Friday, November 30, 2018

Thiruvanaikaval Othuvar Srinivasan

Let go lucrative offers to sing verses in Praise of the Lord of Thiruvanaikaval

One of a kind Brahmin Othuvar has dedicated his entire life to the presentation of Thevaram Verses seeking liberation from the cycle of births 
41 year old R Srinivasan (Shiva Jagan) is a remarkable Othuvar. A Saama Veda Brahmin by birth, he holds a Masters degree in Chemistry and is a University rank holder. His parents wanted him to take the corporate route to career growth and lead a normal family life but the young man’s mind lay firmly entrenched with the Lord of Thiruvanaikaval for even as a young teenager, his mind had set on the recital of the Thevaram verses as a way of life having imbibed the interest from his uncle.

Two Lucrative Offers immediately after his Masters
Soon after his Master’s degree, he received a lucrative R& D job offer from a firm in Bangalore that entailed a monthly salary of Rs. 1Lakh. He was also offered a college lecturer post that would have been financially rewarding in the long run. He rejected both and began reciting the sacred verses at the Jambukeswarar temple as a devotee.

Born in Thiruverambur, Srinivasan spent his childhood at the RS Krishnan School inside the BHEL complex. His father, V Ramani, worked at the PSU. When he was in class VI, his parents initiated him into Bala Vihar to learn Carnatic Music from Guru Cheran Maha Devi Somayajalu. He used to sing film songs well at that time. Within three years, he had progressed so well that his Guru organized the Arangetram for Srinivasan.

Uncle’s influence on the young mind
His uncle who was deeply into Thirumurai and the Thevaram Verses printed the invitation that had Sundarar’s Verses – ‘Ezh Isaiyai Isai Payanai’- as the headline. It had a big impact on the young boy. His uncle regularly recited Thiru Gnana Sambandar’s 11 verses – Kan Kaattum Muthalaano – in praise of the Lord of Thiruvengadu. His uncle used to also recite Periya Puranam and the teenaged Srinivasan listened to those verses with a great deal of interest. From the sacred verses of the Saint Poets, he realised that the purpose of life was to liberate oneself from rebirth. To that end, one had to dedicate the mind, thought, body and talks in service to the Lord. Thiru Gnana Sambandar in his praise says that for those who believe in the Lord of Thiruvanaikaval, no other security is required in life. This had a positive impact on his life and he began pursuing that as a way of life right from his college days.

He also found from the verses of Appar that one had to take an oath in life to praise the feet of the Lord at every given opportunity.Sundarar has in his praise of the Lord of Thiruvanaikaval says that he bows before those who invoke the Lord here while Thiru Gnana Sambandar says that those who believe in Jambukeswarar and invoke him with unconditional surrender for them there is no security required and will remain protected for ever.
Learning Sundarar’s 1000verses in 10months
He had no formal initiation into the Thevaram verses. Out of the 12 Thirumurais, he was keen to make at least one his own. In 1999, through sheer hard work and perseverance, he learnt over a 1000 verses of Sundarar from the 7th Thirumurai within a period of 10 months. When he was once reciting the verses at the Oonjal Mandapam at Thiruvanaikaval, the temple authorities, impressed with his devotional rendition, asked if he could present the verses as an Othuvar at the Kumbabhishekam that was just coming up in mid 2000. 

Othuvar role for 12years at daily wages of Rs. 50!!!
He happily agreed and has ever since been performing the role of an Othuvar at the Thiruvanaikaval temple. For a dozen years from 2000, he was paid a daily wage of just Rs. 50!!! Only subsequently was he given the official appointment order as an Othuvar by the HR & CE.

As foreseen by his parents, he has remained single for no woman was ready to come forward to marry a Brahmin Othuvar. But he had mentally tuned himself to this way of life right when he decided to let go the tempting R & D offer. Everyone thought that he would go the corporate route to career growth for he was a Brahmin and hence not into traditional service of Othuvars. But he has stayed away from the corporate lure despite being a University rank holder in Chemistry. 

The way of life is showcased beautifully in the verses of the Saint Poets, he says, but we rarely follow it lured towards financial rewards and other monetary desires ‘The verses of the Saint Poets have given me the direction in life. How to invoke the blessings of the Lord and the real definition of a true devotee is contained in these verses. Once you are aware of the purpose of life, what is the use of going after monetary benefits. I have tried my best to follow the verses in my daily life. My only interest in life is to serve Lord selflessly and to gain knowledge through devotional experience.’

He never went after awards but many prestigious ones have come his way in recent years. He has accepted these as God’s gift. 
A full cycle at Thiruvanaikaval
Srinivasan Othuvar, who lives in an agraharam house in Thiruvanaikaval, says that in these two decades it was likely he would have earned a lot of money had he joined the corporate life but no amount of financial reward could have equaled the joy and satisfaction of standing and singing the sacred verses in front of the Lord and Ambal ‘There is an inexpressible feeling of singing with devotion at the Thiruvanaikaval temple. Till my last breath, I want to sing the Thevaram verses.’

