Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thiru Kannapuram Divya Desam

Azhvaars called it ‘Wealthy Kannapuram’, ‘Gold Walled’ City - The roar of the Sea could be heard at the temple - Home to ‘Master Craftsmen’
A single Bhattar has been performing Pooja without a Salary for the last few years- The vibrancy of the place is gone - The temple now is rarely visited by the devotees
Thiru Kannapuram ( is truly a legendary temple for it is one of the only two temples in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham to receive a praise of over a 100 verses from the Saint Poets. While Nachiyar Koil (about 25kms west of here) was praised by Thiru Mangai Azhvaar with 110 verses, Thiru Kannapuram has been praised with a century of verses in his Periya Thirumozhi.

There are several temples in the Divya Prabhandham that only received a passing mention. There are many others that the Azhvaars deemed fit to praise with only a decade of 10 verses.

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar who is believed to have travelled to each of these temples to experience both the town as well as the Lord surely would have found something truly special in the people, the festivals and the beauty of the Lord to have dedicated such extensive verses to the Lord of Thiru Kannapuram.

In his 100 verses, he provides great insights into Thiru Kannapuram as a location by the Sea Shore, the unflinching devotion of the people who visited the festivals, the green fields around the temple and the handsome features of the Lord.

Clearly it was a vibrant location 1000s of years ago.

The Devotees
High rise buildings in Thiru Kannapuram seemed to touch the water bearing clouds in the sky. Huge crowds thronged the temple to invoke the blessings of the Lord. Also, one saw love filled devotees during auspicious festival days. The town reverberated with Vedic Chants right through the day. They tended to the sacred fires offering sacrifices and kept the Vedas alive.

வாய் எடுத்த மந்திரத்தால் அந்தணர் தம் செய் தொழில்கள்
தீ எடுத்த மறை வளர்க்கும்
திரு கண்ணபுரத்து உறையும்

Devotees and Celestials flocked to Thiru Kannapuram for worship seeking an elevation of spirit.

தொண்டரும் அமரரும் முனிவரும் தொழுது எழ

Greenery all around
Situated by the lashing ocean, Thiru Kannapuram had fertile fields where one saw an abundance of Mullai, Karumugil and Sankalunir flowers around the temple. Punnai Trees cast shade and light over the waters.

The vast fertile fields that had a rich growth of flowers spread a sweet fragrance all around Thiru Kannapuram. One could inhale the sweet scented lotus at all times at Thiru Kannapuram. Red Paddy plants were seen waving like fans.  There were Pearl like buds that gathered by the waves. There were well grown coral branches. Red corals grew with branches spreading light everywhere. Ripe Paddy grew tall in the fields. The streets were wide with fragrant groves.

Peacocks danced around in flocks all over Kannapuram. The harvesters’ sickle brought out the rabbits from their burrows. The huge number of Fish danced in a trance in the fertile fields. Lotus blossomed everywhere thronged by bees that sung in beautiful humming tunes.

The Sacred Tank
In the rain fed lakes, sharp peaked water birds pounced upon Fish which then ran helter skelter in fear of being consumed. The lakes were clear and the fragrant blue water lily seemed liked the eyes of the Lord and the red lotus bright like his face. Swans in lakes learnt the art of graceful gait from the young girls.

The Sea Shore
The temple has been praised as one standing tall near the sea shore. Boats seemed to be carrying the riches and crowded the shores at all times. Thiru Kannapuram was lashed by the ocean that threw up great resounding conches. Pearls were washed on to shores following the high waves.

கரை எடுத்த சுரி சங்கும் கணபுரத்து எழு கொடியும்

Thiru Mangai Azhvaar refers to this place as ‘Wealthy Kannapuram’ and says that the roar of the sea could be heard at the temple.
பெருகு சீர்க் கண்ணபுரம்

Gold and Gem necklace adorned the Lord’s broad chest. The Lord was surrounded by strong mighty walls that seemed fort like.

Waves of the Sea could be heard
In Tiruvoimozhi, Nam Azhvaar praises Thiru Kannapuram as a temple town with fertile fields and tanks that were filled with crabs. The tanks were fresh with unfading flowers. He goes to the extent of calling this a ‘Gold Walled’ city.

