Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Temple Trustees appointment

Mannar Koil Head Priest Periya Nambi Narasimha Gopalan questions lack of transparency in the appointment of Temple Trustees 
Archaka Salaries continue to remain in the hundreds but governed by Political Trustees

It is that review phase in everyone’s life. It is time to understand what priests in remote temple towns have gone through since the 1970s. Most priests in high profile temples are now experiencing what priests in several thousands of temples in TN have been undergoing for decades. 'Perform aradhana morning and evening and wait for that elusive devotee for a Thattu Kaasu' to run one’s family has been the way of life of 1000s of priests in TN temples for decades. Archakas in several thousands of temples continue to be paid monthly salaries of less than Rs. 1000 and even this miniscule amount is paid infrequently.

While many activists have filed several cases in the last 5-10 years on temple related issues, not one has looked at the issue of low and unpaid salaries to these several thousands of archakas in temples in Tamil Nadu.

Periya Nambi Acharya Narasimha Gopalan who also doubles up as the lone Priest at the Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy Temple in Mannar Koil near Ambasamudram went from ‘pillar to post’ a decade ago pleading with many on the filing of a case on a traditional issue. But no one came forward. Years later, he approached activists on larger issues relating to remote temples in Tamil Nadu. Activists refused to even implead in any of the cases filed by Acharya Narasimha Gopalan.

His father performed Aradhana at Mannar Koil in the 1980s for a two digit salary that remained unpaid. Narasimha Gopalan joined the temple at a salary of Rs. 245 which after a decade was increased to 750. Most of these remained unpaid for a long time on the grounds that there was not sufficient income from the temple.

When he filed a case in the Madurai High Court on the issue of priests’ salaries being much below that stated in the Minimum Wages Act, the HR & CE immediately raised his salary alone to try and shut him up (the case was about salary of priests in 35000+ remote temples in TN). This case is nearing completion and one is hopeful of an order in the near future.

Salary Scenario in TN Temples 
Therazhundur - Rs. 250 over a 30 year period ( Unpaid)
Thiruvenkadu - Low salary that he could not pay rent for cycle
Thiru Pazhanam- Rs. 250 over two decades ( Paid once or twice a year)
Mannar Koil - Rs. 250 to Rs. 750 over 15 years
Pathamadai - Rs. 19 per month
Kapisthalam - Rs. 16 per month over decades
Thiru Kannangudi - Rs. 900 over two decades

Except for the top 1000 temples, this is the scenario in the rest of the 30000+ temples in Tamil Nadu.
In well over 90 percent of the temples, the salary of the priest is in the hundreds and low thousands.

This week with the lock-down impact the lives of the archakas in remote temples in Tamil Nadu, Periya Nambi Narasimha Gopalan has raised the critical issue of the appointment of Trustees in TN temples.

Role of Trustees in Temples
The trustees are selected to administer the affairs of the temple and as a matter of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India, the devotees are entitled to have their temples administered by able trustees. 

Mannar Koil’s Periya Nambi Acharya Narasimha Gopalan has questioned the transparency involved in the appointment of non hereditary Trustees in Temples. In a letter to the Commissioner of the HR & CE and to the Secretary to the Govt- Religious Endowments Dept, he has requested to make public the qualifications and credentials of Trustees selected for the Temples in Tamil Nadu.                                                                                               
For decades, 1000s of temples under the HR & CE administration have had no trustees and the affairs of the temples have been administered by “Fit Person” appointed by the Government.  These "Fit Persons' in most cases are government staff. Executive officer of one temple is appointed as Fit Person for another temple. There are also cases in temples where the Fit Person and the EO are the same. Parthasarathy Perumal Divya Desam in Thiruvallikeni is a case in point. The application for funds is signed by the EO of the temple and the same individual approves the applications and signs as the Fit Person.

Trustees - What does the HR & CE Act say?
To become a trustee, a person has to meet the qualifications set out in Section 25-A of the HR & CE Act. Similarly, Section 26 stipulates certain circumstances disqualifying a person from being appointed as a trustee. A trustee for a temple is selected on the basis of the following factors:

He has to be from the local area, has to have good working knowledge of the local tradition peculiar to the temple, be conversant with the culture and heritage of the temple, enjoy good reputation among the local public, be able to allocate sufficient time for that temple and resources to administer the affairs of the temple.

The prospective Trustee should have made contributions in the past three years to the renovation / repair of the Hindu temples. The prospective Trustee should not have encroached any temple lands or indulge in any activity affecting the interests of the temples.

Most importantly the pre requisite to the appointment states that the prospective Trustee should be able to discharge his duties without any influence from any political party or any vested interests.

District Committees appointing Trustees
Recently, the State Government has appointed District Committees for selecting non-hereditary trustees for temples under the HR & CE administration and these committees have in turn started appointing trustees for the temples. Unfortunately, the members of the District Committee are recommended by the ministers, bureaucrats working with the ministers, blood relatives of the ministers and other functionaries of political parties. These District Committee members in turn award the trusteeship solely to the persons recommended by MLAs and MPs in the case of village temples and Ministers in the case of temples in the district headquarters. Persons without any of these recommendations are unlikely to be appointed as trustees.

