Monday, June 26, 2017

Poochatru Utsavam Srirangam

A heavily weighing ‘Dhindu Thaavadam, Pushpa Duppatti’ and a fragrant Panneer on Lord Namperumal on the occasion of the annual ‘Festival of Flowers’ makes it a colourful and devotional event in the calendar of festivals at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam

A daily three hour long process, the special art of making the heavy and colourful Garland has been assigned to the Saathaatha Vaishnavas housed in the Saathara Veethi 
Vaishnavite Saint Poet Periyazhvaar has dedicated an entire decad of verses in the Periyazhvaar Thirumozhi praising the favourite flowers of the Lords in different Divya Desams. In one of the verses, Periyazhvaar lures the Lord of Srirangam, whom he describes as one seen in a Sleeping Posture, he refers to Iruvatchi flowers.
 ஆமாறு அறியும் பிரானே
அணி அரங்கத்தே கிடந்தாய்
ஏமாற்றம் என்னைத் தவிர்ந்தாய்
இருவாட்சிப் பூச்சூட்ட வாராய்
After ten long days in Chitrai when Lord Namperumal has been out in the hot sun in Chitrai with daily processions in the morning and evening as part of the Brahmotsavam Celebrations and with an intention to cool him from the summer heat, a 10 day festival of flowers is celebrated at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam. Each evening of the festival, Lord Namperumal makes his way to the Manal Veli near the Eastern entrance, where he is decked with at least six different varieties of flower garlands specially made for the occasion by skilful artistes housed on the Sathara Street. 
Sathatha Vaishanavas (, the clan assigned by Saint Ramanuja to perform various services at the temple have also been assigned the task of making the exclusive summer garland for Namperumal on each of the days of the Poochatru Utsavam. It is also the period of 10 days which are one of the most difficult for the Sri Patham Thangis, the carriers of the Lord on the shoulders, ( for they stand in the Manal Veli for over two hours with the heavily weighing garland draped on Lord Namperumal

Referred to as Pushpa Duppati, the special garland on the occasion of Poochatru Utsavam, involving a special skill and an artistic touch, takes at least three hours to design and create. For over 7 decades Saathaatha Srinivasan had involved himself in this exercise during the summer month presenting the Poochatru Utsavam garland first to Namperumal, followed a week later to Ranganayaki Thayar in the week long utsavam dedicated to her.

Periyazhvaar’s Praise and the Malligai Flowers
The first step in the process is to create a Shakkonam – squared boxes measuring 8columns x 20 rows, by knotting these using a banana stem on a 7feet long 4 feet wide rectangular rod. 5 kgs of Malligai flowers are spread across this and knotted on a banana thread. 

Praising the Lord of Thiru Venkatam, Periyazhvaar referes to Malligai flowers

திரு உடையாள் மணவாளா
திருவரங்கத்தே  கிடந்தாய்
மருவி மம்ண கமழ்கின்ற
மல்லிகை பூச்சூட்ட வாராய்’

Designing the Garland with Marikozhunthu
Once the Malligai Garland is designed, the artistes focus on designing the border on all the four sides.  
On most days of the Poochatru utsavam, they design the border with Marikozhunthu flowers while on days these are in short supply Tulasi is used on all the sides for a more simplistic border design. With the basic Malligai garland and the border design in place, they get on to the process of adding six different varieties of flowers on to the garland. 2-3 artistes are seen at work each focusing on one aspect of the design and at different corners of the garland. 

Through this decad of verses, Periyazhvaar refers to flowers such as Shenbagam, Shenkalunir, Kurukatti, Punnai, Lotus, Davanam, Maruvu and Jasmine. In line with this praise, different varieties of flowers are spread each day on the Malligai garland and knotted at appropriate places to give it a colourful and devotional touch.

நிச்சிலும் தீமைகள் செய்வாய் 
நீள் திருவேங்கடத்து எந்தாய் 
பச்சைத் தமனகத்தோடு 
பாதிரிப் பூச்சூட்ட வாராய் 
Pushpa Duppati weighs over 6kgs
This Pushpa Duppati, weighing well over 6 kgs, is brought by Sathatha Vaishnava from the Sathara Street (housing the wholesale flower market of Srirangam) to the Manal Veli to the loud beating of drums.
On the occasion of Poochatru Utsavam, a Dhindu Thaavadam – similar to an ornamental necklace is first presented to Lord Namperumal. This garland is light on the two sides and heavy in the centre with flowers in the middle made similar to a chest pathakam.

