Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Srirangam Namperumal Jeeyapuram Utsavam

The story of how True Devotion brings the Lord to you
100s of devoted Vethal Volunteers of Srirangam carry Lord Namperumal through a 5 ½ hour long trip to Jeeyapuram through Pits and Pot Holes on a narrow dark path on Friday night

The dark night takes a toll on Sri Patham with one of them receiving a Scorpion bite on the return trip
This week in Panguni sees two of the longest trips of the year for Namperumal, the utsava deity of the Lord Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam. Last Friday (March 23), on the second evening of the Panguni Brahmotsavam, Namperumal left for a night long ‘Stoney’ and ‘Thorny’ 15 km trip to Jeeyapuram, West of Tiruchirapalli and on the Southern banks of Cauvery. In under a week of this trip, he will make another long trip this time across the Coloroon to the Ellaikarai Mandapam North of Srirangam this Thursday (March 29). In between these two long trips, he also makes a ‘secret’ trip to meet his beloved in Woraiyur ( the procession started this Tuesday (March 27) morning at 3am.

The story goes that the Lord answered the sincere prayers of an old lady in Jeeyapuram and decided to come all the way out of Srirangam crossing the Cauvery to provide a surprise darshan to her.

The centuries old trip has historically been one of the most tedious for Namperumal. And this time proved no different.

Leaves his abode in Srirangam
When he set foot for his trip at 9pm on Friday evening, there was a buoyancy at the temple with several hundreds of devotees waiting at the Ranga Vilas Mandapam to accord him a warm send off for a day away from the temple. And as he made his way around the South and West Chitrai Streets, it looked that the devotees were delighted to be part of this long night for the Lord as they lined up both sides of this traditional street in large numbers and walked along with the Lord who was flanked in the front by the Divya Prabhandham Ghosti and in the back by the Veda Parayanam Ghosti.

At the Northern exit point of Srirangam, the Divya Prabhandham Ghosti presented the Satru Murai verses to bid good bye to the Lord for the rest of his trip.

Welcoming the Lord on Melur Road
There has been a big development in recent times on the previously deserted Melur Road on the Western side of Srirangam with big modern residential complexes lining up the road with the centuries old Thathachariar Garden being one of the few remaining groves on the Southern side of the road providing the much needed greenery to this temple town. Hundreds of families have moved into these new complexes and they welcomed the Lord along this stretch. 
Shortly after 11pm, Namperumal entered Melur to a grand welcome from the residents with the entire village staying back late. Fruits, flowers and coconuts were showered on the Lord at different halting points at this small village and there was devotional fervour all around. The Vethal team, a voluntary service unit of the Srirangam temple to carry the Lord on outside street processions, too was all excited till this point. There was vibrancy to this trip till the halts in Melur.

While the 16 HR & CE appointed Sri Patham Thangis carry out the service inside the temple, it is the 100s of Vethal Volunteers who carry the Lord on their shoulders on long processions and on occasions like Voiyali.

But as the Lord left Melur close to mid night, the energy began to sap. A few kms West of Melur, the tar road gave way to a path that was filled with sharp stones. There were no lights on the narrow route. For over two hours, there were no devotees leaving one to admire the selfless service of the Vethal Sri Patham Thangis in carrying the Lord on dark streets, stoney and muddy path that was full of pot holes, with space just enough for the Lord to be carried.

Past mid night, the Lord crossed Butterfly Park on the Western Outskirts of Melur. By 1am, the Sri Patham Thangis already had bruised feet and many sat down to remove the thorns that had penetrated on to their feet.  
As the clocked ticket to 1.30am, the Lord crossed Oosikan paalam to deafening silence with no signs of any devotees in the vicinity. The Lord was flanked on the right by tall Eucalyptus trees said to belong to the temple and on the left by Cauvery.

100s take turns to carry the Lord on the Dark Road
Every 15 minutes, the Vethal Volunteers took turn to carry the Lord. A number of temple staffers and the priests/ Kainkaryapakas took the easy option of making it directly via the Coimbatore National Highway to the banks of the Cauvery at Jeeyapuram leaving the Vethal Volunteers to their own to wade through the holes, stones and sliding pits that were a continuous feature all through a long stretch of the narrow pathway after Oosikan Palam. A couple of Theevattis was the only source of light. 
It was almost close to 2 am when the Lord crossed Kuthu Adi Amman Koil, another landmark on this long journey to Jeeyapuram. A few of the Sri Patham Thangis took time out here to attend to their injuries and bruises while the Lord continued on his trip.
No Devotees in sight for over two hours
A van with a power generator led the Lord in the front but unfortunately through the entire trip the lights hit directly into the eyes of the volunteers and proved more of a distraction than a help to the Sri Patham Thangis. Repeated requests to turn down the focus light went unheard causing additional stress on the volunteers.

