India is home to 1.3 billion. We are just done with the business of electing our new government at the center. And this is a #latepost on our Election process. Nevertheless, i wanted to write about it. Democracy in India is colossal as our nation is. Nearly a billion of us get to exercise our adult franchise. After all, we are the world’s largest democracy. So how do we go about it at all? Of course, we have elections going on for nearly a month, in 7 phases for different regions! And then it is time to sit back and admire at our handiwork!
MANUAL VOTING-COUNTING TO EVMs (the Electronic Voting Machine), it was one giant leap for India
I can recall the voting and counting centers in Mylapore, where I grew up. Polling booths were as many (like we have in present day scenario) where we had to manually cast our vote in the ballot paper that went into the ballot box. Foul play was a distinct possibility as the ballot paper was printed one. Booth capturing and rigging were not unheard of in troubled areas. Mostly, the name of the adult franchisee figuring in the voters’ list was the only mandatory proof required to cast one’s vote. These voters’ lists received inputs from the contesting political parties themselves which were not above mischief like unauthorized addition/ deletion/ duplication of voters in the electorate. Absence of verification of foolproof photo IDs and matching bio-metrics in the pre-computer era gave rise to numerous loopholes in the electioneering system.
Counting centers were limited in number, still much more than what we have today. For instance for nearly a dozen polling booths, there would be a single counting center in the ’80s. Chennai was good old Madras then. As a populous metro, we could have had not less than a dozen counting centers if my memory serves right. Indian General Elections were grand exercise. Why I recall with such a nostalgia the period upto the 1990s is that, more than the polling itself, it was the counting which used to turn out into a kind of ‘mela’ (village fair). India’s burgeoning population made it colourful and interesting. Every polling booth had thousands of voters listed. Manual counting of votes no wonder was bound to be tedious. The counting would go on for 2 to 3 or even 4 or 5 days at times wherein the electorate could be densely populated. Men and women would picket around the counting centers. Every party that fielded candidate and Independent contestants were allowed 2 or 3 witnesses each who would take turns to keep count as the drama lasted for days. There have been many instances of recounting ordered. The process in short involved excessive labour and depended heavily on manual computation where errors were order of the day,.
Finally, the assimilation process would begin after voting-counting got completed in entire India. Television and Radio coverage was secondary to local news mostly! Leads and Trails frequently changed positions! A number of votes also would get disqualified. Today we have NOTA option in the EVMs (the option that lets you mark that you do not favour any candidate). A pan-India picture of the elected representatives and the government forming would emerge almost after a week. A lot of data needed to be collated, correlated and very many disputes and clarifications sorted out.
Mind boggling! I cannot think back to manual voting/counting days ever again in India! General elections in this 1.3 billion nation is a mammoth exercise. Apart from discrepancies arising out of manual errors, there was time lag from polling time to counting. The restlessness of the counting period however brief, would put the entire nation on tenterhooks. This brief anxious waiting time used to witness violence and bloodshed in sensitive centers.
It is good that things changed for the better in late 1990s thanks to the introduction of the EVMs.
Only once have I exercised my manual voting right in Mylapore. I was heavily pregnant at that time. April or May month, some 10-15 days before my delivery, I walked to my school in Mylapore and cast my vote for the first time in my life. I was 25 then. The year was 1994. My address had not yet been officially changed and my name was listed in Mylapore voting list. I had some so-called ‘voting slips’ that served as my ID proof – those which were issued to me by all parties contesting!!! So I took the bunch with me to the polling station. The counting center then was PS High School for my Lady Sivaswami School polling booth and a couple of more from the area. Festival atmosphere prevailed in the RK Mutt Road where counting was underway in the PSHS, that was cordoned off to vehicular traffic. Cool drinks and ice creams were sold by hawkers to bystanders who kept vigil outside the premises round the clock for nearly 3 days! We would ask everyone passing through our street, who was the current lead! My uncle walked to the school every 2 to 3 hours to get firsthand information for us! I did not know then that it was the last time we were casting votes manually in India and that soon, we would be having a separate bar-coded Voter’s ID and EVMs the Electronic Voting Machines, although there were talks of it for very many years.
