Friday, December 28, 2018

Ambi Rajagopal Viveka Fine Arts

The man who anchored the success story at Viveka Fine Arts passed away recently

Ambi and his wife also built a one of its kind school in the 1970s that has helped students "aim for the best without being aggressively competitive"
Here's a look at how he built the two institutions!!

It was time to part ways at college. A set of friends had had a jolly good time in the 3-4 years that had just gone by. But there was a tinge of sadness in one man. He was keen to continue the strong friendship that he had built with many during this period and was looking for an idea to keep them bonded for life.

It struck him that presenting plays was one good way to do that. It was an accidental meeting at the RR Sabha that led to him to bringing together his group of friends into a full-fledged troupe that over the next 50 years would go on to present well over 5000 hugely successful plays (he lost count after the magical mark of 5000!!!).

That’s ‘Ambi’ Rajagopal (SRG to his friends) for you, the man who anchored this success story. He also roped in his elder brother ‘Cho’ Ramaswamy to pen the stories for his plays. Mohd Bin Tughlaq was an all time favourite, one that was staged over a 1000times. In Saraswathi Sabatham, he created a revolutionary rotating stage as early as the early 1970s.

The plays became the talk of the town. There was a period when Ambi staged over 30plays in a month, with even multiple plays in a day. The ‘Cho Written-Ambi Staged’ plays had caught on like forest fire and the audience was always looking forward to the next play. The troupe continued their success story till 2004, the last one that they presented was Nermai Urangum Neram, after which Cho decided to stop writing.

Anchoring a Radio Programme during the school days
Ambi had had an early exposure to stage plays. When he was in the 4th form at PS High School, Lakshmana Iyer, his teacher there, roped him in along with a few other students for a radio show that he was producing. A year later, the teacher eased himself out and gave Ambi (and his friend PN Kumar) the responsibility to produce and anchor. Ambi anchored a 30 minute programme on the radio that included children’s play. That was his first initiation into ‘plays’.

And then there was a lull. He had no contact with dramatics till his first year in college.

A Guest in waiting becomes an artiste
Ambi, who spent the first 20years of his life on North Mada Street, used to walk back from Vivekananda College with his neighbour and college mate PN Krishnaswamy (PNK). One evening PNK, who was already acting in dramas, asked Ambi to wait for a while longer as he was finalising the artistes for the annual college drama. Suddenly someone in that group stretched out his hand and pointing at Ambi called him out as ‘Aiyyaswamy’. 
Ambi was a guest in waiting but that accidental wait landed him a role in the college drama.  Though he got into this by accident, he decided to go the whole hog. He stood for the Secretary’s post in the election and won.  Under his leadership, there were many plays presented and prizes won. And in no time, Ambi got addicted to this.

Along with Narayanaswamy (Joint Secy), Muthuswamy and Kothamangalam Mali (Treasurer), Ambi founded Viveka Fine Arts and started staging plays.

Once he accompanied Muthuswamy to RR Sabha (the latter used to get free entry there) to watch Manohar’s Lankeswaran. Ambi was sitting on a cement bench near the green room when Natesan Iyer passed by. He looked at Ambi and asked if he would be interested to stage a play. And that was a life changing moment for him. Ambi grabbed the opportunity with both hands and there was no looking back.

The Big Moment - Roping Cho in
Their play ‘Thenmozhiyal’ was favourably received by the audience. He was looking for a 2nd play and Cho’s ‘If I get it’ fell on his lap. Cho had joined UAA as a stage assistant. With Pattu writing the plays for UAA, Cho’s story was rejected. Ambi seized the moment and roped Cho into his troupe. He went up to his brother and picked up the story. It became a roaring success. This was staged over 20times in a single year. Along with his troupe, Ambi shot into prominence.

Over the next decade, Cho wrote a number of plays each of which was written in a single sitting. Slapstick and Repartee Comedy and later political satires - ‘Don’t tell anybody’, ‘Wait and See’, ‘Why Not’ and ‘What for’ - had all become super hits that decade. Mohd Bin Tughlaq topped the list. And he always had people wanting more. They just could not resist VFA’s plays. 
Ambi who had joined IOC in the early 60s, would go to the refinery and come straight to the sabha in the evening to anchor the play. Interestingly, when he retired from IOC in 1987, he had the distinction of being the only employee in the PSU to have worked for 25 years in a single location!!! Such was the regard they had for his plays that they just let him be.

