Monday, May 30, 2016

Ariyakudi Thiru Venkatamudayan Temple Renovation

Renovation will begin next month at the 17th Century AD Thiru Venkatamudayan temple in Ariyakudi after a gap of 17 years at an estimate cost of around Rs. 3crores. This will be just the 2nd renovation in over 100 years at the temple that has connection with three Divya Desams.  The 7 Tier 120 feet high Rajagopuram is the tallest for a Vishnu Temple in the Chettinad Region.
With severe monkey menace, a number of beautifully crafted and sculpted idols atop the Rishi Gopuram, the 2nd Gopuram just behind the Raja Gopuram, have come off. In some, the heads are missing, while in Brahmma’s idol, his hand has been knocked off.  The palm of the hand of the 10 headed Ravana too is missing. In most, the paintings have peeled off and are wearing a faded look.  Each of these will be restored to its original colour and beauty with Pancha Varna painting.
There are also leakages in both the Gopurams and the plan is to have complete civil works undertaken to fix the leakages with long term solutions.

Mooligai Paintings
On the side and upper walls of the huge Ekadasi Mandapa are exquisite and rare four centuries old mooligai paintings showcasing Lord Vishnu in his different incarnations as well as the different postures (standing, sitting and sleeping). This is a special feature and one of the big highlights at this temple. This mandapa is opened only once a year on the occasion of Vaikunta Ekadasi and thus the devotees have an opportunity to explore these paintings only on that day. The colour has come off a few of these paintings and the plan is to bring these back to its natural features.

Another challenge is the rain water flowing through the gaps into the Ekadasi Mandapa flooding the place putting the paintings at risk. The plan is to construct a shed at the entrance to prevent water entering the mandapa.
Multiple Stapathis will be used during the year long renovation activity with each being assigned a specific set of tasks. Chemical wash will be performed on the walls and pillars at the temple to restore it to its original form.

Vahanas – Repair work
Repair work will be carried out to the Golden Garuda Vahana on which the Lord goes out on a Procession on the opening day of Chitrai every year. The popular Chariot Festival and Theppotsavam take place in Vaikasi as part of the grand 15 day Brahmotsavam.

While 1000s of devotees visit the temple during the annual Vaikasi festival, as well as on each of the Saturdays in Puratasi, the temple complex lacks basic amenities such as bathroom and toilet facilities. It is hoped that HR & CE will immediately look into this and make available some of the basic facilities for the devotees including rooms to stay.

All the shops opposite the temple are being brought down and re-built. The staff quarters are being refurbished.

Connection with three Divya Desams
The story goes that Sevukan Chettiyar used to walk to Tirupathi with a group of devotees to have darshan of Srinivasa Perumal on the Thiruvonam day in Puratasi. On one such trip, when ill health disrupted his trip, he heard an invisible voice state that He, the Lord  himself would provide darshan at the devotee’s place rather than the devotee coming all the way here.

He was directed to Srirangam to collect the idol, one which was the Abhisheka Murthy of Ramanuja. He came back here to this dense forest area of Ariyakudi and installed the utsava idol of Srinivasa Perumal and built the first prakara. In memory of the construction by Sevukan Chettiyar, his idol is seen on one of the pillars in front of the sanctum.

Subsequently, the 7tiered Raja Gopuram was built along with a separate Sannidhi for Alarmel Mangai Thayar.

The speciality at this temple is that the utsava idol is from Srirangam, the Shatari from Tirupathi and Agni (the sacred fire) from Thiru Maiyam. In centuries gone by, during the Thiruvonam festival in Puratasi, devotees had the honour of being blessed by the Lords from three Divya Desams (the Abhisheka idol, the Shatari and the sacred fire that would be brought from Thirumayam – about 20 kms away - for the Karpoora Aradhana) at the Dasavathara mandapa.

Every month on the Swathi star day, a special Thirumanjana, with 108 sacred Kudams, is performed for Garuda. The belief is that this helps liberate one from doshams.


Ramanuja Iyengar and Ariyakudi Temple
The 20th century Carnatic Music Legend Ramanuja Iyengar lived here for many years in the Sannidhi Street, 100 yards away from the temple. An archival record dating back to 1937 features a kutcheri presentation by him here at Ariyakudi. Well over 70 years ago, Varadaraja Bhattar would seek Ramanuja Iyengar’s endorsement of the special alankarams each day during the 15 day Vaikasi Brahmotsavam. So devoted was Ramanuja Iyengar towards Lord Srinivasa that he would identify and point out even minor errors in the alankaram that would then be corrected by the Bhattar before the screen was opened for the devotees’ darshan.

On the 4th day of the Brahmotsavam, when the Lord came out on the Golden Garuda Vahana, led by an elephant (with a photo of Thyagaraja placed on its top), Ramanuja Iyengar used to present Pancha Ratna Keerthanais.

The temple is open between 730am-1230pm and 430pm-8pm. Those interested in supporting the renovation efforts may contact: 89397 91779 / 94866 34228

How to reach
Ariyakudi is 4kms from Karaikudi.  Daily express trains ply from Chennai to Karaikudi. Auto from Karaikudi Station will cost Rs. 75.