Atop the Dhindu Thaavadam, the Lord is draped with a Pushapa Duppati, 3 different flower garlands one after another. A small dose of Panneer is then splashed on the Lord to create a sweet fragrance all around him in the Manal Veli.

Sri Patham Thangis and their Devotion
Given the weight of the flower garlands, this is one of the most difficult utsavams for the Sri Patham Thangis of Srirangam for they stand at the Manal Veli Mandapam carrying the Lord on their shoulders from that stationary position for over two hours. 
It is also an event that showcases the devotional touch of the Sri Patham Thangis for without the slightest twinge in their eyebrows they use this as an opportunity to hold the Lord happily on their shoulder. At the end of the 10 day Utsavam, the shoulder of each of these Sri Patham Thangis is seen with big bruises swollen red like a cricket ball. This is soon followed by the week long Poochatru Utsavam for Thayar inside the Thayar Sannidhi.

Presented to Azhvaars and Acharyas
Unlike other Utsavams, this set of flower garlands is presented as prasadam to Azhvaars and Acharyas at the end of each day’s event as against the usual procedures of presenting/ handing over to the devotee donor.

அள்ளி நீ வெண்ணை விழுங்க
அஞ்சாது அடியேன் அடித்தேன்
தெள்ளிய நீரில் எழுந்த

செங்கழுநீர் சூட்ட வாராய்

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sarangapani Koil Thiru Kudanthai

Unique Incentive by the trustees to the Sri Patham Thangis in the 1950s and 60s
84 year old Sounder Desikachariyar has been performing Thiru Aradhana at the temple for the last three decades to keep the tradition going 

The hand of the Bhattar would swell placing the Shatari multiple times in the day
on 200 Vedic and Prabhandham Scholars, half a century ago
In the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Nam Azhvaar praises Thiru Kudanthai as a location where paddy grew in abundance aided by the fertile waters. The Lord was surrounded by huge stone walls. Large lotuses were seen all around Thiru Kudanthai. 
ஆரா அமுதே அடியேன் உடலம்  நின்பால் அன்பாயே
நீராய்  அலைந்து கரைய உருக்குகின்ற நெடுமாலே
சீர் ஆர் செந்நெல் கவரி வீசும் செழு நீர் திரு குடந்தை
ஏர் ஆர் கோலம் திகழ கிடந்தாய் கண்டேன் எம்மானே  - Thiruvoimozhi ( 5-8-1)

He saw people of extremely good qualities around the temple (நலத்தால் மிக்கார் குடந்தை கிடந்தாய்)

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar too praises the place as one abound with greenery (

Big Agraharam, hundreds of Vedic Scholars, Devotional People
Just over half a century ago, this ancient description by the Saint Poets still seemed to hold good. There was an agraharam right opposite the Eastern Entrance with about 30 traditional families residing there. There were 200 scholars presenting Veda Parayanam and Divya Prabhandham recital on big festive occasions. Villagers walked from distant locations to be present for the big chariot festival.Leading into Thiru Kudanthai, one found greenery all around. 

The priests of Thiru Kudanthai lived in a huge extended joint family that sometimes went up to 40 members. No salary was paid to the service personnel at the temple. They just received rice as the daily prasadam. That was sort of their only 'financial' remuneration. And yet they lived a contented and happy life.  

Among the three large Vaishnavite temples in Kumbakonam, the Vaishnavites took care of the Sarangapani Koil, the Sourashtrians the Ramaswamy temple and the Madhwas took care of the Utsavams at the Chakrapani temple.

7Decades of dedicated Service at the temple
Sounder Desikachariyar is 84 years old and a fragile figure now. Inside that lean body is a mentally strong personality, one that has been totally dedicated to Lord Aravamudhan of Thiru Kudanthai for almost the entire period of his life. 
For the last three decades, he has been performing Thiru Aradhanam at the Vedantha Desikar Sannidhi at this Divya Desam and is there early, every morning, unmindful of the scorching summer’s heat and overcoming the challenges relating to old age. He is one of the last remaining members of the Prabhandham Ghosti at the temple. He is also the one who has been assigned the rights for first Theertham at the temple by Patrachariar descendents.