I can recall with amusement how some party workers offered to drop me back home in cab looking at my condition when I cast my vote. In fact, local Cable tv clicked a few pictures! Now that is deemed illegal by EC (the Election Commission). In pre-EVM era, it was common practice with political parties to ferry aged and sick people to polling booths. For last 20 years however, you have to singularly walk the last 100-200 meters to the polling booth in India. No mobile phone or automobile or whatever is permissible. Thorough and complete security check with ID proof verification. I am not sure about wheelchairs. May be they need to be sanitized by security personnel.
As for Polling officers, I do see equal strength of staff to man the EVMs in current times as in the non-EVM years, including some technical personnel. The ruckus associated with manual voting is done with. Now polling is a peaceful process in India. It takes less than 10 minutes for security verification as well as electronically casting your vote.
In 2001 or 2002 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, I voted for the first time in an EVM. An EVM is very user friendly and the entire voting process gets extraordinarily simplified and very organised. The EVM is undoubtedly devised with the rural Indian in mind. We in India are trendsetters and pioneers in the Electioneering process. Voting process gets smooth and hassle-free with the EVMs. Grievances addressed then and there. The counting when it started that year, was over in an hour for entire Chennai. Something that would last for 4-5 days like a Test Cricket Match, was finished before it began, well almost! The speed and accuracy of the EVM is what captured my imagination.
THE ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA
The Election Commission of India renders a fabulous job. The entire exercise of training officers for Elections, managing security, supplying the EVMs and counting the votes etc., rests with them. Every EVM has to display a different set of candidates with party symbols which is possible only after the last day of nomination. The interval between filing for nominations and actual elections is brief. In this limited window, the election commission gets to work although when it comes to drawing up the latest electorate voter list etc., the commission is at task all 365 days of the year. Updation is a never-ending process for them. Election Officers in India are trained for weeks before the actual general elections. They go to job a lot earlier than the common man gets to know about it. The Election officers and his/her deputies are trained to conduct the election process in a smooth fashion after being educated on the EVMs. They can also deal with any hick-ups in the process along with Security, armed security if situation warranties. The EVMs are free of technical glitches after many trial runs in the lab with the election personnel. In the eventuality of a faulty EVM if any, the same can be switched over with tested and functional one that may be ‘standee.’ The authorization and execution of the election process and such exigencies are reviewed and sanctioned by a hierarchy of government officers. Mostly government staff are recruited as Election officers. Once they are deputed for the job, the officers may not refuse the election work just like a citizen appointed for Jury to dispense justice cannot shirk his/her responsibility in the US or UK.
Before moving to the EVMs, a short recap of the Indian Government set-up. We have the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha or the Parliament at the central level. States have their own Assemblies.
THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are the Lower and Upper Houses of Indian parliament.
The Lok Sabha or the Lower House of the Parliament has 545 seats, made up by the election of up to 543 elected members and at a maximum, 2 nominated members of the Anglo-Indian Community by the President of India. A total of 131 seats (24.03%) are reserved for representatives of Scheduled Castes (84) and Scheduled Tribes (47). The Lok Sabha MPs (Member of Parliament) are directly elected representatives from the 29 Indian States and 7 Union Territories of the Indian Union.
Rajya Sabha, the Upper House, is a mixed and curious bag.
