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 (, 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 ( 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 ( 4kms South.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Bharath Reddy The Player’s Man

In the summer of 1979, a once in a life time opportunity presented itself before him  to create cricketing history but Venkataraghavan asked him to ‘shut shop’ – Sadly it turned out to be his last innings in Test Cricket

His Unbeaten 2nd innings in Cricket that has lasted over three decades has seen him make a huge contribution to TN cricket - Spotting and Developing hitherto hidden talent and helping them showcase their prowess to the Cricketing World

It is one of the rarest occurrences in the Indian domestic cricket. Even as the Indian Schools captain was on the flight back to India from the trip to the UK in the summer of 1973, Vijay Manjrekar the legendary Indian Batsman from the 1950s and 60s, who was the manager on that tour, was so impressed with the young boy’s performance that he remarked “After Farooq, Bharath”.  

Coming as it did from a well respected voice of Indian Cricket, the national selectors could ill afford to not include the teenager in the domestic season opener. And thus he made his debut in first class cricket playing for Rest of India against Bombay in the Irani Cup match in the 2nd week of November 1973 and had the honour of keeping to Prasanna and Chadrasekhar in his first big match on the national scene. Having played and performed well in the prestigious Irani Cup match, the South Zone Selectors picked him for the Duleep Trophy opener that followed a week later. And to complete the rather bizarre sequence, the Tamil Nadu selectors then included him alongside PK Belliappa (who played as a batsman) in the Ranji Trophy team.

Thus in three dramatic weeks, end of 1973, Bharath Reddy had made his debut in three different formats in a lopsided sequence and one that had possibly not been witnessed in the previous four decades in domestic cricket for the scale up to the national level had for long been through a progressive chain starting with the Ranji Trophy and moving up the ladder through the Duleep and Deodhar Trophy,  with the Irani Trophy being the final door that a budding cricketer had to knock on before his entry on the international scene. But this was one episode when an aspiring cricketer played the Irani Trophy and Zonal Tournament before his State debut.

Bharath Reddy had actually experienced what teenagers his age would have only dreamed of - that of keeping to four legendary spinners – Venkataraghavan, VV Kumar, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar and that within the first month of arriving on the domestic scene in India. 

Wicket Keeper by Chance
For all this excitement at such a young age, he had taken up to keeping only by chance. He was in his early teens and was part of the junior team at the Madras Christian College School, Chetput. For an important match in the Leather Trophy, the senior team was a keeper short and Bharath Reddy was roped in as a stop gap. His performance behind the stumps in the tournament surprised everyone for he seemed to be a natural wicket keeper and there was no looking back since. In the next few years, he scaled up rapidly. An extrovert, who proactively reached out to teammates, he also seemed a natural leader and soon donned the captain’s role of the Indian Schools team that toured England in 1973.
TT Srinivasaraghavan, MD, Sundaram Finance is the same age as Bharath Reddy and played alongside him for MCC School (in the late 1960s), a team that was quite strong those days in school cricket in Madras. He saw the talent in his wicket keeping very early on even as a young school boy and says that ‘Bharath was a gifted stumper.’

Stiff Competition in the South
Following his debut season in 1973, Bharath Reddy had to encounter stiff competition even for a state place with H Sundaram close on his heels. And at the Zonal level, he had to constantly fight for a spot with SMH Kirmani (Karnataka) and Krishnamurthy (Hyderabad). Tamil Nadu failing to qualify for the knock outs two years in a row immediately after Bharath’s debut meant opportunities in domestic cricket were limited. And yet, he managed to hold off competition and within 4 years of his state debut was on flight to Australia with the Indian team as the understudy to Kirmani.

During that period, he captained the Madras University team to a victory against a strong Bombay team in the final of the Rohintan Baria Tournament.
Former Ranji Trophy winning captain and his teammate at College, University and State for many years, S Vasudevan rates Bharath Reddy as the 'Best Wicket Keeper' he had seen in Tamil Nadu.

While he did not play a test on that tour, he did gain significant exposure playing most of the tour matches against sides that included Test stars from Australia. Even at that young age, the extrovert character was on show as he made friends with many Aussie cricketers, the first real exhibition of his networking skills.

A great opportunity to make history in England?
A couple of years later, with the Packer rage catching up even in India and with rumours of Kirmani making his way to the WSC, the Indian Selectors made the surprise choice of Bharath Reddy as the lone keeper for the high profile tour of England, interestingly under the captaincy of S Venkataraghavan, his state captain for over 5 years.

He played in all the four tests on that very challenging tour that was played in very chilly conditions. Yet it was quite a successful one for him with 11 dismissals, a record at that time for an Indian wicket keeper. He learnt a lot from Bishen Singh Bedi with whom he shared the room through the English tour in 1979 and who has been a close friend ever since.

Shut Shop Bharath, says Venkat
In the last test of the series at Oval, he featured in the final dramatic moments of what could have become a legendary test in history. India were going after a record run chase on the final day and were set up well by a double century opening stand between Gavaskar and Chauhan. India was 8 down when Bharath Reddy came in. He had been a natural stroke maker all his life and none would have known that better than Venkataraghavan but as fate would have it, the stern Venkat directed the young keeper to shut shop. It would have been a once in a life opportunity for Bharath Reddy and it fell on his lap for the situation suited his style best. A couple of big hits and Bharath Reddy would have become a household name in Indian cricket. But destiny decided otherwise. He defended under his skipper’s instruction before the match was finally called off with a ball to go with India falling tantalizingly short of the 438 that they had to score in the fourth innings. 

It probably remains one of the very few regrets that Bharath Reddy has had in cricket “It was a great opportunity to win. No team had ever chased such a target in almost 100 years of Test Cricket and we were so close to it. I felt that we should have gone for the target at the cost of losing the test match for we were already one down in the series.”
(Venkat lost his captaincy to Gavaskar even as the team was on board the flight back to India)

Another day, he may have gone for it but not that evening at the Oval and not against Venkat’s instructions. Unfortunately for Bharath Reddy, it turned out to be his last test innings, for he never played test cricket again.

His Final International Tour
He toured Australia and New Zealand in 1981 alongside his teammate TE Srinivasan but did not feature in a single test on either of the tours. With Kirmani having stabilized himself as the No.1 keeper in the team and a new policy that India began adopting of a single keeper on overseas tours, the curtains came down on Bharath after just 4 tests. With one of the most talented wicket keepers India has seen, Sadanand Viswanath coming into the fray in 1984, Bharath Reddy lost hopes of an international come back. And he joined a long list of cricketers from Tamil Nadu who under achieved at the international level.