He is now looking forward to rendering the sacred verses during the Kumbabhishekam that is coming up over the next fortnight (December 12) for it was the one 18 years ago that provided the platform for him in his journey towards seeking liberation from rebirth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Bhattars Gurukals move away from Temples

NextGen Priests find Greener Pastures in the Corporate World
Prospective Brides say 'No' to those in Temple Service, especially those in traditional attire
The 1960s-80s was one of the most difficult periods for priests and service personnel across temples in Tamil Nadu. The changing political climate in the State and the gaining dominance of the HR and CE spelt death knell for the archaka community. Initially, driven by the land ceiling act, the traditional inhabitants began leaving their ancestral homes in search of jobs in bigger towns and cities, thus reducing the devotee crowd in temples. Much later, the introduction of hundials took away an important component of their income – ‘Thattu Kaasu’ dwindled as devotees were lured to deposit into the Hundis that surfaced at different points within the temple complex. As income dried, the priests began selling their hereditary lands. The then existing Bhattars and Gurukals bore the brunt, silently as they were keen on continuing the hereditary service that their forefathers had performed for centuries. However, the deteriorating scenario took a heavy toll on them.

The outcome of this frustrating life reflected in the way of life of the NextGen. The disgruntled lot of priests from that period ensured that their children focused on academics. The NextGen from the historical Divya Desams and Thevaram Sthalams took to Engineering that had become an attractive option in the State in the 1990s.

Instead of being initiated into the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Thevaram verses and the Vedas, the NextGen spent time trying to understand the nuances of IT.

Friday Review takes a look at a few of them and how their financial struggles in the second half of the 20th century turned their children away from the temples, that their forefathers had served for long, into a life in the corporate world.

Never saw a rupee note at Thiru Mogur
For 42 years, R Ramakrishna Bhattar at the Kaalamegha Perumal Divya Desam in Thiru Mogur has been taking care of the daily aradhana to the Lord. When he joined the service, there was hardly any income as even the annual Brahmotsavam did not see big crowds. The Veda Parayanam and Prabhandham Ghosti had become a thing of the past. 

He did not see a ‘rupee’ note at the temple for a long time. There was no salary as well from the temple as he belonged to Mirasu service. Every day, he would wait in front of the Sannidhi looking for that elusive devotee. Typical of people of those days, he lived within his means and led a contended life.  However, this did not go down well with his family. Consistently during the period, he would hear whispers from other members to his two young sons to not get into temple service as they did not want the NextGen to go through the same financial struggles. This constant initiation of ‘temple service does not help in a secure life’ in the young minds led them to become academically proficient and thus two Vaishnavites who should have had leanings towards Kaalamegha Perumal have been lost to the IT world.

Decades of standing in different Sannidhis each day for long hours have taken a physical toll on Ramakrishna Bhattar, now past 60. The physical strength in his legs is gone, though he continues to perform service to the Lord with the same extreme devotion that he has shown in the decades gone by. However, the not so good news is that his sons have been lost to the temple as a result of what the family had gone through in those decades.
Thiru Kannapuram - Even the Pension dues have not been registered
At the Sowri Rajan Perumal Temple in Thiru Kannapuram Divya Desam, 81 year old Koora Kulothama Dasa, a descendent of one of the 74 disciples of Ramanuja and a sthalathar, bemoans that there aren’t enough Brahmins to even carry the dead to the burial ground. He says that during his childhood all the four Mada Vilagams were brimming with Vaishnavites chanting the Divya Prabhandham and the sacred Vedas. There was a devotional fervour around the  temple“Things changed for the worse in the 2nd half of the last century.  In the new political climate, proceeds from the 30 Veli of leased out temple lands came down significantly. This changed the face of temple life. The drop in a huge source of income for the temple led to a negative impact on the entire community at Thiru Kannapuram."
Today there are less than 10 Brahmin families in Thiru Kannapuram, one that was praised as a vibrant location in a 100 verses by Thirumangai Azhwar.

Having joined the temple as an adyapaka in 1955 at a salary of Rs.12, Kulothama Dasa retired 40 years later at a salary of just a few hundreds but his pension dues have not been registered in the last two decades. And there is no answer from the HR & CE. Araiyars too were popular here. Their house still exists but their descendents have stayed away from the traditional art. Once a year, in Maasi, the Araiyar from Srivilliputhur makes his way here to present Araiyar Sevai at the temple, serving as a reminder of its historical past.

Sowri Raja Bhattar, who is considered an expert in agamas and in conducting Samprokshanams, took over as the priest at Thiru Kannapuram at the age of 18, way back in 1968. His forefathers for well over a century had been the Sthaaneegam at the temple. At his peak, he too just received a few hundreds as monthly salary. Running a family was a big challenge and it has largely been a financial struggle throughout the last five decades. His elder son took to Engineering and is now in the financial services space in Chennai, far away from temple service.

Araiyar Sevai for over 50 years without a salary
64 year old Bala Mukundan Araiyar, one of the few remaining Araiyars in Divya Desams, began presenting Araiyar Sevai at the Srivilliputhur Divya Desam well over 50 years ago when he was still a young boy. He has not received a single rupee from the temple. The only time he received any money was from devotees during the Adyayana Utsavam in Margazhi but even that was nothing much to write home about. 
For a major part of his life, he has lived in an old historical house where the roof posed a perpetual threat.  The Araiyars of Srivilliputhur have Kainkaryam at the temple every day of the year. However, for half a century, there has been very little financial support from any one including the Government to support the families of those who are continuing this service. It was this financial frustration that led him as well to get his son to pursue academics, funding his son’s education with high cost loan. The Engineer son is now employed full time at a large private bank in Tuticorin and performs the Araiyar Sevai on the big festive occasions.

