Friday, September 27, 2019

Mannar Koil Pavitrotsavam Revival

A Full Fledged Utsavam Revival after several decades
Homam, Vedic Recital, Divya Prabhandham Presentation, Street Procession and Sacred Food to the Lord mark revival of the three day Pavitrotsavam

Melkote Araiyar serves as a Mentor at the Utsavam
It takes great devotional commitment to be a lone archaka in a huge remote temple that houses the Lord in three tiers in Standing, Sitting and Sleeping Postures and revive historical Utsavams all alone. Not just financial issues, but also physical support to organize a Utsavam is a big challenge in such locations.  Thanks to the single handed effort of the priest Narasimha Gopalan Acharya, a descendant of Periya Nambi (, Pavitrotsavam in its full form has been revived this year at the ancient Rajagopalaswamy Temple in Mannar Koil. A decade ago, his efforts led to the revival of the Theppotsavam that is now celebrated in a grand manner on Maasi Punarvasu, the birthday of Kulasekara Azhvaar who attained Moksham here (

Kulasekara Azhvaar spent the last years at this place performing daily pooja for Lord Rama, who was his abhisheka deity. To this day, one finds the idols of this Abhisheka idol at this temple.
               Kurungudi Govindan Bhattar

The Utsavam Revival
Narasimha Gopalan manages all the Sannidhis at the temple each day of the year. For the Utsavam, he roped in Govindan Bhattar from Thiru Kurungudi Divya Desam ( to perform the Homam over the three days. For the first time in several decades, Vedic Recital too was revived at the temple.

Divya Prabhandham Scholars presented the sacred verses of the Saint Poets. Delighted on hearing the news of the revival of the Pavitrotsavam to its past glory, Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma, one of the senior most Araiyars, came all the way from Melkote and was an integral part of the three day Utsavam (

Avani Thiruvonam
It is just after 6am on the Satru Murai Day (Avani Thiruvonam) of the Pavitrotsavam. It is also the day of the Vaarshika Utsavam, the day the temple was consecrated last.  Prabhandham Scholars from Madras are moving into the temple for the presentation of the verses of Kulasekara Azhvaar ( Young Vedic Pundits are ready too to chant the Krishna Yajur Vedam.

An hour after hot pongal is served as breakfast for the guests, the homam begins at 9am. On the one side, Prabhandham Scholars are seen presenting the Divya Prabhandham verses while on the other, Sri Krishna Ganapadigal is seen leading the Vedic Recital. The local community at Mannar Koil has gathered in good numbers to witness the final day celebrations.

Shortly after noon, accompanied by the beating of the drums, the sacred water is taken in the Kumbham to the Moolavar Lord for 'Prokshanam'. This process is repeated at the Kulasekara Azhvaar Sannidhi too. 
And then the big moment beckons. It is time for Satru Murai. The final verses of Nam Azhvaar's Tiruvoimozhi and Amudanar's Ramanuja Nootranthathi is presented in front of the Lord.

Cook + Archakar through the year
Presentation of sacred food to the Lord in good quantities was also a special feature of the utsavam. This is particularly significant as Narasimha Gopalan also doubles up as the cook at the Madapalli all through the year for he has no one for support at the temple being the lone service personnel. For the festival, he brought in expert cooks to prepare sumptuous meal for the guests. After 5 hours of devotional activity, the prabhandham scholars and vedic pundits sit for a full means that includes a tasty Thirukanamudhu. The guests are delighted at this great revival anchored by Narasimha Gopalan Acharya.

After a sumptuous meal, Govindan Bhattar leaves for Thiru Kurungudi in his car (Yes, there are priests these days in wealthy Divya Desams who travel by car for Utsavams). Vedic and Prabhandham scholars take a two hour break before congregating again at the temple for the Procession.

Rest House in Agraharam for Guests
Prior to the revival of this utsavam, Narasimha Gopalan helped build, through support from devotees, a rest house in the agraharam where visiting devotees could stay. The conduct of the utsavam on a bigger scale was made possible as the Vedic and Prabhandham Scholars could stay near the temple and also consume traditional food.

Melkote Araiyar’s Presence at Pavitrotsavam
76 year old Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma, an expert in agamas and sastras and one who has published over 150 books, made it all the way from Thiru Narayanapuram, Melkote to witness the grand revival of the Pavitrotsavam . Thiru Narayanapuram is one of the only four temples where Araiyar Sevai continues to be presented and his presence at Mannar Koil was an auspicious one for he has been presenting Araiyar Sevai for over six decades, the longest amongst the existing Araiyars. 

His father, Srinivasa Narasimhan Araiyar presented Araiyar Sevai at the temple at Rs. 2.50 per month, receiving an additional 50 paise for Kainkaryam at the Pattabhi Rama Sannidhi and another 25 paise for Parijaraka service. Sri Rama Sharma Araiyar serves at the temple during Thiru Aradhanam, Ubaya Sevai, Padi Etram, Sayana Utsavam and Mattai Adi in addition to the yearlong utsavams. Araiyar Sevai is significant during the three Brahmotsavams as well as during the Adyayana Utsavam.

He has a message for all devotees ‘When someone goes against our sampradaya, it is our duty to proactively correct them and bring them back on track. That is the only way we can prevent adharmic things being done.’

He recited the Vedas and the Divya Prabhandham at the Pavitrotsavam at Mannar Koil.

