Thursday, February 23, 2012



It was the summer of 2008 when I first saw Avva. We were on a trip to Anegundi and Navabrindavan. On the way back, our boatman told us about Chintamani and the cave where Rama met Sugreeva for the first time. We were excited and wanted to visit immediately. 

When we reached , we found a temple had been raised ahead of the cave in later times, housing a beautiful Shivalingam, and Annapoorani. Both these shrines, were clean and decorated with fresh flowers. There were no other visitors at that time. I looked around to see Avva, sitting under a tree. 

It was close to noon and extremely hot. Avva chided us for coming in the hot sun and showed us around. She told us about the Swamiji who had built the temple and about how he had gone into one of the caves below the temple and never returned.

My son, wanted to go into the cave and see what was inside. Avva told him gently that it would not be appropriate for him to do so. For a lady of her age (she told us she was over 80 years), Avva was extremely agile and cheerful. She climbed the steep steps quickly, while we panted our way behind her.

Avva then took us, into the cave where Rama and Sugreeva had met  for the first time, when Rama and Lakshmana came to Kishkinda looking for Sita. It was here that Sugreeva showed Rama, Sita's head jewel (Chintamani) that she had dropped while being carried away, and so the place came to be known as Chintamani. The cave is also significant because it was here that Sugreeva introduced Hanuman to Lord Rama and Rama agreed to help Sugreeva by killing his brother Vali.

Avva, made us sit in a semi - circle around the stone where Rama sat and we listened to her in rapt attention as she narrated the various incidents in Ramayana that were related to Chintamani. She showed us Rama's foot impression at the spot where he stood and shot an arrow to kill Vali. 

We never asked Avva her name. She was happy to be called Avva, and delighted when my husband wanted to take a picture with her. She had been living alone  in the temple for over sixty years. 
My husband with Avva
Avva said, as a young girl, she had seen people come to drink and sleep through the day at the Chintamani cave and having heard of its significance, she used to clean the cave, place lamps and flowers on the Rama stone, and drive those people away.

I was amused when she said she had got help to move a statue of a hunter and huntress to the entrance of the cave to stay guard during nights.
The hunter and huntress who were Avva's Security guards!
Avva's life revolved around the cave and the temple. She had moved in permanently when the Swamiji came there - helping him with food, flowers and cleaning of the temple. She did not know where he came from, by merely said that he was a great man - her Guru.

I was so impressed by Avva's simplicity, grace and a sense of responsibility - when all other people in the village had treated the cave merely as a place to drink, sleep and make merry, she had possessed the interest, self-will and determination to protect the sanctity of a holy place and maintain it with minimal support.

Avva said her family members stayed in the village and she did not want to leave the temple alone (!) and so stayed and took care of it.  She did not know a word of English or Tamil and spoke a mixture of Telugu and Kannada. But we were able to perfectly understand what she was saying - her eyes and hands spoke volumes and the medium of speech was barely necessary!

 After that visit, I made it a point to tell my friends who visited Navabrindavan to go to Chintamani and meet Avva - a saint in her own way. My friends came back with exciting tales to share - how wonderful she was and how delighted they were to meet her!

Last summer, I got an opportunity to travel to Hampi. An author friend of mine, had suggested taking a person from Anegundi as a guide. When we reached Anegundi  I was eager to meet Avva again. So as soon as the man got into the van, I told him we first wanted to see Chintamani. 

When we reached the temple, I ran inside.  The spot where Avva usually sat was empty. There were dried leaves, and old flowers lying around and it looked like the place had not been cleaned for a few days. I was puzzled. Something was wrong.

I turned around, and asked the guide " Where is Avva...the old lady who used to take care of the temple? " 
" Oh, she died", he said.

I froze in silence. The noble and selfless soul, had mingled with the divine consciousness at such a holy place. All her life, she had wanted to clean and maintain Chintamani and it was only deserving that she got moksha at the shrine she loved the most! I stood for a couple of minutes under the tree, to pay homage to Avva.