Srinivasan, the Sri Patham Thangis Head has been on this trip for three decades and as he walked along, he narrated the tale from his younger days in the 1980s and 90s ‘In the decades gone by, the Lord used to go further North West of Melur, cross the Coloroon, visit Kiliyanallur  and Karugamanickam villages  before coming back into the Melur road. I myself have carried the Lord across the Coloroon to these two villages till the mid 1990s.” 
“But the big advantage in those earlier decades was that Lord Namperumal would cross the Cauvery West of Melur  near the Vrikshi Mandapam making it a lot easier for the Sri Patham Thangis.  From the end of Melur, the Lord waded through the Cauvery to reach Jeeyapuram. However, the construction of a number of burial grounds alongside the Cauvery has made it unviable for the Lord to use the historical pathway through the Cauvery. It is easier to carry the Lord through the sand of the Cauvery as it provides for a better grip. This current route through sharp stones and very narrow path makes it a very difficult journey and it is commendable of the Sri Patham Volunteers to carry the Lord non-stop for over five hours despite the deep strain caused to them, physically.”

Finally after five hours, the Lord reached the Northern banks of Cauvery at 2am. There were about a 100 devotees waiting there at the Cauvery waiting to have a darshan of the Lord. The Lord made his way through the thigh deep water in the Cauvery to reach the Southern banks. 
It had been a breathtaking 5 ½ hour effort by the Sri Patham Thangis to carry the Lord on their shoulders without placing the Lord on the artificial stools even once, a unique feature of the processions of Namperumal.

The clock had ticked to 2.30 am when the Lord reached the Asthana Mandapam in Jeeyapuram to halt for the night. The first phase of this long trip had been done but there were no official arrangement from the temple for these volunteers and all of them had to find their own accommodation for the night.

Curd Rice and Keerai for the Lord – Reminiscing a historical episode
Three hours later, at 5.30am on Saturday (March 24) the Veda Parayana Ghosti presented Vedic Recital following which the Lord was presented with a special Thaligai comprising of mangoes, keerai and curd rice.

For the next 4 ½ hours, the Lord went around Jeeyapuram and the surrounding villages including Vellala Street, Ammangudi and Anthanallur providing darshan to the devotees. As he made his way through this historical agraharams, the residents reminded themselves of the story of the old patti and how true devotion can lure the Lord your way as they folded their hands to invoke the Lord’s blessings.

True Devotion brings the Lord to you
A grandmother hailing from Jeeyapuram doted on her shepherd grandson. She was a staunch devotee of Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam though she had not seen him being in this far away Jeeyapuram. Invoking the blessings of Lord Rangantha, every day she would send curd rice and keerai to her grandson for lunch. The story goes that Lord Ranganatha was so moved by the sincere devotion of this old lady and her care for her grandson that He decided to provide darshan to her by coming over here. Disguised as the grandson, he reached Ammayar Pandhal in the afternoon. As usual the grandmother made her way to hand over the lunch to her grandson. A pleased Lord had a filling lunch and thanked the grandmother. In the evening when the grandson returned home, he enquired as to why she had not brought food that day and if all was well with her. When she told her grandson that she had indeed come that afternoon and that he had enjoyed the food as always, the boy denied it.

It was then that the Lord of Srirangam appeared before her and applauded her for the curd rice and Keerai that he had taken earlier in the day and provided darshan to the delighted grandmother.

It is in memory of this episode that Lord Namperumal makes this annual trip to Jeeyapuram to reach here on the third morning of the Brahmotsavam in Panguni. 

Balasubramaniam and Balachandran have been residents of the Agraharam in Jeeyapuram for several decades having been born and brought up here.
They have seen the Srirangam Lord’s trip from close quarters over the decades “There were periods when Cauvery was to the brim and the Lord would wade through high waters to reach the Southern Banks. It was a great sight to watch the Lord cross the Cauvery in the decades gone by. To this day, curd rice and keerai is presented to the Lord on the morning of his trip here.”

Govindarajan and his family have been residents of the agraharam at Jeeyapuram for the last five decades. It is one of the very few houses in the agraharam to retain the ancient traditional look ‘We decided long ago not to modernize the house as this house reminds us of the old world charm and the times we lived in.’ 
As the Lord made his way through the different streets of Jeeyapuram, there was frenetic call to take him quickly past the railway gate for it was time for the morning train to pass by. The Sri Patham Thangis rushed just in time before the gate came down at the Jeeyapuram station. During the trip not only did they have to steer clear of stones and pits but also had to be mindful of the train timings to prevent the Lord from getting stuck at gates. 
A full 4 ½ hours later the Lord was back at the Jeeypuram asthana mandapam following a Theerthavari in front of the dry tank!!

The entire place wore a festive look through the day with temporary shops lining up entire Jeeyapuram. Children from all the neighbouring villages were seen in large numbers. The stalls made brisk business selling balloons and toys for the kids to play with.

By 5.30pm, thousands of devotees had positioned themselves atop the big mound overlooking the Cauvery to have a darshan of Namperumal for one final time on this annual trip. Sharp at 6pm, Namperumal began his long trip back to Srirangam through the same narrow stone filled path.
A Scorpion Bite!!!
The 10 hour procession (5 ½ hours to Jeeyapuram the previous night and the 4 ½ hours around Jeeyapuram on Saturday morning) had taken a big toll on the Vethal Volunteers, Many were seen with bruised shoulders and bleeding feet. And to top it, one of the Sri Patham Thangis was bitten on the night by a scorpion from inside the bushes just past the Butter Fly Park near Melur.