But he had enjoyed playing with the cricketing legends of India in the 12 year period from 1973, building a big network of cricketers worldwide and keeping to those world class spinners “VV Kumar would just pin the best of batsmen down to their knees and as a keeper I had to be alert every single ball that would turn square either way. With Bedi and Prasanna, the ball would just hang in the air. How can I have any regrets after having kept to all these legends. Venkat was one of the hardest working cricketers I have seen, though he would rarely talk.”

Helping Kalli win a bet with Venkat
While he was not known much for his batting, B Kalyanasundaram ( once had a bet with his captain Venkataraghavan that he would score 25 in a Ranji match. Batting with grit and determination, he reached 24 when Venkat declared the innings closed bringing a huge laughter in the dressing room. 
Much later in September 1976 playing against Andhra Pradesh at the Agricultural College Ground in Coimbatore, it was Bharath Reddy who partnered with Kalyanasundaram in a 9th wicket partnership of almost 80 runs helping Kalli pass that magical milestone of 25. Immediately after that innings, Venkat walked up to Kalli and handed him Rs.25, the amount he had promised earlier if Kalli scored 25 runs. That also showed Venkat's character of keeping to his word.

A role in LS' Ranji Debut at the age of 16
Venkat had decided to go with just 4 bowlers for that the knock out game and was keen that all the bowlers were 100% fit. When Valson indicated on the morning of the match that he was not likely to be 100% fit through the four days, it was Bharath Reddy that Venkat went up to to seek his views on the replacement. And on Bharath seconding the inclusion of LS (L Sivaramakrishnan), he took the big call of playing the 16 year old Vidya Mandir School boy in the big quarter final clash against a formidable Delhi side comprising of  Chauhan, Lamba, the Amarnaths, Madan Lal and Kirti Azad. Bharath Reddy and LS remained thick friends through that period in the 1980s.

Just minutes before the toss, TN Captain Venkataraghavan walked up to the diminutive 16 year old Vidya Mandir school boy in front of the pavilion at Chepauk and gave him the biggest news yet of his life. ‘YOU ARE PLAYING TODAY’ and the rest is history ( LS took 7 wickets in the 2nd innings to help bowl out that strong Delhi batting line up for just over 100)

800 league runs in the year he was dropped from TN squad
During the final phase of Bharath Reddy's playing career, Tamil Nadu reached the Semi Final of the Ranji Trophy, one of his big moments in his domestic career but as in the past, the team lost to Bombay. He captained Tamil Nadu for a while after the retirement of Venkataraghavan. In the year, that he quit (was dropped) TN cricket, he had scored 800 runs in league cricket  including four hundreds. But it was time for him to give way to a young wicket keeper as part of the transition in TN that saw K Srikkanth bring in a new wave of youngsters.

Star Studded Benefit Match
So networked was he with players around the world, that for a man with just 4 test matches, Bharath Reddy managed to rope almost the entire Indian team at that moment and many of the international stars of that time (Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Rameez Raja, Malcolm Marshall and Curtley Ambrose, among others) for his benefit match and it turned out  to be a star studded match.

A playing career that flattered to deceive
Bharath Reddy is gracious to accept that he had not done enough to over throw Kirmani from the team ‘I was a happy go lucky guy. I felt satisfied being in the reserves. I was not too ambitious. There was no one to guide us in Tamil Nadu in those days. We were mostly left on our own. I did not realize then that I was playing alongside legends of Indian cricket and that I had to strive harder to topple Kiri Bhai. I made friends with most of the senior members of the team but did not focus enough on converting my ability into performance. Today as I look back, I wish there had been someone to guide and mentor me during that crucial period and helped me correct my mistakes. But there was none. In Tamil Nadu, unlike those from the West Zone, people (cricketers) are generally reserved and most keep it to themselves. Hence, I was all on my own and did not do enough to merit selection at the international level.”

It was now time for Bharath Reddy to move on.
(for the records, he played in 95 first class matches and effected over 200 victims)

Over the next three decades of his life, following his retirement as a player, that was the void Bharath Reddy has filled an achievement that has made him a stand out in domestic cricket.

Club Cricket in Madras
After quite a success in the city league in the 1960s, Jolly Rovers had gone through a tough phase in the 1970s. Towards the end of the decade, N. Sankar, who had just taken over as the MD of Chemplast, with the intention of bringing back the focus on cricket doled out an offer to Bharath Reddy to play for Jolly Rovers. While Bharath also had an offer from the TVS, he opted for the secure officer’s post at SBI. The meeting ended with Sankar making the remark ‘I will call you when I can afford you.” 

And he did, three years later roping Bharath as the captain of the team. Even as a youngster with his love for cricket, Sankar had an innate ability to spot talent. It was he who saw the potential in B Kalyanasundaram and signed him up (initially for Jai Hind) after meeting him at the Pachaiyappas College ground in the 1960s. He saw a spark in Bharath and found him to a natural leader with a great ability to motivate and develop cricketers. It was this spark that led him to handing the responsibility of taking care of the management of the entire cricketing activities of Jolly Rovers.

Thus began an association that continues to flourish even now close to four decades after the initial signing and one that seems to be growing stronger as seen from the Palayampatti Shield that Jolly Rovers won earlier this year. It has been a very long term partnership something that neither party foresaw way back in the early 1980s.

This second innings in Bharath Reddy’s life has seen a success that no other cricketing manager can boast of in TN cricket though it has not been without challenges.  In 1980, he was banned for taking six cricketers to the US.

From the 80s, he has single handedly anchored the success story of Chemplast under the macro management of Sankar by building a strong team comprising of players, coaches and the support staff. His passion for Gardening has helped greatly in the way the team’s own ground has been maintained at IIT Madras that is one of the best in the city, with a British style pavilion.

Reviving Jolly Rovers’ fortunes - 1980s
Soon after taking over the reigns in the early 1980s, there was a big turnaround in Jolly Rovers’ fortunes in the city league. After a lull for almost a decade, the team won the Palayampatti Shield two years in a row soon after Bharath Reddy took over and also won the then prestigious The Hindu Trophy within a year of his captaincy. It was he who identified B Arun and provided him the early opportunities.  He also brought along Abdul Jabbar and Prasad from SBI. A decade after his arrival Jolly Rovers had won both the Palayampatti Shield and The Hindu Trophy four times. As the decade panned out, his eye for spotting talent came to the fore.

