Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mannar Koil Narasimha Gopalan Hereditary Trustee

Periya Nambi descendant seeks status of Hereditary Trustee
He has been donning multiple roles at the Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy temple over the last 15years including that of the lone Archaka
If he is officially anointed as the Trustee, he will have to relinquish the role of an archaka at the temple
Continuing his spate of cases in the high court, Mannar Koil’s PS Narasimha Gopalan, a descendent of Periya Nambi Acharya has filed a case pleading with the court to direct his nomination as the hereditary trustee of the Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy temple where his forefathers had performed the Srikaryam service for centuries till that was taken away just under a 100 years ago. In addition to this, he has also filed a case in the High Court restraining the HR & CE from appointing Politicians as trustees of the temples in TN. Currently, only a few temples in TN such as Srirangam, Madurai Meenakshi Amman and Kapaleeswar  have prominent individuals as Trustees.  He has also asked for a board to be placed in each temple announcing the details of the trustees including their contact numbers so aggrieved devotees can contact them for solutions.

The three tiered Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy temple in Mannar Koil is located 5kms from Ambasamudram off the Tenkasi highway. The temple is named after Kulasekara Azhvaar who spent the last years of his life here performing service and attained Moksham here. There is a separate Flag Post for the Kulasekara Azhvaar Sannidhi. 

The Lord is seen in three forms - standing posture at the ground level, sitting posture in tier 1 and in a Sayana Kolam in Tier 2 under the Ashtanga Vimana. In recognition of Rajendra Chozha’s big contributions to this temple, this place was referred to as Rajendra Vinnagaram. Inscriptions refer to Rajasimhan donating several pieces of land and Jatavarma Chozha Pandya as well as Nayak kings making contributions to the temple.

Over the last decade, Narasimha Gopalan has filed several petitions in the Madurai High Court starting with the one on abusive depiction of the ‘Vaishnavite Thiruman’ in movies and public places.

Historical Inscriptions of their 'Srikaryam' appointment
In his latest petition, he has referred to the centuries old inscriptions dating back to the period when this region was referred to as Rajendra Vinnagaram. In the inscriptions, the then king had assigned the Srikaryam rights to the Periya Nambi clan. He has also stated that over the last several centuries, he and his forefathers have not quit the services at the temple and have been associated with the temple without a break. 
Doubles up as Priest at Rs. 250
With no priests in the region willing to take up the archaka role for a few hundred rupees, Narasimha Gopalan has also been doubling up as the archaka since 2005 at a salary of Rs. 250 which after a decade was increased to Rs. 750. His father had earlier served as an archaka for several decades at a salary of Rs. 55 that went up to Rs. 135 at the start of this century. 

In line with the teachings of his father, Narasimha Gopalan cites the verses of Kulasekara Azhvaar to reason out his logic for staying away from the lure of a more lucrative city life and being attached to the Lord at Mannar Koil.

Narasimha Gopalan performs the role of an archaka in the mornings and evenings, prepares the sacred food for the Lord donning the hat of a cook and turns into a gardener watering and plucking flowers from the huge garden that he himself had created from scratch and performs Samasrayanams as a Periya Nambi Acharya for his disciples. 
Rejects a lucrative overseas offer
In times, when sthalathars, theerthakarars,  adyapakas, vedic pundits and priests have all moved out of hereditary temples over the last many decades seeking greener pastures elsewhere, this 29th descendent of Periya Nambi has not travelled past the Tirunelveli region in decades for he is too attached to the historic Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagopalaswamy temple. He does not know what a city life is like. He has not worn a shirt and continues to sport a tuft.

A few years ago, he had received a luring offer to perform services in a temple overseas. Had he accepted that and gone there just for a few years, his financial status would have seen a big positive upturn. But he resisted the temptation for he had long ago decided to commit himself to the Lord of Mannar Koil. When he was reminded again of this lucrative prospect with the suggestion that all temples are the same and that he would still be performing service to the Lord, he retorted to that person asking whethere 'Kulaseakar Azhvaar's Thiruvarasu would be present there in that overseas location'!!! And with that ended the discussion on that topic!!

He says in the petition that his forefathers have been taking care of the conduct of all the Utsavams and the daily poojas at the temple for several centuries. It was only in the 20th century that the HR & CE took over the administration of the temple. Over the last decade or so, he has revived, with the financial support from his sishyas, a few of the Utsavams including Theppotsavam and Pavitrotsavam that had been historically performed at the temple.

The High Court has directed the JC of the temple to arrive at a decision on the appointment of Periya Nambi clan as the hereditary trustees within 8 weeks. On the politicians as trustees, the Court has asked the HR & CE to provide details of the trustee in all the temples under its control.

If Narasimha Gopalan gets the order in his favour as the Hereditary Trustee, he would have to relinquish the role of archaka at the temple for he cannot don both the roles at the same time. However, it would be a big challenge for him to find a Vaishnavite Archaka who accepts to take charge of the daily poojas in such a remote location even if he is offered a lucrative remuneration.

While Politicians as trustees may be a serious issue that has cropped up over the last couple of decades, there are not enough traditionalists with knowledge in historical remote towns to take charge as Trustees as defined in the  HR & CE act for the remote temple towns in most cases are even short of priests and 'sacred' cooks and associated personnel. Hence, traditional trustees taking responsibility of and overseeing the activities at the remote temples is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, unless the original inhabitants decide to make their way back to their 'home towns'.

(Over the last decade, while he has filed several cases and these have been increasing over time, there has not been positive progress in any of these cases)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

MS Gurumurthy YSCA Somasundaram Ground

For over 60 years, the indefatigable ‘Cricketing Guru’ has run an ‘academy that has groomed and produced several top notch cricketers and umpires
The All India YSCA Tourney at the RKM ground was a big hit with both the cricketers and fans alike, in the 1980s
As a 14 year old RKM school boy, MS Gurumurthy, along with Srinivasan, launched, in 1956, an ‘academy’ that brought together boys in T Nagar to play ‘Tennis Ball five day Test Cricket’ at the Somasundaram Ground. Several of them went up the ranks and played for the state and one even for the country. He himself was a medium pacer and opening bat (a wicket keeper once in a while!!) and played U25 for the state. In 1970, he launched, at the RKM ground, an annual 30 over tournament that later gained national prominence and has now completed 50 summers. With over a 100 cricketers practicing in different divisions, almost a quarter of the Somasundaram ground was once occupied with Guru’s players!!! On many days, the members also played cricket under the lights at the nearby basketball court at the West end of the ground after the tennis ball test match.

Brothers K Bharathan and K Srinivasan rose from the Somasundaram ground to national heights with the former playing in the famous Ranji Final for Railways against TN in 1988 and the latter reaching the Top 10 Umpires in India. It was at Guru's nets that  S Madhavan became a leg spinner and went on to play for Central Zone. S Srinivasan played Ranji cricket for Bombay and TN after learning the basics from coach Audi Chetty at YSCA summer camp.  S Ravi, who played both tennis ball and league cricket for Guru team in the 1970s, went on to become an Elite Panel Umpire ( TN opener from the early 1990s ‘Sunny’ Ramesh was another who played the formative years of his cricket at the Somasundaram ground. S Suresh, who has just been appointed as the Chairman of the Cricket Advisory Committee and who captained TN to successive Ranji finals, learnt his cricket basics from Gurumuthy at the Somasundaram ground in the 1980s( Kalpathi Aghoram, former VP of TNCA and co founder of SSI / Kalpathi Investments too is a product of YSCA. TA Sekar, the biggest of them all having played for India in the 1980s, learnt how to bowl fast, at Guru’s Somasundaram ground nets.