The trustees appointed in the above fashion do not meet any of the qualifications prescribed under the Act as they are appointed merely on the basis of the political recommendations.

Trustee appointment- Lack of Transparency 
At the moment, no information, particularly, the qualifications and other credentials said to be claimed by the trustees selected is made available to the general public / devotees even though this information is crucial for the devotees to take a considered opinion on the suitability of the trustees appointed for their local temples.  If the trustees do not have sufficient qualifications and lack prior exposure to temple related works, devotees would have the right to remove them from the trusteeship. 

Questioning the lack of transparency in the selection process of trustees, the letter to the Commissioner has requested to make public the above information about the selected trustees by publication in the local newspaper, affixing on the main entrance gate of each temple, on the notice board of the Executive Officer and be available for inspection by the general public.

Going by the past track record, it is unlikely that Acharya Narasimha Gopalan will receive a reply from the HR & CE. And as has been the case over the last few years, he may head the direction of the Madurai High Court seeking relief in devotee’s interests.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Tiruvarur Karaikudi express train revival

Decks are being cleared for the first Daily Express Train service on the Tiruvarur- Karaikudi rail route in over a decade
The New Express Train between Chennai and Shengottai will run via Tiruvarur, Pattukottai and Karaikudi
 Image result for prtraveller railway station

A historical rail route is likely to be revived later this year. For over a decade the Tiruvarur Pattukottai Karaikudi route had been shut down for broad gauge conversion. It was one of the last remaining sections in the Southern Railway that was pending the gauge conversion. In the decades gone by, the Kamban Express used to run from Chennai Egmore to Karaikudi via Tiruvarur and Pattukottai. Starting late evening  in Madras the Kamban Express would reach Karaikudi early the next morning running via Mayiladuthurai, Tiruvarur and Pattukottai. But this service remained shut for a large part of the decade gone by.

When the gauge was finally converted to broad gauge, the train travelers were in for a big shock. Only a single passenger train was introduced on this route with the train taking 6 hours to cover a distance of just over 150kms. The reason – There were over 50 unmanned level crossings in this section and the train had to run only at 20kmph on this route. This necessitated the appointment of gate keepers at all these level crossings.

Finally the decks seem to have been cleared for the introduction of the first express train on this route in over a decade. A Railway Official from Tiruchirapalli Division told this writer that this new express train service is currently pending approval from the Railway Board and that this daily express train between Chennai and Shengottai via Tiruvarur, Pattukottai and Karaikudi is likely to begin operations from the 2nd half of this year.

Once approved, the train is likely to depart from Chennai at around 6pm/7pm and reach Shengottai the next morning at around 7am/8am. This will serve as a great boost to travellers in the Mayiladuthurai and Tiruvarur region. The train will run through Thiruthuraipoondi, Peravurani, Pattukottai, Karaikudi, Manamadurai and Virudanagar. The express train is expected to run at an average speed of 50 KMPH.

With the launch of the first express train on the Tiruvarur – Karaikudi broad gauge rail route, one is hopeful that more express trains and DEMU/MEMU will be introduced in this section over the next 12 months.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Kapali Brahmotsavam off

Kapali Thiruvanaikaval Brahmotsavam called off, Street Processions / Panguni Uthiram off at Srirangam Panguni Utsavam
Pradhosham this weekend at Kapali Temple will be one without devotees
The virus that is bringing the country to a standstill has resulted in the calling off of one of the biggest Utsavams in the Temple calendar in Madras, the annual Panguni Brahmotsavam at  the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore. This was confirmed by a temple official a short while back. Talking over phone to this writer, the person said that the Utsavam has been officially cancelled. The Chariot Procession attracts tens of thousands of devotees as does the procession of the 63 Nayanmars. The Utsavam was scheduled to start March 28.

If the situation improves, the temple could consider holding the festival next month with Thiru Kalyanam taking place on Chitrai Pournami. But that is a long shot for now as the scenario looks quite bleak at the moment.

The Pradhosham which falls this Saturday will also be a quite event with only the Priests and the Othuvars involved in the Pooja process/ Thevaram recital.

The Brahmotsavam that began on Thursday at Jambukeswarar temple in Thiruvanaikaval too has been called off.

Long Trips across the Cauvery
The Panguni Utsavam at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam scheduled to start next weekend is one of the four Brahmotsavams at the temple and is the one in the year when Lord Namperumal goes on his two longest processions of the year. The big highlight of the Panguni Utsavam is on the Panguni Uthiram day when Lord Namperumal makes his way to the Ranganayaki Thayar Sannidhi for the only day in the year when he provides a joint darshan through the night at the Serthi Mandapam. This is scheduled of April 6 this year.

No Street Vahanam Processions at Srirangam Panguni Utsavam
While Pon Jayaraman, the JC of the Temple said that the temple has called for a meeting of the service personnel tomorrow and that an official decision regarding the Panguni Utsavam would be taken after the meeting, a senior priest at the temple said that there would be no outside procession this year at least till 31st March. As per the Government directive, not more than 30 people can assemble. At the moment, on the first three days of the festival, Lord Namperumal would come to the Vahana Mandapam / Ranga Vilas Mandapam where he would be mounted on the Vahana of the day and remain stationary there to listen to the Ghosti presentation. At least for the first three days of the festival i.e till 31st March, there would be no devotees allowed inside the temple.
While the festival may not be called off like in Kapali temple, the night long annual trip to Jeeyapuram ( and another trip  to Uraiyur for the Serthi Utsavam at hte Kamalavalli Nachiyar Divya Desam ( crossing the Cauvery are unlikely to take place this year. Both of these trips require the support of over 100 Sri Patham Thangis to carry the Lord during the procession that lasts several hours and that kind of large gathering is currently against the Government directive.