12 hours each day in severe heat
The situation is no different at the Thevaram Sthalam at Thiruvanaikaval. 66 year old ST Subramaniam (STS to everyone at the temple) Pandithar has been performing aradhana for Lord Jambukeswarar and Ambal Akilandeswari since the early 1980s. His grandfather and father had performed service at the temple for over 8 decades. He says that the archakas were well respected in those times “Each day of the year, they were presented with food that was rich in quality, and high in quantity.” 
Only after the political change in the 60s and 70s when the anti Brahmnical wave swept the State did the scenario inside the temple take a severe beating. He says that in the centuries gone by, the traditional convention was that any payment from the Kodi Maram to Moolasthanam belonged to the archakas.

The HR & CE placed hundials at key locations to take the devotees’ contributions away from the archakas’ kitty. Even the little Thattu Kaasu moved away to the Hundis.  The Neivedyam for the Lord and Ambal too has come down dramatically in recent decades. Archakas received well below one fourth of what they used to receive half a century ago in terms of daily prasadam. Both the quality and quantity has gone down taking away an important component from the archaka.

Difficulty in Finding Brides
The greatest setback, though, to the archakas in recent times has been the difficulty in finding brides within the community, leaving them in the lurch. Only married men have the archaka rights at the temple. 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. This is not a case in a One off Thevaram Sthalam. Similar is the scenario across Divya Desams and Paadal Petra Sthalams in Tamil Nadu. And the difficulty in finding acceptance among prospective brides has been another reason for the nextgen to move away from temple service.

STS’ son learnt sukthas at the nearby Sankara Mutt during his school days. However, having seen all the humiliation that his father had to endure for very little financial returns, his son developed an aberration from an early age. STS had to perform under severe heat and still show patience for 12 hours a day. It was unbearable conditions physically and mentally.  After performing service for almost four decades, his energy is completely drained and has nothing left to fight.

STS’s son like many of his generation decided early on to move away from this service and is now in the IT world in Bangalore in the air conditioned comfort far away from the world of his father who 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.

The result of the decades of struggle is that in a majority of historical temples one finds a single priest managing multiple sannidhis as well as taking care of the madapalli and thus serving very long hours. Everyone is hopeful that one day the priests and the traditional service personnel will come back to the temple. But that may still be a far way off as the NextGen is now well entrenched in the comforts of the corporate world enjoying the luxuries of a city life that come along with it. For now, an entire generation of priests and service personnel has been lost to the corporate world driven away by the treatment meted out to the previous generation.

( A version of this story featured in The Hindu Friday Review on Nov 23)

Friday, November 23, 2018

RBI Madhavan Leg Spinner

He debuted with an 8 wicket haul in Ranji Trophy but let go a prospective cricket career within a few months of his Ranji Debut as a result of his father’s postal letters!!!
Srikkanth praised him as a great bowler but never stood by him when it came to TN selection in the 1980s 
At 63, into his 47th year in league cricket, Madhavan just landed up yet another five wicket haul in the TNCA league
This writer was at the Pachaiyappas College ‘B’ ground for the early season clash in the TNCA first division league in 1987. A high profile Alwarpet that included K Srikkanth (just a few months away from the World Cup) took on RBI, a team of well settled bankers. His clash with the leggie of RBI was an eagerly awaited clash on the opening day. Srikkanth did not open the batting and came to bat in the 2nd half of the day. Just 18 months prior, he had smashed an international leggie from Australia all over the park. Hence, the onlookers were keen on how this local leg spinner would handle the star player (those days, crowds thronged wherever Srikkanth played, even if it was just a local league match).

But it was a day that left them disappointed as the leggie got him almost immediately sweeping a big turning leg break into the hands of deep square leg. Later that day, at the tea break, Srikkanth in his typical flamboyant style yelled out in Tamizh at the leg spinner ‘Payithiyam da nee. Moolaiye Illai. Zonal Cricket and India Aadeerkalam. Athai Vittutu, inga vanthu RBI Ku aadeendirukka, finding happiness in getting me out in this match (You are mad with no brains. You could have played for Central Zone and India. Instead you are playing a local league match here)

That’s how Srikkanth addressed S Madhavan after congratulating him on his wicket in front of all those who had gathered around the Indian star that day. Srikkanth felt that it was a big mistake on the part of Madhavan to have quit a Railways job that took way an opportunity to continue to play for them in the Ranji Trophy and to figure in the Zonal team. Well over 30 years ago, Srikkanth had felt that had Madhavan continued with the Railways, he would have given himself a great chance to play for India, for he was amongst the wickets in almost every match with his big turning leg breaks and the googlies.

It was a series of letters that led him to his sudden resignation from ICF to join a rather cricket un-fancied RBI. And that spelt death knell for him in terms of growth in his cricket career. As sudden as this decision was also his transformation, a few years earlier, into a leg spinner.

Humble beginnings at Somasundaram Ground
Madhavan belonged to a middle class family. His father was far away from cricket and did not understand even the basics of the game. As was the case in those days, the ‘order’ was to not spend too much time on the cricket field. A student of RKM North, Madhavan spent the evenings at Somasundaram ground watching the nets organized by ‘YSCA’ Gurumurthy. He was already playing for his school as a wicketkeeper batsman along with NP Sridhar (elder brother of NP Madhavan).

Seeing his height and interest in cricket, Gurumurthy asked the young boy to bowl in the ‘cricket ball nets’ (there was also a younger group that played tennis ball but Madhavan was taken straightaway into the cricket ball nets) alongside TA Sekar.