Here is the story of the man who has provided a cricketing platform for budding cricketers for over 60 years. 

RKM School boy MS Gurumurthy (Guru) was just 14 when one evening in 1956 he discussed the launch of a formal cricket academy with his senior and friend Srinivasan, another cricket enthusiast. Thus was launched YSCA (Young Stars Cricket Association) 54 years ago. Till 1978, there were four divisions within Guru Team - Division A for office goers, B for collegians, C for High schoolers and D for lower classes.  Division A and B went to the ‘Nets’ on a matting wicket while players in Division C and D played Tennis Ball cricket (Tennis Ball Test cricket at YSCA continued till 2000 when it was discontinued after almost 45 years).

Every year on the occasion of the annual day, players would eagerly await the announcement of promotions into higher division based on the performance of the previous year. Each of the divisions comprised of at least 25players.
He bought the first mat from YMCA Nandanam for Rs. 100 and paid Rs. 15 as a full day rent for the RKM school ground. In 1962, aged just 20, he took charge of a league team (NSC B). Since then, for almost six decades he has been running at least one league team in the city every year. He also joined LIC that year (1962) and worked there for four decades, during which time he was the Secretary, Recreation Club and the Union.

In 1965, Gurumurthy began taking his students on cricketing tours and has done that for over five decades. His first tour with them was to Tirupathi. Last year,  he took them to Delhi. This gave them match exposure and also opened them up to play in different conditions and pitches.

Gurumurthy set in motion a disciplined process at the YSCA “Every player had to sign an attendance register. Those who turned late for (the tennis ball) matches would not bat that day!!! And those who came early were presented with additional batting time in the nets. There were score sheets maintained for every match. Those who played well in tennis ball cricket graduated to the nets and league cricket. Youngsters from the team also doubled up as scorers and umpires.”

He would be there every evening at the Somasundaram ground with the noise of that distinctive Rajdoot that was heard far away alerting the wards that the ‘Cricketing Guru’ had arrived. When they were done for the day after the cricket session, each one of them had to inform him before leaving home. Most of them did that in Telugu!!!

A referral for Tennis Ball cricket!!!
Those who graduated from Gurumurthy’s YSCA were seen with a special regard within cricket and outside for he instilled a great sense of discipline and character in the young boys. Former Bombay and TN State cricketer S Srinivasan who had the formative years of his cricket at the Somasundaram ground remembers how difficult it was to gain entry into the YSCA “One could not easily get into the Guru team even if it was for tennis ball matches. One had to get a credible referral to join his team. My uncle at LIC, a colleague of Gurumurthy, had to refer me to him for him to absorb me into his tennis ball team.”
(In the 1980s, this writer's grand father secured a referral letter from TNCA's PVH Babu that was handed to Gurumurthy but the writer did not join the team)
Centuries flowed from Srinivasan’s bat in the tennis ball 5 day test matches and he credits those long duration matches for vetting his appetite for runs!!! An impressed Guru took him into Rising Stars, a team that he was managing at that time “The team for the league match would be written on a note pad a day in advance and all the players gathered as a team at his house on Lakshmi Narasimhan Street and went to the ground as one team. Such was the spirit he developed among the team members” recalls Srinivasan of the way Guru went about the preparation ahead of the league matches.

The incentive every day for an outstanding performance was a Kulfi.

Srinivasan who played for TN and South Zone Schools while still in the Guru team dedicates his growing up in cricket to Gurumurthy “He stood up to his name as Guru to many cricketers in the city. It was from him that we learnt not to be afraid of the red cherry as he set an example for all of us to be gutsy with his close in fielding. If it was not for the strong foundation that he gave us, we would not be what we are today.”

Gurumurthy roped in the well respected AE Audi Chetty to coach his students during the summer and that made an impactful difference to the boys. Gurumurthy would himself go to the Kodambakkam station to pick up Audi Chetty and bring him to the Somasundaram ground. It was Audi Chetty who taught the cricketers of the YSCA the fundamentals of cricket.

Central Zone leggie’s magic ball to Gurumurthy
Central Zone leggie S Madhavan ( belonged to a middle class family. His father was far away from cricket and did not understand even the basics of the game. As was the case in those days, the ‘direction’ was to not spend too much time on the cricket field. A student of RKM North, Madhavan spent the evenings at Somasundaram ground watching the nets organized by ‘YSCA’ Gurumurthy. He was already playing for his school as a wicketkeeper batsman along with NP Sridhar (elder brother of NP Madhavan (

Madhavan told this writer in 2018 as to how Gurumurthy inducted him straightaway into the ‘nets’ “Seeing my height and interest in cricket, Gurumurthy asked me to bowl in the ‘cricket ball nets’ alongside TA Sekar.”

One of those days, he struck Gurumurthy twice on the arm with fast paced balls leaving him furious at this school boy “He asked me to bowl a little slow and that’s when I just tried a leg break from a few steps. The ball pitched and turned square beating Gurumurthy all ends up leaving everyone stunned.”
A new leg spinner had been born that day, in rather accidental circumstances at the Somasundaram ground. So impressed was Gurumurthy that he included Madhavan in the Rising Stars league team within a few months. That was a big boost for the teenager and three years in a row he featured in the prestigious annual TNCA Colts team comprising of the best of league players. There was no looking back for Madhavan since and he went on to play for the Indian Railways and Central Zone before settling down in RBI.

The annual YSCA Trophy
In 1969, as he was passing by the RKM ground (opposite Jeeva Park), it struck him to use his ‘home’ ground (alumni of the school) to start a tournament that would also give his YSCA team to play in a knock out tournament. And thus began in 1970 an annual 30 over tourney. The players of his club served as volunteers.

Indian Railways Ranji finalist and former BCCI Umpire K Bharathan was in RKM North till class VI when Gurumurthy landed up at his house one day to meet his parents to convince them to move him to RKM Main where he was the coach. Bharathan remembers the disciplinarian Gurumurthy from the 1970s “Top teams participated in the YSCA Trophy. He would assign the volunteers for each of the 4 matches over the weekend and we had to report at the ground at sharp 7am, roll and nail the mat. One of us performed the role of a scorer and another one managed the score board. With the growing popularity of the tourney, there were also ball boys assigned to all sides of the small ground to pick the ball if it was hit out of the ground. We would be given breakfast and lunch.  We were delighted to watch the likes of V Krishnaswamy( V Sivaramakrishnan bat and took inspiration from that.”

Free Maths Tuition
From 1970, for 25 years he also took free maths class for school students. His colleague at LIC, Siva, provided him free terrace space and he took classes in two batches – one for girls and another for boys. Many of the cricketers were his Maths students as well. Bharathan remembers the expert Maths teacher
“He would teach from class VIII to CA. Like how we would recite Slokas, he would roll out the sums in a way that each one of us understood so easily. He wanted cricketers to do well in academics and hence ensured each of us excelled in Maths, his area of expertise.”

