Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pazhur Patshala Revival

30 year old Neelakantan rejects lucrative offers, moves to the once renowned Pazhur Patshala, aims to create students as 'iconic' examples in Dharma Sastras

He has created a corpus of 2100 books on Sastras using OCR technology
A young 30 year old has just begun a long journey in his quest to protect the Sastras. R Neelakantan has quit a high paying job at a Vedic Patshala in Madras and moved to Pazhur, a remote town on the Western outskirts of Tiruchirapalli in an effort to revive the once renowned Patshala.

Not so much in the distant past, the entire town of Pazhur was filled with Vedic Vidwans and the streets reverberated with Vedic recital. For almost half a century, the patshala in Pazhur ranked among the best in the State. Angarai V Krishna Ganapadigal served there as a teacher for 45years and produced several eminent Vedic scholars. His son, popularly referred to as Matunga Ganesh Vadhyar, is said to be the Number One Vedic Teacher in Bombay.

Just under a century ago Ramachandra Iyer, the then collector of Karur, with an intention to protect Vedantham created a Vedic Patshala in Pazhur. He created a trust, allocated lands in the town and directed that the income from the lands be handed over to the Vedic Trust to run the Patshala. The Trust still owns 4 houses in Pazhur.
This was one of the only three renowned Brahmin run Patshalas in the State, the others being the ones in Thiruvidaimaruthur and Manakkal, near Tiruvarur, that consistently doled our Vedic Scholars in good numbers. 

Quality of Pazhur Patshala
The story goes that the Chettiar Patshalas that were in dominance in Tamil Nadu would not accept any break away students from the Pazhur Patshala. The view was that those who could not survive Pazhur were unlikely to survive elsewhere such was the parental guidance of the Acharyas at Pazhur.

It was one of the few Patshalas in the previous century that combined both Vedas and Sastras. However since the 1980s, the Patshala saw a downturn coinciding with the trend of the traditionalists moving away into full time academics.

Neelakantan, who belongs to the fifth generation of Vedic Scholars, has set out on an onerous task of reviving the century old patshala. He studied only till class 2 in a formal school and moved to the Raja Patshala in Kumbakonam for Vedic Education at the age of seven. Later he completed class X, Class XII and MA through the Open University Model (NIOS).  After 8 years at the Raja Patshala, he learnt Sanskrit from Mullai Vasal Krishnamurthi Sastrigal.

Neelakantan then moved to Pune where for 5 years he was under President awardee Devadutta Gannda Patil. He also learnt Nyaya Sastras and Meemaamsa Sastras.

After his five year initiation at Pune, he became a guest lecturer at Venkateswara Vedic University in Tirupathi. Over the last three years, he taught Sastras at Jagath Guru Vidya Bhavan, Ambattur. However, he was keen to move away to a traditional location away from the distractions of a city life.

The wife's supportive role
He was already earning a high salary in Madras  and his friends and relatives warned him about the likely lifestyle changes in a remote location such as Pazhur, and discouraged him from the move. But Neelakantan was not to be undone by such comments. His young wife, much against the current trend has supported him in his decision and happily moved to Pazhur in June this year with their two daughters. His wife also doubles up as a full time cook for the entire bunch of students at the Patshala. For the last four months, she has been waking up early morning and taking care of the entire requirements of the students including cooking for all them, in addition to taking care of her two young daughters. Neelakantan has already undertaken an oath that he will get his two daughters married only to Vaideehas, so this tradition continues.

Besides being a full time Guru at the Pazhur Patshala, he also teaches at the Madhwa Patshala in Srirangam and at the Sankara Mutt Patshala in Thiruvanaikaval. His brothers, Vyakarana Ratnam Manikanda Ganapadigal and Nyaya Ratnam Veda Vachaspathy Brahmashree Subramanya Ganapadigal run the Patshala in Thiruvanaikaval and support him at the Pazhur Patshala as guest lecturers.

Gurukulam Model
He has clear views on how a Patshala should be run in the current scenario “Each student has different capabilities and interest. The absorption ability too is different for each of the students. One has to understand this."

Keeping this in mind, he has devised a customized model that takes into account the capabilities of each student. He says that such customization is not possible in universities or in large institutions and is a viable option only in a Gurukulam model of education.”

Neelakantan talks personally each day to each of his students in an effort to create and sustain their interest in Vedas and Sastras. And the result, even at this very early stage, is there to see. The students seem to have bonded really well with the Guru and are seen with him all the time discussing very issues relating to the Vedas and Sastras. It is a vibrant environment at the Patshala and there is chanting all through the day. 

Neelakantan conducts a surprise inspection at 3pm with one of his students to see where he has reached that day. And tells him in a friendly tone that he will do another re-check later in the evening on the progress made.  That's truly inspiring for any student, for a Guru to pay such personalised attention through the day. 