Not just local cricketers, he managed to bring in players from across the country to play for Jolly Rovers. Harvinder Singh and Debasish Mohanty were two of the early outstation players that he laid his hands on. Dinesh Karthik was just 11 years when he was taken by Bharath Reddy on a trip to England. Another India cricketer M Vijay was spotted early on by Bharath and it was during his stint at Jolly Rovers that Vijay blossomed into a fine opener and later went on to play for India. Dinesh Mongia was a regular for Jolly Rovers in those days. And now Piyush Chawla has been a star performer for several years. 

While it was a big name in the local league till the 1970s, Chemplast was not known to the cricketing world outside. It was Bharath Reddy who took the club national. When the BCCI launched a national corporate tourney, Chemplast was not even given an entry. A couple of years later, Chemplast won the tournament and it remains to-date the only private club to lift the trophy. As years rolled by, more trophies from national tournaments moved into the Chemplast kitty - Arlem Trophy, KSCA Trophy, Moin ud Dowla and many more.

Fast bowler L Balaji was another who benefited from the world class infrastructure at Jolly Rovers. He too was picked up very early on much before he became a star in TN and Indian cricket. For S Badrinath too, it was Jolly Rovers that gave the early platform to prove his mettle. More recently Natarajan, DT Chandrasekar, Aparjith and Indrajit, Sai Kishore have been players who grew and established their credentials under his stewardship.

He also roped in many upcoming players from outside the state such as Robin Bist, Ankit Bhawe, Sheldon Jackson and Deepak Hooda.

Gets the best out of every player
Former South Zone batsman and currently a Top 20 Umpire Madanagopal( who played over 30 first class matches and topped the run charts two years in a row for TN played for three years for Jolly Rovers, including the year when they won the Palayampatti Shield after a gap of 9 years in the late 1990s rates his association with Bharath Reddy as one of his best phases in club cricket “There were some big established names at Jolly Rovers when I joined and yet Bharath handed to me everything that I could have hoped for as a youngster in a cricket team. I was given every opportunity to showcase my talent. The fact that he is there from the first ball to the last in every match makes him ideally positioned to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the players.” 
It was that understanding that once helped change the course of a match “All of a sudden, he went out of his way to the then international star Robin Singh, who was the captain of the team, to promote me up the order given the state of the match at that time and I ended up with a century. Such was his indepth understanding of a player that he always got the best out of every player in the team.”

Vasudevan even goes to the extent of saying that there are very few in country who can spot talent and make them 'India' ready as well as what Bharath Reddy has done over the decades.
Sankar is delighted at how this cricketing association with Bharath Reddy has turned out “Frankly when I signed up as the Wicket Keeper Captain and subsequently assigned him the challenging role of running and managing the team, I did not foresee a scenario of him still running the team four decades later. For a large part, he has spent the money frugally. The longevity of his stint is a clear indication of his passion for the game and the success he has achieved with the club. To me, the ultimate endorsement comes from the respect he commands from the players over a very long period of time.”

Cricket - The only thing I know
The young upcoming fast bowler Kapil Dev was his roommate in the 1977-78 series in Australia, a tour that Bharath rates as the best for the camaraderie that everyone enjoyed. Since then they have been the best of friends. Not for him, phrases like 'giving back to the game. Like Kapil Dev, Bharath Reddy is not embarrassed to accept that Cricket is the only thing he has known in life “I was not good at academics. Right from my school days, cricket was my passion. It has always been my first love and I have stuck to it. And I have no regrets about accepting the truth that cricket is the only thing I have known in life.” 

It was on Kapil’s request that he went on board as a professional with Tony Grieg and Dean Jones to the Indian Cricket League (ICL) that was later seen as a Rebel League. He helped identify and put together players in three teams in the ICL. But the stint there was short lived and he came back officially  on board Chemplast.

A Big Loss to TN Cricket 
Legendary leg spinner VV Kumar with 599 first class wickets, who has seen Bharath from very early days, says without battling an eyelid that Bharath Reddy has been the best man he has seen in the last 60 years in terms of spotting and nurturing talent. “He was miles ahead of others in bringing unknown talent to the forefront and he worked tirelessly in that endeavour.” 

VV Kumar bemoans the failure on the part of TN cricket to utilize the services of Bharath Reddy for the good of the state and is saddened by the way he has been treated by the state association “He has a proven track record of spotting hidden talent and is a players’ favourite but sadly has not found favour with the association. How would anyone in the TNCA explain the rationale behind never having utilized the services of such a selfless personality who has always stood for the development of the players. Keeping him away has clearly been a big loss to TN cricket.”

PS Moses, who played alongside him in the 1970s compares Bharat Reddy's achievement at the local club level as a cricket manager of Chemplast with that of (Alex) Fergusson of Manchester United.

Uncompromising Personality
For a man touted as the next big Indian Keeper after Farooq Engineer, Bharath Reddy fell short of expectations playing just four tests and three ODIs. But in his 2nd innings in Cricket, much like TA Sekar(, his contribution to the development of cricket in Tamil Nadu far exceeded anyone’s expectations. No other cricket manager in Tamil Nadu has contributed anywhere near what Bharath Reddy has over a long three decades period. His ability to spot hitherto unrecognized talent and to nurture and harness that inherent talent in players converting it to a success story has been second to none. 

The greatest sense of satisfaction for Bharath has been the fact that he has been true to himself, honest with the players and uncompromising at most times. He is not the one to ‘toe’ the line. He was also the Secretary of the TNCA during a phase in the 1990s but really that's story for another time. The discipline that he has inculcated at Chemplast has been a model for other professional teams to follow. He is there in your face and most players know what’s in his mind. Like in his playing days, he did not aspire enough during the 2nd innings in cricket except to make his club the best in the city.

While it is yet unclear as to how long he will be able to sustain the success story in the hostile cricketing environment that currently exists in the city where upcoming players from non ‘powers’ side are shunned into submission and in a scenario where they are forced to pay several times higher a price to secure a player, for the moment Bharath Reddy continues to be passionate about his role at Chemplast. 

While many of the state players have moved on to the powers that be with the latest to succumb being M Siddharth (, they were all nurtured much before their days of fame by Bharath Reddy at Jolly Rovers. Even in a scenario of several top players moving away to those teams, Bharath Reddy showed to the cricketing world that he still has it in him to build a team that can win the Palayampatti Shield as seen from the victory earlier this year.