YSCA's Biggest Name - TA Sekar
The biggest name to emerge out of Guru’s YSCA has been India fast bowler and architect of the MRF Pace Foundation TA Sekar (, who began with tennis ball cricket in Division C and quickly moved up. He told this writer in 2013 about Gurumurthy’s role  in his emergence as a fast bowler “ Bowling as fast as I could with the tennis ball at the Somasundaram ground is what gave me the edge with pace, years later as I went up the ladder. That stint with the Guru team at the Somasundaram ground, where I used to also roll the mat and hit the mat nails, taught a lot of discipline in addition to teaching me to bowl fast.”
         RKM School Boy TA Sekar with the Best Bowler Cup

Possessiveness of his players
Throughout the six decades of the YSCA, Gurumurthy has been very possessive of his players. Bharathan recollects the punishment meted out to them when they watched the Basketball players in action at Somasundaram ground “After our practice, we used to stay back and watch the big stars in action in the basketball floodlit tourney. He was a bit wary that at that young age we would get a bit of a fancy for that game and hence did not like us staying back late to watch those matches. Those that did would be punished the next day by letting go of their batting or bowling.”

Star Attraction at the Annual YSCA
The YSCA tourney served as a platform for the youngsters to make an impression and catch the attention of the selectors. It was a prestigious summer tournament at that time. Soon the tournament became so popular that around 75 teams began participating including leading outstation teams from Karnataka, Kerala and Bombay.   

A special feature of the tourney was that a bowler was allowed to bowl 8 overs. Each of the galleries on the two sides would have fan clubs of popular players of the time and one found fans seated atop the northern wall as well on the Eastern road cheering their favourite cricketers. NP Rajagopal of Indian Bank and later Central excise was one such as was Rocko Sundar of IOB.
           SMH Kirmani at the RKM Ground

The small RKM ground witnessed many great battles. In the 1980s, the residents often complained about broken glasses after Brijesh Patel (SVPB) sent many a shot into the homes on the Western side. And once the keeper stood almost at the boundary edge to Syndicate Bank’s Venkatesh Prasad in his youthful days!!! It was here that KN Ananthapadmanabhan ( won a cycle for the Player of the Series and handed it to ‘Cycle freak’ S Mahesh (

It was also at the RKM ground that this writer first saw the aggressive and temperamental VB Chandrasekar ( at his fiery ‘worst’. He had failed to make an impression for India on its tour to New Zealand and it was one of his first matches following his failure at the international level. The big crowd on the Eastern side of the ground was usually a talkative one and when one of them passed a comment on VBC’s international performance (, he retorted in his typically angry style ‘Vetti Pasanga.  You do not have anything else to do. That is why you come and watch these matches.’ He was never forgiven for those comments by that section of the crowd. 
With support from Indian Bank, Gurumurthy launched a flood lit final at RKM in the 1990s with temporary stands and a third umpire.

Self Discipline at an early age
When Gurumurthy called Bharathana few years ago to ask if he could umpire a YSCA trophy match at NEST ground, he readily agreed with no second thoughts “Guru gave me not just a cricketing foundation but taught me life’s valuable lessons. I would wake up at 5am and reach the summer nets well before 5.30am to get the extra 10minutes of batting that was given to those that arrived first. He asked me to wash my own clothes and four decades later that habit has stayed with me and I still wash my own clothes. Discipline, sincerity and perseverance are qualities I imbibed from Guru. If I went on to captain the Indian Railways and become a BCCI umpire, it was because of the strong foundation presented to me by Guru in the 1970s and early 80s.”

Never Monetised Cricket
60 year old Kalpathi Aghoram was in class VIII when he was first coached by Gurumurthy at RKM, a year they won the schools tournament. He is particularly pleased that Guru has remained passionate for this length of time “Even though cricket has evolved into a financially lucrative sport, Guru has not monetised his cricket experience. He continues to carry out the cricket activities for the love of the game and his passion clearly comes through in everything he does in cricket.”
Aghoram, who played first division cricket for Crom Best in the 1980s and whose firms, SSI/ Kalpathi Investments, sponsored the YSCA league tourney and maintained the RKM ground for a few years, recalls the humane side of Gurumurthy “The annual tours to Trichy and Coimbatore were memorable ones for the school boys for it gave them a rich experience at a young age. He did not charge anyone a fee either for the round the year cricket or these tours. It was a great gesture, for many of the boys were not from financially sound background and he constantly went out of the way to help them with Maths tuition, Education fees, in addition to providing them the cricket kit and whites.”

For decades, TNCA umpires too happily officiated in the YSCA Trophy without a fee, as a token gesture for his selfless service to cricket.

Last year, the YSCA tournament celebrated its golden jubilee with a star studded outstation team, Bank of Baroad, led by Krishnappa Gowtham beating India Cements in the final to lift the trophy on the special occasion.
At 78, Gurumurthy is still ‘cricket active’ and even this year, pre lockdown, handed his special fielding drills to his 40 plus wards. However, for the first time in almost 65years, Gurumurthy has been all alone these last nine months. His inspiration behind every cricketing step, his wife, for the last several decades passed away last year (she would keep everything packed for his tours), and this combined with the Pandemic restrictions has made him quite lonely at home. Watching every match of the IPL this year has been refreshing and evoked memories of the 30 over tournament he launched way back in 1970 that for a long time was seen by players as an important pre season tourney. Soon after the restrictions are lifted fully, he is looking to get back to the ground and to also organizing the annual day celebrations that every cricketer of YSCA has looked forward to with great expectation each year over the last six decades. Cricket is no more what it was in the 1960s and 70s but Guru remains unchanged. He has restrained himself from reducing the YSCA Trophy to a T20 style format

It requires great cricketing passion to run cricket for over six decades for no financial benefit. He developed not just cricketers but scorers, umpires and professionals who shone in the corporate world as well. True to his name, this man is a Guru in the real sense of the word, one who provided an early platform to budding cricketers imparting cricketing knowledge as well as initiating them with great life lessons.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thirunagari Thirumangai Azhvaar Utsavam

Thiruvali Thirunagari Divya Desam's 87 year old Venkatesan Bhattar passes away ahead of Avathara Utsavam
The last of the Azhvaars provides darshan in a rare Sayana Kolam on the 6th day of the Avathara utsavam at Thirunagari Divya Desam 
Thirumangai Azhvaar Avathaar Utsavam has just begun at Thirunagari Divya Desam near Sirkazhi. As per the directions of the Government, this year's utsavam will be bereft of Street Processions and the entire ten day utsavam culminating on Karthigai day in Karthigai will be organised inside the temple complex. The Utsavam this year will also miss Venkatesan Bhattar, who passed away last weekend, aged 87. His son Padmanabhan Bhattar, who along with his (cousin) brother Sridhar, has been taking care of the poojas at this Divya Desam over the last 25years too will not be able to be at the utsavam this year. 

Born in Sengendhi, near Trichy, he moved to Sirkazhi in his childhood and completed the four Vedas at the Vibrant Patshala in Thadalan Divya Desam. During those early years, he would accompany the grandfather of Badri Narayanan Bhattar of Kaazhi Cheerama Vinnagaram to Thiruvali - Thirunagari and thus he became devotionally attached to Thiru Mangai Azhvaar. 

Financially Challenging Days in the 70s and 80s 
Venkatesan Bhattar performed service at the Thirunagari Divya Desam for many decades. Throughout the childhood days of Padmanabhan Bhattar, in the 1970s/80s, things were so challenging, financially, that his mother would wait for his father to bring the temple thaligai after the morning pooja and it was then that she would feed the entire family. It was a very difficult phase for the family with very little salary from the temple and an almost non existent Thattu Kaasu. 