( The entire Panguni Utsavam has been called off on Monday March 23 including Panguni Uthiram)
Panguni Uthiram ( attracts at least one lakh devotees and runs through the night with Lord Namperumal and Ranganayaki Thayar providing Serthi Darshan. It is the one day in the year when Lord Namperumal makes his way to the Thayar Sannidhi. The morning after the Serthi Lord Namperumal goes around the Chitra Streets on a Chariot Procession. Given the current scenario in the country, it is almost certain that these two events in Panguni will not take place this year. Even if it does, it is likely to be only a toned down version.

The annual Brahmotsavam at Pullam Bhoothangudi Valvil Ramar Divya Desam and at Ramaswamy Temple Kumbakonam will be among the many Rama Navami Utsava processions that will be called off.

Periyava Mylapore Kapali 1957

From driving the launch of BVB to identifying ancient Shiva Lingams in the city, from listening to Legendary Musicians to showcasing his sensitivity at The Hindu and to finding the Biggest ever crowd around the Kapali temple, Periyava's Trip over 60 years ago was event filled 

When one feels strongly about his/her shortcomings, that on its own amounted to a great realization. And that was the first step in the right direction - Maha Periyava in 1959
                 Kapali Temple / Mylapore Photo Archives

It had been almost three decades since his previous trip to Madras and devotees were eager to see him in the city. It was K. Balasubramanian, son of the Founder of Sanskrit College who visited Kanchipuram and impressed upon Maha Periyava the importance of his presence in Madras given the expectation of the people as well as the possibility of spreading Dharmic messages to a larger audience. Periyava was apprehensive of the changing lifestyle in the city and the issues relating to the rituals to be followed every day.  It was only after great persuasion did he relent and agree to visit Madras in 1957. It turned out to be his longest stay in the city (1 1/2 years) and a powerful and impactful one at that for there were several long standing decisions taken during his stay. The Chaturmasya Vritha of Vijayendra Saraswathi Swamigal in Chennai in mid 2019 ( last year) marked the 60th year since the completion of that long trip of Periyava to the city.

During his stay - 1957-59, he walked the length and breadth of the city in the process launching several initiatives that have stood the test of time. From driving the launch of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan to identifying ancient Shiva Lingams in the city that had lay hidden, from listening to legendary musicians to finding the biggest crowd around the Kapali temple on the occasion of Sankara Jayanthi, his was an event filled trip.

Two decades ago, Upanyasakar Ganesa Sarma, an authority on Maha Periyava, presented a Pravachanam on Periyava in Sapthaham style spread over 7 days and in 7 cantos. He has since presented this across the world on 200 occasions. He has also written Periyava Charithram in Hari Katha style and also penned books on Periyava. 

Rousing Welcome by The Hindu's Editor Kasturi
Ganesa Sarma looks back at Periyava's entry into the city "Periyava arrived in Madras in September 1957 to a rousing welcome hosted by The Hindu’s Chief Editor Shri. Kasturi Srinivasan. This was immediately followed by a Pushpa Pallakku procession around the four Mada Streets of Mylapore that went on till 2am."
Kasturi welcoming Periyava, 1957 ( From The Hindu Book )

Non Brahmin as President of Bhavans Madras
When he met with Shri. KM Munshi, the Founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1958, Periyava asked for a branch to be opened in Madras and directed him to Simpson’s Shri. S. Anantharamakrishnan. Says Shri. Ganesa Sarma “The building that is now Bhavan’s was to be out on sale. Just in time, Anatharamakrishnan bought the property on East Mada Street in Mylapore and gave it to Munshi to create the space for the first Bhavan’s in Tamil Nadu.”

Not only was Periyava responsible for the launch of the first Bhavan's in Tamil Nadu, he also sowed the seeds for the formation of the committee and the appointment of a Non Brahmin as the President "As the Bhavans was being set up in Mylapore, he said that it was likely to be perceived as being confined only to Brahmins and hence suggested that a non Brahmin be appointed as the President.” It was Periyava who suggested Lakshmana Swami Mudaliar as the President.

Golden Jubilee Celebrations
Periyava had ascended the Peetam in 1907 and devotees were keen to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in Madras but he was not keen at all “Before his arrival here, devotees gathered in Kanchi to celebrate the 50 years but he declined. Instead, he was keen to showcase and celebrate the achievements of Acharya Adi Sankara.” It was thanks to the persuasive efforts of Shri. CP Ramaswamy Iyer and Shri. Rajaji that Maha Periyava finally accepted and the golden jubilee of his ascent was celebrated in Madras. 
Significant Contributions to City Temples
The now hugely popular Perumal temple in Koyambedu was not so at that point of time. It was referred to as Kuchalava Puri in ancient times and one finds the idols of Valmeeki, Sita and Lava – Kucha at the temple (a story on this temple follows).  There is no Rama idol at this temple. It was only after Periyava’s detailed description of its historical importance during his stay in Koyambedu did devotees see it in that light. 60 years on, devotee crowd throngs the temple these days.

