Saturday, August 19, 2017

Chidambaram Thillai Thiru Chitrakoodam

A Temple that testifies, best, the Saivite - Vaishnavite Unity
Devotees are eagerly awaiting the commencement of ‘Brahmotsavam’ Celebrations  at Chidambaram Divya Desam, where 3000 Vedic Seers offered worship everyday in ancient times. Temple Activist Ramesh says No Brahmotsavam is possible for the Divya Desam Lord at Chidambaram as per the Act.

Theerthakar responsibilities @ 15, Inducted into the Board of Trustees @ 18, 70 years of selfless service at this temple, Renovation Support Services to over 50 Divya Desams - ‘If you are straight forward and offer your service to the Lord with Utmost Devotion, people will trust you’ – Prof AV Rangachariar 
84 year old AV Rangachariar (AVR) recites the very first verse of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s praise of Chidambaram Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2008/05/chidambaram-thiruchitrakoodam.html) and feeds the early morning devotees with Dhadhyonam after the Thiruppavai Satru Murai, for which he is present every morning, unmindful of his old age. 

‘There is no need to starve and penance when you are here at this Divya Desam. Just offering your sincere prayers to the Lord and Thayar will secure you their blessings.’ And thus he first feeds all those who visit this Divya Desam.

ஊன்வாட உண்ணாது உயிர் காவல் இட்டு
உடலில் பிரியாப் புலன் ஐந்தும் நொந்து
தாம் வாடத் தவம் செய்ய வேண்டா
தமதா இமையோர் உலகு ஆளாகிற்பீர்

கான் ஆட மஞ்சைக் கணம் ஆட மாடே
கயல் ஆடு கால் நீர்ப் பழனம் புடைபோய்த்
தேன் ஆட மாடக்  கொடி ஆடு
தில்லை திருச்சித்ரகூடம் சென்று சேர்மின்களே

Kainkaryam at this Divya Desam since 1948!!!
Similar to Sivaraja Dikshithar, who has spent over 8 decades in Chidambaram, AVR too has spent almost his entire life in and around the huge ‘Twin Temple’ complex at Chidambaram. Unsurprisingly, Saivites and Vaishnavites, alike, have great regard for the contribution he has made to the temple over the last 7 decades or so. 

He was just 15 years old when he took up the responsibilities of the Theerthakar at the Govindaraja Perumal Divya Desam way back in 1948.

He has been an integral part of the Seva Kalam at this Divya Desam ever since. Soon after, he took up the responsibilities for the proper conduct of the round the year Utsavams. By the time he turned 18, he was inducted into the Board of Trustees, one of the youngest to take up such a responsibility in a Divya Desam. 

He was initiated into Divya Prabhandham and Vedic recital very early on in his life by his father Ashtagotam Maha Vidwan Venkatachariar. AVR was immersed in the Vaishnava Sampradaya and learnt the Agamas. He also learnt the Rahasya Granthas, especially of Saint Ramanuja and began presenting Kalakshepams from a very young age.

His father was a revered Acharya at the Vedic Patshala near the temple and several students graduated under him. He served as an acharya till he was 84. The Dikshithars of Chidambaram also learnt from him. He also wrote a Suprabatham for Natarajar. 
Reciting the Thevaram Verses at School!!!
AVR had his primary education at Navalar School. It was the practice there to recite the Thevaram Verses of the great Saivite Poets between 8am and 9am every morning. While being a staunch Vaishnavite,  AVR was ahead of others in the recital of the Thevaram Verses as well.

Father's Devotional Move
As soon as he completed his college education, his father secured him a teaching job at the Annamalai University. His father’s thought process was simple. He wanted his son to perform lifelong service to the Lord of Thillai Thiru Chitrakoodam and believed that a job at the nearby University would facilitate this. 

AVR has been associated with the Annamalai University for over five decades.  While he was an Economics Professor, his proficiency in Tamil and his quest for knowledge led several led other departments to invite him frequently for a ‘Wordly’ lecture to their students. 

Over a period of time, the entire student community of the University became his 'informal' disciples and they would assist him in his renovation Kainkaryam that he performed at various temples across Tamil Nadu over many decades.

And just as the father wished, AVR has performed Kainkaryam here at this Divya Desam for 70 years.

Vaishnavite Agraharam – West Street
His eyes light up as he looks back at the life in and around the temple in the 1930s and 40s ‘The Mela Vaasal was a street where Vaishnavites lived in large numbers. In those days, it was the exclusive domain of the Vaishnavites. But over decades, the numbers have reduced as the Vaishnavites looked for greener pastures and left this temple town.’

Lesson of his Life – Saivite – Vaishnavite Unity
The greatest initiation to him as a school boy from the elders was to have a cordial relationship with the Saivites. For 8 decades, he has followed that early piece of advice he received. Today, as one looks at him from a far corner of the Natarajar Sannidhi, one finds every devotee to the temple paying regards to him with folded hands seeking his blessings. He is the ‘Go-To’ man for them for any help.