As the secretary of the club, Ambi was clear. He would not stop plays for any reason. If any artiste was absent, there were substitutes in place. If electricity was a challenge (and it was many a time in those days), he would have people hold ‘emergency light’ in hand so the play could continue.

Ambi looked back at that golden period with a great sense of satisfaction – ‘We didn’t have ego, no axe to grind, absolutely no commercial interest. There were no personality clashes and nobody wanted prominence. It was a pleasure to work with the entire team over such a long period of time.’

Launch of a Residential School
While the drama success is the more well known side of his life, Ambi along with his wife Shantha launched ‘La Chatelaine’, in 1970, a school that has been revolutionary in many ways over the last 45years.

During one of his trips to the Swiss Alps, Ambi and his wife came across an interesting finishing school. Impressed with the concept, they started a similar one in Chennai. Students were taught horse riding, music- western/Indian and dance, among other extra-curricular activities in addition to academics. His idea was to keep it down to around 50 students. However, demand for the offering increased dramatically to almost four times this number.

He bought a five acre property in Valasarvakkam in the mid 1970s and set up a 1000 children residential school with students joining in from all over the world. Children were monitored 24 hours a day. Parents fully trusted and depended on Ambi and his wife to take care of their children. Ambi roped in a battery of teachers for the non-academics that included a cultural wing within the school.

Shantha had been a professor at the QMC. When they decided to set up a small school in Chetput in 1970, there were many who were apprehensive as she had no previous experience in school management. With Ambi shuttling between the refinery and the Sabhas, she was left with the day to day management in those early days “It has been a wonderful and a most satisfying experience taking care of the children over the last 45 years. Many of my students are still in touch with me and we feel happy that they are all doing well in life." 
In 1999, with age catching up with him and after almost 3decades of taking care of several thousands of children like his own, he started converting the Residential School to a Day School. This transformation to a 3600 children day school was complete in 2008.

Interestingly, a lot of what he did for students in the residential school still continues in the current set up - free lunch for students and teachers. The children do not carry books, lunch boxes and big bags to school. Every child is given ‘protected’ drinking water.  Ambi’s has been the only private school here to provide full lunch to teachers and students without any charges. In the late 1990s, his was the first school to totally computerise teaching of all subjects in the primary section.

In a golden period for stage plays, Ambi Rajagopal as the Secretary of Viveka Fine Arts captivated and enthralled audiences on stage through his 5000+ plays. And over the last 45 years, he has helped provide quality education to several thousands of children though his philosophy of ‘helping them aim for the best without being aggressively competitive’. The children at his school make friends through good manners and absorb ethical and moral values not as a dogma but as a way of life. And that gives a great deal of satisfaction for Ambi.

(Ambi Rajagopal passed away recently)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Thiru Naraiyur Nachiyar Koil Utsavam

A rare coming together of Saivite and Vaishnative Lords at an ancient Divya Desam
The Divine Couple of Thiru Naraiyur in Rishabha Vahanams make a trip to Nachiyar Koil to meet their daughter and son in law
At most ancient locations, with the passing of time, the historical meeting of the Lord of ‘Divya Desam’ with the Lord of ‘Padal Petra Sthalam’ has sadly been done away with. However, one finds an exception in the twin temple town of Nachiyar Koil and Thiru Naraiyur for on the day after Vaikunta Ekadasi, Lord Siddhanatha Swamy and Gomathi Ambal of Thiru Naraiyar make their way on separate Rishabha Vahanams to the sacred tank at Nachiyar Koil, when Srinivasa Perumal and Vanjula Valli Thayar welcome them from the Theppam.

It is just after 5pm on the tenth day of the Margazhi Brahmotsavam at Nachiyar Koil that also included the Kal Garuda Sevai Utsavam. Gopinathan Bhattar, who also doubles up as HR & CE’s unofficial marketing executive at the temple getting them the donors for all the utsavams in the year, has begun a two hour alankaram of Lord Srinivasa and Vanjula Valli Thayar at the Vahana Mandapam. 
Interestingly, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his century of verses refers to the Lord residing in Thiru Naraiyur.
வம்பு அவிழும் செண்பகத்தின் வாசம் உண்டு
மணி வண்டு வகுளத்தின் மலர்மேல் வைகு
செம்பியன் கோச் செங்கணான் சேர்ந்த கோயில்
திருநறையூர் மணிமாடம் சேர்மின்களே
A couple of kms away at Thiru Naraiyur, Gurunatha Gurukal has roped in a couple of young Gurukals from the Kumbeswarar temple in Kumbakonam for the alankaram of Siddhanatha Swamy and Gomathi Ambal, both mounted atop Velli Rishabha Vahanam. A couple of hours later, the Lords and Goddesses had no resemblance to what they were a little while earlier such was the work of the priests.

