Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thiru Vellarai Divya Desam

3700 Brahimin Families once lived here in Thiru Vellarai
In the century gone by, 'Kainkaryam' personnel consistently walked over 15 kms from Srirangam across the Coloroon to perform service at Thiru Vellarai Divya Desam
                                Pundarikakshan in the 1960s

Visualise this of a temple town. Way back, over a 1000 years ago, 3700 Vaishnavite families lived in Thiru Vellarai, a Divya Desam praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Periyazhvaar and located about 15 kms from Srirangam North of the Coloroon. There were 8 'Patti' Villages that constituted Thiru Vellarai in centuries gone by. These were Thillam Patti, Vadaku Patti, Sala Patti, Kalavai Patti, Punampalayam, Udayam Patti and Theerampalayam, in addition to Thiru Vellarai. In fact, the temple town was so big in size that its boundary extended in the South to the modern day Nochiyam on the Trichy-Salem Highway.

It had to be so to house thousands of families!!! The Agraharam either side of the Northern entrance was long and beautiful.
Each of the 3700 families had a Kainkaryam role in the temple. In later times,  it was from Thiru Vellarai that Vedic Pundits and Bhattars went to other Divya Desams and Purana Sthalams, such was the greatness of the scholars of this historical place. 

Thiru Vellarai is the birth place of two acharyas – Uyya Kondan and Engal Azhvaan

3 Day Chariot Festival!!!! 
The annual Chariot Festival was a special occasion. Thousands of people from the 8 villages around Thiru Vellarai congregated at the temple. Till very recently, the Mada Streets were all mud roads. And as the Chariot waded through the pits, it would get stuck in the mud. and then they would come back the next day for the next phase of its trip!!! It typically took 2-3 days for the Chariot to complete its course around the four streets of Thiru Vellarai, a fact largely unknown to the modern day devotees who are used to a 2-3 hour Chariot Festival.

People also came in large numbers to witness the Horse Vahana procession during the Brahmotsvam and to specially watch the Voiyali on the streets.
15 km walk from Srirangam to Thiru Vellarai
 Till about 2-3 decades back, there were just a couple of buses that made its way to Thiru Vellarai every day from Srirangam. There were many Bhattars and Kainkarya sevakas who walked all the way from Srirangam to Thiru Vellarai chanting slokas and prabhandhams on the way.

Engal Azhvaan’s descendent Varadaraja Acharya, a resident of Thiru Vellarai for several decades, says that for many years his father walked from Srirangam across the Coloroon to reach Thiru Vellarai to perform Kainkaryam here at the temple.
Annual trip to Srirangam
A distinguishing feature of the Kainkaryam at Thiru Vellarai Divya Desam that has withstood the test of time over several centuries is the active participation of Sripatham personnel. It takes 70 people to carry the Lord and Thayar to the Coloroon from Thiru Vellarai as part of the annual trip on the 3rd day of the Brahmotsavam. Unlike most other Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu, where the Lord is now carried on wheels during processions or rests on wooden stools without human support at stop overs during processions, at Thiru Vellarai (as well as in Srirangam), the Lord remains on the shoulders of the Sripaatham and has never been placed on the artificial stools such is the commitment of the Seemanthaangis of this Divya Desam.

During his annual trip to Srirangam, the Prabhandham Ghosti  contingent who are present every evening at the Ramanuja Sannidhi in Srirangam walk across to the banks of the Coloroon for a darshan of Lord of Thiru Vellarai as a mark of respect to the Lord and the Ghosti does not take place at the Ramanuja Sannidhi on that day.

Medicinal Value of Vellarai’s cool breeze
Historically, it was believed that sitting on the 18th step had medicinal healing effect on the devotees. Even the modern day doctors have held that Thiru Vellarai has a mooligai effect from the air that one inhales in thsi sacred town.

In his Periya Thirumozhi, Thiru Mangai Azhvaar describes Thiru Vellarai as a place where a breath of fresh air emanated. He says that the breeze that blew through the mango orchards and over the blossoming jasmine and mullai buds sent a sweet fragrance all around the town.
மன்றில் மாம் பொழில் நுழைதந்து
மல்லிகை மௌவளின் போது அலர்த்தி
தென்றல் மா மணம் கமழ் தர வரு
 திரு வெள்ளறை நின்றானே

Endorsing the quality of the breeze, he says that the breeze also carried the fragrance from the Madavi bowers through the streets of Thiru Vellarai. 

உயர்கொள் மாதவிப் போதொடு உலாவிய 
மாருதம் வீதியின்வாய்
திசை எல்லாம் கமழும் பொழில் சூழ் 

திரு வெள்ளறை நின்றானே

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar also praises the lakes and tanks of Thiru Vellarai. He says lotus flowers that grew in big numbers in the lakes spread a special fragrance.  The bees were seen drinking nectar from the blooming lotuses. They also flew all around the orchards and were in love with each other. Vellarai was also full of Mullai creepers that grew to the tip of the sugarcane.

