Monday, November 28, 2011

Difficult Task Ahead

The role of Government and the People in maintaining the ancient Temples has undergone sea changes over many centuries. The Kings took the responsibility of renovating the Temples and set example for the subjects to follow them. They believed that the the agricultural lands gifted to the Temples would take care of the maintenance and daily rituals. Except at the time of foreign aggression, the Temples were adequately protected by these Endowments. The dark era however started when non pious people took over the reign of Power and appointed their men as Executive officers of the Temples and allowed to keep blind eye when the tenants of the lands failed to pay back the paddy or money, contrary to the contract. The inaction of the Government and migration of pious people from villages was the prime cause for the damage done. The Parasites from political background have even misled people and assured them that the  Temple Lands would be allotted to them if elected to Power. It is under these difficult circumstances, the pious people will have to step in to do lot of ground work instead of just visiting the Temples, doing Bhajans and writing travelogues.By saying this, we may sound critical though, but the real intention is to give more focus on "do it now" issues facing the Temples.If someone feels that this amounts to impertinence, these remarks may please be ignored.

The stimulus required was therefore well analysed some three decades ago and as a result of which "Thiruvathirayan Thiruvarut Sabhai" was formed. Impetus was given mainly to "on the spot analysis" and actions were planned and implemented accordingly. Among the various activities undertaken by the Sabha, Temple renovation, painting (with due care not to hide inscriptons and murals) , Kumbabishekam, Long service recognition and renumeration to Sivacharyars, Monthly renumeration and Life Insurance for the priests, Inscribing the Holy Hymns on the walls of the respective shrines,Protection of Temple Ponds and Gardens, Reciting the Holy Hymns from Thirumurais, Participating in Temple festivals, Creating awareness by posting blogs in internet, publication of small booklets are worth mentioning.The activities need special attention and not more than 2-3 projects are handled at any point of time.

Visits are arranged to understand the rich Heritage and remind the participants about their role in conserving the same. The "on the spot inspection" gives them an opportunity to think more on the tasks ahead. The "Job on hand" visit thus differs from an ordinary tour. The satisfaction derived makes them turn into Heritage Lovers. They start looking at the Murthis with great interest and ask questions related to them to get clarity. The outer Prakarams with Devakoshtams therefore draw the attention they deserve. People who never looked at rows of "Yaalis" and "Bootha ganas" around the sanctum are delighted to view them by admiring the skill of the artisans and the contribution of the Emperors who built the amazing structures.

Kings took time to build/renovate Temples amongst the many wars they fought during their lifetime. The war at Thalayaalangadu(between Kumbakonam and Thiruvarur) where the Pandyan King fought bravely with Chola and Chera Emperors created History. The devastation caused during the war did not spare even some temples and the preence of scattered murthis all around the location picturises the gravity of the war. Despite the grave situation, many Temples in that area had survived and Sri Nardhanapureeswara Temple is among them that stands tall although a renovation is round the corner. Our Sabha is in the process of renovating the Temple Kitchen (Madapalli) and part of the priest's house which is leaking badly.The revival of Temple Garden was initiated last month by planting various species of plants.

The Tank here is considered as Holy as it is said to cure skin diseases. We have taken up the job of cleaning the pond but that was not easy. A long pole with T- joints (see picture) was used to grab and drag the algae to the banks. But the job had its limitation as the algae could be cleared only the distance upto which the pole could be extended. Hence an airfilled tube was employed over which two persons could sit and reach the middle of the tank and clear the plant growth. This was done after ensuring that the men engaged were good swimmers. The presence of a small boat could serve the purpose more easily and effectively.

Temple cleaning operations are being taken up by many groups regularly with lot of dedication. It is heartening to hear that people travel some 200 K.M to clean a village Temple every month. They also involve themselves in assembling at a place to recite Hymns from Thirumurais .Special mention must be made here about enthusiasists from Bangalore who travel all the way to Tamilnadu and clean the village Temples.