Shortage of Experts on Sastras
There are serious issues relating to protection of Vedas and Sastras. He bemoans the fact that in the last few decades only five students have completed both Vedas and Sastras in the entire State. In the century gone by, when there were doubts on Sastras, there were real experts who would come out and clarify. Currently, if there are serious doubts on any issues relating to the 18 Puranas, there is none to look up to. There are no experts on Dharmas Sastras.

At the Thiruvanaikaval Patshala, in the last 35 years, prior to its revival in 2012, only two students had appeared for the Vedic Examination. Since the time his brothers took charge of the Patshala in 2012, 8 students have already presented the examination, a dramatic transformation indeed. 

Neelakantan's focus at the Pazhur Patshala is primarily on Sastras, with an eye on developing the analytical ability of the students. He encourages his students to debate on issues relating to the Sastras. As one watches him from a corner at the Pazhur Patshala, one can sense the great relationship that he has forged with his students. Each of them is seen listening to him with great interest. A couple of them are seen engaged in a heated debate with the teacher on issues relating to Ekadasi and Dwadasi and the process to be followed on these days by Vaishnavites, Saivites and others.

He has been practicing Dharma Sastras for the last 6 years.

Using Technology to Protect Sastras
From a young age, Neelakantan was interested in technology and took an oath to protect the Sastras through effective use of technology. He has been constantly exploring ways to use technology to improve the traditional way of life and as a tool in everyday life to protect our Sastras.

As the first step in this direction, he sourced an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) for Sanskrit from Germany and has created an offline corpus that now includes 2100 Sanskrit books with indepth insights into our Sastras. Within a few minutes, he can now get reference to any content from these 2100 books which was hitherto not possible. It is to be remembered that Dharma Sastras require proof to be told for every query unlike the Vedas which focuses purely on recital.

On the anvil is an exclusive Vaideeha magazine to support the Vaideehas across the country. He has created an online Vaideeha group comprising of 130 people across TN to exchange thoughts on Sastras.

Just a Book Keeper of Sastras
Neelakantan exhibits great sense of modesty for his age. His phone does not stop ringing as I sit near him through the day. Many Vaideehas from across the country seek free solutions from him as an expert on critical issues relating to Dharma Sastras. They take forward his solutions with their customers and make money out of it. But Neelakantan remains unflustered for he sees himself as just a book keeper who God has assigned to protect and safe guard the Dharma Sastras. He is happy doing that irrespective of the financial challenges he faces now after the move to a remote location such as Pazhur.

Rejecting Lucrative Offers
Lucrative offers came his way from across TN as is the trend these days (the immediate rush to capture those that are good) but he has resisted the temptation to go after money. While monetary compensation is important, he believes that doing good, teaching and passing our historical traditions to others are just as important. Spreading knowledge is ultimately good. Everything reduces after you have given, but his knowledge seems to grow after every such conversation and dissemination, is his view.

He is keen to stay put at Pazhur and churn out a bunch of students who are well versed in both Vedas and Sastras. Currently he finds them sitting in two unaligned corners. His ultimate goal is to bring the two together and is hoping that he will be able to take some steps in this direction in the next 10 years. He is looking to develop the students at the once renowned Pazhur Pathshala as iconic examples in Sastras.

As is the case with such stories, the financial remuneration to him is very minimal. The physical pressure on the wife is very high, having to cook for the entire bunch of students, day in day out. There is little financial incentive or premium attached to a young scholar who has chosen to create the NextGen after rejecting other lucrative offers away from teaching. 

But Neelakantan is unmindful of these challenges and is determined to help protect the Sastras.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Rajapathy Nava Kailayam

A Huge Modern Kailasanathar Temple has been constructed at the original location of this Nava Kailayam Sthalam

The historical temple was washed away Centuries ago in the floods that struck Tamaraibarani
13 day Brahmotsavam in Chitrai, Street Procession through the month of Margazhi

Work is under way to construct the tallest Raja Gopuram in the region

A few centuries ago, the floods in the Tamaraibarani that had destroyed the Sepparai Temple near Srivaikuntam also brought to ground the Kailasanathar temple in Rajapathy, the 8th among the Nava Kailayam temples. Nothing was left except a small symbolic stone, depicting the presence of the temple, 4 kms East of Thenthiruperai  Nava Kailaya Sthalam (

For centuries the temple had remained in ruins. A decade ago the devotees came together to rebuild the temple, from scratch with large sannidhis for Kailasanathar and Soundarya Nayaki. Today, what one finds is a truly modern temple positioned to the devotees as ‘Then Kalahasti’!!!

Everything about the temple is grand from the flooring to the prakaram, symbolic of modern construction. A seven Tier 150 feet high Raja Gopuram, the tallest in the region, is under construction and is likely to be completed next year. Work is also on to complete the idols for the 63 Nayanmars and the 4 Saint Poets.

The legend relating to Nava Kailayam has it that Romasa Rishi, the disciple of Agastya, went to his preceptor who was performing penance at the Pothigai Hills seeking Mukthi. Agastya picked up 9 Lotus buds from his Kamandalam and let them down. He asked Romasa Rishi to install a Shiva Lingam at each of the places where this bud rests and to invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva at each of those places.  The 8th among those came to a halt here at Rajapathy on the banks of Tamaraibarani. 
The annual Brahmotsavam has been revived with a 13 day utsavam in Chitrai.