As we got into the car, I saw two men walking into the cave, with bottles in hand. ..........

Avva, a simple woman, a selfless soul!
To read all about  Chintamani , Visit Aalayam Kanden: Chintamani Temple, Anegundi

This is an entry for Around the World with Expedia Contest conducted by Indiblogger and Expedia!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Where Hanuman Stands Alone

Sanjeevi Raya Hanuman Temple, Ayyangarkulam

It is quite common to find Hanuman in Vishnu/Ramar temples facing the Sanctum Sanctorum or in a seperate shrine. There are even Shiva temples where we can see seperate shrines for Hanuman. 

But here is a temple where the Siriya Thiruvadi is in the Sanctum Sanctorum and the Periya Thiruvadi (Garudalwar) is found outside. For a medium sized temple, there is no other shrine. 

Surprised! Come to Sanjeevi Raya Hanuman Temple, Ayyangarkulam.

Situated on the Kanchipuram - Vandavasi route, on the banks of Palar, this temple has been built by Sri Koti Kannikadhanam Lakshmi Kumara Thathachariar in the 16th Century. The history behind this temple is extremely interesting.

Lakshmi Kumara Thathachariar was the Raja Guru of the Vijayanagara Kings - Venkata Raya I and II and the Chief Minister of the Vijayanagar empire during his time. He hailed from the glorious Acharya lineage of Vaishnavite philosophers and had heriditary relations with Nathamunigal, Sri Alavandhar, Sri Ramanuja etc. Considering his knowledge and acts of philanthropy which gave him the title of Koti Kannikadhanam, the Vijayanagar kings nominated him as the Sri-Karya Durandharar of all the Divya Desams in their empire.

One night, Sri Thathachariar was travelling to Kanchipuram with the royal gifts he received from the king, to offer them to Varadaraja Perumal. As it became dark, he decided to stay where the temple now stands and spend the night under a tree there. 

During Treta Yuga, when Hanuman was carrying the Sanjeevi Parvata to revive Lakshmana who was hurt and unconscious, it is believed that a piece of the parvata had fallen at this point.

After Thathachariar and his men settled down and fell asleep, having safeguarded the riches under the tree, a group of robbers came there and started looting. Immediately, a group of monkeys appeared out of nowhere, and started attacking the robbers. 

The robbers in an effort to save themselves, started running. Some of them could not bear the attack and fell down unconscious. Thathachariar could see all the happenings as if in a dream. He saw the monkeys safeguarding the treasures after driving away the robbers. He could also see that Sri Hanuman himself was spearheading the attack. Overwhelmed with devotion, he sang a sloka in praise of Lord Hanuman called "Srimad Hanumath Vimsati". He vowed to build a temple there for Hanuman and that was how the Sanjeevi Raya Hanuman Temple came to be built. Sri Thathachariar also built a massive pond of almost 150 acres that has come to be known as "Thatha Samudram" after the Thathachariar. The place has also got its name of Ayyangarkulam  from the pond and thathachariar

The temple was closed when we reached. There is a lady living nearby, who is the caretaker of the temple and opens it for visitors on request.The main entrance to the temple is probably opened only on festival days. Entry is usually from the pond side. There is a 24 pillared mandapam on the banks of the pond that lead to the temple. This mandapam has about 85 different types of hanumans of various forms on the pillars. 

On entering the temple, we found the "Hanumad Vimsathi" written in Grantha script clear and bold, on an entire wall. It was indeed sad to say, that the wall had been painted in stripes of saffron, oblivious to the inscriptions on it. Despite this, the letters are so bold and clear that it was a delight to watch. 

My camera for some reason was giving me a lot of trouble. I could do nothing about it then, and for best part of my visit to this temple, I had to resort to shooting in video mode. Apologies for the poor quality of the pictures, which I hope to replace during my next visit.