As the Lord crossed Melur after a few Mandagapadis, the Sri Patham Thangis were in no mood for anymore stopovers and thus the residents in the residential complexes on the Melur Road were given a go by with the Lord rushing back at a fast pace to the Melur Road Junction in Srirangam, where a huge crowd had gathered to welcome the Lord back to their abode.

Joined by the Prabhandham Ghosti at the North Chitrai Street, the Lord made his way back to the Sanctum just before mid night on Saturday bringing to end a long and tiring trip.

Sri Patham Thangis’ Commendable effort on two successive nights
The role of the Vethal Volunteers had to be commended, for without battling an eyelid and keeping their devotional commitment through the 30kms trip, they carried the Lord on difficult unlit roads unmindful of the physical injury. 
Ahead of the Utsavam, it would not have cost the Srirangam Temple much to lay a tar road, either in association with the Corporation or from the Temple Funds, leading to the Northern Banks of Cauvery at Jeeyapuram to make it easier for the Sri Patham Thangis especially given that both the trips (to and fro) take place in the dark and a well laid road would prevent physical leg injuries to the Sri Patham Thangis. But that was not to be. No temple staffer walked along with the Lord through these two trips. Some took the easier route of reaching Jeeyapuram through the National Highway while a couple of them sat on the van.

Just before mid night on Saturday, the Sri Patham Thangis were offered a sumptuous dinner at the Natha Muni Sannidhi. Their shoulders were seen with blood clots and their feet bruised. But to them, many who had come from Madras, the service to the Lord was foremost and they were back the next morning for the 4th day procession along the Chitrai Streets. 

A 11 hour trip to Jeeyapuram and back offers a great devotional opportunity to the residents of Srirangam to be exclusively alongside the Lord and to experience the joy of long trips of the Lord. But no devotee from Srirangam stayed through the trip with the Lord with all of them taking the easier option of receiving him in Jeeyapuram on Saturday morning and at Srirangam on Saturday night. That way they will appreciate better the efforts and devotional commitment of the Sri Patham Thangis.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

VV Kumar R Ashwin Irani Trophy 2018

Legendary leg spinner VV Kumar hits out at R Ashwin for making a mockery of the Prestigious Irani Trophy match 
As the legendary leg spinner VV Kumar, who picked up 599 wickets in first class cricket sat in front of his TV set on the first two days of the Irani Trophy match earlier this week, he was in for a shock. He saw Indian off spinner R Ashwin bowling leg spin in the first innings of the match when the Vidarbha batsmen had got off to a good start.

Right from his playing days, VV Kumar saw the Irani Trophy as one of the most important  and in many cases the final step in the ladder to donning the Indian cap.  Everyone gave their best in the Irani Trophy. In the 1980s, either side of the decade, two openers from Tamil Nadu, K Srikkanth and VB Chandrasekar presented scintillating performances in the Irani Trophy to catch the eye of the selectors.  
From his Twitter Page
But here was an experienced Indian bowler with over 300 Test wickets making a mockery of the match trying his newest variation- the leg spin- when the opposition was knocking the stuff out of the Rest of the India side.

In an exclusive chat with prtraveller, VV Kumar extolling anger at the experimentation in a prestigious match said, 'When he should have led the attack from the front and tried to get wickets to halt Vidarbha’s rampaging progress, I saw him experimenting with leg spin. This is completely unacceptable for an India bowler to treat an Irani Trophy match as an experimental ground especially when his team was floundering. Were the national selectors watching what Ashwin was doing.' 

During my playing days,  such an attitude of an international cricketer would have had serious repercussions on the player. And neither the national nor the state selectors would have tolerated such an action by a senior player.

On a technical front, VV Kumar said, ‘An off spinner has to try his variations  with off spin. It is fair of him to expand and widen his repertoire. But an off spinner cannot start bowling leg spin in a match stating ‘variations’ as a reason. That is just not on. It is making a mockery of the importance of the match. Both the state selectors as well as the national selectors have to come down strongly upon such experimentations in serious and prestigious matches.'

It may be recalled that earlier this season, Ashwin repeatedly tried such variations even in Ranji Trophy matches. In the very first match of the Ranji Season against Andhra, such experimentation almost led to Andhra chasing out  a Challenging target on the final day at Chepauk.

'His leg spin experiments did not help TN in the Ranji Trophy as well. Though he played a number of  domestic matches this season, he did not help TN win any of them. And that does not speak well for an Indian bowler.'

Don't experiment in State Matches
A furious VV Kumar ended stating  that Irani Trophy or for that matter even the Ranji Trophy is not a platform for such 'leg spin' experimentation and selectors should not tolerate such abuse of powers by a senior player of the Indian team.

Leg Spin for TN in Vijay Hazare Tournament
Recently a senior umpire also expressed anger after watching Ashwin bowl leg spin in the final stages of a closely fought one day match for Tamil Nadu 'One of the balls turned so wide that it was called a wide. Another ball too turned wide for it to be hit away. It was shocking to see him bowl leg spin when there was a match to be won for Tamil Nadu.'