Monthly utsavams too have been started including Aani Magam Utsavam, Aani Uthiram Utsavam and Natarajar Abhishekam. 

Street procession of the Lord through the entire month of Margazhi too has been revived. Classes educating devotees on Saivite Siddhantham are conducted on all the days of Margazhi.

The temple is open between 7am-12noon and 4pm-8pm. Contact C Lakshmana Sivachariyar @ 97873 82258.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Srirangam Prasadam Stall

HR & CE has converted ‘Food’ into a lucrative business inside the temple complex

Food Counter auctioned for around Rs. 1crore at the Srirangam temple, that’s a mind boggling Rs. 30000 a day
At the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram, the auctioned Food Stall this year has fetched the HR & CE Rs. 65 Lakhs 

Food made outside the Madapalli and not presented to the Lord is wrongfully sold as ‘Prasadam’

Till the 1970s, devotee crowd was minimal and restricted to the respective local town. The devotees looked for Theertham and Shatari in Vaishnavite Temples as the blessing from the Lord. At the Saivite temple, sacred ash and kungumam were considered as the blessing for the day. The food presented to the Lord was distributed amongst the devotees present based on the quantity available.

It has been historical tradition and belief that prasadam of the God is to be consumed in minimal quantity and devotees typically shared even this minimal quantity handed to them with other devotees who missed out.

But like so many other twists that have happened inside temple in recent decades, the concept of prasadam and the way it has been positioned and now viewed too has undergone a dramatic change. The new wave of devotion that has struck devotees has seen them buy food from the so called prasadam stalls. It may have nothing to do with the historical concept of prasadam and how it is to be consumed. The new set of devotees – and they are in huge majority- is comfortable buying and eating food inside the temple. In most case, a temple trip is incomplete without the consumption of the now popular delicacies of the respective temple.

The Srirangam Temple
Till the 1970s, paniyaram at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam was presented to the Lord and brought to Sri Pandaram, where it was sold to devotees. It was on a very small scale. The traditionalists who understood the process waited near the flag post at the Ariya Bhattal Vaasal and picked up the real ‘hot’ prasadam.
It was a period when Trustees held a strangle hold on the temple and its functioning. The trustees ensured that the temple activities were performed in an orderly manner. HR & CE played less of a role.

However, with HR and CE gaining dominance in the 1970s and in the subsequent decades, things began to turn hugely commercial. The focus shifted to generating revenue out of the open spaces in the temple. Out of nowhere, a small 200 feet space opposite the Garuda Sannidhi was converted to a food counter disguised as a Prasadam stall.

But even the HR and CE would not have visualized the potential of this new revenue model, one that was to turn into a big money spinner for them across the large temples in Tamil Nadu. 
Prasadam - The Food presented to God?
Prasadam is food made at the Madapalli in a pious way and presented to the Lord / Thayar/Ambal and distributed to the devotees in small quantity. It is not something that is to be ‘sold’ for a price.

However, in the new few decades old model, food is made far away from the Madapalli and is even brought in many temples from outside the temple complex.  It is also food and snacks prepared by non-traditional people. And yet the foolhardy devotees have fallen for the ‘devotional quotient’, for the HR & CE sold this as ‘Prasadam’, the sacred food of the Lord when there was very little element of sacredness about the food.

As decades passed by, the value of the stall went through the roof. Driven by the physical hunger (after having been inside the temple for a couple of hours) and a belief that they were consuming Godly food within the temple, devotees queued by in large numbers through the day to pick up different varieties that was on offer at the food counter.

Delicious Menu on Offer
The menu on offer had a luring element to it, so as to entice the devotees into believing that this was from the God. And the devotees fell for it, the young and old, the modern and the traditionalist. Laddu, Athirasam, Chakkarai Pongal, ‘Mysore’ Paakku and Puliyotharai gave devotees the feel that it was Prasadam. Little did they know that this was food that was neither made at the Madapalli nor presented to the Lord. 
From the Past - The Unofficial Kitchen at the Srirangam Temple

Demand drives Combo Offers
Encouraged by the huge demand, the food stall put together combo offers which included a variety of snacks packed in a cotton bag that devotees took back home. Sales sky rocketed and the HR and CE cashed in heavily on this opportunity to bolster its income from the temple. The annual price (that the franchise had to pay the HR & CE) of the small food stall is said to have gone up to a mind boggling Rs. 1 crore, amounting to roughly Rs. 28000 a day. It had now become a full fledged business inside the temple. Give this huge tender price, one can imagine the sales that one has to generate each day to recover this money and run as a profitable business.
Over a 3-4 decade period, HR and CE, across all temples in Tamil Nadu, coined the vulgar title of ‘Prasadam’ stall misguiding devotees to consume outside made eateries as the Lord’s Prasadam.

