Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thiru Vathigai Veerataneswarar

The temple where the Lord relieved Thirunavukarasar of his Stomach pain
Appar sung the first of the Thevaram Verses on Veerataaneswarar at this temple  
His life is a lesson in unflinching devotion and unwavering belief in God 
All the transformational episodes of his life are played out during the Appar Utsavam in Chitrai at this temple in a grand manner

Legendary Saivite Saint Poet Thirunavukarasar (referred to as Appar by his contemporary Thiru Gnana Sambandar) sang his very first Thevaram verse in front of Lord Veerataneswarar at Thiru Vathigai pleading before the Lord for relief from the unbearable stomach pain that he had been stuck with. 
கூற்றாயின வாறு விளக்ககிலீர்
கொடுமை பல செய்தன நான் அறியேன்
ஏற்றாயடிகே இரவும் பகலும்
பிரியாது வணங்குவன் எப்பொழுதும்

தொற்றாதென் வயிற்றின் அகம்படியே
குடரோடு துடக்கி முடக்கியிட
அற்றேன் அடியேன் அதி கைக்கெடில
வீரட்டானத்துறை அம்மானே– Appar's First Thevaram Song

In his first verse, he accepts that he has done many wrongs in life but promises to perform lifelong selfless service night and day till the very end if he was to be relieved from the 'Soolai' pain that he was encountering then. And as a testimony to keeping one’s word with the Lord that serves as a devotional lesson to everyone even today, almost 1500 years later, he kept his word right till the end sweeping and cleaning the garbage at the Agnipureeswarar temple at Thiru Pugalur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/11/thiru-pugalur-agneeswarar-temple.html), where he attained Mukthi.

By the time he had sung his 10th verse, he is a transformed Saivite and begins performing cleaning service at the Veerataneswarar Temple in Thiru Vathigai.

The Tragic Early years
Born as Marul Neekiyar (the one who dispels darkness) in Thiruvamur about 10kms West of Thiru Vathigai on the Panruti – Thiru Navalur (birth place of Sundarar) highway, Thirunavukarasar encountered tragedy in the early phase of his life. The wedding of his elder sister Thilagavathiyar, who was to mentor him all through his life, was postponed when the bridegroom, Kalipagayanar, a Pallava Chieftain from Kanchipuram had to go to war against the marauding forces from the West. Unable to bear the indefinite postponement, his father died and much to his shock, his mother jumped into the pyre. More tragedy was to follow. When she heard the news that her bridegroom was killed in the war, Thilgavathiyar too wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps but Marul Neekiyaar pleaded with her to mentor him and play the role of both his mother and father. And thus she began to live a life for him.

Conversion to Jainism
Unfortunately, it was the period of Jainism gaining strangle hold and Marul Neekiyar was swayed by their philosophy and followed in their footsteps much to the disappointment of his sister who had sacrificed her life for him. For years, taking the name of Dharmasena, he remained rooted to Jainism and travelled round the country  going on to become one of their leaders while Thilagavathiyar, frustrated and embarrassed at this negative turn of events, moved from Thiruvamur to Thiru Vathigai. It was here at the Veerataneswarar temple that she invoked the blessings of the Lord each day of her life to bring her brother Marul Neekiyaar back on to the Saivite path. Finally, she managed to please the Lord with the sincerity of her prayers and He promised to make her brother a legendary name in Saivism.

Marul Neekiyaar becomes Thirunavukarasar
Stuck with unbearable stomach pain and unable to find relief in the solutions provided by the Jains and with nothing working, he finally turned to his sister for solution and made his way back to Thiru Vathigai. Early into the morning, an devotionally excited Thilagavathi cleans the temple entrance and draws a beautiful white kolam welcoming his brother and seeking his transformation into Saivism. 

As he makes his way into the temple through the towering Raja Gopuram at the Eastern Entrance, he is devotionally stuck with the cleanliness and Kolam drawn by his caring sister. After applying the sacred white ash on his forehead, he presented himself, along with Thilgavathy, in front of Lord Veerataneswarar and poured his first ever verse cringing from Stomach pain and asking for relief. Through the verses, he promises to dedicate the rest of his life to selfless service of Lord Shiva. 

As another lesson to devotees, he does not feel embarrassed to speak the truth in front of the Lord and accepts the mistakes he has made in the past but he wants to be given an opportunity to redeem himself and offer in service to the Lord. 

சலம்பூவொடு தூபம் மறந்தறியேன்
தமிழோடிசை பாடல் மறந்தறியேன்
நலந்தீங்கிலும் உன்னை மறந்தறியேன்
உன் நாமம் என் நாவில் மறந்தறியேன்

உலந்தார் தலையிற் பலி கொண்டுழல்வாய்
உடலில் ஒரு சூலை தவிர்த்தருளாய்
அளந்தேன் அடியேன் அதி கைக்கெடில
வீரட்டானத்துறை அம்மானே

The sincerity in the devotional verses pleased the Lord and by the time he finished his verses, the stomach pain had vanished. And he was called out by the Lord as Thirunavukarasa, the one with the golden devotional voice. 

From that day, he became completely dedicated to Lord Shiva and began performing physical cleaning service and singing praise out of happiness that came of this service at temples. The legendary episode of the ‘to be’ Saivite Saint Poet Thirunavukarasar (Appar) surrendering himself before Lord Veerataneswarar asking for relief from the unbearable stomach pain, applying the sacred ash on his forehead, singing the first verse and being immediately blessed by the Lord is re enacted at this temple on the first day of the ‘Appar’ Avathara Utsavam in Chitrai that culminates in his Mukthi on Sathayam.

