Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why this Kolaveri?

OK, with everybody on the Kolaveri bandwagon, can I be far behind? The flop song, the soup song, is so apt for the situation I venture to describe.

Some time ago, I was taking a few friends to the Brihadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur - A UNESCO World Heritage Site where the millennium celebrations were conducted with such pomp and splendour in September 2010 by the then Chief Minister of Tamilnadu. It was close to 1 pm and the main shrines were closed. But there was still so much to see, in the huge, probably largest temple in India. So we slowly moved around ,shielding our eyes against the midday sun. My friends were well informed about the temple and were able to identify the goshta devathas very easily. 

My attention, however, was captured by these, which resulted in the title for this post. Take a look!

What do you see here?
A beautiful Dhakshinamoorthy with a couple of sages worshipping at his feet. Let us just turn the angle of this picture. Now look- what you can see?
The walls on either side of the shrine are vandalised mercilessly. A Compass or key ha been used to make deep impressions of names of visitors who  for some crazy reason wanted to leave behind their names here. Take a close up look of how bad it is!
Whoever N.Raji was, he or she has not done himself/ herself or the temple a favour :( See how deep the cuts into the stone are!
Can you see the PMC carved into stone? Imagine how much of time and effort would have gone into this brutal vandalism! Well this is not all! Several other gods and goddesses are sitting amidst graffiti. It almost looked to me as if there were in a middle of a garbage bin. I am sorry if this hurts any one's sentiments, but honestly, when the sanctum sanctorum or the surrounding areas of where God resides, is damaged like this,
I do not know what else to say!

Here is one Shivalingam with graffiti as his backdrop! But he is not alone!
Here is another - equally if not more affected!
Well, here are Saptha Lingas with an entire wallpaper and arch of graffiti around them!
No one is spared - complete equality when it comes to graffiti! Do you want to take a closer look?
"The writing's up on the wall" - right up to the ceiling and all along the " Thiruchutru Maaligai" so thoughtfully built by Rajaraja's Senathipathi Krishnan Raman and decorated by King Sarfoji by installing 108 lingams and covering the walls with exquisite paintings. So are you wondering what happened to the paintings?
Philip and Mumtaj are part of this unique painting which possibly shows the Crane that prayed at the Potraamarai Kulam at Madurai ( I am guessing it is that part of Thiruvilaiyaadal Puranam).

Can Kennedy and Daisy be far behind? They too have made sure their names are part of another unique painting.
Even a water drum has not been spared! What is the sanctity or everlasting value of having your name on a water drum? Beats me!

Okay, by now, I can hear some of you murmuring, what is point in talking about this or documenting this? Why cant some action be taken? Good question. Tried to do that too. Hear me out fully.

Some days ago, a friend of mine had shared a picture of a painting taken at a temple.

I had shared it on my face book wall and it attracted a lot of feedback. In fact, one of my friends from a conservation NGO, offered to clean up and restore the painting if necessary approvals were obtained. So totally enthused by this, I set off to the temple. Reached there at 8.30 in the morning and was told that the priest only came at 6.30 to perform pooja and after that he came only when called or if there was a group of tourists through a known travel agency visiting! The temple however was open, and there were a couple of senior citizens resting there. I could not find the painting anywhere.

Feeling bored after waiting for close to an hour, with no sign of the priest, I picked up a conversation with the people there. They said that the painting was inside a mandapam which was opened only on request, when the priest was available. One lady said that the original painting had been totally damaged, and the new painting had been done about sixty years ago. But that was also peeling off (probably due to use of acrylic colours?) She mentioned that the mandapam was permanently closed now to prevent school children from scribbling on the wall. She  said the temple was thinking of whitewashing the mandapam which she too thought was the best solution since the temple did not have the funds to either restore or subsequently maintain the painting. She did not seem to have the contact details of any officer and I could not stay longer due to other commitments. 

So what is the issue and what is the solution? One solution suggested by Makemytrip's is Amar Prem - a Virtual site where you can inscribe your names on virtual monuments and take printouts. But do we really have to promote vandalism in any form?

To me it seems like a collective behavioural change is urgently required at both ends - responsible users of the temple, responsible office bearers ably supported by a responsible civil society and government. I have just documented what I saw, and felt! Thoughts, suggestions and solutions welcome!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Poondi Madha Basilica

Standing outside the Poondi Madha Basilica

I had the grace of visiting the Poondi Madha Basilica near Thanjavur recently. It was a totally unplanned visit. We were passing by the highway when we saw the Board reading "Way to Poondi Madha Basilica". Having heard so much about the grace of The Poondi Madha, and how she has created many miracles in the lives of her devotees, we quickly decided to detour and reach the Basilica. It was one pm in the afternoon and the church was relatively empty. The white tower of the Basilica stood out from a distance, inviting those eager to visit the Basilica and bask in the compassion of the Divine Mother.

Rows of Statues of Saints line the path to the Basilica
 We walked slowly through the lane lined with statues of Saints, into the gates guarded by angels. There is a huge notice board giving bus and train routes from various parts of India to the Basilica along with timings. Rooms are available for those coming from other places to stay and pray at the church.

History of the Poondi Madha Basilica:
  • The original dome where the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Poondi is placed was built during 1714 - 1718 by Rev.Fr. Constantine Joseph Beschi. Tamilnadu knows him by the name of "Veeramamunivar" (வீரமாமுனிவர்) . An Italian Missionary, he mastered the Tamil language and has created several literary works that earned him the title of "Father of Tamil Prose". His "Thembaavani" and "Paramartha Guru Kadhai" are famous even today. The Tamilnadu Government has honoured him by placing his statue on the Marina Beach.
  • In 1956, the then Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Lourdes Xavier, whose tomb is seen at the entrance of the chapel, where people stop by and pray, wanted to rebuild the dome which was in a state of damage, requiring immediate attention. Not having sufficient funds to carry out the repairs, he fasted and prayed to the Holy Mother for 15 days. On the 15th day morning, he heard an inner voice and  told the people that the front portion of the church would come down on its own by that afternoon. Exactly as he said, the building collapsed. This happened on 22nd November, 1956 and the reconstruction was completed by 2nd May 1964.
  • The Holy Mother appeared to Bernadette in 1858 in Lourdes in France. Statues of Our Lady of Lourdes was sent to different parts of the World. Out of the three statues that came to India, one was brought to and remains in the Poondi Shrine. This statue is so unique, that while looking at it, one gets a feeling of looking at a live person. 