The Lord and Thayar of Nachiyar Koil began their 90 minute procession around the Big Madivilagam on a simple pallakku around 8pm. At 930 pm, both of the deities got into the beautifully lit Float for the first of the three rounds inside the huge tank, North of the temple. The Theppotsavam took one back to the olden days when the entire village congregated at the temple in large numbers.

Economic Driver
It served as a big boost to the local economy. From chats to candies, balloons to bangles, ice creams to drawing books all the vendors made brisk business through the evening. Many other temporary stalls had made its way North of the tank. Several hundreds of young children got a first hand experience of a 'Unified' Utsavam in a temple town.

Lets go slow on the Theppam
The story goes that Vanjula Valli Thayar asks the Lord to go slow as she hears that her parents are on the way from Thiru Naraiyur to witness the Utsavam here and hence the reason for the slow movement of the Float over the first two rounds. 
Nadaswaram, Udal, Rishabha Vahanams at Naraiyur
For the Thevaram Sthalam praised by the famous three Saint Poets, it was one of the grandest days of the year. By 7pm, the Lord and Ambal looked at their resplendent best on their Silver Rishabha Vahanams. The devotees were delighted at the grand alankaram with both the Lord and Ambal seen with large flower garland and glittering jewelry with every visitor conveying their congratulations to the two young Gurukals. An hour later, a grand beautifully lit giant backdrop was added to the Rishabha Vahanams.

By 8.30 pm, the Lord and Ambal were ready to leave the temple on a 2 hour procession from the Padal Petra Sthalam of Thiru Naraiyur to the Divya Desam at Nachiyar Koil led on a ‘tractor’ by a nadaswaram troupe followed by the loud beating of ‘Udal’, the sacred drum by a group of teenaged boys. All the streets of Thiru Naraiyur were dotted with white pulli kolams with each of the households welcoming the divine couple to their homes with presentations to the Lord. 
It is 1045 pm when the divine couple of Thiru Naraiyur entered Nachiyar Koil for the only time in the year to the delight of 100s of devotees who had gathered around the tank. By 11 pm, Son in Law Srinivasa Perumal and Daughter Vanjula Valli Thayar had completed their second round in the theppam and stopped in front of Siddhanatha Swamy and Gomathi Ambal to seek their blessings. One could spot a happy smile in the face of the daughter on seeing her parents.

A simultaneous aarathi was presented with the Gurukal lifting high in a gesture of showering the blessings on the young couple. Siddhanatha Swamy and Gomathi Ambal presented their gifts to their daughter and son in law. 
Naraiyur's Legend
The Saivite Legend has it that pleased with the prayers of Medhavi Maha Rishi, Goddess Lakshmi was born in the middle of the tank at Thiru Naraiyur as a small child inside the lotus, in a green pavadai and a beautiful rose top. When ‘Nachiyar Amman’ grew into a beautiful young girl, Siddhanatha Swamy and Gomathi Ambal gave her in marriage to Srinivasa Perumal of Nachiyar Koil.

Every year on the Dwadasi day in Margazhi, the Divine Couple from Thiru Naraiyur on a Rishabha Vahana go on a grand procession to witness the Theppam at Nachiyar Koil. Belief is that Shiva and Parvathi hand over their daughter in a Kanya Dhanam to Srinivasa Perumal of Nachiyar Koil.

It is the one day in the year when Vaishnavites and Saivites of Nachiyar Koil and Thiru Naraiyur stood next to each other enjoying the rare meeting of the Saivite and Vaishnavite Lords.

Having blessed the young couple, Siddhanatha Swamy and Gomathi Ambal make their way back to Thiru Naraiyur well after midnight bringing to end an annual utsavam that signifies the unity that existed in the centuries gone by between the Saivites and Vaishnavites.