Veda Parayananam from Chennai Patshala
As part of the revival of the Pavitrotsavam in its full traditional form, 29 year old Sri Krishna Ganapadigal led a small group of upcoming vedic scholars and presented Thatakam, Achitram, Aswamedam, Aruna Prakshanam, Krama and Jata Parayanam. 

His message on making this trip to such a remote temple is clear “Our duty is protect Sanathana Dharma. We try our best to impart knowledge from the Vedic Scriptures and get the traditionalists to follow and implement those in their daily lives. Unfortunately, while Vedic Pundits do have a secure life, financially, parents are not willing anymore to send their sons to Patshalas as they do not see this as respectable. If this scenario continues for another few decades, Vedic Education may be lost to the next generation.”

Sri Krishna Ganapadigal’s father  Rajagopala Ganapadigal has been running a Vedic Patshala in Chennai for the last 20 years. 15 students have just graduated from the Patshala.

Youth Integral to the Festival
Naarasimha Gopalan Acharya has also been proactively roping in school boys in and around Mannar Koil to be an integral part of all the Utsavams at the temple, in the process getting the local community involved in the processions. These young boys support the priest in some of the daily activities at the temple.  As part of this process, they are also inculcated into the dharmic way of life and learn important fundamental aspects of life at a very young age. 
Just after 5pm, these boys gather in front of the temple. Some of them even draw kolams in front of homes in the agraharam. For over an hour, the priests are involved in the decoration of the Lord and Kulasekara Azhvaar. The Grand Revival of the Pavitrotsavam culminated with a joint procession of Lord Rajagopalan flanked by Andal and Garudan, along with Kulasekara Azhvaar around the four streets of Mannar Koil providing darshan to devotees. 
The temple is open from 7am-11 and 5pm-730pm. Contact Narasimha Gopalan Acharya @ 04634 252874

How to reach Mannar Koil
Mannar Koil is just under 40kms West of Tirunelveli near Ambasamudram on the banks of two rivers, Tamarai Barani and Karuna River off the Ambasamudram- Tenkasi Highway. There are direct trains from Chennai Egmore to Ambasamudram. Auto from Ambasamudram to Mannar Koil costs Rs.80/-.

A Young Gurukal returns to his roots in Ambai
R Muthukrishnan holds a Masters Degree in Engineering and was drawing a good salary as a lecturer at an Engineering college in Madurantakam. However, something was missing from his life and he did not feel comfortable in his lecturer’s role. While he was making trips for the big Utsavams to the Sankara Narayana Temple in Ambasamudram, where his forefathers had been performing pooja for several decades, he felt it his duty to perform daily service at the temple. His father had cycled 10kms each day to perform pooja such had been his commitment. 
Couple of years ago, he took the big call to quit his post as a lecturer and returned to Ambasamudram to take up full time service at the temple. Decorating the Lord is his special area of interest. 

Muthukrishnan, who learnt Agamas from the renowned Chellamani Bhattar in VK Puram (Papanasam), should be an inspiration for more from his generation to return to their hereditary roots “While the income as a Gurukal is substantially lower than what I drew as salary as a lecturer and there are financial challenges, the satisfaction that I get from performing daily pooja for the Lord is unmatched. The financial issue pales into insignificance when compared to joy of performing service to the Lord.”

( A version of this story featured in today's The Hindu Friday Review)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Melkote Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma

A Traditionalist to Celebrate
From sacred poems to literary texts, from rare historical photographs to unique route maps of philosophers, from the best of historical manuscripts to lifelong commitment to promotion of Sanskrit and Six Decades of Araiyar Sevai, Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma is truly a unique personality 
Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma is a one of a kind human being. It is rare to find someone hailing from a remote location (till a decade or so ago, there was minimal public transport facility to this region - to Melkote and Thondanur) to remain totally devotionally connected for over 70 years with absolutely no financial interests. At 76, he continues to be very active. He has remained rooted to his hereditary location and has been performing Araiyar Sevai at Cheluva Narayana Swamy Temple in Thiru Narayanapuram, Melkote, a Pancha Narayana Kshetram ( for six decades starting at a monthly sambhavanai of Rs. 2.50 in the 1950s. But for those whose mind connects with God, financial returns don’t matter. They see it as their duty to spread Dharmic Messages to the World at Large.

Earlier this month, he took part in the revival of the three day Pavitrotsavam at the Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy temple in Mannar Koil, near Ambasamudram chanting the Vedas and reciting the Divya Prabhandham during the Ghosti, serving as a mentor to those present at the Utsavam (

The Name ‘Rama Sharma’
The Name itself is quite unique and not common among traditional Vaishnavites. His father had always been devotionally attached to Gayathri Upadesam and as he recited it yet another time, it occurred to him to name his son ‘Rama Sharma’, a name that features in the mantra.

Never went to School!!!
His father, Araiyar Srinivasa Narasimhan, was a freedom fighter. His active involvement meant he travelled extensively in the period 1943 to 47. Thus Sri Rama Sharma grew up under the care of his grandfather, Jaggu Venkatachar Swami, who was a Vidwan at the Mysore Palace. He was just three years old when his grandfather began initiating him into Sanskrit at home. So engrossed were both, the grandfather and the latest entrant that they continued to spend time at home with this ancient language. And this passionate engagement at home meant that Sri Rama Sharma did not join school like others his age. Through the 20th Century, he remained the only family member to have never attended a formal school. 

