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.    


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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.

Conclusion

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.


14 comments:

R.Ramanathan said...

I think Sri Rangam is going the Tirupati way and slowly being Christianised. Where is Parasurama when you need him? Nothing short of Kshatriya aggression will save the day.

rk said...

My heart bleeds after reading this article.
How come Hindus have become docile and such intolerant cowards? No spine , no anguish, no outrage from the Hindu populace! Where are the RSS crowd and Hindu Munnai? The fact is , mostly (or only?) the REMAINING Brahmins of TN care about Hindu Dharma and Hindu culture. The Brahmins, the scapegoats of Periyar Dravidism, are the ones carrying the burden of upholding our Dharma and our age old tradition with little reward for their effort. Rest of the Hindu society is in deep slumber.

Unknown said...

Think.v need a reason for kalki avatar.soon god will ....

Unknown said...

Think.v need a reason for kalki avatar.soon god will ....

jayasree said...

Mr rk.

This is not new to Tamilnadu. What the Bhattar says had been happening since Dravidian parties came to power. It happened in small temples and now it had started in big temples like Srirangam temple. I can recall those days when I was a small girl. I used to accompany my father to the nearby temple at 4 am in Margazhi for dhanur masa aradhanam. Tiruppavai recital would be done by my dad and others. At the end of the pooja, the first theertham (hold water for sipping) and shataari would be given to these brahmins only as a honour for their recital. But from somewhere the officer would appear - he would not have bathed and used to be in pant and shirt) and take the first theertham and shataari. Objections were raised but of no avail. Those were the times Brahmins were abused badly. It was so until recently. Only now there seems to be a change of perception about them among the public. But even now I overhear people talking rashly to Brahmins (archakas) inside the sannidhis.

Now this trend had entered big temples, people are taking note. The Dravidian mentality against Brahmins is the main reason for the behavior of persons like the officer in Srirangam temple.

Saranathan TG said...

It is a pity that these incidents have come to the limelight after KumJ Jayalalithaa, claiming to be from Srirangam, became CM. I do not know how it was earlier. She was a powerful person and so every appointee of her presumed they were also powerful. Though I bow down to Sri Venu Srinivasan for his excellent works done in Nava Tirupati temples, I am of the opinion (am I right?) that he and the EO Sri Jayaraman, in the name of renovation have spoiled many things like appearance, customs and traditions, in many sannidhis in Srirangam temple including the Main sannidhi. Temple is not a corporate entity and those practices should not be imposed. Sri Kanchi Maha Periyava was very particular that fees should not be charged for Darshan in Sri Kamakshi temple. But now that has become the order to get more amenities and comforts for the EO and other executives. I wonder why nobody is going to court to restore age-old customs.

Raghunathan V said...

Interfering with Pooja's as laid out by agama shastra and dictated by a 1000 year tradition cannot be twisted in whimsical ways. This message should reach the right persons to restore the age-old practices.

Raghunathan K said...

There was a WhatsApp message circulating recently, saying that the only way to prevent misuse of the coffers of the temples is not to fill the coffers. Instead, seek out temples with poor footfall and offer cash to the archakas/pujaris there. If everyone religiously (pun intended) follows this, the sudden loss of revenue would hurt the HR&CE where it hurts, and may be there would be an awakening.

jayasree said...

I saw that message Raghunathan Sir. Usually I used to gift liberally to Archakas and also donate to Hundi, particularly in Divya desas and new temples I visit. Now I am also thinking that I must think twice before putting money in the hundi.

R.Ramanathan said...

Mr Raghunathan and Jayasree madam,
I had started following this a year ago. I avoid all the big temples like Meenakshi Amman, Chidambaram, Srirangam. Tiurpathi, Kapaleeshwara, Parthasarathy etc because they all have become big circuses. I am a native of Madurai and i used to visit the Meenakshi temple in the late 80's and mid 90s. There was not much a big crowd and after 6.30pm on a normal day, there would be hardly around 20-30 people around. Now it is all one big mess. With queues being built and money being collected at every point.

This year March i went to a temple trip around Kumbakonam. I visited a temple called Konerirajapuram called in the Shaiva thirumurais as Thirunallalam. A beautiful Shiva temple which has the tallest Nataraja https://tamilnadu-favtourism.blogspot.com/2017/02/uma-maheswarar-temple-konerirajapuram_91.html
The temple is so beautiful and i felt a divine vibration. The head Shivacharya was a very learned man both in the Agama and the Thirumurais. He was telling me his salary was just Rs 3500/- per month. He said the temple lands were already being encroached and swindled and the temple had no income. It seems he sometimes from his pocket had to buy oil, flowers and milk for Pradhosham. He asked for some money to help him repair the roof of his leaky tiled house in the nearby Agraharam. I put his story in some known whatsapp groups and was able to collect a decent amount for him This is the sad plight of most of these archakas. There are 1000s of such small beautiful village based Shiva and Vishnu temples like for example Brahmadesham near Ambasamudram http://indiancolumbus.blogspot.com/2014/03/Brahmadesham.html, that are in need of help. Usually what i see is the remote Vishnu temples are better off than Shiva temples. So to temple enthusiasts who go on regular Stala Yatras please avoid the bigger temples(Ridden with politics) and go to the smaller interior temples. For Shiva temples the link will help http://www.shaivam.org/. This site even has a mobile app that immediately tracks the nearest "Paadal petra talam" through location services on Android. For out of the way Vishnu temples one can use this link http://www.divyadesam.com/hindu-temples/south-indian-temples/tamil-nadu-temples.shtml. Avoid donations at the Hundi and pay the Archaka directly

The experience of going to these remote temples is beautiful and the memories linger for a longer time. Sorry for a long comment. Compare this to standing in serpentine queues and paying money to scoundrels in the bigger ones. Sorry for a Rambling comment but wanted to share my experience.

Dr Rama Krishnan said...

Thanks for the information Shri Ramanathan. My gripe ? We should not be in this pathetic situation in the first place. Please forgive me for having a different opinion from yourself (who is well known for being a great Hindu scholar.) Apologies. Avoiding the big temples will amount to surrendering to these anti dharmic elements and giving it all up. At least let’s fight these people in the social media and let’s spread awareness of plight of temples and Archakars with friends, especially non Brahmin Hindus. We have a family temple in Kerala which we are trying to keep within our family control. I am not sure how long we can do this as more and more people are visiting our private family temple. Bottom line: Hindus should unite and contribute financially to save our temples.

SURESH GOVINDARAJAN said...

Let alone the rising of Ranga Bakhthals against the autocratic temple executive.I come to know that only a handful of Srirangam residents attended the gathering to hear what the bhattar spoke.Such is the unity of the residents.

R.Ramanathan said...

@Dr Rama Krishnan
No need for any apologies. I am not any scholar sir but a person with a day job trying to do my bit. Thanks for your reply. I agree with your view on big temples. Yes we should fight to regain them back But my gripe with big temples is the outright commercial attitudes of everyone including the Archakas who give more prasad to whoever has the largest amount of money in his hands. Also this could be directly related to the salaries they earn too.

We too have a family temple in the village of perungarai a village on the to Rameshwaram to Madurai and i know the issues with that. We generally are strict about allowing outsiders but due to coverage by shankara TV the number of visitors have grown and it is a problem/

Bajji said...

HR&CA should be thrown out of hindu temples. I am from srirangam east uthra street. People in my area were shamelessly selling their votes for 2000 rs when Jaya was elected and when valarmathi was elected. What moral rights do we have to question the corrupt politicians when we ourselves are corrupt? We should stop accepting money for vote and hindus should unitedly support god conscious party