Monday, January 22, 2018

Thiruvali Thirunagari Divya Desam

A once vibrant Divya Desam with Prabhandham Scholars as a distinguishing feature saw a mass exodus after HR & CE captured power 

Thirumangai Azhvaar's 'Radiant' Temple Town resonated with the sounds of Conch, Chants and Dance (anklets) all the time - Till half a century ago, oil for lighting the lamp inside the temple and during Street Processions was extracted from Iluva Trees but those trees too are gone now as HR & CE shifted focus to 'Donor' Funding Methodology

Vedu Pari on the eve of Panguni Uthiram is still celebrated in a grand manner
The cluster of temples within a radius of a few kms in Nangur was praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar, who was born in this ‘Aali Naadan’ region with an exclusive decad in the Periya Thirumozhi. Collectively in each of these, except the ones in Thiruvali, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar refers to them as being in Nangur. He found the entire region impressive with tall groves and big mansions all around and Seers chanting the Vedas with great expertise.

Entering the region after visiting the Thaadalan temple in Sirkazhi (, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar first reached ‘Thiruvali – Thirunagari’ ( He was so impressed with the quality of life there that he dedicated three decads to the Lord.

The town resonated with the sounds of conch, chants and dance (anklets) all the time.

பாடல் இன் ஒலி சங்கின் ஓசை
பரந்து பல் பணையால் மலிந்து
எங்கும் ஆடல் ஓசை அறா
அணி ஆலி அம்மானே
 Several centuries after his description of the state of life in Thiruvali, the town seemed vibrant with Vedic and Prabhandham Chanting going into the 20th Century. Till 1950, the temple used to receive 1000 bags of paddy annually from the huge lands. This was distributed among the Kainkaryapakas who were residing in large numbers in the agraharam.

During the 19th century the temple was under the control of Edamanal Vijaya Raghava Naidu. They took care of the temple and helped the proper conduct of the festivals. In the first half of the 20th century, Keethi Pillai of Sirkazhi too managed the temple well and everything seemed to be going on track. During those 150 years from 1800, the temple had been in good shape with income accruing from the lands belonging to the temple helping run the poojas and the annual festivities in a grand manner.

Till the 1950s and 60s, the bhattars of Thiruvali Thirunagari were well respected and patronized. They were generally a contented lot and led a happy life performing daily aradhana for the lord. 4-5 bags of paddy were given to the kainkaryapakas such as the bhattars and parijarakas every month for their kainkaryam.

Lamp Oil from Ilupa Trees
Around the temple were found Ilupa Trees in big numbers. The leaves from these trees were crushed and large quantities of oil were extracted that was then used to light the lamp at the temple through the year. The oil thus extracted was also used for theevatti during the street processions of the Lord and Azhvaar reminding the then residents of the praise of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar as a location full of big trees and fragrant flowers.

When he first entered the Northern part of the Nangur region after having finished with his praise of Trivikrama at Kaazhichirama Vinnagaram, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar found Asoka Trees, Shenbagam and Jasmine flowers all around Thiruvali.

வந்து உனது அடியேன் மனம் புகுந்தாய்
புகுந்ததற்பின் வணங்கும்
என் சிந்தனைக்கு இணையாய்
 திருவே, என் ஆர் உயிரே

அம்  தளிர் அணி ஆர் அசோகின்
இளந் தளிர்கள் கலந்து
அவை எங்கும் செந்தழல் புரையும்
திருவாலி அம்மானே
He also found the region full of Serundi and Punnai trees. Valai Fish in paddy fields, male crabs resting on lotuses, bees humming sweet tones and the sharp beaked cranes caught his attention in Thiruvali. As he went around the temple town, he found lotus lakes, nectared groves, creepers and bamboo thickets.