  • Since the time the statue was installed in the church, a mysterious brightness has been filling up the entire church during night time. People started special devotion to Our Lady and several miracles started happening here, which continue till day!
  • A small piece of the original cross of Jesus was brought to the church by Rev.Fr.Rayappa in 1976. One can see this below the Statue of the Holy Mother.

Relic of the Original Cross (Photo Courtesy: Poondi Matha Basilica)
  • Several thousands of devotees throng the Poondi Madha Basilica on September 8th every year, the Birthday of Our Holy Mother. A procession is taken out in an ornamental chariot which is witnessed by people irrespective of caste and religion, who gather and pray here on this auspicious day.
  • The church has a membership scheme whereby one can pay as less as Rs.100 as a monthly subscription. When the amount reaches Rs.5000/- the person becomes a life member and the person is remembered and prayed during every mass offered in the shrine.
We knelt down and prayed at the altar. Looking at the Holy Mother who looked skywards in prayer, seemed to take away our burdens and lighten our hearts. After praying we went across the church, to the Museum, which houses all the articles and artifacts given by devotees whose prayers have been answered. From parts of the body in silver for diseases and ailments cured, to stethoscopes, pens, gold and silver jewellery, house models, several articles have been donated with devotion and gratitude. Letters thanking the Holy Mother for Her grace in their lives are attached to the artifacts and bear testimony to the various miracles that happen here every day.

There is also a Depot in the Church complex which sells various items like pictures, idols, books, CDs, Calendars, Bibles, Rosaries etc. Several people are seen here purchasing articles of their choice. Holy oil and water are also available in this depot. Since it was past 2 pm, we moved out towards the restaurant opposite to the church. On our way out, several geese cackled and played in the lawns outside. We stood for a while, taking in the beautiful surroundings. 

Where is Poondi Madha Basilica:

The Poondi Madha Basilica is in Alamelupuram Poondi near Thirukattupalli in Thanjavur District of Tamilnadu.
Nearest Airport: Trichy - 45 kms
Nearest Railway Stations: - Budalur - 18 kms, Thanjavur - 35 kms, Trichy - 35 kms
Bus: Several State and Private Buses are available from Chennai, Vailankanni, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Trichy, Kallanai, Lalgudi, Pullambadi and Perambalur.
Contact Details: 91-4362-280422
The Rector,
Poondi Madha Basilica,
Poondi, Thirukattupalli Via,
Thanjavur Pin: 613105

Mass Timings:
Weekdays - 6 am, 11.15 am and 5.15 pm
First and Third Saturday of Every Month - 6 am, 9.30 am, 11.15 am, 5.15 pm
First Saturday - Prayer Service followed by Mass - 9 pm and 12 pm
Sundays - 6 am, 8.30 am, 11.15 am, 12.30 pm (English) and 5.15 pm

For further information on the Basilica check out the official website of the shrine here
Main Altar  (Photo Courtesy: Poondi Madha Basilica)
If you happen to be at this part of the world, do stop by to pray here. Peace of mind and relief guaranteed! 
Aalayam Kanden wishes its readers a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy and Prosperous 2012!

Sincere thanks to Mr. Ajoy Leo whose video of the Holy Mother has been used in this post, and to the Poondi Madha Basilica for pictures of the Main Altar and the Relic of the Original Cross.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Versatile Blogger Award and Liebster Blog Award

Thank you Zaira for giving me the Versatile Blogger Award. Really thrilled!

The rules of the Versatile Blogger Award are as Follows:
1. Nominate 15 Fellow Bloggers
2. Inform the Bloggers of their nomination
3. Share 7 random things about yourself
4. Thank the Blogger who nominated you
5. Add the Versatile Blog Award picture to your blog post

I am happy to nominate the following 15 bloggers whose work I follow regularly and deeply appreciate:
1. Rajesh Prabhu
2. Shrinidhi Hande
3. Anshul Dutt
4. Arti
5. G Christy Rathnalatha
6. Umesh Derebail
7. Meera
8. Arun
9. Hari Narayana
10. Sushma Harish
11. Deepak Doddamani
12. Soumya Swaminathan
13. Dhiraj Shenoy
14. Katie
15. Sudha Ganapathi

I will be informing each one of them personally about the award.

Regarding 7 random things about me:
1. I do things best when I do multiple things at the same time :)
2. Till the age of ten, I was ambidextrous- in other words I could write with both hands :)
3. The food I love most - is Thayir Saadham! Nothing to beat Homemade Thacchi Mammuu!
4. I love bursting bubblewrap - could spend hours doing it!
5. I cannot read anything sitting down - prefer to walk while reading!
6. I have weighed the same for the last ten years- cannot seem to reduce even half a kilo!
7. I love reading blogs of other bloggers. It makes me feel there is so much variety and perfection out there that I must strive hard to reach!

Liebster Blog Award

Thanks to Christy Ratnalatha for sharing the Liebster Blog Award!
Liebster means "favourite" or "dearest" in German and by sharing this award with you, it means your blogs are my favourites. Here are the rules:
1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to her blog.
2. Copy and paste the award to your blog.
3. Choose 5 bloggers to receive this award and let them know by commenting on their blog.
4. Hope they pass on the award to their favourite blogs.
5. Thank all those who follow your blog.