Desikachariyara grew up right in front of the Sarangapani temple and spent his childhood days in a devotional way at the temple in the 1930s and 40s. There were at least 30 traditional families along the Eastern entrance to the temple with whom he enjoyed a great traditional childhood.

His father was a Sanskrit Shiromani and well versed in the Vedas. Sounder Desikachariyar looks at those days in the middle of the previous century as one of great joy ‘Devotion was at its very best with devotees committed to serving with utmost sincerity. For each of the Pancha Parva Utsavam procession every month, devotees would walk all the way from the neighbouring villages to be part of the festivities. For the annual Brahmotsavam, which was celebrated in a grand way, devotees would swarm in large groups from as far away as Papanasam, Thiru Nageswaram and Kottayur walking all the way to the temple along with their entire family.’

Ayya Kumar Desikar's Contribution to the temple
In the 16th Century AD, Navalpakkam Ayya Kumar Thatha Desikar, a renowned Chaturveda Scholar and a vidwan at the court of the Thanjavur king ensured that the vedic chanting continued for the coming centuries advocating total devotion to the Lord and laying importance on the Vedic and Prabhandham recital at the temple. It was also he who helped recover some of the lost idols and installed it at the temple. He is also credited with having created the Komalavalli Thayar Sannidhi in its current form.

In recognition of his contribution, there is a separate sannidhi for Ayya Kumar Desikar at this temple, opposite the Thayar Sannidhi.

The Thanjavur king who had the first rights of ‘mariyathai’ during festive occasions assigned the rights to Ayya Kumar Desikar which has then over the centuries passed on to the Patrachariar descendants.

Trustees managed the temple – A special incentive
In those decades over half a century ago, the temple comprised of 5 trustees and they managed the Utsavams well during those decades. There were 16 Sri Patham Thangis who committed themselves to carrying the Lord on their shoulders on all the utsavams including the big Vahana processions during Brahmotsavam. 
On the occasion of the Brahmotsavam and during the Margazhi festival, the temple reverberated with Vedic chants and prabhandham recital. There were at least 100 scholars on each of these fronts. Veda Parayanam and Divya Prabhandham Ghosti would compete with each other on the devotional front. Not a single rupee was paid to any of them and they just lived a life full of devotion.

There was a unique incentive in those days from the trustees of the temple to keep our tradition going. Those who presented themselves in Pancha Kacham and 12 Thiruman to carry the Lord were given double the quantity of rice on that day.

Shatari on 200 heads on multiple occasions each day
Soundara Raja Bhattar, now into his late 40s is one of the well respected Bhattars at the Sarangapani temple for he is well versed in the agamas having learnt from the then revered 70 year old Raghunatha Sharma in Thiru Kudanthai. The Bhattar who has performed arathana at this temple for over three decades counts learning under this great guru as one of the greatest blessings of his life. 
His father L Srinivasa Bhattachar (Chellappa) too had performed selfless service at this temple for almost three decades through the 1960s and 70s without a salary before collapsing one day at the Chakrapani Sannidhi and meeting with an untimely death when Soundara Raja Bhattar was just 9 years old. On non festival days, Chellappa Bhattar would rarely get any Thattu Kaasu.

Soundara Raja Bhattar recounts the tale of how his father would come back with a swollen hand  on many days ‘My father’s hand would end up swollen as he had to place the Shatari on 200 heads in a most traditional way on multiple occasions each day during these festivals.’

It was not like the current period when Bhattars rush through the Shatari process in a matter of minutes almost as an exercise to complete.

90 kgs rice to the Service Personnel
The huge Uthana Sayana Lord, seen in a beautiful slightly raised sleeping posture is 15 feet plus in length.  Hence 15 kgs of rice had to be presented to him for each of the poojas in the day in line with the agamas which Rice had to be presented to the Lord on the basis of one kg per foot, as per the agamas. And 6 time pooja each day meant 90 kgs of rice was presented to the Lord. 'The service personnel that totalled close to 50 had no salary. We simply shared the ‘rice’ offering every day amongst us.'