‘புன்னையும் அன்னமும் சூழ்
புனல் ஆலி புகுவர்கொலோ’

‘புண்ணை மன்னும் செருந்தி வண்  பொழில்
வாய் அகன் பணைகள் கலந்து
எங்கும் அன்னம் மண்ணும் வயல்
அணி ஆலி அம்மானே’

மாதவன் தன் துணையா நடந்தால்
தடம் சூழ் புறவில்
போது வண்டு ஆடு செம்மல்
புனல் ஆலி புகுவர்கொலோ

The Vedic Seers of Thiruvali
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar reserves the greatest praise of Thiruvali for the Vedic Seers. Not just those he saw during his visit but the expertise of the Seers and their manner of teaching the youngsters initiating them into the Vedas led him to the view that generations of them had lived there and had passed on their knowledge to the succeeding generations. They were seen learning and teaching the chants, the sacrifices and the ritual practices.
சந்தி வேள்வி சடங்கு
நான்மறை ஓதி ஓதுவித்து
ஆதியாய் வரும் அந்தணாளர் அறா
அணி ஆலி அம்மானே

Chariot Festival and the Wide Streets of Thiruvali
தேர் ஆரும் நெடு வீதி
திருவாலி நகர் ஆளும்

Chariot festival was a feature on the annual calendar as can be seen from his reference to the wide streets of Thiruvali that allowed the Chariot of Vayalali Manavala to run.

So thrilled was he with what he experienced and saw at Thiruvali that he called it the ‘RADIANT’ City. 

 HR & CE drives out the Kainkaryapakas
 During his early childhood in the late 1950s and early 60s, Embar Rangachari, the Sthalathar of the Thiruvali Thirunagari Divya Desam remembers the agraharam as resonating with sounds of Vedic and prabhandham recital through the day. The Seva Kalam at Thiruvali was renowned in those days and a distinguishing feature. The Prabhandham scholars stood out for their style of presentation. Till the HR & CE take over there was Thatheyeeradhanam for visitors to the big utsavams including an exclusive one for the sacred Vaishnavite women.

And then the residents of Thiruvali felt the shock waves hitting them, something that they have not been able to recover from. Around 1950, the HR & CE took over the control of the temple, a move that spelt death knell for the traditionalists of Thiruvali.

Just two decades after the HR & CE takeover, basic sustenance had become difficult. Private agricultural lands held by the Kainkaryapakas were sold away following pressure from the Government policy. Almost the entire kainkaryapakas went away from the agraharam leaving behind just a couple of families at Thiruvali. A lot of them fighting for daily survival were wiped out from vaishnavite kainkaryam and for the first time in the late 1970s, one saw the Thiruvali traditionalists moving into the corporate world.

Since the takeover by the HR & CE, the nearby trees were cut resulting in loss of the oil, bemoans Embar Rangachari who spent his entire childhood and teenage years in Thirunagari in the late 50s and 60s.  Like with many other Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu, the takeover by HR & CE saw the drying up of income at the temple. 

The biggest negative swing over the last 50 years both at Thiruvali as well as at many other remote Divya Desams has been the financial maintenance and running of poojas and festivals has shifted completely to donors. 

The mandate of the HR & CE was clear – look for donors, get them to fund everything at the temple, while the income that was to accrue to the temple went elsewhere. Today the temple does not get even 50 bags of paddy annually down from the 1000 bags decades ago, though the temple continues to own 100 acres of land.

61 year old Embar Rangachari went to school, first in Thirunagari and then in Nangur. He was the first graduate in his family having gone to college at Poompuhar.  There was no electricity in his early childhood. There were no bus facilities to Nangur from anywhere. He and many other children would walk over 6kms to Nangur for their schooling. Later many students walked or cycled to Sirkazhi for their collegiate education.  There was not enough money to pay Rangachari’s college fees in the early 1970s and it was a financial struggle during those years. 
He just managed to sail through and became the first graduate in his family.  However years of financial struggle and the influence of the political class on temples in Tamil Nadu led to the migration of the original inhabitants away from Thiruvali Thirunagari as income went down dramatically in the temple.

One brother of the Embar Sthalathar family decided to hold fort at the Agraharam. Aali Naadan had a double MA and became a school teacher in Sirkazhi. He has been a resident of the agraharam for over five decades without ever moving out holding on to the Sthalathar rights and performing the duties each day at the temple without fail, ensuring the presentation of the Thiruppavai Satru Murai in the morning and Nithyaanusanthaanam in the evening. 

Establishment of Seva Trust ensures funding for the festivals and the celebration of the Brahmotsavam for Perumal in Panguni and the Avathara Utsavam for Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in Karthigai. 

