Monday, April 27, 2020

HR & CE Temple Funds

Charity Begins at Home 
The TN Government has to first direct the temple funds towards meeting the basic minimal needs of the Priests before they can look at the larger Society 

It's unlikely that the temples will be thrown open anytime soon to large devotee crowd - Utsavams and Street Processions too may take months to revive resulting in prolonged hardship for priests and temple service personnel

Story Updated at 8pm on Sunday May 3, 2020: The TN Government's direction to secure temple funds to serve the needy outside of temple personnel has been pulled back.  The funds belonging to the temple will now remain with the HR & CE and hopefully the funds will be used to take care of the financial challenges of the priests and service personnel in the lockdown period

Last week’s direction by the HR & CE Commissioner to the ‘rich’ temples in the State to hand over a part of their funds (Hundi collections) to the TN Government Corona relief fund has shaken the archaka community. With the temples under ‘devotee’ lockdown (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/04/temples-lockdown-1960s-70s.html) for over a month, the archakas who were already under stress with the pitiable salary paid to them by the HR & CE are facing a bigger challenge now with the going away of the ‘Thattu Kaasu’.

In the Thirukural is a verse ‘ஆ பயன் குன்றும் அறுதொழிலோர் நூல் மறப்பர் காவலன் காவான் எனின்’ denoting the importance of the role of the ruler of the Land. If the ruler does not take care of his subjects and does not give them their fair dues, the cow count will decrease and the Brahmins whose job it is to chant and teach the Vedas will leave and go to other jobs.

While HR & CE receives about 16% of the income of the temple to meet its expenses and for its administrative services, the salary of priests in the HR & CE administered temples has remained static for decades. The fortunate archakas now receive in the low 1000s while most in the 40000+ temples continue to receive salary in the 100s. 

The revival of temples that started as a slow process in the 1990s turned into a devotional wave in the 2000s with devotees now thronging temples in huge numbers especially those that are positioned as providing relief to their problems – Parikara Sthalams, Prarthana Sthalams and the like. The thattu kaasu for archakas belonging to such temples has increased manifold in recent years. But so has the corpus of the HR & CE with temple funds (fixed deposits) running into around Rs. 300 crores.

But a large number of temples including Divya Desams and Paadal Petra Sthalams have still not seen the light of the day with archaka salary and thattu kaasu still being below par.

Abysmally low salary and Zero Thattu Kaasu now
The current salary paid to priests and temple servants in remote temples managed by HR & CE  is so abysmal that even the basic survival is becoming increasingly difficult for these priests. A priest at the Vilvanathar temple in Pathamadai is paid a salary of Rs. 19 per month while at the historical and ancient Kailasanathar temple in Brahmadesam, the priest is paid a salary of just over Rs. 200.
The renowned Vasan Bhattar, who is a father figure to hundreds of Priests in the Chozha region has been at the Therazhundur Divya Desam for over 30 years, himself gets only around Rs. 300 as his monthly salary. In many temples in the state, salary is paid only once in 6 months or once a year around Deepavali.

Thiruvenkadu - Low salary that he could not pay rent for cycle
Thiru Kannapuram - Pension not paid for three decades since retirement
Thiru Kannangudi - Salary of Rs. 900 over two decades

Private Sambhavanai more than official Salary
Even in the now popular Nava Tirupathi Divya Desams on the Eastern Side of Tirunelveli, the official salaries from the HR&CE to most priests continues to be lower than the monthly 'Sambhavanai' paid by Venu Srinivasan!!

One has to wonder as to how a priest can run a family with such a low income all through his life. In most remote temples, the priest is left all alone to take care of all the daily maintenance work as well in addition to performing the pooja.

For long there has been the critical need to revise upwards the salary of these priests to a reasonable level. It is hoped that the HR & CE will realize the unfair treatment meted out to priests in thousands of temples across the state and fix a fair pay scale that will give financial respectability to the priests. But that is towards safeguarding the longer term future of the priests.

Funds diversion during Lockdown
During the period of the lockdown, it was Venu Srinivasan’s trust that rose up again and surprised the priests in the Nava Tirupathi region and elsewhere (including Srirangam) with an additional Sambhavanai in the beginning of April but the question remains as to how much can one or a few trusts do (https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/aid-for-priests-and-vaidikas/article31360982.ece) – a story where this writer’s lock down story was tagged - and for how long and in what size. Surely, that is not a sustenance model that the archakas can bank on.
While there has been some relief with contributions coming in from private individuals and trusts, the priests may come under a lot of stress in the near term. Given the current trend, it is unlikely that the temples will open up for large devotee gathering anytime in the near future. It may be months before devotees in full force are allowed back into temples. The utsavam and street processions too are unlikely to happen anywhere in the near future. Given this scenario,  the HR & CE that administers a large number of temples in the state has to step in and ensure that the archakas and service personnel are taken care of, financially.

Financial Plight of archakas
The State Government's relief measures for the priests and the service personnel in TN temples, especially those in remote locations so far in the last one month has been meager. The priests who have been serving in temples for several decades at a salary in the hundreds have not received any special attention even during this lockdown (except for one payment of Rs. 1000) while they continue to perform daily pooja every day of the month through the period of the lockdown.

In the current scenario, when the financial plight of the priests is so bad with a salary that is below the daily ‘minimum wages’ and with no Thattu Kaasu for over a month, is it right for the Government to take away the funds belonging to temples for common relief measures, elsewhere. One does not have an objection with the Government’s intention of serving the needy in this exceptional environment but at what cost. It falls to the government to initiate steps in order to secure for the priests in TN temples a decent living and minimum wages. And to ensure the financial sustenance in such times.