He is quite philosophical about this ‘If you are straight forward and offer your service to the Lord with Utmost Devotion, people will trust you.’ Every devotee should endeavour to be true to his/her conscience especially when one encounters difficult situations in life and not swerve from the Dharmic path that God expects the devotee to follow.

Role of the Pothu Dikshithars at this Divya Desam
The keys to the three important entrances to the Divya Desam complex are with the Pothu Dikshithars and hence the service personnel at this Divya Desam are dependent on the Dikshithars for the opening and closing of the Sannidhis. However, over several decades the relationship between the Saivites and Vaishnavites has been very friendly. 

There are times when the Divya Desam Lord comes back late in the night after the procession. During such times, the Dikshithars stay back for the Lord to return before closing the door.

There are also a few other interesting agreements between the two sides. The ‘pathway’ in front of the Natarajar Sannidhi and Govindaraja Perumal Sannidhi ‘belongs’ to both.
.
No Hundials at the Chidambaram Temple
One of the interesting features of this temple that stands out from all other temples across the State is that there are no Hundials anywhere inside the Temple Complex except the Divya Desam Sannidhi
(which is administered by the HR & CE!!!). Also, there is  no temple office within the complex unlike the HR & CE managed temples in Tamil Nadu where a lot of space is allocated to the office complex!!! 

There are no Salaries to the Pothu Dikshithars.

No Perumal Procession on the Big Festival Days of Natarajar
Also, on the days of the big utsavams for Natarajar, there are no processions for the Divya Desam deities. Processional deity of the Saivite Lord takes precedence over the procession of the Divya Desam Lord/Thayar.

3000 Vedic Seers at this Divya Desam
This is a Divya Desam where over a thousand years ago, 3000 Vedic Seers offered worship every day to Lord Devathi Devan here at Chidambaram as seen from the praise of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar and Kulasekara Azhvaar.

மூவாயிரம் நான்மறையாளர் 
நாளும் முறையால் வணங்க
அணங்கு ஆய சோதித் 
தேவாதிதேவன் திகழ் கின்ற 
தில்லை திருச்சித்ர கூடம் சென்று சேர்மின்களே -Thiru Mangai Azhvaar

The Annual Brahmotsavam expected to be back soon
Through his unflinching efforts over a long period of time, AVR has been able to secure an order from the HR & CE Commissioner to restart the Brahmotsavam at the Divya Desam. Because the Saivite and the Vaishnavite Sannidhis are housed next to each other, the Commissioner directed the Divya Desam authorities to discuss with the Pothu Dikshithars and fix up a suitable date for the Brahmotsavam that will be acceptable to both the sides. Discussions are currently on to agree on a date that will not clash with the Utsavam of the Saivite deity.

செந்தளிர்வாய் மலர் நகை சேர் செழுந்தண் சோலை 
தில்லை நகர் திருச்சித்ர கூடந்  தன்னுள் 

அந்தணர்கள் ஒரு மூவாயிரவர் ஏத்த 
அணிமணி ஆசனத்து இருந்த அம்மான் தானே  - Kulasekara Azhvaar

Temple Activist TR Ramesh, who was involved in the process to secure the Dikshithars the victory in the Supreme Court case says that no new 'Annual' Festivals can be introduced in an ancient temple if that festival was not in order in 1947.  A festival that had not taken place for the last 170 years or so cannot be introduced in this historical temple. 'The HR & CE Commissioner has no legal right to issue such an order' says Ramesh. Hence, the Brahmotsavam in the Divya Desam cannot be introduced now or in the future. Brahmotsavam can take place only for the Saivite Lords at the Chidambaram temple.

Dikshithars carry the Divya Desam Lord during Utsavams 
Except for the Brahmotsavam, the other Utsavams have been celebrated with great devotion at the temple with the Saivites being an integral part. It is the Dikshithars who carry the Utsava deity Lord Parthasarathy on processions. Also, the entire women folks of the Dikshithar family participate in the procession, especially of Thayar.

There is a grand Garuda Sevai procession on the night of Chitra Pournami and on the morning of Vaikasi Visakam.  On the day of the Jeshtabhisekam in Aani and on Panguni Uthiram, the Lord goes around on a procession in the Sesha Vahana.

5 Day trip to Killai for Maasi Magam
On the occasion of Maasi Magam, the Lord goes out on a five day procession to Killai, a village about 10 kms from here.