Sun’s rays on Siddhanatha Swamy
On 5 days in Maasi (16th to 20th day of the Tamil month), the sun’s rays fall directly on the Lord in the evening between 5.45pm and 615pm. On these days the lights at the temple is switched off in the evening and the entire Moolavar Sannidhi is lit with the Sun’s light. On the fifth evening, the Lord is seen in a grand flower decoration in a thanking gesture to the Sun God. 
The presence of three Dakshinamurthy Sannidhi is a special feature at the Siddhanatha Swamy temple. There are many other beautiful sculptures at the temple including one indicating the penance of Medhavi Maha Rishi here in Thiru Naraiyur.

Mapillai’s Gift to his in-laws
On the Thiruvathirai day in Margazhi, Nataraja and Sivagami, within a few days of the trip of Siddhanatha Swamy and Gomathi Ambal make a trip to Nachiyar Koil Divya Desam to present vastram to the Lord and Thayar who in return present the Tulasi Garland to the Lord. The priest of Nachiyar Koil then makes a trip to Thiru Naraiyur to present gifts from the Mapillai’s side. 
Selfless Service for Decades
80 year old Gnana Sundara Gurukal is fragile. He has served the temple for over six decades at two and three digit monthly salary. When he sets his sights on the Lord and Ambal, his eyes lit up with happy tears rolling down his cheeks. His son Gurunatha Gurukal has been at the temple for over two decades at a monthly salary of around Rs. 600!!! But in the father and son, there is total commitment to the Lord and Ambal. They see this as an engagement with God and they have been performing service without battling their eyelid over several decades despite it not being financially remunerative. The story is similar to one finds in several of the ancient Padal Petra Sthalams – that of Gurukals performing service at meager salary far below even the minimum wages payable as laid out in the constitution.

The temple is open 8am - 12.30pm and 4pm - 8pm. Contact Gurunatha Gurukal @ 99443 79140.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Thiru Pudaimaruthur Naarumbu Nathar

Lord Naarumbu Nathar is seen in a tilted posture listening to the devotional rendition of a devotee

One finds a cut on his head in memory of the historical episode relating to Pandya King slashing the sickle on a hidden deer

Kannan Gurukal remains the only traditionalist in this temple town that not so long ago had 350 of them residing in the agraharam
It is 515 am on a Tuesday morning in Karthigai with a slight drizzle around the corner.  It is still quiet at the Tamaraibarani. The villagers are just beginning to turn up for their morning bath at the various ‘padi thurai’ along the banks. S Kannan Bhattar (Gurukal), who has been performing aradhana and also managing the madapalli at the ancient Narumbu Nathar temple in Thiru Pudai Maruthur since 1995 at just Rs. 175 per month is already up and getting ready for the morning pooja. His father had performed service for 4 decades while his grandfather was there for 45 years. They rarely complained about the low income and simply performed their duty at this big temple of serving the Lord.

Till about four decades ago, the agraharam was home to 350 traditionalists with Vedic Chanting being an integral part of the temple. Today, the Gurukal remains the only Brahmin family in the village.

The Eastern entrance remains a Mottai Gopuram. 
Unique Idol
The image of Lord Narumbu Nathar is unique in that he is seen slightly tilted trying to hear the voice of his devotee with scars on his head, an indication of the legendary episode relating to the temple.

Tale of Lord’s tilted posture
Karur Siddhar, one of the 18 renowned Siddhars, reached this location after meeting Sage Agastya at Papanasam, at the foot of Pothigai Hills. When he reached the river bank, he was welcomed by flash floods in the Tamaraibarani. Seeing a temple of Lord Shiva and not knowing his name at this temple, he wondered how he could have darshan but was moved the fragrance of ‘Maruthai’ flowers. Seeking darshan, he called out for him 'Poovin Manathil Naduvil Nirkum Naathaney' ‘Narumbu Naatha Nalam Tharuvaayo.’ Moved by his devotion, the Lord moved a bit and is said to have looked out for the devotee who was reaching out to him. An invisible voice directed him to cross the river and come over. Much to his delight, the river gave way and allowed him to cross.

When he came here and asked as to why his face was tilted, the Lord said that he was moved by his devotion and wanted to see who this devotee was. The Siddhar prayed that the Lord remain so ever after to provide darshan to all devotees in the same tilted posture.