Wish to share this award with the following fellow bloggers:
1.Magic Eye
2.Saru Singhal
3.Zaira Hakeemshah
4.Sunita Kurup
5.Debajyoti Ghosh
Congratulations to all the winners!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mahayogi Lakshmamma Avva Samadhi Adoni

The Mahayogi Lakshmamma Temple, Adoni
Mahayogi Lakshmamma Avva - The first time I heard this name was during one of my initial visits to Mantralayam way back in 2008. A poster with details in Telugu and a picture of a frail woman in an unusual posture looking down attracted my attention. My friends travelling with me,told me that she was a Siddhar/Avadhootha, and once someone in jealousy had chopped off her limbs while she was sleeping and found them intact the next morning as she resumed her chores. This really amazed me and the Samadhi went into my "Must Visit" list. However it was only about ten visits to Mantralayam later, that I was able to go to Adoni and visit the samadhi of Avva (grandmother) as she is affectionately known. From then on, I have gone whenever possible.
Portrait of Mahayogi Lakshmamma Avva as found in the temple
The life of Mahayogi Lakshmamma is extremely interesting and awe-inspiring. Born to Bandeppa and Mangamma, in a poverty stricken Dalit Family at Moosanapalli, a small village 7 km from Adoni, Lakshmamma roamed about the streets of the village as a young girl., stark naked, mumbling nonsensical words. People thought she was mad and advised her parents to get her married to cure her of her insanity. The parents chose a groom for her, a young lad called Mareppa and got her married. Being an Avadhootha, Lakshmamma demonstrated her spiritual status to her husband and returned to her parents house the same night. People who did not realise her spiritual powers, pelted stones at her, thinking she was mad. Those who inflicted injuries on her, found misfortune in their lives for their deeds.

Lakshmamma joined a group of people coming to the village shandy at Adoni. She settled herself beside a garbage dump in the silver market and never went back. She ate whatever was offered to her. She continued to roam around the streets, mumbling nonsensical words. People called her Thotti (Garbage Dump) Lakshmamma or Thikka (Mad)  Lakshmamma.

Entrance to the Mahayogi Lakshmamma Temple
In Adoni, Lakshmamma's grace flowed to all those who sought her sincerely. Several people gave her food and fruits knowing her spiritual state. She cured people of ailments and disease.
  • A lady called Gowramma came to her seeking cure for her husband suffering from cancer. Lakshmamma looked at her with compassion and muttered a few words. In due course, Gowramma's husband was cured. As a token of gratitude, Gowramma gave her an anna. Very soon, Gowramma became the owner of sixty acres of land. A small token given in sincere prayer yielded rich rewards for her.
  • Avva gave fruits bitten by her to women longing for childbirth and they would have their prayers answered.
  • Once there was a huge downpour and all the roads and drains in Adoni were flooded. People were worried about Avva as she stayed and slept in the open air next to the garbage dump, but could not venture out fearing their own safety. Once the rain subsided, they found her coming out safely from an overflowing drain, totally unaffected.
  • Once as mentioned earlier in this article, Avva was once found with her limbs mutilated. But the next morning she appeared normal.
  • The merchants in the silver market felt that if Lakshmamma came to their shop and asked for food, then their business will do well for that day. One day, a Jeweller in the bazaar had lost a small pouch containing exquisite and valuable diamonds. He searched his shop high and low, but could not find the bag. He was terribly upset as he had paid a handsome price to acquire the diamonds and hoped to make a good profit by selling them. Avva walked into the shop and dumped some garbage right in the middle and walked out. The jeweller was perplexed. He knew she did nothing without reason. Triggered by her action, he asked his attendants to search the garbage dump, and found the bag of diamonds intact.
  • People who recognised Lakshmamma Avva's divine powers were adequately blessed. One of her ardent devotees, Late Sri Raichooti Ramaiah performed a cart festival for her even when she was alive.
  • Lakshmamma Avva attained samadhi in the year 1933. Her samadhi was built at the same spot where she spent her life.
Lakshmamma Avva Samadhi
The Samadhi is built in an underground chamber and a gold idol of Lakshmamma Avva is placed over it in the Sanctum Sanctorum. The beautifully decorated and bejewelled idol is a delight to watch. What was most endearing is that the idol was decorated with a saree made from pomegranate seeds. During her life, Lakshmamma Avva had considered even clothes as a burden. It was ironical to see her gold idol with so much finery. However, the devotees were showing their deep love, gratitude and devotion to Avva by decorating her to their pleasure.
Sanctum Sanctorum of Lakshmamma Avva
The Poojari offered harathi with devotion and gave us flowers as prasad. Unlike other temples in Andhra and Karnataka, this temple thankfully has a large board describing the life and miracles of Avva in English for the benefit of all visitors. 

A beautiful Silver Utsava Moorthy is placed in a seperate shrine as we circumambulate the sanctum sanctorum. This silver moorthy of Avva is taken out in procession in a silver cart every year, a ritual that had begun while she was alive.
Silver idol taken out in procession
Even today, several hundreds of devotees throng her samadhi every day, seeking blessings and offering gratitude for prayers answered. The environment in the temple is calm and soothing amidst the glaring marble tiles. Some people also go into the underground samadhi and meditate in peace in front of Avva.

How to reach here:

Adoni is located at 15.63 N 77.28 E. It is a commercial town in Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh. It is about 300 kms from Hyderabad and 494 kms from Chennai. From Chennai, one can reach Adoni easily by trains that ply towards Mumbai. There are also daily trains from Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kanyakumari, Mumbai, Gulburga, Ahmedabad and Tirupathi. State Transport Buses connect Adoni from Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kurnool, Anantapur, Vijayawada, Bellary, Tirupathi and Mysore.

Nearest Airport is Hyderabad and nearest domestic airport is Bellary at 68 km.

Adoni is an hour's drive from Mantralayam. So if you are on a pilgrimage to Mantralayam, it would be easy to visit here. There are a number of buses available from Mantralayam to Adoni. Private jeeps charge approximately Rs.1300 for a two way trip.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shiva Vishnu Temple, Mudichur - A temple for Marriage Prayers

Arch at the entrance of the Shiva Vishnu Temple, Mudichur
Hundreds of yellow thread hang from steel rods around the sanctum sanctorum. Each one of them has a turmeric stick tied on to the thread and a number tag attached. I try to peer closer to read a tag - B2657. Another - G3328. Why have these threads been tied here and why are they tagged? This is Vidyambigai Samedha Bheemeshwar Temple at Mudichur, where people pray for their children's marriage. All sincere prayers are definitely answered and after marriage, the couple come here and remove the yellow thread that had been tied (that's why the tag - B stands for Boy and G for Girl!) and offer abhishekam to the Lord as a token of gratitude.