There are several inscriptions on the huge outer walls dating back a 1000 years providing insights into the contributions to the temples in the centuries gone by.
For his lifetime contribution to the Vaishnavite cause and to the maintenance of several Divya Desams, Rangachari is set to receive LIFCO’s ‘Ramanuja’ Service Award this Sunday (August 20, 2017) at Vani Mahal in Madras, a truly well deserved recognition for a man who has dedicated his entire life to the selfless service of Lord Govindarajan of Chidambaram.
And when the Brahmotsavam Celebrations commence at this Divya Desam, AVR would have had a great role to play in fulfilling the devotees' wishes to witness the annual grand festivities comprising of Vahana Processions and providing them with the sacred opportunity to pull the Chariot around the streets of Thillai Thiru Chitrakoodam.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Meenakshi Amman Temple Renovation

A First in Indian Temple History
UNESCO halts Construction of New Pillars around the Potramarai Tank at Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

Raising New Raja Gopuram at Thiru Vellarai and Thiru Kolur not legally tenable - Temple Activist Ramesh
Probably for the first time in the history of Indian temples, an overseas organisation has stopped work at an ancient Indian temple. Paris, France headquartered UNESCO has directed halting the construction of New Pillars around the Potramarai Tank at the ancient and historical HR & CE administered Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai following their inspection recently. 

Issues relating to renovation had arisen at the Meenakshi Amman Temple specifically relating to the replacement of pillars around the Potramarai Kulam. This along with issues relating to replacement of stone slabs and the new flooring at the 1000 pillared mandapa have been a bone of contention for temple activist and former Citi-Bank staffer TR Ramesh, who has been taking up the issue of alterations to temple structures with great vigour in recent years.

Ramesh, who is also the President of the Temple Worshippers' Society, has filed several petitions in the High Court against modifications at temple sites and raising new structures like Raja Gopurams at ancient temples. He questions the construction of the new mosaic flooring at the 1000 pillared mandapam. Ramesh also poses the question as to why the same stones could not be used for the reconstruction, even if there was a dire need to reconstruct the pillars. He is also not convinced about the quality of the material used in the reconstruction and if it conforms to the requirement of 'not altering' the structure.
Wrongful appointment of JCs/EOs
Ramesh has also recently sent a notice to the Commissioner of HR & CE relating to the wrongful appointment of Joint Commissioner at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam and the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, among several other temples. 

He says that the term of the JC/EO in all these temples had expired way back in 1966 and hence the appointment of a JC/EO does not have a legal standing and is untenable (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/01/hr-ce-irregularities.html).

Ramesh is yet to receive a reply from the Commissioner. He says that he would take the case of wrongful appointment in the court if he does not receive a response from the HR & CE within a reasonable period.

A Two Decade Exercise
The Current Joint Commissioner of the Meenakshi Amman temple N Natarajan, who is seen as a straight forward human being and is generally well respected by the devotees at large says that the replacement of the pillars or the stone slabs was not a sudden decision taken by him or his team ‘It is an 18 year old issue. Way back in 1999, cracks were observed at the Eastern entrance of the Ashtasakthi Mandapam and Veera Vasantha Rayar Mandapam, on the roof of stone slabs in Amman Sannadhi in the 2nd Prakaram and in the stone pillars around the Potramarai Kulam.’ 
The Tamil Nadu Government in its order No.385 TDC&RE department dated 16 June 1999 formed an 8 member expert committee to inspect the reason for the formation of cracks in the above said structures and to propose a solution to repair those structures. This committee also included Muthiah Sthapathy.

In 2006, Muthiah Sthapathy came up with a report stating that the Pillars had weakened and that new Pillars had to be built and that it will have to be a ‘Comprehensive Renovation’.

PIL in 2006
However, following a PIL in the Madurai High Court in 2006, the court directed appointed of an expert committee to review and provide their recommendations. An 18 member expert panel was constituted and they came up with their recommendation a year later on carrying out of rectification works relating to the cracks on the ceiling stone slabs and pillars in the 2nd Prakaram of Amman Sannathi and at the Veera Vasantha Rayar mandapam. They also suggested the replacement and renovation of the pillars around the Potramarai Kulam.

High Court Appointed Panel
In December 2016, another expert panel this time as recommended by the Madras High Court was appointed and they looked into the issues relating to the renovation at the Meenakshi Amman Temple.

In the meeting of Panel Experts,  the Archaeological Expert enquired as to 'why the same stones cannot be used in the reconstruction.' 

Natarajan told that Panel that ‘they had ‘multi cracked’ and damaged in the centre. Works in the cracks on the ceiling stone slabs and pillars in the second prakaram of Amman Sannathi were undertaken with new stone slabs replacing the old ones. Similarly action was taken to carry out repair works on Veeravasantha Rayar Mandapam. 
Natarajan says that every reconstruction activity undertaken at the Meenakshi Amman Temple is in line with the stringent processes that they follow and that the relevant approvals had been received from the expert committee on multiple occasions before any work had been undertaken.

However, soon after the entry of UNESCO at the temple, they asked the temple authorities to stop the Pillar construction work on the Eastern side of the Potramarai Kulam. Thus, one finds that the series of pillars on the Eastern side remains dismantled and is partly complete (as seen in the photo below). 
The temple authorities claim that this had already been a long drawn process and that it had gone through several rounds of inspection by the experts. And that the work had been undertaken only after the experts found that the renovation and reconstruction activity had become a necessity. 