One of the Sthalathars of the Srirangam Temple was a little more forgiving. "When devotees now enter the temple, their mind is on the food / prasadam. The food made at the madapalli is just not enough to distribute to the devotees. It is better to eat something inside the temple complex than consuming food  in a restaurant outside, though I am not fully defending what is happening inside the temple."

When Chairman, Board of Trustees Venu Srinivasan tried to shift the older and the smaller of the stalls from the Sri Pandaram, as part of the temple restoration exercise, he faced stiff resistance on the grounds that he was hitting at the very survival of a Sri Vaishnavite family.

To shift the more recently and just a few decades old official food stall of the temple will be an onerous task if not near impossible for it generates huge revenue for the HR & CE.
One of the members of the Temple Worshippers Society filed a case against the sale of food at the Chidambaram temple. 

Prasadam is to be distributed, 'Not Sold'
Temple Activist TR Ramesh, who played a significant role in securing the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple back for the Dikshithars a few years back, refers to an ancient verse relating to the temple that food is to be 'distributed'. He is not happy that food, even though prepared at the Madapalli, is ‘sold’ for a price. 
At the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram, the auctioned Food Stall this year has fetched the HR & CE Rs. 65 Lakhs. There too, the food and snacks are prepared outside of the madapalli. 

First the Devotional Wave, Now the Food Wave
Wrongs over several decades have now been formalized as the rights of the temple and have become part and parcel of the system, misguiding the devotee in the process. A long distance has been travelled since the 1970s and it will require a herculean effort to undo the wrongs that have now come to be part of everyday life at the temples in Tamil Nadu. 

The devotees, on their part, can resist from ‘buying’ and consuming food wrongfully sold in the name of Prasadam. However, it seems that it does not matter to the devotee anymore as the taste buds have succumbed and given way to temptations even inside the temple, a place where God expects devotees to ‘Give-Up’. And it is this temptation that HR and CE has cashed on, in a vulgar way. They have understood the mood and requirement of a devotee after darshan and have catered to that need. 

Delicious food, call it by what name, is difficult to resist for the normal human mind even in a sacred zone like the temple complex. Chakkarai Pongal at the Parthasarathy Temple in Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam, Panchamirtham at the Murugan temple in Palani and Athirasaram at Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple are all made outside of the madapalli through auctioned contracts.

Devotees are now well entrenched in a cycle that ends with consumption of food from the official stall outsourced by the HR & CE. They are happy to ignore the truth that there is no sacred element to the food. Just like the new devotional wave that swept the state over the last decade and a half, the food wave inside the temple is unlikely to subside anytime soon. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Srivaikuntam Kailasanathar Koil

A Six Day Badra Kaali Amman Utsavam was followed by a Grand 10 day Brahmotsavam in Chitrai
Bhootha Nathar Vahana Procession on the 3rd day is a speciality at this temple

Several Exquisite Sculptures dating back to the Pandya and Nayak Period are seen inside the temple

The Sambavanai support provided by Venu Srinivasan's Trust to the Archakar, Paricharakar and service personnel over  the last decade is five times the salary paid by the HR &CE!!!
The Kailasanathar temple in Sri Vaikuntam, the 6th among the Nava Kailayam temples is replete with beautiful sculptures just as the Kallarpiran Divya Desam (, a few hundred yards west.

As one enters the temple from the Eastern Entrance (and it is possible now unlike in the past), one finds two beautifully sculpted Yaali at the Alankara Mandapam. It is here that Kailasanathar and Sivagami Ambal are decorated prior to the Utsava procession.

All around this mandapam, one finds exquisite depiction of historical episodes. The 10 headed Lankan King Ravana is seen playing the Veena, something that he was renowned for. The artiste has paid special attention to featuring his 20 hands that stands extended on both sides.

Opposite this sculpture is another beautiful one of Koothapiran seen in a ‘Koothu’ posture with Nandi beating the drums, Banasura playing the Pancha Vathyam and Karaikkal Ammayar presenting the Thalam. Pathanjali Rishi is seen in a posture of invoking the blessings of the Lord. 

Another marvellous depiction is that of Veerabhadrar, seen with his right leg lifted up and the left leg placed on Dakshan, with his tail swirled around his neck.
A festival for Badra Kali Amman – The Security Guard
Historically, the Brahmotsavam and the events leading up to it were celebrated in a grand manner. Prior to the flag hoisting signaling the commencement of the Brahmotsavam, there was a six day Utsavam for Badra Kali Amman, the security guard of the temple. A seppu idol of Badra Kali Amman was taken from the Kailasanathar Temple to the Badra Kali Amman Temple, located in the middle of lush green fields North West of the temple.  After aradhana at the temple there, it was brought back to the Kailasanathar temple. On succeeding days, an utsavam was organized for Pillayar, Murugan and the three great Saint Poets. Only after this series of events was the flag hoisted for the Brahmotsavam.
However, in recent decades, the Badra Kali Amman Utsavam leading up to the Brahmotsavam has been reduced to a single day utsavam!!!

