Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sri Patham Thangis Srirangam

The special art of carrying the Lord has remained largely traditional at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam
As part of their apprenticeship, the Sri Patham Thangis used to practice on the Manal Veli for hours together in perfecting the different walking steps of Lord Namperumal

In the last 50 years, with the strengthening of the HR & CE department,  this historical selfless service assigned by Ramanuja has become a Government Job!!!  

A special and differentiating feature of the processions of Lord Namperumal at Srirangam is the way he is carried. The carriers of the Lord, referred to as Sri Patham Thangis were assigned by Ramanuja around a 1000 years ago.  Over the centuries the rights to carry Lord Namperumal came to be divided among the four Sthalathars – Uthama Nambi, Parasara / Veda Vyasa Bhattar, Annangar Swamy and Rangachar with the rights to man each of the four corners resting with one of them.

In those days there were 16 of them with one Chief manning each of the four corners based on seniority. There was also an order in the way the postures were taken. Left side of the Lord was first, then the right side followed by the right side on the back and finally the left side on the back took position. And it was not a straight forward case of appointment in the centuries gone by. One had to start off as a helper to the senior members of the team.

In a year, they carry the Lord on their shoulders on around 200 days.

As a mark of respect to the Lord and in recognition of the special service provided to them by Ramanuja, the Sri Patham Thangis wear the coloured turban (Ramanuja’s Kashayam coloured) on their head. This vastram on the head is a speciality at the Srirangam temple. 

A differentiating facet of the Sri Patham Thangis of Srirangam is that throughout the procession they carry the Lord on their shoulders. 

They are also accorded a special invitation with the Saattai of the temple beating the floor to get them to march to the sanctum to carry the Lord. Only after this invitation, do they step into the sanctum to take their positions. Such is the special respects provided to the carriers of the Lord at the Srirangam temple. 

The walking beauty of Namperumal and Sri Patham Thangis
Given that Lord Namperumal is renowned for his walking beauty, the Sri Patham Thangis, in the past, would practice the different walks of the Lord including Voyali, Simha Gathi and Sarpa Gathi each day in the Manal Veli on the Eastern side of the Ranganathaswamy temple.

In the early part of the century gone by, the new entrants would have to first prove their capability at the Kamalavalli Nachiyar temple in Woraiyur before being given an opportunity to carry Lord Namperumal at Srirangam.

There are 16 full time Sri Patham Thangis at the Ranganathaswamy temple, 4 for each of the four corners. All of them are now full time employees of the HR & CE department. On days that they do not have processional services, they perform Kainkaryam in smaller Sannidhis of the temple or manage the ticket counters.

82 year old Parthasarathy Iyengar performed this service for 50 years between 1950 and 2000. In the early days, he was paid a monthly salary of Rs. 27 which was then hiked to Rs. 35. Finally at the time of retirment, he received a salary of Rs. 4000 per month.

After performing only Sri Patham Kainkaryam for many years, towards the end of the 20th century they were also provided Sannidhi Kainkaryam and each of the Sri Patham Thangis began to take care of an individual Sannidhi at the Ranganathaswamy temple.

A Selfless Service becomes a Government Job!!!       
Only in the last 100 years or so, this became a paid service (employees) from the Kainkaryam that the four groups performed previously.  Times had become difficult and there were financial constraints. The British Government took over all the powers from them says 80 year old Singaperumal Uthama Nambi, a descendent of Uthama Nambi clan and a resident of Mela Uthira Veethi in Srirangam for over 70 years. 

He says that when HR & CE took over control of the temple, they started appointing Sri Patham Thangis as full time employees of the temple as against the historical precedence of this being a selfless service activity carried out by the four sthalathars.

The properties of Uthama Nambi too were taken away says Singaperumal Uthama Nambi with a tinge of sadness as to how this 1000 year old art went away from a ‘selfless service’ model to a ‘Government’ appointed job in the recent decades.

Singaperumal Nambi says that in centuries gone by they used to perform this sacred service of carrying the Lord with the help of their disciples. The disciples used to get the sacred food as a return for their service and they accepted it as a great blessing to be presented each day of the procession with the prasadam that included Dosai and Dhadhiyonam. And that was a great source of satisfaction for the Sri Patham Thangis for having carried the Lord on the day.

56 year old K Srinivasan is now the leader of the Sri Patham Thangi group. He had been trained to carry the Lord from a very early age. He was fascinated by this service and hence chose this.  He applied for the Government posting in the 1980s and has been a Government staffer for the last 30 years.
Voluntary Group of 200 to carry the Lord
Over the last 50 years, Srirangam Vethal Service, an informal group of over 300 volunteers based in and around Srirangam, have been providing selfless service of carrying the Lord, especially on long street processions, in addition to the official temple ‘Sri Patham Thangi’ appointees. It is with the support of these volunteers that the long trips of Namperumal are managed. 

It is pleasing to watch these volunteers gather in large numbers during the Panguni Brahmotsavam. They are seen at their best as hundreds of them take devotional turns to carry Lord Namperumal on his annual Panguni trip to Jeeya Puram on the outskirts of Tiruchirapalli. They are also present in big numbers in the evening for the Kona Voyali presentation on East Chitrai Veethi.
Devotionally, it would have been a happy scenario had Sri Patham Thangis remained a fully selfless service oriented group as was the case in the centuries gone by.  But despite the move to becoming Government staffers, the carrying of the Lord has remained traditional at Srirangam as they continue to carry the Lord on their shoulders even on long trips to Woraiyur and Jeeyapuram and during the procession on all the Uthira and Chitrai streets on the Panguni Uthiram day.  

At a time when the Lord is now carried on wheeled tyres in many Divya Desams including during Brahmotsavam and is placed on stools at regular stop-overs during processions, this special art of carrying the Lord on the shoulder with that distinctive coloured turban has remained traditional and operational without much deviation at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam.

And that is something to cheer about.


Anonymous said...

More often than not we tend to ignore the Sri Patham Thangis from the equation. May be that is to do with the fact that most of the temples have mechanised this function or may be we take them for granted. So it is good to be reminded about them and their service :)

markiv said...

Thank you for another interesting article. Sri Patham Thangi group is blessed one for sure.