 Their desire to sing the Hymns in the original tunes was appreciable. It was indeed a pleasure to sing the Hymns in front of such an elated audience which followed each word rendered with lot of attention. The inspiration and coordination offered by my friend Mr Ganesh , who also maintains a website, is remarkable. The website bears testimony to the great job done by him on par with a department of an University.It is an excellent effort to reach the people on many aspects of Shaivism but the people must be fortunate enough to make use of it.

Though the Task ahead looks difficult, we find some light in the middle which enriches our optimism.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Quest to Save Heritage

It will not be an exaggeration if someone points out that we are very poor conservers of Art and Culture. We just read about the past in History books and forget it instantly. How many eyes have bled when News about theft of antiques and total neglect of Monuments are reported ? Our Emperors showed the way to record the History through inscriptions and we seldom care to preserve them Many stones with inscriptions are strewn all around and used for different purposes.Even the ASI, the caretaker of heritage sites does not show adequate care to all the monuments under their control.

Masilamaniswara temple at Tharangambadi,near Karaikal is an example of neglect by both people and HR &CE dept of the Goverment. No action was taken for decades when scholars were crying foul to see that the monument was slowly eaten up by the ferocious sea in front of it. The comments made by N. Sethuraman, Director of Raman & Raman Ltd , Kumbakonam is worth reading again and again. In his letter dated 28.3.1977 to the Executive officer of the Temple, Mr Sethuraman made the following points to draw immediate attention of the Government:
" ... I have also told the Archealogical department to protect this Temple. The Dutch people protected this Temple. The English people saved the Temple. Only the Englishmen copied the inscriptions in 1890. But the Indians published them in 1924 only. One more inscription was copied in1925. Till date our supposed patriot Tamilian have not published this inscription in full Text. I read it in person and shed tears . It is my opinion that we are useless and we do not deserve to inherit the prestige of our nation. The supposed Tamilians are only talkative. They know nothing but talking. The Europeans were the only real admirers of art. "
The above statement, published in the book, "Thevara Vaipputh Thalangal" by Sri Jayasendilnathan may look controversial. But one should read the concluding statement of Mr Sethuraman in that letter which is quoted below to understand the context properly.
" Please show this letter to all your friends and officers so that they will have some inspiration in their blood to save the Temple."

But the story is different now. When it was decided to shift the Temple to a nearby safer place, the structure was not dismantled stone by stone after numbering them. The old shrine was abandoned and an entirely new one with bricks has come up behind it. (See report with pictures in ) The deities, of course, will be shifted to the new shrine shortly.Mr Sethuraman's call for "inspiration in blood" should be appreciated by one and all. However his dream can come true only when we introduce the importance of Heritage in our curriculum right from secondary school level instead of asking questions such as "When was the first battle of Panipet fought?" This will build a young India to focus attention on preserving History instead of just talking about History. Afterall, inaction will be the key to destruction.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who will care these Temples??

The above file picture of Kamarasavalli Temple in dilapidated state was taken by one Alexander Ria in 1892 and the situation is no way better now. In fact it has deteriorated further.It should be an eye opener for HR &CE board which controls such rural temples and remain as a silent spectator for many decades.

The Hindu Religious Endowment Board was formed as a Govt Dept to regularise the income due to the Temples from Endowments & Charities and protect their assets. When numerous surveys are made to know the pulse of the public, it is strange to find that the survey on the performance of HR&CE dept has never been held.The authorities know very well that the survey will expose the anger and dissatisfaction of the devotees. As many as 30000 temples are brought under the control of the dept., hardly few hundreds may be in good shape because of public sponsorships and large number of visitors. Some temples collect lakhs of rupees during festival time and the collected money goes to Govt Treasury , thus creating opportunities for spending it for non religious activities also. There seems to be no controlled procedure to regulate the spending ways. Hence it becomes highly subjective while granting assistance to financially backward temples.