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

NP Madhavan

The TN Ranji cricketer of the 1980s who did the unthinkable reverse – moved from City to a Village - at the prime of his cricketing career 

'Madhavan was a terrific team man and I enjoyed having him in the team'- Venkataraghavan

'Madhavan was a thorough Gentleman and Supremely Talented Cricketer’ - Brijesh Patel 
Right from his school days, Madhavan was as straightforward a human being as you could get and always believed that runs should do the talking - (Kumar) P Ramaswamy - his Mentor and best friend
It was just over 6 months after he had got his maiden Ranji Trophy Century. He was making his debut for his new employer, SVPB (Sri Venkateswara Paper Boards, Udumalpet), at the Forest College ground in Coimbatore and he was out there in what was to become his trademark Red Cap in the years to come. Gathering courage, I(as a young school boy) walked up to him during the drinks break to ask him a bold question.

He had at the peak of his prowess quit a secure job at IOB (he was to be made an officer shortly for he had played an entire year of Ranji Trophy the previous season that included a century as well) in Madras and moved (full time) to the then under developed village of Udumalpet (about 70 kms from Coimbatore) to take up an accounts (sports quota) job at SVPB. It had seemed a very odd decision to me and I asked him as to why he quit IOB to come to a place like Udumalpet. He just smiled it away, in his typical style.

During the first two years of his move to SVPB, I was blessed to be his pre ‘start of innings’ bowler (like a ball boy/ marker in tennis) bowling 10-15 balls to him before he went out to bat every single time.

Here’s the story of Nadathur Padmanabhan Madhavan (NP Madhavan), who hailed from Sankarampadi village in Kanchipuram District, the only Ranji cricketer in TN who went away from Madras to settle down in a village at the peak of his cricketing career, never to return, this after having been grown up in the heart of Madras, in T. Nagar.

Schooling days at Somasundaram Ground
With his parents away from Tamil Nadu, Madhavan spent his entire schooling days in Kodambakkam/T Nagar (RKM North) with his grandparents. That was the time his long and engaging association with Coach Adi Chetty began, one that extended to SVPB, Globe Trotters and Kunal Engineering in the coming decades. It was during his T Nagar days that he came into contact with two other promising cricketers, S Madhavan (later RBI Leg spinner) and TA Sekar. They used to practice regularly at the Somasundaram Ground.

His Mentor and Best Friend
It was also the time that he forged a strong bonding with Kumar ( P Ramaswamy – who recently retired as VP Personnel from Sundaram Clayton) who was to become his mentor and best friend in life. Kumar was not a cricketer of great repute but would nevertheless bowl to Madhavan for hours at the Somasundaram ground.

In those early days, it was Kumar who pooled money together to even get a proper cricket bat for Madhavan (it had been a bit of a financial struggle for Madhavan in those early days). When Madhavan went to play a University match, his thin pad was in such poor shape that it was Kumar who went to an auto parts shop on General Patters Road to get a cushion that was then fixed into the inside of the left pad to give that extra protection. Kumar then ran all the way to Central Station to give it just in time before the train departed for Hyderabad.

Talking over the phone from Rishikesh, Kumar says that he was happy to do these because Madhavan was one of a kind of a guy in cricket. ‘He would be ready to wake up at 5am for a cricket session. He would bat passionately for hours until the bowlers had no more energy left From a very young age, he was so straightforward as a human being that he believed that it was the runs that counted. Hence he never went behind the powers that be. And that continued right till the end of his career. He solely focused on being committed to the game and doing the role assigned to him by his team. He is a standing example of one who came up in life from a financial struggle to the Ranji level through sheer hard work and performance.'

From MCC to Guru Nanak – His First Big Honour - 1975
Madhavan was one of the very few students to get a first class in PU at Guru Nanak College. By then, he had already started playing and performing for the college but was surprisingly refused a B.Com seat, despite achieving good grades as well as performing creditably in cricket. It was one of the very few occasions in his life that Madhavan showed signs of anger and disappointment. He went and joined MCC (Madras Christian College) and paid the joining fee. He was to submit his certificate on Monday. But as luck would have it, he played a match that Sunday at Guru Nanak College ground, one that was watched by Professor Ramana, the great cricket supporter of the 70s and 80s.

Stunned by Madhavan’s thrilling exhibition of stroke play, Prof Ramana came up to Madhavan and enquired about him only to be told that his college had rejected him and that he was joining MCC the next day. Immediately Prof Ramana offered a three year scholarship to him for his B.Com, waiving off his entire fee- a rare privilege in those days. It was the first big honour for Madhavan in cricket, something that he cherishes to this day.

Best Moment in Cricket – Winning Vizzy Trophy
During his period at College, Madhavan played for Jolly Rovers as a professional alongside some star players of that era. Such was his performance that he was a paid a princely fee for a ‘professional’ player of a couple of hundred rupees (per month/match).

In the Universities match against Bangalore, Madhavan scored a brilliant century in the very first match of the tournament and was chosen for the South Zone Universities where he came up against Kapil Dev and North Zone in the final. Madhavan considers securing victory for SZ in a low run chase in that Vizzy Trophy final in 1977-78 with a personal contribution of 31 on a damp rain affected pitch against a rampant Kapil (he got 8 wickets) as his best moment in cricket.

He was also a capable leader for he understood the game well and was always a team man. Madhavan went on to lead the State and South Zone U22 and State U25 teams in the late 1970s and early 80s. During this period, he scored an unforgettable 170 for the districts against City. His consistent performances earned him the Districts Cricket of the Year (R Madhavan followed him with the award in the succeeding years). 