However, the multi national agency from France has taken a different call over ruling all the Indian experts including the Archaeological expert and the Sthapathy who had earlier recommended a 'Comprehensive Renovation' thus leaving the temple authorities in a state of flux on the next action.

One will have to wait and see as to how this unfolds but for the moment work has come to a grinding halt and a number of new stone pillars are lying on the the Eastern side of the sacred tank.

LARGER ISSUE OF RENOVATION
Renovation in temples had taken off in a big way since the 1990s with the overall size of renovation activity running into several hundreds of thousands of crores. Prior to that, maintenance of temples was an ongoing concept and temples (especially Vaishnavite temples) were kept in order every year.  In the decades gone by, it was seen as a routine exercise to maintain the temple in good shape as against a mega renovation exercise as has become the trend now in the last couple of decades.

A typical renovation of a reasonable sized temple with multiple Sannidhis now runs into a few crores with additional budget for specific new construction such as a Chariot, a Golden Vimana or ‘Golden’ Vahanas.

Huge Financial Exercise
The renovation exercise at the Ranganatha Swamy temple in Srirangam is believed to have cost around Rs.40crores. Added to the huge financial aspects of the renovation is the sudden new found need over the last two decades to build new Sannidhis and take up new construction work at these temples. Most of the renovation work is outsourced to ‘donors’. Interestingly in case of large projects, these are taken up by ‘single’ donors.

The Golden Vimana (100kgs gold) alone at the Sowmya Narayana Perumal temple in Thiru Koshtiyur Divya Desam undertaken by ‘Thiru Koshtiyur’ Madhavan will run up to over Rs.25crores.
For example, the preliminary work relating to the construction of a new multi tier Raja Gopuram is currently on in full swing at the Pundarikakshan temple in Thiru Vellarai Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/10/thiru-vellarai-divya-desam.html). This work taken up by a single donor from Coimbatore is believed to cost around Rs. 10crores.

Last week, inspection was on at the Thiru Kolur Vaitha Maa Nithi Perumal Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2008/09/thiru-kolur-vaitha-maa-nidhi-perumal.html) in the presence of Muthiah Sthapathy as part of the preliminary work to construct a new Raja Gopuram there.

Renovation and Demolition
As part of the renovation exercise, one has also witnessed demolitions and replacements aplenty across temples in Tamil Nadu. In 2004, the Shiva Sannidhi in Thiru Kurungudi Divya Desam was brought down and moved to another location within the temple complex. Outcome of a ‘Prasannam’ is believed to have been the reason for the shifting of Sannidhi there (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/08/thiru-kurungudi-shiva-sannidhi_3.html).

Last year, there were similar issues at the Thiru Koshtiyur Divya Desam with the Shiva and Pillayar Sannidhi (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/06/thiru-koshtiyur-renovation-issues.html).

During the renovation of the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam in 2015, a previously non existent wall was erected in the course of a night between the Desikar idol and the Hayagriva idol that left many shocked. The Lakshmi Narasimha idol, which was previously beside the Hayagriva idol, was removed and moved to a separate location within the Desikar Sannidhi complex.  The Desikar Prabhandham inscribed on a stone was removed during the renovation and hasn’t been brought back since.  

Abnormal Delay
In Thiru Kurungudi and Thiru Koshtiyur temples and many others such as these, renovation work had been announced long ago but the work has been pending for several years due to ‘issues’ surrounding the renovation leaving the devotees in a sad state. It is also well over five years since the renovation work was announced at the Thothadri Nathan Divya Desam in Nanguneri.

At the Chitra Ratha Vallabha Perumal temple in Kuruvi Thurai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/08/kuruvi-thurai-perumal-temple.html), near Madurai renovation was delayed by many years after a politician took up the work as a single donor.

The renovation exercise at the Narasimha Divya Desam in Sholingur was delayed by many years following the taking up of ‘Gold ornamentation’ by a single donor.

In many of these temples, the renovation work takes place under the supervision of the ‘Donor’ and the workers undertake work inside the temple as directed by the ‘Donor/Donors’.

No new Raja Gopurams in Ancient Temples
On construction of new Raja Gopuram atop Mottai Gopuram, Ramesh is confident that both in Thiru Vellarai and Thiru Kolur ‘no Raja Gopuram can and will come up.’  

He says that there is a clear ruling against such new constructions altering the existing structures of ancient heritage temples.’



Pon Jayaraman, JC at the Srirangam temple that also administers the Thiru Vellarai temple says that one will be surprised at the commitment shown by the Donor at Thiru Vellarai ‘The technology and quality of material used in the strengthening of the structure is of the highest order. The donor is physically present to monitor and oversee every minute detail of the work undertaken. The work there will match the best of renovation work undertaken in temples in Tamil Nadu, such is the effort put into the strengthening of the structure there at Thiru Vellarai.’

