Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Othuvar Gnana Sambandhar passes away aged 84

Aasthana Othuvar of Dharmapuram Aathenam
Thiru Gnana Sambandar Othuvar presented the Thevaram Verses at the historical Sattanathan Temple in Sirkazhi for over Five Decades
He refused a lucrative offer from the Annamalai University preferring to serve at the feet of Lord Sattanathan
Till a few years ago, he continued to perform at the annual 'Gnana Paal' Utsavam in Chitrai at Osai Nayaki Thaala Pureeswarar Temple
Othuvar Thiru Gnana Sambandhar, who served at the Dharumapuram Aatheenam administered Thiru Gnana Sambandhar praised Sattanathan temple in Sirkazhi for over five decades, passed away on Tuesday evening on the lap of his son Othuvar Kathiresan. Gnana Sambandar Othuvar was 84. He had last presented the sacred verses at Kachineri Saraikadu ( Thiru Kaalimedu), the Paadal Petral Sthalam in Kanchipuram on the occasion of his 83rd birthday last year. 

Passes away on his son's lap
His health had deteriorated over the last three years. Othuvar Gnana Sambandar had a bout of cold for the last four days following heavy rain in Kanchipuram and he did not recover from the cold. “He died on my lap with me holding him with my hand. It was a quiet and peaceful end. Over the last three years, he has been a child to me. I used to bathe him and feed him every day” his Othuvar son Kathiresan told this writer from Kanchipuram. “All the leading Mutts and temples sent prasadam in honour of his great contribution over the last six decades.”

Born in Thiruvayaru in 1937, Thiru Gnana Sambandhar Othuvar, like Muthu Kandha Desikar Othuvar, was initiated into the sacred verses by Velayutha Othuvar. After completion of his education, he spent a few months at the Thirubhuvanam temple, following which he had the privilege as a young teenager of presenting at the Sattanathan temple where Thiru Gnana Sambandar sang his first verse. And there was no looking back. For the next five decades, he was devotionally attached to this historic temple located at the birth place of Thiru Gnana Sambandar presenting the Pancha Puranam verses during the Saayi Rakshai and Artha Jaama pooja each day. He also was bestowed with the responsibility of presenting Thirumurai on special festive occasions.

He was the Asthana Othuvar of Dharmapuram Aatheenam.

Meagre Salary throughout his life
He started off with a monthly of Rs. 18 way back in the early 1950s and ended up with a meager Rs. 380 when he resigned from the post over 50 years later. In addition he was also given a bag of Paddy. 

When the famous devotional singer Sirkazhi Govindarajan was the Dean of Annamalai University, he was keen to rope in Gnana Sambandar Othuvar as a Professor at the popular music department. He would have received a starting monthly salary of Rs. 18000 from the few hundred rupees he was getting at that time, and yet he was unwilling to move away from serving the Lord at the Sirkazhi temple. Much later, at the beginning of this century, he served as a faculty at the Music School started in Sirkazhi close to the temple.
Presentation Overseas
He has sung in almost all the leading Saivite temples in India and Overseas as well, in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia. For decades, he was one of the most preferred Othuvars to participate and present the sacred verses during the Kumbabhishekam festivities in large temples such as the ones in Tiruchendur, Palani, Thiruvannamalai and Swami Malai.  

In 2017, despite finding it difficult to stay on his feet, he gathered the devotional strength to participate and present the Thevaram verses at the Kumbhabhishekam in Pillayarpatti.  Another indication of his devotional commitment was when he presented the significance of the sacred verses at the All India Saiva Siddhantha Conference held in Chennai in February 2018 with two people carrying him up on to the stage.

Till his late 70s, he continued to perform at the annual 'Gnana Paal' Utsavam in Chitrai at Osai Nayaki Thaala Pureeswarar Temple when Lord Sattanathan visits the Osai Nayaki Temple for the Thiru Gnana Sambandar Gnana Paal utsavam (

Devotionally attached to Sirkazhi Sattanathan Temple
For his selfless service at the Sirkazhi temple, he has received prestigious awards from four different Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu. His income through his five decades long service was just sufficient to take care of the family but even the financial challenges in life was not enough to lure him to more lucrative offers “The greatest happiness to me has been of having had the opportunity to present before the Lord at the ancient Sattanathan temple in Sirkazhi for over 50 years and to have been part of the renowned Dharumapuram Aatheenam for such a long period of time.  No amount of money can equal the satisfaction of singing at the same place where the great Saivite Saint Poet Thiru Gnana Sambandar sang his first song”, he told this writer at his home in Kanchipuram in 2018.

His son the 49 year old Othuvar Kathiresan is continuing the Othuvar tradition and is currently the Othuvar at the Sundarar praised Anega Thangaavatham temple near Kailasanathar temple in Kanchipuram. 

Therazhundur Vedapureeswarar Raja Mohana Shivam Gurukal

The Saivite Saint Poets Praised Veda Pureeswarar Temple in Therazhundur has not seen a Kumbabhisekam in 22 years, the Tank is in a Dilapidated State, there are no Vastrams for the Deities, No Oil to light the Lamp 
For over a decade, the now 37 year old Raja Mohana Shivam Gurukal has been serving at a three digit salary and is hoping that the Kumbabhisekam and the revival of the Brahmotsavam will turnaround his fortunes
While Vasan Bhattar fashioned a remarkable turnaround at the West End of Therazhundur at the Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praised Aamaruviappan Divya Desam, things have not been rosy at the three Saivite Saint Poets praised Veda Pureeswarar Temple at the East end of this historical temple town with the Paadal Petra Sthalam being in a state that the Perumal temple was two decades ago.

Sundarar in his praise of Veda Pureeswarar refers to the Lord as the ‘Ruler of Azhundur’
காட்டூர் கடலே கடம்பூர் 
மலையே காணப் பேரூராய் 
கோட்டூர் கொழுந்தே அழுந்தூர் அரசே

With the two temples exactly facing each other, one at the West End and the other at the East End, even Thiru Gnana Sambandhar was stumped when he reached here.  It is believed that it was Lord Vinayaka at the Chariot junction of the two temples who directed him East to the 5 Tier Raja Gopuram and the Saivite temple where he then composed 10 verses in praise of the West Facing Lord Veda Pureeswarar.

If Devathirajan temple witnessed the biggest renovation exercise in a century and a Samprokshanam in 2010, the Veda Pureeswarar has been languishing on this front for the last seven years. Balalayam was performed in 2014 but since then with the high court ruling on renovations in temples combined with many other factors has meant that the repair works have not yet started. Balalayam has also resulted in the processions coming to a halt. 

No Income, No Processions and a Priest @ Rs. 400 a month
No processional utsavams has led to devotee donors staying away from the temple causing severe financial damage to the life of Raja Mohana Shivam Gurukal who took over as the sole priest just over a decade ago. Having joined at a monthly salary of just over Rs. 400, he had hoped for the consecration to turn around the fortunes of the temple. But the delay has put a severe strain on his finances. Mohana Shivam Gurukal had hoped for the revival of the grand Brahmotsavam in Chitrai but soon after his taking over, the Balalayam put paid to Vahana processions around the streets of Therazhundur.