He amassed runs with such consistency that he had job offers from multiple banks (including SBI) and institutions even before he had finished his graduation. He was keen to do CA, but his passion for cricket took him to a clerical job at IOB where V Krishnaswamy and H Sundaram were inspirational in those early days with the bank in the late 1970s.
Going into bat with 'ROCKO' M Sundar  for IOB

Beating Jolly Rovers in a big run chase
Playing for IOB against a strong Jolly Rovers attack led by K Bharat Kumar and co, Madhavan helped chase down a big target of 320+ in the final innings with an unbeaten 120, a match that he considers one of his best.
A Young Madhavan in a strong IOB team that won the Hindu Trophy 

I have not seen anyone like NP Madhavan – PK Dharmalingam
His coach from his college days PK Dharmalingam had coached many players (a list that included Srikkanth, Venkatramana and LS) to greatness in the 1970s. Out of all of those starts, Dharmalingam says that Madhavan stood out like a shining star, especially as a human being. PKD took a special liking for Madhavan both for his stylish batting and his conduct on and off the field. 

'Madhavan’s on-drive was the best I had seen of anyone in the 1970s and 80s. Playing an on-drive on the ground is one of the most difficult strokes in cricket and Madhavan played it with great elegance and ease, time and again. Despite his early success, he was humble, simple, God fearing and soft spoken. He worked very hard on his game to make the best use of his talent. He was disciplined and always well behaved. He was simply a lovable character. When he played, it always seemed that he was playing purely for the love of the game and I enjoyed coaching him. There is no doubt that he should have played many more matches for TN. He was an outstanding human being. In the decades since, I have not seen a humble cricketer and a human being like him.’
NS Ramesh, who played for LMW in the late 1970s before joining RBI in Madras also remembers the softer side of Madhavan ‘He was non controversial and simply focused on his game. He was always calm and a fine gentleman. I used to particularly like his aggressive style of batting.’

Becomes a back foot Player
Till 1980, Madhavan had been an excellent player through the covers and pre-dominantly played off the front foot. That season, he went to Bombay for a camp under Col. Hemu Adhikari, who changed Madhavan’s game to a strong back foot player. Shastri, Pandit and Rajput were also part of that camp.

Hits out at Asantha De Mel
At his peak, Madhavan faced the fastest of bowlers without a helmet. Ranji Trophy winning captain S Vasudevan remembers the way Madhavan took on Asantha De Mel, the fastest bowler from Sri Lanka, and repeatedly hooked and pulled him out of the ground in a fearless batting display in Colombo. Vasudevan also remembers the way Madhavan jumped out to quality spinners and consistently hit them over the top.
An upset De Mel abused Madhavan in typical fast bowler’s language. And as was his style, Madhavan answered with the bat and hit him out of the ground once again soon after the abuse. That’s how he played his cricket. Very rarely did he speak. Most of the times he allowed his bat to do the talking and kept any emotional feelings to his own self.

NP Madhu was a MISFIT for TN Cricket 
After years of consistent performances in all forms of cricket – age group tournaments, league, inter districts and University, Madhavan finally broke through into the playing XI for Tamil Nadu in November 1980. His former teammate from Chengalpet Districts and Friends XI Tambaram V Ramesh (now Vice President with the TNCA) looks back with sympathy for Madhavan.
‘NP Madhu was such a nice fellow. Everyone loved him. And he scored so many runs for the districts and in the league that he should have walked into the Ranji team much earlier. But the seniors in those days would just not retire and Madhu was caught in an era of some very big names in the top order for Tamil Nadu. Hence despite being in prolific form, his entry into Ranji was delayed. He was probably a misfit in the cricketing circles as he did not talk much and would not go behind anyone. He would not question any unfairness to him and just focused on scoring runs. Hence he may have easily been taken for a ride.’

(Ramesh adds that the other Madhavan (R Madhavan) also from Chengalpet District was aided with a little more luck. A few years junior, R Madhavan entered the scene when some of the stars of the 70s had retired and thus enjoyed lot more opportunities than NP Madhavan)

In December 1980, a month after his debut, Madhavan scored the first of his three Ranji centuries, against Andhra at Chepauk.

1981 – Kalli’s rejection and a Life Changing Decision
Later that season, in the summer of 1981, Madhavan (along with a few other cricketers) took a train to Coimbatore to meet with former TN fast bowling great and the then captain of LMW B Kalyanasundaram (Kalli) following a recruitment ad in the newspaper that called for state cricketers.  Kalli thought highly of Madhavan and regarded him as a brilliant opening bat with a wide array of strokes. His excellent fielding especially in the Gully region would have been a big plus for LMW. While Kalli (and LMW) was keen to have his services, the financial part of the deal did not work out for Madhavan and he returned to Madras to continue at IOB. 
If Kalli had worked on a better deal, Madhavan’s life may have taken a different turn and he may have returned in a few years back to Madras. In a way it was Kalli’s rejection of a fair increase from what he was already getting at IOB and a bigger financial package that paved the way for Madhavan’s settling down in Udumalpet.

May be Madhavan had a tinge of disappointment that LMW did not give him a better deal for in the years that followed, after he joined SVPB, Madhavan was specially aggressive against LMW and many of his top knocks came against them in the Coimbatore Premier league that led Kalli to declare ‘he never spared me in Coimbatore!!’

