One thousand year old tradition of honouring the ‘Araiyars’, for their reciting Tamil hymns of Azhwars is going to be dispensed with from this year at Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple, as directed by the HR & CE of the State Government.
Azwars and Tamil Pasurams
Several centuries back, 12 Vaishnavite Acharyas, popularly known as ‘Azhwars’ visited 108 temples and sung in praise of Lord Vishnu. All those 12 Azhwars together have rendered 4000 Tamil hymns, known as ‘pasurams’. .Around 1200 years back, a great Vaishnavite Acharya known as ‘Nadamuni’ compiled all these 4000 Tamil pasurams known as ‘Nalayira Divya Prabandhams’.
In order that these Tamil pasurams reach the common people, Nadamuni trained two of his brothers-in-law to recite, sing and dance the pasurams before Lord Ranganathan at Srirangam. Nadamuni created a group called ‘Araiyars’. Traditionally, for the past 1200 years, they used to recite the 4000 Tamil pasurams with raga and tala before Lord Ranganatha during the ‘Vaikunta Ekadasi festival’. This is popularly known as ‘Araiyar Sevai’.
Ten days prior to Vaikunta Ekadasi is called ‘ Pakal Pathu’ and 10 days after Vaikunta Ekadasi is called ‘Erapattu’. Araiyars used to perform Araiyar Sevai during these 20 days. They will also perform dance for some pasurams and enact some situations based on pasurams. Generally, this is considered as ‘Muthamizh vizha’ (prose, music and drama is known as Muthamizh).
performing Araiyar Sevai at
, Besant Nagar. Sri Mahalakshmi Temple
Dedication of Araiyars
These Araiyars perform ‘Araiyar Sevai’ only before Lord Ranganatha during these twenty days. They used to take training for nearly 20 years to perfect this ancient art. Even when Chennai Music Sabhas approached these Araiyars for performing during Music season at Chennai, they refused to perform outside the temple, whatever be the compensation offered.
These Araiyars have totally dedicated themselves for performing Araiyar Sevai, using Tamil pasurams. Besides Araiyar Sevai, they also sing the Tamil Pasurams before Lord Ranganatha during important occassions. For all their services, they do not get paid by the temple. They only get great temple honours.
On the last day of Erapattu, after completing the entire 4000 Tamil Pasurams, the head of the Araiyar Tem will be requested to sit in the palanquin carrying the palm leaves of the 4000 pasurams, This palanquin is a special one used for Lord Ranganatha only. Those persons, who used to carry Lord Ranganatha, will carry the Araiyars on their shoulders and drop them at the house. This practise prevails for the past 1200 years.
Government orders to stop the tradition
But now, due to the influence of few atheists in the Board of Trustees, the State Government has ordered to withdraw the tradition of dropping the Araiyars at their home carrying in palanquin. This has triggered anger amongst the devotees for meddling with the thousand year old tradition.
Mr A Krishnamachariar, Editor of Panchasanyam said that the Government had taken this decision on the ground that it was below the dignity when men carry another man on palanquin. He disagreed with this logic, saying that the age old tradition honours the Tamil Pasurams and those who devoted their life time for maintaining this art of singing Tamil Pasurams. He said, he would fight against this type of tampering with the customs of the temple, through all forums.
Mr Arjun Sampath, President of Hindu Makkal Katchi said that they would stage protest against such tampering of the traditions of the temple by the atheist Government.
Old article on Araiyar Sevai puiblished in The Hindu.
The following article appeared in "The Hindu" on
December 21, 1997
on Araiyar Sevai
A dying art
Monuments crumble, manuscripts get moth-eaten and traditional fine arts practised for centuries in temples are being forgotten because of long years of neglect. No wonder ``Araiyar Sevai,'' a visual enactment of the passionate expression by Vaishnavite saints known as ``Azhwars'' in vogue in almost all Vishnu temples in the past, is now confined to a handful of them and seems to be on its way out.
The Araiyars are not mere performers of this unique dance form, but are also well versed in sacred Vaishnavite love, especially the commentaries for Azhwar's hymns known as ``Eedu.'' Highly respected by the rulers and the ruled in the past, they, especially those in Srivilliputtur in Virudhunagar district, were conferred the status of spiritual teachers. Sri Ramanuja was the disciple of Thiruvaranga Perumal Araiyar.