It was during this trip that Kumbabhisekam was performed at the Subramanian Swamy Temple on Eldams Road,Teyampet.

Buys property at a high premium
When Periyava visited Mangadu, he was keen to start a Patshala near the temple as Adi Sankara himself had installed the idol there. Ganesa Sarma says that when the members of the Sankara Mutt complained to Periyava that the seller was quoting a high price, Periyava asked them to pay three times the price to buy the property as he saw it as a very sacred place.

When he reached Nanganallur on the way back from a trip to the airport, he asked a person to not wash clothes on a particular stone leaving everyone startled at this seemingly odd remark. Ganesa Sarma says it was yet another significant contribution of Periyava to the city temple. “When the stone was lifted and turned around, everyone was stunned to find a Shiva Lingam. 60 years on, the Artha Nareeswarar temple has become one of the more popular Saivite temples in the city attracting huge crowd.”

Inside the IIT Madras campus, he pointed to a stone and that too turned out to be a Shiva Lingam. He was also instrumental in the construction of the Ashta Lakshmi and the Aaru Padai Veedu temples in the city. When Mukoor Srinivasa Varadachariar spoke about the flourishing city of Bombay, Periyava suggested to him to build a Lakshmi temple in Madras “He asked for the printing of Ashta Lakshmi photos and to begin construction with the funds collected from the sale of these photos.” It was with this collection that the construction of the Ashta Laksmi temple began.

Periyava, Vikatan and the LIC
On the long walk to The Hindu, one of the members pointed at the LIC and remarked to Periyava that it was the tallest building in the city ( the building had just been constructed). This episode on Mount Road in front of the LIC showcased the perfectionist that he was, says Ganesa Sarma “He called out for Vikatan’s Sridhar who was walking just behind him and asked him for the number of floors leaving him a bit stumped. While he was actually counting the number, Periyava moved on. When Sridhar joined him a few minutes after, he told Periyava that there were 12.”

It was then that Periyava showed the huge crowd around him the kind of attention he pays to minute details “He told Sridhar that the recent edition of Vikatan had the sketch of LIC with 18 floors. That was the reason for his enquiry. Sridhar later said that no reader had pointed this in the week after the issue had hit the stands and that Periyava was the only one to have brought this to his notice, leaving him completely embarrassed.”

Periyava at The Hindu
The episode at The Hindu showed his sensitivity to human emotions  “Periyava was to be shown the new machinery at the printing section at The Hindu. Just prior to his arrival, most of the members were asked to move out of the room to make way for Periyava, a decision that seemed to disappoint them for they were all eager to be alongside him. When Periyava entered the room, he called for all those outside the room saying it was they who would understand the functional aspects. It was a gesture that delighted everyone.”
                At The Hindu - From The Hindu Book on Periyava

With Legendary Musicians
One morning, when Periyava passed the house of the legendary Madurai Mani Iyer in Karpagambal Nagar in Mylapore, he entered the house. The legendary musician was asleep "Periyava told him that the members informed him that it was his house and he came inside to see if he could hear him sing that morning. When Mani Iyer informed him that he had not had bath, Periyava said 'You are always bathing in songs.' 

On another occasion, when he passed Viswanathan Iyer's house in Nungambakkam, he made his way to the backyard through his neighbour's house to listen to his songs. Once Viswanathan Iyer had finished and turned back, he was shocked to find Periyava standing there that left him embarrassed at the disrespect to the Saint. Ganesa Sarma says that Periyava explained the reasoning behind his action 'An artiste's flow should not be disturbed and the audience should remain in silence around a singer." 

Educationist vacates her new Home for Periyava

Within days of her wedding, leading educationist and now Hony Secy, Lady Sivaswami School, Mylapore Dr. Vathsala Narayanaswami was blessed to have darshan of Kanchi Maha Periyava in 1958 and her life’s greatest opportunity came her way all on its own. She had married D Narayanaswami in July that year and moved into the house in Sundareswarar Street that was right behind the Sankara Mutt in Mylapore. Her first Deepavali after the wedding was just round the corner when the Mutt approached the newly married couple asking them for the house, for Periyava to stay for three days.

The young 26 year old newcomer to the house took a bold call on acceding to the ‘3 days’ request of Sankara Mutt. Says Vathsala “I told my mother in law that we could all move to my father’s house on GN Chetty road, T Nagar.” All the family members immediately vacated the house handing possession to the Sankara Mutt. Periyava stayed in the bed room while Jayendra Saraswathi resided in the front room of the house. The back wall of the house was broken to create a passage for the disciples to bring milk and food for Periyava from the Mutt. The stay was then extended from 3 days to 18 days. Vathsala’s father in law Dharmarajan of Hirakud Dam fame commended her for the courageous decision to have the entire family vacate the house with no second thoughts. It remains one of the happiest moments in her life.

A shop on North Mada Street
When he spotted the Srivathi stores on North Mada Street, he asked the vidwans the meaning of the shop name - was it Swami's name or Ambal's, leaving them stumped. Periyava told them that it was the name of the owners of the shop - Srinivas and Padmavathi - as simple as that.