The Legend
Once when Shiva and Vishnu were involved in a game of dice, there arose a point of dispute and the two looked to Parvathi for the solution. She pointed to Vishnu as the winner evoking an angry response from her husband. Believing that she favoured her ‘Porantha Veedu’ and her brother Vishnu and that her mind was still inclined towards her house of birth, Shiva cursed her to turn to a cow. In anger, Shiva moved from a family life to a Sanyasin.
To try to liberate herself from the curse, she went around on a Giri Valam driven by cow herd Krishna to the nearby villages of Tholluthozhangudi, Moraiyur, Asukadu, Vazhuvur, Komal, Maanthai, Ilangarangdui, Mekshakaal Mangalam, Thiruvavuduthurai, Thiruthuruthi and Thiruverkudi.  Pleased with her sincerity, Shiva provided darshan and liberated her from the curse. She reminded him of his wedding promise never to leave her and to take care of her through their lives. There were a few Kshetrams in the neighbourhood where sins had been committed and it was through her presence there as Kamadhenu that liberated those sacred Kshetrams from the sins.

He provided the Artha Nareeswarar darshan to her at Thiru Manancheri where the Thiru Kalyana Vaibhavam was enacted on the Maasi Punarpoosam day.  It was on that day that the separated couple met once again along with Vishnu. To this day this event is enacted at Therazhundur every year, on the occasion of Maasi Punar Poosam, with Devathi Rajan from the West End and Veda Pureeswarar from the East End of Therazhundur making their way to the Chariot zone for a meeting that draws the Vaishnavites and Saivites alike. Unfortunately, shops have sprung up around the historical zone and as seen from the photo below, this bears no resemblance to the sacred zone that it once was.
Perumal Chariot Zone - West of Main Road
Veda Pureeswarar Temple Zone - East of Main Road

Sun's rays on the Lord at three different positions
On the 23rd, 24th and 25th day in Maasi, in a prayer invoking Vedapureeswarar’s blessings, the Sun God casts his rays on the Lord. On the first day through the gap on the 4th tier of the Rajagopuram, on the second day through the 3rd tier and on the third day through the 2nd Tier of the 5 Tiered Raja Gopuram on Lord’s feet. This unique occurrence is yet another feature at this temple.

Sage Agastya’s Brahmma Hathi Dosham is said to have been liberated here at this place. In a separate Sannidhi in the south of the temple, Mesha Dakshinamurthy is seen in a grand sitting posture flanked by Ganga Devi (seen Standing) and Sage Agasthya on the right.
Parikara Sthalam
This is believed to be a parikara sthalam for unmarried people. If they perform Palliyarai pooja on their star day, it is believed that their wedding bells will ring. This is also a parikara sthalam for separated couples. Belief is that those who present Goddess Soundarya Nayaki with Mahilam and Pavala Malli flowers after sunset and have a Palliyarai Sevai will re-unite within 90 days.
Appar in his praise refers to Therazhundur alongside several other historical temples

எச்சிலிளமரேம நல்லூரிலம் பையங்
கோட்டூரிறை யாஞ்சேரியசிருபாக்க மனப்பூரம் பராவுடு
தண் டுரை  யழுந்தூராரை கச்சினங் கற்குடி கச்சூரா
லக்கோயில் கரவீரங் காட்டுப்பள்ளி
கச்சிபல தளியுமேகம் பத்துங்
கயிலாய நாதணையே காணலாமே  - Appar’s Thiruthandagam
Dilapidated state - No Salary for the Gurukal
For a temple with such rich history and several inscriptions dating back to a 1000 years ago, the sole Gurukal is left to manage the entire temple including the Madaipalli. Raja Mohana Shivam Gurukal finds it difficult to even put together Vastrams for the deities at the temple. Oil required to light the lamp and for Abhisekams is in short supply. Once upon a time, there were multiple archakas, paricharakas and othuvars at this temple. And the musical instruments played out devotional tunes to the delight of Soundara Nayaki. The walls of the temple are in dilapidated state with ancient brick construction peeling off. There is a huge space for Nandavanam in the outer prakara but there aren’t people to take care.

A few hundred yards away from the Tower is the sacred tank where once Theppotsavam was conducted.  This is now in a dilapidated state with waste being dumped into the tank. 
                     Dilapidated Temple Tank

It is now 22 years since the last Kumbabhisekam was performed at the temple and the Western Raja Gopuram presents a faded picture. Raja Mohana Shivam Gurukal is keen to get the temple back to its old vibrancy and the revival of grandeur with Vahana Processions around the streets of Therazhundur during the annual utsavam. That may still be some time away. For the moment, he is in a helpless state.  
However, he is determined to not let go his devotional commitment though life is stressed. Every morning he is up at 4.30am and heads to the temple at 6am but his wait for the devotees has been long and elusive, more so in the time of the Pandemic. He performs pooja in nearby village temples and does ‘Vaideeha’ events for some additional income but his mind is devotionally attached to Veda Pureeswarar. He lights the lamp daily at all the sannidhis with the income he earns from his Vaideeha work, performs six abhisekams annually for Nataraja and the Pradosham Pooja. He also presents the Neivedyam to Veda Pureeswarar but there are no devotees to taste the prasadam. The message to him from his acharya when he was initiated with the Deekshai was to keep continuing his service irrespective of the financial condition. Raja Mohana Shivam Gurukal is just 37 but he has already had an experience of facing the biggest challenges in life. He seems to have unflinching faith in Veda Pureeswarar and Soundarya Nayaki believes that he is blessed to be able to offer his services in the sanctum every day of his life and that no amount of financial benefits would substitute this blessed state inside the sanctum.Vasan Bhattar ( has been his inspiration over the last decade and he is hoping that one day he too will be able to transform the Veda Pureeswarar temple into the vibrancy that the residents once experienced.

The Temple is open from 6.30am to 12noon and 4.30pm to 830pm. Raja Mohana Shivam Gurukal can be reached on 94864 57103

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Therazhundur Vasan Bhattar

Into the 1960s and 70s, almost all the Utsavams had stopped, the service personnel had left the temple, the salary to the priest remained unpaid for months, Chariot had broken down and the Mandapams were in a dilapidated state
From a time when the temple could not pay the monthly electricity bill, Vasan Bhattar has anchored the biggest Divya Desam Transformation in the Chozha Region at Therazhundur Aamaruviappan Temple in his over three decades of archaka service 
It is the second Saturday of Puratasi and 58year old Vasan Bhattar is up at the temple for an early Vishvaroopam following the lockdown restrictions. In the 3+ decades he has been at the temple, his devotion has peaked to such levels that even the temple cow listens to every word as the few devotees present for the Vishvaroopam find out. The cow does not cross her limit and only takes the next step after he gives the nod. He seems to be good in his communication to animals as well. On this Saturday morning, he even doubles up as the madapalli cook and presents the early morning Thaligai to Devathirajan. Every time, he presents this Thaligai to the Lord, he remembers the greatest piece of advice given to him in the 1980s when he took over at the temple (seen in the story below). Interestingly, a former corporate staffer from Madras and an original inhabitant of Therazhundur Sannidhi Street now spends half a month at this Divya Desam reciting the sacred verses of the Azhvaars and the Desikar Prabhandham. That has how influential Vasan Bhattar has been at Therazhundur.