According to Koil Ozhugu, record book of the Srirangam temple, which gave valuable information about temple practices and rituals, Thirumangai Azhwar, a Vaishnavite
saint, started the practice of presenting before the Lord of Srirangam his work known as ``Thirunedunthantakam'' to the accompaniment of music and dance. But it was Nathamunigal who introduced the performing art in its present form in temples in the
Tamil month of ``Margazhi'' during the festival known as``Thiruvadhyayana Uthsavam.'' He taught this art to two of his nephews - Keezhai Agathu Azhwar and Melai Agathu
Azhwar - who were the first and foremost Araiyars in the
. Srirangam Temple
According to tradition they were given a cone-like cape known as ``Ariyar Kullaai,'' two cymbals and the sacred garlands by the Lord of Srirangam Himself. Nobody else
was given this honour and to this day they are getting it. Their ``Abhinayam'' is considered to be similar to the ``Srunga Nirutham'' taught by Lord Narayana to Lord
Brahma and the ``Kaisika Vrithi'' of Brahaspathi, the teacher of the Devas.
Numerous is the inscriptional and historical evidence about ``Araiyar Sevai'' having existed during the reign of Chola and Pandya kings and the former could be found in plenty in the Srivilliputtur temple.
According to Srinivasa Rangachariar, one of the two Araiyars in the Srivilliputtur temple, Thirukkurungudi in Tirunelveli district was the home of Araiyars where
once 64 Araiyar families lived. But now not a single Araiyar family can be found there. The reason for this, according to Srinivasa Rangachariar, was that the Lord
who was so much impressed by their service appeared before them and asked them to seek from Him whatever they wanted. The Araiyars said all that they sought was
His Holy Feet and the Lord granted the same. The Lord later regretted their absence and to please Him, all their cymbals were melted and a bell was made out of them. The Lord is offered food only after the ringing of the bell, which is found even now in that temple.
Now the ``Araiyar Sevai'' is performed only in three places - Srivilliputtur, Azhwarthirunagari in Tuticorin district and Srirangam. At Melkote in Karnataka, Araiyars only recite Pasurams, they do not perform the``Abinaya.'' It is performed at the same time in the three places during the ``Pahal Pathu'' and ``EraPathu'' festivals for 20 days in December-January. The Araiyars first recite the Azhwars' songs, explain their
inner meanings as handed down to them by their ancestors through palm leaf manuscripts and then perform Abinaya.''
It is a treat to watch the Araiyar of Srivilliputtur perform the ``Abinaya'' depicting the life of Andal, who was found as a five- year-old child in the garden (``Pancha Varshath, Divyaroopath, Divayapara Bhushithath,'' according to Varaha Puranam) and was
brought up by her foster father like a princess, her composing 173 poems sending the cloud, and other things as messengers to the Lord, to convey her longing for
union with Him, the observance of a ritual known as ``pavai nonbu'' etc.
The most interesting parts of the ``Araiyar Sevai'' are ``Amirthamadhanam'' or the churning of the ``milky ocean'' and ``muthukuri.'' In the latter the Araiyar will don the roles of the mother of the lady love and the soothsayer known as `Kattuvichi.' He will, through of voice, perform the role of the mother, who will explain the plight of her daughter who used to adorn herself with all dresses and ornaments and look at the mirror, build houses in sand and the other pains undergone by her. The soothsayer will advise the mother to take her daughter to the temple and present her before the Lord which alone can cure her illness. It gained the name of ``muthukuri'' as the soothsayer used to do it by spreading pearls in a bamboo plate known as ``muram.'' The ``muthukuri'' episode has a philosophical connotation as it signified the individual soul seeking the guidance of the ``Acharya'' or spiritual teacher (soothsayer) for union with the ``Supreme Soul.'' It is performed thrice during festivals at Srivilliputtur while it is done only once at Azhwarthirunagari and Srirangam. The Araiyars strictly adhere to the
guidelines given by their ancestors in manuscripts known as ``Thambiranpadi.''
Such an ancient and great system seems to be on its way out due to lack of Government and public patronage. There are two Araiyar families at Srivilliputtur. One of them, Srinivasa Iyengar, is too old and his descendants have not been trained in the art. Hence the Periya Araiyar, Srinivasa Rangachariar, and his two sons - Balamukundan and Vatapatrasayee - had to perform the Sevai in the temple on all the 365 days.
They had to undergo training for at least 18 years to perfect the art of `Abinaya.' But the Government, without realising their uniqueness and importance, declared them temple servants and they would have to retire like others on reaching the age of superannuation. Despite lucrative offers, the Araiyars had not given any audio or video recordings. There were many greener pastures, but the Araiyars of Srivilliputtur, though ``retired'' by the Government, were serving the Lord without expecting any remuneration. The Government and the devout public ought to see that this system which had been in vogue for a millennia, is continued in the temples. The Government spends a lot to preserve folk arts and other forms of dance, so it should not turn a blind eye to the performing art of `Araiyar Sevai.'
Other articles :-