Tamil Nadu lost that match narrowly.

State Selector hits out at the Senior Players
Very interestingly, just two weeks ago, after coming back from his duties as a Match Referee, Chairman of State Selection Panel S Sharath in an interaction with this writer at the St. Bedes ground said in almost a provoking gesture that writers like me do not write on the wrong doings of top players such as Ashwin and Vijay (who pulled out very late from an important State match recently) that allows them to act as they want!! 

On the day of Tamil Nadu being knocked out of this season’s Ranji Trophy, Sharath was quoted as saying that he would look at wrist spinners for the next season. It is sincerely hoped that he did not have Ashwin in his mind. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Coimbatore Cricket Grounds

Forest College closes for cricket after four decades following a financial disagreement with CDCA

Kalli waves his bat at his Team Captain, while Kicha raises his bat to his new ‘House’ Captain in the late 1970s at the Agri and Forest College Grounds

A 12 wicket haul at the Agri ground in Jan 65 earns Venkat his Test Cap
VV Kumar flies from Calcutta to play on the Jute Matting to help Madras beat Mysore

‘Dey Chinna - Paiya, choose the New Ball’ Venkat tells an excited young K Bharath Kumar at the Forest College in 1978 
A historical cricket ground in Coimbatore with a beautiful Turf wicket, the only one in the city, has been finally laid to rest as a result of a financial disagreement between the Coimbatore District Cricket Association and the ground authorities.

The Picturesque State Reserve Forest College (formerly Madras Forest College) ground has played host to many a cricket battle both at the state level as well as in the local league.  Many State cricketers presented some of their most memorable performances here at this ground. It has also been a ground that has laid the foundation for many a promising cricketer from the districts.

The ground flanked by the British period Pavilion (renovated only a decade ago) at the Western End and the historic clock tower at the Far Eastern end dates back a 100 years. Some of the matches find a mention in the annual year book brought out by the erstwhile Madras Forest College.

It was here on the Matting wicket that the Tamil Nadu opener of the 1970s V Krishnaswamy  scored his first and only Ranji Trophy Century and presented it as a gift to his new married wife Radha way back in 1978.

1 km West of the Forest College ground and at the foot of the famous temple dedicated to Lord Subramanya in Maruthamalai is the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) ground that too has played host to some outstanding performances that were milestones in the careers of players.

It was in 1981 that a turf wicket was laid at the Forest College ground. It was on that newly laid turf wicket that a memorable Ranji Trophy match was played in January 1982 that saw legends such as Venkataraghavan and MV Narasimha Rao take on each other for supremacy in the South Zone Ranji Trophy league. It also saw upcoming stars such as Mohd Azharuddin and Arshad Ayub showcase their talent to the cricket fans of Coimbatore. A decade later, in 1992, Azhar was to return to the same ground, this time as a cricket legend of Indian cricket and with a huge fan following.

Historic Performances at the Agri Ground
60 years ago, in December 1958 in one of his first big performances in first class cricket, a then young leg spinner VV Kumar (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2007/07/cricket-tales-exclusive-with-vv-kumar.htmlpicked up 6 wickets against a strong Mysore team.

That match remains etched in his memory ‘I was playing a tournament for Philips at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta and flew down to play this Ranji match in the first week of December. It was on a Jute Matting wicket at the Agri Ground in Coimbatore. It was not easy to turn the ball on a Jute Matting unlike the later day Coir matting wickets. And Mysore was very strong side that comprised wonderful players like B Frank and Krishnaswamy. I was very pleased to have contributed to our side’s win on first innings lead.’ 
A year later, he came back to Coimbatore and to the very same jute matting wicket at the Agri ground and picked up 6wickets in each innings turning in a star performance against Kerala and securing victory for Madras. Very soon he made his debut for India.

‘Even though it was a very difficult wicket to bowl on for a leg spinner, I enjoyed the challenge and used flight in the air to prize out the wickets for our State. That gave me a lot of satisfaction to have picked up wickets two years in a row on very difficult track for a leg spinner.’

The Agri ground performance and Venkat’s Test Debut
In January 1965, Venkataraghavan still in his teens picked up 12 wickets at the Agricultural College matting wicket as he spun Madras to a 2 day victory against Andhra. This Agri haul helped him secure him a place in the Indian team for the first test just a month later against New Zealand.  
Cricket in Coimbatore in the 1970s
Two matches stood out in the 1970s one at the Forest College and the other at the Agricultural College ground. Both had one thing in common – ‘Gifting’ after a personal batting milestone and interestingly at the opposite end of the batting order!!!

For almost a decade from the late 1960s, legendary off spinner and TN Captain S Venkataraghavan had the greatest respect for the bowling abilities of TN Ranji Finals hatrick star B Kalyanasundaram (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2011/08/kalli-b-kalyanasundaram.html). Years ago in a telephonic conversation, Venkataraghavan told prtraveller as to how he would go to Kalli for a breakthrough whenever the spinners (Venkat himself and VV Kumar) were held at bay by the opposition and how Kalli would almost always deliver the important breakthrough.