Bleak Period at Therazhundur
In the schooling years in the 1960s and 70s, the scenario was so bleak at the Thirumangai Azhvaar praised Aamaruviappan Divya Desam in Therazhundur that Vasan Bhattar did not give himself any hope of serving in the Divya Desam where his father the legendary Kannan Bhattar had been performing for the previous several decades. The emergence of the new political culture in TN meant that traditionalists were being driven out in large numbers following the land ceiling act. The once vibrant Divya Desam turned sour. Original inhabitants sold their lands and houses in the long agraharam and went in search of greener pastures in the city paving the way for people from other religions to stamp their presence in large numbers in Therazhundur. A direct outcome of that is that now about 90% of the residents in the Sannidhi Street directly opposite the temple are from other religions. There was no electricity in the temple. There was no oil to light the lamp. Kannan Bhattar then in his 40s did not get his monthly income for several months. The paddy that was part of his remuneration was not handed out to him. It was with the rice that was part of archakas' daily rights that the family of six had their meal. For a large part of his childhood, his food comprised of just Kuzhambu rice and Dhadhyonam. Vegetables were not part of the everyday meal and he could lay a hand on it only on select days when a rare outstation devotee made his way to the temple.

In light of this background, Vasan Bhattar pursued academics graduating in commerce and then moving to Coimbatore to work in the accounts section in a firm there.

நீரில் பணைத்த நெடு வாளைக்கு
அஞ்சிப் போன குருகு இனங்கள்
ஆரல் கவுனோடு அருகு அணையும்
அணி ஆர் வயல் சூழ் அழுந்தூரே -The Glorious Times from the Past

At that time, in the early 1980s, it looked unlikely that he would return to this Divya Desam to perform service and to transform the Divya Desam into one of the best in the region. Two of his elder brothers too were away from Therazhundur- Gosakan as a professor in Pondicherry and another – Sri Raman Bhattar- performing service in Thiruchanoor. But as Vasan Bhattar found, God has his ways and directs the right person to perform service in ancient Divya Desams.

The Early 1980s - Corporate World in Coimbatore
Vasan Bhattar was earning a princely Rs. 3000 at Shimoga Steels, a firm in Coimbatore. And then one day in the mid 1980s, he received a postal letter from his appa Kannan Bhattar. In the letter, he found to his shock his father, citing reasons of his failing eye sight, directing him to quit the corporate job and return to Therazhundur to perform temple service at a time when there was no income from the temple. 

As was the way in those days, Vasan Bhattar quietly accepted his father’s direction and made his way to Therazhundur after having quit a three year old job that seemed to be offering a good career path for him. Rarely would anyone have seen Vasan Bhattar in an angry state but he was in one such in the mid 80s. His two brothers had reasonably settled down well outside of Therazhundur but here he was asked to stay put in a temple where utsavams had stopped, there was no income and no devotees. The Brahmotsavam had been stopped. The vahanas were in dilapidated state. There were no vessels for Thiru Aradhanam and Thaligai. The Chariot was in a dilapidated condition and Chariot procession, praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his Periya Thirumozhi verses, had stopped. 

சேடேறு பொழில் தவழும் எழில் கொள் வீதி 
திருவிழவில் மணி அணிந்த  திண்ணை தோறும் 
ஆடேறு மலர்க்குழலார் பயிலும் செல்வத்து 
அணி அழுந்தூர் நின்று உகந்த அமரர் கோவே 

No Utsavams, No Income, Unpaid Salary
Residents of Therazhundur carried liquor bottles and this was an everyday scene outside the temple complex. There was acute shortage of service personnel for street processions. Vasantha Mandapam, North of the Temple, had fallen down and that too lay in a dilapidated condition. The sacred tank, where the annual Theppotsavam took place soon after the Desikar Utsavam in Puratasi, resembled a play ground. Tennis ball cricket had become a regular feature inside the tank!!! Puratasi Saturdays were a wash out. It was a normal day for the archaka. Even on the Vaikunta Ekadasi day, there were just around 50devotees and the temple would close by 11am. 

He reached Therazhundur in almost a frustrated state, he found to his greater shock his father asking him to undergo a two year agama initiation under him ‘For two years, he did not allow me inside the sannidhi. From Rs. 3000/- my salary had come down to zero. My appa himself did not receive his monthly salary of Rs. 200 on time. Often he would wake me at midnight and ask me to recite the lessons of the day. I was in my 20s and did not know where my life was headed.’

After two years of the most disciplined initiation, Vasan Bhattar was asked to go and take the agama examination in Tirupathi. Only after he came through that did his appa allow him to enter the Sannidhi.

The Greatest Message of his Life
Before Vasan Bhattar could get permission to enter the Sannidhi for the first time to perform Thiru Aradhanam, he had to undergo another test. His appa asked revered Vidwans of the time Narasimhachariar, Varadachariar and Thambu Iyengar to put him through the toughest test to see if he would come through. It was only after they tested him ‘positive’ (a great certification in those days) that his appa gave the green signal for to become a full time archaka.

On the day he was to perform Thiru Aradhanam for the first time, Varadachariar and Thambu Iyengar came to him and presented him with the greatest message of his life that has now stayed with him for well over three decades “You are doing Thiru Aradhanam for the first time. There are 80crore people in the country, over 1lakh Vidwans and over 50 experts belonging to Therazhundur. Out of all of them, God has chosen you to touch him and perform Aradhanam and to eat the food presented by you. Remember that this is the greatest blessing you have received in life and be as sincere as possible in your service to the Lord.”

Over three decades later, Vasan Bhattar looks back at this piece of advice as the greatest of his life and says that he remembers this every time he enters the Sannidhi to perform service.

முந்தி வானம் மழை பொழியும்
மூவா உருவின் மறையாளர்
அந்தி மூன்றும் அலை ஓம்பும்
அணி ஆர் வீதி எழுந்தூரே

His salary had come down to almost nothing, there were not too many devotees to present Sambhavanai but there was the one thing that was bigger than everything else in life “it was the feeling that I was the blessed one to perform service in Thiru Mangai praised Divya Desam.”

Anchors Brahmotsavams in TN temples
Through the early 1990s, he was part of the set of archakas who performed Brahmotsavam service in many temples in the region. His first Brahmotsavam service was at the Ethakudi Temple near Mannargudi. For a ten day service (morning and evening), he was paid Rs. 300. During the decade, he performed lead roles in Brahmotsavams in Sholavandan, Neyveli, Thonur, Aadhi Rangam, Sembar Adi Palayam and Thiru Paadhiri Puliyur (Cuddalore). He became an Alankaram expert, Utsavam expert and began anchoring the Brahmotsavams in different temples.

In 1991, he married the daughter of Babu Deekshithar of Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy Temple at a time when he was earning next to nothing. The day after his wedding, he went to Thiru Cherai to perform utsavam service there. 
Even by the end of that decade, the salary did not top Rs. 300 per month. There even came a time when the Electricity Board of Thereazhundur cut off the power supply to the temple for nonpayment of the pending bills. But by then, Vasan Bhattar had settled down well and understood the greatness of Devathirajan and his powers.