Araiyar’s Devotional presentation
When Ramanuja was poisoned in Srirangam, he came to Thiru Vellarai and stayed in a place North West of the temple. Udayavar Kulam is still there in Thiru Vellarai. When he was to head back to Srirangam after a couple of years, Thiruvaranga Perumal Araiyar was to see him off till the end of the town with the recital (accompanied by the special music of the Araiyars) of Thiruvoimozhi verses. Ramanuja was so engrossed with the presentation that both of them forgot bidding good bye at the end of the town and Araiyar continued with his presentation right through till Srirangam, 15 kms away.

Ammal Sowmya Narayana Acharya, another descendent of Engal Azhvaan, a resident of Thiru Vellarai for over 6 decades says that Thiru Vellarai has always been a quiet Sannidhi providing for peaceful darshan of Lord Pundarikakshan. Historically, the temple has showed the way for the Srirangam temple in a number of ways. In fact even as recent as the 20th century, the archakas of Thiru Vellarai were renowned for their expertise in the Agamas. Everyone in Tamil Nadu came to Thiru Vellarai to learn the Agamas.

He is proud of the fact that even the revered archakas from Srirangam consistently came to Thiru Vellarai and sought the help of the experts here to clear any of their doubts on Pancharaatna Agamas.

The beating of the drums and the processional formalities followed in Srirangam were similar to the ones in Thiru Vellarai though today Srirangam has grown in popularity. Thiru Vellarai had led the way in many of the processional rituals.

Namperumal’s Pathakam and Crown to Vellarai Lord
Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam felt so indebted to Pundarikakshan for having shown the way of Vaishnavism to the World that he provided a special and exclusive permission to the Lord of Thiru Vellarai to adorn the Ranga Vimana Pathakam as well as the Venkatadri Crown.

Periyazhvaar's First full decad on a Divya Desam on Thiru Vellarai
Yet another historical feature of Thiru Vellarai is that Periyazhvaar in his Thirumozhi dedicates the first full decad on any single location (Divya Desam) to Thiru Vellarai presenting the ‘Kaapidal’ verses to the Lord of Vellarai even ignoring his own birth place of Srivilliputhur and his favourite location of Thiru Maliruncholai as well as his daughter's favourite Srirangam..
இந்திரனோடு பிரமன்
 ஈசன் இமையவர் எல்லாம்
மந்திர மா மலர் கொண்டு
மறைந்து உவராய் வந்து நின்றார்

சந்திரன் மாளிகை சேரும்
சதுரர்கள் வெள்ளறை நின்றார்
காந்தியம் பொது இது ஆகும்
 அழகனே காப்பிட  வாராய்

Half Completed Raja Gopuram
Varadaraja Acharya is of the view that it was during the period of Pillai Lokacharya that a 7 Tier Raja Gopuram was being constructed. After the construction of 2 ½ tiers, the gopuram came to a grinding halt as a result of the muslim invasion.  A couple of years ago plans were afoot to revive the construction of the Raja Gopuram. However, that ran into cold weather and currently, the construction is on hold as a result of the recent Madras High Court judgement.

Thiru Vellarai in the 2nd half of the 20th Century
Similar to the scenario in Thenthiruperai ( and Therezhendur (, Utsavams, except for the Brahmotsavam, stopped in Thiruvellerai in the 2nd half of the previous century as a result of the Vaishnavites moving out . In the 1970s, the Brahmin families, which had already come down to a few 100s from the several 1000s, further came down drastically to 15 families and then to an all time low of just 3-4 families in the 1990s.

For long, support had to come in Srirangam temple to keep the festivals afloat at Thiru Vellarai. Araiyars from Srirangam continue to visit the temple to present Araiyar Sevai on sacred occasions.

In Centuries gone by, there was ‘Maanyam’ for the Archakas in whose name the land was written. They had a secure income.  In the 2nd half of the last century, there was too much of land invasion that even prevented the flow of water into the temple tanks that had been praised so much by Thirumangai Azhvaar in his Divya Prabhandham verses. The residents are now hoping that this hurdle will be overcome and that water can flow back into the tanks.

Like elsewhere, there has been a big revival in the festivals over the last decade with Thiru Vellarai slowly inching back to old times in terms of the conduct of festivals. Today the entire North Street comprises of Vaishnavite families and this is expanding now into another street in the West. Hopefully one day into the future, this ancient temple town of Thiru Vellarai will once again house thousands of Vaishnavite families in the four streets and restore the ancient glory of this once famous town.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

During 1960s myself with friends used to go to vellarai in bicycle.

When Vellarai Perumal comes to Kollidam, we used to go there and sit there till late night. We used to have good darshan of Perumal and enjoy the atmosphere.