The focus of the board is clearly on the rich temples. Apart from keeping Hundi, the huge number of visitors are made to pay for Dharshan etc. The special Dharshan tickets are issued with denominations such as Rs 50, 500 and so on. The board may claim that they have provided amenities for the pilgrims. People stand in long queue for hours to see the glimpse of the Deity. All irregularities do happen when "VIPs" and other known persons make their presence.
Encroachments of Temple Lands and Tanks are not uncommon. The board takes legal action here and there and do not tighten the belt to apply it to each temple it controls. The executive officers appointed by the board rarely visit all temples coming under them and are confined to the major temple from where they work. In the absence of regular visits, the poor temples are totally neglected and anti socials take advantage of the situation. The leased Temple lands are being enjoyed fully by the tenants and the temples are entirely deprived of any income. Priests of these temples are not given regular monthly salary which is already very poor.
Poojas are held once in a day in these rural temples and that too erratic. People residing close to the temples present a blind eye to the issue as if it is not their problem. It is therefore left to the philanthropists of other places to come to the rescue of village temples.

Many Temples coming under the management of Mutts , Zamindars and private parties also present bad governance. The recent visit to Anaikudi,near Kumbakonam where a huge temple is maintained by the local Zamindar supports this view. The temple is kept closed and the pujas are irregular. Weeds/trees are seen at the entrance and cracks are seen on the brick wall. Even after repeated requests, the Zamindar refused to open the temple, citing bad health as reason. He does not understand how disappointed the visitors are when he refuses to oblige.The Temple tank is also poorly maintained as it is almost covered by vegetation.

Thiruneelakkudi, near Aduthurai has two temples for Lord Shiva. The one sung in Thevaram is in good shape and the other one is wholly ignored. A very huge tree is rooted to the Vimanam and poses grave danger to the entire structure. Ambal sannadhi is also in a pathetic state. The deity is also not seen inside. Devakoshta devathas are also missing. People feel that the local president may take up the renovation job.

Kollumangudi is another tiny village on Mayiladuthurai-Thiruvarur road where we find a Shiva temple in shambles. A well carved Nandi is seen in the Prakara , facing the Lord. Well grown trees are seen on the vimanams of Kasi Viswanatha and Visalakshi. Since the Temple is very small in size, renovation can be taken up immediately in order to save it from further damage.

Another neglected Temple is seen on the way to Peralam where the locals said that the name of the Lord was Swayambunathaswamy. The Temple is kept closed and nobody seems interested to keep it open. They were told not to ignore the Historic Treasure left to them by their ancestors. We keep our fingers crossed as we do not know whether our message has touched their hearts.

Under these circumstances, the devotees question the continuation of HR & CE board as it is no longer helpful to the poor temples and the employees. Hence the Govt can either allot enough funds for the renovation and maintenance of rural temples or dissolve the Board and hand over the shrines to the local committees who believe in God.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sadabishekam at Thiruppanandal

National Integration has been part and parcel of our culture. The tradition takes care of it by default and that itself is the very beauty of it one can boast of. The celebrated Tamil Saint Sri Kumaraguruparar got the skill to interact in Hindusthani language when he prayed Goddess Saraswathi through his famous Hymns, "Sakalakalavalli Maalai" The Mughul King in Delhi was so impressed with the saint and donated land at Varanasi in Kedar Ghat where Sri Kumaraguruparar established a Mutt and stayed there. He has authored outstanding literary works in Tamil, "Kandar Kali Venba", "Meenakshiammai Pillai Thamizh" ,"NeethiNeri Vilakkam", to name a few. Twentyone succesors have become the chiefs of the Mutt so far. It was during the reign of the sixth chief, the Mutt was built at Thirupanandal, near Kumbakonam in 1720. which is also known as Kasi Mutt. The contribution of the Mutt to Poor feeding and Education is incredible, The 20th Pontiff Sri Arulnandi Thambiran Swamigal has created Endowments to the tune of one Crore Rupees to various activities related to Health Care, Educational Institutions Propagation of Tamil Literature, Publication of Thirukkural and Thirumurais , assistance to Kasi Pilgrims and Sivacharyars, social services such as building bridges, Providing water and food, Sponsoring religious lectures, Thevaram group singing during Temple festivals, Cow Protection, renovation of temples, Lighting Ghee Lamps in Sanctums, Propagation of Saiva Siddhantha and so on.

The present chief of the Mutt , Kasivasi Sri Muthukumara Swami Thambiran Swamigal is also continuing the great task handed over to him by his Guru by initiating several welfare measures for the public. He has visited Mount Kailash apart from visiting hundreds of Temples across the country.The Mutt also brings out a monthly journal, "Sri KumaraGuruparar" in Tamil which carries topics of Literary interest.