The Biggest Crowd at Kapali
One of the biggest crowds around the Kapali temple was witnessed on the occasion of Sankara Jayanthi in 1958. The celebration was grand that included an abhisekam for the idol of Adi Sankara with a trip from Sanskrit College to Kapali temple and back on each of the five days of the Utsavam. The crowd on the occasion was so huge that only the heads of the devotees were seen around the Kapali Tank. 
City Fears Unfounded - Delighted at the stay
In a farewell remark, Periyava said that ahead of his trip, he had been apprehensive of being able to perform all his daily rituals in the traditional way. But his fears were unfounded. He left on a positive note for the city dwellers. Ganesa Sarma says that the people found his feedback very encouraging “While he found many of the city residents not being able to follow the traditions, what struck him was the fact that they were constantly saddened that they were not able to adhere to the traditions. He was very happy about that feeling amongst the people in the city and remarked that when one feels strongly about the shortcomings, that on its own amounted to a great realization. And that was a great first step in the right direction.”

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Anbil Divya Desam Brahmotsavam Revival

30 Year Old Aravamudhan Bhattar anchors the revival of Vaikasi Brahmotsavam 

The new Chariot could see a trial run very soon with the Chariot Festival on Vaikasi Visakam expected to attract several thousands of devotees from Anbil and nearby villages
Come this Vaikasi Visakam, the Chariot at the Sundararaja Perumal Divya Desam in Anbil praised by Thirumazhisai Azhwar alongside Thiru Kudanthai, Thiru Evvul, Thiruper and Srirangam, could run for the first time in several centuries with the revival of the annual Brahmotsavam. Inscriptions at the temple point to the running of the Chariot in the 11th Century AD during the Chozha rule, when lands were donated for the conduct of the Brahmotsavam. The dry run of the Chariot around the outer prakara could take place anytime soon after the local community come together to decide on the next steps on the revival of the Brahmotsavam.

A once Vibrant Divya Desam
In the not too distant past, there was a vibrant agraharam in Anbil. A Vedic Patshala was an integral part of the Anbil and a mimaamsa conference too had been held there. Historically, this had been a prosperous temple town, but by the turn of the century, hundreds of original inhabitants had left this Divya Desam seeking greener pastures elsewhere in bigger cities, reducing this ancient temple town to just a few traditional Vaishnavite families. Many of the historical utsavams too had become a thing of the past. Joint procession of Sundara Raja Perumal with Lord Purushommar of Uthamar Koil to Coloroon on Maasi Magam remains the biggest festival of the year.

Revival efforts by a young priest
With the sudden and untimely death of Varadaraja Bhattar, who had performed service for close to two decades, his son Aravamudhan took charge of the temple five years ago at the young age of 25. Even as a young boy, while he was being initiated into the Pancharatra Agama in Thiru Vellarai, Aravamudhan felt saddened by the constant query posed to his father by the local community on the absence of the Brahmotsavam and the Chariot Festival in Anbil. His father Varadarajan Bhattar was keen to revive some of the historical utsavams but could not do so during his lifetime.

Soon after he took over, he approached Pon Jayaraman, the JC at the Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple, which administers the Anbil Divya Desam, and presented to him details from inspirations, of the historical utsavams at Anbil. Much to his surprise, he received an immediate nod from the JC to the revival initiatives. 

The last couple of years have been challenging in terms of him having to both take care of the daily poojas as well as initiate steps towards reviving the Brahmotsavam. There were many who were apprehensive of the young priest being able to face up to this daunting task. He has been involved in the process of bringing together the local community in Anbil and the original inhabitants, now located in different parts of the world and their participation has been the most redeeming feature of this revival exercise

Says the 30 year old Aravamudhan Bhattar “Even though I was alone at the Anbil temple, the JC of Srirangam has constantly encouraged me to try and get back the vibrancy at this Divya Desam. Almost all the new Vahanams that will carry Sundara Raja Perumal are now in place. The new chariot, that has exquisite sculptures depicting historical stories, is now ready for the trial run around the outer prakara.”

Original Inhabitants drive the revival with financial support
An original inhabitant of Anbil, Satish Varadarajan immediately agreed to drive the construction of the new Chariot when he heard from Aravamudhan Bhattar that the temple was looking to revive the historical utsavams. He also responded by funding the construction of new Vahanams ahead of the Brahmotsavam. Over the last couple of years, the temple has been undertaking the construction of the new Chariot and the Vahanams under the watchful eyes of Aravamudhan Bhattar. Like this devotees, many other original inhabitants of Anbil have expressed to support the revival of the utsavams at the temple. The local community has already supported the construction of the Chariot with small contributions in the process including those such as taking care of transport charges and labour charges.

Hanumuntha Vahanam, Kalpaka Vriksham and Elephant Vahanam are wearing a fresh look at the temple.The Serthi Mandapam, where the Lord will make his way on the 7th day of the Brahmotsvam as well as on the occasion of Panguni Uthiram, has been reconstructed. 