Out of the 250 Rajya Sabha MPs, 238 members are nominated by the States and the rest 12 are nominated by the President. Which makes the Rajya Sabha MPs non-elected members of the Indian Parliament. Sachin Tendulkar for instance became a Rajya Sabha MP. He was the president’s candidate (Sports).One-third of Rajya Sabha MPs are also rotated every 2 years. So it is also possible that at times, the ruling government in the center with an absolute two-thirds majority in Lok Sabha may still have to put up with a hostile Rajya Sabha if in case the MPs from the previous government should be concurrently holding the upper house office having been nominated by non-allies in State governments. Recently there was an opinion in media on why therefore State Assembly elections must be held concurrently with the Lok Sabha elections. As we know, this is not the case in most states that have had midterm elections in the past. We have had even Lok Sabha elections midterm. For Bills to be introduced, passing the Rajya Sabha could prove to be acid test if the House weighs heavily in favour of the opposition nominees, even if the presiding government at the center may be holding an overwhelming majority. The Rajya Sabha however could thus serve to be a good strategy or check for majority governments pushing through debatable bills. A very much necessary restraint when the Opposition is weak.
BACK DOOR ENTRY THROUGH RAJYA SABHA
When Congress party staged a surprise come-back in 2004 General Elections, the nation would not have Sonia Gandhi for prime minister given her citizenship issues. Dr. Manmohan Singh was a safe bet, him having handled India’s finance minister portfolio under ex-prime minister P V Narasimha Rao. But Dr. Singh never had to contest any Assembly election let alone Parliamentary elections. His appointment as Governor of Reserve Bank of India was purely apolitical as also as the Head of Planning Commission, both of which offices he assumed as a bureaucrat. Later he became the Finance minister, handpicked by Rao when Congress won the 1991 Lok Sabha elections riding high on sympathy wave after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. The promotion was considered a natural step by political observers who hailed the choice of prime minister Rao. As Indian economy was ‘opened up’ by Rao in landmark budget reforms that were to steer the nation in a different and hitherto uncharted course shortly, Dr. Singh’s economic vision was widely acclaimed to be bold and encouraging by political analysts and economists.
A similar back-door route landed Dr. Singh in the Prime Minister’s office a good ten years later when India’s grand old party returned to power once again in the Lok Sabha elections advanced by BJP in power. Prime Minister Singh was unanimous choice of the party on ruling out Sonia Gandhi, and his election to PM post was vetoed/ratified by his election to Rajya Sabha or the Upper House, from Assam, nominated by Congress party to which he now was affiliated.
So India offers out-of-box options (or perhaps unconstitutional means) for someone to be elected for plum posts through backdoor channels as it happened in the case of Dr. Manmohan Singh who went on to serve the nation as prime minister for 10 long years. Ex-PM Rao was brought back from his retirement when the nation was in crisis with Rajiv gone, and the congress party was in dire need of a senior leader to take on the PM’s job in the ensuing scenario of chaos and confusion. Rao later redeemed/ratified his appointment by winning a Lok Sabha MP seat from his native state Andhra Pradesh within the stipulated six months. But PM Rao was an immensely popular man by his own right, who had a lengthy and colourful political career behind him that guaranteed him his Lower House (Lok Sabha) berth. Either that or the Rajya Sabha berth. Unlike Rao’s, Rajya Sabha neatly fitted Dr. Singh’s bill as the low-profile Manmohan Singh had remained a bureaucrat all his life, with zero exposure in public life. Dr Manmohan Singh remained India’s Closet Prime Minister for the next 10 years holding the highest public chair in the nation, what an irony!
Amendments to the Indian constitution are the need of the hour. It is time to tweak the stone age statutes and make provisions for ratifying the election to PM/CM’s chair by a candidate ONLY on/by his/her securing the MP/MLA seat in Lok Sabha/Assembly constituency elections within a stipulated time-frame of, say 6 months. India can do without a PM heading the nation/state who may fall short of winning the supreme confidence of his/her electorate. Only free and fair public elections can give credence and authenticity to the high chair claimed by a PM aspirant, losing which he/she will be condemned to nothingness. Such an amended clause will pre-exempt greedy mongers and only the meritorious shall survive the acid test of legitimacy.