At Singaperumal Koil, about 50kms from Madras, the outer wall had been brought down to facilitate the construction of a new Raja Gopuram.

While the strengthening of the existing structure is nearing completion at Thiru Vellarai, Ramesh says that construction of a new Raja Gopuram will be in violation of the act and that he will fight tooth and nail against this and any such constructions in other Divya Desams in the appropriate courts.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kuruvi Thurai Perumal Temple

The Prarthana Sthalam for Guru sports a new look with a new Raja Gopuram
A Politician undertakes the entire renovation at this remote and ancient temple!!!
 
Kuruvi Thurai is a remote location, 10 kms west of Sholavandan near Madurai. The legend of the ancient Chitra Ratha Vallabha Perumal temple (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2012/08/chitra-ratha-vallabha-perumal-kuruvi.html) dates back to the period of the Mahabaratha and the story of Devayani and Kacha. Legendary as its tale may have been, it has for long been in a discarded and dilapidated temple with no very little attention paid to it over the last century. The temple is also rich with inscriptions dating back to the Pandya period.

No Salary is paid to the two priests at this temple with paddy having been the source of income to them. However with failure of monsoon, that too has been stopped in recent decades. The two priests at the temple make it every morning from Madurai (35 kms) and Sholavandan (10 kms). Despite living through a difficult life having to come every morning from far off destinations and staying back at the temple through the day till about 5.30 pm, the two priests have been committed to serving the Lord and the devotees with utmost devotion. 
One has to walk two kms from Kuruvi Thurai bus stop to reach the temple. There is no place to live around the temple, located right on the Southern banks of the Vaigai. The priests say with a touch of sadness that there has been no water here for the last 15 years or so and the farmers have been going through a hard time.

There are no bus facilities to the temple except on Thursday when devotees swarm from everywhere to offer their prayers in this Prarthana Sthalam to Guru Bhagawan. It was here that Brihaspathi, the Guru of the Devas secured back his son Kacha from Devayani’s captivity with Lord providing darshan to him on a Chariot on the Chitra day in Chitra month. Hence he is referred to as ‘Chitra Ratha’ Vallabha Perumal. In memory of the historical episode, there was a very small sannidhi for Guru in the East.

Complete Renovation by a Madurai MLA!!
Over five years ago, renovation work had started at this beautiful Chitra Ratha Vallabha Perumal Temple in Kuruvi Thurai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2012/08/chitra-ratha-vallabha-perumal-kuruvi.html).


A single donor, the MLA from Sholavandan Constituency (Madurai) took up the renovation work. But as with politicians this did not sail through easily and there was quite a long delay.

Finally in June this year, after a long wait, the Samprokshanam took place (in Vaikasi) much to the delight of the priest, who hails from Thiru Mogur.

There is now a new tall temple tower in the East welcoming the devotees. The entire temple complex sports a fresh look. There is a new Golden Paramapada Vasal!!! There is now a full-fledged Sannidhi for Guru at the Eastern entrance. 

Chitrai Festival in Thenoor
In centuries gone by, the Lord used to leave Kuruvi Thurai on a Chariot on a long procession to Thenoor for the Chitrai Utsavam there. He would leave Kuruvi Thurai 10 days ahead of the full moon day in Chitrai so as to reach Thenoor on the day Kallazhagar arrives there from Thiru Maliruncholai.

Garuda Sevai and Horse Vahana on Vaikunta Ekadasi
On the Vaikunta Ekadasi day, the Lord goes on a day long procession on the Garuda Vahana through the entire village of Kuruvi Thurai. Later that night, the Lord makes his way on a procession on the Horse Vahana. These are the only two Vahana processions in the year.
In decades gone by, there seems to have been Vahana processions and Brahmotsavam at the temple going by the dilapidated old Elephant and Horse Vahanas. There was also a Chariot housed on which the Lord went to Thenoor. However, currently the Brahmotsavam is not celebrated here.

Vasanthotsavam
There seems to be a Vasantha Mandapam on the North West corner of the temple, an indication that a Vasanthotsavam too may have taken place once upon a time but this too has now become a thing of the past.
Guru Peyarchi day is the biggest day of the year at this temple with lakhs of devotees visiting the temple on that day.

The temple is open between 8am - 12.30pm and 330pm-530pm. Contact Raghurama Bhattar @ 91592 36762.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mohan Bhojanalay Madurai

A Rajasthan Family that serves high quality North Indian Food in Madurai
Over four decades old Mohan Bhojanalay is a quiet restaurant on Dhanappa Mudali Street and does not have the big visibility of a typical high profile restaurant. But this will easily qualify as one of the best North Indian eat outs in Madurai.

A Picnic to Kodai triggers the idea
In 1972, 31 year old Mohanlal Rawal, hailing from a small remote Viravara Village in Sirohi district, Rajasthan came on a trip to Kodaikanal on a picnic with his then employer in Bombay. At the end of the picnic, he sought a day off to meet his relative in Madurai. She suggested that he also visit the Meenakshi Amman temple.