If it had not been for the temple connect he may well have become a great swimmer for right from the age of 5, he had begun to swim in the popular Melkote ‘Eri’, one where he used to have his daily bath early in the morning.
                                    14 year Old Rama Sharma Araiyar

A Record Performance at 8 years
When he was just 8 years old, he passed an examination conducted by the Ubaya Vedantha Pravarthana Sabha, Melkote on Vedas, Divya Prabhandham and Ramanuja Darisanam such was the strong initiation given by his grandfather. At a very young age, he became an integral part of the Veda Ghosti at the temple. By the time he was 12 years, so profound was his knowledge that he had begun composing poems, both sacred and relating to historical events. His very first composition was on the success and contribution of the Vijayanagar empire.

During the entire period of his first 20 years, the only time in the day that he engaged with youngsters his age was between 5pm and 6pm when he mingled with them on the streets as part of an outdoor activity. Outside of this, his activities centered on analyzing indepth historical scriptures, becoming fluent in the Sanskrit language, Chanting the Vedas and Reciting the Prabhandham.

While boys his age were making a slow and steady progress through school education, Sri Rama Sharma leapfrogged many years ahead of them. His Grand Father also focused on initiating Rama Sharma into many other languages. By the time he was into his late teens, he had become proficient in Kannada and Tamil as well. He also passed Visharat from Hindi Prachar Sabha and became fluent in Hindi too.

He studied Nyaya Sastram and Vedantham at the Melkote Sanskrit College, Mimasam at the Mylapore Sanskrit College and learnt Vyakaranam at the renowned Mysore Patshala. He also learnt various Agamas and Sastras.

At 19, he completed a Masters Degree in Navya Nyaya Vidwat and was awarded the Gold Medal by the then President Dr. Rajendra Prasad. A year later, he completed a course on Vishishtadwaitha and was conferred the title of Vishishtadwaitha Vedantha Vidwat.

Sanskrit Teacher at the renowned Melkote College
At the age of 26, Sri Rama Sharma Araiyar joined the Melkote Sanskrit College, one of the renowned educational institutions for Sanskrit in the country as a lecturer at a monthly salary of Rs. 100. Given his strong foundation in the language and confidence of the youngster, the then Principal handed the new lecturer the challenging task of teaching the most difficult topics to the students. He went on to become the Principal of the college in 1989 and headed the institution till his retirement in 2000.

His discourse on Kautilya’s Artha Sastra has been a big hit across the country and he has presented this over many decades in multiple locations in several states in India. He began publishing books from 1969 in Sanskrit and has kept it going over the 50 years. He has thus far published 100s of books in multiple languages. For his proficiency in multiple languages, he was conferred with the title of Pancha Baasha Kavitha Vallabha. He has also been honoured with titles such as Vidwath Kavi Ratnam and Sri Vaishnava Simhan.

President’s Award for Sanskrit
In 2014, he received the President’s award for his extraordinary contribution to Sanskrit. Through his life, he has travelled extensively across the length and breadth of the country promoting and developing Sanskrit. 

Rarest of Rare Collections
His collection of manuscripts is yet another unique feature. He has over 250 Olai Chuvadi manuscripts, 1000s in Paper Manuscripts and 30000 printed ones in the form of a book. Yet another unique feature of his life has been the collection of rare historical photographs. He also has a collection of self sketched maps outlining births and journeys of historical spiritual leaders such as Madhvacharya, Adi Sankara and Ramanuja. Books have been his biggest asset. He has read all the scriptures. He can easily dissect Granthams in many Indian languages and is also good at reading inscriptions. 

The over 1000 year old Araiyar Sevai has been a dying art and is now performed only in three Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu – Srirangam (, Srivilliputhur ( and Azhvaar Tirungari (

Thiru Narayanapuram in Melkote is the only one outside of the three Divya Desams where Araiyar Sevai is still performed. Araiyar Sevai is an integral part of the three Brahmotsavams and is also presented during Adyayana Utsavam and other annual festivals such as Aadi Oonjal, Avani Pavitrotsavam and Chitrai Vasanthotsavam. The Araiyar also has a role during the daily aradhana in the morning and during Padi Etram, Sayana utsavam, among others.  During Mattai Adi Utsavam, they present the Abhinayam and Vyakyanam while through most of other performances it is predominantly Vyakyanam and presentation of Ragam and Thalam.

Sri Rama Sharma began presenting Araiyar Sevai in 1959 at the age of 16 and has been continuing this service for the last 60 years. The Araiyar also performed aradhana at the Pattabhiramar Sannidhi, a location where Vaishnavite Saint Ramanuja performed Mantra Upadesam, a service for which the monthly Sambhavanai was Rs. 50 paise.  His son Parthasarathy Araiyar, who too has been performing for the last 25 years, gets Rs. 200 every month for his service at the temple.

He leads a simple life residing in an old fashioned house near the Cheluva Nanarayanaswamy temple in Melkote ( where he has spent almost his entire life.  
Blessed with a wealth of knowledge on Scriptures, Vedas, Prabhandham and the ancient languages, he has never shied away from sharing with all those who have sought to learn, yet another great quality in him.

It is a Tuesday afternoon in Puratasi and a quiet day at the temple, usually time for a 76 year old to take a nap. But not Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma for he is involved in a long two hour conversation with a visitor describing a hereditary subject. His wife points out his unstoppable conversational ability, especially when it comes to historical topics and the Sanskrit language, which has been close to his heart all through his life ever since he began writing sacred poems on the Lord.