Six Samprokshanams in one month!!!
His has been a life of continuous learning. He learnt the Temple Management inside out. At the start of the century, he began anchoring Samprokshanams in various temples in Tamil Nadu. His devotional endeavours led him to becoming the most sought after archaka in the Chozha region. Exactly a decade ago, his service had peaked to such a level that in one month he was asked to perform six Samprokshanams.

When he found severe shortage of service personnel to carry the Lord in big utsavams, Vasan Bhattar realised that very early in his service that it woudl be no longer possible to carry the Lord on the shoulders in remote Divya Desams and he ideated the concept of 'Pattarai' for the big street processions. And that's how its been for the last three deades at Therazhundur. 

Grooming the Next Gen of Archakas
While he set out to creating the biggest temple transformation in the region, he also began initiating the importance of temple service among the next Gen. It was under his leadership that Srikanthan Bhattar of Sirupuliyur, Venkatesh Bhattar of Thiru Cherai, Hari Sundar (his elder son) and many others emerged at a time when most of the next gen were headed the way of a life in the corporate world. They have been trained so well by Vasan Bhattar that they are regulars at events in Ayodhya, Ujjain, Bombay and even temples in Punjab!!!
     Hari Sundar/Srikanthan

No Service Personnel to employing 20 of them!!!
When he took over, there were no service personnel in the temple – almost everyone had turned their back on temple service and sought employment elsewhere. Today, residing in a remote Divya Desam where even today there is very limited public transport service (once upon a time there was a railway station in Therazhundur!!!!) he employs 20 service personnel at the Divya Desam.
Working at just over Rs.200 a month, Vasan Bhattar transformed a temple that in the not too distant past could not pay the monthly electricity bill. During the last three decades, the Brahmotsavam has been revived. The Chariot was rebuilt 15years ago and the Chariot procession is back as part of the annual utsavam. The Vasantha mandapam was rebuilt and Vasanthotsavam revived. The temple tank too has been restored and Puratasi Theppotsavam revived (one will take place just over a fortnight from now immediately after the Vedantha Desikar Utsavam). 

Every deity is now seen in glittering kavachams. A Golden chariot has been built for Thayar and the Friday procession inside the temple complex takes place on this chariot. His credibility had been built over two decades of extreme devotion that the restoration activities leading to the Samprokshanam in 2010 was undertaken at a cost of Rs. 2crores. He also anchored the samprokshanam at the Ranganatha and Govindaraja perumal sannidhis in Therazhundur last decade and gave both those temples a face lift. In his life time, he has anchored several hundreds of Samprokshanams, big and small.

Following the death of his appa a few years ago, Vasan Bhattar has handed the Samprokshanam baton to his son Hari Sundar and is now full time at the Devathi Rajan temple in Therazhundur. It was been a highly fulfilling over three decades of service at this historical Divya Desam for him. His monthly salary has doubled to just over Rs. 750 after 30+ years but he has proved that with devotional commitment, one can gain the confidence and trust of the devotees and create a positive change in the temple. He believes that financial returns will follow if one does service with sincerity at the feet of the Lord and it is with that faith he took charge of the temple well over three decades ago and it is with that same belief that he continues to perform aradhanam every morning at this Divya Desam.

While the current scenario presents a big worry for him with the next generation of archakas even disinclined to perform service even in Divya Desams, let alone in Purana Sthalams or Abhimana Sthalams, Therazhundur Divya Desam and many other temples where Vasan Bhattar has built a set of archakas over the last two decades is in safe hands. For now, any devotee visiting this Divya Desam can enjoy the devotional presentation of the archanai at the feet of Lord Devathi Rajan and experience a feeling that one is unlikely to get outside of the temple environs.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Thiru Velliyankudi Ramamoorthy Bhattar 25 years

25 years at this remote Divya Desam at a HR & CE salary of Rs. 24 per month!!!
Impressed with his service at Oppiliappan Koil, Krishnapremi 'Anna' roped him in 1996 to Senganoor and Thiru Velliyankudi
From a dilapidated state with no devotees and no aradhanam, the Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praised Kola Villi Rama Temple has seen two Samprokshanams and revival of utsavams with Brahmotsavam in the offing next year

It is just after 7am on the first Saturday in Puratasi in 2021. Ramamoorthy Bhattachar in his 25th year of service at Thiru Velliyankudi is performing an early morning Thirumanjanam at the Srinivasa Perumal temple in Senganoor. For the last 19years, the first Puratasi Saturday has been one of big celebrations at Thiru Velliyankudi Divya Desam with the villagers gathering at the temple for the Paal Kudam that they take from Thayar Sannidhi to the Anjaneya Sannidhi in front of the temple complex. This year too they have taken special permission to undertake this event. The villagers have gathered at the temple and are already preparing Thaligai that would be served to the hundreds of devotees who would be part of the 'paal kudam' later in the morning. It is easily the biggest festive day at Velliyankudi and the grandest of events in the last two decades. In years gone by, this was celebrated big but with the restrictions on weekend events, this was celebrated in a slighly low key manner yesterday (Sept 18). However, the most important development in this phase has been the acceptance of Ramamoorthy Bhattar amongst the villagers as one who cares for their welfare and who invokes the blessings of the Kola Villi Ramar for their well being. His arrival just after 7.30am instantly gets the activity going at the temple.

A 1000 years ago, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar in his praise in Periya Thirumozhi refers to beautiful young girls learning the art of dancing at Thiru Velliyankudi and the sound from their anklets being heard all around the Kola Villi Rama temple. 

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar begins his praise of Thiru Velliyankudi describing its location as being south of the Manni River (Cauvery) with one hearing the loud noise of the river flowing through in full force.
காய்த்த நீள் கமுகும் கதலியும் தெங்கும்
எங்கும் ஆம் பொழில்களின் நடுவே
வாய்த்த நீர் பாயும் மண்ணியின் தென்பால்
திருவெள்ளியங்குடி அதுவே

Andavan Ashramam administered temple
Mei Kavalar Mani is turning 60 and has been at the temple for the last three decades. His forefathers had better an integral part of the Divya Desam for the better part of the 20th Century. He has slogged for the upkeep of this remotely located temple. His wife is the one who draws the kolam at the temple every morning. On the first Puratasi Saturday, his son, Ranjith is among the busiest and is actively engaged with the Bhattar in the preparations for the Paal Kuda Utsavam.
Thiru Kudanthai Andavan's walking trips
Mani recalls Thiru Kudanthai Andavan walking all the way to the temple in the previous century “There were no AC cars or buses in those days. While it may be difficult for the new gen to believe, the Mutt Head used to walk all the way  from Thiru Kudanthai through the muddy path to this Divya Desam. He would stay here for a week and watch the festivities at this temple. Musical instruments were an integral part of the celebrations here but later they all went away seeking greener pastures. Ten day utsavam saw Lord on Vahana Processions over 60 years ago. It was as grand as it could get and devotees from the four agraharam streets participated in large numbers.”

