Sunday, October 10, 2021

Ettukudi Panchakshara Shivachariar

The now 72year old Shivachariar, who is a hereditary archaka at Saivite Saint Poets praised Thiruvaimur Temple and the Murugan Kshetram at Ettukudi took to the Kumbabhisekam, Chandi Homam and Overseas Temples route to financial security  
While the priests in the nearby remote Varadaraja Perumal temple of Ayyur ( struggled financially with HR & CE not paying even his meager three digit salary, B. Panchakshara Shivachariar, the hereditary Sthaneegam at the Thiruvaimurnathar temple in Thiruvaimur, praised by Saivite Saint Poets, and Ettukudi, popular for Murugan Kavadi, found an alternate way to leverage his huge wealth of knowledge and has grown to become one of the well respected and financially secure Shivachariars in the region.

After his early school education at Rayanallur – he studied till Class VI - he moved to the Thiru Kalar (near Kottur) Veda Patshala and then to the Dharmapuram Atheenam patshala for five years. Later for a decade he was initiated by Dr. Vaidhyanathan Sastri and Achalpuram Gnana Skanda Shivachariar. In 1958, at the Kumbabhisekam in Sirkazhi, when mikes were placed for Veda Parayanam, the kainkaryaparas refused as they firmly believed that mikes would reduce the power of their recital. Bhakti was at the fore in those days and they did not compromise. 

Vibrant Utsavams, Agraharam and Service Personnel
Into his 20s, Panchakshara Shivachariar joined the Thiruvaimur temple in 1976 and performed service there for 18 years. Interestingly at that time, Thiruvaimur was a first grade temple with 50 Veli Land and Ettukudi was ranked as a third grade temple. In the phase leading to the 1970s, there were multiple Shivachariars – 4 Muraikaarars performing service, a 22 day utsavam and five Kaalam Pooja every day. Musical instruments were integral to utsavams with the noise emanating from the Thiru Chinnam being distinctive. There were 22 service personnel at the Thiruvaimur temple. Paddy income was high. In the North Mada Vilagam was a vibrant agraharam.
Appar and Thiru Gnana Sambandar's Praise
Appar in his Thiru Kurun Thogai and Thiru Gnana Sambandar in his Thiru Murai have praised the Lord of Thiruvaimur.
Even as his elder son Pichumani Gurukal was growing up as a school boy, he saw a steep deterioration in the finances at the Thiruvaimur temple. Income from the lands dried up. Salary of the service personnel did not go up even as the cost of living rose drastically in the passing decades. Brahmotsavam came to a halt over three decades ago as did many of the other annual utsavams at the temple. 

Panchakshara Shivachariar was knowledgeable having learned the agamas for over 15years and chose the Kumbabhisekam and Homam route to financial growth. 

He travelled far and wide to Hyderabad and the Kongu Naadu. After 18years at Thiruvaimur, he moved to Singapore for three years starting 1994 leaving his appa and brother to take care of the Thiruvaimur temple. He anchored Kumbabhisekams in Malaysia and Singapore and became a sought after Shivachariar both within and outside. He has performed over 700 Kumbabhisekams and even more Chandi Homams. He is also recipient of several awards relating to expertise in Saiva Agamas.
Prarthana Sthalam Movement - Ettukudi
The crowd transformation at Ettukudi happened when the unmarried found their spouse after invoking the blessings of Lord Muruga. The belief increased dramatically at the turn of the century and the crowd swelled. The couple then brought their child here on turning one. And later in life, the child’s marriage too was solemnized at the temple.

When court cases found resolution and enemies were subdued after visiting the temple, devotees began to throng the temple even more and began  seeing it as Shatru Samhara Kshetram. When he was growing up, this was a temple known for Kavadi. Devotees from all the nearby villages gathered here on a Kavadi. Suddenly from being a Grade III temple, Ettukudi became a temple that saw huge crowds

Big Crowds now but traditional archakas are moving away
While it was challenging times for the archakas in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, financially things are turning around for them especially in those that are positioned as parikara and prarthana sthalams. He sees a clear trend towards archakas moving away from temple service. “The new gen archakas see better financial returns from Vaideeha events than temple service. Those with good knowledge are in big demand now. Only select few Gurukals are left in temples this decade. And the young ones are finding it difficult to get a bride. And that is also serving as a deterrent to them continuing the archaka service.”

The Next Gen  Priest
His brother’s son G Harihara Subramanian is 27 years old and performs pooja at the Piravi Mandeswarar temple in Vadukoor, having learnt the Shiva Agama at the Patshala in Thiruvenkadu. In his case too, like in the case of Pakshirajan’s second son, they have been finding it challenging to get the bride to accept a tuft draped Gurukal. The family is now looking North for a bride!!!
Harihara Subramanian, who has been committed thus far to temple service, wonders as to how long he and those like him would continue this service if the external environment is completely non conducive to archakas.

Panchakshara Shivachariar himself is planning to move to temples in Karnataka as the pressure is mounting in TN “Dwesham is less there when compared to TN”.

Time will tell if this trend of the traditional archakas moving away from temple service will continue in Tamil Nadu.

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