Bhootha Nathar – The Speciality of Srivaikuntam
Like the Horse Vahana of Azhagar Koil, the Kailasanathar Koil in Srivaikuntam has come to be renowned for the Bhootha Nathar Vahana. The story goes that unprecedented floods in the Tamaraibarani in the early 18th century wiped out the entire Sepparai temple, west of Srivaikuntam. The Bhootha Nathar Vahana with an inscription on it was washed ashore at Sri Vaikuntam near the Kailasanathar temple.
The entire village of Sepparai accepted the episode as Lord’s wish of handing over Bhootha Nathar Vahana to the Sri Vaikuntam temple. From that day, this Vahana has been seen as God’s gift to Sri Vaikuntam. The 4 ½ feet tall Bhootha Nathar is seen with a big moustache with his two hands facing the sky. It is only after the presentation of respects to Bhootha Nathar, Brahmotsavam begins at this temple. A garland of Vadai and Puliyotharai is presented to Bhootha Nathar. One of the special features is that Bhootha Nathar is seen in a separate sannidhi, such is the importance accorded to him at this temple.

On the third day of the Brahmotsavam, the Lord goes on a grand street procession atop Bhootha Nathar.

Moolavar Vimanam
Past the Artha Mandapam too one finds several beautiful sculptures typical of those seen in this region including at the Divya Desam in Sri Vaikuntam. Atop the Moolavar sannidhi is a 14 feet high Vimana that dates back to the period of the Pandyas.
The Posture of Ambal
Facing South Sivagami Ambal provides darshan in ‘Thiribaangi’ Posture holding a flower in one hand.

Veera Pandya Kattabomman and Sri Vaikuntam
The temple whose legend dates back to Sage Agastya and his disciple Romasa Rishi has seen renovation and several improvements during the Pandya and Nayak periods. During the British rule, it was here in Sri Vaikuntam that the entire paddy collected from the region as tax was stored.  Veera Pandya Kattabomman’s team picked up the stored paddy as a mark of protest against the British tyranny in collecting tax from the TN farmers.

The Pillais of Srivaikuntam
Over 600 years ago, the Pillais of Ramnad made their way to Srivaikuntam and built a large fort near the temple. For six centuries, this had remained a strong fort until it was converted to a housing unit recently. Their descendants continue to contribute to the grand conduct of the festivals both at the Divya Desam and Kailasanathar temple in Srivaikuntam.

Safety of Women 
A unique rule  that was in force through out that period was that the women would not go out of the fort. Similarly no outside boy, aged above 5 was allowed inside the fort.

Past the Alankara Mandapam, one finds another set of exquisite sculptures at the Mani Mandapam - dedicated to Nandi, Suryan and Chandran. 
Daily Sacred Water from Tamaraibarani
Similar to the tradition at the Ranganathaswamy Divya Desam in Srirangam of water being brought for the Lord from the sacred river, water is brought every day from the Tamaraibarani to the beating of drums for Uchchi Kala Abhishekam.

The Big Eastern Entrance
Typical of many temples in remote locations (Nava Tirupathi is an exception) several of the historical events have come to a halt in recent decades.

The huge entrance door in the East had remained in a dilapidated condition for long and shut for several decades, except at the time of the big festival. This was restored only during the recent Kumbabhishekam in 2014, thus paving the way for the reopening of the Eastern entrance which has traditionally been the entrance to the Kailasanathar Sannidhi.

Defunct Chariots
Historically there were two chariots including one for Ambal. The Chariot Festival was part of the grand Chitrai Brahmotsavam. The Ambal chariot has remained defunct for decades while the one dedicated to Kailasanathar has also now become dilapidated and unfit to run.

Theerthavari on Chitrai Day in Chitrai
7th day Nataraja is seen in Red attire while on the 8th he sports Green

Ambal goes on an inner prakara procession on each of the days of the Navarathri Utsavam in Puratasi
10 day Thiru Kalyanam Utsavama in Aipasi with the Lord providing darshan on the Theppa Kulam Stree on the 11th day

Nava Kailayam Legend

In memory of the legendary episode relating to this Nava Kailayam temple, an idol of Romasa Rishi, who installed the Lingam of Lord Kailasanathar at this place on the banks of Tamaraibarani, is also seen inside the temple.
Historical Inscriptions 
There are several inscriptions seen on the walls of the temple dating back several centuries. These provide insights into festivals, contributions to the temple.

An inscription dating back to Veera Pandyan II to 1443 refers to contributions pooled together by the people of Sri Vaikuntam, a fund that was to be used for renovations and for Thaligai for the Lord.

Tax free Lands were donated in Varagunamangai (,  a km east of the temple, income from which was to be used for the maintenance of the temple

An inscription dating to 1438AD records that tax free lands were donated in Varagunamangai to provide for rice (for Thaligai), flower garlands and sandal for ‘Daily Saathupadi’ for the Lord (to facilitate the beautiful alankaram).

Inscriptions from that period refer to this place as Rajendra Chaturvedi Mangalam and the temple as Kailasa Nayanar Koil.