So, how did this temple become a "Parihara Sthalam" ? Thats an interesting story.

Over 1300 years ago, there was a Shiva Devotee named Kameshwaran in this village. He found a Shivalingam and started worshipping it in a small shrine. In the same village, lived a man called Vishwam with his adopted daughter Vasuki. Kameshwaran and Vasuki fell in love and wanted to get married. But Vishwam was against the match. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, Kameshwaran and Vasuki prayed to Lord Shiva everyday to join them in matrimony.Hearing their sincere prayers,  Lord Shiva appeared beforeVishwam as Parameshwaran, the Gurukkal at the temple and asked him to bring Kameshwaran and Vasuki to the temple. Unable to act against the words of the Gurukkal, Vishwam did as told. Parameshwaran got the two of them married. Lord Shiva and Parvathi appeared before the couple, who were overwhelmed with happiness. Since Lord Shiva got Kameshwaran and Vasuki married here, the place came to be known as Manamudicha Nallur ( place where the wedding was conducted), which now is called Mudichur.
Nagapeetam outside the temple
Even today, hundreds of eligible men and women go around the Nagapeetam outside the temple and tie yellow threads around the Sanctum Sanctorum praying for successful marriage proposals. The Shivalingam worshipped by Kameshwaran was called Parameshwaran, after the avatar Lord Shiva took to get them married. Slowly he came to be known as Bheemeshwara which is how he is referred to today. The Goddess is a manifestation of the three devis and is called Vidyambigai.

The temple is a great example of Shaiva - Vaishnava unity. The temple complex houses Sridevi Bhoodevi Samedha Damodhara Perumal. This was a sought after Vaishnavite Shrine of Yore. It is believed that Saint Ramanuja had given a Pravachanam here on his way to Shriperumbudur. In the 1800s, Sri Appariyaar Swamy is said to have collected the "Naalayira Divya Prabandham" through manuscripts, and helped collating them for print. Some also say that since the Divya Prabandham work was completed here, the place came to be known as Mudichur.
A closer look at the Nagapeetam
The temple had been badly damaged during the Manimangalam War fought between Narasimha Varma Pallava (popularly known as Mamalla) and Pulikesi II in 642 AD after which for many many years it lay in a state of neglect. No worship happened. The temple was covered with thick bushes and there were many snakes so people were afraid to go in and pray. The only activity in the temple used to happen on Karthigai Deepam day when a huge lamp was lit on the 1300 year old lamp post opposite to the Damodhara Perumal Shrine. The lamp post stands even today tall and beautiful. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures inside the shrine due to some local governance issues with the temple and so one has to personally visit to see the beauty of the shrine and the idols. It is only in the 1980s that the local youth got together to clear all the bushes, and repair and reconstruct the shrines. Today the small temples of both Perumal and Shiva and well maintained with a number of flowering plants all around the shrines.

Beautiful temple tank at Mudichur
Karthigai Deepam festival is a very important festival in this temple. Lighting of Sokka Panai and Theppam Festival happen during the month of Karthigai and it is a visual delight to watch the gloriously lit theppam floating in this beautiful temple tank. The tank is large and is fenced to prevent people from bathing in the deep waters. However, a lot could be done to clean and maintain the tank.

A picture of the Theppam Festival (Photo Courtesy : Mr. Krubha Karan)
For more details of the Theppam Festival and lovely pictures, you may access the Treasures of Tamilnadu blog here

As we enter the temple, we find the Hanuman shrine to our right, and a small shrine for Garudalwar in front of the ancient lamp post. Both Hanuman and Garuda face the Damodara Perumal temple. The left side of the temple complex is made up of the Vidyambigai Samedha Bheemeswarar temple and the shrines around it - namely for Vinayaka, Muruga, Navagraha, Chandikeshwara, Durga, Bhairava and Chandran. Most of these idols are made from Natural Moon Stone (Chandrakanta Stone) and hence are unique in their own way. 

Worshipping Chandra made from Chandrakanta stone is said to rid one of all dosas. A few metres away from the temple, is a huge Peepal Tree (Aala maram). Big enough to shoot Panchayat scenes in tamil movies. Under the Peepal Tree, is a shrine for Aalavatta Amman, a frontier Goddess for this region

How to reach the temple:

From Tambaram, take the right towards Mudichur Road. After travelling about 4 kms down the road, you will reach a church on your right side and a board which reads Mudichur on the left. Take the left turn at the Board. The road will take a natural curve towards the Aalavattamman temple and then reach the Shiva Vishnu Temple. Several buses and share autos are available from Tambaram bus stand and railway station Mudichur.

Temple Timings:

The official timings of the temple are 7 am to 10 am in the mornings and 5 pm to 8 pm in the evenings. However the temple is usually opened only by 8 am in the morning so it is advisable to go after that.

With the Karthigai Deepam festival falling on 8th December this year, do visit this temple to worship Vidyambigai, Bheemeshwarar and Sridevi Bhoodevi Samedha Damodhara Perumal and also witness Karthigai Deepam Chokkapanai, Theppam and other festivities.

Goddess Vidyambigai (Photo Courtesy: Maalai Malar)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Appa Paithiyam Swamy Samadhi, Salem

In June this year, we were on a visit to Erode and Salem. On our way back, our friend Umayaal recommended visiting the Appa Paithiyam Swamy Samadhi. I had heard a bit about this Siddhar and how the Pondicherry Chief Minister, Mr. Rangasamy had considered him his guru and all his political success had been attributed to the Appa Paithiyam Swamy's guidance and direction.

