Friday, September 26, 2014

"Model Temple"Audit

Ardhra Foundation's dream project of transforming all Temples into "Model Temples" was launched on 17th September 2014 by conducting audits, based on the guidelines set by us . These guidelines were made available in our website, and the implementation part has just begun. It is true that most of the Temples do not comply fully as per the guidelines to call them as "Model Temples". But it is desirable to find the gaps and try to resolve them to the extent possible. It will be a proud moment when a Temple conforms to the standards and look for continuous improvement. It may also be noted that the guidelines are subject to updation based on the field studies which can set a platform for good Temple Management in the future.

Viewers may find that this form of Audit is based on the compliance to the desired values framed by Ardhra Foundation. Unlike the ISO audits,wherein the auditee is allowed to spell his policy and procedures, AF's audit tries to bring all Temples under a common audit to bring down the deviations to a minimum. There can be a common Policy for all the Temples which can focus the Ultimate goal of transforming the Temples and developing them.

To start with, the Audit was conducted at Vadakarai, a hamlet,west of Mangudi on Thiruvarur-Thiruthuraipoondi road. Meenakshi Sundareswara Temple of Vadakarai is also called as Nambipadi. Nambi refers to Nambi Aaroorar (Sundara moorthi Nayanar) who is believed to have visited this place on his way to Thiru Naattiyaththankudi. The Temple is coming under the management of HR&CE dept. The priest resides close to the Temple where his ancestors had lived. Probably his only asset is his possession of few cows. He is so sincere and humble that he takes personal care of the Temple though he derives a negligible income from it. Hence he has to look for  other avenues of income such as Kumbabishekam and other auspicious occasions.He is very much interested in maintaining a good "Nandhavanam"in the prakaram.  The audit has helped to identify the gaps to suggest ways to close the non compliances.

Visalakshi sametha Viswanatha Swami Temple at Mangudi is located east of Mangudi on Thiruvarur- Thiruthuraipoondi road and the priest visits here once in a day . Though the sannadhis are small, the Temple complex is big enough to accomodate a good "Nandhavanam" The Temple is maintained neatly and presents a fresh look. The Deities are well dressed that shows the dedication of the priest. The Temple may be some 300-400 years old and it does not have any inscriptions. When the Audit was conducted here, some suggestions were made for further improvement.

The Temple at Pushpavanam was audited recently and it was noted that it could meet most of the clauses desired by us. There is always scope for improvement and the same was conveyed for early implementation. The Priest's house is close to the entrance of the Temple. As the name of the Main Deity(Sugantha Vaneswarar) implies the existence of a forest having flowering plants of rich fragrance, it was suggested to develop a good Nandhavanam with many species of flowering plants. As the story goes, the Temple at Pushpavanam used to contribute garlands to Vedaranyeswarar Temple at Vedaranyam, it is planned to develop an ideal "Nandhavanam" to offer garlands to Vedaranyam Temple atleast during the Brahmothsavam in the month of Masi.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Mumbai Cha Raja"

Among the many states in India, Maharashtra stands unique in celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi. Of the six major categories of Sanathana Dharma preached by Adhi Shankara, Ganaapathyam is all about Ganapathi worship where the Elephant Headed God is considered as supreme. It is said that many scriptures on Ganapathyam originated in Maharashtra. The all powerful Maha Ganapathi , the remover of all obstacles is woshipped  at the very beginning of every pooja even if they are aimed at other Gods. Maharashtra state is blessed with eight important shrines for Ganesha,usually called as Ashta Ganapathi Temples.

Ganapathi in the form of a young child is indeed a fascination to people of all ages. Maharashtrians still call him as "Bappa" as He looks like a baby. Adhi Shankara in his Subramanya Bhujangam mentions about Him as "Sadha Baala roopaapi vignaathri hanthree" He further refers Him as " Kalyana moorthi". During the 10 day festival in the state, He is worshipped and taken care fondly by those who worship Him both at Mandals and at Home.

A visit during this period is a delight to everybody as the entire state is in a celebration mode. Even the poorest of the poor takes part in the ten day festival. It is not uncommon to see a servant  maid buying an idol of Ganesha for Rs 6000 which is too big money for her. The daily rituals include fasting and in many cases food is mostly avoided and they are content with some fruits. When the idols are taken out in a procession for immersion, the affection poured in all these days comes out in the form of tears that run from their eyes.

