Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What ails Sri Rangam temple?

Sri Ranganatha temple of Srirangam has been in the news for wrong reasons these days. Even before the controversy around the visit of Christian nuns to the temple and alleged reading of the Bible in the 1000-pillared hall had died down, another controversy had come in the open with one of the temple priests expressing in public a series of allegations against the government official in charge of the temple. These allegations are of serious nature as they pertain to interference in temple procedures that have been in vogue as per agama rules.

The officer facing the allegations had already been admonished by the Madras High court in February 2017 for his high-handedness in dealing with the religious activities of the temple. The court even remarked that the officer had attitude-problem. We are at a loss to understand how he is able to continue in his work and continue to cause damage to the tradition of rituals of the temple.

The temple priests are the custodians of the temple tradition, not the government appointed officers. In the past (known from epigraphic records) the temple priests were reprimanded even for the smallest transgression, though unintended, in the tradition. The society behaved like a watch-dog and ensured that temple traditions were maintained well. But today the temple priests are not allowed to do their duty as age old traditions are being trampled by those in power. The society is mute and insensitive; as a result the priests are forced to come out of the door step of the temple to take their fights to the street with the sole aim of retaining the tradition. The allegations are serious such as obstructing the performance of regular poojas, driving a wedge between Brahmins and non-Brahmins, threatening the priests who don’t accept the dictates of the officer and causing dis-unity among the priests by pitting one against the other.

Certainly all these speak of not just an attitude problem of the officer in question but a sick mind steeped in Dravidian propaganda against temples and Brahmins. It is not known what judgement was given by the High court in the case of this official in 2017 or whether the judgement is still pending. But this kind of repeated occurrences happening in most temples including Tirumala has only one solution – remove government control over the temples and bring in religious mutts affiliated to the temple or localised around the temple to oversee the governance.

It was really heart breaking to hear the speech by the priest Sri Parasara Badrinarayan Bhattar of Kooratthazhwan lineage pouring out his anguish on the way the Viswarupa pooja is obstructed and the food offerings of different times being offered at a single time to the Lord. It seems tough times have returned to daunt the priests and the devotees as well like how it was during the Muslim aggression of the temple.

With the government and the court not doing anything worthy enough to stop this menace, the devotees are left with the only option of spreading awareness among the larger populace of the Hindu community. This blog-post is such an attempt by bringing out the transcript of the speech of the Bhattar in English to tell the people outside what is ailing the Sri Rangam temple. The audio version of this speech has been doing rounds for the couple of days and a translation of the speech in English has been sent by an anguished devotee Ms Shanti Narayanan for publishing. Ms Narayanan has earlier presented a paper in Swadeshi Indology-3 conference on how Acharya Ramanuja and his philosophy had been mis-presented by the DMK patriarch in his tele-serial on the Acharya.    


Transcript of the speech by Sri Parasara Badrinarayan Bhattar of Sri Rangam in a protest meeting organised in the 2nd week of June 2018:
“Vanakkam to those of you here who believe ‘Thiruvarangan (Ranganatha Swamy) is for us and we are for Thiruvarangan’ and have therefore gathered here for this protest meeting – ‘Let us Protect Sri Rangam, Preserve its Sanctity’. We are those sthalathars, who have the distinction of gaining publicity for free, overnight in Srirangam owing to a poster. In that poster, if a small change had been made, it would have changed from ‘Kandikkirom’ to ‘Kandukkurom’ Periya Perumal (Kandikkirom means criticising and Kandukkurom means ‘Taking care of’). If this had happened, there would be no need for this gathering. The severe struggles and protests that have been happening behind scenes at the temple for the last 3 years would not have come out in the open, as is happening today. And the reason for this is the actions and behaviour of an executive of the temple. Time has come to throw light on our struggle against this official.

What exactly is the issue I am referring to, at Sri Rangam?

The temple executive authority is making a show that everything is working smoothly within the temple. However, nothing could be farther from truth. There have been gross violations occurring in the temple. The Aaru Kaala Pooja (pooja / services offered to the Diety at six times specified in the agamas) that ought to be offered to Sri Rangan are not being offered as per the scriptures and methods prescribed by Acharyas of yore, including Ramanuja Acharya.

One of the most important poojas - the Viswaroopa Pooja is offered at the early hours of the day. As part of this Pooja, a cow is made to enter and stand in the line of vision of the diety and holy water is brought on the temple elephant and thus the Lord Sri Rangan (Arangathamma) is woken up from his sleep to the accompaniment of music (mangala vaadyam) played in the veena. These procedures have been conceived and organised with great forethought by purva acharyas and institutionalised mainly by Ramanuja Acharya during his life time. 3 years before this day, it would have been very easy to tell when and what pooja / procession was going to happen at SriRangam. Such is the clockwork precision of procedures laid down by Ramanujar. Unfortunately, in the last three years, it has been impossible for us (including families like mine who stay close to the temple) to know when the poojas would be held or if Viswarupa poojas would be held at all on any particular day.

What is the reason for such a state of affairs?

The reason behind such gross disregard for the ageless procedures laid down by our acharyas, is the whims and fancies of the executive official at the temple at Sri Rangam. When asked about such irregularities, the official nonchalantly answers that it is his wish and command to either allow the conduct of the Pooja or disallow/cancel it and that nobody should dare question him. It is firmly believed and understood that the rest of 107 divya desa Lords visit Sri Rangan, the Raja of Rangam at Viswarupa pooja. Such is the importance of this daily pooja.