Sri "Ejamaan Swamigal" as he is affectionately called, had completed 80 on 6th April and a three day function was organised by the Mutt at Thirupanandal by conducting Sadhabishekam and Kanakabishekam to the Pontiff. Thirumurai concerts and Lectures were also organised in which leading artists and scholars took part. A souvenir was released to mark the occasion.The highlight of the function was the presence of all Mutt Chiefs of Saiva Tradition. His Holiness honoured Oduvars, Sivacharyars, Tamil Scholars, Musicians and dancers and blessed them. Mahanyasa Rudra Homam was performed at Sri Arunajadeswarar Temple which is very close to the Mutt. Palm Tree is the sthala vriksha of the Temple. The main deity is worshipped by Thadaka , Chola King, Kungiliya Kalaya Nayanar and sung by Thirugnana Sambandar in His Thevaram Hymns.A beautiful Lotus Pond lies between the Temple and the Mutt. The Pond inside the Mutt houses a small temple at the centre which can be reached by a well constructed bridge. Mrithyunjaya Homam was performed in connection with the Sathabishekam in which leading Sivacharyars took part. "Vilakku Pooja" ( worship of Lamps) was conducted by women in front of Viswanathar Sannadhi in the presence of Sri Swamigal.

Sri Kasivasi Swamigal is leading our Sabha since its inception in the seventies which gave us an opportunity to participate in the function and receive his blessings. May The Almighty bless him many more years of active life to carry forward his great Mission. The unparallel work created by the Mutt remains as a benchmark for others to follow the noble guidelines set by the Pontiffs.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Holy Task on Foot

A Hindu Cultural Exhibition is organised every year at Thiruvanmiyur in Chennai to explain the People on the various social and cultural activities rendered by various institutions across the Nation. It draws the attention of the visitors towards various subjects like rehabilitation of poor, protection of cows, awareness on Vedic Dharma, organic farming,propagation of true values of religion and so on. A good reader should easily get plenty of books of his choice from the stalls installed in the fair. A stall put up by Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samithi of Hyderabad was one among the many that attracted the attention of the visitors.

The above mentioned organisation has shown keen interest in the protection of Temples and Temple Lands. They have undertaken Padayatra that covered 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh (8700 km in 330 days) The Samithi has succeeded in bringing up a revolution in public- awareness in every citizen about the need to protect ancient temples and conduct rituals there according to the tradition. They opposed the move of the Government in 2005 to take over the assets and management of 181 Mutts. They appealed to the Govt to dissolve the Endowment dept., and hand over the temples to the faithful peole, matadhipathis, Vedic Scholars who would form a governing council for the management of the temples.They denounced the interference of the Govt in this regard.

The samithi has distributed pamphlets at the fair in which the status of Temples in Andhra Pradesh is given:
* Temples and institutions under the control of Endowment Dept: 34463
* Institutions with annual income of more than 1 Lakh : 2033
* Every Temple must contribute 15% of its income to Maintenance Fund and 3% to Common Fund.
* 3200 temples all over the State are in dilapidated condition.
* Many Temple priests (whose salary ranges between Ra 400 and Rs 1000 per month) have not received the salary for the past five years.

The Samithi has summarised their objectives as follows:
* The Temple properties should be protected by all means and used in accordance with the wishes of the donor.
* To liberate temple lands from illegal occupation.
* To restrain the Govt. from interfering in the religious activities.
* To conduct/organise workshops and discourses for uplifting the status of the Temples.
* To make Temples as platform to integrate various sections of society.
* To instill Bhakthi in the minds of people.