THE AGE OF THE EVMs (THE ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES)
The then Chief Election Commissioner Shri TN Seshan turned a new leaf in the history of electoral democracy in India introducing the EVMs to Indian voters during his tenure between 1998-2001/02. The EVMs came with riders: Declaration of Assets by candidates contesting elections, ban on political parties receiving donations from the public and/or organizations, regulation on rallies and banners/posters, political meetings, media Ads, and use of loud speakers etc. with time restrictions etc. In short indiscriminate campaigning was not tolerated., Canvassing to stop forth strictly 48 hours before the actual election dates, to enable the law enforcement agencies to take charge and ensure that law & order would prevail.
Indian EVMs are stand-alone machines built with once write, ‘read-only’ memory. They are battery powered and not linked to any network wireless or otherwise. The latest version of the EVMs includes the VVPAT system. VVPAT is, Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. This is a double security measure introduced by EC to rule out tinkering with EVMs or hacking of EVMs (a routine claim by the losing side!)There was even an open challenge announced to hack the EVMs by the EC to prove their effectiveness. The EVMs could not be hacked. It goes on to prove how allegations against the EVMs are baseless. The EVMs are securely devised by neutral government electronic and machine corporations and are 100% tamper-proof. In the recently concluded Lok Sabha Elections 2019, all the 22,000 EVMs used in the election process were VVPAT verified to rule out any electioneering fraud and to ensure free and fair elections to our parliament. If indeed there is rigging or hacking, the EVM count will not match the VVPAT which is audit of voters paper trail. In short, the VVPAT double checking-cross checking with EVM count is irrefutable proof to conduct of free and fair elections in India.
Once in my son’s school I have seen how the board exam papers of class 12 were transported: in armoured vehicles, with armed guards! Some 100 m-200 m area is cleared on all sides 2 hours before the board exams start. No other classes can function during the exam hours in the school premises which function as board exam centers. The other school activities get scheduled for the afternoon session, after a 2 hour gap from the exam closing time. Board exam rooms are sanitized and sealed hours before schedule examinations. The future of India lies as much in our Board Exam Answer Sheets as in Ballot Papers/EVMs. I recall that the boys and girls’ uniform shirt and trouser pockets needed to be cut out before they entered the exam halls. Only clear transparent pouches allowed. No belts or shoes, only open sandals. No watches, no mobile phones (naturally). No jewelry including hair clips for girls! CCTV monitoring of the exam halls and the 200 meters surrounding areas and entire school premises! And I am talking about the year 2011 school board exams atmostphere. Looks like ages already
The adherence to strict code of rules and regulations in school board exams conduct in India is clear indicator as to how the general elections must be monitored and handled in the country.
Unabashedly Hindu. Unapologetic about Dharma. Hindu Rashtra is not only our dream and breath, it is our vision.
As Shri Narendra Modi is all set to return as our Prime Minister for a second term, a housewife’s take on the BJP led NDA’s historic Lok Sabha landslide since India’s independence:
Good governance and effective administrationcutting red tape
Stability, sense of security for citizens
LPG subsidy : direct credit to the poor
Opening of Zero balance bank account for every citizen in the nation bringing rural India into banking network
Demonetization. The poorest were happiest at this. Media falsely reported that it was hardship to the poor. But I interact with housemaids, autowalahs, fruits sellers etc directly. They were happy to stand in queues to see that the rich were made to pay through their nose. A Kerala christian friend said, until demonetization happened, the richest NRI families in Kochi etc., used to bulk buy meat and fish raising prices for the lower middle class. After demonetization, more food in the poor man’s plate. Demonetization was a very unpopular and risky move as per critics. Modi took this calculated risk.
Linking of Aadhar with PAN number, LIC policies, immovable properties, bank accounts, passports eliminating corruption and regularizing the economy. Formalization/Regularization of Indian economy finally started happening that was long overdue. It is a very tough move but necessary one and healthy one in the long run. This has weeded out duplication of PAN (Permanent ID for filing tax returns) and blocked channels of corruption. It gets that much tougher to hoard black money these days. The essential streamlining of India’s financial sector and tax revenue system has been pending for decades without implementation.