Much to his surprise and in a life changing event, soon after the LMW deal failed to go through, Soundararajan, the MD of GVG group called on for Madhavan who went to Udumalpet along with his father for a discussion.

Soundararajan had great regard for Madhavan from what he had heard of him both as a player and as a personality and offered him an irresistible deal, much more than what Kalli and LMW had offered and well over double of what his current employers were paying him.  But he had one request of Madhavan – to not leave the company for the next three years (for he was keen to build a strong team that decade). In a gesture of loyalty, Madhavan never looked away from the group and resisted all the luring offers that came his way from Madras, especially following his centuries in Ranji Trophy in 1983 and 85. 
Exemplary Conduct
His conduct both on and off the field that first year at SVPB was a huge influence on me and my life. Three events stand out etched in my memory. At the matting wicket at GCT ground in a crucial match against LMW, on a day when he was once again batting beautifully, he was given out caught behind when the ball had missed by a long mile. Without the slightest hint of disapproval, he walked back to the pavilion and asked the next set of batsmen to make up. He always played the game that way. Never did he dispute an umpire’s decision. 

In another match, once again against arch rivals LMW, he showcased the ‘soft spoken’ side to his character. It was a rainy day in Coimbatore and there were shades of wetness in the pitch (turf wicket). The aggressive Kalyanasundaram was itching to have a go at the SVPB batsmen and was keen that the umpires resume play. Madhavan did not even enter the field of play and had no words to say that evening. He simply hung back and waited for the umpires’ decision almost following the philosophy ‘Silence is always better unless additional words can add value to the scenario.’ Also throughout his career, he never stayed back for gossip at the end of the match, irrespective of the result. He would change into ‘colours’ and leave to the Gandhipuram bus stand to catch the bus back to Udumalpet.

With Sukumar his opener for many years at SVPB 

The next year, when he returned to the Forest College ground for another match against LMW soon after a match winning century in Ranji following a recall to the state team for the knock out match against UP, Kalli, who had played for a decade under Venkat, asked him if there were any particular message that his captain gave him. Madhavan’s reply was remarkably simple “He asked me where I wanted to bat and I said ‘Captain’s orders’”. 

Though an opener all his life, he batted at No. 5 (his first innings for TN that season) and scored 125 after having coming  when the team was struggling at 115/3 to help chase down 350+. He rates helping TN win that knock out as one of his best innings in cricket.

Father Figure in the team
Former TN Ranji player AP Suresh Kumar who joined SVPB in the 1980s played a lot of cricket with Madhavan both in the Coimbatore and Madras leagues. He refers to Madhavan as the ‘Steve Waugh of SVPB’. When he went in, there was certain composure in the team. Everyone knew that he would give his life for the team under the most difficult of situations. He was a brilliant batsman with classical stroke play. His hooking and cover driving was a treat to watch. He showed a lot of grit when he batted. In the 80s, he played so many brilliant innings and the entire team used to just sit and enjoy him bat for hours together. He faced the fastest of bowlers without a helmet and sometimes reminded us of the way Viv Richards played with just a cap on and taking on the fast bowlers with unflinching aggression.

‘It is still a mystery to most of the players of that era as to why he did not play much more for the state.’ ‘He spoke very little but when he did, he made a lot of sense. He was a father figure and made me understand my responsibilities in cricket.’

Months after scoring his 2nd century in Ranji, he was operated upon below the eye after a severe blow while batting in the nets against Prakash (Bangalore) at Udumalpet. The injury put him out of action for a while in 1983.

First SVPB, then Life Mate at Udumalpet
It was also around this time that another significant event happened in his life. All the players from SVPB would stay at a lodge in Udumalpet. Out of the huge squad of two teams (Venkateswara Paper Boards and Venkatesa Paper Mills) Madhavan was an odd man out – a teetotaler who would most of the times be sitting in a corner away from the rest who were indulging themselves in fun. He was also handsome!!! The owner of the lodge took to a special liking for Madhavan and he and his family pursued him relentlessly to fix an alliance for his sister in law. Not only did he take the unlikely call of moving away from the city to work in a village environment, he had also now got knotted on to a young lady from Udumalpet (in Feb 1984) when he had not yet turned 26.

Unbeaten Century against Bombay
 Madhavan gained his third recall to the Ranji team in the 1984-85 Season. And he scored another century in a knock out game, this time against Bombay at the Wankhade in the last week of March 1985 (unfortunately this century turned out to be his last for TN). A fortnight earlier, at the same ground and against the same opposition, Madhavan had starred in his only one day match in the Wills Trophy tournament both as a batsman and a bowler (he bowled deceptive off spin).

In the mid 1980s, SVPB took over the sponsorship of Globe Trotters in Madras in addition to having two teams in Coimbatore (Venkateswara Paper Boards and Venkatesa Paper Mills) and roped in stars from Karnataka including the well respected Brijesh Patel. 

His Best Knock in League Cricket
In 1987, in an early season clash on a matting wicket at the Union ground, playing for Globe Trotters under Brijesh Patel, he took on Venkat and co (India Pistons) and slammed 185 in thunderous style with the ball lodging repeatedly in the Basketball court.

It is one of the best innings I have watched in league cricket as he hooked and drove the fast bowlers with ease and played Venkataraghavan as well as anyone would have in local cricket when every one else was struggling. Venkat tried everything that day (including his typical abusive approach at the opposition batsman) but just could not dislodge Madhavan. Frustrated and unable to even irritate Madhavan, let alone his wicket, Venkat quietly walked away with his curd rice box to the Northern corner of the ground for his lunch that day, far away from Madhavan!!!