Well. That is the message of the Samithi as found in their pamphlet. Is it not a call for people living in other states of the Nation ? We do not know what the Temple Protection Committee of Tamil Nadu is doing now. People are very quick in forming committees. They seldom follow it up to make it alive. They do not have a monthly agenda either. The situation is so bad due to poor leadership quality and lack of integrity. But then we notice lot of small group activities at many places. Look at the Samithi functioning in A.P. under a good Leadership which obtained court's stay order to restrain the Govt. Who will come forward to lead people of this part which is known as the "Land of Temples" ? Kanchi Kamakoti Sankaracharya was undertaking padayatras years ago to visit remote villages. The State now waits for someone to take over the unfinished tasks and get them executed for which "Padayatra" is perhaps the best solution. Sri Adhi Sankara in His Shiva Maanasa Pooja Stotram says, “ Sancharapadayo pradhakshinavidhi:”- Whenever I walk, O Sambho, it is Pradhakshina around You. It is because of the fact that the Lord is so merciful to forgive us if we commit mistakes with our hands and feet, with words or deeds, through eyes or ears or thoughts by omission or commision.
" Karacharanakrutham vaakayajam va karmajam va
sravana nayanajam va maanasam va aparaadham;
vihitham avihitham va sarvamethat kshamasava
jayajaya karunaabdhe sri Mahadheva sambo"
__ Siva Manasapooja sthothram of Sri Adhi Sankara

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Follow the Footsteps

Most of us think that involvement towards religious activities is possible only after retirement from service. Few people are fortunate to enter into Divine service right from their early age. They are passionate to leave a memorable service to the society during their stay in the World. It is difficult to explain how they derive the passion and sustain it throughout their life. Their acts stand as inspiration for others to follow. We come across many roll models during our interaction with others.

Valayapettai Sri Krishnan deserves praise for his commendable work on tracing those temples sung by Saint Arunagirinathar which were considered to be untraceable. Thiruppugazh Hymns that are available now cover 206 places. Gnanamalai is one among them and its exact location was not traceable for many years. Sri Sengalvaraya Pillai, who was an authority on Thiruppugazh , also expressed doubt about the location. Sri Krishnan took pains to locate the place by carefully going through the Thiruppugazh Hymns sung on this place. Since the Saint has referred about the Dharshan of The Holy feet of Subramanyahe had in this place, Sri Krishnan was on the look out for an evidence pertaining to the verses. He was also looking for inscriptions to determine the place as the one referred in Thiruppugazh. He came across a newspaper report on the findings from an inscription belonged to Sambuvarayar ( 1322-1340) found at this place indicating that one Kalingarayan , son of Sambuvarayar had installed steps on the Hill . On seeing the inscription, Sri Krishnan could confirm the Hill at Govinda chery, off Kaveripakkam , some 120 KM from Chennai as Gnanamalai.

Sri Krishnan was also delighted to find the traces of The Holy Feet of Lord Gnanaskanda on top of the Hill. The Legend says that the Lord after marrying Valli was on His way to Thiruthani . He stayed with Valli here and left the marks of His Feet on a rock. This helped Sri Krishnan to link Thiruppugazh verses and conclude the location as Gnanamalai.

The Hill is spread over 25 acres ,surrounded by a Lake on one side and agriculturural fields on the other side. Herbs of many species are grown all over the Hill.A small Shiva Shrine is seen on top of the Hill. Lord Muruga's shrine is also small in size but the deity is beautiful. The temple is beieved to belong to the period of Pallavas. The Lord is in the form of Bramha Sastha with Japamala and Kamandalam in His hands as against the usual Vajram and Shakthi. Peacock, Balipeetam and flagpost are installed in front of the Sanctum. Sri Vallimalai Swamigal is said to have visited this temple many times.

Sri Krishnan is well supported in this cause by philanthropists who have come forward to lay steps to reach the Hill and built a guest house at the foot of the Hill. Saplings have been planted around the Hill with the help of the Forest department. Social services are rendered for the benefit of the locals. A new panchaloka idol of "Kuramagal Thazhuviya Kumaran"- (Subramanya sitting on Peacock with Valli on His lap.)was made in 2007 and installed in the Temple. A Dhyana Mandapam has been built close to the rock on which the "Divine feet" are seen. The tirelessly working Krishnan is still looking for the development of the Temple and the Village. At the same time he wants to draw attention of devotees towards his discovery of an "Unknown" Thiruppugazh sthalam of Thriyambakapuram near Sengalipuram where a new temple needs to be built.

Let us follow the footsteps of People like Krishnan who trace the Footsteps of the Lord.