Those decades were also one of the worst for Divya Desams in Thiru Nangur.  Even the few devotees that visited the other Divya Desams did not turn up here for there were no public transport facilities in those days and this was far too remote to access. Through most of the days, Venkatesan Bhattar would wait at the entrance looking for that elusive devotee before shutting the door around noon. 
When it was time for Venkatesan Bhattar to retire, officially, Padmanabhan Bhattar took over in 1995 at a monthly salary of just Rs. 360/-. Venkatasan Bhattar was roped in by the authorities at the Anjaneya Temple in Nanganallur and he performed service there till well into his 80s including after plates were inserted on both his legs.

Priests at Thiruvali Thirunagari
While some sort of revival happened in in the 1990s in many other Divya Desams, Thiruvali Thirunagari was at least a decade behind. In 2000, Padmanabhan Bhattgar also took charge as an archaka at Thiruvali Divya Desam at a monthly salary of Rs. 200. In the 25 years of his service, Padmanabhan Bhattar’s salary at Thirunagari temple has risen from Rs. 360 to just a few thousands. This utsavam takes a big toll on him for there is very little rest on most days. Unmindful of the physical and financial challenges, he goes about the task devotionally. 
வந்து உனது அடியேன் மனம் புகுந்தாய்
புகுந்ததற்பின் வணங்கும்
என் சிந்தனைக்கு இணையாய்
 திருவே, என் ஆர் உயிரே

அம்  தளிர் அணி ஆர் அசோகின்
இளந் தளிர்கள் கலந்து
அவை எங்கும் செந்தழல் புரையும்
திருவாலி அம்மானே
Last year, an offer came his way to support a Samprokshanam in another temple that would have made him richer by atleast Rs. 20000 for a 4 day service which is several times his official salary for the month from the Thirunagari temple. In the two and a half decades, he has been at Thiruvali-Thirunagari, he has let go several such revenue earning opportunities, opting instead on serving Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Kalyana Ranganatha at Thirunagari and Lord Narasimha at Thiruvali. 

On Utsavam days, priests in such remote temples spend almost 12hours with street processions in the morning and evening as well as managing the daily pooja work. There is usually no one to even enquire about their well being for most of the original inhabitants have moved, long ago, seeking greener pastures in cities. Priests such as Padmanabhan Bhattar have survived these 25 years in such remote temples simply through their devotional commitment to the Lord and Azhvaar unmindful of the very low salary paid to them. 

On non utsavam days, Padmanabhan Bhattar shuttles on his old TVS XL bike between Thiruvali and Thirunagari to perform daily service at both these temples jointly considered as one Divya Desam. It is through the decades of tireless efforts of bhattars such as Padmanabhan that devotees are now able to have darshan in such remote locations. 

Reliving last year's Avathara Utsavam
It is well past 1am on a rainy Saturday (Dec 7, 2019) night at Thirunagari, the sixth of the Thiru Mangai Azhvaar Avathara Utsavam. The dimunitive and the tireless 50 year old Padmanabhan Bhattachar has had a long day and is now in the process of unveiling the once in a year Thiru Kolam to the 50 odd devotees who had stayed back to witness this rare event in a Divya Desam. It is the only day in the year when Thiru Mangai Azhvaar, who praised Thiru Kudanthai in such glorious verses in the Thiru Ezhu Kootrirukai, provides darshan in a Sayana Kolam similar to the one seen at the Sarangapani Aaravamudhan Divya Desam. 
நால் திசை நடுங்க  அம் சிறைப் பறவை ஏறி
நால் வாய் மும் மதத்து இரு செவி
ஒரு தனி  வேழத்து அரந்தையை
ஒரு நாள் இரு நீர்மடுவுள் தீர்த்தனை

The scene earlier in the day left one surprised. For a remote Divya Desam with minimal public transport facilities, the temple was seen packed with Prabhandham members reciting the Perumal Thirumozhi and the sixth canto of Periya Thirumozhi of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar. A few from Thiruvallikeni Divya Desam made a big difference with a devotional rendering of the sacred verses as did the several budding boys seen in a traditional attire who had made their way from Srirangam Patshala for the Utsavam. 
Badri Narayana Bhattar of Kazhi Cheeram Vinnagaram Divya Desam ( was at Thirunagari to take care of the decoration of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Kumudavalli Nachiyar for the evening procession (Badri Bhattar will be leading the Utsavam this year as well with Padmabhan/Sridhar Bhattar having to stay away fromt he temple). 

Even as the rain belted down in buckets on the 6th evening, Badri Narayana Bhattar was focusing on the minute details of the alankaram ahead of Elephant Vahana procession. In a happy development, the next gen of Bhattars too has been an integral part of this Utsavam. 19 year old Gokul, the son of Padmanabhan Bhattachar and a student at Sastra Engineering College too was participating in the festivities of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar seen in three different attires on this sixth evening. 

Thirumangai Azhvaar refers to Sinthanai Kiniyaan
After two hours, the screen finally opened up for the devotees just after 8pm with Thiru Mangai Azhvaar seen in a grand princely attire, flanked by Kumudavalli Nachiyar. Also seen atop the elephant was Sinthanai Kiniyaan. By 9 pm, well over a hundred devotees had gathered at the mandapam ( this November 2020, it is unlikely there will be too many devotees at this utsavam with all the restrictions and the absence of street processions). And for the next half hour, it took devotees back in time to memories of the period when this Divya Desam reverberated with devotional rendering of the Divya Prabhandham. 
Badri Narayanan Bhattar, Sirkazhi

The Sri Patham too gathered in big numbers for this difficult elephant vahana procession. Soon after 10pm, the rains gathered speed again and unfortunately the procession lasted only till the end of the Sannidhi street. Following the commencement of the Divya Prabhandham, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Kumudavalli Nachiyar returned to the temple. 
‘புண்ணை மன்னும் செருந்தி வண்  பொழில்
வாய் அகன் பணைகள் கலந்து
எங்கும் அன்னம் மண்ணும் வயல்
அணி ஆலி அம்மானே’

மாதவன் தன் துணையா நடந்தால்
தடம் சூழ் புறவில்
போது வண்டு ஆடு செம்மல்
புனல் ஆலி புகுவர்கொலோ

The priests then got down to the second alankaram of the evening – from the princely attire seen earlier in the evening, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar now moved into a wedding Thiru Kolam and just after midnight, he along with Kumudavalli Nachiyar made their way to the Eastern Raja Gopuram for the ‘exchange of garlands’. 

Thirumangai Azhvaar Sayana Kolam
The events of this long day came to an end just before 2am when the devotees headed to the Kannadi Arai for a glimpse of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in a handsome Sayana Kolam similar to the posture of Lord Aaravamudhan of Thiru Kudanthai Divya Desam, with Kumudavalli Nachiyar seen standing and serving him at his feet. 
While the devotees made their way home soon after, there was still an hour of work left for the priests for they had to move Thiru Mangai Azhvaar from the Sayana Kolam attire to one for the early morning procession on the 7th day. It was 3am when the priests finally left the temple for a well earned rest. 

Such is the life of a priest in remote temples on big utsavam days.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Sweety S Suresh TN Ranji Finals Captain

A grounded personality unmoved by the highs and lows 
A Change Agent and an Unfancied Captain, he turned around the fortunes of TN cricket and led the state to two successive Ranji Finals and a National One Day Championship
Just under two decades ago, Tamil Nadu cricket witnessed a shake up when the selectors chose an unfancied captain who had played just three Ranji matches in the previous four years and was not even a certainty in the squad/playing XI. Within two matches that season, there was a ‘behind the scenes’ player revolt, something that was not completely a shock to him (interestingly just over a decade later, another player revolt, this time when he was the state selector, led to the sacking of the Coach, who had been the most influential person in his life). The captain survived that, managed players much bigger in stature, had to drop his ‘best friend’ in cricket on multiple occasions and led TN to two successive Ranji Trophy finals and a win in the All India One day tournament. Soon after the great turnaround, the captain was sacked and asked to fight for a place in the team. On both occasions (the appointment and the removal), the cricketer expressed very little emotion, a characteristic that’s been his way of life all through his cricketing life that has now lasted over three decades. Here is the story of probably the ‘Sweetest’ Captain in TN’s history.