Another inscription records the presentation of 4 Naazhi rice each to the priest and to his son for the performance of their service at the temple.

Venu Srinivasan's support to Nava Kailayam Temples
As with Nava Tirupathi Divya Desam Temples, Venu Srinivasan's Trust has been supporting the Archakar, Paricharakar and service personnel of this temple with monthly Sambhavanai for well over a decade. Interestingly, the Sambhavanai is five times the salary given by the HR & CE to the Archakar!!!

The temple is open between 630am-1230pm and 430pm-8pm. Contact K Gurunatha Bhattar @ 97917 64392 / 04630 256492

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Thenthiruperai Kailasanathar Koil

Budhan Sthalam
Lamps glow again at the Kailasanathar Temple, the 7th among the Nava Kailayam Temples

Venu Srinivasan’s Trust has been supporting the Gurukal with monthly Sambhavanai and the temple with oil to light the lamps and milk and turmeric powder for Daily Abhishekam

Thiru Kalyanam of Kailasanathar and Azhagiya Ponnammal takes place in Aipasi
Located half a km east of the Nigaril Mugil Vannan Divya Desam ( is the Kailasanathar Koil in Thenthiruperai, the 7th among the Nava Kailayam Temples on the banks of Tamaraibarani. While the Divya Desam is referred to as a Sukra Sthalam (, the Kailasanathar temple is a Budhan Sthalam. Hence, with this combination of Sukran and Budhan, Thenthiruperai is seen a Princely Town. Given this, Nandi is always seen with a ‘Raja’ Kreedam.

Romasa Rishi’s penance – Tamaraibarani banks
Seeking Mukthi, Romasa Rishi, the disciple of Agastya, went to his preceptor who was performing penance at the Pothigai Hills and asked for the way to attain this. Agastya picked up 9 Lotus buds from his Kamandalam and let them down. He asked Romasa Rishi to install a Shiva Lingam at each of the places where this bud rests and to invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva at each of those places. It was here on the Southern banks of Tamaraibarani at Thenthiruperai that the 7th  lotus bud stopped.

One finds a number of inscriptions on the walls of the temple.
Sivakaminathan Gurukal took over last year with a single minded devotion to get the Aradhana and Pooja patterns back on stream. He is also keen to revive the Brahmotsavam that has come to a half for lack of funds. That is likely to cost at least Rs. 2.5Lakhs and there are not enough donors at the moment.

Venu Srinivasan helps revival
Venu Srinivasan’s Trust has been supporting the Gurukal with a healthy monthly Sambhavanai and the temple with oil to light the lamps each month, in addition to Milk and Turmeric Powder for the daily Abhishekam. With support from more devotees , the temple will be able to relive its past glory. 

Revival of Festivals
The Gurukal has revived some of the historical utsavams.  Thiru Kalyanam takes place in Aipasi when Lord and Azhagiya Ponnammal are seen in special attire. Anna Abhishekam is organized on Chitrai and Aipasi Visu and on the full moon day in Aipasi. The Navarathri is celebrated in a grand manner with the Gurukal decorating Ambal with a special alankara on each of the 9 days. The Thiruvathirai Festival for Lord Nataraja is also a grand ustsavam here.

On the Rohini star in Thai, Varsha Abhishekam is organized. 
Prasadam for the Lord
Every morning, curd rice is presented to the Lord while every evening a specific variety of Sundal is presented.

The temple is open between 630am-1130am and 5pm-730pm. Contact Sivakaminathan Gurukal @ 97883 64793.

The Nava Kailayam Temples West of Tirunelveli are Kodaganallur (, Cheran Maha Devi  ( and Papanasam (

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Thiru Gnana Sambandhar Othuvar, Sirkazhi

Presented Thevaram Verses at the historical Sambandhar praised temple in Sirkazhi for over Five Decades
Started with Rs. 18 as monthly salary in the 1950s, retired with Rs. 380 a decade ago 

"No amount of money can equal the satisfaction of having sung in front of Lord Sattanathan"- Othuvar Gnana Sambandhar
Othuvar Thiru Gnana Sambandhar, who will be touching 80 early next year, served at the Dharumapuram Aatheenam administered Thiru Gnana Sambandhar praised Sattanathan temple in Sirkazhi for over five decades in the process refusing several offers from large HR & CE temples and also from Annamalai University.

Born in Thiruvayaru in 1939, Thiru Gnana Sambandhar Othuvar, like Muthu Kandha Desikar Othuvar (, too was initiated into the sacred verses by Velayutha Othuvar. After completion of his education, he spent a few months at the Thirubhuvanam temple, following which he had the privilege as a young teenager of presenting at the Sattanathan temple where Thiru Gnana Sambandar sang his first verse. And there was no looking back. For the next five decades, he was devotionally attached to this historic temple located at the birth place of Thiru Gnana Sambandar presenting the Pancha Puranam verses during the Saayi Rakshai and Artha Jaama pooja each day. He also was bestowed with the responsibility of presenting Thirumurai on special festive occasions.