On that trip, he found that there was no eatery in Madurai where ‘Godumai’ Roti was available. ‘Maidha’ was used everywhere. All the visitors from outside of Tamil Nadu missed their ‘favourite’ Goduma roti. It struck him to start something of his own. But he did not know the local language.

He quit his job, landed up in Madurai that year and worked at a shop for 8 months learning Tamizh in the process.

And then he started a small tea shop offering several different varieties of tea, unheard of at that time in Madurai.
Very soon he expanded to making different varieties of Bhajji.

The Land Owner's Role
Alavanthar Chettiar, the owner of that place on Dhanappa Mudhali street, was impressed with the service mind of this young man and asked if he would be interested in taking up the first floor to fulfil his dreaming of making 'Gothumai' Rotis for the Maduriites. Thus began Mohan Bhojanalay in 1973 offering high quality North Indian meals.

During those initial years, Mohanlal struggled with the finances - he had absolutely no savings and had to single handedly take care of a large family. In those years in the 70s and 80s, it was a desperate scenario for him and his home maker wife to make both ends meet. There were no tables and chairs and the guests sat on the floor. The income generated for the day was re-invested to buy vegetables for the next day’s meals.  

Treating Visitors as his Guest at Home
From the very beginning, Mohanlal had decided that he would treat the visitors as guests and not customers. Over these 44 years, he and now his two sons have welcomed every visitor with folded hands. They are polite and service the guests personally. There are no restrictions on the Rotis. The over 20 employees, that he employs now, enquire and offer the main menu as well as the side dish in unlimited quantity. As one felt a sense of happiness having consumed the unlimited Rotis, his staff surround the guests with unlimited rice along with Sambar, Rasam and Curd. And there seems to be no ‘escape’ route for the guests from the abounding love of Mohanlal and his staff.

The hall now has tables and chairs but they have refrained from refurbish the place and giving it a new modern look. And thus, it still has the charm of the old traditional eatery. 
The biggest satisfaction for Mohanlal is the fact that he has been given an opportunity to feed the devotees who come to have darshan of Meenakshi Amman. And the feedback he receives from across the world from those who have tasted this food is a great source of strength for him to continue to offer this service to his ‘Guests’.

He takes great care of his staff treating them almost as his family and that can be seen in the way they service the guests.

Overseas Visitors are a regular here
His guest profile comprises of overseas visitors, IT employees, students from the Madurai Kamaraj University and high profile businessmen.

With their father’s health deteriorating, the two sons, Dinesh Kumar Rawal and Gautam Kumar Rawal joined their father full time. Mohanlal is past 75 now but he is there through the day at the cash counter welcoming every guest with a smile and making sure that they are fed well. 
     Son DK Rawal with his father at the Mohan Bhojanalay

With a number of guests visiting every day, Mohan Bhojanalay is doing well, financially and there is enough money to take care of the children but their satisfaction and peace of mind when they go to sleep every night comes from the way they have taken care of their guests and that the guests have left the place with a sense of happiness of having tasted high quality and authentic North Indian food.

And that will continue to remain this family’s vision.

There have been a number of offers from Bombay, Madras and Bangalore to open branches and make this a food chain but the family has refrained from the lure of expansion and have remained contended to offer personalised service to the residents of Madurai and the temple town's visitors.

Mohan Bhojanalay is at 33, Dhanappa Mudali Street (off West Tower Street), a 5minute walk from Madurai Junction/ Periyar Bus Stand. Mohanlal Rawal can be contacted on 0452 2346093/99433 23221

(Referred by Shri Praveen Aravamoothan,Founder of an IT start up)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Radha Krishnaswamy

A Cricketing Career at 60!!!
From a State Atheletics Champion at 20 to the Indian Team's Fitness coach at 60
Wife of Former TN Opener carves a name for herself in Indian Cricket
Radha Krishnaswamy played the role of a dutiful wife for over three decades. Her husband V. Krishnaswamy (Kicha to his friends in the cricketing circles) had played Ranji Trophy cricket for TN through the 1970s and later took on a mentoring role at IOB helping several youngsters make their mark in cricket (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/08/krishnaswamy-v.html). As he scaled up the ladder at the bank, Krishnaswamy went on an overseas engagement to Korea in the 1980s. And his wife accompanied him there and later across the country in the process sacrificing her own sporting interests.

And now past 60 and having retired from KVB as its MD a few years ago, Krishnaswamy is paying her back for her great role over the decades by now playing the role of a sacrificial husband, for Radha has, in the last year, found a high profile and hugely responsible engagement as the fitness coach of the Indian Women’s Cricket team.