Accidental move into a leg spinner
One of those days, he struck Gurumurthy twice on the arm with fast paced balls leaving him furious at this school boy. Having to strictly follow the directions to bowl a little slow, Madhavan just tried a leg break from a few steps. The ball pitched and turned square beating Gurumurthy all ends up leaving everyone stunned. And there was no looking back since. A new leg spinner had been born that day, in rather accidental circumstances.

So impressed was Gurumurthy that he included Madhavan in the Rising Stars league team within a few months. That was a big boost for the teenager. During that phase, he played three years in a row for TNCA Colts, a very popular team - comprising of the best of league players- that made an annual outstation trip to another city to play a Colts team from another State.

A pleased father
His performances at Guru Nanak College helped him secure a Quasi Governmental job at Food Corporation of India where he played alongside Ramdayani, Jillu Ramesh and ‘Bond’ Venkatasubramaniam. It was during one of those inter zonal matches at FCI that his father came to know of him as a cricketer. After he taken 6 wickets against the East Zone team of FCI, Madhavan led the team back with the ball held in his hand. His father enquired as to why he was coming ahead of all other players and the reason for holding the ball high and showing to all. It was only then that his father knew that his son was a performer on the cricket field though, unfortunately, that was not going to be enough convincing as Madhavan found out a few years later in his life.

Find of the Season at Alwarpet
In 1977, Alwarpet was looking for a wicket keeper batsman. Scouting for talent, VAP and P Mukund turned up at the Somasundaram Ground and were in for a surprise. Instead of the keeper their eyes fell on a big turning leggie whose every ball landed on the spot. At the official trials at the Union ground, it took just 3 balls at the nets for Satwendar Singh to declare him as the ‘Find of the Season’ for the team.

Extraordinary Ranji Debut this month 37 years ago
Impressive performances for Alwarpet especially in the Buchi Babu Tournament led to ICF offering him a clerical post. ICF was also in the first division in that period and he quit FCI. This move opened an unexpected door for him. While the Ranji squad had already been finalized (without much of a formal selection process – the Railways was a huge national institution and selection of players from across the country was always a tedious process), Railways captain Hyder Ali chanced upon Madhavan in the nets and within minutes of watching him bowl wanted him in his team.

It was 37 years ago this week that he debuted in Ranji Trophy. In the very first innings, he had a 5 wicket haul and ended with 8 wickets on his debut against Vidarbha end of November 1981. In a year that Vidarbha won the Ranji Trophy, Madhavan has pleasant memories of that debut against them “I picked 8 wickets against them in my very first match. My captain Hyder Ali was very impressed with my performance and he had a lot of confidence in my abilities.”

“In fact, that season, when I was sleeping on the floor in a curled way in shivering cold, Hyder came up to me and asked if I had had dinner. When I told him, I had Curd rice, he was red with anger. A bowler has to eat better and he dragged me to a restaurant and got me chappatis. He wanted me to be a match winner and took special care of me” says Madhavan of the way the highly respected figure of Hyder Ali took care of this ‘boy’ from Madras.

An Obedient son lets go a Cricket Career
He followed this with a 4 wicket haul in the very next innings and performed creditably in the Ranji Season. He was in contention for the Central Zone team that played the touring English team in January 1982 and given the English team’s struggle against leg spin that season, was considered a certainty for that match. But a dramatic turn of events completely took even Madhavan by surprise. During the period of his star performances in the Ranji Trophy that season, he received a series of postal letters from his father, who retired later from Caltex India.
The content in each of the hand written letters was rather similar. His father wanted him to return to Madras and join RBI. While he knew his father’s lack of interest in cricket, he just could not understand this approach of his father, especially at a time when he was in his best phase of his cricket career. But like an obedient son he put in his papers with the Railways all of a sudden, in the middle of a great season leaving Hyder Ali stunned.  The Ranji Knock out was to soon follow and he was all excited to bowl to Botham and Co in the tour match end of January 1982. But his enthusiasm was killed in the bud and he returned to Madras.

Within a few days, the cricket life turned gloomy. The decision sounded death knell for his growing cricket career. He was at the peak of his prowess. His father was not convinced about prospects in cricket and wanted him to settle down in a secure ’10 to 5’ Bank job. In those days, RBI was considered a high profile institution as compared to other banks.

From taking on Botham on-field to ‘Net Bowler’ for England
By the time England toured India again 3 years later, life had turned a full cycle for Madhavan. He was now asked by the TNCA to be a net bowler for England on a request by the touring team to improve their skills against leg spin (they had struggled against LS in the first two tests of the series). From a leggie who was all excited to challenge Gatting and Botham ‘on the ground’ a few years ago, he was now a net bowler at Chepauk bowling to the same set of batsmen.

Madhavan remembers that day when even David Gower struggled against his googlies in the nets “The English team asked their manager Norman Gifford to check as to ‘I had in my hand that I was weaving such magic on them in the nets’ as their left handers repeatedly were left stranded by my googlies.”

He continued to play for RBI in the first division league in Madras and kept taking lots of wickets every season. But selection in the TN squad remained elusive. He has picked up 8 wickets in an innings on over 10 occasions  and countless five wicket hauls that took his league teams to victory.

Off Spinner NS Ramesh, who joined RBI exactly a month before Madhavan, was an integral part of the team through the 1980s. He says that it was a delight to watch top ranked batsmen with India credentials struggle against him, most times unable to even read him.

Having seen Madhavan’s spell and worried that the Englishmen would be better prepared against LS at Chepauk, the Indian officials that evening asked Madhavan to bowl short and full tosses the next day so as to not get the Englishmen equipped against leg spin. A furious Madhavan refused and walked out of that as well (England amassed a huge total in that test)!!!