Cut on the Lord’s head
When Veera Marthanda Pandya reached here on a hunting expedition, he found a scared deer hiding at the foot of the tree. He directed the cutting of the tree with a sickle. To his shock, he found a Shiva Lingam coming out of the Marutha Tree with a cut in the head and a deer form on his chest. Apologising for his action, he built the temple that one finds in its current form and structure today. To this day, the Lord is seen with a cut in the head and with a deer mark on his chest. 
The Saivite Triangle
'Thalai Maruthur' Mallikaarjuna at Srisailam, Idai Maruthur Mahalingeswarar at Thiru Idai Maruthur  ( the mid part and here Pudai Maruthur Narambunathar, signifying the ‘patham’ sthalam are three temples seen in an equidistant triangle.

Indra was inflicted with Brahmma Hathi Dosham for having ignored his original Guru and then later having killed his 'adopted' asura Guru. Indra and his wife had bath in the Surendra Theertham and undertook penance to be liberated from the dosham. He had darshan of Lord and Ambal in Kalyana Kolam.

This is a Triveni Sangamam with Tamarai Barani, Manimutharu and Kadana rivers meeting near here. There is an old world feeling about this historic location. One finds green paddy fields all along the road from Mukoodal which is 4kms away. The greenery continues off the Thirupudaimaruthur- Attalanallur road as well with banana plantations in large numbers. 
It was here that Maha Periyava received Deekshai.

The temple is abound with inscriptions.
10 day Brahmotsavam in Thai with Theerthavari on Poosam

When here, also visit Gajendra Varadar Perumal temple in Attalanallur (

How to reach
An auto from Mukoodal (4kms) will cost Rs. 70. One can also reach the temple from Veeravanallur (auto Rs. 100). Contact numbers: 96295 42614 / 94427 14547

The temple is open from 6am to 11am and from 430pm to 8pm. Contact: S Kannan Gurukal @ 96262 90350.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Brahmmadesam Kailasanathar Koil

Pancha Lingam Kshetram
The largest temple in the region has the most exquisite stone sculptures
The Gurukal has single handedly revived the historical Theppotsavam though the Brahmotsavam has not taken place for four decades

A single archaka has been managing the huge temple all alone at just a three digit salary 
Referred to as Raja Raja Chaturvedi Mangalam, Brahmma Desam was historically renowned for Vedic Scholars reciting the four Vedas through the day. There was such vibrancy in the region brought about by this nonstop chanting that Raja Raja Chozha donated the entire temple town to the Vedic Scholars so they could focus on the recital. Till very recently, Vedic Education and Recital was an integral part of Brahmma Desam. Rig Veda was initiated to students and only the dwindling interest and moving away of the traditionalists away from such remote locations prompted the conversion of the Vedic school to an academic school on the South Street a couple of decades back.

The temple town referred to as Ayaneeswaram signifying the presence of Brahmma and Shiva at the temple is home to Kailasanathar and Brihantha Nayaki. Reference to Ayaneeswaram is made in the 8 song of the 6th Thirumurai Adaivu Thiruthandagam.

Located 4kms  East of Mannar Koil ( off the Mukoodal Highway, the huge 2000 year old temple is surrounded by lush green paddy fields, banana plantations and coconut groves. The Gadana River runs right near the temple from South to North. The towering 7 Tier Raja Gopuram at the Eastern Entrance casts its shadow on the big temple tank, just North of the tower.  
Legend has it that Brahmma came here, created the Theertham, had bath and undertook penance repenting for his sin of having insulted Lord Shiva in Dakshana’s Yagna.  Brahmma’s grandson Romasa Rishi too performed pooja at this place.

Pancha Lingam Kshetram
The temple is unique in that there are five Separate Sannidhis for Lord (and Ambal) with a separate Vimanam and Nandi. These include Kasi Viswanathar and Visalakshi, Annamalaiyar and Unnamulai Ammai, Madurai Meenakshi and Sundareswarar, Ilaintha Adi Nathar and the Moolavar of this temple Kailasanathar, flanked by Brihandha Nayaki in a separate sannidhi. Hence this is referred to as Pancha Lingam Kshetram.

Ilanthai Adi Nathar (Badarivaneswarar), a Swayambu idol, is the original deity at this temple. One finds an Ilanthai tree as the Sthala Vriksham.

This is the birth place of the second Acharya of Kanchi Mutt Sarvagna Atmendra Saraswathi Swami.

Architectural Glory
The Cheras and Chozhas created one of the most incredible pieces of sculptures at this temple. Credit goes to the Pandyas for the construction of all the Mandapams, while the towering Raja Gopurams and the huge outer walls were built by the Nayaks.