The transformation story played out on Day 1 of Appar Utsavam
On the morning of the 1st day of the Appar Utsavam in Chitrai, Thirunavukarasar dressed in a white dress, the only day in the year he is so dressed, comes to the Thiruneeratran Mandapam, where he is joined by sister Thilagavathiyar. The Shivachariar presents Thirupalli Yezhuchi verses at the Mandapam, the very same location where he sported the sacred white ash on his forehead for the first time. The Othuvar, specially brought in for this day, render the first Thevaram verse of Thirunavukarasar. This entire episode of Marul Neekiyar transforming into Thirunavukarasar is played out at this mandapam on that morning.

In memory of his transformation from Jainism back to Saivism, there is a historical Jain Idol at the Eastern entrance of the temple.

Jains threaten, Appar unshaken with unflinching devotion
Angered at this sudden transformation and unable to bear his selfless service at Saivite temples, the Jains tried to disrupt his services and tortured him repeatedly in many different ways, each of which is enacted during the 10 day Utsavam in Chitrai. On the 2nd day of the utsavam, the episode of Appar made to sit upon a huge flame is enacted. 

In this hour of despair, he shows unshakable belief in Veerataneswarar. He sings another memorable devotional verse saying that with the Lord having saved him from the life threatening stomach pain, he fears nothing else in life and no flame can consume him.

And much  to their shock and displeasure, the flames actually stay cool on him, reminding one of the episode from the Ramayana when the fire set on Hanuman actually gave him a chilly feeling.

They later send the King’s elephant to kill him but that too backfired on them for the elephant  trampled on the Mahout and returned to the Jains. All of these are played out on the 2nd day of the Utsavam.

The name Cuddalore - Thrown into the Sea
 On the third day of the Chitrai Appar Utsavam, yet another grave torture of him being thrown into the Sea, East of Thiru Vathigai is enacted. This is the day of the Theppotsavam. It is the only day in the year that Appar is seen in a Silver Kavacham. 

Unmindful of the threat of sinking in the sea, he goes with folded hands saying that there is no fear to one who believes in God. And much to the shock of the Jains, he is back alive. It is in memory of him coming out of the Sea unscathed, that the place came to be called ‘Cuddalore’.

Nothing from the King’s forces could unnerve him. The story goes that the Pallava King fell for the devotion of Thirunavukarasar and drove back the Jains and became a follower of Appar’s devotional verses.

His trip to Pennadam
He began his travel singing verses in praise of the Lord and went to the Pralayakareswarar Pennagadam (now Pennadam about 70kms West of Thiru Vathigai) where he inscribed his hands with the Trishul and Sacred Ash. This episode of his trip to Pennadam is played out on the fourth day of the Utsavam.

Meeting with Gnana Sambandar and The Name ‘Appar’
As he moved on, he met Thiru Gnana Sambandar in Sirkazhi, where his contemporary called him out as ‘Appa’. And the name stuck with Thirunavukarasar coming to be referred as Appar.
When he came to Thingalur, 2kms East of Thiruvayaru on the Northern Banks of Cauvery, he encountered something that he had not witnessed anywhere else. At every nook and corner of this Chandran Sthalam, he found references to his name. The place where ‘Butter Milk’ was handed out was called Thirunavukarasar Butter Milk Pandal and every other place was attributed to Thirunavukarasar. It was there that he found a great follower of his, Appoothi Adigal, who had named everything and everyone, including his two sons after Thirunavukarasarar. He was so committed to serving Appar that even when the snake had bit his elder son Appothi Adigal continued to serve the Saint Poet. Appar called for the son to be brought into the house and brought him back to life through the blessings of the Lord.

This entire episode that played out in Thingalur is presented on the 5th day of the Appar Utsavam with Appar going out on a procession in the morning to Thilagavathi Nandavanam opposite the temple complex. The devotees are presented with Butter Milk through the day. On his way back, the devotionally dramatic episode of the snake bite and Appoothi Adigal’s son regaining his life is presented in front of the temple.

Presents Songs and gets food for the Lord’s devotees
As he moves along to Thiruveezhi Mizhalai, he finds the Lord’s devotees in dire straits, struggling to meet even their daily needs. Unhappy on seeing their plight, he invokes the blessings of the Lord through a set of verses. Much to their delight, the Lord shells out in Gold ensuring that everyone is fed in full.

This is played out on day 7 of the Utsavam along with the episode of the Lord shutting the door on Thiru Gnana Sambandar after his very first song while opening the door after Appar’s songs.

Continuing his cleaning service, he moves to Thiru Pazhayaarai where the Jains strike again hiding the idol of the Lord. Once more, his unflinching devotion to Lord Shiva came through as the Lord came out of his hiding on hearing the devotional voice of Appar.

 On the final day of the Utsavam, the episode of Appar receiving Kailaya darshan is presented. He was stuck with old age and could no more walk up the Himalayas and crawled up like a kid and then even used his chest to push himself up the steep mountain. So pleased was the Lord with his devotion that he asked him to dip himself in the nearby Theertham and as he came out he had been ‘shipped’ to Thiruvayaru (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2014/11/thiruvaiyaru-pancha-natheeswarar-temple.html) from where he had Kailaya Darshan. Finally, just after midnight on Chitrai Sathayam, Appar attaining Mukthi at Thiru Pugalur  is played out in a grand manner at the temple.

 AshtaVeera Sthaanam
Thiru Vathigai is one of  the Ashta Veerasthana Sthalams where Lord Shiva killed Asuras after a battle with bow and arrow. Thiru Kurukkai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/thiru-kurukkai-verateswarar-temple_13.html) and Thiru Kandiyur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/kandiyur-brahmma-sira-kadeeswarar.html) are two among the Ashat Veeratanam temples. 