நன் போன் ஏய்ந்த மதில் சூழ் திரு கண்ணபுரத்து அன்பன்

There was a buzz around the groves with the bees in large numbers running around in groups. Standing at the temple, one could hear the waves of the sea washing the shores. Vedic Seers preferred the Lord of Thiru Kannapuram and there was constant chanting of the Vedas.  

Master Craftsmen of Kannapuram
In his Perumal Thirumozhi, it is the Lord of Thiru Kannapuram that Kulasekara Azhvaar sings lullaby for Lord Rama. He praises the temple as one that is surrounded by high stone walls and the sacred tank as one that is more sacred than the Ganges.

கன்னி நன் மா மதில் சூழ்ந்த கணபுரத்து கருமணியே
Kulasekara Azhvaar provides an interesting insight on the people who lived here. He says that Thiru Kannapuram was home to master craftsmen.
கலைவலவர்தாம் வாழும் கணபுரத்து கருமணியே

He too praises the temple as being near the sea shore where gems were washed ashore along with the high waves. In fact, in each of the verses he praises the Lord as being ‘Gem’ Lord!!!
 காலின்மணி கரை அலைக்கும் கணபுரத்து கருமணியே

That was thousands of years ago. The greenery referred to in the praise of the Azhvaars is still intact. As one walks through the one km newly laid road from Thiru Pugalur to Thiru Kannapuram, one finds huge fertile fields on either side. However, there is no hint of any the temple’s glorious past.

Only 8 Brahmin Families now
The Brahmin families have left the city selling their lands at dead cheap rates. The devotee crowd is sorely missing with the Maasi and Vaikasi festivals being the only two where some of the original inhabitants visit their home town. In recent times, even the conduct of these festivals has hung in the balance with the lack of people to carry the Lord on street processions. 78 year old Koora Kulothama Dasa, a descendent of one of the 74 disciples of Ramanuja who continues to reside in Thiru Kannapuram on the South Mada Vilagam bemoans that there aren’t enough Brahmins to carry the dead to the burial ground.
He is the oldest resident at Thiru Kannapuram having been here for a major part of his life. He says that during his childhood all the four Mada Vilagams were agraharams brimming with Vaishnavites chanting the Divya Prabhandham and the sacred Vedas. There was a devotional fervour around the temple.

Things changed for the worse in the 2nd half of the last century with income from lands subsiding as a result of the new political power one that changed the face of the temple life. Sustenance became difficult. It came to a stage that even the huge Appan Venkatachar (of Sri Perambudur) Thirumaligai was sold off for just Rs. 10000 a few decades ago. He recounts the time in the middle of the previous century when 200 Brahmin families lived in the agraharam.  The popular verses of five different Azhvaars were recited by the prabhandham scholars as hundreds of devotees listened with folded hands in devotion. Today there are just 8 Brahmin families in the town including the two archaka families.

Kulothuma Dasa joined the temple in 1955 at a monthly salary of Rs. 12 as an adyapaka. He retired 40 years later at a salary of a few hundreds. And his pension dues have not been registered for the last two decades. And there is no answer from the HR & CE.

Centuries ago, Araiyars resided in this town. Their house still exists but their descendents have stayed away from their traditional art of presenting before the Lord.

Patshala Shut down
The once popular Veda Patshala that functioned from the North Madi Vilagam next to the Ramanuja Sannidhi, was demolished recently. Several Prabhandham and Vedic Scholars graduated from here and became vidwans. A couple of the renowned Hindu school (Thiruvallikeni) teachers were from Thiru Kannapuram. The Vedic Patashala produced a great teacher in Sowri Rajan who later moved on to the Chitrai Street in Srirangam. The South Street behind the South Mada Vilagam too resonated with prabhandham recitals. Adyapakas here were in abundance at Thiru Kannapuram. There were 45 Sirpathingals who worked at the temple just around 50years ago and the temple was vibrant every day with the recital of prabhandham and Vedas. This then came down to 13 a couple of decades ago.