Opposition feared the potent spin combination of Sri Krishna and Madhavan and rarely did they get to play on turners.

Ramesh says that Madhavan was easily much better than all of the current day leg spinners ‘PUT TOGETHER’, such was his class “The selectors simply lacked insight and failed to recognise the brilliance of Madhu.”

‘Bond’ Venkatasubramaniam used to keep wickets in the 70s to Madhavan with a piece of stone place on either side of the pitch. He was the one who encouraged Madhavan to bowl the leggies and googlies on a particular spot. So brilliant was Madhavan and so interesting was he with his variations, that we would continue this model for hours together each day of the year, says Venkatasubramaniam looking back at those days before Madhavan became a first division cricketer.

LS 'Promoted' 
Venkatasubramaniam, who kept to the legendary Venkataraghavan for four years at India Pistons, is vocal on how LS was projected and promoted ahead of Madhavan “Immediately after he returned from a successful Ranji season, the TN selectors completely ignored him for they were focused on promoting LS, despite the fact that LS rarely took big wickets in the local league and subsequently even quit bowling.” 
Did not belong to a ‘Big Club’
The scenario that decade (it hasn’t changed much since) was that it was difficult for players from lower ranked team to figure in state squads. In a TNCA Express one day tournament in the 1980s, there were only 11 players in a particular match (Srikkanth and CS Suresh did not play that match). And yet Madhavan was not included and replaced at the last moment in the playing XI by a player who did not find a place in the original squad and who was even present at the ground at the time of the toss.

A frustrated Madhavan walked out on captain TE (Srinivasan) and reached the bank. CB Selvakumar was shocked to see Madhavan in office when his match was on. It was one of those days when Madhavan felt really insulted at the way things were run “Not belonging to a top corporate team proved to be a clear drawback. But I could do little about it. I sought the support of Shri Somasundaram, the then Sports Secretary to get fair treatment for RBI’s players. He was such a gem of a person. He asked me to just keep performing on the field and get selected based on my performance.”

“While I was angry that morning with the sports secretary for being silent in the wake of such injustice, looking back, I feel really happy that he wanted the performance to speak for each player and not support from clubs and secretaries.”

Srikkanth lets him down
In the final of the Buchi Babu tournament played on a turner at Chepauk, Captain Srikkanth once again overlooked Madhavan, when it would have been ideal to have played him. This despite all his talk of Madhavan being one with potential to play for India. These left a bitter taste on Madhavan.  TA Sekar, with whom Madhavan bowled at the nets at the Somasundaram ground as a teenager, says that if Madhavan had played for a big team in the first division league, he may have had a better chance to get into the State team. 
In those days, given the batting strength of RBI, it was not always that the bank team bowled twice in a league match, especially against top teams.

ICC Elite Panel Umpire S Ravi who has known Madhavan from the days at Somasundaram Ground and who has seen him very closely says that Madhavan never missed a single practice session and that he would bowl long spells at the nets trying a lot of variations that then reflected during his spells in matches “While both as a person and a cricketer he was always confident and had lot of self belief and should have definitely played higher level, in sports, it is important to be at the right place at the right time. And maybe he was not.”

One of the Best Leggies 
Former Ranji Trophy winning captain S Vasudevan, who was with Alwarpet when Madhavan joined the team in the late 1970s rates him as one of the best leggies he has seen and calls it ‘unfortunate’ that he did not get to play for the state.

It was not a phase when youngsters overruled their parents, especially in matters relating to career. In Madhavan’s case, he simply accepted the directions of his father and quit Railways right in the middle of a successful debut season to join RBI, leaving by the way side his cricket career. With Venkat and Vasudevan still an integral part of the TN team and with LS the rising star of TN cricket and the 'boy' that TNCA backed, it was always going to be an uphill task for Madhavan to breakthrough into the team. He remained hopeful through the decade but the opportunity remained elusive and forever it was a distant dream for Madhavan.

No regrets with RBI
He, however, does not regret taking the ‘father’s call’ to move to RBI. The team had a terrific spin attack and he enjoyed bowling out stronger opposition time and again in the TNCA first division league. He forged great long term friendship with a number of teammates. He has been able to develop his interest in singing and now presents light music concerts.

But when it came to cricket and opportunities in Tamil Nadu, while there was all round appreciation of his talent including from the likes of Srikkanth, when it finally came to the Selection process, they give his name a miss when he was at his peak in the 1980s.

A Five Wicket haul at 63!!!!  Close to 5 decades in the TNCA league
This year marks the 47th year of his non-stop presence in the TNCA league having begun in 1972-73. No player in the history of the league would have played this long with the passion he has displayed over such almost five decades. Aged 63, he recently grabbed the headline with a 5 wicket haul in the league. His hand and shoulder have become weaker with age and the ball is a lot slower in the air but he still manages to produce the big turning leg break and the googly to fox the young batsmen. He continues to turn up at the ground at 8.15 am on the day of the league match much ahead of all other players in the team and bowls with the mind of a young boy wanting to beat the batsman and get his wicket leaving both his own teammates as well as the opposition dumbfounded at his eagerness to take wickets.