She has just returned to Madras after an unforgettable personal one on one interaction with the Prime Minister of India following the Indian team’s glorious run in the World Cup in England (India lost to England by a slender margin in the Final at Lord’s). In the last month she has had the good fortune of walking through the long room at Lords and waving to the fans from the famous Lords’ balcony (remember Kapil Dev’s famous photo after the 1983 World Cup Final).  
Soon after, MCC (Madras Cricket Club) members welcomed her with a loud congratulatory cheer while Radha and Krishnaswamy were doing their regular morning 'run' (Radha is a Marathon runner and she always runs !!!) at Chepauk. She was not used to such applause and hence went past only to be called back and told that the hand clap was addressed to her, leaving Radha in tears of joy!!! She has clearly become a Cricketing Personality.

What a transformation - Three World Cup Finals
She has now watched three World Cup Finals - the 2011 World Cup Final as a Spectator from the stands, the World Cup Final at the MCG in 2015 from a hospitality seat (with special tickets handed to her as the fitness coach of the TN State team). And now the best of them all, her 3rd World Cup Final  this time as an integral member of the Indian Women's team at Lord's.

Early Initiation into best of Fitness Training
After having come to Madras from Coimbatore in 1968, Radha joined the St. Ebba’s school on RK Salai. It was her PT teacher Kunjamma who spotted the natural ‘running’ talent in Radha when she was in class VI. She got Radha initiated into Athletics and introduced her to TA Krishnamurthy, a top NIS Certified Coach. Thus, at a very early age, Radha was exposed to the best of training. She took a special liking for Triathlon during that phase and continued to perform creditably in sports even after joining college (Stella Maris), a period when she represented the University as well as Tamil Nadu.

It was also a phase when she fell in love with the handsome looking Tamil Nadu State Opener Krishnaswamy. 
She would always be seen at the cricket grounds in those days in the 1970s though she herself was not into cricket. Over the next three decades, her focus shifted to the family and she became a home maker, though she continued to be associated with fitness related training, first as a teacher of Group Exercises (in the class organised by TT Vasu's wife) and later as a fitness consultant for Reebok.

Soon after graduation, she joined Customs and Excise on Sports Quota and represented them for five years. But continuous transfers (for her husband) meant she had to keep shifting places and she resigned from the job.

Radha’s Entry into Cricket
The turning point and her first big association with cricket came in 2012-13 when during Krishnaswamy’s stint in Bombay as a GM (IOB), he suggested that she approach the Mumbai Cricket Association to explore an opportunity on fitness training for their women’s cricket team. Her first engagement was with the U 19 team there. Even before she could settle into that role, she once again had to play the sacrificial role as Krishnaswamy quit IOB and joined KVB as its MD in Karur. This meant Radha had to quit her engagement with MCA and make her way down South to Karur!!! 

A BOLD career move and away from her husband at 60!!
Having enjoyed her short professional cricketing stint with the MCA, she explored an opportunity with the TNCA after she came back to Karur only to be told by the then Hony Secretary, KS Viswanathan that it would not be possible for them to consider a role if she did not move, full time, to Madras. And thus for the first time in her life, she took a ‘bold’ career move and shifted to Madras while her husband continued to discharge his responsibilities at KVB in Karur.

She took on the role of the Fitness Coach of the Tamil Nadu U19 girls as well as the Senior State team for three years. It was during that phase and after gaining confidence with TN State team that she began cherishing the dream of coaching the Indian team. 
Just over a year ago, TNCA sent her to Bangalore for a fitness training workshop conducted by the NCA.  Soon after the workshop, Radha cleared the exam with ease (Remember, she had graduated with a distinction!!!).  As luck would have it, right around that time, BCCI made it a pre-requisite for the applicants for the post of the Indian fitness coach to have passed the NCA exam. And clearly with the experience of having been associated with fitness training for several decades (having been a fitness consultant for Reebok for close to two decades) and having had successful stints with the MCA and the TNCA, she stood a good chance. In September last came the letter from the BCCI appointing her as the fitness coach of the Indian Women’s team for the series against the West Indies.

And since then, her engagement has expanded series by series. The Indian team had not had a good run in one dayers and had to play the qualifiers in Sri Lanka.

A Dream Come True - Fitness Coach,The Indian Team
At the time she took on the role with the Indian team in September 2016, Radha found a few of the players with not enough physical strength. A few others did not have the speed while a couple of them were overweight. Over the last year, she has been tough on the girls impressing upon them the need for higher fitness levels especially to compete at big international tournaments like the World Cup.  

While previously the focus had been largely on ‘cricketing skills’, Radha has been able to gain the support of the Head Coach to get the team to also focus on fitness aspects.  During the first six months of this year, the Indian Women’s team has had multiple training camps that allowed Radha to focus on specific improvement areas for the cricketers such as endurance, improvement of strength and power as well as on agility. Clearly she now finds a great acceptance among the players.