Surely, the adage ‘Charity begins at Home’ is applicable here and the funds of the temples – the hundi monies presented by devotees - will have to first be directed towards meeting the basic needs of the several thousands of priests in TN temples, those that have been serving tirelessly at the temples for decades before funds can be redirected to others in the Society.

Else with a salary below minimum wages and with no thattu kaasu, the priests will continue to remain a frustrated lot and a voiceless one at that.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Vincent D'Souza Mylapore Times 1991

How Vincent D’Souza stumped the Vikatan Photographer in the 1991 Rajiv Gandhi bombing episode with a 'STEAL the Camera' Cover Story
It was the night before we (YMCA TSR) were scheduled to take the Express Train to Bangalore for the annual Brijesh Patel Cricket Tournament. And then the news broke of the ghastly incident 40 kms away. And our cricket trip was cancelled. 

That horrendous summer night end of May 1991, MA Parthasarathy, brother of Vaishnavite Scholar MA Venkatakrishnan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2019/05/ma-venkatakrishnan-thiruvallikeni-divya_16.html), was one of the few photographers present at the horrendous site in Sriperambudur when the human bomb went off on Rajiv Gandhi. MAPS (as he is fondly called by his friends), now a resident of Thiruvallikeni was a key photographer of the Vikatan Group and his camera clicked the hours following the bombing. His was the only camera to have captured the gory events in colour. 

MAPS had run out of the colour roll. His eyes lit up when he found the camera and a roll hanging on the dead body of Hari Babu, the man who had captured the explosive moments and whose photographs went on to provide the vital clues in the case.  MAPS was keen to check out if there was a colour roll in the bag. 

MAPS was in a fix to also pick up the camera as it was lying unattended. The temptation was to pick up the camera and the exclusive shots that it contained (and may be hand it to the police or to his organisation). He almost went to pick up the camera from the body of the deceased but let it be (The photographs from that camera went on to be published by The Hindu in the coming days!!! - that's a story for another day).
                       1991 Vikatan Photographer MA Parthasarathy

Vincent stuns The Vikatan Editor
A couple of days later the then young and the aggressive Vincent D’Souza, then the Madras Correspondent of The Week magazine (Manorama Group), like many other journalists from across the world, was at the Vikatan office to meet its Editor Madan to pick up some of the exclusive photographs that Parthasarathy had captured that night at the event site.

While Vincent had landed up there for the colour photographs (and these were featured in his story later that week) that only Vikatan was in possession of, what he went back that day was with a story that was to leave the Vikatan Editor furious and stunned in the days to come.

What transpired that morning is fresh in MAPS’s memory “Vincent was waiting at the reception to meet Madan when I just entered the office. We casually exchanged info for a few minutes on the happenings on that dreadful night and I moved on with my work.”

Later that week, much to the shock of Vikatan’s Editor, a big half page box piece featured as part of the Cover Story in The Week narrating the experience of this 28 year old Vikatan photographer (MAPS) and how he had almost gone to ‘STEAL’ the camera from the body of the deceased.

As soon as The Week magazine hit the stands, MAPS was summoned into his Editor’s room. MAPS remembers the heated conversation he had with his Editor “Madan was furious and keen to send a notice to Vincent D’Souza for giving an 'STEALING ANGLE' to an informal casual chat with his photographer.”

After a long conversation, MAPS managed to convince his Editor that Vincent did what any newsy journalist would have done – create a story out of juicy information that had come his way by chance.

The Making of Mylapore Times
In June of 1991, Vincent wrote six stories around the death of Rajiv Gandhi for The Week Magazine. Had he stayed around, it is likely he would have climbed the ladder into Big National and International publications. However, he took a different view.

He resigned as the Special Correspondent of The Week (he was also reporting for the BBC) to start the Mylapore Times. He said in an interview about six months ago on his move from renowned media groups at the prime of his career “The quest for knowing and living with local community in Chennai inspired me to start a neighborhood newspaper and I started the Mylapore Times. It started small and remains small even now but became a powerful print media locally.” 

It is that passion that has helped him curate the annual Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival year on year for almost two decades.

Informative Connect during the Lockdown
It is no easy task to build a community newspaper from scratch and run it successfully for 25 years. It’s that ability to capture the news from around him that has always kept him going. And in this period of the Lockdown, it is that same quest and the persistence of his connect with the local community that has resulted in over 225 stories online in Mylapore Times providing information that the residents of Mylapore are looking for by the hour.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Venkataraghavan @ 75

In cricket, the number of matches one plays really depends on circumstances, team composition and such factors - S Venkataraghavan
Venkat's Hilarious Declaration, the 'Unsaid' words on LS, 'Dey Kurungu', the Chaffeur who drove TA Sekar into MRF PF and more
Gavaskar named his son after a West Indian great, Sundaram Finance MD named his son after this legendary off spinner

Legendary Cricketer and Umpire Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan turned 75 this week. His name was always difficult to pronounced. When cricketer turned commentator Maharaja of Vijayanagaram once came on air with the offie in action, he said "He is too difficult to call. I will just call him 'Raghavan'." If Gavaskar named his son after the legendary West Indian cricketer, the Managing Director of Sundaram Finance (TT Srinivasaraghavan)  named his son after the legendary off spinner (his son's name is the same as the cricketing Legend's - Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan).