In the first 4 matches of that season, Madhavan had two fifties (including an unbeaten 55 when his team had been bowled out for 120) in addition to this knock of 185. And he had had one of the best starts to a league season. He had also bagged the best batman award at the annual YSCA Trophy with rousing display at the RKM ground in every single match.

And yet, the selectors left him out of the Buchi Babu squad citing ‘old age’. At 29, this decision of the selectors literally ended Madhavan’s hopes of extending his Ranji career. But typical of Madhavan, he took it in his stride and continued on with life leaving no signs of any bitterness.
Venkataraghavan says that Madhavan was a highly talented cricketer with wonderful stroke making ability. He was also a big asset to the team as a fielder. He was an attractive batsman to watch and should have definitely played many more matches for Tamil Nadu, given his talent and the potential that he held. In the limited opportunities he got, he did score a couple of quality centuries under my captaincy. In cricket, the number of matches one plays really depends on circumstances, team composition and such factors and those may have come into in Madahvan's case. But he was a terrific team man and I enjoyed having him in my team in the 1980s, even though he may have played only a few matches, much below what his talent warranted.'

Impeccable Conduct
Brijesh Patel, who captained SVPB and also had a special liking for Madhavan feels that it was very unfortunate that he did not play many more matches for Tamil Nadu at a time when he was plundering runs. ‘How could you not even consider someone who had scored 185 in that aggressive and confident style on that matting wicket against Venkat’. 
In a telephonic conversation from Bangalore, Brijesh Patel said that Madhavan was a supremely talented batsman and an excellent fielder. He was strong both against fast and spin bowling and played many brilliant match winning knocks for SVPB and Globe Trotters. He seemed always composed and gave the team a sense of confidence when he went into bat. Something even more special about him was that he was a thorough gentleman. His conduct was impeccable both on and off the field. The only thing I would hold against him was that he did not display a killer instinct.’ 

Madhavan got a raw deal- VB
VB Chandrasekar, himself an upcoming opener at that time, had moved to Coimbatore for his Engineering and played cricket there in the mid 80s. In a rare moment of praise, VB reserves his best ever compliment in my decade of interaction with him for Madhavan. ‘He was a talented and skillful opener. Scoring a century against Bombay was rated ultimate in those days but he got a raw deal from the State. He never looked back bitterly at his career which clearly should have been handled better. He was a gentleman and many youngsters benefitted from his mentorship.’
Excellent Human Being -Sekar
TA Sekar knew NP Madhavan from the RKM school days as the two played lots of cricket together at Somasundaram ground in T Nagar in the 1970s and a few Ranji matches later in the 80s. Sekar too echoes VB’s sentiment and says that despite scoring tons of runs in the first division for Globe Trotters (a team that Sekar too played for many years in the 80s and 90s), it was unfortunate that for no fault of his he was dropped from the Ranji team. Yet, he remained an excellent human being, always soft spoken and ever a good student (of the game).

Ranji record
He finished his Ranji career with a special record. His last Ranji innings was an unbeaten century against Bombay. His first and last one day innings for TN was a 49 against Bombay at the Wankhade Stadium in a match where he also bowled his full quota of overs and took a wicket with his deceptive off spin. He scored 3 centuries in 9 matches, thus averaging 1 one century every 3 matches. Two of his three centuries came in knock out matches.
Ranji cricketer from the 1980s PC Prakash who also runs and manages Mambalam Mosquitos ( I umpired one of Madhavan's last matches in league cricket here) for whom Madhavan played in the 90s credits Madhavan with a quality that is so essential for cricketers and human being 'He was so straight forward and honest about himself.'

Almost 30 years later, the wound remains of not being given a fair treatment but nothing has changed in him. He continues to be soft spoken, gentle to the core, displaying no signs of emotions and absolutely no gossip.  And the big red Kumkum that was a striking feature of him every morning when he entered the ground remains to this day. He can also take satisfaction of mentoring two players from Udumalpet - UR Radhakrishnan and M Senthilnathan - who went on to play higher levels of the game.

It reveals his passion and love for the game that for over 15 years, between 1981 and the mid – late 90s, Madhavan took the strenuous option of travelling multiple weekends in a month to Madras to play for first division teams, a number of times in unreserved compartment (even as a Ranji cricketer) in the Blue Mountain Express. He would return on Monday morning to Udumalpet and head straight to work. This continued even long after his Ranji career had ended and after he had settled down in Udumalpet on a corporate role.

Madhavan who counts S Balaji, Jillu Ramesh and R Madhavan among his best friends and K Bharat Kumar and S Vasudevan among the most difficult bowlers faced, has turned even more philosophical now and is a staunch Baba devotee. He allocates an hour every evening for devotional chanting and has recently started singing devotional songs and even become a lead singer in the Bhajans in Udumalpet. 

His loyalty remains one of his strongest qualities in life and he sacrificed the possibility of a more lucrative career in the city to settle down with the GVG Group. 

Last week, his firm presented him with the ultimate birthday gift endorsing his enormous contribution both as a cricketer and as an executive over the last 35 years. In a personal letter to him, the JMD wrote asking him to accept an extension of his service by another 5 years as a reward for his three decades long contribution. And that Madhavan sees as the ultimate recognition in life.