“The Mutt used to give us over 40kalam of Paddy and that helped us survive.”

Unfortunately, the Mei Kavalar's salary dues too have remained for five years and he does not have hopes of HR & CE paying his salary either from the past or increasing the salary to fair wages.

During Thiru Mangai Azhvaar's period, the temple was surrounded by huge groves of Areca, Banana and Coconut. There were also Punnai groves and Serundi Trees seen all around the temple and one could hear the buzzing noise of the bumble bees that drank the overflowing nectar humming sweet music in happiness.

Interestingly one finds a similar praise in Thiru Gnana Sambanthar’s Thevaram praise of Senganoor, the birth place of Periya Vachan Pillai  and the Sakthi Gireeswarar temple there.

பூநிரைச் செருந்தி புன்னை முத்து அரும்பி
பொதும்பிடை வரி வந்து மிண்டி
தென் இறைந்து உண்டு அங்கு  இன்  இசை முரலும்
 திருவெள்ளியங்குடி அதுவே

Huge Banana Plantation in Thiru Velliyankudi
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar refers to the Lord as a beautiful archer indicating the posture of him holding a bow in hand. The groves are lush green with Banana plantation. The ripened fruits were falling down for the Kayal fish to grab and eat. And in that joy of having consumed a healthy food, they danced around in the fields. One still finds the Plantain tree, the Sthala Vriksham, inside the temple on the Northern side of the prakara.
The Lord in Bhujanga Sayanam
Devotees in huge numbers offered worship to the Lord seen reclining on a serpent and holding a discus in hand. 

குடி குடி ஆகக் கூடி நின்று
அமரர் குணங்களே பிதற்றி நின்று ஏத்த
அடியவர்க்கு அருளி அரவு  அனைத்துயின்ற
ஆழியான் அமர்ந்து உறை கோயில்

Traditionalists move away to the Metros
The original inhabitants of Velliyankudi moved away in the second half of the 20th century and with that went away the devotional vibrancy of this Divya Desam. One had to walk through a 5km mud path from Sholapuram that was full of pot holes. There was no electricity along the path and it was difficult to visit the temple in the evenings after 6pm.

Great Devotional Service of Veeraraghava Bhattar
For six decades till the 1980s, Veeraraghava Bhattachar had been the priest who anchored the aradhanam at the Thiru Mangai Azhvaar praised Divya Desam in Thiru Velliyankudi, about 15kms from Thiru Kudanthai ( During that phase, the temple was administered by Srirangam Andavan Ashramam. The agraharam on all the four sides of the temple had been vibrant. Alongside Veeraraghava Bhattar were the forefathers of Mei Kavalar Mani who safeguarded the temple and supported the priest.
The HR&CE took over the administration of the temple from Andavan Ashramam. And then Veeraraghava Bhattachar too passed away in his 80s. Mani recalls the archaka performance of Veeraraghava Bhattar as being a golden period for Thiru Velliyankudi Divya Desam “In his last few years, both his eyes had become very weak and he could barely see but yet he discharged his duty with the fullest commitment.”

Avani 1996 - Ramamoorthy Bhattar takes over a dilapidated temple
Following his death, no priests held a permanent position. There was no salary at the temple and with the devotees having gone away almost in full, daily sustenance became a serious issue. A number of priests came and went in a short period of time until Krishnapremi ‘Anna’ found Thiru Kurungudi’s Ramamoorthy Bhattachar one day at the Oppiliappan temple.

Ramamoorthy Bhattar’s appa had performed archaka service at Thiru Pullani Divya Desam in the 1970s. In a financially challenged scenario, Ramamoorthy Bhattar studied up to class XII. It was a very tough life growing up in the 1970s and 80s. He then underwent agama initiation at the patshala in Namakkal. His relatives were archakas in Thanthoni Malai and Oppiliappan temples and he would go there often for support services. When Krishnapremi visited Oppiliappan temple in 1996, he was impressed with the devotional service of Ramamoorthy Bhattar and asked him to take independent charge of Venkatasa Perumal Temple in Senganoor, the birth place of Vaishnavite Saint Periya Aachaan Pillai, one where there was no priest at that time. He took over at the Senganoor temple on Aadi 20.

The priest (Santhanam) who was performing service at Thiru Velliyankudi was in frustration as there was no income and even daily survival had become a challenge. He too quit and the Divya Desam was without a priest. Krishnapremi ‘Anna’ bestowed Ramamoorthy Bhattar with the responsibility of taking care of this temple as well. 
Ramamoorthy Bhattar took over as the chief priest at Thiru Velliyankudi on Avani 1, 1996. Within a period of a fortnight, from nowhere, he had taken charge as archaka in two temples. At that time, even a regular one Kaalam aradhanam had not been performed at Thiru Velliyankudi. He was just 30years when he took over the temple. There was no oil to light the lamp. The original inhabitants had long left the Divya Desam and the agraharam houses were damaged and lying vacant. There were no traditionalists left in the temple town. Prabhandham recital had become a thing of the past. Given the dilapidate state of the temple and the lack of support, it was a challenging period for Ramamoorthy Bhattar. The HR &CE salary was less than Re.1 a day and there were no devotees at the temple.

He began with a two kaalam pooja in the initial years. He recalls those initial years at this Divya Desam “There would be just a handful of devotees each day. With no easy access to the temple, not too many outstation devotees visited the temple in those years. There was just one town bus from Kumbakonam to Thiru Velliyankudi and that was infrequent."

Self Belief to turn around the Divya Desam
What differentiated him was a sense of confidence that he could turn around the temple. It was that self belief that helped the revival of the utsavams at this temple. Ramamoorthy Bhattar used his marketing abilities to position the temple as a Sukra Sthalam, one where Sukracharaiar secured back his eyesight. He also highlighted the one of its kind Chaturbhuja Garuda as well as the Thoongaa Vilakku, the lamp that burns perpetually in the Sannidhi. In 2001, he performed the Samprokshanam at the Senganoor Perumal Temple, after a gap of 25years. 

Not received monthly salary of Rs. 24!!!
At Thiru Velliyankudi Divya Desam, Ramamoorthy Bhattachar was handed a monthly salary of Rs. 24/- and three Kalam Paddy, while at Senganoor, his salary was Rs. 45/-. The Divya Desam has 2.5 Veli land but as has been the case elsewhere in remote temples, no income accrues to the temple, now administered by the HR&CE.  In the last four years, he has not received even this two digit salary!!! Krishnapremi ‘Anna’ presented monthly Sambhavanai to the Bhattar and that helped in his sustenance in that early phase. ‘Anna’ also took care of some of the expenses relating to the family functions.

For the last 16 years, his nephew Venkatesan has been supporting him at the temple. Over the last decade or so, he has also roped in another relative, Raghu Raman, for support. Both of them stay at his house in Senganoor. Once upon a time there were separate members at the madapalli but not in the last many decades. Ramamoorthy Bhattar also doubles up as the cook at the Madapalli. His 24year old elder son, Sundararajan, has been initiated into the agamas and is continuing the archaka service. He participates in Samprokshanams in Divya Desams that helps  the family financially. 