However what did not go off well between Venkat and Kalli during the 1970s was the dressing room discussion on the batting ability of the latter. Kalli always believed that he was a good bat and wanted to prove that to his captain. Further embarrassing Kalli, Venkat enticed him with a bet if he managed to reach 25 in a Ranji match.

Eager to prove a point to his captain and batting with determination, Kalli reached 24 NO at lunch in a Ranji match at Tellicherry. And was all ready to be padded up once again after lunch when he heard a big roar of laughter in the dressing room. To his shock, he found that Venkat had announced the declaration to the opposition captain without his knowledge leaving him just one run short of winning the bet. Kalli was furious with his captain that day for denying him that extra run!!!

However, the determined player that he was, he chose the Agri college ground in Coimbatore, a place that was to be his place of residence for 11 years ( he moved to LMW only that year) to win over the batting laurels from his captain.

By September 1976, Kalyanasundaram had played almost a decade of Ranji cricket. He had been on the verge of India selection a few years earlier but the time had almost come for him to move on from cricket. There was also severe pressure on him to continue to perform to stay in the team. And Chairman of Selectors and Team Manager CR Rangachari was particularly gunning for him with a young Bharath Kumar staking his claim. 
                                      Kalli Seen with SVPB Opener S Sukumar
After TN had bowled out Andhra on the opening day, the team had managed a slender lead on the 2nd but had lost 8 wickets when Kalli joined wicket keeper Bharath Reddy. Venkat this time had indicated his intention to declare unlike the surprise call in Tellicherry. Kalli, though, was not to be undone this time and was all charged up to achieve the batting goal of his Ranji Career. With the blessings of Lord Subramanya (who was just a few kms away in Maruthamalai), Kalli raced through to his milestone and raised his bat towards his captain at the pavilion at the Western End in a gesture of ‘I have done it’.

The professional that he was, the moment Venkat declared the innings closed and as Kalli made his way back to the pavilion, he presented Rs. 25 to Kalli in the presence of all his teammates, something Kalli says was one of his happiest moments in cricket – to receive the prize from the cricketing legend.
Buoyed by this acknowledgement from his captain, Kalli burst into the attack and ran through the Andhra innings picking up 5wickets making it a delightful experience for him at the agri ground. For almost ten years, he went on to play at the Forest College and Agri College for his employer LMW in the first division of the Coimbatore league.

It was also at the Agri College ground that Ranji Cricketer NP Madhavan ( http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/05/np-madhavan.html) played one of the best knocks witnessed at the ground with a terrific match winning century against Salem for Coimbatore in an inter districts match in 1982, soon after he joined SVPB Udumalpet from IOB.

Brijesh Patel who was drafted in by Soundararajan of SVPB Udumalpet had played many a sparkling innings at the Forest College in the mid 1980s.
Kicha’s gift to his wife
Two years later, in November 1978, the forest college hosted the Ranji match once against Andhra. TN opener of the decade V Krishnaswamy (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/08/krishnaswamy-v.html)  had just got married earlier in the year and his wife Radha (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/08/radha-krishnaswamy.html) too was present at the ground. Historically this ground was called the Madras Forest College ground and then subsequently in the 2nd half of the 20th century had been renamed as State Reserve Forest College ground. 
Like Kalli a couple of years earlier, Kicha too was in his final days as a first class cricketer. And like Kalli, he too had a point to prove with the bat before his retirement. There was a milestone missing in his stats and he was keen to hand that as a gift to his wife.

A couple of years prior to this trip to Coimbatore, Kicha had played one of his best innings in Ranji cricket on a difficult wicket in Salem against Andhra but his knock went in vain as TN lost by a single run that he looks back as the State’s worst defeat of the decade.

This time Krishnaswamy with his long standing opening partner from the college days, V Sivaramakrishnan put on a century stand at this beautiful and picturesque ground with the Blue Mountains as the back drop.

Kicha reached his maiden hundred in Ranji cricket in front of his wife who was cheering him on all the way through as a spectator.  And like Kalli did to his team captain, Kicha too waved his bat high, not to his team captain but to his ‘house’ captain bringing big cheer from the entire team in the dressing room!!!!

‘Dey Kurangu New Ball Choose Pannu’
The match at the forest college is also famous for another milestone. It was the first match for K Bharath Kumar under Venkat’s captaincy. Bharath had made his debut the previous year after Kalli’s retirement.

Bharath remembers those moments after the declaration ‘Venkat shouted out in his typical way. ‘Dey, antha chinna paiyan kitta new balls kuduthu choose panna sollu’. Venkat always used to address Bharath as ‘Chinna Paiyan’ and took special care of him. When Bharath couldn’t believe what he had just heard, he asked if really he was to choose the ball which brought even more of Venkat’s love for him ‘Dey Kurangu choose the new ball quickly’. 
It was a great moment for the young Bharath to be given this honour in his very first match under the legendary captain. He had heard that Venkat and the spinners would come very early on into the attack and hence he considered it an honour to be asked to choose the new ball.