The temple is quite well known in Salem and we found our way easily. On going there, I was surprised to see a big hall with a sanctum sanctorum housing a statue of Appa Paithiyam Swamy built over his samadhi. Apart from that, wood and fiber statues of the Siddhar, so realistic and lifelike are also placed inside glass chambers to the left of the sanctum sanctorum. A large number of people were found praying, meditating or chanting inside this temple.

Appa Paithiyam Swamy was born in the Zamin family of Karur Fort in the year 1859. In his 16th year, he is said to have left home and gone to Palani. While he was roaming around in the hills of Palani, he is said to have met his Gnana Guru, Sri Azhukku Swamigal of Vettaikaaran pudhur. Together they travelled the length and breadth of India. After Azhukku Swamigal attained Samadhi at Pollachi, Sri Appa Paithiyam Swamigal moved to several places like Tiruvannamalai, Tindivanam, Cuddalore, Pondicherry and finally to Salem where he attained Samadhi in the year 2000 when he was 141 years old.
Azhukku Swamigal, the Guru of Sri Appa Paithiyam Swamy
During his many years at Pondicherry, the Chief Minister, Mr. Rangasamy is said to have met him and have become his ardent devotee. This connection continued even after the Swamy moved to Salem, and even now the CM frequents the Samadhi as and when he requires divine guidance from his Guru. This has prompted several people who aspire for a career in politics to visit this temple and seek guidance from this Siddhar.

Throughout his life, Appa Paithiyam Swamy was involved in providing Annadhanam (free meals) to the people who came to him. Even today this system continues and free meals are provided to all those who visit the temple. During his travels, he is said to have repaired and reconstructed several ancient shrines with the support of the local people. Several people suffering from chronic ailments have come here and have been cured with his blessings. Staying at the temple on full moon days is said to cure even people suffering from mental ailments or treatment failure. People who have been cured by the Swamy have become his ardent devotees for life and frequent his temple for prayers and thanksgiving.

Why did he come to be known as Appa Paithiyam? Since he was like a father to those who had faith in him, he was lovingly called Appa by his devotees. He often referred to himself as "Paithiyam"( mad man), and hence came to be known as Appa Paithiyam Swamy.

He was also called Beedi Samiyar, as he was often seen smoking Beedi. Several people who knew and worshipped him during his lifetime used to take the beedi stubs as prasad and keep it in their homes. People also place lemons on the feet of the Swamy's statue and drink the juice to obtain childbirth or be cured of ailments. Another common practice at this temple is to write "Om Parashakthi Appa Paithiyam Swamy" with Vibhooti (sacred ash) on a plate and light a lamp using Banana Pith wick and place it on the plate. This lamp burns for three days and is said to relieve the devotee of any problem he is facing. We see several people whose prayers have been answered offering "Panchamirtham" (a combination of banana, ghee, powdered sugar, dates and raisins ) to Appa Paithiyam Swamy as an expression of gratitude.

Fiber and Wood statues of the Swamy in the temple complex
Mr. Madhaiyan, who performs poojas and offers Vibhoothi as prasad, tells us all the interesting facts and miracles in the life of Appa Paithiyam Swamy. He takes us to the office room where he gives us pictures of the Swamy. Interestingly, there is an automated Vibhoothi Vending machine set in such a way that when you place your hand under the picture of the Swamy, the Vibhoothi falls into your palm from his raised hand. Several people queue up to collect Vibhoothi from the picture.

The sayings of Appa Paithiyam Swamy are displayed prominently at different places in the temple:
1. Boasting will destroy a man.
2.If you keep your mind clean, there will be no cause for worry.
3.Only Annadhanam (donating food) will free a man from his sins.
4. A man who does not change in front of the Swamy cannot be changed by the World.
5.Sharing food will cure hunger. Hoarding and eating by oneself will bring disease.
6.There is nothing greater than a mother's blessing in this world.
7.When you take one step towards the Swamy, he takes ten steps towards you.
8.No mantras are required for one whose mind is clean.
9. One gets benefits based on his efforts.

Several thousands of devotees throng the temple during the birthday of Swamy (28th day of the tamil month of Chithirai) and his Guru Pooja on day of Ashwini in the tamil month of Thai.

The temple is situated on the same road as the Salem Railway Station and is accessible by bus and auto from all parts of Salem. It is open between 5.30 am and 12.30 pm in the morning and 5.30 pm and 8.30 pm in th evening. The contact numbers are 0427 - 2447078, 2331974.

Appa Paithiyam Swamy has been performing several miracles in the lives of those who trust him. The serene environment of the temple provides a soothing effect to those seeking peace of mind. If you happen to be in this part of the world, do stop by and get the blessings of the Swamy.


My special thanks to Mr. Manimarron whose videos on Youtube about Appa Paithiyam Swamy Temple have been used in this post to give a better feel to the reader about the Swamy and the temple.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Diwan Venkanna & the Moola Brindavana at Mantralayam

The Moola Brindavana of Sri Raghavendra Swamy
While writing about Bhikshalaya and Appanacharya a few weeks ago, I thought my next post must feature Diwan Venkanna, another devotee of Sri Raghavendra Swamy and all the grace and blessings he received. But then, God destined otherwise. So here it is, the soul-touching story of Venkanna and how the blessings of Guru Raghavendra changed his life forever.

Venkanna was a young Brahmin boy in Adoni, which is a town about an hour's drive away from the present day Mantralayam in Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh. His parents had died while he was young, and his maternal uncle took charge of his property and brought him up. Planning to usurp all his wealth, the uncle did not educate Venkanna and sent him to graze cattle. He also beat him up all the time. 

One day, while he was grazing cattle, he saw the saint walking by with his folllowers. Something in his eyes, the compassion on his face and benevolence in his demeanour, made Venkanna run to him and fall at his feet. All he could do was weep, thinking of all that he had gone through at such a young age.

The Swamy looked at him with kindness, and gave him Mantrakshatha, and asked Venkanna to remember him whenever he was in difficulty. Venkanna felt a strange sense of peace washing over him. He saved the mantrakshatha carefully.