(Gavaskar as a role model- http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/10/sunil-gavaskar-role-model-cricketer-for.html?m=1)

Such was Venkat's commitment that he never missed a single (TNCA) league match for a couple of decades except when he was on national duty. It was largely Venkat’s performance and the high standards he set for himself and the entire team that earned Tamil Nadu the respect at the National level in the 1960s and 70s. The hours of hard work at the BS Nets with his spin twin VV Kumar and his relentless pursuit in search of perfection is now a legendary tale.  During the 1960s and 70s, in a Golden Era for TN cricket, VV Kumar and Venkataraghavan spun many a team out, working in tandem. The two developed a great understanding, worked well in tandem and complemented each other. When Venkat decided to impart spin, VV Kumar focused on straight ones, and when Kumar turned them big, Venkat would keep it straight and tight. Many a time, they 'planted' batsmen out setting them up for a particular kind of dismissal.

However, for all his achievements, both during his playing days and after, Venkat remained aloof and has largely been a misunderstood man. During his playing days, he would often go to a corner of a ground during the lunch breaks and have his home cooked Thayir Saatham under the shade of a tree. In his post retirement phase, he has rarely spoken to writers and preferred to stay quiet away from the limelight. Even during his glory days as an Elite Umpire, he rarely spoke. I have always wondered how and why he has always agreed to talk to me. Blessed I have been that he has spoken to this unknown person (writer) each time I have wanted to!!

Here’s a look back into a few gems from Venkat in his interactions with me over the last decade.

Venkataraghavan was delighted to recount to me the funny episode with the Hat-trick man of TN cricket B Kalyanasundaram  from the 1970s. Venkat saw Kalli as a perfect team man and always relied on him, both for containment as well as for taking wickets, depending on the situation of the match In his words "Kalli as the right man to have at the right time."

“The slight stature belied the pace he bowled at. His forte was accuracy, he could swing the new ball away and he would bowl cutters with the old ball. His contribution to my team during that entire 10 years was immense and he was a wonderful team man to have.”

Venkat's hilarious "Rs. 25" declaration, Leaves Kalli furious 
Venkat always wanted his teammates to up the standards and he believed Kalli could do well with the bat. He remembers one of the declarations in his long captaincy stint for Tamil Nadu that sent the entire team into rapturous laughter with one man alone furious at this decision 

"I still remember the amusing incident of the bet I had with Kalli on his batting capabilities. I challenged him to score 25 runs in a Ranji Match. Kalli was so determined to take up this challenge of mine and  showed great heart to (almost) reach this milestone. However, as luck would have it, I had to declare the innings when he was on 23 or 24. While the entire team had a good laugh about it, Kalli was quite peeved at my decision to declare.”

What impressed Venkat about Kalli was his determination to prove to his captain that he was a worthy bat. A couple of years later at the Agricultural College Ground in Coimbatore, batting alongside TN wicket keeper Bharat Reddy, Kalyanasundaram went on to achieve the milestone of 25 runs against Andhra Pradesh. 

Such was his greatness that to everyone's surprise, Venkataraghavan immediately walked up to Kalli and handed him Rs. 25 in front of the entire team. That was another incident that brought out the great character in the much misunderstood Venkataraghavan. He always lived up to his word. 

Venkat Chaffeurs Sekar to MRF
Right from the late 1970s, soon after the retirement of Kalli, Venkat had  great belief in TA Sekar. In the early 1980s, Sekar was easily the fastest bowler in the country and Venkat treasured having him. But his big contribution in Sekar's life came much after his playing days. It once again showed the ever helping side of Venkat. He believed in and trusted cricketers who worked hard and who strove to achieve the best.

1st April 1988 was meant to be an important day in Sekar’s family. It was the engagement function of his brother in law. However, an unexpected event was to take place later that day that made it a life changing one for him. Sekar was waiting for the guests to arrive that morning. As he looked out of his bed room window, he seemed to sight a familiar face driving down the road. He rushed down to check what that person was doing there in his car. Yes, it was S. Venkataraghavan who had come searching for Sekar to give him the best news of his life at that time, a life changing moment for Sekar. 

Venkat had suggested Sekar’s name as the ideal person for the new pace foundation venture that was taking shape at that time in the 2nd half of the 1980s and MRF’s Chief Ravi Mammen wanted to meet Sekar immediately that morning. And Venkat played the Chaffeur taking him to meet Mammen for a meeting that forever transformed Sekar's life.

Caught in an awkward position between attending the family function and handling Venkat, Sekar requested his former captain for a couple of hours so he could complete the formalities at his family function.

So understanding was Venkat that he came back that noon to pick Sekar up from his home and took him to meet Ravi Mammen. Before the end of the day, Sekar had signed the acceptance letter to become the Coach of the Pace Foundation at the MCC School Campus in Chetput.  And Venkat once again was the man behind this big moment.


Feels let down by LS
Even before he had turned 15, Vidya Mandir school boy L Sivaramakrishnan had jumped from Fourth to First division / Globe Trotters.  When LS played against Venkat's YMA, the legend was very impressed with LS’ flight and turn. Soon the leggie bowled for hours under the watchful eyes of Venkat at the BS Nets (Chepauk). It was Venkat who provided the big early support to LS as a young kid. Given LS’ talent, he fully believed at that time (1980/81) that he would go far if he worked on his skills and stayed DISCIPLINED. 

On the morning of Feb 25, 1982, 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’ told Venkat to LS.

Soon after reaching the ground, Sunil Valson had informed his captain that he may not be fully fit. Venkat had decided to go with just 4 bowlers for that knock out Quarter Final game and was keen that all the bowlers were 100% fit. He gave Valson 30 minutes to come back with a decision. When Valson indicated that he was not likely to be 100% fit through the four days, Venkat (after a quick discussion with Bharath Reddy) took the big call of playing the leggie in this knock out clash against a formidable Delhi side comprising of international players. And the rest as they say was history. LS picked up a magical 7 wickets bundling out a strong Delhi side in the 2nd innings. And was soon picked to play for India.