In the 2nd half of the 20th century, one could study only till class V in Kannapuram. For High School and college education, one had to move out to other towns such as Nannilam or Tiruvarur. Raghava Bhattar’s daughter secured well over a 1000 marks in her SSLC examination. And yet she could not fulfil her educational dreams for want of an institution in the temple town. Life had become hell for the residents and there seemed to be no alternative but to move out. There was not even a typewriting institute/facility in the town in those days. After completing class V, Raghava Bhattar moved to Mudikondan ( and walked over 5 kms each day to his school in Nannilam.

Today, there is an Ultra Small Bank (IOB) in the North Mada Vilagam.

Sthalathar of Kannapuram Temple
There are five sthalathar at the Thiru Kannapuram temple. Thirumalai Andaan hold the rights of the first Theertham at the temple here but they no longer reside here. In the late 1950s and early 60s like in Thenthiruperai ( and Therezhendur(, Brahmins started selling their lands and left the town. Lands were sold for as low as Rs. 1 in those two decades. They just wanted to leave the town such had become their desperate state.

Poor Connectivity
There were no transport facilities to Thiru Kannapuram till very recently. For a town that had been praised with a 100 verses, it did not grow with the development that one saw in nearby towns such as Nagapaattinam and Tiruvarur and came to be a deserted temple town. Through the 20th Century, there were no buses to Thiru Kannapuram. In recent decades, there are a couple of daily buses that ply from Tiruvarur. Otherwise one has to board the Kumbakonam Nagapattinam bus to alight at Thiru Pugalur and walk over a km to reach the temple. Thus a famously praised temple that was once vibrant came to be neglected by the devotees.

Fight between the two Bhattar families
Today the priest does full time pooja without a salary and just based on ‘thattu kasu’ as they do not want to leave the temple that they have been taking care of for several centuries.  Let alone monthly salary, the priest is not even paid daily wages for performing his duties every day making even daily sustenance an issue.

Raghava Bhattar’s father retired 25 years ago from the temple at a salary of Rs. 75!!! A few years ago, Raghava Bhattar retired at a salary of Rs. 730 on attaining the age of 60.

If the already bad state of the temple was not enough, at the turn of this century, a few years ago, a fight erupted between the two traditional archaka families that had been taking care of the temple for several centuries. Sowri Raja Bhattar who had been here for over 5 decades and who is considered an expert in conducting Samprokshanams was given the ‘retirement’ order even though he had the Pattayam as a Vaikasana Archaka with his family having performed pooja for centuries. Typical of many of the HR & CE temples, the EO acted as per his ‘whims and fancies’ and sent him out leaving the huge temple with just a single archaka who has to manage both the Perumal and Thayar Sannidhi on his own.  The EO has even stopped the Mela Vathyam and now plays pre recorded tapes during the beginning of processions.

The Sthalathar says that the EO has not done anything progressive for this historical Divya Desam. He believes that the EO is stalling the decision to bring the experienced Sowri Raja Bhattar.The temple has already taken many steps backwards in the last decade or so. And it is likely to deteriorate further with the presence of just a single bhattar. Many Festivals that were once celebrated in a grand way have almost come to a grinding halt and without the presence of multiple Bhattars, it is likely that even the Brahmotsavam and the annual trip to the Sea in Maasi could come under threat.

No Income from Lands
Records are available relating to 400acres of land belonging to the temple but as with other divya desams, the income has not been coming back to the temple. Even as late as the mid 50s, people here used to go to the lands to cultivate but with the new political regime coming into power in the 2nd half of the last century, it became increasingly difficult for the traditionalists to survive and they left the town seeking jobs elsewhere and have not come back again except for a day’s presence at the annual festival.

A temple where Thiru Mangai Azhvaar received the Thiru Mantra Upadesam has now come down to this deplorable state.  Life has changed dramatically in this once famous temple town and a lot of the vibrancy is gone. But Kulothuma Dasa has remained steadfast in his devotion to Lord Neela Megha Perumal and is keen to bring back Sowri Raja Bhattar and his family back into the temple so there are two Bhattars at all times to perform the pooja. With passing of time, he is hopeful that the cycle will turn around and the original inhabitants will come back to sing praise of the Lord again and that the festivals will regain its lost glory.

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