Days rolled by. One day, the Nawab Siddhi Masood Khan, was passing through that region. His messenger brought a note to him. Not knowing the local language, the Nawab called out to Venkanna who was nearby, to read the message for him . A startled Venkanna politely told the Nawab that he was illiterate. The Nawab could not believe that a young Brahmin would be uneducated and so ordered him to read the message, failing which he would be beheaded for disobedience.

Venkanna did not know what to do. With tears in his eyes, he prayed to Raghavendra Swamy and took the scroll in his hand. Like magic, he was able to see and understand what was written there. The message was one of victory for the Nawab. The happy Nawab appointed Venkanna as the Diwan of Adoni.

The illiterate cowherd Venkanna had become Diwan Venkanna !!

Years rolled by. Sri Raghavendra Swamy had by then started on his journey towards the location for his Jeeva Samadhi. Hearing that he was passing through Adoni, Venkanna made arrangements to receive his Guru because of whose mercy he was the Diwan today. He received the Swamy at the entrance of Adoni with music and garlands, falling at his feet and washing them with rose water.

By this time, the Nawab had heard a lot about Guru Raghavendra's grace from Venkanna and was eager to test him to see if he was really that magnificent. That day as Raghavendra swamy was performing his daily poojas to Moola Rama, the Nawab went to meet him with a covered tray of mutton. He offered the plate to Guru Rayaru with feigned humility. The Guru accepted his offerings with a smile and placed it before moola Rama and continued his pooja. At the end of the pooja after the Harathi was made and water sprinkled around the offerings, the Swamy removed the cloth over the plate of mutton. Lo! and behold! It had turned into fruits and sweet smelling flowers. The Nawab was ashamed of his act and wanted to make amends. He was willing to give Raghavendra Swamy anything within his capacity.

The Guru smiled and asked him for Manchala Village. The Nawab was surprised, since Manchala was a dry land. He was willing to give a more fertile and prosperous land to the Swamy. However, since the Guru was insistent, he made out a deed granting the village to the Swamy. A satisfied Raghavendra Swamy then went to Manchala Village and took permission from Manchalamma, the Grama Devatha to enter his jeeva samadhi there. He also promised her, that anyone who came to visit him, would worship her first before seeing him. This tradition continues even today.
Goddess Machalamma - at the  old shrine
Sri Raghavendra then took Venkanna to the location where he wanted the Moola Brindavana to be built. He explained to him that this was the location where he had performed yagnas during the time he was Prahalada. He described the stone that he wanted to be placed on his moola brindavana and requested Venkanna to bring it from Madhavaram, a village about 5 kms away from Mantralayam.

Venkanna and his men, went in search of the stone and brought it back with a great deal of devotion. They constructed a lovely brindavana and invited Sri Raghavendra to look at it. The Guru was silent for a few minutes, and then told Venkanna that this had not been the stone that he had spoken about. Venkanna was disappointed and felt miserable that he had failed to identify the stone requested by his beloved Master. The Guru consoled Venkanna and asked him to keep that brindavana empty and build another next to it with the stone he had requested for.When the time came, they would know who would occupy this brindavana, built with so much devotion.

This brindavana is now occupied by Vadeendra Theertharu, Poorvasrama great grandson of Sri Raghavendra Swamy and the fifth Yathigalu after Sri Raghavendra Swamy. When he sang the Guru GunaSthavanam in front of the Moola Brindavana, the entire Brindavana is said to have shook in appreciation of the verses.
Vadeendra Theertha Brindavana located right
next to the Moola Brindavana (Photo Courtesy:
Venkanna wanted to know the signficance of the stone that Guru Raghavendra had requested and the Guru explained that it had been the stone on which Sri Rama had sat for some time on his way to Kishkintha in search of his wife Sita and once again gave him the description and the location to find the stone. This time Venkanna brought the right stone and the Moola Brindavana was built by him with extra care and devotion.
Guru Raghavendra Swamy also asked him to make an anjaneya idol on the remaining piece of the stone and place it opposite to the Moola Brindavana.
Mantralaya Hanuman
To this day, the Hanuman stands opposite to the Moola Brindavana and is being worshipped by Guru Raghavendra Swamy and all his devotees who visit him.

One piece of the stone was left behind at Madhavaram, at the spot where it had been located to show the significance of the location and the event.
Rama Shila at Madhavaram
This stone is housed in a small shed and people who know its significance, visit it on their way to Mantralayam. If one travels by train, Madhavaram is on the way from the Mantralayam Road Junction to Mantralayam.
The small shed in Madhavaram wherein the stone is preserved
Venkanna had the fortune of witnessing the Brindavana Pravesa of Guru Raghavendra Swamy. Pleased with his devotion, the Guru gave him the Padukas that he had been wearing .Today the 11th generation of Venkanna, still stay at the old Manchala Village on the banks of Tungabadra and perform poojas at the Moola Brindavana. The Padukas given by Sri Raghavendra Swamy is still protected by them, and worshipped in their personal pooja room. This house is close to the Venkataramana Swamy temple, installed and worshipped by Guru Raghavendra Swamy.

Raghavendra Paduka
Venkanna was an able administrator and performed several tasks for the interests of the people of Adoni. In fact the tank that he had built for storing water at Adoni, called Venkanna Bhavi stands till date bearing testimony to the devotion and efficiency of Venkanna who from a mere cowherd had become a Diwan,purely through the grace of Guru Raghavendraswamy.

Venkanna Bhavi at Adoni
If you are visiting Mantralayam, do take time out to stop by at Madhavaram, and to walk behind the temple to the banks of Tungabadhra, to visit Manchalam Village and the temple of Venkataramana Swamy and the house of Venkanna, where the Padukas of Sri Raghavendra Swamy are being worshipped.
Venkatramana Smamy, the Kula Devatha of
Sri Raghavendra Swamy installed and worshipped by
him at Manchala Village

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sithukadu - A holy land of Siddhars

Sri Dhathriswara Temple, Sithukadu
Several months ago, I saw a powerpoint presentation on 27 star temples . The temple mentioned therein for Swathi, my birth star , was Sri Dhathriswara and Sundararaja Perumal Temples at Sithukadu, near Chennai. I was happy to note that it was close to home and therefore easy to visit. At that time I had little realisation that for every plan there has to be His approval for execution. Several attempts and disappointments later, I gave up, telling myself that I will visit some day if destiny so has it.