However, by the end of that decade the lack of discipline in LS left Venkataraghavan utterly disappointed. When cricketing downturn struck LS in the 2nd half of the 1980s, it was Venkat that he approached to get him back on track.

In all the conversations that I have had with Venkat rarely has he expressed bitterness about a cricketer (not even about Gavaskar’s 36 Not Out) but Venkat saw this boy as special and an extraordinary talent and the way he frittered away that talent left Venkate disappointed “ I can say a lot (about LS in the 2nd half of the 1980s) but it is likely to leave ‘people’ embarrassed. Hence let me not talk about those years.”

The words 'unsaid' told the story of LS from those days.

'Circumstances, Team Compositions in cricket'
NP Madhavan, who finally went on to settle in Udumalpet, a rarity among cricketers, was a supreme talent who blossomed under Venkat in late 1970s and early 80s. It was against Venkataraghavan in 1987 that Madhavan played one of the best innings of his life on a matting wicket at the University Union ground – a knock of 185. 

In a chat with me in front of his house in Adyar, Venkat had the highest words of praise for Madhavan “He was a highly talented cricketer with wonderful stroke making ability. He was also a big asset to the team as a fielder. He was an attractive batsman to watch and should have definitely played many more matches for Tamil Nadu, given his talent and the potential that he held. In the limited opportunities he got, he scored a couple of quality centuries under my captaincy. In cricket, the number of matches one plays really depends on circumstances, team composition and such factors. But Madhavan was a terrific team man and I enjoyed having him in my team, even though he may have played only a few matches, much below what his talent warranted.”

'Dey Kurangu - New Ball choose Pannuda'
In a match at the Forest College Ground in Coimbatore, the first for K Bharath Kumar under Venkat’s captaincy, Venkat’s care for newcomers and youngsters came to the fore. Venkat used to address the young and bubbling Bharath Kumar as ‘Chinna Paiyyan’. Once Tamil Nadu declared after posting up a big score in the first innings, Venkat shouted out in his typical way but only those close to him could see the friendliness and care of Venkat.
 ‘Dey, antha chinna paiyan kitta new balls kuduthu choose panna sollu’. Venkat always used to address Bharath Kumar as ‘Chinna Paiyan’ and took special care of him.

When Bharath couldn’t believe what he had just heard, he asked if really he was to choose the ball which brought even more of Venkat’s love for him ‘Dey Kurangu choose the new ball quickly’. 

Bharath Kumar picked up 5 wickets for 4 runs. It was the match that completely turned around Bharath's confidence levels.

Played inter company match like a Test Match
Raghavan Parthasarathy, who worked at Enfield for 25 years till 1990, was Venkat's classmate at PS High School in the 1950s and was thick friends with him and PS Ramachandran. Venkat had made his Test debut by the early 1960s and had become a star by the end of that decade. When Enfield played an inter company match at the Gandhi Nagar Sports Club ground (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/02/gandhi-nagar-sports-club-cricket-ground.html), Venkat, who had just joined the company, had no two thoughts about playing that match.

Raghavan, the Production Manager, was fortunate to have captained Venkat that day. He recounts Venkat's love for cricket that was on view that day at the GNSC ground in Adyar "His passion for cricket was so high that when our Works Manager ( Sankar Raman) dropped a catch in that match, Venkat shouted out at him in his typical way as if a catch had been dropped in a Test Match. To him, every match was the same and he expected everyone to give their best once they were on the field."
Raghavan considers it an honour to have captained Venkat in that match and even called out to Venkat to come and bowl!! "When I brought myself on, Venkat came up to me every 2nd ball and taught me the nuances of spin bowling, from the grip to the flight. I felt honoured that day. For a Test cricketer to go out of his way to impart his knowledge to me was a great gesture and revealed the great character in him."

Breaks the Big News to Ravi
Venkat has always been known as a very tough and unforgiving personality having set very high standards for himself both as a cricketer and an umpire. 
It was Venkataraghavan as the head of the ICC Umpiring Panel who chose Ravi and elevated him into the Elite Panel, a great endorsement to this ever cheerful umpire from Madras. And hard it may be to believe, it was Venkataraghavan who went up to Umpire S Ravi (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2013/08/s-ravi-set-for-umpiring-test-debut.html) at Lords  and informed him of his  elevation into the Elite Panel.  Not too many words, just a 'Well done Ravi,  You are there. All the Best".
   
Venkat has always been short on words but the few that he uttered will always remain in the valued possession of those who played with him. For all the negativity around Venkat about him being a toughie, one who did not go out of the way to help cricketers, there are enough episodes to indicate otherwise. No cricketer in the city could ever say that Venkat destroyed his career, for he always encouraged those that worked hard and gave it their best. It is unlikely we will find another 'complete' cricketer like him in Tamil Nadu.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

BCCI Umpires Lockdown

Top BCCI Umpires form an informal group on the social media to debate old controversial decisions and likely challenging scenarios 
JR Madanagopal had just received news of his appointment as the fourth umpire in this year’s IPL. He is not the one to get easily excited. And yet this was a big moment for him in his career. It was long overdue for he had had strong years in the domestic circuit. In 2016 season, he secured 100 marks for his Quarter Final match and 99 marks for his Semi Final performance in the Ranji Trophy. And yet, he was not part of the IPL that followed a couple of months later. He was looking forward to be back in the IPL this year. In fact, after officiating in the final of the National U23 tournament, he came back to Madras and officiated in the first division league that was coming to its final stages.