It is unlikely he will retire anytime soon and only an age clause can get anyone to keep the red cherry away from Madhavan.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Umpire Ravi quits RBI

After serving RBI for three decades, ICC Elite Panel Umpire quits in Controversial Circumstances, with the bank finding a loophole in the rules to deny him Leave and Promotion to the Officer Cadre
RBI playing by the 'words' in the rule book leaves a poor taste among the cricketing fraternity
Top ICC Elite Panel Umpire S Ravi ( has quit RBI in quite controversial circumstances after serving the bank for three decades.

In June 2015, Ravi became the first Indian umpire after S Venkataraghavan to be inducted into the. ICC Elite Panel of umpires, a rare honour. And he has been there as one of the top Elite Panel Umpires ever since. 

Congrats note from Raghuram Rajan
Soon after the story on his induction into the ICC Elite Panel of Umpires ( in June 2015, the then Governor of the RBI Raghuram Rajan sent Ravi a personal congratulatory letter on his nomination into the prestigious Elite Panel. Following his inclusion into the Elite Panel, Ravi was permitted to go on EOL (Extraordinary Leave) without pay for 2 years, with support from the RBI Governor.

When Ravi’s contract was extended for a third year in a row in the ICC Elite Panel( last year, Ravi requested for extension of his EOL and the bank sanctioned immediately, given his credentials and the glory he was bringing to the bank as one of the best umpires in the World. Last year, he was also included in the MCC Laws Sub Committee, a significant achievement for an Indian umpire (

In May this year, following his terrific performance over the last three years, the ICC extended his contract in the Elite Panel for another year. This year, Ravi became the second most capped Indian Umpire after Venkataraghavan, going past VK Ramaswamy.

Playing by the Rule Bank 
Much to his shock, the RBI rejected Ravi’s request for EOL without assigning any reason. Despite Ravi being a top umpire in the ICC Panel through this decade and an Elite Panel umpire for more than three years now, he was also not promoted as an Officer, which should have been an automatic deal for a staffer with such an achievement in the sporting field. However, the bank found a loophole in the system to deny him the promotion to the officer rank.
Sources within the RBI say the rules pertaining to EOL and promotions deal with ‘players’ and that Ravi as an umpire
(even if he was the best in the World) did not fall within the definition of ‘players’ and hence both his leave (EOL) as well as his promotion to Officer’s Cadre was rejected this year.

Ravi even tried representing his case with the Governor of the RBI but to no avail.  

Finally with leave not granted and having to decide between RBI and Umpiring on the Elite Panel, Ravi decided to put in his papers and has now officially resigned from the RBI, his employer for three decades.

At a crucial decision making time, RBI chose to go strictly by the words in the rule book. It would have been in the spirit of things to have included match officials within the definition of players. But the Bank stood firm to play by the dictionary definition of 'Players'.

Ravi had always enjoyed extremely close friendship with his team mates even as a youngster much before the current glory of an international umpire. He was a favourite with most of the team members, especially for his knowledge of the laws of the game. It was always Ravi’s plan to continue at RBI till the end of his career. But the sudden turn of events has forced him to quit the bank that gave the foundation and career security early on in his life.

A With RBI and its Governor the cynosure of all eyes in the recent past with the financial issues relating to the NBFCs, this resignation of the world’s top umpire from their services is another black mark on the bank. And leaves a poor taste among the cricketing fraternity, especially in a year when a couple of the top cricketers have been directly given an Officer's posting at the bank with very minimal working presence.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thiruvathavur Thirumarainathaswamy

Birth Place of Saint Poet Manickavachakar
Thirumarainathaswamy is said to cure sincere devotees from Joint Pain, Bone Diseases and muscle related issues - It was here that Saneeswarar was liberated from Arthritis 
Once upon a time this was a much celebrated temple town in the Pandya Kingdom near Madurai and the birth place of one of the famous four Saivite Saint Poet. Given the infrastructure development of the 20th century, this has become a remote location off the Madurai Melur highway. Located just under 10kms South of Melur, the Thirumanathaswamy temple in Thiruvathavur, a temple that predates the Meenakshi Amman temple, is big with a towering Raja Gopuram in the East. There are seven sacred tanks at the temple. 
It was after invoking the blessings of the Lord Thirumarainathaswamy of Thirvathavur that the famous Saivite Saint Poet Manickavachakar was born. In a thanking gesture, his parents named him as ‘Vathavooraar’. He grew up here into a bright young boy. So impressed was the Pandya King with his abilities that he appointed him as a minister in his kingdom.  He was also anointed with the title of ‘Thennava Brahmma Raja”. He later went and built a temple in Avudayar and began singing praise of the Lord in temples. Lord was so pleased with his songs that he agreed to write for him, which later became the famous verses of Thiruvachakam. It is said that one who is not moved by the verses of Thiruvachakam cannot be a true devotee of Lord Shiva, such is the greatness of Manikavachakar’s presentation.

There is an exclusive temple dedicated to Manikavachakar opposite the Thirumarainathaswamy temple. 
Liberation from Body Pain, Joint Pain and Arthritis
To liberate himself from the curse inflicted on him by Mandava Rishi for having disturbed the Rishi’s penance, one that gave him severe arthritis, Saneeswarar invoked the blessings of Lord Badapureeswarar here at Thiruvathavur. Belief is that those who perform oil abhishekam here and apply that oil on their legs will be relieved from arthritis. Hence this is said to be a temple that liberates one from bone related diseases, Joint Pain and muscular issues. 
Bairavar without the Dog
When Bairavar ignored the presence of the Lord and walked past in arrogance, the Lord in an angry gesture decided to deny him the status with the dog. To repent from his mistake, it was here that Bairavar performed pooja to invoke the blessings of the Lord to get back his full form. In memory of this episode, Bairavar is seen without the dog at this temple.