As one guest departs on that Tuesday evening, another one arrives and he welcomes him just as energetically as he had his previous guest, a couple of hours earlier and sits next to him on the floor. And he begins a new devotional topic. From Ramanuja’s contribution to Vijayanagar’s rise, he rolls through straddling between different centuries and periods – from contribution of a great ruler to the works of a Philosopher. As the guest departs, he sits down with his books and scrolls through them to pick up his next devotional topic for the evening. That’s truly a remarkably devotional way to live life.

He continues to make a contribution each day of his life through his writings on historical scriptures culling out incisive meanings from the sacred verses. From sacred poems to literary texts, from rare historical photographs to unique route maps of leading religious philosophers, from the best of historical manuscripts in the country to lifelong commitment to promotion of Sanskrit and of course six decades of Araiyar Sevai, Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma is truly a unique personality who has contributed in great measure to the upkeep of our tradition and culture for a meager financial return. 

He is a man we should all celebrate.

Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma can be reached on 97400 80619.

On Jan 21, 2020, Araiyar Sri Rama Sharma was honoured at an event in Hyderabad with Sri U.Ve.T. Gopalacharya swami award by Tridandi Jeeyar.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Karunakaran Swamy President Award

The First ‘Traditional Vaishnavite’ with an Engineering Degree in TN has fulfilled the promise made to his father way back in his school days to keep his tuft intact though he had to endure torturous ragging during his Madurai College days in the 1960s

Named for the President’s Award – The third in his family to receive this award for contribution to the protection and development of Sanskrit – His father and elder brother too were recipients of the award 
This Sunday (Sept 15) morning, several hundreds of disciples gathered at the Gowrivakkam home of Mechanical Engineer and renowned Upansayakar and Sanskrit Scholar VS Karunakaran Swamy to celebrate his 72nd birthday. Just 12 hours prior, he was honoured at the Vedantha Desikar Temple in Mylapore ( in recognition of him being named for the President’s award for his contribution to Sanskrit. Earlier, in a high profile event last Friday, he was felicitated by his disciples from across the country in the presence of Velukkudi Krishnan and MA Venkatakrishnan (
Leaves Hereditary Location 
As seen in many of the earlier stories (, the second half of the previous century witnessed mass exodus of traditionalists from their hereditary location. Karunakara Swamy, who belongs to Villur near Madurai, was one of the earliest among them. After having his early education at Mukkoor Azhagiya Singar’s Oriental School in Kumbakonam, where his father, Srinivasaraghava Mahadesika Swamy, a Sanskrit Scholar lived a life promoting Sanskrit including at the Raja Patshala, Karunakaran Swamy moved to Madras where he studied at RKM North School, T. Nagar.
Very early into his schooling days, he was initiated into Sanskrit and Divya Prabhandham by his father, a President’s award recipient for his contribution to the development of Sanskrit.

Facing the ‘Tuft’ Ragging
In the early 1960s, he was the only traditional Vaishnavite in the Thyagaraja Engineering College in Madurai, one of the only six Engineering Colleges in the state at that time. Soon after his entry, his tuft became a topic of ridicule at the college. Throughout his college life, he had to endure this torture. There were also threats from the early anti Brahmnical movement to perform a ‘Scissor Cut’ on his tuft.

Credit to him and his faith in God that he came through severe ragging with his tuft intact at the end of four years. 60 years on, he still remembers his father’s message “Under any circumstance, you should not remove your tuft in life.” And he hasn’t.

At a time, when even the traditionalists are embarrassed to sport traditional attire, Karunakaran Swamy has shown that one need not be ashamed to be our own self.

Handles Sri Bashyam ‘Beamers and Bouncers’ from Revered Mukoor Azhagiya Singar
During the four years of his college, he continued to learn Vedantam, Ramanuja Bashyam and Bhagavath Vishayam from his father. Into his third year of his Engineering, his father directed the young Karunakaran to present a paper on Sri Bashyam at a traditional conference organised by Mukkoor Azhagiya Singar from whom he had to face ‘beamers and bouncers’ during the Sadas. It was his first ever encounter in a large public gathering. So delighted was Mukkoor Azhagiya Singar with the confident way the young teenager fielded his tough questions that Karunakaran Swamy was part of almost every Sadas for the next 25 years. 
22 year old Honoured by Sringeri Mutt in 1969
Sringeri Mutt had a great system to recognize Sanskrit Scholars in those days. During the visits of the Acharya, he would honour one great Sanskrit scholar in the city before he left the place. In 1969, the Acharya honoured 22 year old Karunakaran Swamy in Madurai, a great early recognition of the potential that he held.

After his graduation in Mechanical Engineering, he joined Dalmia Cements in Kallakudi Palanganatham ( During that phase, he spent every weekend in Srirangam, where he learnt Nyaya Sidhantham from Madurantakam Swamy.

Top Govt Posting
Soon, he wrote the Combined Service Examination and came through that successfully. And thus began a long and successful journey in the Public Sector that lasted almost four decades. He joined the Ministry of Steel with a posting in Hyderabad in the early 1970s. For the next three decades, he went all around the country moving to a top position as a Director in the final phase of his professional career. Throughout the period of his Government job, he continued to present Upanyasams and propagate Sanskrit in Calcutta, Delhi, Madras and all other locations where he served professionally.

Gold Medal in Sanskritl @ 60+
Interestingly, it was after his retirement just over a decade ago, that he decided to pursue a formal degree in Sanskrit.  And past 60, he received a Gold Medal from the Bharathidasan University standing first in his Masters Degree. He received a Doctorate a couple of years ago for a thesis on the life and works of his father.