Committees and advisories are now being formed to try and discover cricketing talent in TN. For 30 years, without any such committees, Bharath Reddy single handedly spotted, invested and harnessed unknown players and brought them to the world’s notice. Irrespective of how the future unfolds for him, Bharath Reddy has already engraved a name for himself in the history of TN cricket and will forever remain a ‘Player’s Man’, one who gave his all for the development of talented players. He has always been a selfless man who looked first at the benefits for his players and gave them what they looked for as young upcoming cricketers - Opportunities, Infrastructure facilities and financial compensation. And very few have left him disappointed. 

At 65, Bharath Reddy is a happy and contended man. He sees it as a great blessing to have had a terrific boss who trusted him and handed him complete freedom to run his team. He remains the only cricketer in the state to have run and managed a top notch team, successfully, churning out high quality players for almost four decades. And that really has been Bharath Reddy’s greatest achievement in his second innings in cricket. 

It will be hard to find another like him.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Srivilliputhur Andal Divya Desam

The Temple reverberated in Devotion with 300 Adhyapakas presenting Divya Prabhandham in the Adhyayana Utsavam Ghosti

In the not so distant past, 60 kgs Sacred Food was presented to Andal each day and was distributed among the Kainkaryapakas. Today, the daily presentation is in grams!!!

Selling the 'Sacred' Kilis, Stocking provisions in sacred mandapams, Squeezing the Devotee Donor to the maximum, Monetising even the 'Sacred Well' and Offering Varieties of Food as 'Prasadam' is the new way of life at the Avathara Sthalam of two Azhvaars
Vedavalli Nachiyar is one of the very few Vaishnavites to have spent her entire over 7 decades life near the Andal Temple at the historical Divya Desam at Srivilliputhur. 'Nachiyar Maami' as she is fondly called in the temple circles in Srivilliputhur began experiencing the grand Utsavams in Aadi and Margazhi as a young school girl way back in the 1950s and has been part of almost every single Brahmotsavam since then. Her children, now settled in cities, have for many years been persisting with her to move with them to a more ‘comfortable’ life but Nachiyar’s mind stay firmly rooted to Andal at Srivilliputhur.

Her father, Thiruvaazhi Ramanuja Iyengar was a renowned Ramayana Upanyasakar at Srivilliputhur. In the middle of the previous century, his devotional style of presenting Periyazhvaar’s Pillai Tamil verses ( attracted a big audience that listened to his narration of the nuances with great interest.With the devotional connect that she had with Andal, Nachiyar Maami was clear on two things. One she would not move out of this Divya Desam and two, she would not dispose the historical properties at Srivilliputhur. And she has managed to stick on to both despite the temptations to both move out to a city and to sell away the century old house.

300 member Prabhandham Ghosti - Adhyayana Utsavam
There were 14 traditional agraharams in Srivilliputhur with Archakas, Sthalathars, Thathachars, Saathu Jeers, Thengalayars, Vadakalayars and Poorva Shika Brahmins. Srivilliputhur is one of the only three Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu, where Araiyar Sevai, the art of presenting Nalayira Divya Prabhandham through a song, music and vyakyanam sequence, is continuing to be performed. Rama Sarma Araiyar in Melkote, Karnataka too continues to perform the Araiyar Sevai as does his son Parthasarathy Araiyar ( Srivilliputhur  is also home to two Azhvaars, the only such among Divya Desams.

In the decades gone by, the entire temple town of Srivilliputhur reverberated to the Prabhandham recital of 300 members. During the Adyayana Utsavam in Margazhi, the ghosti was so packed that Annankaracharya, who had visited Srivilliputhur at that time, remarked that he could not even enter the hall and had to stand outside through the entire presentation of the sacred verses. Despite the lack of big income for the priests and the adyapakars, there was devotional vibrancy in those decades. Focus was on God and not on money. Devotees experienced Bhakti through the committed devotional service of the priests and adyapakars. Katti Saatham in large quantities was presented to the Lord and Goddess each day of the year. Once upon a time in the not so distant past, 60 kgs of Sacred Food was presented daily over the 6 Kaalam Pooja and was distributed among the Kainkaryapakas.

Araiyars' presentation during the 21 days of the Adyayana Utsavam was very popular. Nachiyar Maami would go to the Araiyar's house every morning during the Utsvam to enquire about the day’s Vyakyanam and would read through the pasurams in advance before she made her way into the temple for the Araiyar Sevai so she could experience, better, the  Araiyar Sevai.

Nachiyar Maami remembers the state of the priests in the 1950s “They lived in hut like houses in the agraharam in the Sannidhi Street. They were not salaried personnel of the temple. In those days, there was no concept of Thattu Kaasu. The only focus of the Bhattars was on rendering service to God each day of the year with the greatest of devotion. Performing Thiru Aradhanam as per the traditional practice was their way of life. Rarely would any of them talk about financial returns. Almost everyone seemed contented and happy.”
Months long Chariot Procession
Her husband MSK Thirumalai Iyengar, now 80, too has lived almost his entire life in Srivilliputhur. Life in the city did not interest him much and he served as a school teacher at the century old school in this Divya Desam for over three decades.  Chariot procession took months to complete as it would be stuck on the muddy streets. He remembers a year, decades ago, when the Chariot that started in Aadi reached their home on North Car Street on Avani Avittam day. Devotees would have Vishroopam Sevai of Andal in the Chariot.The family has for the last three decades been taking care of the night Thaligai for Goddess Andal at this temple. 
Protecting and Promoting the Sampradayam - Veda Piran Bhattar
Veda Piran clan belonged to the Poorva Shika Brahmins. Sudarshan ‘Veda Piran Bhattar’, a descendant of Periyazhvaar, is one of the few exceptions to have stayed back in Srivilliputhur to continue to offer service at this Divya Desam. He completed the MBA earlier this decade but working in the corporate world was not something that interested him. 

His grandfather V Govindaraja Iyengar was one of the revered Divya Prabhandham Scholars and Yajur Vedam Experts in the Pandya region in the 20th Century. The TVS family was so moved by his devotional commitment and his presentations that they invited him for Thiruppavai Kalakshepam at their home in Madurai. For 30 years, he presented this at the TVS home (Ambujam) and at the Thallakulam temple in Madurai. 