Huge idols are kept in pandals of each area and named after that area such as "Lalbagh cha Raja", "Wadala cha Raja", "NRI cha Raja" and so on. Bhajans and various other programmes are held in these make shift "Temples" . Lot of devotees are fed in each area on all the days.  The idols are beautifully  decorated with garlands and kept under revolving lights of different colours. People throng in good numbers although Monsoon is active in this region.

Visarjan(Immersion) of Ganesh idols takes place on different days during the festival. Regardless of the arrangement, one can see large number of Ganesha idols of different Mandals go for visarjan on the prescribed days. The idols are kept on trucks and people follow them to witness the visarjan ceremony at ponds/Lakes/Sea.

The drum beat of the band troupe is certainly a treat to watch. It is really surprising that the group does not get tired even after performing for many hours. The white dressed men wearing white cap walk in front of the truck under focussed lights. With the slogan "Ganapthi Bappa Morya"raised to the high pitch, the deity is carefully immersed in water to the delight of the onlookers present over there, unmindful of the heavy showers. Perhaps the devotion towards "Mumbai cha Raja" keeps going every aspiration of the Mumbaikars. No wonder Mumbai is the wealth capital of India.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Flexibility Issue

It is certainly not an exaggeration if we say that Tolerance and Flexibility are the assets of Hinduism. It  gives complete freedom of worship, adapt various cults ,advocates various paths of Truth to attain salvation by offering numerous choices to choose from. But it is not fair to cross the flexibility limit. It may be argued that any such deviation is not meant to undermine the established values. Yet the deviation do happens although not with any intention to change the practices that are being followed for centuries.

In an attempt to show/exhibit the devotion to a particular person, imaginations reach the sky by comparing or equating that person with God or Goddess. No one denies the greatness of the person but the only question before us is how can he/she be viewed on par with the Gods. Let them even build Temples for their favourite Gurus separately and conduct pujas in their own way. They have the right to do that and at the same time they can refrain using the platforms set for the Gods traditionally.

A spiritual fair is conducted every year in Chennai to show case the services rendered by various organisations . Social service organisations take part in the fair and the areas covered are Health,Education, Charity, Farming, Go-shalas , Publications etc.

The floats from the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh attracted the visitors. The models of the Temples of Srisailam, Kaanipakkam etc  were exhibited on the floats. People were educated  towards the use of Technology in stalls that highlighted the services offered through internet.

The stall from Saradha Ashram of Ulundurpet deserved praise as it spoke volumes of the yeomen services carried out towards charity. Here came the flexibility issue. They had installed a model of a big Shivalingam at the entrance in which the figure of Swami Vivekananda was present in the Bhanam part of the Linga. They could have rather installed the Lingam and Swamiji separately instead of showing Vivekananda inside the Lingam. As a student of Ramakrishna Mission' s Vivekananda College I have great respect and regard for Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna and Sharada Devi. But the point is they should not be a part of a portrait of a Hindu God or Goddess . We do hope that people like Sharada Ashram take the message in the right spirit and continue their charitable activities.

One of the recent posts in Facebook showed a  Bhajan Bhagavathar singing a song sung in praise of other religion. It is true that it may be viewed in a secular spirit. But then the platform used was different and the venue was not meant to show the flexibility.

Let everyone be well within the framework of the traditional boundary and it is left to the individual to follow it religiously or not. Let him remember that the trespass into the other boundary will not help both parties involved. In fact it will dilute the principles of both of them and result into a confused state of mind.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Let Cult be in its original place

Guidelines are flouted in air when it comes to vested interests. In the process of achieving ones own desire, the rules are either skipped or ignored. It is because of this attitude, guidelines had to be formed in the past to adhere certain discipline. Anyone following the guidelines strictly is said to follow the rules religiously. People should honour the disciplinary ways instead of trying to modify them as per their wish. Incorporating non standardised procedures will also pave way for deviation from the said path.

People have the liberty to choose from various cults around us . But the fundamental platform should never be altered. Hinduism 's greatness lies in allowing people to choose their Gods/Goddessess /Saints as all paths lead to salvation at the end. It is based on this fact we call God by many names. Saint Manickavasagar says that the God is formless and without any name ;Yet we call Him by 1000 names.

By granting so much freedom Hinduism can never become weak. Each form of worship can only strengthen it further. Since Guru leads us to God, his role can never be undermined. At the same time, it is not proper to forget God and hail the Guru. Prominence to Guru worship should never be allowed to sideline the worship of God.

Examples are many when we come across Saints taking the centre stage. People are often attracted by their miracles and become ardent followers of them. In fact many such new cults have emerged in the last century. If the saints are alive, people go to them with lot of faith and they even start building temples for them once they leave the world.

