large Bell in front of the Azhagiya Nambi Sannidhi. This bell rang in the morning after the completion of the aradhana. It is believed that only after the ringing of this bell did the king of Travancore had his morning food, such was their devotion to the Lord Nambi of Kurungudi.

The Financial crisis in the 1960s/70s
Historically, the temple’s property extended up to North of Uppukondan (near Valliyur) in the East right up to the foot of the Mahendra Giri, in the West. This entire stretch of lands had been handed to Lord Nambi by the kings. 300 years ago, when the British ruled, they paid Rs. 6000 per year in return for some of the lands which they wanted to use to develop roads and public interest activity. This was referred to as ‘Dastik Allowance’. In recent decades, the Government has stopped paying this fee to the Mutt.

Till 1956, under the administration of the 46 Pontiff Sri Satagopa Jeer, the temple maintenance had been good. He even had an exclusive ‘Maintenance department’ whose job was to focus on daily maintenance at the temple.  The Mutt has 2000 acres of wet land and 6000 acres of dry land.
Sri Perarulala Ramanuja Jeer, who has been the Pontiff since 2009, says that the temple went through a tough three decades from the early 1970s ‘The revenue from the lands held by the Mutt was good till 1970. Political interference changed the atmosphere and land revenue was affected in a major way. For 30 years, the Mutt had to encounter land cases, which they finally won. But during this three decade period, the maintenance of the temple took a big hit with a big financial crunch at the Mutt.’

During that phase, a couple of the archakas moved to Nanguneri from here.

Sundararajan says with a touch of sadness the lows that the residents went through. ‘In the late 1960s and 70s, Communist Unions were formed by farmers who started questioning the need to part with their income to the temple. With financial crisis hitting the Mutt, Paddy was given to service personnel only once in 6 months. Salary too was deferred indefinitely. It was a frustrating period for the traditional residents of Thiru Kurungudi.

And then Sundararajan was forced to pack his bags and leave Thiru Kurungudi to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

'It was around that time that my father directed me to go away and find a job elsewhere. A number of the traditionalists moved away from here. Farmers not parting with their produce and consequent difficulty faced by the Mutt to pay the salaries or paddy to service personnel led to the exodus.  I joined Wheels India in Madras and worked there for 35 years till 2006.’

The Entry of TVS and Venu Srinivasan in the mid 1990s was a turning point for both the temple and the residents of the temple town, says Thiru Narayanan. 'They have adopted the Thiru Kurungudi Village and undertaken several welfare initiatives here.' 

TVS' Hereditary house on the North Mada Street

Venu Srinivasan refuses to provide details of the initiatives on the welfare work saying 'it is there for the Villagers to see'. A large Photo inside the office of the Srinivasan Services Trust refers to the desilting work at Thirukurungudi-Periyakulam.
A big rise in Archaka’s salary
Since Sri Perarulala Ramanuja Jeer took over 8 years ago, he has focused on the recovery of revenues from lands and says that this has been a successful exercise. “The recovery has enabled the Mutt to build a sizeable corpus. When I took over the Mutt in May 2009, the salary of none of the service personnel including the Archakas had crossed Rs. 500. Now many of them get almost a 5 digit salary.”

The TVS Charities too have been presenting Sambavanai to all the 50 odd service personnel for the last couple of decades that has provided great financial security to them.

On Saturdays, devotees in several thousands now throng the Malai Mel Nambi temple, 6 kms from here to perform Ellu Archanai.
The temple and the surroundings have been largely undisturbed. The mada streets are still inhabited by Vaishnavites and remain largely clean, something that one does not find in most other Divya Desams. There is certain freshness in the air that is missing in the larger towns and cities. Dharmic Principles are discussed by the seniors in the town.

It is 4.30 pm in the evening. The traditional ladies are out once again as they line up the Mada Streets with the traditional white Pulli Kolam.

Sri Perarula Jeer calls it the ‘Golden Phase’ for Thiru Kurungudi with the Mutt getting back its financial strength and able to contribute a lot more to the temple.
The two sour points have been the demolition of the Shiva Sannidhi ( and the recent first of its kind sacking of two ‘Bhattars’ by the Mutt – one for leaving the country and performing aradhana at an overseas temple and the other for being irregular to the temple service. One hopes the Sannidhi will soon be back in the 2nd prakara. And also the ‘irregular’ Bhattar will be taken back for he has performed creditable service in the past, especially on big festive occasions ( the consensus among the senior residents is that he should reach out to the Jeer and seek his employment back).

A contended life, a house to live, food to eat and good health meant that most of the traditional residents lived a peaceful life through the first 60-70 years of the 20th Century.  Money did not matter to most of them. They lived in daily service to the Lord. Their basic needs were taken care of well by the Mutt. 

Sundararajan is now back to Thiru Kurungudi and doing what he has enjoyed most - Performing Kainkaryam and presenting Prabhandham in front of Lord Nambi. Over the last decade, he has also been teaching Prabhandham to the young kids. And that has given him great happiness. 

‘Manian’ Ramanujam and his wife have been performing service to the devotees ensuring that every single visitor is fed properly. They have also built a number of bathrooms and toilets to help visiting devotees.

Those who visit Thiru Kurungudi can contact him in advance 

for stay as well as food. Phone: 93605 48252/76673 81632 / 

04635 265692
Updated on Nov 9 (Thursday) : Following the heavy rains of the last week, the big canal in Thiru Kurungudi is now full and over flowing, much to the delight of the devotees and residents of this ancient temple town - a sight witnessed after many dry years. It is heard that this tank has been filled to the brim after a recent abhishekam performed for Ganthimathi Ambal at Nellaiappar Temple in Tirunelveli.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant one as usual, Prabhu...

Having read Sakkottai Krishnaswamy Aiyengar's, "South India and her Muhammadan Invaders" recently, the long route Kallazhagar travelled to be safe from the marauders and the role Thiru Kurunkudi played is very vivid in my mind. Seeing the inscription in your blog just brought the book alive.

Thank you !!

Anonymous said...

Well written Prabhu

Anonymous said...

Great job done by you in tracking all of these…
On reading these, there is some black spots but some confidence….a mixed feelings……..

Unknown said...

I've read this publication.The then Srikaryam of Swami Azhagiya Nambi Rayar's temple Sri.P.S.Krishana Iyengar Swami(purvasrama Thirumalai) personally visited Chapra which is typed erroneously as Chatram.This place was earlier in Bihar n now probably it belongs to Jharkund.