When the TVS family offered to rebuild their once historical home on the Sannidhi Street opposite the Andal Sannidhi Street in Srivilliputhur, Govindarajan Iyengar refused as he saw the presentation of Andal’s verses and describing the inner meanings to a top corporate family as a gift by itself. He was Kainkaryam personified and financial benefits did not interest him. He saw it as his duty to spread the greatness of this sampradayam and everything he did was on these lines.
Being a representative of Periyazhvaar, Sudarshan Veda Piran Bhattar sees it as his duty to continue to perform all the services that Periyazhvaar had historically done at this Divya Desam. Outside of Archakas and Sthalathars, Veda Piran Bhattar is the only one to have the right to enter the Kulasekara Padi at this temple.

Araiyar Sevai - A Fading Art
Earlier this year during the Brahmotsavam at the Nambi Temple in Thiru Kurungudi, 67 year old Bala Mukundan Araiyar swooned and fell down unconscious soon after presentation of Araiyar Sevai (it was again the TVS family - Venu Srinivasan - that offered immediate on the ground support). He has been performing Araiyar Sevai for over 50 years without a salary and from a dilapidated traditional home near the Andal Sannidhi. His father Srinivasa Rangachariar (who passed away a few years ago) had performed the service at the temple for over 70 years including presenting Araiyar Sevai once in the Himalayas in shivering cold ( Despite challenging health conditions, Bala Mukundan Araiyar continues to perform at the Andal Rangamannar Divya Desam.
The Downturn
HR & CE’s gaining power coincided with the new political regime in the state and the combination sounded death knell for the traditional practices at this Divya Desam. Srivilliputhur was one of the earliest temples in Tamil Nadu taken over by the HR & CE. The traditionalists in Srivilliputhur found it difficult to find jobs even in the local schools and the Taluk Office, where their previous generation had served. Income from the lands that they held began to dwindle. Suddenly, financial situation worsened.

Come the 1970s, the original inhabitants of this ancient Divya Desam had to prepare themselves for a new life. With no income from lands, no salary from the temple, reducing ‘Katti Saatham’ that was once an integral part of their daily life, the ever increasing cost of living and a new generation that was coming up that found it difficult to put up , life turned upside down for the original inhabitants of Srivilliputhur. By the 1980s, one saw a big exodus of these traditionalists into cities. From almost the entire Sannidhi Street, the four Mada Streets and the four Chariot Streets being inhabited by traditional residents, very few remain now. Over 200 families from Srivilliputhur are current residing in Madras, having moved to the State Capital since the 1970s. There are many who have gone overseas into something completely unconnected with what their forefathers had done.

Monetising the Andal Kinaru
Even the historical and sacred ‘Andal Kinaru’ just outside the sanctum has not been spared and too  has been monetized by the HR & CE.  Legend has it that Andal developed the habit of wearing the garland that her father Periyazhvaar knotted for Lord Vadapatrasayee. With garland around her neck, she would admire her own beauty in the ‘mirror’ well visualizing the Lord as her husband. To this day, the unique tradition is followed at the Srivilliputhur Divya Desam with Lord Vadapatrasayee adorning every morning the garland worn the previous evening by Andal.
While this ancient tradition is followed, it is shocking to find that the HR & CE has converted the sacred mirror well just outside the sanctum of the Andal Sannidhi into a donation hundial. The well is one of the ‘sacred’ Theerthams at the temple. However, atop the well, the glass enclosure has been used as a ‘revenue’ generating opportunity by the HR &CE luring the devotees with this ancient garland story to get them to deposit money into this.

Long time residents and devotees of Srivilliputhur who have always connected this mirror well with the legendary episode are aghast that the authorities haven’t let go off even the sacred well and have converted this into another money making opportunity to bolster their coffer. It is hoped that the authorities would stop this practice and restore the sanctity of the place by removing the ‘artificial hundial’ and allowing the ‘Kannadi Kinaru’ (Mirror Well) to be the sacred zone that it once was.

The New Devotional Wave and its negative impact
As devotees pour in money into this Divya Desam, no stone has remained untouched. 50 years ago, as one entered the Andal Sannidhi from the North, one found beautiful devotional sculptures on the pillars that created a feeling of devotion even before one entered the Sannidhi. The scenario that exists today is that of a mega exhibition. There are big sized banners that call out for funds. Shops have sprung up everywhere around the temple complex. The HR & CE executives shout out for archanai tickets, special entrance tickets and other donations even as a devotee steps into the temple. 

Shenbagam Garden - Cut Short
The Shenbagam Thoppu was a historical nandavanam and Andal adorned beautiful garlands from the flowers brought from this thoppu. Periyazhvaar in his verses refers to Shenbagam as a favourite of the Lord.
ஆனிரை மேய்க்க நீ போதி அரு மருந்து ஆவதறியாய்…………………
பானையில் பாலைப் பருகி பற்றாதார் எல்லாம் சிரிப்ப
செண்பக பூச்சூட்ட வாராய் 

Even as one passed by near this zone, one could feel the sacred fragrance. In the decades that followed that taking over by HR & CE, this too has been cut out. And now it’s a tale of devotee donors supplying garlands at Divya Desams.

Selling the sacred 'Parrot'
Money is overflowing into the temple but devotion is not the same as before. The famous Kizhi of Andal that Saathaatha Vaishnavas ( make each day and present to the Goddess was traditionally handed to a descendant of an Acharya or Azhvaar, such was the sacredness of the Parrot that was placed on her in the morning. Today, Kilis are made in big quantities and ‘sold’ as ‘Andal Kili’ to devotees who visit the Divya Desam. For the Thirumanjanam, historically one Kudam milk was all that was used. Today, the HR & CE collects money in large quantities that far exceeds the historical practice.

Financially Lucrative for the Priests
The Bhattars, one of the historical service personnel who went through a financially challenging phase for many decades, are having a field day cashing in on the devotional wave that has struck this Divya Desam. While the bhattars in the 1950s and 60s did not have a single outstation visitor on a non utsavam day, it is now a big challenge for them to manage the crowd. The  Thattu Kaasu pours in even on a normal weekday. The Bhattars and the HR & CE are fully cashing in on the frenetic wave of the devotees who are looking for Parikarams to fulfil their wishes.

Renovation becomes big business
There has been a big financial boost in the name of renovation. Such exercises in recent decades have also caused damaged to historical structures. All open spaces from the past have now been filled with new structures. The historical Ekadasi Mandapam is now almost a store house stocking the newly anna dhanam provisions. While the sacred presentation to the Lord has drastically reduced to less than 1 kg a day (from the close to 100 kgs), food in different varieties are now prepared and sold as ‘Prasadam’.