There is a huge mutram in the temple, which has a strikingly handsome Garudalwar with outspread wings.
This remarkable Garudalwar, over six feet tall, stands in open air, with hands folded in prayer is sure to catch anyone's attention.

We moved towards the Sanctum Sanctorum, where Sanjeevi Raya Hanuman, stands alone. He stands with Anjali Hastha and without a crown, slightly bowing forward. It is believed that in Ayyangarkulam, people bit by  insects do not have any discomfort or physical problems, due to the presence and grace of Sanjeeviraya Hanuman. Praying at this temple is also powerful for yielding child birth, especially male progeny.

Here I must share my personal experience. When I heard that the Hanuman here grants wishes for childbirth, I prayed earnestly for my niece and my friend's daughter, who have both been looking to start a family for some time now. At the time of writing this post, I have received confirmations, that they are in the family way. This has come as a pleasant surprise for me, because my sincere prayer has been answered in only two weeks' time.

The Hanuman was a delight and I was really eager to capture him on camera after praying, but photography was not allowed in the Sanctum Sanctorum ,.  On our way out, we saw the idols of Rama, Seetha and Lakshmana piled up in an alcove! These were probably made later, but never installed.

There is a huge kitchen (Madappalli) with blackened walls and an awesome "Kal Uruli" and a huge stone bench that is used for making puliyodharai during festivals. 

The gopurams with typical Vijayanagar architecture have vegetation grown on them. There are two mandapams where the utsavars would be brought during festivals. The walls have "Dasavathara panels" in a poor state of maintenance.

We walked out and around the temple to witness an architectural wonder - the "Nata Bhavi". It has an arch, quite similar to the one at Hampi Thulabharam, but of smaller size, with a gajalakshmi on top. It contains a well like structure, with a 16 pillared underground hall, with cloistered verandahs. This structure is usually full of water. There is a mechanism (Yetram) to take out the water when required.

The Ayyangarkulam Nata Bhavi
On Chitra Pournami Day every year, Lord Varadaraja Perumal of Kanchipuram comes here, to this Nata Bhavi goes down the steps and into the hall, and then is taken around it,as part of the Vasanthosavam. Thirumanjanam is performed here for the Lord. We also observed that when we dropped a stone in the well on the opposite side of the Natabhavi we were able to see ripples in the water collected inside the Bhavi.

A fence has been created around the Nata Bhavi after it was featured in the tamil film "Naan Kadavul" where the villian keeps all the children and beggars hidden. It was sad to see two wheelers parked and men drinking behind this structure.

How to get here:
On the Kanchipuram - Vandavasi route, turn at the Vembakkam Koot Road. After you cross the Palar bridge, continue on SH116 you will reach the temple.
The address is Sanjeevirayar Hanuman Temple, No.35, Ayyangarkulam Village, Kanchipuram Taluk - 631502.(12.78'E, 79.67'N)

Contact Details: 
I will update this portion soon, as I was not able to get the telephone numbers of any archaka at the time of the visit.

Thanks Blogadda  for selecting this post as Spicy Saturday Pick on 25th February 2012 !

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kamban's Kali!

The Goddess Kali worshipped by Tamil Poet Kambar
A small tin sheet board with fading letters, used to catch my attention while travelling from Thiruvennainallur , to Sirumadurai where my in-laws live. With the words Vaidhehi Electricals occupying the best part of the board, the letters half visible would read " Kamban Vazhipatta Kali Kovilukku Sellum Vazhi" (Way to the Kali temple worshipped by the Tamil Poet Kambar). Every time I read the board, I would make a mental note to visit the temple. However, the time, somehow, did not come true.

About a year ago, I noticed the tin sheet board had been replaced with a concrete board with the details painted in bright colours. When I asked my father-in-law about it, he said that the temple had been renovated, and there were a number of children who came there to study every day. This gave me immense satisfaction, because I strongly believe that places of worship in villages should become part of social infrastructure and take a place in community development.

