Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Koodal Azhagar Divya Desam

In the 1970s, the frustrated Bhattars of Koodal Azhagar Divya Desam in Madurai refused to open the Sannidhi door when a 'Single Devotee' turned up

In recent years, with overflowing crowd, only ticketed devotees are allowed inside to have a close darshan of the Lord and others are left to see the Lord from 'afar' !!!

75 year old Saathatha Vaishnava Srinivasan has been performing service at the Koodal Azhagar Divya Desam in Madurai temple for almost fifty years and is the oldest serving person at the temple having joined the temple service in 1970.  
Services of Saathathas
The Saathathas of Koodal Azhgar Koil ( have been bestowed with the responsibility of the outer door keys of the Moolavar Sannidhi. They also have a joint responsibility to bring the temple jewelry as and when required for the Lord. During processions, the Saathaatha Vaishnavas have the rights to carry the torch, a service referred to as ‘Thiru Mooga Bandham’

They also hold the rights of carrying the Kattiyam, the silver staff ahead of the Lord on processions to clear the ‘traffic’ ahead for the Lord to move smoothly through the length of the procession.

At the Moolavar Sannidhi, Saathathas have the duty of presenting the Tulasi for Archanai and the flower garland each day for the deity. The responsibility to pick up and hand over the provisions from the stores is also on them. 

For all the above services as per the 1980 order, Saathatha Srinivasan of Koodal Azhagar temple gets Rs. 40 per month!!!! And this has not been revised once in the last 40 years despite him having presented several petitions to the authorities.

A Share in the Archanai Ticket
The Saathathas have a share in the archanai ticket along with the archakas. They also have a share in alankaram fee, sahasranamam archanai as well as a share from the income for the wedding fees (wedding taking place inside the temple).

During the first decade of his service at the temple in the 1970s, he did not receive upwards of Rs. 50 per day from these different collections. During that period the archanai tickets at the temple never crossed 6000 a month including during peak in Puratasi (Saturdays) and during the Vaikunta Ekadasi period.

Historically, the Saathathas were given a 3acre 84 cent land North of Madurai in Aathalai for their services.  But rentals were never received from the land for several decades. And they just did not have enough money to fight this injustice in the courts.

Saathaatha Srinivasan currently has 15 days service every month as a Pandari. With the ‘Mirasu’ of Kanakku Pillai done away with, he also doubles up in that role at the temple for some additional income.

The scenario at the temple in the 1970s/80s
Till the 1980s, the scenario at the Koodal Azhagar temple, despite being in the heart of Madurai and very close to Meenakshi Amman Temple was so bad that the Bhattars for a large part stood outside the Sannidhi each day of the week waiting for the devotees to turn up. 
And when just a single devotee arrived, the frustrated Bhattar at the Perumal Sannidhi would redirect him to the Thayar Sannidhi and then to the Andal Sannidhi and Navagriha Sannidhi hoping that there would be a few more devotees by the time he finished these sannidhis so he could do a combined darshan for 3-4 devotees.

It is unthinkable now that there was once a period in the not so recent past when the Bhattars were so down on motivation that they were not so inclined to opening the big door that they had kept locked and providing darshan to a single devotee.

The case of more devotees coming in rarely happened. And the redirected devotee would turn up after 30 minutes to find the same bhattar standing in the same position at the outer entrance of the Perumal Sannidhi. This time the Bhattar had no option but to take him inside as the sole devotee for darshan.

And minutes later he returned to the same position at the entrance to wait out another couple of hours for the next devotee.

In those decades, the archakas and the parijarakas split their duty between the Sannidhi and the Madapalli. The archakas of the temple had Mirasu rights. But as was the trend in several other Divya Desams during the 70s and 80s, many of them went away from Temple Kainkaryam given the financial insecurity and the diminishing income. A number of the descendents moved into corporate jobs and the Kainkaryam is now carried out through their ‘relatives’.

An exclusive role for each inside the Sanctum
Four people had four different roles inside the sannidhi at the Koodal Azhagar temple. The Archaka would place the sacred Tulasi at the Lord’s feet and also perform the Thirumanjanam, Aradhanam and Alankaram. Another would break the coconut, clean and bring the sacred plate. A third one would recite the 108 names of the Lord while the Pandari was the one whose role it was to present the Tulasi to the Archaka.

How the Temple has gone down
with the rising power of the HR & CE

The Nandavanam replaced by Anna Dhanam Hall
Around the Thayar Sannidhi there was once a beautiful Nandavanam from where the flowers would be brought for the Lord and Thayar. Unfortunately the HR & CE, as seen in many temples elsewhere, has converted this into an ‘Anna Dhanam’ Hall.

There was another Nandavanam 3kms from the temple near the Madura College. Sathatha Srinivasan would go there every morning to collect flowers for the Lord. He would then knot it and present as a garland. But this too was taken away by the HR & CE. And garland services came to be handed to outside donors!!!

Sacred Well Closed
There was a historical sacred well behind the Chakkarathazhvaar Sannidhi till a few decades ago. The service personnel of the temple used to have bath there. Unfortunately this well has been closed and they now use bore connections for water!!!

Agraharam replaced by Shops and Lodges
There was a beautiful agraharam at the Eastern entrance of the temple that was home to around 20 families (bhattars and parijarakas).  This was in existence even till the 1970s. By 1980 they had begun selling their land and one now finds the once vibrant ‘Perumal Koil Agraharam’ filled with shops and lodges and many other high rise buildings right opposite the temple entrance.

Sthaneegas give way to HR & CE
Till the time the HR & CE took complete control of the temple, this one was under the control of the Sthaneegaas. Now they only hold the ‘mandapam’ rights of getting Theertham.

The Big Turnaround and Happy Bhattars
The Bhattars who a few decades ago looked out for that ‘elusive’ devotee now is at the receiving end at the other extreme. In the current scenario of the devotional wave that is sweeping the TN temples, the bhattars of Koodal Azhagar do not have a minute to relax even on week days. The Thattu Kaasu is overflowing. And added to that is the various external homams and samprokshanams that they take part in keeping them fully occupied all through the year. What a turnaround it has been in the last few years for the Bhattars and associated people in temples in the state.

Ticketed Darshan and Special access
The other system that this temple has had in place for long is that only the ticketed devotees have access to darshan of the Lord from the Artha Mandapa and the right to go around the inner prakara. The 'unticketed' free darshan devotees are restricted to have darshan only from far and without access to go around the inner prakara. Despite this month's court ruling preventing such special access to ticketed devotees, the temple continues to follow the old process leaving the unticketed devotees to have darshan only from outside.

Renovation Activity
The next Thiruppani is around the corner and has been pending for a while now.  There are court rulings in place on the steps preceding a renovation exercise ( It would be interesting to see as to how this unfolds. There have been many new additions inside the temple including the Anna Dhaana Koodam near the Thayar Sannidhi, the roof in front of the Thayar Sannidhi. There are additions elsewhere too inside the complex. The area around the Madapalli looks really dirty. The flooring in some of the sannidhis look too modern for comfort. 

One wonders if such additional constructions that have come up in recent decades will be removed and if the temple will be restored to its ancient past.

Time will tell but for now the Bhattars are having a happy time and are making up for last ground in the 60s and 70s.

1 comment:

markiv said...

Is this becoming another Tirupathi where 'ticketed' devotees are allowed near the lord ?!! Really sad .

Equally sad about the activities of HRCE dept !