The next gen of Araiyar lost to the the Corporate World
When they came to Srivilliputhur from Thiru Kurungudi, the Araiyars were given huge tracts of land  by the Dharma Karthas of the temple so they could focus on performing the Araiyar Sevai without worrying about their financial sustenance. While they performed service with little financial returns in the decades gone by, the external environment changed drastically. With things turning for the worse, they had to sell off these lands at a very low price to meet the family expenses. With the ever increasing cost of living, the next gen has moved into the corporate world. While he learnt the art of Araiyar Sevai from his father and grandfather, the young Natha Muni Araiyar, an Engineer, has been in the corporate world now for almost a decade, much like the Araiyar in Srirangam who is keen to pursue a career in the Aviation industry( With a full fledged corporate job, that has its own every day pressure, the mind of the next gen is slowly moving away from full time Kainkaryam to part time service during big utsavams.
Today, it is more businesslike at the temple. Everything is about glamorous decorations through donor funding. Even during the big utsavams including during the 5 Garuda Sevai (, the procession ended by 9 pm till a few decades ago. But with HR & CE’s increasing focus on financial returns, the procession these days do not even commence till 9 pm. And on many days (nights), the Lord is back only after midnight making it a vicious cycle.

While the Bhattars are seeing a financial upsurge and have built modern houses bring the biggest beneficiaries among the traditional service personnel, the devotional way of life that one experienced in the previous century in this legendary Divya Desam is now gone.  Unfortunately, financial focus has come to be at the core of every activity at the temple, now. The Adyapakas have reduced to a single digit from the 100s that existed not so long ago. Even during the the biggest of the Utsavams, Lord Vadabadrasayee, Goddess Andal and Periyazhvaar go around on street processions on wheeled tyres. Many of the Kainkaryapakas of the Srivilliputhur Divya Desam like Natha Muni Araiyar have moved away from temple service in the last few decades. Losing such Kainkaryapakas to the Corporate World could be the  biggest fall out caused by the entry of the HR & CE, in the long term.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Sathyagala Vedanta Desikar Temple

It was here at Sathyagala that the Vaishnavite Acharya composed Abeethisthavam, verses invoking Lord Ranganatha seeking relief from fear  

Located 2kms West of Ranganatha Swamy temple in Madhya Rangam is the Kote Varadarajaswamy Temple in Sathyagala, a location where Vaishnavite Acharya Vedanta Desikar spent 12 years having moved away from Srirangam following the Moghul Invasion. In a Koorma Posture, he invoked the blessings of Ranganathaswamy for the safety of Srirangam and its residents. It was during this period that he composed Abeethisthavam, a set of verses invoking Lord Ranganatha and seeking relief from one's fears in life.

Vedanta Desikar performed daily Aradhana for Varadarajaswamy. Till the beginning of the 20th Century, around 300 families formed part of the agraharam at Sathyagala. 
But as with many other Divya Desams, most of the traditional inhabitants left Sathyagala for larger cities during the last century. For decades, the temple was home to bats and remained in a dilapidated condition. The well was seen in a broken state. Brahmotsavam could not be conducted and was discontinued. The situation had turned so bad that Thiru Kudanthai Andavan in one of his Kalakshepams compared the thorns at this temple to the painful Kakasura episode in the Ramayana. No one could enter the temple in those decades.

With the overall financial improvement of devotees who had moved away from here into the corporate world, the temple saw a large scale renovation in the 1990s. It was the revered TS Krishna Bhattar of Madhya Rangam who guided and anchored the restoration. A new Raja Gopuram was constructed at the Eastern Entrance. The Utsavams too are being revived. Rest houses have been built near the temple for outstation devotees to stay. There is a full time priest who stays in Sathyagala. 

A three day Utasavam for Vedanta Desikar is now celebrated in a grand way in Aipasi with a procession to the Cauvery for Theerthavari. Devotees from across the country visit the temple to participate in the Thiru Kalyana Utsavam and the Theerthavari (this Utsavam took place in the first weekend of November this year).

Devotees who are planning to visit Sathyagala can call Madhava Bhattar in advance on 99721 20469

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Indhalur Tula Utsavam

Parimala Rangan provides darshan as Thiruvallikeni Parthasarathy and later atop the White Elephant in a princely attire on the 6th day of the Historical Tula Utsavam

Six Decades ago, there was no place to store Paddy inside the Temple Complex and the Sannidhi Street was full of traditional Vaishnavites - Today, there is no income from the temple lands, there are illegal occupants all around while the original inhabitants are far away in cities
It is just after 6am on the 6th day of the historically renowned Tula Utsavam at the Parimala Rangan temple in Thiru Indhalur, the only Divya Desam where Theerthavari takes place on each day of the Tula Month (Aipasi) and a temple that has a connect with another Thalai Changa Naan Mathiyam, about 20kms East (

Alankaram specialist Srikanthan Bhattar of Sirupuliyur Divya Desam has just decorated the Lord in a grand ‘Thiruvallikeni’ Parthasarathy Thiru Kolam. Historically, the 10 day Brahmotsavam in Aipasi referred to as the 'Tula Utsavam' has been the grandest of the festivals at this Divya Desam even more so than the one in Panguni. Till the 1960s, devotees from across the  State and the highly devoted from Andhra Pradesh congregated in large numbers for the sacred ‘Tula Snanam’ in the Cauvery as well as to watch the Lord go around the streets in different Vahanas in the night. Bhagavathas too participated in a big way during the ten day utsavam. It has been a historical practice for the ladies from the North Street to dance during the Thiruvanthikaapu with lamps.

Lord and Thayar were decked with glittering jewelries with the priests having a galaxy to choose from for each festive occasion. The devotees lined up the streets to check out the special alankaram of the day and spotted the pathakam and necklaces to go with the day's attire of the Lord. Such was the devotional vibrancy at this Divya Desam till about 60 years ago.

The Changed Scenario at Indhalur
Wednesday (November 13) morning presented a very different picture. There are just a handful of devotees for the Vishroopam just after 7am. As is the case with most remote Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu, there is just the one Bhattar to manage multiple Sannidhis during this Brahmotsavam period. After darshan of Parimal Rangan, the devotees are keen to move on to the Parimala Ranganayaki Sannidhi. However, a few more devotees await darshan of the Lord. During the first hour of the day, the frail looking Sridhar Bhattar shunts at least 10 times between the Perumal and Thayar Sannidhis each time locking the respective sannidhi. This morning was even more complicated for there was also the Utsava Deity positioned outside the Sanctum for the morning street procession. Sridhar Bhattar had to take care of three deities all by himself with a different set of devotees waiting for darshan of Moolavar Perumal, Moolavar Thayar and Utsavar Perumal all at the same time. Such is the morning of priests performing aradhana in historical Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu.