Tennis Ball at Somasundaram Ground
Like most T Nagar cricketers of the 1980s, S Suresh, who resided in Coats Road, began his cricket at the Somasundaram ground playing tennis ball ‘test cricket’ for ‘YSCA’ Gurumurthy’s team. A good chunk of his free time was spent playing street cricket with his neighbour S Sikandar. Like most other cricketing teenagers of the time, he played all kinds of matches – tennis ball, blue star, school cricket and the TNCA league.

M.S. Gurumurthy, who took the teenaged Suresh on cricket tours and also included the 15 year old in his fourth division league team Eccentrics as a wicket keeper batsman, was the one who provided the early cricketing platform for Suresh. He remembers Suresh from those early days “He was such a nice boy, very obedient and sincere. When he spoke, he uttered words in a tone that was always sweet. His family was not particularly fond of him playing cricket all the time and wanted a shift in focus to academics.”
For a cricketer who was to go on to captain the TN Ranji team, he did not feature in any of the age group teams (U15/U17/U22) for the state. In fact, his cricket went largely unnoticed till he was out of his teens.

This writer played a full year alongside Suresh in 1990, a season when he struck his first half centuries in the TNCA league. He was the quiet boy in the team and rarely spoke on or off the field. In the first match of the season, opening the batting with just one over to play before lunch, he struck a six of the first ball and ended the over with another boundary. It indicated very early on his fearless instincts. 

Initiation into bowling
He moved from RKM to Guru Nanak school for his Class XI and XII where he played under the captaincy of current BCCI Umpire R Rajesh Kannan ( who remembers initiating him into bowling “We had only four bowlers in our school team. I asked him to play the role of the 5th bowler through that year and that is how he moved from a wicket keeper to a medium pace bowler”.

‘Sweety’ - Forging a lifelong friendship
It was only when he joined Guru Nanak college did he begin to really work seriously on his game.Moved by the sweetness in his character he was called out for as ‘Sweety’ by his captain DJ Gokulakrishnan ( The name struck a chord with the cricketing fraternity and has stood with him for the next three decades (very few cricketers now know him by his original name!!). It was during this period that he forged a lifelong friendship with Gokulakrishnan and sought his advice at important moments in his career. 
Rs.500 per match in second division
While at College, he was roped in by Chemplast’s future MD Vijay, son of N Sankar (, for the second division team Kohinoor that he was managing in that phase. Suresh was taken aback when he was told that he would be paid Rs. 500 per match after signing up for Kohinoor. Initially, he refused to accept that payment for he thought he was playing for the love of the game. It was then that he understood the concept of ‘professional fee’ to play the game and considers it his first big moment in cricket "It was a ‘big deal’ for a college cricketer to be paid a 'match fee' in lower division cricket.

Broken Nose
He continued to be a bits and pieces player in the 2nd division as well as at college without making any major contribution. Kohinoor securing promotion that year paved the way for Suresh to make his debut in the first division in 1993, one that was marked by a nasty injury when he was struck on the nose while batting. 
It was Vijay Sankar who took Suresh to Plastic Surgeon Dr. Nirmala Subramaniam to perform the surgery on him (a year earlier, Vijay had stood by S Sharath when he met with a serious road accident). 

Vijay, who remembers Suresh as a ‘well behaved’ boy and a ‘nice fellow’, recalls his batting style from those two years at Kohinoor “He was very good against the fast bowlers and would bat confidently against the new ball but once the spinners came on, his stroke play was limited. Watching him bat years later against spinners, I found a ‘night and day’ change in his approach. He must have worked really hard to have adapted so well to the spinners later on.”

The First Interaction with VBC
It was in 1994 that he caught the eye of VB Chandrasekar while batting in a practice game for Guru Nanak College against India Cements that had taken up the college ground. Between 1994/95 and 2003/04, Suresh had five major interactions with VBC, at his home on Desikachari Road in Mylapore. The first of these, in the summer of 1994, was soon after his first year in first division with Kohinoor. While Suresh was set to be registered for Sridhar CC, a team run by India Cements, VBC ( ‘announced’ to him that he would be playing for Vijay CC ( the 2nd of India Cements’ team) that had just been promoted to first division. Vijay CC was to be the ‘A’ team of India Cements that year and VBC asking him to sign up for that team made Suresh apprehensive of figuring in a star studded batting line up. In his ‘sweet’ way, he pleaded with VBC to sign up for ‘B’ team Sridhar CC but as was to happen in each of his subsequent meetings, VBC always had his way. 
Through the 1990s, Gokulakrishnan was the go to man for Suresh whenever he was in a dilemma. Soon after VBC’s announcement, he went that late evening to Gokulakrishnan’s house to express his predicament. It was based on Gokulakrishnan’s advice that Suresh signed up for Vijay CC. 

An unlikely Corporate Job
When Kohinoor was relegated back into the second division, Suresh was called in by IOB’s dashing opener S. Sivakumar for a job at the bank. Suresh had a family shop on Pondy Bazaar road and the family’s plan was for him to run the shop. They had not liked him pursuing cricket in his teenage years and were keen for him to manage the family business.
Hence when a job offer came from IOB, he was not particularly interested. However, when VBC directed him to take up the employment at India Cements citing opportunities to play in limited over tourneys that were open only for employees (The Hindu Trophy and the like), Suresh, in addition to signing up in the league for Vijay CC, quite reluctantly took up employment with India Cements, marking the beginning of a long association with them that has now lasted over 25years.

With VBC banned for two matches at the start of the season, Suresh opened the batting only to fail on both the occasions. When VBC came back, Suresh original apprehensions came true and he had to sit out the next four matches. An unexpected opportunity came his way in the 7th match of the season and he grabbed it with both hands. It was to be the turning point in his first division career. Karunamurthy non availability opened the doors for Suresh and answered with a classy 65 opening the batting. 

In those first two years at India Cements, he turned around his approach against spinners "While the official nets would start at 3pm, I came an hour ahead and batted against P Rajesh's off spin. That is how I improved my skills against spin", he recalls on the long hours spent at the nets specifically on his reportoire of strokes against the spinners.

In 1996-97, he scored three hundreds in the KSCA trophy in Bangalore against big named national teams. He considers the century against Javagal Srinath on a challenging wicket in that tourney as his best knock in cricket. In the Arlem Trophy in Goa, he picked up four wickets including WV Raman and M Senthilnathan and scored a half century in the chase. He followed that with another good knock against Chemplast. Having been apprehensive at the start of his India Cements career, match winning all round performances in these one day tournaments gave him the confidence and he never looked back for India Cements after that. 
The 2nd Big Moment with VBC – To Goa for his Ranji debut
Following his stellar role in these tournaments, VBC called him home for the 2nd big cricketing ‘announcement’ (VBC took all his big decisions on the Verandah of his house!!!). In that meeting, he asked Suresh to join him in Goa for the Ranji season ( VB had moved to Goa the previous year taking along with him J Gokulakrishnan). It was a completely unexpected call and for the second time running, Suresh expressed his apprehension at him matching up to Ranji Standards. VBC once again instilled the confidence in him of his ‘hidden’ abilities and made the decision for Suresh and he made his way to Panjim along with Gokulakrishnan, who had already played a year for Goa the previous season. 