Andhra ended day 2 (1st day had been washed out) at 20/4 with the wickets being shared. The next morning, Bharath recalls, Venkat surprisingly threw the ball at him even though he and Vasudevan had ended the previous evening. In one of his best early spells in Ranji cricket, Bharath Kumar ran through the Andhra innings in a fiery spell on the third morning bringing the Andhra innings to an end before the first hour had been completed. After Kicha’s century, Bharath Kumar picked up 5 wickets conceding just 4 runs. Andhra was bowled out for its lowest ever score in Ranji cricket for just 29. Another great landmark for TN cricket at this historical ground in Coimbatore.

That spell at the Forest College gave Venkat a lot of confidence in Bharath and he gave him many long spells over the next few years including 40 overs each against strong Bombay and Delhi teams.

Vasudevan bundles out a strong Hyderabad
Just ahead of the biggest match seen by the city until then, a new turf wicket was laid at the Forest College ground, the first in the city. In January 1982, the forest college ground played host to a star studded Hyderabad Ranji team captained by India cricketer MV Narasimha Rao that locked horns with Venkat’s TN. 
All the fans were also eagerly looking forward to another star, the elegant TE Srinivasan who had made his test debut against Hadlee and New Zealand the previous year and whose supposed verbal dual with Gavaskar was the talk of the town that January.  Temporary tents had been put up all around the ground with the pavilion at the South end.

Two relatively unknown names were also part of the Hyderabad team - Mohd Azharuddin still a teenager was making waves in local cricket in Hyderabad and Arshad Ayub was seen as a successor to Shivlal Yadav.

But they all came a cropper against S Vasudevan who in a terrific spell on the first afternoon in which he claimed 5 wickets triggered a sensational collapsed as Hyderabad lost 8 wickets for 30 runs. Vasudevan looks back at that spell with a great deal of delight 'It was a very strong Hyderabad team and they had got off to a good start that morning. I knocked out Narasimha Rao, Azhar and Khalid Abdul Qayyum in that afternoon spell that helped us bowled them out on the first day itself.'

The crowd on that Friday evening just about had a glimpse of TE Srinivasan. The next morning he treated them to some delightful strokes that he had come to be known for. Unfortunately, the Sunday turned out to be drab for the packed house as Venkat and Vasudevan failed to bowl out the defiant Hyderabad batsmen and the match petered out into a boring draw.

Indian stars recognize the Groundsman
A decade later Azhar, by then a legend of Indian cricket returned to the Forest College this time to roaring cheer from the huge crowd. 

Chinnaraj, the head groundsman who retired recently after serving for well over three decades cherishes the memory of both Azhar and Kapil Dev handing the groundsmen Rs. 100 each for the services at the end of the match. 
The huge crowd that had come to see K Srikkanth, Azhar and Kapil were rather disappointed as South Zone were bowled out for just 78 and North came through in a tough chase on a fast paced wicket. But this match remains in the memory of all those who were present that day for it was the time they got to see all the leading Indian stars from close quarters. 
Unfortunately, a ground with such historical performances has now been shut for cricket due to financial bargaining issues. Over the last few decades, the ground was handed to the CDCA for 45 weekends each year and almost all the top matches were played on the turf wicket.

A Anthony Raj, the care taker at the Central Academy of the Forest College that administers the ground who has been at the Forest College since the 1980s too is saddened by the developments. 'The new principal was keen to raise the daily match fees by Rs. 1000 but that was not acceptable to the Coimbatore District Cricket Association and they pulled out. '

'I had seen the top stars in action in the 1980s and 90s. And there used to be big crowds coming to the ground to watch the matches. Now we use the ground only for our local college matches.'

Interestingly, the pavilion had been reconstructed only just over a decade ago keeping the heritage aspects unchanged.

S Sivagnanam, who has been a groundsman at the Forest College since 1981 and who retired only a few months ago, bemoans the lack of interest at the cricket association to maintain the turf wicket. 
We had put in a lot of effort to prepare that turf wicket at the Forest College and it was much appreciated by the big stars of Tamil Nadu cricket when they came here to play. Even Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar were very happy and surprised with the pace on the wicket when they played the Deodhar Trophy match. It was the impact of the 'Kali Mannu' we had used. But I am very saddened that all our efforts in having the only turf wicket in Coimbatore has gone waste and that no cricket will now be played at the Forest College ground.'

But now one finds the matting wicket full of stones and in a tattered condition and the turf wicket out of maintenance for a long time, the excess grass on the outfield has been burnt in the last few days  and finally all the cricket fan is left with is of the historical memories of matches played in the decades gone by!!!
Thankfully, for the moment, the agricultural college ground continues to host matches.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Nanguneri Vanamamalai Divya Desam

How over 300 families dwindled to under 30 in just a few decades 
ஏனம் ஆய் நிலம் கீண்ட என் அப்பனே 
கண்ணா என்றும் என்னை ஆளுடை 
வான நாயகனே  மணி மாணிக்கச்சுடரே 

 தேன மாம் பொழில் தன் சிரீ வரமங்கலத்தவர் 
கை தொழ உறை 
வானமாலையே அடியேன் தொழ வந்தருளே

In his Tiruvoimozhi praise, NamAzhvaar gives an indication of the prosperity of the people as seen from his reference to the presence of tall mansions. He found red lotuses, sugarcane, mango groves and paddy in abundance. 