This Pongal we decided to visit the temple on our way back from Thiruvennainallur.We were soon at the board reading "Chinna Sevalai". The path that lead from the main road was clearly not meant for vehicle transport beyond a few metres. When we asked for directions, we were asked to park our car there and start walking.

At the point from where one has to walk to reach the temple

There were a couple of houses with thatched roofs at the beginning of the lane, after which one had to directly walk through the fields. The recently harvested sugarcane stubs and the high tension electricity wires hanging low were a potential threat as we slowly made our way towards the temple.

Way to the temple
In the middle of the greenery, one could see two brightly coloured shrines on either side of the lone statue that stood in the open field. As we went closer , we could see that the two shrines on either side were of recent times, and contained idols of Ganesha and Subramanya. Probably these were installed during the recent renovation.

The temple is visible amongst the trees and the greenery

My mind raced in excitement as I thought Here I am the very place where Kambar - the Illustrious Tamil  Poet who wrote Kamba Ramayana, must have lived and played in his childhood. Born in a village called Therezhundhur in Tamilnadu, Kambar and his mother moved to Tiruvennainallur in search of livelihood. 
Here, they were offered shelter and support by Sadaiyappar, a rich farmer, popularly called Sadaiyappa Vallal, because of his generosity and philanthropy. 

Every morning, Sadaiyappa Vallal used to go to his fields on the outskirts of Thiruvennainallur. After inspecting the fields, he took bath in the nearby stream, and prayed to Goddess Kali who stood in the middle of his fields. Once Kambar came into Sadaiyappar's household, the farmer took the young boy along with him everyday when he went to worship Kali. From the very first day, Goddess Kali's divine and compassionate look had fallen on the young boy.

Seeing the boy's keen interest in studies, Sadaiyappar made arrangements to teach him Sanskrit and Tamil. Soon he was well versed in both languages. Whenever he desired, Sadaiyappar used to ask Kambar to read Sanskrit verses and poems and explain the contents to him in Tamil. Kambar's grasp of languages, and his excellent translation skills, made Sadaiyappar think how good it would be if Kambar could translate an epic into Tamil thereby making it easy for anyone to read and understand the whole story, even if they did not have an understanding of Sanskrit.

It was here, in the presence of this Kali, that Sadaiyappar expressed his desire for Kambar to translate the Valmiki Ramayana into Tamil, to which Kambar readily agreed. The auspicious inauguration  of "Ramakaadhai" happened at this very place.

The goddess stands in open air on a raised platform. No one knows the exact time from which she has been there, although people claim that she could be over 2000 years old. The idol is so old and blackened with oil and camphor that the features are not clearly identifiable. The best part of her body was covered by a Saree. I was tempted to take a picture of the entire idol, but was worried about incurring the villagers' wrath if I attempted that. 

As she is reckoned as the Goddess who made Kambar a scholar, several children come to this temple to study. People who visit here brings fruits and biscuits for the children. Several others bring their children to pray to her before exams or important events. The Goddess stands here, granting Gnana to all those who seek her. Better transport facilities and better awareness about the existence of this temple could bring many many more people here who could benefit from her benevolence. 
Bells above the Kali temple

How to reach here:

By road: Turn at Arasur if you are travelling on NH 45 - right if you are travelling from Chennai and Left if you are travelling from Trichy or elsewhere down south. About Seven kms down the road, you will reach Thiruvennainallur. At Thiruvennainallur, turn right on the road that goes to Thirukoilur. A couple of kilometres down the road, you will come across the cement board on the right side that shows the direction towards "Chinna Sevalai

By bus: Buses plying between Villupuram and Thirukovilur via Thiruvennainallur stop at Chinna Sevalai Village. One has to walk about 200 metres from the bus stand to reach the temple.

By train: Nearest railway station - Villupuram. I think Villupuram - Trichy passenger stops at Thiruvennainallur road although the exact timings are to be verified

By air: Nearest airports - Trichy and Chennai

Temple Timings: The temple is open all through the day.