Sundaram Finance's Ramabhadran role in the revival
It was around that time in the late 1990s that T Ramabhadran, the former MD of Sundaram Finance, for whom Thiru Velliyankudi Kola Villi Ramar was the Kula Deivam, visited the Divya Desam and found it to be in disarray. He began the process of supporting the temple, the priest and initiated the revival process. His son Mukund Raghavan, of IMPAL, who is now continuing the financial support looks back at one of his early trips to the Divya Desam “It was in an utter state of neglect. The walls were crumbling down and there was only a ‘bullock cart’ road. Farmers used to drink and sleep at the entrance of the temple and it was challenging for us to even enter the temple.”
“It was my appa who helped broaden the roads leading to the temple. He also secured a three phase connection for the temple. He supported financially and helped revive the Pavitrotsavam.”

It was just over 15years ago that the Pavitrotsavam was revived (one is scheduled to take place later this month) and it has become an annual feature. Ramamoorthy Bhattar has also anchored two Samprokshanams in each of these temples. In 2016, Brahmotsavam was conducted at the temple in Senganoor. 
Off to the US for service in Georgia Temple
While one utsavam was revived at the start of this century, as with most other remote temples in the state, the devotee crowd remained low. Despite the Sambhavanai from Krishnapremi Anna and Ramabhadran, the financial returns were not sufficient. Just over a decade ago, Ramamoorthy Bhattar accepted an offer from Thirumanancheri’s Umapathy Gurukal and went overseas to perform archaka service at the Hindu Temple of Georgia for a few years (his father in law managed Thiru Velliyankudi Divya Desam during that period). He came back just over a decade ago and has been at this temple since then.  Following his return, he was one of the first remote Divya Desam Bhattars to drive to events in a car that he owned.

The Glittering Days Centuries ago
Thirumangai Azhvaar refers to the huge mansions at Thiru Velliyankudi. The pillars were studded with glittering gems so much so that it was even difficult to make out if it was day or night!!!

படியிடை மாடத்து அடியிடைத் தூணில்
பதித்த பன் மணிகளின் ஒளியால்
விடி பகல் இரவு என்று  அறிவு அரிது ஆய
திருவெள்ளியங்குடி அதுவே

In the last couple of decades, reaching out to an ‘Oppiliappan’ temple or a ‘Sarangapani’ temple has been the easy option for most devotees who visit Kumbakonam. It does take a lot of effort to find one's way to a Divya Desam as remote as this. But to those seeking to spend a day in peace in front of and with the Sleeping Lord, seen in a Bhujanga Sayana Posture, this Sukra Sthalam of Thiru Velliyankudi offers an ideal opportunity (The temple is named after the legendary event of Asura Preceptor regaining lost vision as Thiru ‘Velliyan’ Kudi (Tamil name for Sukran is Velliyan).  Offering prayers here in this Divya Desam is said to liberate one from Sukra Dosham.

Pray with a Pure Heart
Even the cuckoos in the groves were a devotional lot moved by the positive vibration around the temple and were seen chanting the name of the Lord ‘Hari Hari’. 

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar says that those who offer worship with a pure heart before Lord Kola Villi Rama are sure to be blessed.

அள்ளி அம் பொழில்வாய் இருந்து வாழ் குயில்கள்
அரி அரி என்று அவை அழைப்ப
வெள்ளியார் வணங்க  விரைந்து  அருள் செய்வான்

Revival of Brahmotsavam after six decades
It is exactly 25 years this Avani since Ramamoorthy Bhattachar began his service at the temple praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar as Kola Villi Ramar Temple. From a dilapidated Divya Desam in the mid 1990s,  he has almost single handedly revived the temple with support from devotees. The next mega plan in the pipeline is to revive the Brahmotsavam at Thiru Velliyankudi, one that had stopped over six decades ago. Almost all the vahanas have to be built from scratch. Ramamoorthy Bhattar is confident of reviving the Brahmotsavam next year in Vaikasi 2022. The elder son continuing in temple service is another enlightening development at Thiru Velliyankudi for it ensures that the Divya Desam is in safe hands at least in the foreseeable future.

Thiru Lokki Sheeraabdhi Sayana Narayana Perumal

Unmindful of the finally challenged state, a Priest Family hailing from Innambur has been performing archaka service for the last 100 years at Thiru Lokki
A Temple that is believed to bring together separated couples, Archanai with Vilvam Leaves is a specialty at this temple
Priest and Support Staff have not received Salary for the last five years from the HR&CE - yet another case of 'No Income for the temple - No Salary to the Priest'
Varadaraja Bhattar is 72 years old and is up at the temple early in the morning on the first Puratasi Saturday to carry out the aradhanam at the Pallava period Sheeraabdhi Sayana Narayana Perumal Temple in Thiru Lokki (Trilokki), a historical temple town surrounded by beautiful green fields on all sides. The Lord seen in an anantha sayanam posture is devotionally irresistable and that is what lured his forefathers who belonged to Innambur ( to move here over a hundred years ago. They have been performing service at this remote temple ever since.  

Financially Challenged Phase
His father Gopalan Bhattachar had performed service from the time he was a teenager for over six decades till he passed away at the age of 82. The Thirupanandal Mutt, that had adminstered the temple till just over half a century ago, presented one bag of Paddy to Gopalan Bhattachar every month and he ran his big family with that. Varadaraja Bhattar recalls a financially challenged childhood in the 1950s and 60s “Appa supported us (me and my brothers) till SSLC. Throughout my childhood, I would be given one new shirt only once a year. We would use that till the next Deepavali.  We lived a contended a life despite the financial challenges. Appa dedicated his entire life to Sheeraabdhi Narayana Perumal performing aradhanam every day even though there were no devotee crowd at this temple and he was almost all alone at that time performing service.”
Once upon a time, there were beautiful agraharams and also chariot plying Mada Streets in this remote temple town but not anymore. 

HR & CE take over means no salary to the priest
Once the HR&CE took over, things worsened for the temple. There was no oil to light the lamp for several decades. Even the bag of paddy that was handed out earlier to the priest became almost a thing of the past. Currently, Varadaraja Bhattar has not received his monthly salary (paddy) for the last five years but he or his forefathers did not take to this service for financial returns. The support staff too have not got their measure of Paddy for the last five years with the HR & CE citing the lack of income at the temple as the reason for the non payment, though the temple has 14acres of land under its custody. But it is the same story here as well of not recovering the rental income.

The priest and the service personnel see it as the God having given them the opportunity to serve the Lord seen in an Anantha Sayanam posture in their lifetime.

Even today there are minimal public transport facilities available to this historical temple town. When Varadaraja Bhattar was growing up, there were no buses, autos, two wheelers seen in this town. Those who had to make to this temple had to walk 10 kms from Thiru Velliyankudi Divya Desam or about 5kms from Thirupanandal. Even today there are no bus or auto facilities from Thiru Velliyankudi to this temple.