Ranji Final, IPL and .....
India’s Top 5 umpire KN Ananthapadmanabhan had just got back to his home town in Thiruvananthapuram after officiating in his first Ranji Trophy final last month and he was looking forward to a full fledged stint in the IPL. In recent years, he has become a regular at the IPL. 
For a couple of others in Madras, there was the TNCA knock outs and the Palayampaatti Final to look forward to. But all of them have been locked indoors for the best part of a month now with the lockdown across the country. 

An informal group to share and debate
These top umpires at the BCCI have now formed an informal group using the social media platform and have been engaging in intense debates on controversial cricket decisions from the past, challenging scenarios for umpires and imaginary situations. 

Ananthapadmanabhan from Thiruvananthapuram, Madanagopal and a couple of others from Madras along with Sai Darshan from Bangalore have joined together in a fruitful discussion, online, putting forth their views from their respective homes on each of these incidents and scenarios and coming to a conclusion on the interpretation of the Laws.

Ananthapadmanabhan is also spending the lockdown period refreshing the new Tom Smith Laws of Cricket. Once in a while he puts up an interesting cricket video for discussion in the group for everyone to share their opinion "If we are unable to thrash out the differences, we take it to former Elite Panel International Umpire S Ravi who helps us out" says Ananthapadmanabhan.

Traditional Games at home for Rajesh Kannan
Back in his home in Mylapore R Rajesh Kannan after over 2 decades of nonstop cricket is enjoying the lockdown break with his family, one that has taken him back to his school days in the 1970s when he used to spend time with family and friends playing traditional games of Tamil Nadu.He has been out on the field all through the 1990s and 2000s first playing and over the last decade umpiring matches. 

The current scenario of being locked up indoors has evoked memories of the traditional games that he once played as a young school boy in the 1970s. This is quite a different experience from the one he has had as a cricketer and umpire being out in the hot sun and is all excited to be playing with his two daughters educating them on how these traditional games also help improve the math. During the period of the lockdown, he has played several rounds of Dayakattam, Paramapatham and Pallankuzhi. 

But after over three weeks of lockdown, he too like Madanagopal is looking to get back soon on to the ground. Not for them being locked indoor.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Chandomaye Football Coaching

'Locked Up in the Terrace' with the Football
Malola Kannan's daughter looks to make a mark in Football Coaching
In just 3 months she has turned extremely introverted kids into extroverts 
For the last two decades, Thiruvahindrapuram Malola Kannan's life has revolved around vedic and prabhandham chants. His Nalayira Divya Prabhandham (along with Navalpakkam Ranganathan) and Desikar Prabhandam audios are quite popular (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2015/02/navalpakkam-ranganathan.html). While he has been spending the lockdown period presenting Desikar Stotram and the like transmitted worldwide on the audio, his daughter has been locked up in the terrace most of the time with a football!!

19 year old daughter Chandomaye has taken a liking for football and has been travelling across the country and overseas playing competitive matches. Having started early, she very quickly graduated to play for the State and even made a trip a to Denmark with a private club when she was in her early teens. At school, she had won many tournaments and now continues to do so at college (MOP Vaishnav) as well. 

Locked- up  in the Terrace
With an aim to play for the University, she has been spending the Lockdown period sharpening her football skills at the terrace of her apartments on Pichupillai Street. With the help of videos, she has been practising for hours  along with her younger sister 16 year old Smrutimaye who has also a played for the State. 

Her daily routine also includes a 20 minute rigorous fitness training programme. The big terrace atop her flat serves as an ideal zone to practise 40 different football drills one of which is the art of knocking down water bottles with the back heal. In another session, she is seen practising the art of kicking the ball inside a dust bin or a cardboard box from a 3 feet distance.

Enters into Coaching
While she continues to play active football including scoring goals for the college team at MOP Vaishnav, she is now exploring a career in football coaching. A few months ago, Chandomaye made her entry into football coaching with a one year contract with the World One Football Academy and had been coaching over 20 Under 8 year olds until the Lockdown brought a temporary halt. She has also just written a D-Licensing test, the first step towards a professional coaching career. She says that women’s football coaches are in great demand these days and that is an option she will consider once she completes her graduation, though at the moment the adrenalin pumps at its best when she scores a goal for her team. 
Coaching 4 and 6 year olds!!!
Three months into her coaching assignment, she finds it extremely challenging “The attention span of 4 and 6 years is very less and one has to find different ways to keep them engaged every minute of the session."

Recently, she devised a Golden Sticker that she presents at the end of each training session to the exceptional kid of the day. She says that this serves as a great motivation for the kids to focus and do well at each of the training sessions.

Just 19, young kids are already looking at her as their mentor not just in football but also in inculcating an everyday discipline in them. She says that within a quarter, parents have come to her acknowledging that their introvert kids have become extremely extrovert at home and school and that their self belief has increased in a short span of few months,  something that Chandomaye is happy to hear.

It is quite a surprise that 

By same time next year, it is likely Chandomaye would have taken a call between a professional playing career and a serious knock at football coaching. 

This section will track her progress.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Kapali Panguni Utsavam

Missing  A Mylaporean's Favourite Utsavam 
 - This devotee Consoles herself in Panguni 2020 with a display photo of 'Alankaram of the Day' each day of the Utsavam
All the way from Erode for the Rishabha Vahanam

It is the evening before the Thiru Kalyanam at the Panguni Utsavam at the Kapaleeswarar temple. The weekend was to have seen the hugely popular Chariot Procession on Saturday morning and the Arubathu Moovar on Sunday evening. But the Utsavam was cancelled well in advance at least 10 days before the scheduled start leaving the devotees disappointed.  There are scores of them for whom the year is not complete without darshan of the Lord in front of the Raja Gopuram, through the 16 pillar mandapam and at the East Mada Street. One such devotee is S. Harini Yogalakshmi, a die-hard Mylaporean at heart.