On October 19th, 2011, I received an email from one Mr. Kumaran. On opening the mail, I sat up in shock. It was an invitation from the Gurukkal to visit the Sri Dhathriswara Temple at Tirumanam, Sithukadu.The time had come true, finally. The Siddhars had heard my prayer. I immediately replied that I would love to do so. We spoke over phone and fixed up the following sunday for the visit.

That morning, we set off early and reached the temple quite easily following Mr.Kumaran's instructions. As we turned into the road to the temple, we could see the magnificient five-tiered Rajagopuram (now covered because renovation work needs to be done) and the huge temple tank (about one acre!) connecting the Dhathriswara and Sundararaja Perumal Temples - a true symbol of Shaiva- Vaishnava harmony.
A View of the Dhathriswara Temple as we turn in from the main road
We got down at the temple and walked down to the magnificent tank. They say the level of water at any given point around the tank is uniform at all times,which is a testimony to the engineering skills of technicians of yore. Unfortunately, the tank is ill-maintained and needs help in cleaning and maintenance.
View of the tank from the Dhathriswara Temple. The two gopurams
seen are the Anjaneya temple on the bank of the tank and the
Sundararaja Perumal Temple in the background
We then went into the temple along with Mr.Kumaran who had joined us from his house across the road. He mentioned that over seventeen generations his family had been performing poojas at the temple and one son from each household in the family committed himself to the task.

Every nook and corner of this temple is a treasure trove. True to the name of Sithukadu, it has images of Siddhars everywhere. Some of them are distinguished and identified while others are not. In fact, even on the borders on walls, which I normally thought had "Dhristi Bommai"s there were images of Siddhars.
Images of Siddhars on borders along the temple walls
We stepped into the five level Rajagopuram, which has evidence of growth of vegetation and needs some repair, renovation and most definitely a fresh coat of colour.
A picture of the Rajagopuram before it was covered
Photo Courtesy Mr.T.N.Kumaran
The Vidhana of the Rajagopuram is exquisite with a beautiful panel of Various Roopas of Lord Shiva. This is just a beginning - a sample of the wonderful works of art that awaits us inside.
Vidhana of Rajagopuram
As we step in there is another gopuram, this without any tiers over it. This gopuram seems to be in bad shape with the shade in one corner having fallen down during the recent rains. There is a "Nandavanam" (garden) too here which needs cleaning and maintenance - it has several overgrown bushes and a lot of weeds which dim its beauty and divinity.
Notice the broken portion on the right side of the mandapam with
vegetation and huge cracks.
We then step into the temple. The main shrines of Goddess Prasunna Kunthalambika and Sri Dhathriswara are closed and Balalayam has been performed. A makeshift shrine has been created in the Yagasala with the moorthis made in "Athi Maram" (Ficus retusa). We watched as the harathi was performed and gave thanks to the Lord for having made the visit possible finally. 

I was a little disappointed to find that the temple that I had longed for so much to visit was closed. Mr. Kumaran mentioned that the Balalayam was done with a hope that all the renovation would be completed in a year or two. He pointed out to the Dwajasthambam which had also fallen out and had been replaced recently through contributions from devotees.
The new Dwajasthambam (Kodimaram) with the closed temple
behind it

He took us to the Nandi in front of the temple and pointed out that it did not have a noose around its nostrils. Sithukadu had been( and continues to be ) a land of Siddhars.Out of the several Siddhars who dwell here,  the two notable saints ( or atleast I must say those who have been identified) are "Padukkai Jadamudi Siddhar" and " Prana Deepika Siddhar". Since the Nandi was in the company of these saints, it was serene and calm and hence there was no need for a noose, says Kumaran. An image of Prana Deepika Siddhar can be found on the pillar next to the Nandi here.

The Nandi without a Noose around his nostrils
and Prana Deepika Siddhar on the pillar to his left
The Padukkai Jadamudi Siddhar (படுக்கை ஜடாமுடி சித்தர்) and Prana Deepika Siddhar (பிராண தீபிகா சித்தர்) while meditating in this region installed a Shiva lingam under an Amla Tree (நெல்லி மரம்) because of which he came to be known as Dhathriswara. They created a beautiful garden ( நந்தவனம்) here which gave sweet smelling flowers for the worship of the Lord because of which this place came to be known as "Thirumanam" (திருமணம்) - Holy Fragrance. The Nandavanam probably created by them, is like this today.
The current state of the Nandavanam

Prana Deepika Siddhar is said to protect people from life threatening ailments and several people with chronic ailments are said to have prayed to him and become better. The Padukkai Jadamudi Sithar can be seen with very long hair on which he is said to lie down in Yoga Nitra and move around saving people and protecting lives then and now.
Jadamudi Siddhar (Photo Courtesy Mr. T N Kumaran)
Mr. Kumaran now takes us to another mandapa to the left of the Nandi where the Vahanas are stored. This too is in a dilapidated state but the pillars are treasure troves showing several images of Siddars in different forms, sizes and postures. There are two more similar mandapas outside the temple with intricately carved pillars.

Mr. Kumaran explaining the Sthalavaralaru in the vahana mandapa
Note the condition of the mandapam behind me
It was interesting to note that the pillars had the Dasavatharams of Vishnu inscribed on them, which again goes to prove the Shaivaite - Vaishnavaite harmony in those days. There were also some pillars where the Rishabaruda was found at the bottom of the pillars and Siddhars above it.