Brahmma’s penance
Pleased with Brahmma’s Yagna at this place seeking the continuation of his ‘creative’ abilities, Ambal appeared from the fire providing darshan to him and blessing him with the fulfillment of his Yagna. Hence she is referred to as ‘Aaranavalli’. 
Inscriptions dating back a 1000 years record this place as one of ‘Sangam Tamizh’, indicating its historical nature.

This is also the birth place of the famous Tamil Scholar Kapilar.

10 day Brahmotsavam in Vaikasi with the Chariot festival on Visakam
Anna Abhishekam in Aipasi
12 day Utsavam in Avani
Thiruvachakam is recited every month on Magam
Aani Magam – Manickavachakar Mukthi Pooja
10 day Pidari Amman Utsavam in Chitrai 
The temple is open from 6am-12noon and 4pm-8pm. M Ganapathy Bhattar @ 84897 04093 belongs to the third generation to perform at this temple. He has been at this temple for the last 41years having joined here in 1977.

How to reach
One can reach Thiruvathavur via Othakadai and Thiru Mogur. Bus Number 66 runs from Maatuthavani bus stand to Thiruvathavur every 15-20 minutes through the long winding newly laid Tar road.  Share autos also ply between Thiruvathavur and Maatuthavani bus stand.

One can also reach the temple from Melur. Bus No. 7 every half hour from Melur Bus Stand.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Lakshmi Narasimhan quits Srirangam Madapalli

Citing shoulder problem, he had taken leave of absence for a few days in early September but has not returned to the Madapalli till date and has not communicated his whereabouts and activities to the temple authorities for over a month
Lakshmi  Narasimhan ( Venkatapathy) had said that he had given his entire last earnings from the IT firm to the Ramanuja Trust Mission whose Managing Trustee Chaturvedi has come under the police scanner today and who is stated to have 'gone missing')

Srivatsan, the  first entrant from the IT industry to the Srirangam Madapalli has now convinced a corporate executive from the Amalgamations Group to join him at the Madapalli
The issues relating to HR & CE not providing adequate appointments in temples has come to the fore again, this time at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam. It has been almost two years since Srivatsan quit a lucrative career in the IT industry to join the Madapalli at the Srirangam temple. Several months later Lakshmi Narasimhan too joined him at the Madapalli. Despite continuous reminders to the Joint Commissioner Pon Jayaraman over the last year or so, the two had remained on contract service with Sambhavanai coming from Venu Srinivasan, also the Chairman, the Board of  Trustees of the temple.

The vacancies have existed for long but the HR & CE has refused to fill in the slots, leaving private individuals and trusts to fund even the most important service personnel in terms of monthly remuneration.

Not informed the JC
With Lakshmi Narasimhan ( remaining absent for almost two months now from the Madapalli, the Joint Commissioner of the temple has been clueless on his absence repeatedly confirming  over a two month period that he has had a shoulder problem and that he would be back at the Madapalli in the next few days. With Lakshmi Narasimhan not being a HR & CE appointee, it is difficult for the JC to even question such absence. Nor is there a responsibility on the part of the personnel (in this case- Lakshmi Narasimhan) to update the JC for they are not a HR & CE appointed staffers.

Notwithstanding this issue of lack of a permanent appointment order from the HR & CE to the new entrants at the Madapalli, the general view at the temple has been one of extreme disappointment about the way Lakshmi Narasimhan has quit the Madapalli under the pretext of a shoulder problem after having informed the top authorities that he would return in a few days. The wait has continued for two months with no sign of return as rumours have started spreading across the service personnel at the temple on the whereabouts of Lakshmi Narasimhan.

Even as of last Monday, Pon Jayaraman continued to hold his previously stated position of Lakshmi Narasimhan having a shoulder problem and that he was likely to return soon, this a full two months after he left the Madapalli. Other Personnel who have known Lakshmi Narasimhan during the period of his stint at the temple say that he has joined a service organization and has been at work there. And that he has been in Madras during the period of his absence from the temple.

How is it that a person who expressed dedication of his life and service to the Lord of Srirangam has not been at the temple even once over the two month period even if the shoulder is not alright. Could he not come and enquire as to how the Madapalli was functioning in his absence, since it is only a shoulder problem. Since he had said that he was mentoring the Madapalli team, could he not have come and mentored them on important utsavams, more so when his sole intention in life was to be of service to the Lord at the Srirangam temple.

During the first eight months of the year, the temple authorities had supported him / the madapalli like never before, listening to his complaints and taking corrective action possible at every instance.

Senior authorities at the temple said that his family wanted him back, away from the temple, and that was the reason he had quit the Madapalli and that he has not been in touch since the initial piece of communication ( i.e for almost two months now) and that there has not been even a single message with an update on his health, the treatment he was taking and the timing of his recovery during this period of well over a month.

Updated on Nov 10- Lakshmi Narasimhan (Venkatapathy) had said that he had given his entire last earnings from the IT firm to the Ramanuja Trust Mission whose Managing Trustee Chaturvedi has come under the police scanner today and who is stated to have 'gone missing')

Traditional way at Madapalli
In the period that Lakshmi Narasimhan was at the Madapalli, he had shaken the entire place instilling a sense of tradition there. Having come from the IT industry, he was very high on communication and kept the Joint Commissioner updated on every development and new initiatives at the Madapalli almost on a daily basis, with the JC acting immediately on his recommendations, offering full support to Lakshmi Narasimhan on the transformation of the Madapalli back to the old traditional ways. If this were so, it is quite shocking that there has been no communication between the two over the last two months.