Despite moving to Thiruvallikeni over a decade ago and stationed outside the city for a few years, she has never missed a single Brahmotsavam over the last three decades. As a Mylapore resident during her entire school and college days, she was devotionally engaged with the Lord each session of the utsavam.

The Gopuram Vaasal Darshan
For starters, she finds the sequence very special – the Nagaswaram Goshti that comes exclusively for the Brahmotsavam along with the temple vidwans, followed by the special vadhiyams and Sanka Nadham. The sambrani waves fills the air with a sacred fragrance. And then comes the most special moment of each day – the arrival of Lord Kapaleeswarar at the Eastern Raja Gopuram. She says that for a true Kapali Panguni Utsavam devotee, the Gopura Vaasal darshan  each morning and evening is pure bliss. 

Her dog's Namaste to Kapali
For a decade from 1997, she had a pet dog (Vellaiyamma) who Harini trained to say Namaste to the Lord during the Brahmotsavam.  The dog was a regular that entire decade especially on the first five days when the crowd was relatively less. Devotees on the East Mada Street near the Vanniyar Mandapam used to watch Vellaiyamma say Namaste to the Lord when the Gandhuravan showered flowers on Lord Kapaleeswarar.
Adhikara Nandhi- Her Favourite
Harini’s favourite right from her school days has always been the morning of the third day when as a young girl she would run from home to have darshan of the Lord atop Adhikara Nandhi. She says the ‘gambeeram’ of Lord Kapali dressed in white and blue with Chandra Bhanam, his hand atop the adhikara nandhi is incomparable.
The beating of the drum, the fragrance emanating from sambarani and the graceful slow movement of the Lord on Adikara Nandhi made the morning of the 3rd day her favourite at the Panguni Utsavam.  She also remembers the ‘twisted tongue’ of Nandhi and the ‘Pinnazhagu’ (the beautiful decoration on the back) of Lord Kapali that 3rd morning of the Utsavam. Missing this year's procession brought tears to her as she visualised his dramatic entry from the temple prakara on to the Raja Gopuram for the Deepaaradhanai.

From Erode for the Rishabha Vahanam
Marriage took her to Erode and she was away from the city for 5 years. But that did not deter her from being part of the Panguni Utsavam. She still remembers the first year after marriage when she came with her husband from Erode by Yercaud Express for the third morning of the Utsavam. Even before her husband could pay off the auto driver, Harini was running towards the Lord to have darshan of Rishabha Vahanam as the Lord was making his way back on to the East Mada Street on the 6th morning of the utsavam, such has been her devotional attachment to the Lord.

Sri Patham's special dance during the Naga Vahanam
Over the three decades that she has been at the Utsavam, her favourite location has been near the 16 pillar mandapam from where she would wait for the Lord to make his way to the Gopura Vaasal “Having darshan of the Deepaaradhanai is experiential especially of the Lord dancing his way to the 16 Pillar Mandapam with devotees lining up in large numbers either side of the Gopuram.” She also has a special liking for the Sripatham’s devotional steps during the Naga Vahanam on the fourth evening.
                                        
All through her life she has wondered at the devotional love Mylaporeans have for the Divine Couple - Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal. She says that to a devout Mylaporean, the year is not complete if he or she has not had a darshan of the divine couple during the panguni utsavam. Throughout her school and college days, she and her brother distributed butter milk and rose milk to devotees at the utsavam, which she says is another special feature of the utsavam – that of devotees providing fresh drinks during the procession.

Bommai Chathiram
She considers the visit to Bommai Chathiram on South Mada Street as a must do on during the utsavam to get a feel of the old paintings and dolls. To date, the Yamaloga Thandanai portrait remains the biggest attraction, says Harini!

2020 Panguni - Missing this year’s Utsavam
Harini, a resident of Thiruvallikeni since her wedding, had been preparing for this year’s Panguni Utsavam since early February and had even planned her annual vacation from work for the last week of March so she could spend more time at the processions, both in the morning and evening. With her kids’ exams that were also scheduled to end mid march, she was eagerly looking forward to a devotional ten days with the Lord.

But with the cancellation of the utsavam, for the first time in three decades she is now left to look at old photographs, and satisfies her devotional engagement with the Utsavam by changing her whatsapp status everyday to the vahanam of the day!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Temples lockdown 1960s 70s

The 'Unenforced' lockdown of the 1960s and 70s saw the wiping out of an entire generation of archakas in Tamil Nadu

No Devotees, No Thattu Kaasu, No Vastram for the Lord, Life Threatening Reptiles and a Battle for daily survival was the scenario at the TN temples in those decades
While a devotee-less temple seems like a new scenario to many, this was exactly the experience most priests in remote temples had six decades ago, when the entire original inhabitants began leaving those ancient temple towns seeking greener pastures. The current lockdown for devotees has taken priests in remote temples back in time to the 1960s and 70s when the temples were in an ‘unenforced’ lockdown mode.

Back then, priests in most Divya Desams and Paadal Petra Sthalams would perform daily aradhana and abhisekam and wait at the Sannidhi entrance for the devotees so they could take some Thattu Kaasu back home to manage the family expenses. Most often that devotee remained elusive. Many of the big utsavams had come to a grinding half for years. Priests did not have enough money for the next meal. They struggled to pay the house rent or even to take a cycle on rent. There were no communication tools in those days and hence rarely did the outside world get to know of the severe and unbearable challenges of these priests. Not for days or months but years and decades, the priests encountered this ‘devotees’ lockout scenario.