Vamana Avatara
Several Siddhars
Siddhars in different postures
The pictures I share here are just samples of what is found in the pillars of the mandapam. There are several others. I do not know if there is a document anywhere that names all of them. Mr Kumaran mentioned that there were some manuscripts which spoke about the history of the temple and probably the Siddhars. He is trying to have them deciphered to understand the history of the temple better. Mr. Kumaran also mentioned that Sri Adi Shankara had visited the temple and worshipped the God and Goddess and his statue is also found inside the temple. Another notable feature is that Veerabhadraswamy is said to be in meditation here and serves as the guard for the siddhars and his idol is also worshipped with reverence.

Bodo Siddhar: After conversing with Mr Kumaran and promising to spread the word about the need for funds to repair and renovate this wonderful temple, we took leave from him to go to the Sundararaja Perumal Temple. At this time, another gentleman walked in with a sheaf of papers in his hand. One of them, I was happy to note was a blog post from Raju's Temple Visits. In fact Raju Sir was one of the lucky ones to visit the temple before the Balalayam, and he has some lovely pictures from inside the temple on his blog post which I share here for the readers.Raju's Temple Visit - Around Chennai - North

The man also had an extract from a book Sivamayam Kanda Siddhargal  " சிவமயம் கண்ட சித்தர்கள்" which mentions that this place was also an abode of Bodo Siddhar ( போடோ சித்தர்) whose Jeevasamadhi can be found here and he is supposedly the father of "Modern Computer Science"!! By worshipping him, one could be rid of any discomfort experienced due to Ashtama Sani, Ezharai Sani or Jenma Sani.  We tried to identify this siddhar but could not do so. Anyone who has any further information about this siddhar, may share it here for benefit of all of us.

We then moved towards the Sundararaja Perumal temple which is behind the Dhathriswara Temple, connected by the temple tank. There is an Anjaneya Swamy temple near the steps of the tank. The Perumal Temple is relatively well maintained and clean.
Sundararaja Perumal Temple
Period of the temple: 
Both the temples are believed to have been constructed during the times of King Sundara Pandiyan about 800 years ago. The King is said to have found the Goddess Prasunna Kundalambikai's statue in the Nandavanam (Garden) and so he installed it in the Dhatriswara Temple calling her " Poonkuzhali". As the King died in war before the temple construction could be completed, the work is believed to have been completed by a landlord Mr. Nalla Chinnathambi Mudaliyar from this village whose generations till date serve as Dharmakarthas of this temple (Source: Thalavaralaru of the temple)

The Perumal temple has a main shrine for Shri Sundaravalli Samedha Sundararaja Perumal and seperate shrines for Thayar, Garudalwar and Andal. This Garudalwar is said to be worshipped by the Garudakodi Siddhar to enhance his medical capacities.

Garudakodi Siddhar: On one of the pillars in front of Andal shrine, the image of Garudakodi Siddhar can be seen. This Siddhar holds a Kamandalam (Jar) on one hand and a creeper called Garudakodi on the other. He is said to wear Siddha herbs as wings and move around several lokas. This Siddhar is believed to have created a Herb Pandal over Sri Rama during Ramayana days to protect him wherever he went. This Garudakodi Siddhar is worshipped by those with eye ailments for permanent cure. Abhishekam is performed with rose water to the statue of Garudakodi Siddhar and this water is applied on the eyes for relief. Sandalwood paste applied on the siddhar's idol is also applied on the eyes. 
Garudakodi Siddhar
Inscriptions found in this temple refer to it as Thirumandram Hariharanalayanallur (திருமன்றம் ஹரிஹரனாலய நல்லூர் ).

Why is this a temple for those born under Swathi Star?

They say it is because there are 17 different Narasimhas in various postures found in the Andal shrine mandapa. ( The Bhattar did not allow me to photograph them). Moreover, the word Swathi has the Aikkya Shakthis of Shiva and Hari. Days on which the Swathi star falls are ideal for disciplines like Yoga and Telepathy, because of which probably the Siddhars congregated here in the company of Shiva and Vishnu and practised their yogic skills .Worshipping Dhatriswara by performing abhishekam with Amla juice or Sri Sundararaja Perumal by performing thirumanjanam on Swathi days is said to be very beneficial, especially in finalising marriage proposals for those whose marriage is getting delayed for various reasons, because of which also, this place has come to be known as Thirumanam. One other unique feature is that people who seek childbirth perform a marriage of the Amla and Thulasi Trees in front of the Andal Shrine and find their prayers answered.

An Appeal:

The Dhathriswara Temple is currently under Balalayam and seeks funds from noble souls to complete the repair and renovation of its vimanams,and reconstruction of Rajagopuram. An appeal has been put out by the Sivanadiyaargal Bhakta Jana Sabha Trust (SBJST) seeking liberal donations from devotees in supporting this noble cause. Further details on bank account and contact information can be found on the temple website Further details can also be had from Mr. Kumaran, Heriditary Gurukkal of the temple at or 94447 93942. I hope generous contributions from devotees are able to help the trustees complete the work on time and restore the glory and divinity of such a worderful place.

How to get here:

While travelling from Chennai on the Chennai - Poonamallee Bypass. On the left hand side, you will find a brewery and RRB Energy factory. On that signal, turn right. There is a Board which shows the direction towards Pattabhiram before you turn right. Go down that not-so-good route for about 8 kms. You will come across a bridge being constructed and a board which says Chittukadu. Take left there - you would be able to see the Rajagopuram from there itself. You could also go upto Thirumazhisai and turn right at Vellavedu and go down 3 kms to reach here. 

There are buses too upto Pattabhiram from Koyambedu Bus Stand - M153 and from Poonamallee - M 54C which goes via Sithukadu.

Nearest Suburban train station is Pattabhiram from where one can take a share auto.

If you want to find a place to spend a few quiet hours in the company of Siddhars, head towards 
Sri Dhathriswara and Sundararaja Perumal Temples, 
Thirumanam, Vayalanallur Post, Sithukadu, Chennai 600 072

The temple is open between 8 am to 10 am in the mornings and 5.30 to 7.30 pm in the evenings.