 Three asuras had gained the boon of invincibility anbd continuously attacked the rishis and prevented their penance. Lord Veeratesawarar came on a chariot with Chandran and Suryan as the wheels and with Brahmma as the Charioteer to kill the asuras. It was Sara Narayana Perumal, west of this temple, who handed the bow and the arrow to Veerateswarar for him to kill the three asuras in smiling posture. Two asuras attained Mukthi and serve as Dwara Palakas at this temple. This episode of Tripura Samhara is played out on Vaikasi Swathi on the 9th day of the Brahmotsavam with Tripura Sundara Murthy providing darshan atop the Chariot similar to the way he killed the evil forces from atop the chariot after Sara Narayana Perumal (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/07/thiru-vathigai-sara-narayanan.html) comes and presents his bow and arrow. This is the only day in the year this Utsava Idol comes out of the temple on a procession. 

In Chitrai, Tripura Samhara Murthy provides darshan at the Vasantha Mandapam as part of the Vasanthotsavam inside the temple.
 This is one of the Thevaram Sthalams that historically had Lord and Ambal providing Kalyana Kolam darshan to Sage Agastya, the others being Kanchipuram and Vedaranyam. In memory of this historical event, both of them are seen in a grand Kalyana Kolam Posture behind the beautifully sculpted Moolavar Lingam. 

Episodes relating to all Ashta Veerata Sthalams are sculpted on the outside walls of the prakara, giving devotees an insight into the episodes relating to each of the Veeratana Sthalams. 
The Vimanam atop the Moolavar Sannidhi is a delight to architectural experts with its shadow not falling on the ground. It is believed that Raja Raja Chozhan studied this Vimanam before beginning construction of Brihadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur and the one in Gangai Konda Cholapuram.

The temple is open from 6am to 12noon and from 4pm to 9pm. Contact Gnanasekar Gurukal @ 94439 88779/ Kalyan Kumar Gurukal @ 94863 90376 / Srinivasa Gurukal @ 94427 80111.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Thillai Vilagam Kothandarama

One of the Pancha Rama Temples
The Hereditary Priest Kothandarama Bhattar has not participated in a single event outside of the temple in three decades having committed himself fully to Veera Kothandarama at Thillai Vilagam

48 year Kothandarama Bhattar decided even as a young boy that he would dedicate his entire life to the service of Veera Kothandarama at the Dhandakaranya Kshetram of Thillai Vilagam, one whose legend dates back to the Ramayana. After defeating Ravana, and on his way back to Ayodhya, Rama stayed here in the ashram of Baradwaja Rishi. The five feet tall Moolavar Rama at Thillai Vilagam is seen in a majestic posture sporting a handsome smile. To his right is Sita seen in a Kalyana Kolam.  Kothandarama provides a ‘Tribangi’ Sevai at Thillai Vilagam. The neck has one kind of a curve, the hip a different curve and the leg another curve but all three are in a straight line, a truly unique posture.
Devotional Commitment of Bhattar
Kothandarama Bhattar was initiated into the agamas by the renowned Kizhayur Sowmya Narayanan Bhattar and Koneri Raja Puram Srinivasa Bhattar. He came into the temple as a young teenager in the 1980s and has been here for three decades. Earlier, his father had performed service at the temple for several decades. He has not performed a single samprokshanam or participated in a homam outside of the temple. Even when a wedding takes place inside the temple, he does not participate though there has been an opportunity to make money out of the event. His devotional commitment and attachment is only to Lord Rama and hence does not associate with anything other than service to the Lord. He also doubles up as the cook at the temple to present Thaligai every day to the Lord. Number of devotees do not make a difference to him for he performs aradhana to the Lord irrespective of the presence of devotees engaged in a one on one interaction with the Lord.

During the days of Kothandarama Bhattar’s childhood in the 1970s, there was a long agraharam on the South Street with at least 20 traditional families residing in big numbers. Today there are just three – One Bhattar Family, one Gurukal Family and a Purohit. Unmindful of the exodus of the traditionalists, Kothandarama Bhattar stuck to the Lord and has never left Thillai Vilagam for a Samprokshanam or a Homam in search of financial glory. As a hereditary archaka, he is not paid salary for the daily service. Over the last three decades, Thattu Kaasu, if any, has been the only source of income to him for his temple Kainkaryam. 

Grand Panguni Brahmotsavam
Brahmotsavam is celebrated in a grand way at the temple with experienced priests from Divya Desams anchoring the decoration of the Lord. Staying here through the 11 days of the Utsaavam, Raman Bhattar from Nathan Koil has been conducting the Brahmotsavam festivities over the last many years while Kalyanarama Bhattar of Senkalipuram had managed the annual utsavam in the decades gone by. The Villagers from in and around Thillai Vilagam come together during the Brahmotsavam to take care of the entire expenses with each village managing a day’s Utsavam. The Brahmotsavam also sees the villagers organizing traditional events including Bommalattam, folk dances as well as debates on epics. The Vahana Procession starts every evening after 10pm and goes on till midnight. 

On the 10th day of the utsavam, Rama Pattabhibhisekam is performed with the Lord seen with a special crown. The Deer Vahana Procession on the 11th day of the Brahmotsavam is a speciality at the temple.

Distinctive Features of Rama
The Moolavar idol of Kothandarama is believed to be at least a 1000years old. Rama is holding the bow in his left hand. On a close look at his hands, one is able to see the nerves, the ring and his sharp nails. One is also able to see the sharp distinctive fingers on each hand just like a human hand. On his right hand, Rama is seen holding the arrow that contains the writing ‘Rama Saram’, the only one of its kind in a Rama temple. These writings refer to his philosophy of life – Oru Sol (Rama would not go back on the word he has given), Oru Il (Only one wife – he would not look at another woman) and Oru Vil (The special bow). 
Another interesting feature of the moolvar Rama is the distinctive marks. One is able to also see clearly the nerves and moles on the legs of Lord Rama. Also, one is able to see the knee cap on both the legs of the lord.  On his left leg, one finds the Raksha bandhan tied by mother Kausalya when Rama was young to protect him from evil forces.

