Friday, November 24, 2017

Thiru Pullani Divya Desam

In the 50s and 60s, the agraharam on South Chariot Street was vibrant with devotional Prabhandham and Vedic recital being an integral part of processions 
The big financial stress in 70s and 80s,  led by the taking away of lands, saw mass exodus of the traditionalists from the agraharam
How a forward thinking initiative from an IAS officer transformed the water level in Thiru Pullani in the 1990s
The historical grandeur of Thiru Pullani, a Divya Desam on the banks of the Sethu Karai on the South East Coast of Tamil Nadu near Ramanathapuram can be seen from the two decads of praise heaped on the Lord by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar.
தன்னை விக்கிலேன் வல்வினையேன் தொழுதும் எழு

பொன்னை விக்கும் அப் பூஞ் செருந்தி மண நீழல்வாய்

என்னை நைவித்து எழில் கொண்ட அகன்ற பெருமான் இடம்

புன்னை முத்தம் பொழில் சூழ்ந்து அழகாய புல்லாணியே

Referring to the Lord as one residing by the sea shore, he says that the waves hit the shores with such thundering velocity that it looks like a galloping horse running at full speed.
கள் அவிழும் மலர்க காவியும் தூ மடல் கைதையும்
புள்ளும் அள்ளல் பழனங்களும் சூழ்ந்த புல்லாணியே

The waves wash ashore gems and precious pearls almost as if presenting it to the feet of the Lord.
விரவி முத்தம் நெடு வெண் மணல் மேல்
கொண்டு  வெண் திரை
புரவி என்னப் பதம் செய்து வந்துந்து  புல்லாணியே
All around Thiru Pullani, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar found Punnai, Serundi and Palm trees.

‘செழுந் தடம் பூஞ் சோலை சூழ்’, ‘பூஞ் செருந்தி போன் சொரியும்’,  ‘பொன்னலரும் புன்னை சூழ்’ புல்லாணி அம்மானை

Water birds were seen flocking in pairs, bees humming sweet music in the groves dripping with nectar while the birds were seen perched on the tall Palm trees.
உலவு கால் நற் கழி  ஓங்கு தன் 
பைம் பொழிலூடு இசை
புலவு கானல் களி வண்டு இனம் பாடு 

There were beautiful lakes that brimmed with water. 
இலங்கு முத்தம் பவள கொழுந்தும் 
எழில் தாமரைப்
புலங்கள் முற்றும் பொழில் சூழ்ந்த 
அழகாய புல்லாணிமேல்

The prosperity of Thiru Pullani could be visualized from the tall mansions described by him surrounding the temple.

Temple Legend
The Aathi Jagannatha Perumal temple in Thiru Pullani is one whose legend dates back to the Ramayanana. It is believed that Raama invoked the blessings of Adhi Jagannathan at this temple before he departed for Lanka. It was here that Vibheeshana, the brother of Ravana, came for refuge and surrendered to Lord Raama asking him for help and hence this is a temple said to be the most sacred for those devotees seeking ‘Absolute Surrender to Lord’. It was also here on the banks of River Sethu that Raama spread the Darbha grass and undertook a fast addressing Varuna (Sea Lord) looking to him for a solution to cross the sea.  There is a separate sannidhi for Darbha Sayana Raama at this temple.
Raama’s marks on Squirrel

The Squirrel, which on seeing the monkeys helping Lord Raama, too wanted to help out the Lord. Being small in nature, they could not carry the trees and boulders. Hence, they did something innovative. The squirrels rolled on the sand and then ran back to the Sethu Bridge and dropped off the sand that had stuck to their body. So impressed was Lord Raama that he rubbed the squirrels with warmth, a mark that remains to this day on the body of every squirrel.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar's praise and the first half of the 20th Century

Into the 20th century, things seemed bright, at least till the 1950s. The tall trees and the huge groves around the temple as described by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar were still around. The South Chariot Street was full of traditional residents with Bhattars, Parijarakas and Prabhandham Scholars discussing devotional aspects through the day and night. It was an agraharam that had over 200 residents. Periya Nambi, the acharya of Ramanuja, was the Sthalathar and held the rights for the first theertham at the temple.

Grand Festivals
The Chariot Festival was the biggest occasion in the year. People thronged in from 25 villages to pull the Chariot around the four big streets. As per the traditional system followed in this Divya Desam, the temple presented a large fixed quantity of Puliyotharai to the people from these 25 villages. They would hand this on the day of the Chariot festival to the head of each of the villages whose responsibility it was to distribute it amongst all the villagers. On this day, over 5000 people thronged the temple lining up to pull the wooden chariot.