Exquisite unseen Sculptures
The temples along the entire Tamaraibarani stretch have exquisite stone sculptures as exemplified by the ones in Srivaikuntam and Krishnapuram, among others. At the Kailasanathar temple in Brahmmadesam, the Cheras created  sculptures that will remain etched in one’s memory for ever.
The Bikshaada Nathar Sabha is a distinctive Sannidhi where one finds one of a kind of images not found in any other temple in Tamil Nadu. The seven feet tall Lord Shiva presents himself as Bikshaada Nathar without a peedam standing tall like a human being. He is seen with a Bhootham Vadhyam in a typical posture of going out for Bikshai.

Around him are carvings of Brahmma, Vishnu, Muruga, Pillayar, Ashta Dhik Baalakars, Surya, Chandra, Kinnarar, Kim Purushar, Agastyar, all seen in their respective Vahanas offering worship to Bikshaada Nathar. Seen above the Lord are two Apsara Kannis sculpted on a single stone, yet another marvelous piece. Below the Lord are three Apsaras in three different postures including one in a Sayana Kolam.
‘Punugu’ Nataraja
Yet another special feature at this temple is the presence of Lord Nataraja with Sivagami, Karaikal Ammayar and Pathanjali Vyaakra Paatha Muni. In centuries gone by, the Lord was provided a grand Punugu bath once a year on the eve of Margazhi Thiruvathirai and was referred to as ‘Punugu Sabaapathi’. But in recent decades, given the financial state of the temple, the Lord is given a sandal pasting on that day and remains so through till the next Margazhi. 
In the outer prakaram, one finds a separate sannidhi for Brahmma and Indra. Being a ‘Brahmma’ Desam, there is also a separate Sannidhi for Saraswathi with a Vimanam.

Right next to this on the pathway is a Lotus Petal in stone. It is the only from this location can one see all the three Raja Gopurams and the seven Vimanams.

The stone roof near the Eastern Raja Gopuram is yet another feature at this temple. While this is similar to structures seen in temples in Kerala, this one is fully in stone.

Dakshina Murthy is seen with a folded right leg and the left leg placed down, in contrast to the usual posture of the right leg being down.

Koorma Aasana – Soma Vaara Mandapam
Out of the five Aasanaas of the Lord, the one at this temple is in the form of Koorma Aasana. This exclusive piece of architecture is seen at the Soma Vaara Mandapam near the Ambal Sannidhi with the mandapa built atop Koorma. It is here that historically music and dance festivals used to be organized. Lined up on the row of pillars in this stretch are historical characters including those of Duryodhana, Yudhistira and Bheema, in addition to those from the Ramayana. 

Huge Nandikeswarar on Stone
The Nandi near the Kodi Maram, the biggest in the region and sculpted on a single stone, is another example of the outstanding architecture seen inside the temple. He is seen with a bell, jewels and anklets. The posture is similar to that a cow in a sitting posture.
War Time Invocation by the Kings
During war time, the kings used to visit the temple to invoke the blessings of Naalayirathamman (Sahasrambikai), a Kaali Roopam and they would return to the temple in a thanking gesture at the end of the war. In memory of this historical event, a grand ‘Thiru Kudai’ Thiruvizha in Thai was part of the temple’s annual festival calendar, this one strung together by different communities in the temple town. This too has come to a halt in recent decades. The moolavar idol of Naalayirathamman is on the banks of the Gadaga river in a separate temple dedicated to her.

Brahmotsavam- A thing of the Past?
Historically, the 10th day of the Brahmotsavam on Panguni Uthiram saw a procession of Lord Kailasanathar on a Rishaba Vahana with Brihandha Nayaki around the streets of Brahmma Desam, the largest temple in the Ambasamudram region after celebration of the Theerthavari Utsavam in the morning. For centuries, this was the grandest of the festivals at this temple. But for almost half a century, the Brahmotsavam has become a ‘festival of the past’. And this in a temple that is the largest in the region with three towering Gopurams and seven Vimanams, has the most exquisite stone sculptures and was once a War Temple offering protection to the people.

Revival of Panguni Hastham Theppotsavam
The Theppotsavam was celebrated on Hastham, the day after Panguni Uthiram and on the 11th day of the Brahmotsavam. Thanks to the efforts of Raj Kumar Bhattar, who took over from his father a decade ago, the theppotsavam has now been revived in all its ancient glory. With the help of donors, the entire tank was refurbished over a two month period a few years back. 
For the last three years, the theppotsavam has been conducted following the full agama (the temple follows Kaamiga Agamas – one of the 28 agamas) ritual including performing the homam on the Hastham day. Melam, Vedic Chants, recital of Thirumurai, Bharatanatyam and procession around the Ratha Veethi are now part of the Theppotsavam celebrations.