Anjaneya’s Dasa Posture
Anjaneya is seen in a Dasa Posture with his right hand close to his mouth in a whispering posture. Belief is that presenting curd rice to Anjaneya at this temple would liberate the devotee from problem associated with marriage and navagriha dosham.
In recent years, the devotee crowd has increased with around 25 devotees visiting the temple on Saturday to perform archanai. Aadi Amavasai and Thai Amavasai days are sacred at this temple. Couples who bathe in the tank West of the temple on either of these two days are believed to be blessed with children. Once a month, devotees, mostly those from nearby villages, perform Thirumanjanam on their birthdays/wedding days.

Hereditary Trustees
The Pancha Loka idols of the Thillai Vilagam Rama temple were found buried in the ground to the west of the temple in the early 19th century by Velu Thevar. The temple in its current form was built subsequent to that by Velu Thevar, whose clan are now the hereditary trustees of the temple. 

Chidambareswarar Temple
Just adjacent to the Kothandarama temple is the Chidambareswarar Umayambigai temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, where one also finds the idol of Nataraja. The two temples of Shiva and Rama are seen next to each other almost in the same complex with an entrance on the Northern side of the Rama temple into the Shiva temple similar to the Chidambaram Temple (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/05/chidambaram-thiruchitrakoodam.html). It is in this context that the place came to be referred to as ‘Thillai’ Vilagam. Renovation works have been pending for almost 25 years at the Shiva temple but is expected to begin early in 2020.

Pancha Rama Temples
Veera Kothandarama at Thillai Vilagam is similar in facial posture to the ones at Baalya Rama, Mudikondan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/12/mudikondan-jawahar-bhattar.html), Hathambavur Rama at Sri Vanjiyam, Eri Kaatha Rama at Madurantakam ( http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/11/madurantakam-eri-kaatha-raamar.html) and Saligrama Rama at Punnai Nallur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/01/saligrama-kothandaramar-koil-punnai.html).
The temple is open from 830am-1230pm and 5pm-8pm Contact Kothandarama Bhattar @ 80568 56894.

How to reach
Thillai Vilagam is 30kms South of Mannaragudi Rajagopalaswamy Temple off the Tiruvarur / Thiruthuraipoondi Muthupet highway 19 kms East of Thiruthuraipoondi and 6kms West of Muthupet. Buses ply every 30minutes from Thiruthuraipoondi to Muthupet. One should get down at Gopala Samudram. Mini bus will take one to the temple (2kms).  From Tiruvarur, cab to the temple and back will cost Rs. 1250. One can also reach the temple from Pattukottai (35kms) or Vedaranyam (40kms).

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Idumbavanam Sath Guru Nathar Temple

Sath Guru Nathar and Ambal Mangalanayaki provided darshan in Kalyana Kolam to Sage Agastya
Belief is that one's anger will go away if  a devotee visits the temple and invokes the Lord's blessing as it was here that Brahmma secured back his 'Sath Gunam' 

10 day Brahmotsavam Revived, Income from Temple Lands recovered, Pending Salaries paid to Shivachariar and Service Personnel through the efforts of the HR & CE EO

EO Murugaiyan looking to recover 200 acres land belonging to the temple that has been encroached in recent years

The Sath Guna Nathar temple in Idumbavanam, 40kms from Thiruvarur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2015/12/thiruvarur-thyagaraja-temple.html) near Thiruthuraipoondi, is a 1500 years old Thiru Gnana Sambandar praised Padal Petra Sthalam, amidst green fields and tall coconut trees, that was once vibrant with blooming flowers that the Lord draped as beautiful garlands. Just under half a century ago, the agraharam, on the North Street, was still vibrant with 20 traditional families residing in this historical location, whose legend dates back to the Mahabaratha. This is one of the 28 Pitru Mukthi Sthalam.
Sasi Sekara Shivachariyar, belongs to a family that has been performing abhisekam for the Lord for centuries. He was initiated into the agamas at a Thiruvayaru Patshala in the 1980s and began assisting his father at the temple even as a teenager. He officially joined the temple as the archaka in 1992 at a monthly salary of Rs. 500. His father had served the Lord at a salary of Rs. 80 for several decades. For over two decades, Sasi Sekara Shivachariyar’s salary remained static at Rs. 500, which too had remained unpaid for long periods of time. It is only recently that this has been raised to the thousands.

A slowdown among devotees but Shivachariar stays back at the temple
The 1990s was also the phase when the original inhabitants of Idumbavanam had all but left the historical temple town in search of greener pastures in the cities. Devotees were few. The once grand Brahmotsavam in Vaikasi had come to a halt. Thattu Kaasu did not come Sasi Sekara Shivachariyar’s way that decade. Income from temple lands too reduced.  But none of these proved a dampener to the Shivachariar's devotional commitment to Sath Guru Nathar as he continued to serve the Lord with the same commitment that his fore fathers had shown all their lives. 
Kalyana Kolam Darshan
It was here that Sage Agastya received Kalyana Kolam darshan, the 2nd in this region after Vedaranyam. As the revered Sage received this darshan, belief is that wedding hurdles will be resolved if one visits this temple and offers sincere prayers to Lord Sath Guru Nathar. 
Reduce one’s anger, Regain Sathvic Character
The legend has it that Brahmma undertook penance in this Vilvaranya Kshetram to recover his ‘Sathvic’ Character that he had lost. As he secured the Sathvic Guna at Idumbavanam after invoking the Lord’s blessings, the Lord came to be called Sath Guna Nathar and the theertham came to be referred to as Brahmma Theertham. Belief is that one’s anger will reduce if a devotee invokes the blessings of Sath Guna Nathar.

