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.


Unknown said...

I was in nearly tears as I was reading the above story. Hats off to all of them who are doing the service to Devathirajjan.

Anonymous said...

I went there on a tour with Velukkudi.. I think this was late 90s or early 2000s.. We reached at around 8:30pm.. Perumal sevai was done in batches, given the size of the sannidhi and the crowd.. TO DATE it remains the BEST sevai I’ve had at any temple – sevai pannivaitha vidham, the elaborate descriptions with paasurams, the complete involvement even at that late hour..! 🙏🏽🙏🏽.. I am not sure if it was Vasan swami or his father..
And, Velukkudi had arranged for upma at the temple after the Perumal sevai.. The upma was second only to the Ahobila Mutt upma..

Anonymous said...

🙏🙏tears rolled down. Glad to know the progress and coming out from difficult times.

trveeraraghavan said...

பட்டாச்சார் ஸ்வாமி பல்லாண்டு வாழ்க என பெருமாளை ப்ரார்த்திக்கிறோம்.வளமும், நலமும் நிறையட்டும்!!

trveeraraghavan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vishnu Dev said...

I am moved beyond words at recounting of this history of the temple. Therazhandur became one of my favourite Divya Desams on my first visit itself back in 2018 and the main reason for it was Swami's unflinching commitment to the archanai and Perumal vivarippu.

Anonymous said...

Story of a true devotee and a true brahmin. My humble pranamams at swami's thiruvadi.

Unknown said...

Yomen service by Vasan Battachar Swami

Krishnaswamy said...

Can't say anything,only🙏🙏🙏🙏. Pallandu to Vasan Bhattar and his vamsam.

Unknown said...

Sri Vasan Bhattar is highly dedicated personality. He is doing yomen service. Pray Sri Amaruviappan to bestow him with good health. Dasan Sriram

Anonymous said...

Good story. Many unsung heroes are being brought to public attention through your writing. This is great service.

Anonymous said...

Happy to read this post. Indeed a remarkable achievement.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post sir. Remarkable efforts, our achievements in this world, pales in comparison.


Unknown said...

Thanks for bringing this story to light.
Only In such selfless devotion and service, one can find true peace of mind.

Chari said...

Thanks for publishing Inspiring life story of Sri U.Be. Vasan Swamy. As you rightly said the moment you hear his name his smiling face and mesmerizing voice will come to our mind. Pranams to swamy and I pray Amaruviappan to bless him with all wellness and wealth, so that we can get Vasan swamy's blessings.

krishna said...

பெருமாள் அமருவியப்பன் அருள் பெற்ற ஶ்ரீ உப வே வாசன் பாட்டர் சுவாமி கீர்த்தி, வளமும், நலமுடன் பல்லாண்டு வாழ்க.
இப்பேர்பட்ட கைங்கர்ய திறன், திட நம்பிக்கை, பெருமாள் ஆசீர்வாதம் பெற்றவர்களுக்கு மட்டுமே கிடைக்கும். நமது மத்தியில் ஶ்ரீ உப வே வாசன் பாட்டர் ஸ்வாமி அவதரித்தது நமது பாக்யமே. தாசன்🙏🙏🙏


Unknown said...

Nice person.i saw him in 1995.