Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswarar Temple

From a Vibrant Fourth Prakaram in the 20th Century, the Ul Veethi sees dramatic changes in the last few decades

The Underground drainage system from the Cauvery has been shut, Tall Apartments have sprung up all around, Sacred Tanks have diminished and Archakas are in Short Supply having sought greener pastures in the corporate world

The 43 day Brahmotsavam culminating in the Pancha Prakara Utsavam in Panguni continues to be one of the longest and grandest festivals in Tamil Nadu
Located on the Northern Banks of Cauvery is the Lord Jambukeswarar temple in Thiruvanaikaval, ( one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams, where Lord Shiva manifests himself as ‘Water’ (among the five elements). Hence this is referred to as a ‘Neer’ Sthalam. Thiruvanaikaval is one of the famous Mada Koils built by Ko Chenganan Chozhan. A Mada Koil is one whose architecture is such that an elephant would not be able to enter the sanctum.

The residents of Thiruvanaikaval, especially those in the Fourth Prakaram, lived in great harmony in the 20th century mingling with each other and leading a highly contended life. The daily discussion centered around God and the temple until the political intervention in the 1960s changed their lives forever as humiliation in public led the NextGen to a life away from the temple. Since the 1970s, many have left the agraharam selling away their lands moving into a new modern city life.

66 year old ST Subramaniam (STS) Pandithar and his forefathers have lived in an old fashioned agraharam home on the North Ul Veethi (street) in the fourth prakaram and have been performing aradhana at the temple for well over a century.  
Life in Thiruvanaikaval a 100 years ago
His father had earlier performed service for over four decades since the time he was a teenager, while his grandfather was at the temple for several decades in the later part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, both of whom had dedicated their entire lives to the service at the temple. Till the 1920s this location was completely an island with minimal access to the temple. Giving importance to both the ancient Saivite and Vaishnavite (Srirangam) temples, the British built the railway station right between the two, equidistant to both. 

His grandfather, who never wore a shirt in his entire life, always sporting the panchakacham, also never drank a single cup of coffee in his life. He barely received Rs. 10/- as thattu kaasu while in his father’s time this went up to Rs. 40/- in the 1940s and 50s. Being Mirasuthaars, they did not get any salary from the temple.

He performed pooja for 45 minutes every morning before leaving for the temple . He never went anywhere outside Thiruvanaikaval and his entire life revolved around service to Lord and Ambal.

Till the 1960s, the Sankara Mutt on the North Ul Street reverberated with students eager to learn the Vedas and the Agamas. The Chettiars promoted Patshaalas for each of the Vedas was vibrant on the North Street till half a century ago. STS himself learnt the Sastras and Agamas at the Sankara Mutt. 

4th Prakaram – The traditional residents
As per the tradition in the fourth prakaram, three fourth of the residents were Brahmins with the Iyers performing pooja at the temple residing in the North Street facing the South. Kshatriyas too lived alongside them.  The Brahmins of Thiruvanaikaval in those decades comprised of Sastris, Astrologers, Archakas, Vedic Pundits, Purohits and Thevaram experts. 

Washermen, Barbers, Musicians, Kothanars and Panthal makers too lived in this fourth prakaram. The Kshatriyas possessed a Kaalai Maadu in their homes and used it as a bullock cart. On the North East of the agraharam was the grave yard. Historically there was a tank on all the corners. These were converted to houses in the 1980s as infrastructure development took over in this region. 
STS, as he is fondly called by the entire resident community of Thiruvanaikaval, remembers the time in the 1950s as a school boy.  'The vibrant agraharam comprising of Brahmins and Kshatriyas reverberated with children in hundreds playing different games, especially on the weekends and during the summer vacation.  Also, during the big festivals especially the Pancha Prakara Utsavam, people used to come and rest at the agraharam homes mingling in large groups and exchanging dharmic thoughts.'

Living in Thatched Huts
Till Dalmia Cements set up the plant in Kallakudi Pazhanganatham, almost all the houses in the entire 4th prakaram comprised of thatched huts. It was only subsequently since the 1970s that cement construction came into play in this agraharam. The houses followed a similar 5-7 stage pattern (like the ones in Srirangam), with the 5th stage of the house having an open roof to allow air and sunlight into the house. The sixth stage was traditionally the kitchen. Each house in the 4th prakaram had a coconut tree and a flower garden with the residents presenting flowers to the Lord each day.  Every household had a sacred cow too.

The Drainage System - From the Cauvery to the tanks
One of the interesting features of Thiruvanaikaval till the century gone by was the underground drainage system through which excess water from Cauvery and Coloroon flowed into the sacred tanks. This helped the grand celebration of the Theoppotsavam. But this passage was closed a few decades ago much to the disappointment of the residents.