A young full time paricharakar at the Madapalli
Buoyed by the efforts of Aravamudhan Bhattar, JC Pon Jayaraman has now posted a young Paricharakar, Srinivasan, who had previously been at the Madapalli in Srirangam, to manage the Madapalli in Anbil paying him a sizeable Sambhavanai through Venu Srinivasan’s TVS Trust. The presentation of Thaligai to Lord Vadivazhagiya Nambi is also taking a traditional turn and getting back to old times. 

Local Community’s interest in the Chariot Festival
Several thousand devotees have already expressed interest to pull the chariot during the Brahmotsavam, such is the interest among the local community in Anbil and around. Not only that, both the local community and the original inhabitants of Anbil have already committed to taking care of the entire Brahmotsavam expenses, which comes as quite a relief to the Bhattar. Some historical lands belonging to the temple have also been recovered in the recent past making the temple financially stronger. 

Revival of other Utsavams
Once the Brahmotsavam is revived, Aravamudhan Bhattar is hopeful of reviving the Pavitrotsavam and Dolotsavam as well. The story goes that historically the utsavams in Anbil were as vibrant as those in Srirangam. With the efforts of Aravamudhan Bhattar and the strong support from the local community, it is possible that the vibrancy could come back to Anbil in the future.

The revival of the Brahmotsavam and the Chariot festival is the first step in that direction.
 How to reach
Anbil is located about 15kms from Srirangam, near Lalgudi. Express Trains stop from Chennai stop at Lalgudi. Express buses ply every 15 minutes from Chatiram bus stand in Trichy to Lalgudi. From Lalgudi, there are frequent mini bus services to Anbil (6kms). In times gone by, devotees used to cross the Coloroon to reach Koviladi Appakudathaan Divya Desam on the Southern side of the river.

The temple is open from 7.30 am -12.30 pm and 4 pm-8 pm

A version of this story featured in The Hindu Friday Review dated March 13

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Umpire Madanagopal IPL Call

Former National Topper in Domestic One Day Cricket gets an IPL call after 6 years following a couple of terrific Ranji Seasons
Madanagopal has now broken into the BCCI Top 20 Umpires Panel 

This IPL call could just be the Positive Turnaround in his Umpiring career 

The IPL is a great stepping stone and will boost Madanagopal's Confidence a great deal- S Ravi, Former Elite Panel Umpire

Six years after his prevous stint at IPL as a fourth umpire, former South Zone cricketer 45 year old JR Madanagopal, who made his umpiring foray in the same year as his former IOB team mate and close friend KN Ananthapadmanabhan (, has just received a call today (Sunday) for this year’s IPL as the fourth umpire. Earlier this week, Ananthapadmanabhan received his first on-field Ranji Final call. This IPL call for Madanagopal comes in the wake of two terrific years in the domestic circuit (he moved into the top 20 Umpires ahead of this Indian domestic season). Even though he failed to get a knock out game in the Ranji Trophy this season, he will be officiating in the U23 national final later this week in Indore (with Sadasiva Iyer), the 2nd year in a row that he will be umpiring the final. In recent years, he has also umpired women's internationals.

It has been quite a surprise that Madanagopal has had to wait this long for his IPL (re) call for he has continued to have successful years in the Ranji circuit over the last few years. In many ways, his umpiring story has been much like the one from his playing days. Throughout his playing days, the axe was always held to his neck.

Frustrating Early Playing Days
Despite consistent scores in the 1st division league in the 1990s, Madanagopal had to undergo the ‘wait’ for his Ranji Debut. It was also the phase when he was shockingly left out of the TN Junior state team at the toss (his captain (wicket keeper), with whom I have toured and played cricket and whose many matches I have umpired in the last two decades had included Madanagopal in the playing XI but under the pressure of the team manager (who was renowned in TN cricket in the 80s and 90s for such ‘abnormalities’), Madanagopal’s name was replaced with a more ‘favoured’ one at the toss). It was a death blow for the cricketer from the districts to experience such an unsavoury incident in a game that he had understood from his childhood as a gentleman’s game.

Robin Singh saves Madan’s career
He was on the verge of quitting cricket. He had written the ICWA inter and had got through. There was a professional career in the offing on the accounting front. . It was also the time when he was on the verge of joining RBI and settling down in a career away from cricket (RBI had already dropped down from the 1st division in those times).  In that dark hour, it was Robin Singh who turned out to be his savior.  Spotting the potential in Madanagopal and his ability to score big runs, Robin asked him to give it a shot for another year. The Chief of India Pistons, Venkataramani, too had a professional chat with him and suggested that the player should not give up at that stage in his careerSticking on to cricket after having completed ICWA Inter, Madanagopal finally broke through into the Ranji Squad in the 1998-99 Season at the age of 24 (his brother J Gokulakrishan - had made it into the Ranji team as a 20 year old). However, the six year phase of state cricket showed to him the systemic challenges that he had already experienced in a lighter form in his earlier days in the 90s.