Media is also doing its part by giving publicity to these cults and the samadhis of saints become a place of pilgrimage. It becomes a money spinner for Tourism department as they can arrange package tours covering these places.

The prominent saint's Samadhi becomes the seat of their operations. They form a Trust and run charitable activities. New Temples for the saints are encouraged by them by prescribing certain guidelines. Ashtothras and Sahasranamas are written for the saints. Websites are created to propagate their activities.  The followers thus become the disciples of the saints and their focus turns more on them rather than the traditionally worshipped Gods.

The website of a famous place prescribes the structure of a New Temple in the name of the saint and outlines the ways of worship. It says that the Temple is open to people of all faiths. It clearly states that the plan of the temple shall not include idols of any other Gods or Goddesses within the premises. In the presence of a separate shrine for other Gods and Goddesses there shall be a separate entrance and exit .

As long as the traditional and unique ways related to Gods and Goddesses are not altered and extended to the newly formed cults there cannot be an issue at all. It is all because every cult has its own standard and discipline. For example Rudrabishekam , once related to Lord Shiva is extended to many deities now. One can see the priests chanting Rudam,Chamakam and Purushasuktham to the samadhis of the saints while doing abhishekam. When the other cult has so much clarity to state that other idols of Gods and Goddesses are not allowed within the complex it is not clear why they should adopt the Mantras that are not relevant to them. But it is happening regularly in a saint’s Temple in Chennai.

When they want an exclusive Dharbar hall for the saint, how is that new shrines for the saint are allowed to be built inside the Temples of other Gods and Goddesses which is nothing but a double standard . It definitely amounts to trespass into the faith of others to force the entry of their cult with a long term goal of taking over the supremacy. Hindu Mutts and HR&CE should break their silence on this issue and spell out their stand.

Shivagamas are followed for the construction and maintenance of Shiva Temples. No new shrine is supposed to be built inside a Shiva Temple in memory of a saint against the guidelines of the Agamas.  The plan cannot be changed to the wishes of those people whose sole aim is to propagate their cult. This wrong practice should be nipped in the bud. By saying this we do not under estimate the faith of other cults. With due respect to all faiths we only request them not to dilute the tradition and practice the religion in a religious manner. Let each cult be in its original place without trespassing into any other cult.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Where are the Volunteers?

Among the casual chats on Facebook, we also come across soul inspiring posts that make us awake ,realise and act. Of course, there are people who are unshakable and pretend as if there is no time for them to read. They do not even appreciate good things being done by others! Their world is quite different. When they do not like other than what they like, we can not expect them to "like"the post , forget about writing a comment on it! On the other hand, there could be thousands of "likes""and "comments"for the pictures they like!
It was a heartbreaking photo of a ruined Temple on Facebook. The place was Ootathoor,near Thiruchi. The historic Temple seems to have collapsed fully . The photo shows the dilapidated status of the sanctum with the Shiva Lingam surrounded by broken stones.

On seeing the above photo there may be some sympathisers who express their anguish over the damage done. They " like" the photo/ post and few others write comments. To click a "like"or writing comment is not going to improve the situation. Where are the volunteers who can swing into action by visiting the site immediately, discuss with locals, form a renovation committee and look for donors? Field work alone can help under these situations. It is not going to help in any way by sitting at home and expressing our sorrow.
Thiruchi is fairly a big town wherein there could be many philanthropists who can donate liberally towards rebuilding the dilapidated Temples. But the initiative should come from a group of volunteers who can approach the donors and invite them to visit the site. Once the spade work is done, it may be rather easy to find donors for procuring the materials. If the whole project is subdivided ,people will be ready to undertake a subdivided part of the project and the work will commence smoothly.
It is very common to see people thronging to famous and rich temples and offer money and valuables in the Hundi. If they divert atleast part of their offerings towards the dilapidated Temples, many restoration work can start without facing shortage of funds at any stage of the project. Imagine the devotees offering just one rupee per head when they go round the Hill at Thiruvannamalai on Full moon days. When millions of people take the route by foot, the nominal offer they make can help rebuilding numerous Temples that are in dilapidated stage. Where are the volunteers? 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Undesirable shift in Tradition

Lord Shiva had blessed Sivagamas, 28 in number which remain as treatise not only on building and maintaining the Temples but also comprehensively on all rituals such as nithya puja, brahmothsavam , aathmapuja, dhyanam, Sivadheeksha etc. Of the available Agamas, the Temples follow whichever was under practice in the past. The Sivacharya sect , a dedicated group of Archakas in Tamilnadu had been doing selfless service over many centuries under the sponsorship of the rulers. Once the monarchy became extinct, the responsibility was taken over by the State Government and the Trustees of Private Temples. Then came the difficult days for the priests as the lands belonged to the Temples were not generating funds to pay salary for them and also to maintain the shrines. Since the Govt kept a blind eye for more than five decades, the situation got deteriorated leading to the migration of priests from rural areas. It became bad to worse as the Sivacharyars reeling under poverty hesitate to put their sons in Temple duties. Hence a deep crisis has formed due to the non- availability of priests for Temples that do not have enough income.