Propagating Vaishnavism
Over the last decade or so, he has been very actively involved in propagating the spirituality. Explaining with simple anecdotes each name referred in the Vishnu Sahasranamam has been one of his favourite works. He has also translated many of the Sanskrit works into Tamil for the new gen to absorb. To celebrate the centenary of his father, he published a collection of his poems, lyrics, prose works and Maha Kaavyam. To propagate the Vaishnavite philosophy, he teaches Sri Bashyam every weekend.

Sri Bashyam in Thiruvananthapuram
One of the highlights of his life has been the organizing for 20 years of a State level Sadas on Ramanuja’s Sri Bashyam in Thiruvananthapuram (, a location from where the great Vaishnavite Saint had been driven out. 

Reviving a Popular Sadas at Thiru Kudanthai
For a Century, there had been a Vishishtadvaita Sadas organised at the Sarangapani Temple in Thiru Kudanthai to celebrate the Vedanta Desikar Utsavam in Puratasi. This was one of the most popular conferences in the state with all the leading senior scholars gathering to discuss and debate ancient scriptures. This had come to a halt in the later part of the 20th Century. 
In the recent past, Karunakaran Swamy has revived this Sadas and is now organised at the Rajagopalaswamy Temple every year in Puratasi.

Temple Association
A few years ago, he played an active role in the construction of the Raja Gopuram at the Rajagopalaswamy temple in Kumbakonam as part of the renovation initiatives there and installed an integrated idol of Nadathur Ammal and Vedantha Desikar. During the annual Brahmotsavam in Maasi, Nadathur Ammal and Desikar go on a street procession with Lord Raja Gopalan. To ensure that the procession takes place in a traditional way, he funded the Sri Patham personnel through the Nadathur Ammal Trust.

At the Nachiyar Koil Divya Desam (, he is currently in the process of constructing a Yatri Nivas at a cost of almost Rs. 1crore. He has also installed the idol of Nadathur Ammal in many locations such as Kollankondan, Keezhathur, Sirungattur and Pallagacheri. 
 President’s Award
Every now and then, thoughts cross him on how different life would have been had he pursued Sanskrit full time instead of undertaking the Engineering Degree, one that was forced on him by his elder brother. But he believes that the Engineering degree gave him the presentation skills and helped him in the art of perfection. And he has more than made for lost time with an active life over the last decade promoting Sanskrit across the country. He has been swarmed by the devotees and disciples with demand for his Upanyasams shooting through the roof. The historical tradition of a father passing on his Vedic knowledge to the son still continues in his family. He says that it was the traditional initiation that he received from his father that laid a strong foundation and gave him the confidence to face life and its challenges and not academics.

It was with that belief that he went about propagating and promoting Sanskrit. For his life time service to the protection and development of Sanskrit, Karunakaran Swamy has just been named for the President’s Award, the third one from his family to receive this award after his father and elder brother, quite a unique achievement ( He will formally receive the award early next year). 

A lot more is in the offing, in terms of promotion of Sanskrit, given his passion for the language. In the first half of the 20th Century, his grandfather, Venkatasesharya Mahadesika Swamy, had spent a number of years working on translating NamAzhvaar’s Tiruvoimozhi into Sanskrit. Karunakaran Swamy is currently in the process of giving the finishing touches to it and this Magnum Opus in Sanskrit is likely to hit the stands soon. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Siddharth Tamil Nadu One Day Team

Sign up for India Cements and get into the TN team
Left arm spinner M Siddharth, mentored by V Suresh, gets the big break immediately after he moves from the Chemplast Group to India Cements

Siddharth had picked up 52 and 43 wickets for Alwarpet (Chemplast) in two successive years and ran up big wickets in VAP One Day Tournament and in the U23 tourney during that period but failed to find a place in the TN squad 

Have any of the TN Selectors watched a first division league match not involving India Cements in the last five years?
This is no co-incidence. This is the unwritten law in TN cricket these days. TN selectors dont watch matches played by non India Cements teams in the first division. 21 year old left arm spinner M Siddharth, who first played as an 11 year old in the TNCA league in the team (Sir MCTM Old Boys) that I captained (for a decade) has finally found a place in the TN team for the interstate one day tournament that will start later this month, this after many years of strong performances in the first division league and the interstate age group tournaments  But unfortunately there is a twisted angle to his selection at this point and the reason why TN has fared so badly all these years.

Mentoring under V Suresh ( Former SBI) for a decade
His cricketing story began as a 7 year old when he joined V Suresh's Academy at Meenakshi College, Kodambakkam. The Former SBI player's  cricket academy is easily one of the best in the city. Suresh knows the name of every single player in his academy. He is personally present every single day talking to his wards, both of these are credits that most academies/coaches in the city cannot boast.
It was Suresh who stood with Siddharth during the first decade of his cricket seeing him through the U14, U16 and U19 phases helping him both with his left arm spin as well as the attitude that differentiates Siddharth in the cricketing circles today. It was Suresh who mentored Siddharth throughout this entire foundation phase of his career. If Siddharth is still down to earth as a human being, a lot of the credit goes to Suresh for his mentoring. Till very recently, Siddharth would visit Suresh on the eve of every match to take his 'Acharya's' blessing, yet another feature that very few youngsters follow today. His move this year to India Cements too had the blessings of Suresh.