The Big Chariot Festival
The Chariot at the Sarangapani Temple in Thiru Kudanthai counts among the biggest the TN temples. Back then in the 1960s, big drum beating in all the nearby villages, a few days ahead of the Chariot festival would serve as an invitation to the villagers to participate in the festival and to help pull the chariot around the four big streets. Villagers in several thousands would gather at the temple the previous night.

100 Bags of rice for a Single Day Utsavam
At the Ramaswamy temple, half a km South of the Sarangapani temple,the Moopanar family who belong to this region presented 100 bags of rice  on the fifth day of the Rama Navami Utsavam, when the Lord comes out on his favourite Hanumantha Vahana, Dhadhyonam was presented in large quantities to every single devotee at the temple. This tradition went on for several years.

For decades, the traditional families had lived in happiness spending a lot of their lives in chanting praise of the Lord.

And then the exodus away from Thiru Kudanthai
Into the 1960s, the real exodus of the traditionalists began to happen. And this continued well into the 70s. With HR & CE slowly gaining a stranglehold on temples in Tamil Nadu and with new land ceiling act coming into play, the traditional residents lost out. In a drastic fall in presentation of prasadam to the Lord, 90 kgs of rice for each Kaalam that was shared by the archakas and parijarakas came down to a total of just 10 kgs for the day. This had a direct negative impact on the state of their lives.

A number of the traditional residents sold their lands in frustration and went away seeking greener pastures. Veda Parayanam that was 100 members strong at this temple dwindled to nil. Prabhandham Ghosti now comprises of a team in single digit in this historic temple down from the 100s. For real big occasions, like a Samprokshanam, experts are roped in from across the state. But otherwise the year long utsavams wear no resemblence to what it was half a century ago. 

Lord on Wheels
The Sri Patham Thangis who had for long been traditional in their attire and conduct are no more to be found.  Lord is now carried on wheels and not on shoulders on most festive occasions around the four big streets.

Income to the HR & CE, Expenses to the Devotees!!!
Once the HR & CE took complete control, the expenses relating to the temple and the conduct of the festivals began to be completely passed on to the devotees as against the centuries' long practice of  the temple conducting it jointly with the support of the devotees (the original concept of ‘Ubayam’ – one of doing jointly). 

‘Ubayam’ (like Ubaya Nachiyar) referred to twin i.e a combination of temple and the devotees, but this was given a new definition under the HR & CE rule.  Today, all the income (which too is provided by the devotees) is taken away by the HR & CE while the expenses are almost completely funded by the devotees.

Housed between two rivers, Cauvery and Arasalaru, the Sarangapani temple has the maximum number (after Srirangam and Tirupathi) of Azhvaars (7 of them) singing praise of Lord Aravamudhan.   After listening to the Tamil hymn 'Aaravamudhe’  composed by Nam Azhvaar, Vaishnavite savant Natha Muni wanted to listen to the entire Naalaayira Divya Prabandham (4000 hymns) and was directed by Lord Aaravamudhan to Azhvaar Tirunagari to compile the works of the Divya Prabandham. Hence this temple is credited with having shown the direction for the revival of the sacred verses. Will the traditionalists come back to this ancient temple town and will the temple reverberate once again with Vedic Chants and Prabhandham recital? 

Will the HR & CE participate financially in the conduct of the Utsavams and the daily poojas in the true meaning of 'Ubayam' or will more and more hundials be placed inside the temple?

Early construction of the temple took place in the 7th Century AD by the famous Pallava King Mahendra Varma while improvements were made later by the Cholas and the Vijayanagara Kings.

There are several hundreds of inscriptions dating back to this period including on the walls of the Komalavalli Thayar Sannidhi. Some of these, it is believed have not yet been deciphered. Sounder Desikachariyar is hopeful of ASI taking steps to bring out a booklet on the inscriptions relating to the temple so the devotees get insights into the contributions made by the legendary kings and the traditions that were followed during that period.