Therazhudur - Total Lockdown in the 1960s
Vasan Bhattar of Therazhundur Aamaruviappan Divya Desam is now a mentor to hundreds of priests and service personnel in the Chozha region. He has seen the temple in war like situation when even the daily survival was in question and says that the 1960s and 70s was the worst phase at Therazhundur “I saw my father struggling to get even a rupee as Thattu Kaasu. Salary was not paid to him for many years. There was no money to even light the lamp at the temple. Lord was left with one vastram for a whole year.  There was minimal ‘Thaligai’ for the Lord. Utsavams were stopped. Finding money for the next meal was a challenge.”
 முந்தி வானம் மழை பொழியும்
மூவா உருவின் மறையாளர்
அந்தி மூன்றும் அலை ஓம்பும்
அணி ஆர் வீதி எழுந்தூரே

He says that today there is so much of instant communication raising awareness among people about issues. There was none in those years of struggle. The priests of those dreadful decades fought a lonely battle in their respective temples. In the current scenario too, there will be financial challenges in the near term with the shutting down of the temples but we need to have faith in God like the priests of the 1960s and 70s.

Agamas during and after Lockdown
Vasan Bhattar says that the Agamas have laid out clear processes for aradhana and conduct of utsavams during war times and emergencies. If utsavams are being put off in such times, the agamas allow for it to be conducted over the next 6 months. He says that one has to feed the needy people in atonement for the non conduct of utsavams during the scheduled period. With Brahmotsavams not taking place in temples in Panguni, these should be necessarily conducted later in the year once the situation comes back to normal. Vasan Bhattar points out that more importantly these festivals should be done with the full and active participation of the people and not just as a formality for the records.

Life threatening times at Erettai Tirupathi
Industrialist Venu Srinivasan, who restored the entire Nava Tirupathi temples in the 1990s and transformed the lives of the priests there, remembers the time he entered the dilapidated Erettai Tirupathi (Twin Temples on the Northern Banks of Tamaraibarani) Divya Desam over 25 years ago to explore the possibility of restoration. While what one is witnessing currently is unprecedented, both in scale and magnitude, the scenario at Erettai Tirupathi was grave with Seshamani Bhattar putting his life at risk each day of the year.
தோக்கும் பக்கம் எல்லாம் கரும்பொடு 
செந்நெல் ஓங்கு செந்தாமரை 
வாய்க்கும் தண் பொருநல் வடகரை 

வண் தொலை வில்லி மங்கலம் 

“The priest, who came from Thiru Kolur, sometimes had to wade his way through the high tide in the Tamaraibarani to reach Erettai Tirupathi. He would be welcomed into the temple by dangerous snakes that moved around freely. There were no lights at the temple. The roof and the walls were in dilapidated state and could have fallen off anytime. There was threat to his life each day of the year. And for all this, there were no devotees in the temple town on most days in the year. The priest did not get any Thattu Kaasu except on the few utsavam days or some select days in the month. For all his efforts, his monthly salary was just a couple of hundred rupees.”

திருந்து  வேதமும் வேள்வியும்
திரு மா மகளிரும் தாம் மலிந்து
இருந்து வாழ் பொருநல் வடகரை
வண் தொலை வில்லி மங்கலம்

Thiru Kannamangai – No money to pay House Rent
84 year old PK Ramaswamy Bhattachar performed service at the Bhaktavatsala Perumal Divya Desam in Thiru Kannamangai for over six decades and continues to be at the temple to this day. 

எங்களுக்கு அருள் செய்கின்ற  ஈசனை
வாச வார் குழலாள் மலை மங்கை தன் பங்கனைப்
 பங்கில் வைத்து உகந்தான் தன்னை
பான்மையை, பனி மா மதியம் தவழ் மன்குலை

கடரை வட மா மலை உச்சியை
நச்சி நாம் வணங்கப்படும் கங்குலை
பகவைச் சென்று நாடி
கண்ணமங்கையுள் கண்டு கொண்டேனே

He remembers the decade long battle for survival in the 1960s “We struggled to pay a house rent of Rs. 5. To get even the basic provisions, I would cycle all the way to Thiruvarur (7kms away). The cancellation this month of the big utsavams in TN temples reminds me of my early days at Thiru Kannamangai when the Chitrai Brahmotsavam came to a halt and was not held for several years. There was neither money nor people to conduct the utsavams. In those years, my eyes used to light up at the sight of a single devotee. It was really a rare phenomenon to find a visiting devotee.”

Pullam Bhoothangudi
Till a few decades ago, there was no road access to the Jatayu Moksha sthalam of Pullam Bhoothangudi Divya Desam in sad contrast of it being a ‘Well Laid Out City’ with mansions as seen by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar. M Krishnamurthy Bhattar, who performed aradhana for five decades till his death in 1998, would delightfully bring home Rs. 2 that he received as Thattu Kaasu when a rare devotee made it to the Valvil Rama temple crossing the fields from Swami Malai. However, pressed by the need for daily sustenance, his wife Jayalakshmi would somehow find this hidden money and buy tamarind for that week’s Rasam. Angered at her spending immediately this hard earned two rupees, the Bhattar would go back to the temple to invoke the Lord’s blessings. Such was his way of life back in the 1960s and 70s. Looking back, the 87 year old Jayalakshmi wonders now as to how she managed to run her family with so little money in all those decades.