Utsava Deity taken away to Kumbakonam
Varadaraja Bhattar recalls Uriyadi Utsavam and Thirumanjanam on Shravanam star every month being celebrated during his appa’s younger days in addition to the procession on the occasion of Vaikunta Ekadasi. But even those stopped after the takeover by the HR &CE. As with many other remote temples, the utsava processional idol had been taken away years ago and placed in safe custody in Kumbakonam.This has meant that the devotees have not been able to have darshan of the utsavar nor have any processions taken place.
Given almost the poverty stricken life, Varadaraja Bhattar himself could not continue the service and went out in search of jobs and found himself in petty small time jobs in different firms. He did not find a bride till he was 35!!!

Dilapidated State in the late 20th Century
The temple disintegrated in the second half of the 20th Century and was seen in a dilapidated state.  There was no electricity connection and not even ghee lit lamp burned in the Sannidhis. Falling roof and the dark sannidhis meant a threat to Gopalan Bhattachar’s life but he was unmindful of these challenges for his mind was set on performing daily aradhanam to Sheerabdhi Narayana Perumal.
At the turn of the century, with the devotional wave striking temples in Tamil Nadu and the temple almost in a state of ruin, a renovation exercise was undertaken and the temple was saved thanks to the initiatives of the priests.

Now into his early 70s, Varadaraja Bhattar is happy and leads a contended life spending every day of the year performing aradhanam for Sheeraabdhi Sayana Narayana Perumal. He has brought together the devotees from Thiru Lokki and the nearby villages and they now contribute towards oil packets that help light the lamp for the Lord and Thaayar. 

Lakshmi's Penance under the Vilvam Tree
The Legend of the temple goes back to the period of Markandeya Rishi, who directed Goddess Lakshmi, then in conflict with Sriman Narayana, to undertake penance under the Vilvam tree after seeking the blessing of Sundareswarar and Akilandeswari on the Rishabaa Roodar (there is a historical Sundareswarar temple just a few hundred yards North West of this temple). It was then that she came here, had a bath at the sacred Theertham, now referred to as Sheera Theertham and Paarkadal Theertham, and undertook penance under the Vilvam Tree.The Chathurbhujam Lord provided darshan in an Anantha Sayanam East facing posture with Conch and Chakra, the head in the South and feet placed in the Northern direction. Sri Devi, Bhoo Devi and Brahmma too are seen inside the Moolavar Sannidhi in a beautiful stone carved structure. 

A Temple to reunite separated couples
Following her penance and as per her wish, he agreed to have her in his chest ever after and never to separate again. Hence one finds Sheerabdhi Nayaki on the chest of the Moolavar who is seen in a beautiful Sayana Kolam atop the five hooded serpent similar to the posture in Thirupaar Kadal. Sheera Nayaki is seen in a separate sannidhi in the South West corner of the temple. Belief is that those who invoke the blessings of Sheera Nayaki and Sheeraabdhi Narayana Perumal will regain the lost spouse. Presenting milk at this temple is believed to be special. 
Instead of Thirumanjanam for the Moolavar idol, the Lord is anointed with Sambrani Thailakaapu during Vishnupathi Punya Kaalam when the Lord is seen with huge Flower and Tulasi garlands.

Vilvam Archanai
The Sthala Vriksham is Vilvam. The three leaves – Ida Kalai, Pingh Kalai and Sozhi Munai- emerged from the Vilvam Tree for the first time at Thiru Lokki and these turned into Thiruthala Vilvam Trees. A specialty at this temple is that archanai is performed with Vilvam leaves. 

Varadaraja Perumal
There is also a separate sannidhi for Chathurbhuja Varadaraja Perumal at this temple. On Vaikunta Ekadasi and Puratasi Saturdays, there is a Thirumanjanam for Varadaraja Perumal.
There is a sannidhi for Vishnu Durgai who is seen facing the South, which is considered sacred. Tradition has been to present Dhal and Kozhakattai for Garudan and this is followed by the devotees to this day. 

Thryambakeswarar Siddhar came here and was in a yogi posture invoking the blessings of Sheerabdhi Sayana Narayana Perumal and Sheera Nayaki and attained Moksham here.

This is also a temple for liberation from the sins of not performing Pitru Kaaryam. 
The temple is open from 9am to 11.30am and from 5pm to 7.30pm. Contact Varadaraja Bhattar @ 9487031630. Those who want to visit may call him in advance.

How to reach
Thiru Lokki is 5kms South West of Thirupanandal, 10kms East of Thiru Velliyankudi Divya Desam (via Manikudi) and just under 15kms North of Aduthurai. There are infrequent buses from Thirupanandal. Auto service available from Thirupanandal.

When here, also visit the historical Sundareswarar Temple North of this temple and Thiru Velliyankudi Divya Desam

Friday, September 17, 2021

R Chandrasekaran SBI Cricketer Twitter Foray

Technology Foray in his late 80s
Octogenarian Chandru has made an entry into the Twitter World expressing strong opinion on the Political and Cricketing developments 
Through his Twitter Handle @chandracric, Chandrasekaran has begun tweeting regularly on the issues at hand and is hoping that this will have the same impact that his postal letters to the BCCI  had in the 1980s
How would a former cricketer now in his late 80s spend his day – May be watch a bit of the IPL, sometime on the TV serials and take rest in the bed. But State Off Spinner from the 1960s R Chandrasekaran is different and has proved that age is not a detterent for the passionate ones. In his hey days in the 60s, those with a bat in hand found it difficult to tackle the lanky Offie. In 2021, cricketers and cricket adminstrators are finding his Twitter Handle difficult to handle.

Right from the 1960s, he has had a strong view on the politics in the State. In the 1970s, he went on a globetrotting expedition across Europe. In the 1980s, he wrote physical postal letters to the President of the BCCI raising various issues. The 90s saw him don the role of the Treasurer of the TNCA. In the last two decades, he has continued to run a league team in the TNCA. 

Bold Posts on the Twitter
He has always been a man who has raised issues in public interest. But his latest expedition would surprise even the closest of his friends in the cricketing fraternity. Aged 86, he has taken to the Twitter. The Octogenarian has found a way to adapt to the latest technological tools. No more strongly worded physical letters to the TNCA or the BCCI posted from the Kutcheri Road Post Office in Mylapore. His communication now is through a short 140 letters message via the Twitter. 

His latest post this week asked for the sacking of Coach Ravi Shastri after what he calls was an irresponsible act of having a Book Launch prior to a Test Match. Also, he has hit out at Kohli for saying that he would only captain Tests and ODIs “It is Selector’s decision to appoint a captain for any future series.”

Strong Opinions on Politicians 
Chandrasekaran’s interest in Politics has remained intact after his first interaction with the DMK in the 1960s. He is regular on the Tweet offering his views on the political developments in the State and the country.

He is of the view that any age in life, especially so in the later stages of one’s life, one has to keep the mind active and his posts on the Twitter keeps his mind active and in tune with the developments on the political and cricket field.

On the TN cricketing front, he continues to raise issues of public interest. His favourite ongoing topic is on the deposit interest rate and pension for retired staffers. He continues to make a mention of these issuses at every opportunity. 