The Name Idumba Vanam
The legend of the place dates back to the Mahabaratha. It was here in this kshetram that Bheema fought with asura Idumba, who resided in this region and killed him. Later, he married the asura’s sister Idumbi. The popular character Ghatotkacha was born here. Hence this Kshetram is referred to as Idumbavanam. 
HR & CE EO's positive gesture
Till 1942, the renowned Sambasiva Iyer managed the temple as the hereditary trustee. It was that decade that he handed over the reign of the temple to the HR & CE.

A positive development this year has been the refreshing approach of the newly appointed EO Murugaiyan who had previously served at Thiruvenkadu (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/10/thiruvenkadu-somu-gurukal.html), where he had initiated the process of directing water into the Chandra Pushkarani, which is now seen full to the brim.

He has ensured that some of the pending income from the lands of the temple has been recovered with coconuts coming in good numbers from the tall trees in this region. The EO has helped close out salaries to the priest and the service personnel that had been pending for a long time. He is also looking to recover 200 acres land belonging to the temple that has been encroached in recent years. He is also initiating the process of refurbishing the temple.

It is a rare gesture from a HR & CE official, not hitherto seen in most other Thevarm Sthalams.

Revival of Brahmotsavam
This decade, the ten day Brahmotsavam in Vaikasi too has been revived including the Theppotsavam. Devotees from the 10 villages around Idumbavanam have taken up the organizing and management of each of the 10 days of the big annual festival including carrying the Lord during the Vahana Processions.
In recent years, Pradosham and Margazhi Thiruvatharai have become popular at this temple.

The temple is open from 730am- 12noon and from 430pm-8pm. Contact Gurukal @ 

How to reach
Idumbavanam is 15kms South West of Thiruthuraipoondi and 5kms East of Thillai Vilagam Rama Temple. Buses ply every one hour from Thiruthuraipoondi. Auto from Thillai vilagam will cost Rs. 125.

When here, visit Thiru Nellikaval  (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/08/thiru-nellikaval-nellivananathar-temple.html) Padal Petra Sthalam is 30kms from here. Another Thevaram Sthalam Thiruvoimoor (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/08/thiruvaimur-thiruvaimurnathar-temple.html) too is about 30kms from here.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Mudikondan Jawahar Bhattar

Pancharatra Agama Archakar Kannan Srinivasan Bhattar joins the historical Kothandarama Temple in Mudikondan as the Lead Priest
He has always been a 'stickler' for tradition in performing aradhana 
One finds Lord Rama in a Unique three bend posture at this temple whose legend dates back to his return trip after defeating Lankan King Ravana

56 year old Kannan Srinivasan Bhattar (Jawahar Bhattar), a Pancharatra Agama Archakar who once served in Divya Desams such as Thenthiruperai, Srivaikuntam and Koviladi Appakudathan has joined the over 1000 years old Kothandarama Temple in Mudikondan, near Sirupuliyur Divya Desam as the Lead Priest. He will also double up as the ‘Cook’ at the Madapalli. He has also been given a traditional accommodation in the Agraharam in the West Street of Mudikondan by an original inhabitant Shri Sundararajan, who also is in charge of the activities at the temple.

The temple had been without a full time priest for a while. It was through the efforts of the well networked and much liked Vasan Bhattar of Therazhundur Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/10/therazhundur-divya-desam.html) that Kannan Srinivasan Bhattar has been roped in as the full time Bhattar just ahead of the Karthigai Festival.
                     Vasan Bhattar, Therazhundur

With Jawahar Bhattar at the helm, it is hoped that some of the historical festivals at the temple including the Pagal Pathu Utsavam in Margazhi and the 10 day Rama Navami Festival will be revived to its historical past at the temple.

Jawahar Bhattar, who belongs to the Varam Tharum Periya Perumal Bhattar clan that performed service at the Kanchipuram Varadaraja Perumal Temple, began his temple association as a young boy in the 1980s at the Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Veeravanallur near Athalanallur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/03/athalanallur-gajendra-varadaraja-perumal.html) supporting his grand father at the temple.

It was during that period that the young Jawahar Bhattar was initiated into Pancharatra Agama by the revered Mahara Bhooshana Bhattar at Veeravanallur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/03/veeravanallur-sundararaja-perumal-temple.html). recognised across the Pancharatra temples as one of the  best scholars in Shri Pancharatra Agama, one who was the Archakar at Thenthiruperai as well as at Srinivasa Temple in Kilakkulam, Veeravanallur.

Decades later, he further strengthened his knowledge in Pancharatra Agama by tutoring under Periya Thiruvadi Bhattar, the heredity Archakar of both Kallarpiran temple, Srivaikuntam  (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/05/srivaikuntam-vaikunta-nathan-divya.html) and Adhi Nathar Temple, Azhvaar Thirunagari and another great Pancharatra Scholar, who was conferred the title of 'Pancharatra Agama Rathnagaram'.
                  The Sannidhi Agraharam at Mudikondan

Divya Desams Archaka Experience
In the late 1990s, he performed archaka service at Makara Nedun Kuzhai Kathan temple at Thenthiruperai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/thenthiruperai-divya-desam.html) and at the Kallarpiran Temple at Sri Vaikuntam Divya Desam. It was a period when Venu Srinivasan had just begun restoring the then dilapidated Nava Tirupathi temples (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/02/erettai-tirupathi-transformation.html).

He has always been a stickler for the traditional way of performing aradhana at the temple, not for him the hurry. This lack of 'adjustment' to the devotees' hurried needs at temples has made him incur the wrath of devotees and authorities alike, for these days one is expected to 'toe' the current trend. Jawahar Bhattar is not one such.

In the early part of the last decade, he had moved on to the Appakudathan Divya Desam in Koviladi. His years there were a devotional treat for the devotees who visited the temple in that period. His devotional rendering of the verses relating to Thiruper Nagar, his explanation of the temple legend and of course the 'appam' every evening kept one devotionally connected to that Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/11/thirupper-nagar-koviladi-divya-desam.html).