கற்பு ஆர் புரிசை செய் குன்றம்
கவின் ஆர் கூடம் மாளிகைகள்
பொற்பு ஆர் மாடம் எழில் ஆரும்
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே

The Utsavams too had come to a halt. In the diary of Krishnamurthy Bhattachar is found a jotting where he records with sadness his inability to perform the Pavitrotsavam during his life time. 

His son, the 48 year old Gopalan Bhattar, who joined the temple at a monthly salary of just Rs. 45, says that while the shutting down of temples for devotees is saddening, the lockdown kind of scenario is not entirely new to him for he spent his entire childhood at Pullam Bhoothangudi without devotees. He says with devotional pride that despite the lack of financial resources and the complete absence of devotee crowd, his father performed aradhana all alone every day of the year for several decades.  Lack of devotees was not a deterrent and his father faithfully performed his duty as per the agamas. Never once did he complain about the poor financial state or the absence of devotees.

மறையால்  முத்தீ அவை வளர்க்கும் 
மன்னு  புகழால் வண்மையால்  
பொறையால் மிக்க அந்தணர் வாழ் 
புள்ளம் பூதங்குடி தானே 

Paadal Petra Sthalam – No Devotees, No Salary
At the historical over 1000 years old Aabath Sahayeswarar temple in Thiru Pazhanam, 2kms East of Thiruvayaru, a temple praised by Thiru Gnana Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar, Raja Gurukal has been taking care of the poojas for the last 25 years since the time he was a teenager. For him, this forced lockdown is not any different from what he and his father have experienced in the last many decades. During the time of his father, who served at the temple for 55 years, the payment of even the low salary was infrequent. 

Even though this is a Paadal Petra Sthalam, only a few devotees visit the temple on most days even now and hence the Thattu Kaasu is minimal. He says that his forefathers looked upon the Lord and Ambal as their own parents and served then with love and devotion. It is only the devotion to the Lord and the opportunity for him to perform abhisekam at such a legendary temple where his ancestors had performed pooja that has helped his mind stay away from seeking greener pastures, mindless of the lack of income and a constant shut down feel given the absence of devotees.

In the current lockdown phase, abisekam is being performed with the Raja Gopuram closed. He says that the Pancha Bhootham has to be functional during pooja. However with the Raja Gopuram being shut down during abhisekam, the vibration will be lost and may not reach the people.

A Lockdown even in Madurai
If one thought that this unenforced ‘lockdown’ was the scenario only in remote temples, the situation till 1976 at the Koodal Azhagar temple indicated otherwise and presented a grimmer picture.  Despite being in the heart of Madurai and very close to Meenakshi Amman Temple, the situation was so bad that the Bhattars for a large part stood outside the Sannidhi each day of the week waiting for the devotees to turn up. 

And when only a single devotee arrived, the frustrated Bhattar at the Perumal Sannidhi would redirect him to the Thayar and Andal Sannidhi hoping that there would be a few more devotees by the time he finished these Sannidhis so the Bhattar could provide a combined darshan for 3-4 devotees. However, the redirected devotee would turn up again to find the same Bhattar standing in the same position.  It is unthinkable now that there was once a period in the not so recent past when the Bhattars were so down on motivation that they were not so inclined to opening the big door at the Koodal Azhagar temple and providing darshan to a lone devotee.

Support the Priests in Distress Period
Chennai based devotee Srinivasa Gopalan, who has been supporting several priests of ancient temples in remote locations for the last many years, has come forward this week to additionally support them during this distress period. On the reasons for his supporting such remote temples, he says ‘there are tens of thousands of temples in TN, most dating back many centuries and each with fascinating historical stories. This heritage needs to be protected and sustained.  The priests who take care of the daily rituals at these temples play a big part in protecting and sustaining the heritage. Government and the community have a key role in making it happen. Else, the heritage will be lost for good, in the next few decades.’

Support the Priests
In this hugely challenging scenario as well as for the long term, Srinivasa Gopalan feels that all priests must receive an amount that should be large enough for them to be free of financial worries for their day to day expenses; and also allow them to save for future requirement for major events in their family life like children’s education, marriage, major illness, etc. In emergency scenarios such as the one we are currently facing, they need to speak up. They will need to voice their difficulties to the local administration, local community leaders, Mutt Heads and Trustees and seek compassionate support.”

Challenges to emotional well being
As a devotee, Srinivas Gopalan is worried that being away from temples for a long time could affect the emotional well being “Most of us have a ‘favourite’ temple or two that we go regularly – may be daily, weekly or a few times in a month. It has huge impact on emotional wellness. Devotees can take the miss for a few weeks; if it extends for several weeks, it will take a toll on their emotional wellness, I think.”

In this hugely challenging scenario as well as for the long term, Srinivasa Gopalan feels that all priests must receive an amount that should be large enough for them to be free of financial worries for their day to day expenses; and also allow them to save for future requirement for major events in their family life like children’s education, marriage, major illness, etc "In emergency scenarios such as the one we are currently facing, they need to speak up. They will need to voice their difficulties to the local administration, local community leaders, Mutt Heads and Trustees and seek compassionate support.”

For priests who performed service in temples in the 1960s and 70s, the current scenario is a repeat from those times, in terms of financial challenges and absence of devotees. They came through some unbearably challenging times, one that would have broken most hearts and for that reason alone their devotional commitment from those times is highly commendable. While that phase saw a major wiping off of the next generation of priests who all moved into the corporate world, the ones that survived and continue to perform aradhana and abhisekam to this day are those who had complete faith in God and saw it as a passing phase. For both devotees and priests alike, it is that devotion to God and faith in him that is likely to help them see through this phase.