During his playing days in the 1960s and 70s, though he did not get enough opportunities to play for the State, he made significant contribution to SBI both on and off the field, picking up hundreds of wickets and later spotting talent and picking up players who went on to make big contributions for the bank. After his retirement, he continued to be associated with cricket in various capacities running clubs in the TNCA league and being part of the TNCA committee including holding the post of the Treasurer. And his interest and passion for cricket continues unabated at 86 with his few found media tool to express his opinion on the game he has love for over seven decades.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy Temple Deekshithars

Octogenarian Jayam Shenbagavalli has devotionally overcome life's biggest challenges under the watchful eyes of Rajagopalaswamy of Mannargudi
She has lived over 80 years of her life, first with her husband who could not hear well and then with three Deaf and Dumb sons and a daughter who lost her husband early
The physically challenged Deekshithars have been performing service at the temple for decades
Jayam Shenbagavalli was named so after Thengalayar had won the rights case against Vadakalayar at the Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy temple( She is well past 80 now and true to her name has fought all the challenges of life in a determined way. Three of her six sons were born deaf and dumb. Efforts to cure this birth inflicted injury did not turn out successful. Her husband who himself was hard of hearing performed service for several decades at the temple but his soft character meant that he did not go after lucrative engagements and for a large part of his life remained financially challenged for not too many devotees visited this temple in the second half of the 20th century. Thattu Kaasu had been the only source of income for the archakas. Her only daughter lost her husband early and she was left alone with two daughters to take care. The three physically challenged sons have all dedicated their lives in service to the Lord. They have learnt the sign language and have had a daily role to play at the temple over the last several decades.

Despite these huge challenges in life, Jayamani as she is referred to has lived life cheerfully on the Mela Veethi and accepted everything in life as an offering from Lord Vasudeva of Mannargudi.

Poverty Stricken life in the 1960s
62 year old Chellappa Deekshithar, the eldest of her seven children, has anchored the responsibilities of performing full fledged service at the Rajagopalaswamy temple. He recollects his childhood years from the 1960s “We were a pretty large family and finally challenged. It was a life below the poverty line. There were not too many outstation devotees in those decades in the 60s and 70s, no salary paid to the hereditary priests. If we received rice and paddy, we were happy. My grandfather Babu Deekshithar really starved but he performed the service to the Lord through his life.”

It was the lack of opportunities that led two original inhabitants of Mannargudi to move to Madras where both went on to become stars in their fields. Polio stricken S Venkatesan ( played the role of CFO at NBFC Sundaram Finance and R Madhavan ( was on the verge of playing Test Cricket for India in the 1980s.

40kms each day to Village Temples
Chellappa Deeskhithar studied only till class VII at the Jayalakshmi School in Mannargudi. He joined service at the Rajagopalaswamy temple when he was just 17 years old and has been performing archaka service for the last 45years.  Each hereditary priest at the Mannargudi temple has a service of just over 40days annually. Grandparents, parents and seven children stayed together in a small house. For the week’s archaka murai, income did not top Rs. 200 in those decades. For the rest of the month, he would seek engagement elsewhere. For over a decade soon after he was initiated into temple service, Chellappa Deekshithar cycled 40kms every day to multiple village temples in Siddambur, Kuruchi, Thalaya Mangalam and Ethukudi to help run the family.

Paricharaka Service for four decades
He initiated his immediate younger brother Rajappa Deekshithar into temple service at a very young age. Through sign language, he showcased to him the art of performing dhoopam and bell service during Thiru Aradhanam. Rajappa Deekshithar secured Paricharakar service at the temple at a monthly salary of Rs. 25 in the 1980s. He has continued this service for four decades and continues to be present each day of the year at the Rajagopalaswamy Temple, with its towering Raja Gopuram in the East. Every morning Rajappa Deeskhithar would arrive at the temple by 8am and stay till the Uchi Kaala Pooja. In addition to Paricharaka service, he also takes care of the Hanuman Sannidhi ‘silently’ handing out kungumam to the devotees. 
       60 year old Rajappa Deekshithar

Wife's Cooking Service for visiting devotees
Interestingly, Rajappa Deekshithar found a bride in 1987. Latha, who had her early education in Arani, Vellore, had settled down in Tirupathi. The family was in dire financial condition in that phase. Her amma too was dumb and could not speak through her life. Given this scenario, Latha had learnt the art of engaging with ‘silent’ people and agreed to marry Rajappa Deekshithar and has been taking care of him for the last 34years. She shouldered all of the responsibility in taking care of her husband as well as her two daughters. In recent years, she has also been performing cooking service to visiting devotees for financial survival. While their elder is married and lives in Madras, the younger one met with a tragic road accident last decade during the Brahmotsavam procession on the South Street.

Kola Villi Sannidhi Kainkaryam
Unfortunately the two younger physically challenged brothers of Rajappa Deekshithar were not so lucky. They have not been able to find a bride and have remained unmarried. While Ramesh Deekshithar also performs Sannidhi Paricharakar service at the Rajagopalaswamy temple, Mukundan Deekshithar goes to the Kola Villi Sannidhi near Alangudi close to 15kms from Mannargudi each day of the year to perform archaka service there. He also performs service at the nearby Hanuman temple in Mannargudi to keep his life going. 
                    Mukundan Deekshithar

Jayam Shenbagavalli takes satisfaction from the fact that her eldest son Chellappa Deekshithar married off his three daughters and also took care of the wedding of the two daughters of his sister.  She wonders though as to what will happen to her physically challenged sons after her lifetime. That though is a question for the future. Thus far she has showcased to the devotee world that the biggest of challenges in life – three physically challenged sons and a daughter who lost her husband early- can be overcome by true devotion to the Lord.

                    Ramesh Deekshithar

Unflinching Faith in God
81 year old Babu Deeskhithar is the father in law of the renowned Vasan Bhattar of Therazhundur Divya Desam ( He belongs to the 9th generation of Deekshithars performing service at the Rajagopalaswamy temple in Mannargudi. He has been at the temple right from his childhood. His schooling was just till class IV before he moved to patshala education at Singam Iyengar’s patshala in Srirangam where he learnt Kaavyam. Later under Sona Deekshithar (Ramaswamy) he learnt the Koil Agamas for a decade. 
In this life time he has performed Sannidhi Paricharaka, Sripatham, madapalli and archaka service at the Rajagopalaswamy temple. He has no complaints in life “Whatever is required to lead a life, God has given me. Rs. 10/- to Rs. 15/- was big money in those days. We depended on Thattu Kaasu  but we led a contended life performing service to the Lord accepting whatever Rajagopalaswamy and Shenbagavalli Thaayar gave us. I never asked a single devotee to place any money in the Thattu. I learnt early on in life that God will make the decision for you and will present to you what you require in life.”

At Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy Temple, it has a tale of unflinching devotion despite financially challenging times for several decades in the previous century. These Deekshithar families have faced the most severest of wounds inflicted, as they say by God, during their lifetime but they placed their trust in God and accepted what came to them as an offering from God and faced it accordingly with a cheerful face. The attitude of Rajappa Deekshithar standing ever in front of the  Hanuman Sannidhi says it all - he welcomes devotees passing by from the Vasudeva Sannidhi to the Shenbagavalli Thaayar Sannidhi with a smiling face and with the Hanuman Kungumam in hand. To him there is no sadness in life for he has dedicated a lifetime in the service of the Lord of Mannargudi.