There was a Chariot Festival too around the Ratha Veethi but with the Brahmotsavam having come to a halt, the Chariot has remained in a dilapidated condition at the far Eastern end of the Sannidhi Street.
To this day, one finds the ancient Vasantha Mandapam, where Vasanthotsavam was once celebrated in a grand manner.

The Gurukal has revived celebrations of occasions such as Pradhosham, Thei Pirai Ashtami Pooja, Chitrai Visu, four time pooja on Sivarathri and Margazhi Thiruvathirai. He has begun a Vilakku Pooja in the evening on the first day of the Tamil month.

Huge Granite Stones for Lord’s Pandal
An interesting facet of the Utsavams was that there were big granite stones to the North of the Eastern Raja Gopuram on which big Pandal was placed during big festive occasions for the Lord would take shelter beneath this at the start of processions.

100 Pillar Mandapam  
The 100 pillared mandapam at the Eastern entrance is probably the best depiction of the architectural greatness of the times gone by with each pillar showcasing the skills of the artisans. In one of the pillars is depicted the fight between Vaali and Sugreeva. A couple of rows way is one of Rama standing in a posture of striking the arrow in the direction of Vaali. What is amazing is that one is able to see the fighters from Rama’s pillar but one is not able to sight Rama from the ‘fighting’ pillar, truly symbolic of the hidden state of Rama in that episode. No pillar has been moved or is out of place to create this hidden state of Rama.

A War Temple – Blocking an Elephant
In those early centuries, this was a war temple. People from the entire region used to take shelter within the temple when the war broke out and the huge temple door at the Eastern Raja Gopuram was shut. The opposition used the elephant force to try to break open the door but failed as the entire door was filled with sharp edged nails that caused the elephant to bleed each time it tried to push the door. 
The outer walls too were built in such a way that local forces could watch the movements of the opposition warriors. The towering Raja Gopuram was also used as a ‘weapon’ to identify the whereabouts of the opposition troupe.

Where the Paddy was ground
Just outside the temple at the Eastern Entrance is the Nellu Kuthu Thirai, an area where paddy was ground and later presented to the Lord. This was also the zone where paddy was stored to serve the entire village during floods, famines and during war time. Unfortunately over the last half a century since the arrival of the HR & CE in its full steam, the paddy inflow into the temple from the lands belonging to the temple has completely stopped both for the Lord and the temple personnel.

Meagre income for the Gurukal
This story is being written on a day when the petition for reasonable salary for priests is coming up in the Madurai High Court, a case filed by the Head Archakar of Rajagopalaswaamy Kulasekara Azhvaar temple in Mannar Koil, just a few kms from Brahmmadesam ( 

The Brahmmadesam temple is no different in this regard. 

Raj Kumar Gurukal joined the temple a decade ago at a monthly salary of Rs. 215 which has since been doubled to Rs. 500. His father N Kulathu Bhattar performed pooja at the temple for over four decades, first at a salary of Rs. 65 per month and then later at Rs. 165.  It has generally been a huge struggle to sustain themselves with the HR and CE citing the lack of income at the temple as a reason for the ridiculously meager salary to the archaka who is now managing the huge temple all alone without any support. 

While there were a dozen people at the temple till the 1980s, he has only the ‘Pala Velai’ person, who himself is paid only Rs. 300 per month, as the only companion at the temple over the last decade.

Unflinching Devotion to the Lord
During his over four decades service at the temple, his father used to bring water from the well each day for abhisekam at each of the Sannidhis. In the early part of the 20th Century, his grandfather Natesa Bhattar would walk all the way to the river to bring water for Abhishekam, such was his devotional commitment.

Revival of the Brahmmotsavam is a distant dream given the current working of the HR & CE though Raj Kumar Bhattar is hopeful he will be able to achieve this in his life time. As a precursor, he has brought back into great shape most of the historical Vahanas that were once used for the Brahmotsavam purapadu.
                 Koorma Aasana - Soma Vaara Mandapam
Repair Works at the temple
It is almost 15years since the previous Kumbabhisekam. There are cracks on the Eastern Raja Gopuram. The ASI has inspected and cleared the repair works to be undertaken to fix the cracks. Several of the beautiful sculptures on the Raja Gopuram need immediate repair works. But as has been with so many ancient temples, the temple is awaiting approval from the HR & CE headquarters. As is happening in several other temples, the inordinate delay in the approval process is creating frustration among donors.