Differentiated Exercises
During the period she has been with the Indian team, she has focused on ‘Single Leg’ exercises as contrasted with the ‘Double legs’ in the past as she found that in cricket most of the time it is a single leg that comes into play at important moments. She has also focused on ‘Selection’ and ‘Order’ of exercises for the cricketers to improve their fitness levels. 

An important addition to the fitness regime during her stint with the Indian team has been the introduction of RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). This is a new tool that helps in load monitoring for the players. Improving the shoulder strength has also been an area that Radha has been working on with the players. 

Clearly, the fitness level of the Indian team has improved dramatically over the last 3-6 months. While a majority of the players feel that the fitness regime has been tough and that working with Radha is not easy as compared with the past, the current bunch including the seniors in the team are keen on learning and absorbing the intricate aspects relating to fitness for they realize that fitness is likely to play an important role in them sustaining at the international level. And thus have been very co-operative with the fitness coach.

An Entire World Cup without a Fitness Issue
Having worked for a year, Radha has bonded well with the team and there is a family atmosphere that now prevails within the team. The Indian team has great respect for her with each player recognising the contribution made by her to improve their fitness levels. Radha takes a lot of pride in the fact that not a single player stayed out of any match during the World Cup even for a single over due to fitness reasons. And that's a great endorsement to the amount of work she has put in on the players over the last year.

Radha believes that going forward fitness training will become an integral part of the team culture going forward.There is a general realization among the players that fitness helps them perform better and that strength helps them recover faster.  Into the future she has plans to organize Boot Camps and hill training sessions as part of off season training for the players to improve their overall fitness levels.

A Great Moment - One to One with the PM
Radha's greatest moment was when she met Hon’ble PM Modi last fortnight. In a one on one interaction with him, she told him that her vision had always been to get every Indian to serve the society in some capacity. A visibly happy PM narrated his vision to her and said that he was keen to build a toilet for every Indian. 
Much later after food had been served and it was time to bid goodbye, PM Modi called and reminded her on the vision of serving the society and asked her not to forget the idea of building toilets for every Indian, leaving her completely stunned at his ability to have remembered the discussion of an hour earlier, even though he met with the entire team during that period. It was heartening for her as a citizen of the country to hear from him that sometimes he worked three days in a row sleeping just 2-3hours a day.

The Indian team have been all praise for the special role of the support staff during the World Cup. "Radha (Ma'am) runs with the team and does whatever we do even though there is a difference of almost 30 years between the senior most players in the team and her. One of the biggest motivating factors for the entire team this year has been the fitness level of our 60 year old trainer. Our point was ‘if she could be this fit and train this hard at her age, surely we could. And that's what we did’  was the way they saw it.
Radha and her elder sister (Dr. Shantha Narayanan) still do long runs over the weekend on the beach road in Madras.  Radha also trains around 20 runners (including her sister) on long distance running and fitness related aspects. Till she took up the engagement with the Indian team last year, she was a regular on the global 21 km/42 Km Marathons participating in both domestic and overseas runs.

Kicha Opens a new innings
Krishnaswamy was a confident opener during his days as a cricketer in the 1970s. In recent years, he has had several financial and banking consulting offers coming up his way every now and then. But he has decided not to take up anything for he believes that it is  now 'Pay Back' time.

He is delighted that a new career has opened up for Radha at this age and that she is now able to professionally enjoy what she has been doing personally for decades. He says that when he was progressing in his banking career, she moved along with him sacrificing a possible full-fledged fitness training career.  

During the World Cup, Krishnaswamy was introduced to the BCCI CAO Ratnakar Shetty as Radha’s husband – a huge endorsement for a lady who was all along known as the wife of the popular TN Ranji opener from the 1970s.

While a young Radha would go from ground to ground watching Krishnaswamy play ( she was also present in Coimbatore when he made his first and only century in Ranji Trophy in the 1970s), life has now turned a full circle. Over the last year, Krishnaswamy has been in Sri Lanka (for the World Cup Qualifiers) and England (through the World Cup) doing packing and accounting work for her in the background while she focused on her professional engagement with the Indian team.

Having played first class cricket for almost a decade, he plays a guiding role back home on technical aspects and is the motivating force behind her success. 

Kicha says with a great deal of happiness that its now time for him to sit back and enjoy her success. It is a new innings for him, one that has just begun and one that he is beginning to enjoy. For a major part of the last 12months, he has had to find his own food for she has been away with the Indian team at Camps and tournaments!!!!
With so much attention on Women’s cricket after India’s run in to the WC final and with PM Modi personally directing offering the best of facilities for the improvement of women’s cricket, Radha could be in for an interesting couple of years with the Indian team.

The Indian coach has just been handed a two year contract and it is likely that the support staff that had performed so creditably at the World Cup too would be given a similar long term engagement with the team. If that happens it could mean Krishnaswamy carrying her fitness bag  (did she not carry his kit bag way back in the 70s!!!!) across various cricketing locations around the world. 

What a reversal of roles that would be for husband Krishnaswamy!!!