He then performed service at the Rama Temple in Thenthiruperai and subsequently at the popular Lodhi Road Rama Temple in Delhi, where he was also involved in the installation of an idol of Kulasekara Azhvaar.

A rare 3 Bend Posture at Mudikondan
At Mudikondan, Lord Rama is seen in a rare posture with three bends in his body- the face is seen in one direction, the hip in another and the leg in a third bend. This posture is referred to as ‘Uthama Lakshana’.
Mudikondan - Tale from the Ramayana
The legend of Mudikondan is said to date back to the return trip of Lord Rama after defeating the Lankan King Ravana. Earlier while on his search for Sita, Bharadwaja Rishi had requested Rama to stay with him and have food at his Ashram at Mudikondan.  However, eager to pursue his search, Rama could not accede to the request but promised to return along with Sita. 

Having defeated the Lankan King Ravana, Rama landed here as promised in his Pushpak Vimana. Excited to play host to Rama, Bharadwaja Rishi requested Rama to provide darshan with his crown (Mudi). As Rama displayed his crown here, this place came to be called Mudikondan (the one with the crown).

With this stopover at Mudikondan, Rama asked Hanuman to make a quick trip to Nandigram to inform brother Bharatha that he would soon be back in Ayodhya. However, by the time Hanuman returned, Rama had adorned the crown and finished his meals. Saddened by the fact that his Lord did not wait for his return and did not leave a plantain leaf for him, Hanuman decided to stand outside. Hence, at Mudikondan, one finds the Hanuman Sannidhi outside the temple complex. Historically, the belief has been that Plantain does not grow here in Mudikondan.
Removing the shrubs on the Vimanam
While Samprokshanam was done earlier this decade in 2013, there is a thick growth of shrubs on the Moolavar Vimanam that could lead to damaging the structure. It is hoped that the authorities will remove these at the earliest to prevent damage.

The temple is open from 8am-12noon and 4pm-7pm. Contact Jawahar Bhattar @ 96006 38095.

How to Reach
Mudikondan is located about 10kms South of Sirupuliyur Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/08/sirupuliyur-divya-desam.html) and 10kms West of Thiru Kannapuram (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/11/thiru-kannapuram-divya-desam.html).  Therazhundur Divya Desam is about 20kms North West from Mudikondan.

Buses ply every half - hour from Mayiladuthurai and Tiruvarur and stop right front opposite the temple. By Train, one can take the Chennai- Karaikal night express and get down at Peralam Railway Station. Mudikondan is just over 5kms from Peralam. Passenger Trains stop at Nannilam Railway Station from where Mudikondan is a couple of kms West. Auto costs Rs. 100.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Mothagam Gopalaswamy Temple

A beautiful Rock Cut Cave Temple atop a hill near Azhagapuri
Lord Ranganatha is seen in a handsome Anantha Sayanam Posture
Original inhabitants, now residing across the world, are trying to revive the temple to its historical glory

The scene at this twin temple takes one back to the days of the remote Divya Desams (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/07/thiru-mogur-kalamegha-perumal.html) in Tamil Nadu in the 1970s. The hereditary priest, belonging to the nearby Parapaatti village remains seated at the foot of the rock cut cave temple. But the devotee remains elusive. There are no bus services to the temple. Express buses between Madurai and Srivilliputhur do not even stop on the highway 2 kms away. To catch an auto to the temple, one has to reach Azhagapuri, 4 kms away. Historically, though, devotees walked from far away to have darshan of the Lord inside the cave temple and to participate in the grand processions. There are still ancient vahanas- Sesha Vahana, Hanumantha Vahana and more inside the cave temple, an indication of the vahana processions from the past. The Garuda Vahana is one of the biggest in the region and looks grand in stature but has remained stationary in a corner for decades.

For such an ignored temple, there is a certain peace inside the rocks.

Ranganatha in Anantha Sayana Kolam
Enroute atop the hill, one finds a handsome Lord Ranganatha in an Anantha Sayana Kolam flanked by Sri and Bhoo Devi Thayar, Brahmma, Anjaneya and Garuda. The Moolavar Gopalaswamy atop the hill was seen alongside Rukmini and Satyabhama facing the Sathuragiri hills. The Moolavar was in a damaged condition and the entire sanctum was reconstructed in the 1990s.

One of the special features at the temple is the long secret tunnel from the Moolavar Sannidhi that probably connects this temple to Madurai, as was the case with many ancient temples across Tamil Nadu.

A flourishing village in centuries gone by
Mothagam was once a flourishing temple town. A few centuries ago, there were 7 lakes around this temple brimming with water and the villages around the temple were vibrant. This was a Kula Deivam for people from all the neighbouring villagers in this region. Bhajans of devotees was a specialty at this temple. In the centuries gone by, this zone was renowned for Gold, Navaratna and Diamond stones and this hill was referred to as ‘Swarna Giri’. This was a temple frequented by the Naickers.

And then the villages all around Mothagam were sub-merged under severe floods and the lakes and villages were lost forever.

Grand Processions anchored by priest’s forefathers
Ramachanadran Bhattar’s forefathers performed pooja through the first of the 20th century when the Utsavams were grand including Vahana processions. Chitra Pournami was a special occasion at the temple. On Vaikasi Pournami, the Lord travelled 3miles to Kopinayakkan Patti on a procession. 

The first Saturday of Aani too was a special day in the year for it was the Ubayam of the Rajah with the Lord providing Muppalam Sevai – Panchamirtam Abhisekam. Krishna Jayanthi was celebrated in a Grand way. On all the Saturdays of Puratasi, the Lord went on a procession around the hill on a ‘Giri Valam’ accompanied by Ghee lit lamps. On the Karthigai day, the top of the hill was lit by a Deepam that was so glittering that one could have darshan from several kms away. From atop the hill, one can still see the towering Raja Gopuram of Srivilliputhur in the South West and the cracker town of Sivakasi in the South East.