(NP Madhavan is currently a Vice President at the Rs. 400+ crore GVG group)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ramanuja Avathara Utsavam Sriperambudur

Ekantha Sevai at 430am, Ramanuja's Special Varisai Walk in front of Lord Rama and presenting milk in a conch shell to child Ramanuja marked this Tuesday's Avathara Utsavam Celebrations at Sriperambudur

One of the biggest contributions Saint Philosopher Ramanuja made was his all inclusive approach to apportion activities in temples including at the Lord Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam. It was the 999th birthday at the Aadhi Kesava (Basyakarar) Perumal temple in Sriperambur this Tuesday
(10 May). 

And I watched in shock the turn of events at the start of the morning street procession. As the ghosti was about to commence, a 50+ Vadakalai devotee came and stood on the road (North Mada Street) just behind the Ghosti Group.

No sooner had he stood, a member of the Ghosti who stood between the Jeer and Sri Parthasarathy (former Dharma Kartha of the temple) gave a big shout asking this Vadakalai man to go further behind and not to come anywhere near the group. It left me stunned. 

Ramanuja advocated an all inclusive approach and here on his birthday, they were asking one of the devotees to get out. The tone and the manner of the message gave a feeling that this man was an outcast. If this was bad, what followed was worse. 

A school boy from Triplicane (who also carries Lord Parthasaray on processions) came up to this elderly person and in a tone that was completely unsavoury hit out at this man to send him rocking back on the road. The elderly man was almost in tears but bore the shouts and left the place shortly. 

The same boy later that afternoon during the 'conch milk feeding event' shouted out in an unruly manner at another devotee for taking photo with his phone. Just a couple of months, his father was talking non stop over the phone while performing pradakshanam around the Thayar Sannidhi at the Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane. During the Voyyali in front of the Ramar Sannidhi, his mother remarked that the phones should fall of the devotees' hands when they are thus taking photo during the special walk. Indeed that was a fair comment. But I hope and wish that she would also talk to her husband and ask him not to do pradakshanam inside the Parthasarathy temple while talking on the phone. 

While the Vadakalai v Thenkalai fights are in the public domain with any number of instances at Thiruvahindrapuram, Srirangam and Triplicane, one would have hoped that such an ugly incident would not have taken place on the birthday of the great Saint Philosopher.

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The clock had just ticked past 3am this Tuesday (10 May) morning when Ramanuja made his way back to the Aadhi Kesava Perumal Temple in Sriperambudur after a three hour procession on a pushpa pallakku. The entire temple reverberated in bhakti with the recital, by around 50 Prabhandham experts, of devotional hymns from the final verses of Thiru Mangai Azhwar’s Thiru Nedunthandagam leaving Ramanuja visibly happy.
He was even more delighted when these experts, many of whom had come from Thiruvallikeni (Chennai), in a sweet rendering presented the 9th Canto of Nam Azhwar’s Tiruvoimozhi, one that went up to almost 430am.
Ekantha Sevai – 16 days in a Year
It was now time for the Ekantha Sevai to conclude the 9th day of Ramanuja’s avathara utsavam. In pin drop silence, Ramanuja made his way to each of the inner Sannidhis of the temple first providing his blessings to Nam Pillai and Vedanta Desikar and then receiving blessings from Nam Azhwar, Andal, Aadhi Kesava Perumal, Thiru Kachi Nambi and Alavanthar. In front of each of these deities, the relevant praise highlighting their greatness and achievements was presented.

Several centuries ago Sriperambudur Embar Jeer created 16 days of a special Ekantha Sevai at the Aadhi Kesava Perumal temple to be presented on select occasions annually. These comprise of 9 days during the Ramanuja Avathara Utsavam, 3days in Thai, 1 day on Koorath Azhwan, Pillai Lokacharya and Manavala Munigal Avathara Utsavam, with the final one on the last Thiruvathirai of the year in Panguni.


Birthday Celebrations
The 10th day Utsavam and his birthday - the Thiruvathirai star in Chitrai - celebrations began after 8am with Ramanuja presenting a special walk in front of Lord Rama. The story goes that Lakshmana (Ramanuja is seen as his incarnation) had a beautiful grace in his walk but the Lord had never been able to experience this as his younger brother had always walked behind him. As his special birthday treat, Ramanuja presented a special ‘Voyyali- Varisai’ walk providing the Lord with a full long view of his ‘brother’s’ walking grace  and one could visualise the joy and happiness on Lord Rama’s face that seemed to lend a smile in appreciation of this exclusive presentation before him.
Presenting Milk to Child Ramanuja in a Conch Shell
It seemed even the Rain God wanted to wish the Acharya on his birthday for soon after the three hour morning procession, he presented the town with light showers.

And then the big moment of his birthday arrived. Ramanuja was brought to the location of his birth opposite the temple that has been converted to an ‘Avathara Mandapa’. Here, taking the devotees back in time to the day of his birth, he was placed in a cradle (Oonjal) and presented with milk in a conch shell. He was also presented with butter as tears of joy rolled down the eyes of hundreds of devotees present inside the mandapa. 
As part of the birthday celebrations,Garland and Parivattam that had come in from various Divya Desams were presented to Ramanuja. The birthday was also marked by recital of Ramanuja’s Gadya Trayam, a Thirumanjana and street procession in the night.