15 hours of non stop work - Muralidhara Dikshithar
Muralidhara Dikshithar has been a priest in Thiru Indhalur for the last 40 years having begun service as a young teenager at the Anjaneya Sannidhi opposite the Parimala Ranganatha temple. He joined service at the Divya Desam after his wedding in 1995 and has been here at the temple for almost 25 years. He is not a salaried staffer and depends only on Thattu Kaasu for his survival. As is the case with the big utsavams, the priest’s day does not end till late into the night. Muralidhara Dikshithar’s service after the evening procession on the 5th day lasted till midnight. On Wednesday morning, he reached the temple at 8am ahead of the purapadu (and worked till 11pm non stop).

Big Challenges ahead of Purapadu
As he entered the temple around 8am on Wednesday morning, he began to encounter problems – existing as well as new ones.The sacred food ahead of the morning procession was not ready. In most Divya Desams, the cooks at the madapalli are not paid enough. In a temple like Srirangam, even formal appointments at the madapalli has not taken places for decades!!! The cook is paid a measly sum in such Divya Desams and there is not enough motivation to prepare multiple menus as is the requirement on such big Utsavam days. The Sri Patham arrived one by one. Even much after the scheduled time, they were not in sufficient numbers to carry the Lord. Add to it, the sky turned dark leaving the question of going around the four big streets. And to top it, there were not too many devotees at the Brahmotsavam Sevai (for the few that turned up in the morning, it was Parikaram related visit). 

A Vibrant Divya Desam till the 1950s
Just over 60 years ago, the entire Sannidhi Street was filled with traditionalists who spent all their time in temple related activities. Divya Prabhandham and Vedic Recital was an integral part of this Divya Desam. There were full time Adyapakars and Vedic Scholars who performed daily service at the temple. Prabhandham Scholars from across the state made it to the Tula Utsavam such was the sanctity of the festival here in Aipasi.

Praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi, Thiru Indhalur is a Pancha Ranga Kshetram where the Lord is seen in a grand Veera Sayana Posture displaying his four hands with the entire moolavar Lord carved on a single stone, an exquisite piece of architecture.  The other Pancha Kshetrams are Srirangam, Srirangapatnam, Koviladi and Kumbakonam. There are several other sculptures inside the temple depicting historical episodes. Also, there are Navagraha stone carvings atop the roof at 6 different locations within the temple. Most of the structures are architecturally appealing. During the Era Pathu Utsavam, the Lord makes his way through the inner most prakara around the sanctum listening to sacred recitals. 
81 year old PS Srinivasan, a former Engineer at Lucas TVS (credited with setting up 14 manufacturing plants), belongs to the hereditary Theerthakar family, who have been performing service for centuries together, and returned to his roots on the Sannidhi Street a decade ago after working in the corporate world for four decades to be with the Lord during his post retirement days. Thiru Mangai Azhvaar himself in his praise refers to service at the Lord's feet for generations and asks the Lord for a darshan.

எந்தை தந்தை தம்மான் என்றென்று 
எமரேழ்  ஏழளவும் 
வந்து நின்ற தொண்டரோர்க்கே வாசிவல்லீரால் 
சிந்தை தன்னுள் முந்தி நிற்றீர் 
சிறிதும் திருமேனி 
இந்த வண்ணம் என்று காட்டீர் இந்தளூரீரே 

Srinivasan learnt the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham during the first 15 years of his life. He and other boys his age were even put to test by the revered Annankaracharya. 

He has vivid memories of the life at this Divya Desam in the 1940s and early 50s  "The North Street was full of musicians, those that played the sacred instruments at the temple. Thiruchinnam signifying the commencement of the procession was so loud and sweet that it could be heard at the far Eastern end of the Sannidhi street. The drums beat aloud almost to deafening levels. We would all make our way to the temple after hearing the sounds emanating from the musical instruments. It took 1.5 hours for the Lord to reach the Eastern End of the Sannidhi Street such was the devotee strength that lined the two sides of the processional deity. Musicians would stand and sing during the Brahmotsavams. Madurai Mani Iyer and Ariyakudi Ramanuja have presented concerts  with the recital  going on for 3-4 hours non-stop during the utsavams."

Wealthy Divya Desam
Till the middle of the 20th Century, the temple had over 900 acres of land spread across the region. The harvest was so bountiful that paddy came in such large quantities that there was no space within the temple complex to store. During the Tula Utsavam, devotees and service personnel at the temple were served so much food and in such varieties that on most days they had to reject the servings for there was no more space (in the stomach) to consume. Madapalli was packed with cooks and parijarakarars in those decades. The land near the tank was a beautiful nandavanam and sacred flowers came from there for the Lord. The temple also had in its possession a ‘Velli Ratham’ built in the first half of the 20th century, one of the very few temples to have his ( Vaitheeswaran Koil was another to have at that point of time in the 1930s).

Many traditionalists and Theerthakars were teachers in local schools. They would perform service till 9am and then leave to the school. They would return to the temple in the evening for Nithyanusanthanam and other rituals. The practice was such that even the school fees for the traditionalists came out of the temple income. There were a lot of open spaces within the temple complex. Temporary tents were put up during Utsavam times to protect devotees as well as the Lord from the heat. Till the HR & CE gained dominance, it was a Trustee run temple and they ensured that traditional practices were adhered to.
But this day was no such. Just after 8.30 am, the Theerthakars (many of them residents in different cities have turned up for this Utsavam) and Adyapakars, were present for the start of the procession as were the young Vedic Scholars, a group of 4 who had made it from Madras to recite the Vedas through the 10 days of the Tula Utsavam. Parimala Ranganatha Swamy in the Parthasarathy Thiru Kolam finally made his way out of the temple just after 9 am on Wednesday morning.

At the Eastern end in front of the Anjaneya Temple, around 10 traditionalists began the recital of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s Thiru Indhalur Paasurams to welcome the Lord into the East Mada Street and then recited the fifth Canto of Periya Thirumozhi through the procession that was slated to go around the Four Big Streets. By the time, the Lord entered the North Street, the clouds had thickened. As seen recently at the Raja Mudi Sevai procession in Melkote (, the HR & CE would not even ensure the sacred streets are in order for a safe procession. The North Street had big bumps and it was difficult for the Lord to wade through the pits and holes. While making his way past this pit filled zone, the front tyres (most of the Divya Desam processions these days are on wheels) turned around in another direction but the Sri Patham held on . 