Not stopping with this transgression, the temple executive commanded the priests to offer all naivedyam (prasadam that is offered to the diety at different times during the day) all at once in the early hours of dawn. Such an act is impermissible under the agama scriptures.

The said executive also has been unilateral in his decisions on the timings of purapaadu (procession). The diety, Namperumal’s procession timings were known for its clockwork precision. Devotees often remark that one can set one’s watch, going by Namperumal’s procession. Such was the accuracy and exactness of procedures laid down by Swami Ramanuja. For over 1000 years, these rules have been strictly adhered to, come rain or shine. Since last three years, one individual has taken it upon himself to unilaterally decide on such sacred dictates.

When reasoned with, how did the official respond?

Other officials are scared to oppose this executive. The executive seems fearless, even seemingly uncaring about incuring the wrath of Sri Rangan. When, we sthalathaars questioned him, he retorted saying that if we continue to question such infractions, he would put an end to the mariyadai (special theertham and other such honours) bestowed by Lord Rangan on us. He did not stop with mere threats. He conducted meetings to that end and had it decided that he would stop such honours. People do not know the amount of suffering and humiliation that we, the families and representatives of acharyas had to undergo in the past few years. There have been retaliations because we objected to changing agama rituals. He would get back at us by changing rules at his will, with gross disregard for ancient agama rules, methods and procedures and rules that were crafted with great care and forethought by the likes of Ramanujar and followed strictly since atleast 1000 years. We responded with forbearance by giving a detailed 100-page document in which the details of procedures and rules to be followed with respect to Sri Rangam temple and how it ought to be followed as per the instructions of purva acharyas such as Ramanuja Swamy. But the executive always reverted with threats of disempowering us of our honours as ‘sthalathaars’ or ‘theerthakaarars’.

Then the speaker who is a direct descendant of Sri Parasara Bhattar of Koorathazhwan lineage, challenges the executive whether he is ready to serve Lord Ranganatha, by giving up the car, allowances and numerous monetary benefits he is receiving in the name of Lord Rangantha. On the other hand ‘sthalathaars’ like himself are serving God without any gains. They are being given a meagre sum of 1 rupee 35 paise every quarter in a year, which he says has been stopped since last three years. This underlines the important role, the sthalathaars and theerthakaarars play in the temple, out of devotion to Sri Rangan, they render kainkaryam (service) rather than view their duties as a job.

The speaker shares that though he studied to qualify as a chartered accountant and lawyer, his purpose in life (as has been moulded and reinforced by his family) has always been to be of service (to offer kainkaryam) to Sri Ranganatha perumal. That has been their family’s priority. Such families have been dedicated in offering service to the Sri Ranganatha. The executive is threatening such people for they question his decisions for the welfare of the perumal. The executive refuses to answer why he changes important rituals and procedures at his will. This happened even on important occasions such as Sri Jayanthi (Krishna’s birth anniversary). There are a lot of people who have been silenced by him by giving them special favours. This has been the strategy used by the executive for managing opposition successfully.

What is at stake at Sri Rangam?

The management of the Sri Rangam, as organized by Ramanuja Acharya is such a brilliant system that it is inclusive and cohesive in its approach. It includes Brahmins and Non-Brahmins equally in all kainkaryam, clearly specified in terms of roles and responsibility. However, the executive is trying to damage such an inclusive fabric of the temple management by highlighting distinctions between communities. The executive is grossly misusing his powers as a gazetted officer. The devotees have not been spared in this display of power. When devotees flock to have darshan of NamPerumal (utsavar diety) during purapaadu (procession), they are stopped and allowed only if they agree to pay 250 rupees as fee. The Sri Rangam lord delights in giving darshan as a Raja to his devotees who flock in big numbers to him. However, now that has been stemmed and people do not have easy access for darshan of their favourite lord. The executive has not understood the essence behind the popular verse – Aranga nagar vazha, Adiyaargal vazha’ (Long live Sri Rangam, Long live its devotees).

The popular ‘Gadya Trayam’ recital on the holy Panguni Uthiram day is a special occasion to pray and request for moksham from Namperumal. However, with the executive machinations, it seems as if one would attain moksham before being allowed to the Gadya Trayam recital. It has been made very difficult for devotees to gain access to such occasions, thanks to the misuse of powers by the said authority.

The speaker talks about the need for public outcry and questioning of such gross violations by temple authorities. He reports that they have submitted over hundreds of letters to the temple officers over such violations, approached commissioner, chief secretary, ministers. However, the executive continues his unilateral act unquestioned.

There are 55 upa-sannidhis in SriRangam temple. There are representatives from ancient families, responsible for these sannidhis. They hold the rights over these places of worship as well. The executive hold these representatives in his sway and constantly bullies over them to hand over the keys to the sannidhis. This was unheard of 3 years ago. One key example is the Mettu Azhagiya Singar sannidhi whose keys were taken over in this manner. The government official is behaving out of tune with what the constitution of India grants each citizen – their rights. He is riding roughshod over people’s rights, unbehooving of a government official. The official acts differently in front of important people like Venu Srinivasan who is the chairman, board of trustees, SriRangam and reverts to his original behaviour, the very next day. He refused to allow Viswaroopa darshan on the following day, even though he agreed to it in the meeting.


Ramanujar’s divya aagknya (divine command) is not being followed in the present day, thanks to the mischievous ways of the temple executive official. “This is to be treated very seriously by all devotees of Sri Rangan and we have to take sincere steps to resolve the current state of affairs in SriRangam temple. Let us work towards preserving the sanctity and glory of Sri Rangan’s abode”, concludes the speaker.

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