Food was served to all the devotees through the entire period of the Brahmotsavam. There were multiple Dharma Chatirams dating back to the period of the Rayas that offered free accommodation to the visiting devotees.
Theerthavari was another grand occasion at the temple. Devotees in thousands accompanied the Lord to the Sethu Karai with the Lord being carried on the shoulders.

40 Divya Prabhandham specialists were present for the annual Brahmotsavam and accompanied by around a hundred Vedic Scholars, their devotional chanting during the processions carried positive vibrations to the residents. The people lived in contentment and were generally seen to be happy. 

Vadakalai - Thenkalai Unity
67 year old Raghuvira Dayal who has spent his entire life in this Divya Desam was a witness to the highs and lows of this historical location. His close friendship of many decades with 64 year old Raghupathy is an indication of the Vadakalai- Thenkalai unity at this Divya Desam. 
He says that in his teenage phase, the Bhattars and Parijarakars were sincere in their devotion. The Vadakalai and Thenkalai devotees stood alongside each other during the presentation of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham. There were at least 400 devotees listening in to the Satru Murai. Just the Theertham presentation took a full two hours to complete.

The Downward slide - Financial Stress
But with land being taken away by the government, the traditional residents found themselves fighting for survival. For a couple of decades from the 1970s, it was a grave period for the kainkaryapakas of this Divya Desam. There was a huge financial stress on them. It was the period of mass exodus away from Thiru Pullani.

For a long time in the post independent era, Pullani was left behind on the infrastructural development front. Just one long distance train passed through the nearby town of Ramanathapuram. There were no buses to Thiru Pullani. The road leading to the ancient temple town was muddy and full of sharp stones. Bullock cart was the mode of transport for most who sought to have darshan of Darbha Sayana Rama. This made it even more difficult for the devotees to come from far.

A long wait for a Devotee to turn up!!!
It was the phase when Jayaraman Bhattar joined the temple. The slide had already begun and he was not so keen to continue the Kainkaryam that his father Padmanabhan Bhattachar had performed since 1949 for he could see gloomy days ahead. While his brothers chose to go the corporate way, he finally decided to be alongside his father and began his service as a Bhattar in 1979. He is now the senior most Bhattar having been here for almost 40 years.
During those early years, there were no more than 10 devotees on any week day and the Bhattars were always waiting at the entrance of the Sannidhi for that elusive devotee. And when the devotee finally arrived, the bhattar would present the story of the divya desam with great devotion delighting the devotee, sending him into happy tears. On most days, Bhattars barely managed to get Rs.5 or 10 a day.

With no Divya Prabhandham scholars in sight and the temple in financial stress, by the end of the 1980s, the once vibrant Pagal Pathu and Era Pathu Utsavam too had to be discontinued.

All the ancient Dharma Chatirams were taken away by different authorities and are now being used for different purposes!!!

Bhattar Kainkaryam for 65 years
Fragile looking 86 year old Padmanabhan Bhattar symbolizes the devotional commitment of the Bhattars from the era, gone by. He joined the temple as an archakar before he turned 20 at a monthly salary of Rs. 15 having learned Sastras and Vaikanasa Agama for a decade prior. He performed aradhana for the Lord for almost 65 years way into his 80s till age finally caught up with him three years ago. He continues to visit the temple each day as a devotee!!! His wife Narayani performed the service of presenting Kolam at the temple for several decades and was paid Rs. 2 per month for this service.
In his early years of his service, he remembers the agraharam on the South Chariot Street comprising of a 100 families all living in great unity.  Once in a while he would get a Thattu Kaasu of 80 paise but it did not matter to him or his wife. To them, performing service to the Lord with total devotion came first!! Theirs was a big family but they lived a largely contended life. In those decades, 10 Padi thaligai was presented to the Lord each day. This has come down dramatically by almost 90% in recent times.

Revival of the Chakkarai Theertham
With the poor financial state and the overall gloomy scenario that had prevailed for a couple of decades, the temple had deteriorated by the end of the 1980s. The huge Chakkara Theertham in front of the temple bore no resemblance of a sacred tank and was seen with huge piles of mud. Bushes had grown tall and thick inside the tank. The steps of the tank lay hidden under the mud. There was stench all around. Added to this terrible state inside the tank was the one outside. There were encroachments all around the tank.

The stench was so bad that Munusami, now the president of Thiru Pullani Panchayat would close his nose while passing the tank when he went to school. Dogs that entered the tank would find their legs caught in the mud and died of stench, unable to move their legs. Around the temple tank one found encroachments all over. One could not even see the steps of the tank an indication of the debris that had engulfed the tank.
The then Collector of Madurai L Krishnan (IAS) was a staunch devotee of Aathi Jagannatha Perumal of Thiru Pullani. On one of his visits to the temple, he found the state of the tank and around to be deplorable. He was the one who initiated the restoration of the tank along with S. Muniyaswami who had just taken over as the President of the Panchayat and whose great grandfather had been the Peshkar at the temple. 

