Friday, November 8, 2019

Ariyakudi Thiru Venkatamudayan Temple

Devotional Vibrancy marked the Utsavams in the 1930s and 40s
87 year old S Aravamudhan began performing service at the Thiru Venkatamudayan Temple in Ariyakudi in 1943 when there were at least 40 Vaishnavite families in the agraharam. His family had the Sthaneegam rights at the temple. His father Srinivasa Gopalachariar was both a Vedic and a Nalayira Divya Prabhandham scholar and served full time at the temple through the first half of the 20th Century including taking care of the Vedanta Desikar Sannidhi. 

The  temple is the biggest in the Chettinad Region with a lofty 7 Tier Raja Gopuram welcoming the devotees at the Eastern Entrance. Through the first half of the previous century, the entire town reverberated with Vedic and Prabhandham recitals during the two big annual utsavams. 
There was great devotional vibrancy in the agraharams with over 200 Vaishnavites watching the Lord make his way on grand Golden and Silver Vahanas decked with glittering jewellary during the Vaikasi Brahmotsavam and Puratasi Desikar Utsavam. The temple was well staffed with over 25 service personnel including 5 archakas dedicating themselves to Srinivasa Perumal and Alarmel Mangai Thayar.

Puratasi Thiruvonam
The story goes that when Sevukan Chettiyar fell ill during one of his annual walks to Tirupathi to celebrate Puratasi Thiruvonam, an invisible voice told him that the Lord himself would provide darshan at Ariyakudi. He installed the idol of Srinivasa Perumal and built the first prakara. Subsequently, the 120ft Raja Gopuram was built along with a separate Sannidhi for Alarmel Mangai Thaayar.
Every Puratasi Thiruvonam, Chettiars congregate in large numbers at the temple to invoke the blessings of the Lord chanting the name of Govinda continuously for several hours through the night.It has been a long tradition in Ariyakudi for Srinivasa Perumal and Lord Shiva (from the temple opposite) to go on a day long joint procession around the town on Vijayadasami (this year, this Utsavam co-incided with Puratasi Shravanam) providing darshan to devotees at their door steps. In the evening, Srinivasa Perumal provides darshan to devotees on a Horse Vahana procession across the four streets. 

Even as a young boy, Aravamudhan would grind the sandalwood on a big stone inside the temple for 3-4 hours at a stretch. He took special interest in decorating Desikar during the avathara utsavam. His devotional involvement also extended to Ramayana Parayanam on the Rama Navami day and the presentation of Bhagavatham on the occasion of Krishna Jayanthi.

He has happy memories of spending his childhood at the temple “The biggest day of the year was on the occasion of the Chariot Festival. 1000s gathered from all the neighbouring villages to pull the chariot around the four streets. This was followed by a grand Theppotsavam. The agraharams were vibrant and there was joy all around with people mingling with each other. Renowned Vaishnavite scholars also presented Upanyasam during the period of the utsavam.  Music and Dance were an integral part of the Brahmotsavam celebrations.”

In additional to the local experts, he remembers his father bringing in Veda Parayanam and Prabhandham Scholars from Kanchipuram and Srirangam for the Vaikasi Brahmotsavam and Puratasi Desikar Utsavam. The entire 4000 sacred verses were presented on these occasions.

Carnatic Music legend Ramanuja Iyengar resided just two houses from Aravamudhan’s on the Sannidhi Street. An archival record dating back to 1937 features a kutcheri presentation by him here at Ariyakudi “As a young boy, I have seen him and my father spending several hours sitting on the Thinnai discussing various topics including music.”

He also has vivid memories of DK Pattammal presenting a Kutcheri at Ariyakudi.

A Grand Brahmotsavam
The Brahmotsavam in Vaikasi had been a grand event till the 1950s and 60s. Thirumalai Bhattar, whose forefathers had served at the temple for well over a century says that for his father, who did aradhana for over 65 years till his death a couple of years ago, the biggest motivation came from the devotees who thronged the temple to get a first glimpse of the ‘alankaram of the day.’ The jewellary that the Lord and Thayar wore on processional days has always been a specialty at the temple “My father would carefully choose the original jewellary to go along with the decoration and the vahana. During each of the days of the Brahmotsavam, he would spend hours in the alankaram of the Lord.” 
Till very recently, the Lord provided Vaira Mudi Seva on the fifth day of the Brahmotsavam, an event that attracted devotees from all the neighbouring locations. However, this has been done away with for safety reasons.

Prabhandham recital was so special that often the comment to a young upcoming scholar was to direct him to Ariyakudi and participate in the devotional recital during the Brahmotsavam. There is a plan to start a Veda Patshala to encourage young children to get into tradtional learning.

On the fourth day of the Brahmotsavam marking the Golden Garuda Seva procession, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar would begin the presentation of the Pancharatna Keerthanai at the start of the procession and carry on till the end.

Lord decked with Jewels on Street Processions
Aravamudhan and his forefathers also had custody of the temple jewellary “We were in possession of the keys and maintained the inventory. During the two big utsavams, we would hand over the jewels to the archakas. As the Lord made his way around the streets, one could feel the happiness among the devotees watching him in a grand alankaram and decked in glittering jewellary.” 
Unfortunately, by the 1970s, the financial situation at the temple had turned sour and most of the traditional residents including Aravamudhan had begun leaving the agraharam in search of greener pastures in the city.  Now, the agraharam bears no resemblance to the decades gone by, with just a few Vaishnavite families, mainly archakas, remaining in Ariyakudi.

While he relives those happy moments of a vibrant agraharam from his childhood days, Aravamudhan is also conscious of the need to support the temple and get it back in some form to the good old days. His son, Srinivasa Gopalan, who runs a technology firm in Chennai, initiated the process of clearing the debris along the canals in Ariyakudi to allow rain water to flow into the farming land as well as into the temple tank. He has also been financially supporting the temple during the utsavams. 

Funding Support from Devotees
In the not so distant past, there was a separate chariot for Vedanta Desikar and he provided darshan as part of the Avathara Utsavam. The chariot is no more functional. The temple is looking to build a new chariot for Desikar and to resume the chariot festival during the Desikar Utsavam. The temple also has plans to revive some of the historical utsavams including the Pavitrotsavam. Given the rising costs, managing the Brahmotsavam is becoming increasingly challenging and the temple is looking for devotees to fund the utsavams. The good news is that the Lord continues to be carried on the shoulders during all the vahana processions despite all the challenges relating to service personnel. It is hoped that more such original inhabitants will come back to support the temple.

Those interested to support can contact 94866 34228.

The temple is open from 730am-12.30pm and 430pm-8pm

How to reach
The temple is about 3 kms from the Karaikudi Railway Station. An auto from the station costs Rs.80. Mini buses ply from Karaikudi bus stand to the temple.

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


Anonymous said...

Well written. Your passion for heritage comes through as well.

Anonymous said...

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Another Gem πŸ™πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌ

You are a master in bringing out nostalgic feeling in the readers mind πŸ’ͺ🏼

Anonymous said...

Ur article in Hindu on Ariyakudi perumal koil is good.Happy abt mentioning the great Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. He was high regard on Fiddle Tirukodikaval Krishna iyer.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

ead the article on Ariyakudi Perumal.
The present status has not been elaborated. Anyhow very nice. Asirvadangal

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