Highest Rungetter for Goa
He considers his engagement with VBC as being transformational in his life “It was a great experience to open with VB. To watch him captain on the field was a great learning- his thought process, the bowling changes, the field setting for different batsmen. His guidance in that phase was transformational. He brought the best out of me and helped me play to my potential.”

In his debut season in Ranji Trophy cricket, Suresh emerged the highest run getter for Goa, quite a creditable achievement for someone who had least expected to play Ranji cricket. His first big contribution in Ranji Trophy came against Andhra when he picked up 6wickets in the match and helped his team chase down a target with an unbeaten 80. But he rates the half century and a century (carrying the bat) against Tamil Nadu in a losing cause as the most satisfying performance of the year.

Topping the batting charts in a low year in Ranji for Goa was personally satisfying for Suresh as was the three successive half centuries in the one day tourney but his cricketing life witnessed another unexpected turn, this time for the worse with him having to lose a year of Ranji cricket. VBC, in yet another of his battles, fell out of favour with the Goan authorities and decided to head back to Madras bringing to end his first class career. Unfortunately, he also brought along the two youngsters, Gokulakrishnan and Suresh, back with him.

TNCA introduces a sudden Cool Off Period!!!
When they returned, much to their shock, the TA Sekar ( led Selection committee along with the TNCA decided on a one year cooling off period for those who played for another state the previous year and thus both of them had to sit out the entire year (interestingly, when MRF’s Ashish Kapoor came back the next year after his outing with Punjab, the same TA Sekar led panel and the TNCA revoked the one year cooling off and Aashish Kapoor played for TN immediately). After having enjoyed a successful debut season, it was a harsh home coming for Suresh and his first introduction to the wagaries of the TNCA. For the next 3years, Suresh remained on the fringe and continued to play only the odd game for TN.

From Obscurity to The TN Captaincy
In the summer of 2000, VBC announced the decision to hand him the captaincy of the India Cements team. There were other star performers in the team but VBC saw a captaincy spark in Suresh and appointed him as the captain for the year. India Cements won one day tournaments under him including the KSCA for the first time after many years. Soon after, he was made the captain of the TNCA XI for the Buchi Babu tourney and the team won that as well with Suresh scoring a century in each innings in the Semi Final.
As the Chairman of Selectors, VBC handed to him the biggest news of his life. He ‘announced’ to him that he was suggesting his name as the captain of the TN team that year. TN was a star studded batting lineup at that time with three international players (Sriram, Ramesh and Badani) and Sharath, who has amassed runs for TN over the previous decade. While TN had had a mixed decade in the 1990s reaching the finals only twice and Captaincy had not been a strong point in the state with several captains have experienced the hot seat, Suresh himself had not been a regular in the team since his debut for Goa and had played only 3 Ranji Matches for TN in the previous 4 years. 

Suresh remembers that meeting at VBC’s home in Mylapore “I clearly told him that I did not want the job as there were bigger stars in the team but with him it was always a one way monologue. He had made up his mind and no one could reject his call. He reasoned out that others were not even captaining their league teams regularly and were also likely to be away on international duty that season.”
The news sent shock waves in the TN cricketing fraternity. TN middle order batsman from the 1980s PC Prakash was part of that Selection Committee and explains the thought process behind the decision “We needed a strong captain to bring the team together and handle big names. Sweety was a selfless cricketer and always placed the team interest ahead of him. He was non controversial as well. We thought he would fit that role well. Also, the fact that VBC had made him the captain of the India Cements team earlier and worked with him closely meant there was a comfort factor for him as the Chariman.”

While Suresh was not a regular member of the team in previous years, the fact that he was made the captain for 2002-03 meant a batting spot had been taken up. Gokulakrishnan’s brother was a casualty that year. In successive seasons in 2000-01 and 01-02, JR Madanagopal ( was Tamil Nadu’s highest run scorer in one day cricket and performed well in Ranji Trophy in the limited opportunities that he got. In both the years, he was among the top 6 in the country in domestic one day cricket in India out beating most of the reputed names in the state. And yet he was not picked for the  entire one day league phase in 2002/03.
A 'Players Revolt' in the offing
After TN’s narrow first innings lead against Baroda in the season opener (thanks to the late half century partnership between Sharath and Gokulakrishnan), the team just about survived in its 2nd match against UP with the last pair batting out a tense last 15minutes on the final evening (it was a year when the zonal format was discarded in the Ranji Trophy).

After the shaky start to the season and with Suresh not performing with the bat, there was an upheaval with the stars in the team unhappy with the new captain. To complicate things further, the coach of the team (B Arun, then of Chemplast) did not see eye to eye with Chairman VBC. Back room meetings were being organised to remove him from the captaincy. Suresh remembers this as a very challenging phase in his life and he just about hung in there “I did not want the captaincy fearing exactly this and it happened sooner than expected. There was a huge pressure on me to perform both as a batsman as well as to get the team to perform. There was also pressure building up on VB for it was he who backed me as a captain. Luckily, we had a break for the one-dayers after the first two Ranji matches and that was the turning point in the season and we never looked back after that.”

TN fared exceedingly well in the shorter format and qualified for the nationals. Suresh himself scored 82 against a strong Karnataka side comprising Kumble and Prasad.  With the  win in the all India One dayers under his belt and the confidence of a tournament victory behind him, Suresh hit a bit of personal form with the bat in the Ranji scoring two half centuries and a century following the resumption of the season. Overall, he scored close to 450runs in a season. 

His refreshing memories of that year was the performance of L Balaji “When your new ball bowler takes that many number of five wicket hauls in a single season, the team will obviously get a boost. Balaji played a big role in our reaching the final.”

Looking back, he sees that final as one of the best opportunities for TN to win the Ranji once again “After having bowled out Bombay cheap, we were batting really well but just one bad session cost us the opportunity of a big first innings lead. We should have sealed the match in the first innings.”

Un‘Sweet’ Decisions
The year itself was not without selection controversies. In one of the matches, there was a discord between the Chairman of Selectors and the Coach on the selection of the XI with Suresh caught in the middle of the tangle. With the Umpires and the opposition captain waiting for the toss, the composition was still being finalised. It was probably the only time in his career that the 'Sweetness went out of Suresh' as he made his way into the ground with 10 players written in the list and wrote the 11th player just near the toss area.

In the course of the year, he also had to do the unthinkable of dropping Gokulakrishnan, his college captain and his closest friend of over a decade, more than once. He calls it as the toughest decision of his cricketing career.

By the time the next season arrived, coach Arun was keen on bringing in youngsters into the team and the seniors were being eased out. In the Buchi Babu, he was relegated to the captaincy of TNCA Presidents XI but Suresh led that team to victory as well.  With the new model for the season the pressure of ‘stars’ around him eased a bit for Suresh in the 2003/04 Ranji tourney. The team performed well once again as a unit under Suresh and the team once again reached the final but was soundly thrashed by Bombay. After the morale boosting tournament win the previous year, TN slid in the national one day championship after topping the zone.