Meagre Salary throughout his life
He started off with a monthly of Rs. 18 way back in the early 1950s and ended up with a meager Rs. 380 when he resigned from the post over 50 years later. In addition he was also given a bag of Paddy. 

When the famous devotional singer Sirkazhi Govindarajan was the Dean of Annamalai University, he was keen to rope in Gnana Sambandar Othuvar as a Professor at the popular music department. He would have received a starting monthly salary of Rs. 18000 from the few hundred rupees he was getting at that time, and yet he was unwilling to move away from serving the Lord at the Sirkazhi temple. Much later, at the beginning of this century, he served as a faculty at the Music School started in Sirkazhi close to the temple.
Presentation Overseas
He has sung in almost all the leading Saivite temples in India and Overseas as well, in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia. For decades, he was one of the most preferred Othuvars to participate and present the sacred verses during the Kumbabhishekam festivities in large temples such as the ones in Tiruchendur, Palani, Thiruvannamalai and Swami Malai.  

He finds it difficult to stay on feet these days, and yet gathered the devotional strength to participate and present the Thevaram verses at the Kumbhabhishekam in Pillayarpatti last year.  Another indication of his devotional commitment was when he presented the significance of the sacred verses at the All India Saiva Siddhantha Conference held in Chennai in February this year with two people carrying him up on to the stage.

Awards from 4 TN CMs
For his selfless service at the Sirkazhi temple, he has received prestigious awards from four different Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu.
His income through his five decades long service was just sufficient to take care of the family but even the financial challenges in life was not enough to lure him to more lucrative offers “The greatest happiness to me has been of having had the opportunity to present before the Lord at the ancient Sattanathan temple in Sirkazhi for over 50 years and to have been part of the renowned Dharumapuram Aatheenam for such a long period of time.  No amount of money can equal the satisfaction of singing at the same place where the great Saivite Saint Poet Thiru Gnana Sambandar sang his first song.”                                

Friday, September 7, 2018

Othuvar Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar Malaikottai

For almost six decades, the legendary 81 year old Othuvar from Thiru Kodikkaval has presented the Thevaram Verses at the Thayumanavar Temple in Malaikottai - a voice that was heard on the banks of Kollidam

He refused a Lucrative Offer in the 1990s from a temple in London and has continued to be dedicated to the Lord of Malaikottai from a small house at the foot of the rock temple
Othuvars have been in the limelight in the recent past with a High Court order by the Madurai Bench directing the HR & CE to pay them a fair remuneration for their services.

Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar, who turned 81 recently, is the oldest Othuvar in action in the Saivite Saint Poets praised Thevaram Sthalams and has been part of the Kasi Mutt of Thirupananthal for six decades presenting the verses at Thayumanavar temple but despite all his years of experience, he is paid only Rs. 2400 per month up from Rs. 70 when he started off way back in the 1960s.

For his age, he has remarkable memory of the Thevaram verses as he rolls out one after another from each of the four prominent Saivite Saint Poets. His vast experience of almost 6 decades has equipped him with the power to pull out the meanings from 5000 verses and to give detailed explanations. "These verses even contain information on what to look for in a girl, how to conduct marriages and the art of living a good dharmic life".

Formative Years
Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar belonged to Thiru Kodikkaval (, a remote location near Mayiladuthurai that is home to one of the few temples dedicated to Yama and Chitragupta. He had his primary schooling there before moving on to Sirkazhi for higher secondary education.

1950s – Thevaram Initiation - A Legend in the making
Later, he was initiated into the sacred Thevaram verses for over 5 years at the Dharumapuram Aatheenam in Thirupananthal. His Acharya was the brilliant R Velayutha Othuvar who also trained well over 300 other Othuvars in Tamil Nadu.  The revered scholar used to identify talented students very early into his training. He saw the light in Muthu Kandha Desikar and identified him as one with the potential to be a legend in this service. When Muthu Kandha Desikar was in the very first year of his Thevaram initiation, his Guru brought him into the 5th year class and made him sing along with them. It was a privilege none others had received in his lifetime, such was the potential that the acharya saw in this young student. 
Muthu Kandha Desikar came out of school in 1958 after 5 years of Thevaram initiation and went to the Kasi Mutt in Thirupananthal. He became a Kattalai Othuvar there. He presented service at the Thiruvannamalai temple and a few others in the initial period but even as a teenager Thayumanavar found a place in his heart and he seemed to have a permanent connect with the Lord of Malaikottai.

Dedication to the Lord of Malaikottai
One day he went up to the authorities at Kasi Mutt asking for him to be stationed permanently at Thayumanavar temple in Malaikottai, Tiruchirapalli. Earlier, the HR & CE had wanted him to join the Thayumanavar temple as an employee but Kasi Mutt did not approve him becoming a staffer there. Later he joined the same temple under the condition that he would not be exclusively bound to them. For over five decades, he has presented the Thevaram verses at the Siva Siva Ul Mandapam in Thayumanavar Sannidhi for an hour each day. 
HR and CE invited Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar as a full time staffer at many temples including Madurai Meenkashi Amman Temple and Palani Dhandayudhapani temple but he refused all these offers sticking to his presentation at the Thayumanavar temple.