Strong Performances
Siddharth picked up 22 wickets in 6 matches years ago playing for IOB in the first division. He has since figured in the state team in age group cricket – U16, U19 and U23 and also played for South Zone U19.

In 2017-18, he was the leading wicket taker in the VAP one day tournament that takes place between the first division teams. In the same season, he was 2nd in the bowling rankings taking 52 wickets in the first division league.

Aged 19, with these consistent performances behind him - 2nd among the bowlers in the Palayampatti shield and the top wicket taker in the one day league, he did not figure in the TN squad for any of the tournaments – Ranji Trophy, Vijay Hazare or the T20 tournament (Syed Mushtaq Ali).

Last season, he picked up 43 wickets in the first division league, that’s a whopping 95wickets in two league seasons.

Not considered despite extraordinary showing
The reason for his exclusion… And here comes the twist that most youngsters in TN cricket have struggled to come to terms with. He was playing for Alwarpet, a team run by Chemplast. As has been known to most in the Chennai cricketing circles, it is quite difficult for upcoming cricketers to find their name in the TN squad unless they belong to any of the teams run by India Cements. It has almost become an unwritten law in TN cricket - such is state of affairs of the powers that be who have been running cricket over the last decade or two. 

Interestingly in the 3 years preceding that, Siddharth had taken 22, 22 and 31wickets in the first division league. Last year, in the U23 state matches, he took close to 30 wickets. Many years ago, when he was in the U16 age group, he picked up over 30 wickets for TN and ranked in the top 3 in the wicket takers list across the country (Remember another upcoming left arm spinner S Sriram having done that many decades ago in the U13 and U15 tournaments at that time).  To date Siddharth has close to 200 wickets in the first division across formats.

Youngsters standing firm till their heart is broken
Another youngster who is standing firm for the moment is left handed batsman Vishal Vaidya who continues to play for Alwarpet. He has scored lot of runs for Alwarpet and in the U19 and U23 levels.  In the recent past, players (from non India Cements teams) like Thalaivan Sargunan (MRF) - he scored tons of runs at his peak, fast bowler Rohith Ramalingam ( he has performed well in the TNPL and in the VAP tourney) and AC Prathiban who has been picking up wickets consistently almost every season have all been ignored. There are many more such talented players for whom there seems to be no light playing for the non Indian Cements teams. 

Much like Vishal Vaidya, Siddharth too remained firm till this year that he would not move out of Alwarpet. Why would anyone move out of a team after picking up well over 100 wickets for them in two seasons and having figured in the top of the league championship. Same for Vishal Vaidya too. If he is batting in the top 4 for his team and getting ample opportunities to make a mark and if he is scoring centuries and his team is making it to the knock outs (and if he is paid well too) what reason would such a youngster have to move to another team other than this ugly unwritten rule in TN cricket of ‘play for India Cements’ team and you will make it to the next big league. 
It is truly commendable that at 22, Vishal Vaidya has taken a philosophical stance of sticking to a team where he has made runs and is continuing with the hope that merit would take him to the top. Siddharth too was on the same path until the below communication happened a few months back.

One of the top cricketing officials of India Cements met Siddharth personally ahead of this new season and got him to sign up for the team (he moved from Alwarpet to Grand Slam this new league season). And the outcome is there for all to see within a matter of three months. He has just been included in the 14 man TN squad for the Vijay Hazare tournament.

It is unlikely he would have made the squad had he continued with Alwarpet going by the past record of the selectors (they dont watch these league matches).

Is this the direction India Cements' bosses want Cricket to go in Tamil Nadu. Is this the message they want to give upcoming youngsters. Play for IC if you want to get into the TN squad. Centuries and wickets wont matter if you keep playing club cricket for other teams. Many have experienced this over the last decade and it has only increased with time  (India Cements runs 14 league teams in the TNCA league). It is said that selectors are mute spectators at meetings with the powers that be having a strong say in the selection.

Top Officials of India Cements have played top notch cricket in the local league in their times. It is now time for them to move away from this short sighted self driven approach. This attitude was also a reason for the fall from the top at the national level when they held the powers not so long ago. If they do not recognize the wrongs that are happening in TN cricket and do not provide a fair deal to talented and performing youngsters, they will pay a price in the not too distant future.

A coach of many years of one of the leading non India Cements teams in the first division said that no selector has had a look at his team in the last three years in any of the first division matches or VAP one day tournament. The last time he says a selector watched their team play was when Kalli (B Kalyanasundaram) visited their ground and watched a match many years ago. Is this the way India Cements wants to run cricket in Tamil Nadu. Selectors would sit in the comforts of the TNCA and select a team dominated by players from the India Cements.

This is a sad tale and one hopes that the top officials will take remedial action this season and select players on merit irrespective of the clubs they play for. These officials have had their time for far too long. It is now time for some Fair Play in TN cricket

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Brahmma Desam Vinayaka Chathurthi Utsavam

Lone Gurukal revives Utsavams in ancient temple
Raj Kumar Bhattar anchors revival of the Grand Mooshika Vahana Street Procession of Lord Vinayaka after a gap of over 40 years

A couple of years ago, he had also initiated the refurbishing of the Temple Tank and revived the Theppotsavam after several decades
It is just after 6am on the Vinayaka Chaturthi morning. Raj Kumar Bhattar, the lone Gurukal at the Kailasanathar Temple in Brahmma Desam, near Ambasamudram is already away on pooja duty. At a salary of Rs. 500 per month, it is not financially possible to manage a family. Hence he performs pooja at a few other local temples to make ends meet.