Seeing the sleeping posture of the Lord, a curious Thiru Mazhisai Azhvaar questioned if his tiredness (having fought the battle in Lanka) was the reason for him to be lying down thus. After hearing this, it is believed that the Lord slightly raised his posture to greet the Azhvaar. Feeling the guilt of having caused strain on the Lord, ThiruMazhisai  Azhvaar asked him to remain as is. And the Lord remained so ever after. 

The main sanctum has been conceived like a chariot with wheels drawn by horses and elephants and is truly a splendid sight to watch. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thiru Ezhu Kootrirukkai

A 47 line composition offering absolute surrender to Lord Aravamudhan

In this Pictorial Poem on Thiru Kudanthai, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar invokes the blessings of Lord Aravamudhan to get rid of one’s past karmas and to bring an end to this worldly life

Classical Description: Mounted the ‘Four Feathered’ Garuda to save the ‘Four Legged- Three Ichored-Two Eared’ Gajendra

In the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar composed a unique one of its kind pictorial poem, Thiru Vezhukootrirukkai dedicated to Lord Aravamudhan of Thiru Kudanthai (Sarangapani Temple). 

As the name (Thiru- Ezhu- Kootriru-Kai) suggests, this composition has been created in a 7 tiered structure and is in the form of a chariot. One can arrange the contents of the composition in line with this structure.

It is only a small 47 line composition but is very significant for it is here that Thiru Mangai Azhvaar offers his absolute surrender to Lord Aravamudhan stating that he has had enough of worldly life and seeks refuge in the Lord.

In this composition, he praises the many great qualities of the Lord from his various Avataras.

He describes the Lord’s achievements in his Vamana Avatara, showcases the Gajendra Moksham episode providing relief to the struggling elephant and praises the Lord as the one who conquered the seven bulls to save Nappinnai. He also refers to the Lord as the one who controls the pair of opposites like Joy and Sorrow.

A beautiful description of an Elephant
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar provides a beautiful description of the Lord mounted on the Garuda to save the elephant.  He praises the Lord as being so powerful that when he rode on the ‘Five Feathered’ Garuda to save the ‘Four Legged- Three Ichored-Two Eared’ unique elephant Gajendra one day in the 200 cubit deep water, the four quarters trembled in fear.

நால் திசை நடுங்க  அம் சிறைப் பறவை ஏறி
நால் வாய் மும் மதத்து இரு செவி
ஒரு தனி  வேழத்து அரந்தையை
ஒரு நாள் இரு நீர்மடுவுள் தீர்த்தனை

In the last ten lines of this pictorial composition, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar specifically showers praise on Lord Aravamudhan of Thiru Kudanthai. He gives us a glimpse of what Kudanthai looked like during his time.

குன்றா மது மலர்ச் சோலை வண்கொடிப் படப்பை
வரு புனல் பொன்னி மா மணி அலைக்கும்

செந்நெல் ஒண்  கழனித் திகழ் வனம் உடுத்த
கற்போர் புரிசைக் கனக மாளிகை
நிமிர் கொடி விசும்பில் இளம் பிறை துவக்கும்

Referring to the reclining posture of the Lord, he says that the temple was surrounded by huge flower groves that seemed to give out nectar. There were betel creepers that, seemed to produce a special fragrance,through the year, thanks largely to being watered by the sacred Cauvery.

செல்வம் மல்கு தென் திருக்குடந்தை
அந்தணர் மந்திர மொழியுடன் வணங்க

ஆடு அரவு அமளியில் அறிதுயில்
அமர்ந்த பரம

Also the lands in Thiru Kudanthai were fertile with greenery all around. The entire place was filled with Vedic Seers and recital of Vedas was a regular feature here. It seemed to have a reverberating positive effect on the people.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar also praises Thiru Kudanthai as a place that had high mansions and it looked as though they were touching the moon.

நின் ஆதி இணை பணிவன்
வரும் இடர் அகல மாற்றோ வினையே

In conclusion, he invokes the blessings of Lord Aravamuthan to get rid of his past karmas and to bring an end to his worldly life and praises the Lord as the only one who can do this. He asks for permission to perform daily service to the Lord here at Thiru Kudanthai.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Somanathaswamy Temple Pazhayarai

Birth Place of Mangayakarasi, one of the 63 Nayanmars
Several beautiful sculptures of Narasimha and Prahalada depicting legendary tales

Located 3kms East of Patteeswaram and half a km West of Nathan Koil Divya Desam is the several centuries old Somanathaswamy Temple in Pazhaiyarai, a location whose legend dates back to the Pallava period. In different period of time, this place has come to be referred to as Mudikonda Chozha Puram, Aagavamalla Kulakaala Puram and Raja Raja Puram. The temple complex housing Lord Someswarar has been constructed in a way that horses are driving the Lord on a wheeled chariot. 