சேற்று தாமரை செந்நெல் ஊடுமலர் சிரீவரம்ங்க நகர்

Repeatedly he refers to this place as being home to great Vedic Seers who chanted, non- stop, the sacred verses.
தெருள் கொள் நான்மறை வல்லவர் பலர் வாழ் 
சிரீவரம்ங்க நகர்க்கு 
அருள் செய்து அங்கு இருந்தாய் 

Divya Desam’s Speciality
The speciality of this Divya Desam is the daily oil abhishekam for the Moolavar deity. The oil, which is believed to have medicinal values helping cure illness, is then deposited into the Oil Well inside the temple. Another feature at this temple is the presence inside the sanctum of Urvasi and Thilothama, who undertook penance at Thothadri seeking liberation from re-birth, in a posture of fanning the Lord.  

Till the mid 1950s, the long agraharam at the Eastern entrance of the Thothadri Nathan Divya Desam in Nanguneri lined up with over 300 families welcoming the Lord during the popular street processions on the occasion of the Brahmotsavam in Chitrai. The big Kudai was a feature during Brahmotsavam. Led by Theevatti lamps, the Lord was carried by the Sri Patham under the big Kudai, especially as there were no overhead wires in those days.

But by the time, Nambi Srinivasan Bhattar was into his schooling in the 1970s the exodus had begun. His father and grandfather had performed Kainkaryam at the temple at a time when Vaishnavite participation was at its best.

Most of the Kainkaryapakas owned a house in this temple town. They had a share in the prasadam each day and the Centuries old Vanamamalai Mutt provided lunch each day of the year. This kept them going until the big famine of the early 1960s when the Mutt stopped the lunch programme.  The kainkaryapakas found it difficult to survive that phase.

A salary of Rs. 10 and Rs. 15 per month
Nambi Srinivasan Bhattar’s father worked at less than Rs. 25 per month. He also got an equivalent value of Paddy each month. But that was all. In the 10 days of Sannidhi Service that was allotted to his family, he almost never got over Rs. 3 a day as Thattu Kaasu and even that was only on special festive days. For Nambi Srinivasan Bhattar, who has now been at the temple for close to three decades, it had been a financial struggle during his school days. Even organizing a simple wedding was a monumental task for his father and they looked up to the Mutt for support. 
Nambi Bhattar is pleased that his father survived a difficult phase without any sort of complaints. The archakas of that generation as well as the kainkaryapakas saw their role simply as a service to the Lord and financial shortcomings never came in their way of service.

Madapalli Service
52 year old Soundararajan has been at the Madapalli for 35 years. His father Deivanayakan had been there for four decades. He is the 6th gen to be performing this service at the Madapalli. In the 1950s his father was paid Rs. 10 and an equivalent in Paddy.

Margazhi was always special for the service personnel at the Madapalli and it was one of the toughest periods. One Padi Pongal had to be presented to the Lord at 5am on each of the days. The service personnel were present there a couple of hours prior to get the sacred food ready. In those days, no sugar was added. It was always jaggery at this temple.

Athirasam,Thenguzhal and Vadai were a regular feature during Margazhi. Another speciality was the steaming Semba rice that most at the temple enjoyed. On Friday evening, Pongal was served after the Oonjal Utsavam Ghosti.

Each day of the year, in those decades of service, Deivanayakan prepared 35 Katti of rice in the morning and 35 small dosais in the evening. These were distributed among the kainkaryapakas. 
On the occasion of the Chitrai Brahmotsavam, the Madapalli personnel received Rs. 10 per day for the additional Thaligai they prepared.

Tough Times in the 60s and 70s
Padma Mami who is now back in the Sannidhi Street has seen different phases of Nanguneri having been around since the 1960s. She completed her SSLC in 1971. Her mother hailed from Nanguneri. She remembers the entire agraharam being inhabitated by Vaishnavites. The Konars and Pillais, she says, lived in the street next to the Mada Street. They too had a role to play in the Kainkaryam and carried the Lord on the Thanga Chapram on the 7th day of the Brahmotsavam.

She remembers the time when the Mutt used to feed the entire families in the agraharam. That was how everyone survived and were able to perform the kainkaryam. Padma’s father in law performed kainkaryam at the Mutt. But the 1960s turned out to be a very difficult period as there was no financial stability. And the financial struggle led them finally away from kainkaryam.

It was a period when they sold their houses at cheap throw away prices in the thousands. And now decades later the original inhabitants are trying to re-secure the very same homes for several lakhs. Ghosti in those decades was 100 strong but now this has come down to just 5!!!

However, Padma Mami's family was one of the few that did not sell their ancestral house. It had been in dilapidated condition but they managed to keep it traditional through the decades. And over the last few years, after they have come back to settle down in the agraharam, they have revamped the house without altering the traditional aspects.  

She is also happy that original inhabitants in large numbers are looking to come back and she is hopeful that over the next decade, the agraharam will be filled with traditionalists like in the past.

A victory for TVS in the Tirunelveli Court
Rangamani Narayanan now resides in the farther end of the Sannidhi Street. Her husband provides service at the Mutt's madapalli. Her grand father Thambu Raghunathan was a leading Government advocate in the first half of the 20th century. He resided in the sannidhi street right in front of the Raja Gopuram.