As the livelihood is under threat, the boys opt for other professions that can fetch them assured income. Since the girls also follow suit, young boys who have studied in Agama patasala and follow the footprints of their ancestors fail to get life partners within a reasonable time. If this trend continues for few more years, there is every reason to assume that except the few prosperous Temples, the ritual will face very severe shortage of Sivacharyars.

Now it is time to stop the undesirable shift in our tradition. There may be many options to put a stop to this trend but some practical solution has to be put into force without further delay.

Ardhra Foundation has come forward with what it thinks a"workable solution". Under this scheme, computer related jobs will be offered with good salary , PF and medical insurance for boys who have completed + 2 at school. The only requirement is that the boy has to conduct Puja in a Shiva Temple of his place twice in a day and should endeavor to learn and practice the agamas. Those in the age group of 8-12 will be assisted to join the Sivagama School and the parent will be given a sambavana of Rs 2000 per child per month. Sivagama students at the end of the fifth year can go back to their respective places to assist their parent. They may also perform puja in the surrounding villages of say 5 km radius thereby more Temples will be under Puja and attract the attention of the local people. Getting a life partner may not be that difficult as the income and status are assured and enhanced. May better sense prevail and we pray Lord Parameswara for the scheme to be received well among the Sivacharya community.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Are we inhuman?

                                                                                                             Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia image

It is unfortunate that we know only to celebrate and seldom implement the objectives of the days for which they stand for. National Safety day is becoming like any other day of celebration. When the curtains are down at the end of the day, the message is slowly going off the mind leaving the day as unimportant. It is true that the day is arranged in such a way that the message is pushed across the country. Alas! The follow up is missing from the very next day.

We talk big about safety at home and also at workplace. Road safety is another important area which is forgotten after the event. Is safety really aims to protect human beings only? It need not be true though it largely revolves around human beings only. Are we going to remain as silent spectators when animal safety is ignored?

When the country considers cow as holy, how does it permit cruelty caused intentionally to them? No concrete step is taken to prevent the animals from being sent to slaughter houses. How does the highway patrol keep a blind eye even if they come across a truck carrying too many animals tied with each other in standing posture and delivered at the slaughter houses after a very long journey? While blue cross objects for the killing of mad dogs even if they had bitten many people of a locality, the same yardstick of mercy is not applied when poor animals are loaded in trucks and sent for slaughtering. We do have a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. It is strange that they too express inability to react when their services are badly required.

Few days back, a cow fell into an open well of about 15 feet depth in Chennai . The cow’s cry was heard by the passers-by and they could not do anything to lift it out. As the well was dry, the animal suffered many fractures all over the body and succumbed inside the well. Fire service was pressed but they refused to remove the dead cow out of the well by saying that their job was not to remove the dead animals.( Will they not remove the body of a person floating in a pond or trapped under the debris?) Then the search was on to find the owner of the cow. Nobody came forward to claim as the owner as the removal would cost them. The press could only report the whole event and no step was taken to remove the body till next morning. How can the well be kept open without a parapet wall around it? What action the civic body proposes to take against the act of negligence? Manuneedhi Chola was there to hear the Cow's cry. Who is there now to hear her when she is about to die?  

The neglect continues everywhere and costs many lives unnecessarily. There are many Temples engulfed with thick vegetation that become the home for poisonous snakes. Unmindful of the danger ahead, the priests enter the sanctum and perform the puja. It is not uncommon to see King Cobras encircling the deity at rural Temples surrounded by paddy and sugarcane fields. Thick bushes are to be removed to keep the place safer. Who calls for Temple safety and prevention of snakebites?

It is time now to think beyond human safety pertaining to homes, roads and offices. Be it Humans, animals or birds; Let us be Human in the true sense. It is kindness that makes Humans different. We come across animals showing kindness to other species too. Can we take a reverse move and become animals by not extending mercy? We cannot afford to become inhuman as it is a shameful act that brings discredit to the entire race.