Two Successful Years but loses Captaincy!!!
It had been two glorious and unprecedented years – two successive Ranji finals and one national one day tourney win and a Zonal One day win - for TN under Suresh. But his personal batting form dropped drastically in the 2nd season in Ranji where he managed only 300runs in 15innings, though he performed well in the one dayers, once again. Despite TN reaching two successive Ranji finals, he was dropped from the captaincy for the coming season. PC Prakash justifies that decision of the selection committee “Our appointment, in 2002, of Suresh was vindicated by TN reaching the Ranji finals twice in a row. At the end of the 2nd year, we felt that the captaincy was affecting his batting. We wanted him to focus on his batting and bowling.”

In a cricketing engagement that lasted exactly a decade having started in the summer of 1994, it had all been positive news thus far. For the first time, that summer of 2004, VBC called him home to hand him news that did not sound sweet "He told me that the team was moving on, I was being removed from Captaincy and that I would have to earn my place in the squad. When I said Okay, he was stunned and asked if I did not want to know the reason. I said No!!!” 

That is how Suresh has been all his life. He has easily absorbed the highs and lows taking everything in his stride without too much excitement or depression. Questions will forever be asked if his captaincy was the differentiator those two years that led to TN’s success.

Peter Roebuck ( in his book writes on Brian Rose’s captaincy for Somerset contributing to the team’s success that year “Captaincy is not as straightforward an occupation as it seems. He had to keep the side together (for months) while surviving the inevitable setbacks, insecurities and differences and still performing upon the field, for a struggling captain swiftly loses his authority.”
   Peter Roebuck - The ABC Commentary Team in Madras - 2001

Suresh was caught in the same scenario when he took over as captain but in the same way as Rose did for Somerset in 1979, Suresh managed to take TN all the way through, winning the national one day tourney before falling in the final hurdle in the Ranji (Somerset too won the one day tourney that year). It was an incredible achievement for this quiet cricketer who at the beginning of the season may not have had his place, secure, in the team. Under his captaincy, the fortunes of TN were certainly turned around after a barren run in the years preceding. 

Suresh himself looks back at those two years as the most challenging as well as the most exciting days of his cricket career “Both years presented different sets of challenges to me. While the first year was challenging because of the presence of a lot of seniors, the second one had several newcomers in the team. It was a period when my relationship with the closest of friends was strained. It was a delicate situation for me and I was not really used to being in those situations, previously. But I became tougher and stronger, mentally.  Also, I became a bit more of an extrovert in that phase.”

Gurumurthy is delighted that his ward has not changed one bit from the tennis ball days of the 1980s “His perseverance helped him reach the top in Tamil Nadu. Well over three decades after he first played for me, his conduct still remains the same – truly top class. It is the strength of the personality that has really stood out with him. He has not forgotten those early cricketing days and still talks to me in the same sweet way he did as a young RKM school boy. ”

Most who have interacted with him over the last 30 years would endorse that view of Gurumurthy.

Suresh played the last three years of his Ranji cricket as professional for Kerala (two years with S Ramesh) and Assam (a year with Sharath and Ramesh) before hanging his boots. (

As a teenager, Suresh’s thoughts were on playing cricket for the love of the game and to take care of the family shop. Playing Ranji cricket was not something he had set his eyes on. But once he came under the influence of VB Chandrasekar, his life took a transformative turn. Cricket became not just an integral part of everyday life but also a very successful one. He played over 40 first class matches and achieved what no other TN captain of his generation has – that of leading the state to two successive finals and the One Day victory. More importantly, he has come through unscathed in cricket over a long three decades association.

On top of all these, the one personality trait that has stood out shining all through his life has been that Somasetty Suresh has remained grounded amidst all the cricketing success that saw him rise to the State Captaincy, a Coach and State Selector, a BCCI Match Referee, and now the Chairman of Cricket Advisory Committee of the TNCA (appointed on Nov 22, 24 hours after this story was put out).

Suresh will forever be the 'Sweetest' TN Captain.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Ahobilam Temple Restoration

Venu Srinivasan has shifted his focus North of Tamil Nadu to Ahobilam to carry out a ‘Srirangam’ style extensive restoration of the Thiru Mangai Azhvaar Praised Divya Desam
In the last 50 years, new and unwanted constructions had come up within the temple complex and many historical structures were seen in a dilapidated state
Earlier this decade, in a matter of 18 months, Venu Srinivasan under the direction of the then CM of TN J Jayalalitha undertook what was to be a once in a century restoration of the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam( It was transformational because in the 75 years preceding the renovation, almost every single sannidhi in the temple had seen unwanted additional construction that took away ventilation and made every Sannidhi dark and congested. Most of the Sannidhis remained shut. The restoration exercise saw every single such new construction being brought down and the sannidhis brought back to its historical glory in terms of architectural beauty. Today, every Sannidhi is open each day of the year.

Last year, this section had pointed out the drastic reduction in  restoration exercises ( in recent years in TN, following the intervention of the court. Several hundreds of temples in the state, including remote ones, have been waiting for approvals from the court appointed committees but those have been easily forthcoming. Many temples have, much to their dismay, found devotee donors going away elsewhere with the contributions.

Venu Srinivasan himself has a couple of big restorations pending in his list in Tamil Nadu, those have been on hold for quite sometime now. For the moment, he has moved North of the state, to Ahobilam Divya Desam,  located just over 100kms North West of Cuddapah. With the lifting of the lockdown restrictions, he has just begun a large scale restoration initiated there for the first time in almost 50 years under the blessings of the Jeer of the over 600 years old Ahobilam Mutt.The scenario at Ahobilam was no different from what the one that existed in Srirangam prior to the commencement of the activities. Since the last large scale repairs work organised in 1974, there has been extensive additional construction within and outside the temple complex in lower and upper Ahobilam.                

It was the Ahobila Narasimha cave temple in Upper Ahobilam (about 8kms from Lower Ahobilam) at the foot of Garudathri about 3000feet above sea level that Thirumangai Azhvaar visited and sung praise referring to this location in his verses as Singavel Kundram. The difficulty of visiting Singavel Kundram can be seen from this verse of Thirumangai where he says that it is almost impossible to reach this temple as this is a rocky terrain with constant forest fires and the presence of bow wielding hunters.

முனைத்த சீற்றம் வின்சுடப்போய் 
மூவுலகும் பிறவும்
அனைத்தும் அஞ்ச ஆள் அரி ஆய் 
இருந்த அம்மானது இடம்
கனைத்த தீயும் கல்லும் அல்லா
வில் உடைய வேடரும் ஆய்
தினைத்தனையும் செல்ல ஒண்ணாச்
சிங்கவேழ் குன்றமே

Ahobila Narasimha is seen in an Ugra Posture with Prahalada standing opposite to him. The Utsava deity of Ahobila Narasimha Divya Desam is seen at the Lakshmi Narasimha Prahalada Varadan temple at Lower Ahobilam. 

12/24/36 Pillar Mandapams – Restoration
Within three months of beginning the restoration exercise, there has been a sea change at this Divya Desam. Just ahead of the lockdown, the 24pillar mandapam at the entrance arch was seen with huge amount of debris with the structure having gone down. After removal of the debris and work around the structure, the mandapam has been brought back to its historical best.
Worse was the state of the 12 Pillar Mandapam. Rubbles surrounded the Mandapam that was seen in an unattended state. A good portion of the mandapam had sunk below the earth. After the first phase of work as one sees it in Karthigai, it is almost unrecognizable. 