A Voice that was heard till Kollidam!!!
In the 1960s, his voice over the speaker system was heard on the banks of Coloroon, such was the clarity in the voice of his devotional rendering and modulation of the verses.  Even after the current infrastructure development in the Srirangam- Tirichirapalli region, his voice is heard till the banks of the Cauvery. Over these decades, he identified and developed several Ragams for the Thevaram verses.

An irresistible Offer in UK Pounds!!
When he once presented these verses in a highly devotional tone in London, so impressed were the authorities in the temple that he was offered an extremely lucrative ‘deal’, one very few would have refused. Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar distinctly remembers that day in history “It was so high that I could have built four houses in Malai Kottai. But I was committed to presenting before Thayumanavar and hence let go of the financially remunerative move.” 
Students who learnt from him in London went on to release CD and Thevaram albums. They were so grateful for his initiation that they funded a entire trip of his to London on another occasion.

Lankans – The most devoted people
He has gone to Ceylon 49 times to present in two Padal Petra Sthalams there. During Vaikasi, he presents the sacred verses at Thiru Conamalai (Ravana performed pooja for this Lord), a temple that Thiru Gnana Sambandhar sang praise of from the shores of Rameswaram. On the Maha Sivarathri night, he presents Thirumurai at Thiru Ketheescharam, a temple where Raja Raja Chozhan contributed in rich measure. 
In the decades of his visits to Sri Lanka, he found the devotion among the people there to be the best. He says that the people of Lanka have inherited the bhakti of Ravana, a great devotee of Lord Shiva “Each time I present before the Lord, I found that tears rolled down like a river from the eyes of the devotees – both men and women – there. That indicated the intensity of their Bhakti.  I have not seen such bhakti anywhere else including in Tamil Nadu, the UK, Singapore and Malaysia.”

Yaazh was such a popular devotional musical instrument and finds place in several verses of the Saint Poets. It was also Ravana’s favourite instrument. Hence, the place was referred to as Yaazh Paanam. 

Differentiated Presentation
Innovation in his presentation has been a key differentiator. He gave special effects to the Thevaram verses to arouse the bhakti in devotees and those who heard him once wanted to come back again and listen to his devotional rendering. Such was the devotional style of his presentation. His imaginative mind, his ability to create and change Thaalam and Ragam kept the devotees engrossed in temples during his recitals. 

Muthu Kandha Desikar has received 40 prestigious awards for his devotional rendering over these 6 decades including the Kalaimamani award and the TTK Memorial Award for outstanding service in temples.

The Next Generation – His Hopes on Somasundaram Othuvar
In the last few decades, he also passed on this art to students but as is the current trend many could not withstand the rigorous process and guidelines and pulled out mid way. Thevaram verses are quite difficult and presentation by the Othuvars requires years of effort as they have to understand the meanings and present in musical form.

Typically, at a Patshala, the students are initiated into 200 verses that would come into use in their every day presentation. It is then left to the students to expand their horizon and learn the entire set of the sacred verses of the Saint Poets. 
The best of his disciples is the 29 year old Somasundaram in whom he has a lot of confidence to take this service into the next generation of Othuvars. Somasundaram completed a 5 year diploma course in Thevaram Isai Kalaimani from Annamalai University. Since then he has been performing at Kandha Kottam, Abirami Koil (Dindigul) and Thiruvasi (Trichy). He also continues to perform the hereditary service at the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, him being the 21st descendant.

Somasundaram has applied for the Othuvar posting at Thayumanavar Sannidhi and has gone through the interview process. He is hoping that with the background and the proven track record of his grandfather having performed for six decades at the sannidhi, he would get the order soon.

Othuvars - The Diminishing Numbers
Once upon a time there were Othuvars in all the temples in Tamil Nadu. During the reign of Raja Raja Chozhan, Othuvars sang in big numbers in the Big Temple at Thanjavur.  In centuries gone by, there used to be Othuvars Ghosti on Swami’s street processions but all that too has become a thing of the past given the shrinking numbers of the Othuvars. Othuvars have reduced dramatically in the last few decades and they are just in a few hundreds across the state. Salary is inadequate to run and take care of a family and many have sought other avenues, given the financial constraints.

Muthu Kandaswamy Desikar Othuvar himself started off with Rs. 70 month. Over the six decade period, this has gone up to just Rs. 2400. Typical of him, he is not too concerned and shrugs off the financial issues saying ‘No amount of money can equate the happiness of presenting the Thevaram verses before the Lord. The inside character of a person is the true reflection of a devotional personality and not the external colour. Thirumurai contains everything for our real way of life and we should follow that." 

He continues to live a simple life from a small house on the South Mada street at the foot of Malaikottai and continues to present the sacred verses of the Saint Poets at the Thayumanavar temple.  Truly Contended with what God has given him. It is unlikely one will find another Othuvar like him again!!!