After having stated, to this writer, a devotional long intent of serving the Madapalli, Lakshmi Narasimhan is said to have quit the Madapalli in quite mysterious circumstances with no one in the temple aware of his whereabouts in the two months that has passed. 

Since September, the Joint Commissioner Pon Jayaraman has held that Lakshmi Narasimhan has a shoulder problem and that he is undergoing recuperation and was likely to be back soon. He had told the time keeper of the temple in September at the time of leaving that he would be away for 3 days.

Contrary to what Lakshmi Narasimhan had told the Manian, JC informed in September that Lakshmi Narasimhan would be away for 15 days and that he would be back after a leave of a fortnight. A month later, Pon Jayaraman stuck to the same position that Lakshmi Narasimhan would be back soon.

In a face to face meeting last Monday, Pon Jayaraman after almost 2 months of Lakshmi Narasimhan’s absence still stuck to the same stated position that he was recovering from his shoulder problem and that it was likely that he would be back soon!!1

Various service personnel in the temple directly involved with or connected to the Madapalli in terms of daily activity had different and varying account of the current scenario with a few saying that they heard that he was working elsewhere.

Even Head Archakar not clued in
In a telephonic conversation with this writer just a fortnight ago, the Head Archakar of the temple Murali Bhattar asked me to check with Lakshmi Narasimhan on a particular issue specifically relating to the Madapalli when the latter had not reported to work for almost 45 days, making one wonder if even the Head Archakar was not clued in on the real status. It seemed he too was under the impression that Lakshmi Narasimhan was still in service.

Lakshmi Narasimhan and his interest in Jeer Post
A few months ago, after the death of Ranganatha Jeer, Lakshmi Narasimhan had expressed officially interest to the temple authorities in the post of the Jeer. Both at the time of me writing the story on IT to Madapalli as well as at the time of his expression of interest to take up the post of Jeer, it was clear that he had taken the permission of his family on this front, both relating to the Madapalli as well as his interest in the Jeer’s post, for how else can one officially express his intent to be a Jeer without letting go of the family. 

The temple did not seem to consider his interest in the Jeer's post in a positive way.

One of the official views from the temple authorities is that 'family pressure' has taken him away the temple service and that he was not likely to return anymore to the Madapalli service. In any case, he was not an appointee of the temple (by the HR & CE).

During the period of his stint at the Srirangam temple, he had shaken up the entire place pushing everyone to do things as per the traditions and had the entire service personnel at the temple on their toes. Even the slightest deviation by anyone from the traditions would immediately be brought to the notice of the authorities by Lakshmi Narasimhan. At that time, he was in constant touch directly with JC Pon Jayaraman, sometimes almost on a daily basis updating him both the positives and the challenges at the Madapalli. In light of such communication, it is shocking that the JC has stuck to the same stated position for two months.

Madapalli driven by Venu Srinivasan's Sambhavanai!!!
It is one thing for Venu Srinivasan and his trust to provide Sambavanai to secured HR & CE staffers who perform service at the temple. But it is quite another for his contribution to be the only source of monthly income, as in the case of Srivatsan now and Lakshmi Narasimhan earlier (it is another matter that Lakshmi Narasimhan had held through the time of his service that he had completely let go of financial interests in life and that his only way forward was to serve the Lord with the utmost devotion and that nothing else mattered to him in life).

A new entrant joins Madapalli from Amalgamation Group
Meanwhile in a separate development, unconnected with the above, Srivatsan (photo below), the first entrant from the IT industry to the Madapalli at Srirangam, has quietly continued his devotional way of service and has also roped in another corporate executive from Madras into the Madapalli, once again on Sambhavanai terms.
He has managed to pursue a corporate executive in his 40s to join the Madapalli. Venkatesan, the new entrant again on TVS Sambhavanai, who has had over two decades of experience in a traditional industry and worked for the Amalgamations Group in Madras has quit his job and has been at the Srirangam Madapalli for a month now.

Venkatesan says that it took a lot of constant persuasion from Srivatsan over a period of time for him to take this big decision to move away from the corporate life in Madras to full time service at the Madapalli.

Srivatsan’s case of temple appointment is still pending with the HR & CE. It is not known as to when he will receive the confirmation order from the HR & CE. The JC has over the last one year repeatedly said that it will all happen very soon / within the next month or two but here too the stated position on the appointment has remained unchanged over a long period of time leaving Srivatsan wondering if he would get the appointment order that would provide the much needed security to him in terms of his service at the temple.

Lakshmi Narasimhan’s presence at the Madapalli was a big driver for the transformation there for he was vocal and brought about traditional changes. If he is not to come back, it will be a setback for the temple. What however is disappointing is his lack of communication to the temple authorities on his long absence from service. His sudden disappearance and the completed absence of updates to the Chairman, Board of Trustees, who provided the Sambhavanai ( Salary) to Lakshmi Narasimhan does not seem to be in line with his repeated communication of dedicating his life in service to the Lord at the Srirangam temple.

It is hoped that Srivatsan will continue with the transformation of the traditional way of service at the madapalli that he has been undertaking for the last two years. And it is also hoped that Pon Jayaraman will initiate the process of providing both Srivatsan and Venkatesan with the official service appointment order from the HR & CE.