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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