She remembers a historic episode that happened almost a hundred years ago one that her grand father narrated to her in her childhood. TVS Sundaram Iyengar had had a verdict against him in business.  Thambu Iyengar was renowned for his straight forward approach and would not easily take up cases unless he was convinced about the credibility of the person.

While Thambu Iyerngar was initially hesitant to take it up, when he heard about the back ground to the story he called out for TVS Sundaram Iyengar to meet with him. Having understood the story and having convinced himself that the businessman ran his firm in a fair and honest way, he took up the case and won it for the legendary enterpreneur.

Rangamani looks back at that episode as one of the big moments for their family in having stood up for the truth and won the case for TVS.

A Grand Restoration after 100 years
Over the last 100 years, far too many additional constructions had come up at the temple. And the temple had lost the architectural glory. The entrance pathway had become dark with constructions on either side and a temporary roof. New constructions meant that natural light found it difficult to make its way into the temple!!! Bats were natural inhabitants in such a scenario.
A restoration was hanging in the balance for many years. But there was a dire need to restore the temple back to its ancient glory. That was when Venu Srinivasan was just completing the exercise at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam. He decided to take this up.  It was also the final leg of his 11 Divya Desams restoration initiative around Tirunelveli that he began way back in the 1990s with Erettai Tirupathi, a temple that had then been in a state of ruin. Today, the entire Nava Tiruapthi region is flourishing with the temple personnel having seen a revival in their fortunes. 25 years after his first temple restoration, he is now supporting the Vanamamalai Mutt administered and Nam Azhwar praised Thothadri Nathan Divya Desam in Nanguneri with a restoration exercise that is taking place after more than 100 years. The previous Samprokshanam was performed in 1910.

Inscriptions dating back to the 13th Century AD provide insights into a few of the festivals. Grants had been made to conduct the sacred bath of God on Adi Pooram, celebration of a special festival on Moolam and another one on the Uttiram day in Chitrai.

When Venu Srinivasan visited this historical temple with his team as part of the pre restoration exercise inspection a few years ago, he found new structures inside the temple 'A number of new walls had been built in the last 100 years for no good reasons. A large part of the restoration exercise involved removing unwanted structures which were neither historical nor architecturally proper.'
The entrance to the temple including the Chariot Mandapam and the long pathway to the Raja Gopuram had a forlorn look. New Constructions had posed as an obstruction to free movement. It also prevented natural light from entering the temple. Many areas inside the temple were completely dark. The prakaram was full of bats.

The Vasantha Mandapam was seen with modern modifications and had to be conserved and its historical importance to be brought back. The sacred well was surrounded by walls and new additions. There was no free outflow of the Abhisekam water and the rain water too stagnated inside the temple.  There was a pressing need for restoration.

Transformation of the Temple
Over the last 12-18 months, one has seen a complete transformation of the temple much on the lines of the restoration at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam. Huge amount of debris from the prakaram, especially around the Vasantha Mandapam and in the Nandavanam that had accumulated over a long period of time has been removed.
Restoration of Vasantha Madapam to its historical stone structure is one of the big highlights of this restoration exercise. The entire Nandavanam that is home to tall coconut trees now wears a fresh look with a lot of open spaces that will make for a cool trip for the Lord during the Vasantha Utsavam every Vaikasi. One also finds number of Vrikshi, Arali and Malli Trees in the Nandavanam that will enable the presentation of daily flowers for the Lord and on festive occasions as well.

With the removal of new constructions, that had been previously obstructive, one is now welcomed into the temple by a number of pillars standing tall amidst the long pathway leading to the Raja Gopuram.

Rain and Waste water drainage improvement has been another important initiative undertaken as part of this exercise whereby the water is now led out of the temple into the nearby pond. The Yagasalai that had been previously dark has been improved providing for better ventilation and lighting. The stair case to the Moolai Garudan had been damaged and was in a broken condition. This too has been restored. Safety grills have been installed for the utsava mandapams

Refurbished Gopuram
The Raja Gopuram looked faded just a few years ago with a few of the sculptures on the Gopuram in bad condition and on the verge of falling off. The Gopuram has now had a fresh coat of painting while the sculptures have been restored and are now looking pristine.

Walls around the Well
The Sacred Well was another area inside the temple complex where new structures had come up. These have been removed and the openness around the entire area has been restored reviving the sanctity of the place. 
It has been a long wait of over a century for the repair works at the temple but going by the quality of the restoration it has been worth the wait. Devotees visiting the temple now are sure to find the transformative change inside the temple complex.

Venu Srinivasan looks back at this whole exercise of restoration as one of the biggest blessings from the Lord. ‘It has been a highly fulfilling experience to be involved in the restoration of Divya Desams in the Tirunelveli region and to be able to revive heritage structures from a state of dilapidation. The feedback from the devotees of having felt positive vibrations while at these temples after the restoration exercise is the real blessing that one could get at the end of such large restorations.’ 
Samprokshanam is slated for Aani after the big Utsavams in Panguni, Chitrai and Vaikasi.