By 630am, he is back in the Brahmma Desam Agraharam that once housed 450 traditional families. By 7am, he is at the Kailasanathar temple for the morning pooja at each of the Sannidhis. And then for over an hour, he gets ready all the items required for the Ganapathy Homam that is slated to start at 9am.  His nephew, a college student in Madurai, has arrived to assist through the day long utsavam that has been revived after a gap of over 40 years. For this he has managed to rope in a devotee from Papanasam.  He has segregated the items for the homam and the subsequent abhishekam for Lord Vinayaka.

There aren’t any devotees at all through the first hour of the day with the Gurukal performing his work quietly at the Swami Sannidhi. 
Just after 9am, he brings in the processional idol, which he has taken custody of from the HR & CE under special permission for this utsavam (for decades the idol had been under lock and key away from the Sannidhi).

A handful of devotees arrive to watch the two hour Homam and Abhishekam. Raj Kumar Bhattar is all engrossed in the Homam even as a few more devotees walk into the temple. He then moves on to the Moolavar Vinayaka to perform the Abhishekam. He has just one ‘Palai Velai’ person to support him through the year in the temple work including opening and closing the door and cleaning the temple. This support person is paid just a few hundreds each month. Through the day his son and daughter are seen supporting the Gurukal – from drawing kolam in front of the temple in the morning to picking up the waste from inside the temple. 
Hot Pongal is served to the few devotees that have stayed back till the end of the Abhishekam. It is not the end of the morning session for Raj Kumar Bhattar, for he has to perform the daily activities at the temple in all the sannidhis. He finds some rest only after the Ucchi Kalam pooja.

His first meal of the day takes place after 1.30 pm.

To get more devotees to witness the revival, he has placed a neatly written information board.
 A Packed 2nd half
There is not much rest for him as he has to follow up with the wholesale market in Ambasamudram for the flower garlands for the evening procession. With the high demand on such days, temples have to compete with each other to secure the garlands in requisite quantities and on time ahead of the procession. Thank fully, for Raj Kumar Bhattar, the garlands arrive on time at around 4pm. For the evening session, a couple of Gurukals join him for the support activities.

Decorating the Lord atop the Mooshika Vahanam
28 year old Muthukrishnan Gurukal, who does full time pooja at Sankara Narayanan Temple at Ambai, has been assigned the task of decorating the utsava deity atop the Mooshika Vahanam and he spends well over an hour attending to minute aspects of the alankaram, while another youngster is given the task of the Sandalwood alankaram for the Moolavar Lord Vinayaka.

Raj Kumar Bhattar monitors the work of these two while at the same time managing the many other activities – getting prasadam ready – Chakkarai Pongal and Sundal, the lights for the procession, following up with the musicians and the Sri Patham, in addition to attending to the devotees who have come to the temple for darshan.

Even Lord Varuna seemed pleased with the efforts of Raj Kumar Bhattar, for he brought together thick clouds over the Brahmma Desam Temple just after 4pm and showered his blessings on the Gurukal with a drizzle that lasted around 15minutes. He also did not want to spoil the Grand Revival and ensured the clouds moved away from Brahmma Desam to allow the procession to start on time.

The Grand Procession after Four Decades
It is 6pm by the time the Lord is ready for the first procession in over 40 years. Residents around the four streets have begun decorating with the traditional white pulli kolam. Neivedyam is presented to the Lord and then the Sundal is a big hit with the many young boys who have gathered at the Raja Gopuram for the procession.

It is 630pm when the Lord with close to 10 colourful garlands makes his way on to the Sannidhi street outside the Eastern Raja Gopuram. The residents are delighted to find Lord Vinayaka on the streets of Brahmma Desam, the revival of which is solely attributed to Raj Kumar Bhattar and his commitment to continue the services at the temple that his forefathers had so devotionally carried out for over a 100 years.

It is past 9 pm when the Lord returns to the temple and the winding down takes another hour for Raj Kumar Bhattar. He goes back just after 10pm fully satisfied that he has managed to revived yet another historical utsavam.
The big task before him, though, is to help restore the physical infrastructure at the temple- there are many issues on this front including the wearing off of historical drawings (as seen in the photo above) and then revive the Panguni Brahmotsavam that has not been held for five decades. He is hopeful that this will happen someday in his lifetime.

It is thanks to the efforts of such devotionally committed priests that ancient temples with legendary tales have survived testing times, when the traditional residents have all made their way to cities seeking greener pastures.

Raj Kumar Gurukal performs daily service all through the year without a break at a monthly salary of Rs. 500!!!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Uraiyur Kamalavalli Nachiyar Consecration

Venu Srinivasan restores yet another Divya Desam to its ancient glory
Dark Madapalli, Dilapidated Tank, Stagnating Water, 50 year old outdated Electrical System, Anna Dhanam Koodam at Vasantha Mandapam, Debris in the Nandavanam, Oil and Turmeric Stained Pillars symbolised the Kamalavalli Nachiyar Divya Desam in Uraiyur just over a year ago

'I am designated as the Chairman of the Board but in reality I am in Service of the Devotees of the Lord'- Venu Srinivasan
கோழியும் கடலும் கோயில் கொண்ட 
கோவலரே யொப்பர் குன்றமன்ன 
பாழியும் டோழுமொரே நான் குடையார் 
பண்டிவர் தம்மயாம் கண்டறி யோம் 