The 36 Pillar Mandapam and the Sasana Mandapam are no different. The bottom part of the Mandapams has not been visible with huge quantity of mud and debris that had collected over several decades. In fact, those visiting the divya desam in recent times would not have been aware of the historical nature of this architecture. The work is now under progress to reflect the foundation of the mandapams in its historical beauty. While the base of the Sasana Mandapam had gone below, the flooring and roofing were in dilapidated conditions. Stones were seen in broken condition and these have been replaced. A new weathering course has been initiated on the roof of the Mandapam. 

Deterioration over 50 years
To get a feel of how the Divya Desam had deteriorated in terms of its architecture, one only had to visit the Ramanuja Sannidhi in Ahobilam. There was a thick growth of shrubs, the sannidhi had gone beneath, the path leading to the Sannidhi was strewn with rough stones and the sannidhi complex itself provided a forlorn look. Subsequent to the activities undertaken over the last three months the Ramanuja Sannidhi and around stand transformed. Even as one looks at it from a distance, one can feel the historical nature of the Sannidhi.
Before and Now - The Transformation

Dilapidated Theppakulam Mandapam/Pavement
The pavement around the Theppakulam pointed to the dilapidated state of various zones at the temple complex. The west entrance had remained shut for a long time, the south side was full of shrubs and the west mandapam was in a dilapidated condition. Repair works around the Theppakulam over the last quarter has reopened this entrance and provided a facelift to the entire zone. There is beautiful greenery on the South side reminding one of similar restoration near the 1000 pillared mandapam in Srirangam.
Theppakulam - the old pillars earlier and the restored pathway, now
9 Forms of Narasimha
Narasimha is said to exist in one of the nine forms- Ugra, Veera, Jwala, Sarvamukham, Nrisimha, Bisanam, Bhadram, Mrityu and as Vishnu (Lakshmi Narasimha). It is only here at Singavel Kundram that one is able to see him in all the nine forms in a single location. As there are nine Narasimhas here, this place is also referred to as Nava Narasimha Kshetram. As Garuda undertook penance at the mountain here, this is called Garudachalam.  Every month on Swathi, there is a special Abhishekam for all the nine Narasimhas.

Dwajarohana Mandapam - Debris and Buried
Another zone in the temple complex that exposed the deterioration over the last half a century was the Dwajarohana Mandapam. This too like the above mandapams had submerged and gone below. With the removal of the mud that had built up near the mandapam, this too has been restored and original stone structure around the Mandapam is now clearly visible.
Submerged under mounds of mud - And Now

Cashing in on devotees’ prasadam craze
The Laddu Counter, and this is typical of most of the historical temples, is a prime example of how new constructions have come up inside temple complexes of late, to cash in on the popularity of the ‘prasadam’. The new construction is being dismantled and a traditional open stall is being set up.

Huge complexes relating to Anna Dhanam sheds, the provisions storage and the devotee toilets had all been built within the temple complex. These are being shifted outside of the prakaram into more acceptable zones.
                             Laddu Stall and Anna Dhanam Shed - New Accretions

In the first prakaram, new flooring had meant that historical epic carvings lay hidden and unseen. The Flooring has been restored and the entire stone carving that date back several centuries are now clearly visible to the devotees. In the second prakaram, a stone mandapam lay completely hidden with big sized new constructed that had converted it into rooms and offices. These additional constructions have been brought down and the mandapam restored to its historical grandeur.

White and Red Paints on the Mathil
Another common feature seen in almost all the historical temples in the last few decades has been the painting of the ‘Mathil’. Across the entire temple complex, the new styled paintings have been removed and the temple walls now have the historical look to it.

The Vahanam and Alankara Mandapams are also being restored. As with many of the temples, the madapalli is often a discarded area with new modern innovations. The current exercise also involves restoring the madapalli. In all the mandapams, roof leakage is being arrested by using traditional weathering course and pressed tiles. New  electrical facilities will be installed in the entire premises. In addition to these, rain water harvesting systems will be introduced around the temple complex.

Upper Ahobilam
Vishnu took the form of Narasimha (half man-half lion) in this mountainous terrain to kill Asura Hiranyakashipu. The pillar – Ugra Stambha- out of which Vishnu came out in his Narasimha Avataar is seen at the top of the Nalla Malai forest, about 7kms above the Upper Ahobila Divya Desam.
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar begins by praising Narasimha's physical strength and his special appearance in a half man-half lion posture and tearing Asura Hiranya’s chest while the world looked awe struck at his power and ability to destroy the Asura.
அம் கண் ஞாலம் அஞ்ச அங்கு ஓர் ஆள் அரி ஆய் 
அவுணன் பொங்க ஆகம் வள் உகிரால்
போழ்ந்த புனிதன் இடம்

பைங்கண் ஆனைக் கொம்பு கொண்டு பத்திமையால்
அடிக்கீழ்ச் செங்கண் ஆளி இட்டு இறைஞ்சும்
சிங்கவேழ் குன்றமே

It is one of the most exhilarating experiences to make the trip across rocks and water falls to reach the top of this mountain. While it is not an easy task, especially as there is no straight path or steps (unlike a Sholingur), a sincere devotee whose thoughts center around the Lord will be able to make it to the top of this mountain in about 2hours from Ahobila Narasimha temple.
Red Blood of Lord Narasimha
2kms below the Ugra Stambha and 5kms above Ahobila Narasimha Divya Desam is the Jwala Narasimha temple, the exact place where Narasimha tore open Hiranyakashipu. This temple is in a very scenic location, mountains on all sides, with the water fall just about 50yards away. To this day, one can see the red blood below the rock signifying the Hiranya Samharam. At the Jwala Narasimha Sannidhi, one finds Lord Narasimha in the middle in a fiery sitting posture here with 8hands. With a couple of hands, he is seen tearing open Hiranyakashipu and with another two, he is seen holding the Conch and Chakra. 

The developments at Upper Ahobilam is no different to the one below. New additions, Polished granite flooring, shutting out of light and ventilation in most mandapams with the construction of closed walls all around. As with Lower Ahobilam, there too the ‘accruals’ of recent decades have been removed, the polished floors replaced with traditional stones and all the mandapams restored to what it once were.

Festivals 220days a year
There are several inscriptions inside both the Lower and Upper Ahobilam temples. 14th Century inscription records the construction of the steps at the Upper Ahobilam (Divya Desam) temple. A 15th century inscription reveals the gifting of the village (Kaluvacheru- Komaragiripuram) by Karama Reddi for the conduct of the daily rituals and worship at the Divya Desam. A mid 16th century inscription reveals the contributions made by Vijayanagar kings. Kakatiya kings also contributed to the improvement of the temple and the mandapas. Inscriptions relating to the 16th century provide insights into the building of mandapam, Garuda Stambha and festivals on 220 days in the year. Another interesting inscription refers to ‘Thaligai’ to be presented to the Lord twice a day- once at noon and the other in the evening at the Lower Ahobilam temple. Krishna Deva Raya, who sought the blessings of Ahobila Narasimha before going for a battle, came back after having won the battle and installed the Vijaya Stambha in front of the temple here.

Every year, a 12day Brahmotsavam is celebrated in a grand way in Panguni.
While in every large scale restoration exercise including Nava Tirupathi and Srirangam, there has been an initial apprehension and resistance, Venu Srinivasan has found a lot more openness in temples in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The appreciation of the months of  hard work in restoring the nine Narasimha temples in Ahobilam to historical glory has found resonance in the people there. And that for the moment is motivating enough for him to carry on  such large scale restoration work well past the 25th year (

This section will track further the restoration developments at Ahobilam over the next few months.