The Slowdown
The 1970s proved a downturn at the temple. It was a decade when the ancient utsava idols were lost. After years of investigation, a report was put out that the idols could not be traced. New utsava processional idols were newly made from Poompuhar in the 1990s. However, there have been no processions for decades with the utsava idols locked up at the ICON center in Madurai for lack of security at the temple.

On select occasions in the year, the temple continues to wear a festive look like it once did. Over 10000 devotees throng the temple on Puratasi Saturdays. In the recent past, a tar road has been built right up to the foot of the temple. The next step is to get public transport as well as regular auto services to the temple to make it convenient for the devotees to visit. 
Devotees from across the world who once visited this rock cut cave temple are now coming together to support the temple and are hoping to revive the once grand utsavams at the temple.

The temple is open from 8am to 3pm. Contact: Ramachandran @ 98429 83256/ Navaneetha Krishnan @ 95853 43900/ Gopal Bhattar @ 84891 25026

When here, also visit Azhagiya Manavalan temple at Vatharayiruppu ( http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2015/03/azhagiya-shantha-manavalan-temple.html)

How to reach
Mothagam is off the Madurai/Thirumangalam - Srivilliputhur National Highway, 4kms from Azhagapuri. Auto from Azhagapuri bus stand to the temple entrance will cost Rs. 100. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Thiruvayaru Sriram Pain Balm

The Boy who once stopped the legendary Musiri Subramania Iyer at the gate of the Thiruvayaru Music Festival runs a five decades old Successful Pain Balm and Tooth Powder business from the Traditional North Street 

Located on the Northern Banks of Cauvery, Thiruvayaru (the place of the Five Rivers) is renowned for the Pallava Period Pancha Naatheeswara temple, one where Saivite Saint Poet Thirunavukarasarar had darshan of Lord Shiva as seen in Kailasam and more recently for the Thanjavur King Saroboji’s Vedic School that over the last century has turned into Government Music School. This is also the starting place of the famous Sapthasthanam Utsavam in Chitrai when Nandikeswarar, on a horse Vahana, along with his wife Swayambirakaasai, on a palanquin go on a 7 city procession along with Ayarappar and Aram Valartha Nayaki. The four streets around the temple are referred to as Mada Vilagam. Behind these four streets are the four big streets where the Lord goes on a procession during the Brahmotsavam. On Mattu Pongal day, the cows and the temple elephant are decorated in a grand manner and go out on a procession to Thillai Sthanam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/10/thillaisthanam-neiyarappar-temple.html), 1km west of here on the road to Kallanai.

The name Thiruvaiyaru
South of this place towards Thanjavur is the river Cauvery and four of its tributaries – Kudamuruti, Vennar, Vettaru and Vadaaru. Sacred water from these five rivers is used to bathe the Lord. Hence this place came to be referred to as ‘Thiru’ ‘ai’ ‘aru’. When you are at the temple, do not miss trying this out. In the South Western corner of the third prakara, if you call out for ‘Aiyaaraa’ facing the Northern direction, you can hear it echo seven times.

In the last half a century, this historical temple town has come to be home to a popular medicinal solution for head ache.

Abound with Vedic Scholars
74 year old Sriram spent his first 15 years of his life on the North Street in the 1940s and 50s. He studied at the now over 125 years old Srinivasa School, that one of the most famous schools in the region. His father A Panchapakesan was the head of the Raja Patshala in Thiruvayaru, one that produced several Vedic Students in the 1st half of the 20th Century. 

During the 1940s and 50s, Vedic Pundits were present in big numbers at Thiruvayaru. The Vedic Scholars chanted the Vedas all the time. They lived a simple and contended life. The entire North Street was full of traditional Saivites and over a 100 households lived on this once vibrant Street. Sriram remembers the days from his school days when the grandly decorated Lord passed by his house on North street during the 13 day Brahmotsavam in Chitrai, the biggest festival of the year “Even though the priests were financially challenged, they did not go after money.  There was a religious fervour in those days. Values were very high. The priests performed pooja with devotion and residents were just as devoted to the Lord.”

Home to Sanskrit Education
Sanskrit was seen as an integral part of life in Thiruvayaru till the middle of the previous century. Sundaresa Shivachariar, an agama expert, taught Sanskrit free at home to all the students who were interested. "He was such an expert that even the popular Pichai Gurukal of Pillayarpatti would come here to clarify doubts on agama from him."

Sriram’s father was so engrossed with the Sanskrit teachings that he began to converse with his Guru in Sanskrit, such was the impact.“My father participated in promoting Sanskrit by including the language as a subject at the Patshala. Balakrishna Sastrigal was added a Kaavya teacher at the Patshala.” Another renowned scholar of those times Subramanya Shivachariar taught agamas. 
Despite the in depth knowledge in the Sanskrit knowledge and agamas, all of them lived a simple life. They were always seen with Rudraksham on their body and that was the only 'ornament' in the body. There was no financial desire in any of them. They were all dedicated to sharing their knowledge with students. Often one heard “Shana Karthavyaha”, asking for ‘everyone’s attention to be with the teacher’.

Sapthasthanam Utsavam
In those days, Thiruvayaru was renowned for the Palanquin. When the Lord passed his house on the North Street, he saw 32 Sri Patham Thangis carry the Lord on their Shoulders on their way to the Aabath Sahayeswarar temple in Thiru Pazhanam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/12/thiru-pazhanam-abath-sahayeswarar-temple.html). The way they carried the Lord, it almost seemed that the Lord was floating in the air, such was their devotion.