It is easily the biggest temple in the region with three Raja Gopurams and Seven Vimanams. The entire temple is managed by a single archakar who works at a miniscule Rs. 500 a month salary. It is hoped that sometime in the near future, HR & CE will take steps to staff such ancient temples adequately and compensate the archakas and other temple personnel appropriately so they can carry out their duties without the financial worry.

Temple Time
The Temple is open between 730am and 10am in the morning and between 530pm and 730pm in the evening. Contact: Raj Kumar Bhattar @ 94428 94094.

How to reach
Auto from Ambai Bus Stand to the temple will cost Rs. 70. Local town buses every half hour from Ambai Bus Stand. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Thiruvanaikaval Kumbabhisekam 2018

Jambukeswarar Akilandeswari Kumbabhisekam is slated for next Wednesday, the morning of December 12

With the slowdown in Thiruppani approvals by the HR & CE, only part of the repair works have been undertaken at a cost of Rs. 1.1 crores, funded by donors - More than half the work remains unfinished
The first phase of renovation is nearing completion at the legendary Jambukeswarar – Akilandeswari temple at Thiruvanaikaval (, one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams, where the Lord manifests himself as ‘Water’ (Neer Sthalam). Located on the Northern banks of Cauvery, the temple was the first ‘Maada Koil’ built by Ko Chenganan Chozhan who went on to build 70 more including the Divya Desam at Nachiyar Koil.  The Thevaram Sthalam has been praised by Thiru Gnana Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar and Manikkavachakar.

Only Minor Works Completed
With a stringent approval process laid out by the Madras High Court for renovation of temples, only minor works have been undertaken in this phase. The previous renovation exercise had been undertaken almost two decades ago with the Kumbabhishekam having taken place in 2000.

The towering Gopurams in the East and the West wear a fresh bright look after a new coat of painting. Most of the mandapams and pillars have been water washed. The Jambu Theertham, one of the Nava Theertham, has received a new fencing. 
Revamp of Electrification System after 80 years
Despite its historical nature, the 1000 pillar mandapam, one of the few in TN, had remained a dark zone. As part of this renovation exercise, extensive lighting has been provided at this ancient mandapam that will allow the devotees to explore this special area within the temple complex.

For decades, wires had been hanging dangerously all over the temple. For the first time, in almost 80 years, the entire temple complex has seen a complete revamp of the electrification system with the installation of the duct system.

New Vahanas
New Sesha and Yaanai Vahanas will carry the Lord on the annual Brahmotsavam. A few more vahanas will see repair works in the second phase.

The first phase of renovation has been undertaken at a cost of Rs. 1.1 crores, funded by the donors.

Toilet Complex inside the Temple
The temple had made plans to take the toilets outside the temple complex but the authorities have not found a convenient location around the temple. Thus the relocation plan is on hold for the moment and the toilet will continue to remain inside the temple complex, much to the disappointment of the devotees. 
Renovation Plans for 2019
The renovation leading to the Kumbabhisekam marks only the first part of completion of the repair works. The bigger restoration projects are still pending and works will continue into 2019 after approval from the renovation committee.The huge granary opposite the Akilandeswari Sannidhi remains in a dilapidated condition and repair works are likely to take only next years. Similarly, the Theppa Kulam - Rama Theertham, off the Srirangam road where the Thai Poosam festival is celebrated in a grand way requires refurbishing.  This too requires approval from the HR and CE headquarters.

Plans are afoot to set up a special water treatment plant to redirect the abhisekam water on to the newly planned Nandavanam.
Huge Nandavanam to come up on the Eastern side
The big highlight of the post Kumbabhishekam plan is the conversion of the area either side of the Eastern Raja Gopuram into a huge Nandavanam. Hundreds of saplings will be planted soon after the Kumbabhishekam and within the next few years one is likely to see tall trees comprising of Aththi, Vilvam, Izhuppai, Vaazhai and Naaval, among others, that will provide a refreshing look to the Eastern side of the temple complex.

Kumbabhishekam is slated for December 12 between 6am and 7.15am.