500+ runs in his first two Ranji Seasons
He made his Ranji Trophy debut batting at No. 7 in Tirunelveli in November 1998 against Karnataka. After a failure in that match, he was dropped for the next match and was then included for a couple of matches and dropped again for the super league game in early 1999.  He was once again included for the 2nd match of the super league against Railways and scored a century in February 1999. He followed that up with a half century in the next match against Orissa. In the last game of the super league, he scored 71 and 199 against Maharashtra. In four innings, he had amassed 420 runs. By mid March, Madanagopal had played 6 Ranji matches and had scored two centuries in his debut season but had already been dropped twice from the squad.
Amazing run in One Day cricket
He made his one day debut for Tamil Nadu with a century against Kerala in December 1998 as an opener. But the very next match after his century, he was shunted to No. 6 where he got just a few balls to bat at the end of the innings. That symbolized his cricket playing career for Tamil Nadu, perpetually living on the edge and always facing the axe. 

Madanagopal has an amazing record in Ranji Trophy and One Day cricket for Tamil Nadu, something not too many have taken note and definitely even fewer have officially recognized. In his debut Ranji Season, he topped 500 runs in his first two Ranji Seasons and followed it up star performances in the next two seasons in the minimal opportunities that he got. In December 1999, he scored 84 in his one and only Duleep Trophy match!!! In both 2000-01 and 2001-02, Madanagopal was Tamil Nadu’s highest run getter in one day cricket. In both the years, he was among the top 6 run getters in the country in domestic one day cricket out beating most of the reputed names in the state. 

And yet at the beginning of the 2002-03 Season, he was dropped for the entire one day league season. Despite topping the run chart for two years in a row and being the 2nd leading run getter in the knock out for the state in the third year, Madanagopal was never in the Deodhar Trophy squad, quite a shattering blow for cricketing meritocracy in this part of the country!!! As has been his character, he has played his cricket silently without ever raising even once a voice in dissent at the shabby treatment meted out to him.

Umpiring – The Same Story
He took to umpiring in the 2nd half of the last decade, the same season as Ananthapadmanabhan. And yet, it has been the same story over the last decade - the story of his cricketing days has been played out all over again during his umpiring career. He made it to the top 25 earlier this decade on the back of terrific decision making in several high pressure Ranji matches that received commendation even from Sourav Ganguly, the current BCCI President. 
And yet, Madanagopal’s umpiring career has been chequered and rather stagnant despite consistent performances over the last decade. Much to his credit, just like in his playing career, he has gone about Umpiring in a quiet way trying to give his best and leaving the rest to destiny. 

With support for Meritocracy, he could have easily played over 50 Ranji matches. He surely should have played in the Deodhar Trophy on the basis of his unmatched cricketing performance of that period but more ‘favoured’ names were chosen ahead of him. He bore it all then, silently and without any signs of annoyance, continued to persevere. And it is that same perseverance that is helping him now in his umpiring. While he has been umpiring for a dozen years in the domestic circuit, the  Ranji knock out matches and Duleep /Deodhar Trophy matches - that eluded him during his playing days -have proved largely elusive once again. After having donned the fourth umpire’s hat in the 2014 edition of the IPL and then raising up to officiate in the Ranji Trophy  Semi Final (along with Ananthapadmanabhan) in the 2016-17 season, it has been a long wait for Madanagopal for this IPL recall.

To stay away from the frustration of continuous rejection in the IPL, Madanagopal even made a trip to the Himalayas during the previous edition of this tourney that helped him find inner peace. Also during the umpiring off season, he got back into coaching engagement with a stint at the TNPL along with Gokulakrishnan.

This IPL will be a Stepping Stone for Madan
Finally, this year, Madanagopal will be part of the IPL once again. Former Elite Panel Umpire S Ravi ( who has watched Madanagopal from close quarters for over a decade believes that this IPL could prove to be a turning point in his umpiring career.
Ravi told this writer from Rajkot on the eve of the Ranji Trophy Final that this fourth umpire opportunity in the IPL this year will be a great stepping stone for Madan and should boost his overall confidence “Madanagopal has had a few terrific years in umpiring. While things may not always go the way of umpires in terms of opportunities, one should continue to give his best when he is on field, which I think Madan has been doing over the years. Being alongside international umpires in this year’s IPL will help his Learning and Understanding even further and he should use to this to also improve his overall networking skills with players and umpires. This is a great opportunity for him to mingle with international umpires and to watch them perform in the backroom in terms of match preparation, handling high pressure situations, their way of managing conflicts and the manner in which they rise up to the challenges relating to Player and Match Management. This experience will hold him in good stead in his endeavour to further climb the Umpiring Ladder. The ride to the top and staying up there is not easy  and Madan will have to show a great deal of patience. But he will be richer for the IPL experience.

Madanagopal’s has been a great cricketing success story of a rank outsider from the districts playing over 30 first class matches for Tamil Nadu and being in the top ranks of the national average in domestic one day cricket in successive years. As an umpire, he has already officiated in around 60 Ranji Trophy matches. This IPL could just be the positive turnaround for Madanagopal, the Umpire.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Umpire Ananthapadmanabhan Ranji Final

This simple and down to earth Former Kerala LEGGIE and IOBian has made rapid strides in his umpiring career and an international debut could soon be round the corner for this down to earth man from Thiru-Ananthapuram

With S Ravi, Ranji debut to a Ranji Final 

It was with former Elite Panel Umpire S Ravi that Ananthapadmanabhan made his Ranji Umpiring debut a dozen years ago and Ravi will be part of the umpiring team when he makes his Ranji Final debut
On-field Ranji Final Debut for both Ananthan and S Ravi - Updated on Tuesday March 10