Just around this time Krishnan was transferred. Before he bid adieu to Lord Aathi Jagannathan, he told the new president of the Panchayat to pursue his idea of Rain Harvesting System, something that was unheard of at that time even elsewhere in the state.  Krishnan stressed on the importance of getting through this first stage of getting the water redirected into the tank and how in a matter of a few years, the residents would find a magical shift in the water level in the temple town.

Vijayakumar took over as the Ramnad Collector. Having heard of the suggestions of Krishnan, he called upon Munusami on his very first day of his office and asked him about his revival plans. Muniyaswami had drawn up a Rain Water Harvesting scheme that would redirect the monsoon rains from the Ponnadikal Odai (Canal) into the huge 16 feet deep tank. All of the water had previously been running into the sea through the western part of the town.
This system, that was ahead of its time, was immediately implemented and for the first time in many decades, the tank was filled with water. To the delight of the people, water level rose sharply in Thiru Pullani and by the next monsoon, all the wells were filled and there was joy all around. It was an initiative that even drew praise from the then CM J Jayalalitha.

Devotional Wave in Temples
At the turn of the century, things turned around for the temple and has now come a full cycle with a sudden wave of devotion that has caught on quite dramatically with the people. The Thiru Pullani temple now receives devotees in thousands over the weekends. On special festive occasions, the number runs into the high thousands with even the local residents not able to have darshan on those days. Money is pouring into the temple now positioned as a Parikara Sthalam.

However, Raghuvira Dayal sees a paradox in this positive turnaround ‘When I was a young boy, the temple reverberated with devotion. There was little money on offer but devotion was high with devotees staying through the 10 days of the Brahmotsavam. The traditional families later left the town for better livelihood. The descendents of the hereditary Bhattars now lay positioned in corporate jobs overseas. While the devotees are pouring in money into the temple, the Divya Prabhandham chanting has come down to single digit. And the Vedic Chanting has become almost non-existent. There are not even a 100 to accept the thaligai presented during the Brahmotsavam as against the several thousands who were fed 50 years ago on each of the ten days. Divya Prabhandham and Vedic teachers are in short supply and the students even more. Now, the devotees always seem to be in tearing hurry. While there is crowd in large numbers, they do not stay at the temple for even half a day.’

Income from Temple lands
When Government took over the temple lands, they had to make periodic payment at a fixed rate (Rs. 6 was a rate fixed for Paddy 50 years ago). There has not been a single revision of this rate in 50 years. Worst still, in the last 10 years, the temple has not received any income from these lands. However, the Ramanathapuram Samasthanam ensures that the monthly provisions to the temple and the salary to the staff are paid on the 1st of each month even though the salary to the Bhattars continues to remain at a very low figure of Rs. 1500!!!! The Samasthanam has 56 temples under their administration but not enough financial strength to compensate the bhattars suitably.

Good News for the Future
There is some good news around the corner. The original inhabitants have in recent times bought back the pieces of land they had sold decades ago. Almost two hundred traditional families have built houses South West of the temple in recent years. 

Legendary TVS Iyengar was a staunch devotee of the Lord of Thiru Pullani and he would come and stay here every year. Over a decade ago, his Grand Son Venu Srinivasan, who has been associated with rehabilitation of the society in Divya Desams in Nava Tirupathi and Thiru Kurungudi, visited the temple and adopted a nearby village.  
Developmental Initiatives in Thiru Pullani Region
Venu Srinivasan’s trust has taken up several developmental activities in Balwadi Village near Thiru Pullani thereby bringing economic prosperity to the rural communities there. In the last five years, the trust has conducted training programmes educating the villagers on several income generation opportunities. The team has also educated the people on hygienic habits to help build healthier communities around Thiru Pullani.

The percentage of anemic women has reduced from 12% to 5% over the last five years in the village. The trust has also conducted career guidance programme in school as well organized education classes for the adults with the result that the literacy rate has gone up from 78% to 98%. Interestingly, it has also resulted in the attendance in classes going up to 99% from around 80%. There have been no cases of school drop outs reported in recent years. The Balwadi Village has now become a model village for others to follow in the Thiru Pullani region.

His trust has also taken up the de-silting of Ponnamkali Kalavai and has constructed two check dams to direct the flow of rain water into the temple town thereby providing relief during drought.
There is a general sense all around Thiru Pullani that the original inhabitants would one day, very soon, come back to this temple town to revive its ancient glory, especially the grandeur of the big festivals.

The temple is open between 8am –12.20pm and 330pm-8pm

Contact : Jayaraman Bhattar 94439 20136

1 comment:

markiv said...

Nice article, heard from discourse, King Dasharatha prayed Adi Jagannatha Perumal here for progeny. Regards, Vikram