Serfoji Rajah on the Banks of the Cauvery
Tula Snanam was a popular occasion and the bathing ghats were full during the month of Aipasi. The mandapam near the banks was a popular relaxing spot for Prince Serfoji of Thanjavur. Also, the Lord used to make a trip here on the occasion of Vasanthotsavam.
The Young School Boy, Muddy Roads and the Chariot Festival
Back in the 1940s and 50s, there were no cement roads. Sriram was part of many 100s of boys who pulled the Chariot during the Chitrai Brahmotsavam along the mud roads. Often times, the Chariot would get stuck in the muddy roads. With the sheer numbers, they managed to pull the Chariot out and moved on with the procession around the four big streets of Thiruvayaru.

Sriram stops Musiri Subramania Iyer at the Festival gate
Till the middle of the 20th Century, two different units conducted the Music Utsavam in Thiruvayaru. Finally the Thyaga Brahmma Sabha won a court battle against Nagarathna Trust and has since carried on the music festival. Sriram was part of the Volunteers team that managed the big crowd during the music festival. He was a strict volunteer and followed the rules. Once, he had the audacity to stop the legendary Musiri Subramania Iyer at the gate asking him for the pass only to be told that the entrant was the President of the Sabha but Subramania Iyer congratulated and appreciated the young boy on his commitment to his service.

The music festival itself was an elite gathering. For those that visited, mainly the high profile, it was an annual get together of friends from different fields. It was also during that phase when Nadaswara Vidwans fought for their rights and made their way into the committee. Over time, the funds of the trust have increased and coffers have now became FAT.

In those decades, with the facility of bathing ghats and a comfortable mandapam, Chettiars performed the final rites in Thiruvayaru.

Train Ticket from Madras to Thiruvayaru
Till the final quarter of the previous century, those who wanted to travel to Thiruvayaru from Madras would be issued train tickets till Thiruvayaru. At the Thanjavur Junction, a readily stationed bus would pick up the passengers soon after the train's arrival and drop them at Thiruvayaru, such was the service of taking the passenger to the final mile, what is now popularly referred to as 'Last mile delivery' in business parlance. Even with all the modern development, rarely do we see such connectivity these days.

Mass Exodus from the 1960s 
As seen with so many other ancient temple towns in Tamil Nadu, the 1960s saw the residents of Thiruvayaru move away from this temple town. Sriram himself moved out of Thiruvayaru in 1960 first to St. Josephs College, Trichy to do PUC and then for his Engineering degree at IIT Madras. After his PUC, he wrote the entrance examination for IIT Madras and secured a seat. His father was keen that he take up the legal profession and wanted him to do B.L but having got a seat at IIT Madras, Sriram came to Madras and then worked in different companies for over two decades. During his school days, politics was considered as a service to community. As he grew up and took to the corporate world, politics had transformed itself to a means of business.  

Not too many of the original inhabitants reside here these days with most of them having sold their traditional homes to outsiders. He bemoans the changed life style after the mass exodus of traditionalists from Thiruvayaru. He came back to Thiruvayaru in 1995 but there haven’t been too many others who have returned in the last couple of decades ‘Those days, even the headmaster of the school wore only a Veshti and Thundu. Both their internal and external appearance reflected a simplistic lifestyle. As the needs were limited, everyone found contentment in life. Now with the growing needs, problems have risen multifold.”

Sriram finds a drastic difference in the way Vedic Scholars and Priests conduct themselves across the state, though he finds that in his own Thiruvayaru things are not that bad. Even in their external physical appearance, the simplicity is gone and one finds them adorning glamourous jewels and golden bracelets. Even before they agree to a ritualistic event at home, money is discussed. It was not so then. Priests too changed with times. They began to seek money. The willingness to learn came down and the learning curve has seen a downside.

He is happy that the priests in Thiruvayaru still stick to tradition as much as possible. They remain committed to the Lord and continue to serve with devotion.

Tooth Ache results in a great business idea
Once in the mid 1960s, Sriram’s brother, himself a doctor had a severe tooth ache. Panchapakesan prepared a composition out of the blue and tried out a tooth powder that his son could use. He felt good using it to brush in the morning amidst his tooth ache. It worked well. Very soon, it became a hit with his friends and those in the town. Those that liked it came back to him for more. He began by just distributing to close friends. And suddenly through word of mouth, demand shot up. And his father had to increasing the production rapidly. It had instantly became a big hit and a successful business. For a long time, from the mid 60s, the production was done through the help of a ‘mixie’ and the sales has pre dominantly been through Sarvodhaya Sangam. 

After the tooth ache resulted in the making of a tooth powder, a head ache led to his father making a pain balm!!! And then when baldness became an issue for the mid aged, he also began making hair oil that helped in good growth of hair but this he made only for his friends and did not pursue for long.

For over 50 years, the family has now been making tooth powder and pain balm that has become very popular. After his return in 1995, he has been taking care of the tooth powder and pain balm business from the North Street. From the days of grinding the powder in a mixie, he has with his IITian skills mechanized the whole process. Customers still contact him only through the postal letter mode and a few through the phone and he caters to their demand. He does not go out of the way to market his product. Those that have used the pain relieving balm have remained loyal for several decades.
As a man who has been managing the business over these 25 years, he finds the recently introduced GST a great tax reform and a boon for manufacturers. He says that for decades, traders lived a life without paying tax and that all of them find the current tax reform challenging.

Sriram is happy that people have found their composition from the 1960s useful in their everyday lives and hopes to continue to service those that demand as long as possible. And he also continues to enjoy the procession of the Lord on the North Street even though he is saddened by the fact that the Lord now makes his way on Wheeled Tyres.

When here, also visit Kandiyur Brahmma Sira Kandeeswarar temple (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/kandiyur-brahmma-sira-kadeeswarar.html) 4kms South.