A 1990s revival through Thiru Koshtiyur Madhavan
Soon after the Maha Samprokshanam at the Sowmya Narayana Perumal Divya Desam in Thiru Koshtiyur in 1992, Koshtiyur Madhavan found that a number of Divya Desams in remote locations in Tamil Nadu were lying in dilapidated state.  Four decades under the HR & CE had seen the deterioration of these ancient Divya Desam way beyond what one could have ever visualised. 

It was a period when Madhavan began visiting Divya Desams bringing along with him a group of volunteers. When he reached Thiru Nangur, he was in a state of shock for he found cobwebs all over the temple. The doors were infested with Karayaan. There were no lights inside, anywhere in these temples. There was not enough oil to light the lamps.  There was just a single Bhattar to take care of multiple temples in Nangur. 

In each of these temples, he recited the decad of pasuram relating to that temple and explained the meaning to the volunteers, as part of an educational exercise for them.

Madhavan felt energized after rendering these pasurams and felt inspired to bring these temples back to life. He came back to Madras and met with Ramachandra Wodeyar with a request. He asked for a Van to go around Divya Desams and bring back the lost glory of many of the ancient Divya Desams. He also requested him for ladders, tube lights, Vastrams cleaning powder, oil and related materials. 

With the group of around 15 volunteers, he came back to Thiru Nangur in the new van and cleaned up these temples. He installed lights in all of these temples. He organized oil to light the lamp in each of these temples. He collected provisions and presented to these temples for daily thaligai. In each of these temples, he presented Sahasranama Parayanam.

Repair Works at Thiruvali Thirunagari in the 90s
At Thiruvali Thirunagari, it was Thirukoshtiyur Madhavan who supported a phased repair work contributing over a lakh of rupees in the early 1990s that helped the Divya Desam survive a period of downturn even in simple maintenance works. If it had not been for his efforts in the early 1990s, the set of Divya Desams in Thiru Nangur might have gone into oblivion by now.

While the entire agraharam in Thirunagari was lined up with traditionalists chanting Vedas and Prabhandham in the early 1950s, one now finds just a couple of families hanging on to keep the daily poojas running.  There are even fewer in Thiruvali with the temple remaining in a largely uncared for state, unlike Thirunagari, the twin temple that is now tied together as one Divya Desam (along with Thiruvali) that has gained prominence with an agraharam, a Raja Gopuram and twin Chariots, one each for the Perumal and Thiru Mangai Azhvaar.
Like most of the other Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu, Thiru Nangur too has seen a dramatic revival in fortunes. The devotee wave that is sweeping TN temples has had a positive impact on Thiruvali Thirunagari. Over the last decade or so, the Vedu Pari Utsavam in Panguni ( has seen big devotee crowds. The Garuda Sevai on the Thai Amasvasya day in Nangur has led to the temple gaining eyeballs among the devotees. But all these may have come a generation too late.

It was once home to the best of vedic and prabhandham scholars but except for a few days in a year during the three big festive occasions, the entire agraharam and the streets around are rather quiet. 50 years of HR & CE rule has done its damage. The NextGen are now in colleges and into the corporate world away from the traditional Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu. The money is back in temples but the Kainkaryapakas are not there anymore.  There is a Sign Board of a Veda Patshala on the Mada Street but does not seem to have any inhabitants!!!

Bhattars too are seeking greener pastures
Padmanabha Bhattar, whose father had performed aradhana for a few decades at this Divya Desam, has been at the temple for the last 25 years but it has not been a greatly rewarding period financially. Like many of the descendants of the large Sthalathar family, the bhattar’s son too has joined the race for an engineering degree. And it is likely that after spending a huge amount on the college fees and related expenditure, he too will go the corporate way at the end of the course.

It might take another generation or two for the traditionalists to make a comeback into these remote temples.  Or if the corporate lure and the large cities bind them into the modern life style, the kainkaryapakas may have been lost to the remote temples for the foreseeable future.

Only time will tell.
PS: My interest in Thiruvali Thirunagari was inspired by Prabhandham Acharya Srihari Parthasarathy( who explained the intricacies of Thirumangai Azhvaar’s praise on this Divya Desam to his students a decade and a half ago

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