THIRUVARANGATH AMUDHANAR'S RAMANUJA NOOTRANTHATHI
Ramanuja Nootranthathi is the only composition in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham that has the unique distinction of being written by one who was a contemporary and one who watched the daily activities of his Acharya from close quarters. Ramanuja was not keen on a work that just had his praise alone. Hence he directed his disciple Thiruvarangath Amudhanar to compose a work that included praise of the Azhwars and the Divya Desams.
In 108 verses of praise, Amudhanar brings out the great noble qualities of his acharya and his concern for the weak and the masses. Referring to Ramanuja as the king of ascetics and as one who took birth to counter the destructive powers in this Kali Yugam, Amudhanar assures the devotees that just chanting the name of Ramanuja will create a Bhakthi path in one’s mind. Each verses of this composition thus has the name of Ramanuja.

It was Ramanuja who helped ordinary people understand the philosophical aspects of life for he had the ability to transform even wicked people. Citing his own example, Amudhanar provides insights into the contribution of his acharya in transforming him towards the noble path. Ramanuja considered devotees performing service with true devotion to the Lord as very close to him and instilled the need to use every part of the body to do some service related to God. 
‘Compassion is one of your greatest qualities. Is it not a great example of your compassion that you made a true human being out of me? My body that was previously enjoying the pleasure of life has now come to perform noble activities after having come under your influence’ thus praises Amudhanar in the Nootranthathi.

Ramanuja dedicated his knowledge and learning to the cause of uplifting the devotees. Just like Rama followed every direction of his father, Amudhanar too followed Ramanuja to the full with the confidence that his acharya would not ask him to do anything that was not for the good of the world. Those who do not change themselves for the better by following his teachings are likely to come under the negative influence of Kali. But to all those people who believe in Ramanuja’s teachings, Amudhanar commits his self to serving them at all points of time without displaying any tiredness.

Amudhanar says that even if Ramanuja were to show him the Lord himself he would not see anything but his acharya’s compassionate heart and places one final request to Ramanuja that if he were to be born again, he should be born as one with utmost bhakti with a mind on serving the devotees and says that such selfless service is better than a service performed even to the Lord at Vaikuntam.

Friday, May 6, 2016

VB Chandrasekar to foray into One on One Coaching

EXCLUSIVE 

To make significant investment in technology
Nearly two decades after the launch of his cricket academy in Chennai, one that is restricted to students aged below 17years, VB Chandrasekar (VBC) -http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/01/vb-chandrasekar.html - who has been widely acknowledged as one of the best captains the city has seen, is making a foray into one on one personalised coaching for cricketers.

It was VBC who identified and picked the core team at CSK in the initial years. It speaks of his astute cricketing acumen and ability to spot talent that CSK has been the only team in the 8 years to have held on to the core group of players and this was instrumental in CSK having the best track record for any team in the IPL, despite him not being part of the set up after the initial phase.  

It is one of those flood light sessions in April at his academy ( His is the only one of its kind flood lit private outdoor cricket coaching academies in the city). His phone is ringing non-stop and it’s from home. It is already quite late, well past 930pm. But VBC is passionately involved with a couple of his young leg spinners. He is frustrated that a leggie with good potential is too fast in his final two paces to the bowling crease. 

Another leg spinner is bowling too fast for his liking. The speed gauge measures 75kmph and VBC is not happy. He asks all the bowlers to stop. And he wants the leggie to slow down his pace. A minute later, he is delighted at the result. The ball is lot slower- 64 kmph – the ball stays in the air, dips and turns past the batsman. He gives the young boy a big shout ‘Did you see that. You are not working hard enough on your skills’. The boy nods in acknowledgement and says he will follow!!!
                             
An hour earlier, at the farther end of the nets, he was taking a close look at the defensive technique of boys aged 10 years. And as the kid played a dead bat to a ball pitching on the leg stump, VBC picked up the bat from the young boy and showed him the technique of locking the wrist at the last moment to get the ball to square leg for a single instead of playing a dead ball on the pitch.

He made a big positive impact to many youngsters in the late 80s and through the 90s in league cricket here, a number of whom progressed into Ranji cricket. He was known to get the best in the players who ‘followed’ his instructions and directions.  

His academy now runs in three different locations in the city, prompting Dr. Natarajan to call it last week as the Saravana Bhavan of cricket academies. 

The one on one coaching will be extended to players of all age groups including first division and Ranji cricketers. This exclusive programme is expected to include video analysis, monitoring and analysing strengths and weaknesses and personalised mentoring. VBC is making significant investment on this front including on modern technology. This is set to kick in June –July this year.

On Monday this week, Muttiah Muralidharan who launched the flood light facility at his academy at Guru Nanak College was all praise for VB Chandrasekar repeatedly addressing him as VB Sir and referring to him as an outstanding talent spotter.
Last August, VBC’s Ranji Trophy winning captain S Vasudevan had told prtraveller of his plans to launch a TIP (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2015/08/former-ranji-trophy-captain-to-launch.html). There have also been a few former Ranji/India cricketers who have over the last couple of years launched such one on one offerings but the general feedback is that they have not been physically present on most days leaving the wards frustrated.