Injury to Umpire Shamsuddin meant that S Ravi walked on to the field to umpire along with Ananthapadmanabhan on Day 2 of the Ranji Final - In a rather unique occurence, it was a Ranji  Final (on-field) debut for both Ravi and Ananthan

KN Ananthapadmanabhan, the man from the Agraharam in Thiruvananthapuram was the first Kerala player to top the milestone of 2000 runs and 200 wickets in Ranji Trophy. Through the 1990s, he consistently topped the wickets tally for his State. In just his second season in Ranji cricket, he broke into the top 5 wicket takers in domestic cricket  taking 30 wickets in just 5 games and very soon for the 3rd time in four years, Ananthapadmanabhan was among the top 10 wicket takers in the domestic circuit, quite an achievement for a leggie in a phase when strong opposition such as TN and Karnataka piled up big scores against the minnows of South India. His performances led to a place in the Irani Trophy and Wills Trophy teams in 1993 where he made immediate impact.

The 2nd half of that decade saw some extraordinary performances - 27 wickets and topping the batting charts with 597 runs including a double hundred and then topping both batting and bowling aggregate for Kerala a couple of years later. He also had a successful outing in the Challenger trophy in 1997-98 with an impressive 5 wicket haul against India Seniors. It was a phase when he came closest to being selected for India.  On the verge of national selection, Chief selector Ramakant Desai told him that it was a direct choice between Sairaj Bahutale and him and the scales tilted in favour of the former supposedly because of his better batting skills.

In March 98, Ananthapadmanabhan playing for India A prized out the scalps of Steve Waugh, Ponting and Lehmann against the touring Aussies. Within the next 12 months, he bagged a 5 wicket haul against Pakistan in front of his home fans in Kochi. However, when Kumble got his 10 wicket haul, Ananthapadmanabhan decided that it was curtains for him and his dream of playing for India was sealed as Kumble then became a permanent fixture in the team.

He played for IOB in the Madras first division league for 15 years and it  was under his captaincy that IOB won (another BCCI umpire Rajesh Kannan too played under him in that glorious phase for IOB) the Palayampatti shield in the 1990s.

Towards the tail end of his career, after he had lost hopes of a national call, he got 38 wickets in the Ranji season from 7 games and helping Kerala qualify for the Elite Group. He was the first player from Kerala to play over a 100 matches and took close to 350 wickets. With a little more luck, he could have easily played for India in the 1990s.

Umpiring Ranji Final next week
KN Ananthapadmanabhan will, later this week, officiate in his first Ranji Trophy Final over a dozen years after he made his BCCI umpiring debut. In his first Ranji match as an umpire, he gave 13 decisions prompting his partner S Ravi ( to remark that he was bagging wickets like he was as a bowler (Ravi will be one of his partners - 3rd Umpire - in his Ranji Final Debut as well). 

Ananthapadmanabhan had in December 2016 umpired the Ranji Trophy semi final between Gujarat and Jharkhand along with JR Madanagopal (they both passed the exam in the same year). Three years ago, Ananthapadmanabhan was the 3rd umpire in the Ranji final between Bombay and Gujarat in Pune. He has since shot up into the top 5 umpires in India but like he was during his playing days, he remains firmly grounded. 13 years and 75 first class matches into his umpiring career, he says that he is still learning and feels that staying in the present moment is very important in umpiring.

Rich experience in South Africa
Recently, in an exchange programme between the BCCI and the South African Cricket Board, Ananthapadmanabhan went to South Africa for a 3 match (first class matches) engagement, umpiring domestic cricket there officiating at Johannesburg, Capetown and Durban.
With umpire Brad White and Anish Rajan
(Chief consulate, Durban)

He views this exchange programme as a great initiative by the BCCI to send umpires overseas “It was a good experience as the 3 centers had different types of wickets. Jo’burg had pace and bounce, Capetown was more suited for batsmen and Durban assisted spinners as the match progressed.”

He worked with 3 partners who had earlier officiated in India as part of their exchange program. Ananthapadmanabhan had umpired with 2 of them in India and the matches in South Africa helped build that relationship.

The IPL Experience - 25 IPL matches todate
Ananthapadmanabhan is pleased with the progress he has made over the last few years especially the experience gained in umpiring in the IPL where he has officiated in over 20 matches onfield and been a 3rd umpired in over 10 matches “IPL has given me a real idea of handling high pressure on a big stage standing alongside top umpires and watching the top international umpires going about the whole process.” 
Breaking into the International Panel
Having got into umpiring (motivated early on by TNCA umpire Gururajan) soon after he retired from playing, Ananthapadmanabhan has reached the summit in domestic cricket and is all set to step on to the field on Monday morning ( the start of the Ranji Final). He is confident of making it into the next big stage in umpiring and sees breaking into the international panel as the next leap in his umpiring career. With the way the last few years have gone, it will be a matter of time before this once top leggie from Kerala makes it on the international stage in Umpiring.

Ananthapadmanabhan narrowly missed playing for the country. He is now moving in the right direction in his umpiring career. It is likely that the dream of umpiring on the international stage will soon become a reality for this quiet and down to earth man.