Almost as if the Lord had had enough of going through this tedious trip on the North Street, heavy rains lashed Indhalur. While the Adyapakars had made their way almost till the end of the North Street, the Lord took a detour and made a quick run back to the temple complex. Just after 10.30 am, the Adyapakars made their way back to the temple in pouring rain reciting the final verses of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s praise on Srirangam.

While the processional activity relating to the Brahmotsavam ended just after 11 am, it took another two hours for Muralidhara Dikshithar to wind up his work for the morning for it was around 1pm when the final set of outstation Divya Desam devotees had darshan of Moolavar Lord.

No Food in the day for the Priest
If one thought, he could go home for a well deserved lunch after 5 hours of non-stop work on this 6th day of the utsavam, he saw alankaram specialist Sirupuliyur Srikanthan Bhattar make his way into the temple to decorate the Lord for the evening procession. And thus Muralidhara Dikshithar combined with Srikanthan Bhattar to decorate Parimala Rangan, now mounted on the Elephant Vahana. By the time, this alankaram of the Lord had taken some shape it was already well past 3pm. The priest had not had food the whole day but continued with the day's work.

While the official Tula Festival invitation that went out from the HR & CE timed the evening procession for 6.30 pm, it was not until 8 pm that the Lord made his way out from the temple on the Elephant Vahana. Factors such as the presence of the Donor, the presentation of Thaligai ahead of the procession, the delivery of Flower Garlands ( many times from Sathari Veethi in Srirangam) and the arrival of Sri Patham with their full team determine the departure of the Lord in such Divya Desams. 

The four streets were dotted with white pulli kolams and the devotees welcomed the Lord, seen in a princely attire, with plantains, a favourite of the white elephant. The Lord made his way into the temple complex with the Adyapakars reciting the final verses of Periya Thiruvanthathi just after 9.30pm.
There was still a lot left on this long day for the Lord. For over half hour, Muralidhara Dikshithar and Sridhar Bhattar got down to the next alankaram. With the Thiru Kalyanam on the 7th day of the Tula Utsavam, it was time for the Lord for another procession, this time to the Thayar Sannidhi. Just after 10pm, he made his way to visit Parimala Ranganayaki Thayar for the  formal 'Engagement Ceremony'. The respective priests of Perumal and Thayar danced their way in a celebratory gesture and presented and exchanged the garlands. 

It was close to 11 pm when the final Thaligai of the day comprising of Kesari, Laddu and Jeera Rice was presented to the few devotees who stayed back till the end. The entire Sannidhi Street wore a deserted look. Most of the residents had hit the bed.  Muralidhara Dikshithar had taken three doses of injection the previous night and he now wore a tired look after a 15 hour day. 
60 years ago, there were 5 full fledged priests who shared the work load among them as a team. Despite the devotional wave hitting TN temples over the last decade, there are not too many to work alongside those like Muralidhara Dikshithar and many times it is a lonely struggle. Added to this are some of the self inflicted challenges of the priests.

God Alone Knows the Truth
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his praise of Parimala Rangan refers to the Lord as the one who can differentiate the Good from the Bad.

சொல்லாது ஒழியகில்லேன் அறிந்த சொல்லில் 
நும்மடியார் எல்லோரோடும் ஓக்க எண்ணியிருந்தீர் அடியேனை 
நல்லார் அறிவீர் தீயார் அறிவீர் 
நமக்கு இவ்வுலகத்து எல்லாம் அறிவீர் 
ஈதே அறியீர் 


There are multiple challenges for Muralidhara Dikshithar. There are health issues on the back of severe work pressure. The new marketing model of the HR&CE that force Bhattars into raising funds from devotees for all occasions has shifted the priests from being full time devotion to the Lord to going around locations to raise funds. Additional Bhattars for support during festival times isn’t easily forthcoming. The next challenging task at Thiru Indhalur for Muralidhara Dikshithar will be to raise funds for the renovation works that is likely to start next year or so.
Huge Tracts of Temple Land- All Gone
The beginning of these challenges for priests in Divya Desams dates back to the 1960s. Once the new political power took over in TN,  HR & CE grabbed power and gained a never before seen domination of temples. As seen with many Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu (, the new political climate spared none in the agraharam of Thiru Indhalur too. Income from the lands reduced drastically. The cart loads of Paddy into the temple complex soon became a thing of the past. Driven by a severe financial crunch, the original inhabitants began selling their traditional homes in the agraharam for a few thousand rupees and left for cities seeking greener pastures in the corporate world. They exchanged the recital of Nalayira Divya Prabhandham and Vedas with Academics in Schools and Colleges.

Over time, in the decades that followed, lands belonging to the temple came to be illegally occupied like the one just next to the Pushkarani on the Sannidhi Street opposite the Raja Gopuram. With the original inhabitants having left for good, only a couple of priests remained in the ancient Divya Desam to serve the Lord. Most of the other service personnel too left for good. Most of the musical instruments that accompanied the Lord during processions have become a thing of the past.

In the recent past, another huge piece of land belonging to the temple has been illegally taken over by a Government official and converted to a petrol bunk, such is the existing scenario at ancient temples praised by Azhvaars. 

Old Inhabitants are coming back
Some of the original inhabitants, now past 60, are back at Thiru Indhalur to spend their post retirement years alongside their Lord whom they had experienced and enjoyed in the teenage days. But far too much has changed at this Divya Desam in the last 50 years. They remain mute spectators to the happenings at the temple having been far away from life at this Divya Desams for so many decades. They present the Divya Prabhandham at the daily aradhana and on festive occasions but are largely unable to turn the clock back to its glory days in the first half of the 20th Century. One will have to quietly wade through this phase and hope that one day, sometime in the near future, this Divya Desam will recover some of its glorious past. 

Thiru Indhalur Divya Desam is about 4kms East of Mayiladuthurai Railway Station. When here, also visit Sirupuliyur Kripasamudram Divya Desam ( and Therazhundur Aamaruviappan Divya Desam (

The Temple is open from 7.30am-12 noon and 5 pm-9.30pm. Auto from Mayiladuthurai bus stand will cost Rs. 50. From the railway station, an auto to the temple will cost Rs. 80.