While VBC has all the credentials of being an excellent mentor for both upcoming players and those going through challenges in their careers at the higher levels of the game with his superior technical skills and the inherant ability to spot strengths and weakness, one has to wait and watch over the next couple of years as to how he fares on this front having had mixed fortunes in his many different avatars over the long 3 decades old cricket career.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Vaduvur Rama Navami Utsavam

Divine Couple's 37 Street – 15 hour  on a hot Chitrai day
It was a one of its kind procession on the 6th day of the Rama Navami Utsavam at the Kothandaramar temple in Vaduvur. After having provided darshan all alone on the 1st five days, Rama was joined by Sita on the morning of the 6th day for the day- long 15 hour trip on a palanquin to each of the 37 streets of Vaduvur stopping by at every single house in the town to provide a special joint darshan to the devotees at their door step.
This trip is seen as also an invitation to the residents of Vaduvur to attend the Thiru Kalyana Vaibhavam that was slated for the next day as well as a reminder to participate in the Chariot festival later in the week.
What was even more unique about this procession was that the Divine Couple made two trips to each street – first providing darshan to devotees on the left side of the street and then coming back to provide darshan to devotees on the right side, such was the personalized attention presented to each devotee.
By the time they made their way back to the temple, it was well past 9.30pm in the evening. After such a long and tiring trip through the hot and sweltering day it was only appropriate to cool the divine couple with a sacred bath and they were showered with coconut water, honey, sandal paste and mixed fruits.
Mohana Alankaram at Mid Night
After having witnessed the Thirumanjanam, the devotees waited eagerly for the 2nd Alankaram of the day. Sharp at mid night, Lord Rama provided darshan in a Mohana Alankaram in a beautiful sitting posture at the Vahana Mandapa.

An hour later, the screen closed as the Lord and Thayar got ready for another Alankaram. It took over 2 hours of tireless effort on the part of two young Bhattars to drape the Lord in a Raja Alankaram atop the Elephant Vahana. A more senior priest – Uppili Deekshithar - took to the task of getting Sita Devi ready and mounted on the Hamsa Vahana.
The 6th day utsavam saw Lord Rama in three different Alankarams. Dressing up the Lord is a special art and requires a lot of expertise, in addition to enormous amount of patience. Two young priests, both 24 years old, Hari Sundar Bhattar from Therezhendur Divya Desam and Bharathwaj Deekshithar from Mannargudi stayed awake really late on two successive nights to deck up the Lord.
Hari Sundar Bhattar showcased his emerging talent in a one hour solo effort getting the Lord draped in a Mohana Alankaram. As the screen opened just after mid night, tears rolled down the eyes of the devotees as they were awe struck by the Lord’s beauty in a shining white vastram dotted with a blue silk border, a special Kondai and glittering jewelry, presenting himself as a ‘Mohana’. Hari Sundar Bhattar also explained the Purana and the significance of this special Alankaram much to the delight of the devotees taking them back to the legendary episode of the Lord luring the asuras away from the nectar with his beauty.


The clock had just ticked past 1am and it was time for the devotees to take a quick nap ahead of the next procession. But not so for the two youngsters for, they were bestowed with the responsibility of working on the third Alankaram of the day - Raja Alankaram of Lord Rama atop the Elephant.

For over 2 hours, the two of them combined as a team to present Lord Rama in majestic princely attire.  It was 3.15am and they had not slept for the last 36hours. But as they came out, they seemed to be truly energized for one could find a great sense of satisfaction and happiness in their face having just completed a very important alankaram of the Rama Navami Utsavam and mounted Lord Rama in the Raja Kolam atop the Elephant in his third and last attire of the day.
It takes true devotion and artistic skills to drape the Lord. This attains even more significance when there are multiple alankarams on a single day. Hari Sundar Bhattar and Bharathwaj Deekshithar, both of whom are proficient in Agamas and Divya Prabhandham, exhibited these in plenty leaving the devotees totally spell bound. So pleased were the devotees that a few of them even wanted the Bhattar to repeat the Mohana Alankara purana. But it was far too late for that and he promised to keep it for another time and bid them good night.

In decades gone by, the procession of Rama on Elephant Vahana and Sita on Hamsa Vahana used to take place very late in the evening. But with the expansion and overall development of the town and with the morning street procession now taking 15 hours, the vahana procession took place only at 8 am on the 7th day bringing to end a really long day for the divine couple.

Vedic School
It is 4.30am in the morning and the 15 year old Vedic Patashala, 100 yards north of the Kothandaramar temple, is already buzzing with activity. Students from as far as Vizag, Tada, Nellore, Coimbatore and Chennai are undergoing a 12 year Vedic Education programme. Under the tutelage of their Acharya Govindan, who has been involved in Vedic teaching for the last four decades, these students, the youngest being just 7 years old, follow a strict daily regime through the year with only one annual vacation of 15days during Deepavali.
Around 50 students have been initiated with Krishna Yajur Veda during this period and a majority of them have already graduated from the school. During the Rama Navami Utsavam, it was pleasing to see these students in a group accompanying the Lord on his processions chanting the Vedas with devotion.
Vaduvur has a rich heritage and has been traditionally known for its strong Vedic Education. There is a family called ‘Puranatharargal’ who have been rendering ‘Bhagavatha Parayanam’ for generations here at the temple. there is also street called PURANA Street.
How to reach
Vaduvur is 25kms from Thanjavur on the Mannargudi Highway. Buses ply every 15minutes between Thanjavur and Mannargudi.

A VERSION OF THIS STORY FEATURED IN THE HINDU FRIDAY REVIEW ON APRIL 29