Nandi undertook Penance - Nandipuram
Legend has it that Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva, wanted to meet Lord Vishnu at Vaikuntam and in his eagerness to meet entered without securing the permission of the security guards (Dwarapalakas). This angered the Dwarapaalakaas who cursed the Nandi who then looked up to Lord Shiva for solution. As per his directions, Nandi undertake penance at this place and was relieved from the curse at this place. In memory of this legendary episode, this region came to be known as Nandipuram. 

In each of his 10 verses of praise on Nathan KoilVaishnavite Saint Poet Thiru Mangai Azhvaar refers to this place as Nandipura Vinnagram.  Nandipuram served as the capital of this region during the Chozha Period. 

In the Thevaram verses, this place was referred to as Palasai, Pazhaiyaarai and just simply as Aarai.
Thiru Gnana Sambanthar's in his verses of praise on Patteeswaram temple makes a reference to this place in two of his verses. 
Moon God's Pooja
It is believed the Moon God invoked the blessings of the Lord at this place. Hence the Lord is referred to as ‘Soma’ Nathaswamy. 

Birth Place of Mangayakarasi
This is the birth place of one of the 63 Nayanmars Mangayakarasi who later went on to marry a Pandya King. She promoted Saivism in great style in this region.

Komali (Cow) performed pooja at this temple. Hence the Ambal is referred to as Soma Kamalambigai. Another cow ‘Vimali’ performed pooja in the nearby Nurayur where there is another ancient Saivite temple dedicated to Nayaki Dharmapureeswarar.
The temple tower is entirely of brick construction similar to the one at Gopinatha Swamy temple West of Patteeswaram. Similar to that temple, the temple tower here too is in dilapidated state and has remained half complete. While the outer Gopuram is a brick construction, the entire temple complex inside is of a strong granite structure and looks strong even today. 

Pundarikakshan Temple in Thiru Vellarai near Srirangam also has a temple tower similar to the one here in Pazhayarai.
Inside the temple one finds several exquisite sculptures depicting legendary tales including those relating to Narasimha and Prahalada and the Lord’s fight with the asura. There is a stone carving of Lankan king Ravana lifting the Mount Kailasa.
There were also several inscriptions inside the temple dating back to the Chozhas that provided insights into Rajendra Chozha’s directions on contributions relating to temples. Many of these have been erased with the passing of time. 
During the Chozha rule, there was a majestic palace in Pazhaiyaarai and was referred to as Madurantakan Thiru Maaligai. There was also a reference to Rajendra Chozha Mandapa within the Palace here at this place.

Near to this temple is another Saivite temple in Panchavan Maha Deveeswaram, one dedicated by Rajendra Chozha to his mother Panchavan Maha Devi. 
A Kumbabhishekam was performed last year after a  gap of almost 400 years along with the Kumbabhishekam of the Patteeswaram temple. 

There is a Veera Durgai Sannidhi on the Northern corner of the temple.

Lord Nataraja is taken out on a procession on the occasion of Aruthra in Margazhi.
On Chitrai Rohini, the birthday of Mangayakarasi, a special abhishekam is performed with a procession accompanied by the recital of the sacred songs.

In decades gone by, Brahmotsvam used to be celebrated in a grand manner with street processions  but today the temple wears a deserted look. The priest  who comes from Patteeswaram performs a one-time pooja and it is the security who takes care of the temple for the rest of the day.
The temple is open between 6am- 1pm and 6pm-8pm.  

Contact Sabesa Gurukkal @ 99525 30576 / Balakrishnan Security @ 95007 18152 / Balaguru @ 96554 80486 (a long time resident of Pazhayarai)

How to reach
An auto from Patteeswaram will cost Rs. 75. One can reach also reach Pazhayarai from Kumbakonam via Korukkai.