Respectable Life of the Archakas
The archakas were well respected in those decades. Each day of the year, they were presented with food that was rich in quality, and high in quantity. In the evenings, archakas used to share the 3 ½ padi payasam and 25 Vadas, amongst the 24 Mirasuthaars. In centuries gone by, the traditional convention was that any payment made by the devotees from the Kodi Maram to Moolasthanam belonged to the archakas.

Through the 20th century, Archakas had financial issues but contentment helped them survive through very difficult phases. For decades, STS left home at 6 am and returned only after 1 pm. And then in the evening, he would come back home only after 10 pm. It has been a physically tiring journey. But never in that period did any of the archakas lose their self respect.

The Grand Historical Festivals
Each of the utsavams was typically taken care of by a Sect. Kshatriyas managed the Kuthirai Vahanam Utsavam, Navarathri was supported by the Iyengars, the popular Rishabaha Vahanam was taken care of by the Aasaarees. The Diwan Bahadur Sundarachariar Trust presented the Silver Horse Vahanam to the temple several decades ago. Through the 20th Century, the 43 day festival culminating with the Pancha Prakara Utsavam ( in mid panguni remained one of the longest and grandest in TN temples. 
The big negative change in the last few decades
The negative change in the last few decades
The political changes that took shape in the 60s and 70s with the anti Brahmnical wave meant that the lives of the archakas took a severe beating. The HR & CE placed hundials at key locations to take this away from the archakas’ kitty. Since the 1970s, the archakas suffered at the hands of the HR & CE officials. Many times they were publicly insulted by the officials and had to listen to their orders including meting out special treatment to VIPs and Politicians. Huge patience became a pre requisite to survive here.

The Neivedyam for the Lord and Ambal has come down dramatically in recent decades. Now archakas received well below one fourth of what they used to receive half a century ago in terms of daily prasadam. The evening prasadam too has been done away with. Both the quality and quantity has gone down taking away an important component of archaka’s daily tradition. 
Now huge apartments taller than the temple complex have sprung up all around the temple affecting the sanctity of the temple. Groundwater has been taken by these flats affecting severely the Jhala Thathva of this sacred location. The Vedic Paatshaalas too have given way to apartments.  Also on the North Street in the fourth prakaram, one now finds a long stretch of garden. This new construction has prevented rain water from reaching the temple Nandavanam.

A Big Setback to the Archakas
As per the traditions here, the Archakas had to get married to be able to perform pooja. Historically, the Brahmins married from within the agraharam. The Archakas stuck to the temple and rarely did they go outside in the century gone by. The greatest setback to the archakas in recent times has been the difficulty in finding brides within the community, leaving them in the lurch.

STS says with a tinge of sadness that girls of Thiruvanaikaval are not ready to marry local Brahmins as they do not see the services of archakas as a positive story and almost look down upon them.

STS’ son learnt sukthas at the Sankara Mutt during his school days in the last decade. However, having seen the humiliation that his father had to endure and the tiring long days, his son developed an aberration from an early age. STS had to perform under severe heart and still show patience for 12 hours. It was unbearable conditions physically and mentally.  In fact STS had joined the temple in the early 1980s to relieve his father from his sufferings who had been there for the previous four decades.  After performing service for over three decades, STS' energy is completely drained and has nothing left to fight.

STS’s son like so many of his generation decided early on to move away from this service and is now in the IT world in Bangalore in air conditioned comfort far away from the world of his father who at 66 continues to perform service at the temple from 6am in the morning sweating it out, showing great amount of patience while facing different kinds of emotions from the devotees, VIPS, Politicians and the HR & CE officials.
A Bleak Future Ahead?
A century ago there was divinity and unflinching belief in God and the archakas were a respected lot and the devotees looked up to them for blessings. To touch the Lord and perform pooja was considered a special blessing. Even in his father’s time, it was so. Now the devotee numbers have risen but has the bhakti process improved is a question STS wants every devotee to ask his /her conscience. Money is driving everything. 

Looking at the deterioration of the environment in and around the temple, STS wonders what the future would hold for the sincere archakas of ancient temples in Tamil Nadu who have given their lifetime in the service of Lord. His unflinching faith in God has seen him survive those decades and it is with that same faith that he continues to enter the temple every morning. He is confident that his son will return one day to serve the Lord, unmindful of the favourable conditions.

20 young students have stuck on to Vedic Education at the Sankara Mutt and they are initiated into the ancient scriptures by three Vedic Gurus, thus providing some hope for the future.


Anonymous said...

distressing to read. Nicely written


Anonymous said...

Sad to see kali hold sway over the world in his Yuga destroying dharma and krama.

Sent from my iPhone X

Anonymous said...

Lucidly written as usual. Having lived in Trichy for 6 years, was able to identify with this post.

Anonymous said...

Very well written as usual... Highlights the sorry state of our society... Hope we change !!