வாழிய ரோ விவர் வண்ண மென்னில் 
மாகடல் போன்றுளர் கையில் வெய்ய 
அழியோன் றேந்தியோர் சங்கு - Thiru Mangai Azhvaar

The scenario a year ago at the Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praised Uraiyur Kamalavalli Nachiyar Divya Desam, the birth place of Thirupaan Azhvaar ( seemed a replica of the existing state of temples in Tamil Nadu and resembled the one that existed at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, prior to 2015. A dark madapalli with very little ventilation, debris strewn all over in front of the entrance to the cooking area, a tank in a dilapidated state, stagnating water across the temple with no system to allow excess water into the tank and a historical mandapam converted into a Anna Dhanam zone. Devotees were no different with little patience to carry the excess Kungumam or Manjal resulting in almost every one of pillars stashed with oil stains and turmeric marks. 
          Debris at the Madapalli
Centuries ago, such ancient Divya Desams were renowned for Nandavanam, from where sacred flowers were presented to the Lord and Thaayar. Unfortunately, this too was seen in a forlorn state with debris forming a major part of the area, a result of waste from the temple being thrown into this sacred zone. The roof of the temple too required a lot of repair works.

As seen in most temples in recent times, the ancient stone flooring had been converted to cement pasting.

Anyone with an interest in historical structures would have found it distressing after a visit to the Uraiyur Divya Desam a year ago for most of the ancient zones had been converted for more modern purposes.

While the scale of this restoration was nowhere near as massive as the one seen at the Srirangam temple, Venu Srinivasan got down to yet another transformational exercise (  While his official tag is that of the Chairman Board of Trustees, he refers to himself  as one in 'Service of the Devotees' and sees this as an exercise
Anna Dhanam Center cleared
The worst of the deterioration in the last few years was the Vasantha Mandapam which had been converted to an anna dhanam center. By moving it to another location within the complex, the Vasantha Mandapam has been restored to its historical status. Come next year, one will be able to witness the Vasanthotsavam as seen in the past.
Restoring the Madapalli
One of the features of the current exercise has been the restoration of the madapalli to its traditional format. For long, the madapalli had been in a dilapidated condition. The debris has been fully removed.  A special arrangement has also been made for storage of provisions at the madapalli. Simultaneously, new personnel are also being hired for the madapalli and sri patham at the temple and are likely to be onboard soon.
Refurbishing the Tank - RWH system
The temple tank was in a poor state filled with filth. This has been refurbished fully and is ready for the Theppotsavam in Maasi. A state of the art rain water harvesting is a new feature at the temple with a system created for redirecting water into the tank. Also, a system has been introduced to direct waste water away from the temple.

New Sacred Flower bearing plants
The Nandavanam too has been restored to its historical looks with the planting of a number of sacred flower bearing saplings as described by the Azhwars. Within the next few months, it is likely the sacred flowers will once again begin to be presented to Azhagiya Manavalan and Kamalavalli Nachiyar from the Nandavanam.
Repair Works
The entire temple complex wears a fresh look. For the first time, the Raja Gopuram at the Northern Entrance has been given a multi colour coating. All the vimanams too have received a fresh coat of painting. All the pillars have been water washed and the oil and turmeric stains removed. Recent additions like cement flooring has been replaced with natural cut stone flooring. A new electrical duct system has been installed across the entire temple complex. A number of damaged tiles have been replaced on the roof. Previously, toilets were inside the temple complex. This has been dismantled completely.

Committed Trustees help in improving Devotional Experience
Dr. KN Srinivasan, an Oncologist and Nuclear Medicine Physician by profession for the last 30 years and a Trustee of the Srirangam temple has been working tirelessly in the last few years at the  Ranganathaswamy Temple to improve various  service aspects, especially related to the post restoration maintenance activity helping give a better devotional experience. He has also been personally involved in monitoring the disciplinary aspects of the temple personnel which had been an issue for several decades from the 1970s.  He was present at the Uraiyur Divya Desam to oversee the final series of activities leading up to the Samprokshanam.

Ranganatha's annual trip to Uraiyur
The legend of this Divya Desam relates to the love story of Kamalavalli Nachiyar and her wedlock with the handsome young lad Ranganatha of Srirangam. Every year in the month of Panguni, a significant event takes place at the Uraiyur temple. Lord Ranganatha, in all his splendour, leaves the Srirangam temple at 4am to take the 6 km journey across the Cauvery in a golden palanquin to meet his beloved Kamalavalli Naachiyar for the ‘Kalyana Utsavam’(marriage festivities). On this auspicious day in the month of Panguni, the entire marriage formalities between Lord Ranganatha and Kamalavalli Nachiyar is enacted at the Uraiyur Temple. Lord Ranganatha takes the trip back to Srirangam across the Cauvery that same night.

Kamalavalli Nachiyar is seen in a grand sitting posture, all set to get married. Being the handsome man in wedding attire, Lord Ranganatha here is called ‘Azhagiya Mana Vaalan’. A speciality of this temple is that this is the only Divya Desam (out of the 108) where the Goddess is facing the Northern direction, in this case in the direction of the Srirangam Ranganatha temple.

The entire restoration works of this historic Chozha Period temple took about a year to complete and is worth a visit to see the transformation of the Divya Desam to its rich historical glory.  

The Samprokshanam took place between 830am and 10am last Sunday (Sept 1) morning.