GSTwas similarly demonized. It was one sweeping economic reform, again long overdue. As someone who has crossed the Tamil Nadu-Andhra border dozen times or more all my life, i bear witness to how the long queues of trucks and other heavy vehicles since ceased to be a common sight at state borders with GST implementation. Precious fuel and man hours saved. Now we have seamless transport within India. This is such a big, big move. Opposition can be constructively critical but not to the extent of damaging. GST is one of the best things to happen to Indian economy. Once the teething problems subside, it will go a long way in simplifying the entire revenue structure for India.
IT exemption limits have been raised. May not be sufficient or to desired level but puts more money into common man’s pockets. Especially the lower middle class.
Health insurance for manual labourers. Health cover upto 5 lac rupees for manual labourers
Life insurance cover for manual labourers
Rural electrification 100% almost. Covered all villages left out of the loop and far flung areas. Maximum coverage of not only electricity but also broadband
Metro rail (underground and surface) in all metros and tier 2 cities
Cheapest and fastest Mobile network and broadband connecting India.
Highwaysand secondary roads and rural roads
Bringing Sanitation to rural India. It is a big, big feat. Awareness creation and bringing it to the poorest of the country. Free of cost. Free toilets for rural homes.
Swachch Bharat. I am seeing remarkable cleaning of our roads and airports and railway stations in midnight hours. India is home to 1.3 billion. It is not easy to run things. But things are definitely improving.
India now belongs in the elusive ‘Elite Space Club‘ and under Modi we are well defended with anti-satellite missile strike capability which in indigenous.
As someone rooting for fitness, Modi’s Yogaimpresses me as well. Yoga is soft power. Modi just reclaimed it for India smartly and branded it Indian bringing in global awareness.
A global leader in Shri Narendra Modi ji who is head and shoulders above the rest. His Statesmanship is phenomenal. He is an equal with Trump or Putin. Never on the weaker side. You cannot bargain with Modi. Modi dictates terms. You respect Modi and India and take respect from Modi and India.
Modi is friends with Saudi and UAE and Qatar all at the same time as he is friendly with Israel. Excellent Diplomatic skills. Conferred with highest honours by Saudi and UAE, To that extent, India’s bargaining power improves.
Dealing with China: Firm and decisive. China backed out of Doklam, Bhutan territory as India stared down at China. Something only India can do with China after the US. India threatened with boycotting Chinese products. China responded with voting against Masood Azhar in India’s favour, breaking out of the Pakistani jinx. Now Azhar is a designated global terrorist.
Kashmir & Pakistan: Modi will hopefully wring out the rest of Kashmir from Pakistan forever now and consolidate Kashmir with India for good. Next wrong move by Pakistan, they will not get up for a long time … or will be done once and for all. Kashmir will be on equal footing with rest of India very soon with article 370 cancelled. Long overdue. Only Modi can do this.
Deep sense of security in Indian masses like never before. We go to sleep in the confidence reposed in our leader that we are in good hands. Stocks did not nosedive overnight on Balakot. Responsible but firm and no-nonsense statesmanship
Blocking foreign funds/NGOs to Christian missionaries from America and Europe who were on relentless conversion spree of Hindus. Re-conversion to Mother religion is starting to happen. Will happen. Trend will be reversed hopefully.
ZERO TOLERANCE TOWARDS TERRORISM. Kicked out Zakir Naik. Hard and unapologetic about terrorists. National security concerns are top priority with NO COMPROMISE.
Muslim women voted for BJP because he abolished the Triple Talaqin India. Even some muslim fathers with daughters were touched by the move. Average muslim especially poor muslim extremely impressed with demonetization unlike what the media projected. Modi in fact, cut the Haj subsidy. I have christian friends too who did not utter a single word against demonetization. One worked for a bank and had to work day and night for 45 to 60 days without OT pay on account of demonetization. Contrary to what media reported, masses in India happily and willingly obliged. This i have posted earlier in my blog.
Sushma Swaraj,Manoj Parikkar (who is no more unfortunately), Smriti Irani – won hearts. Arun Jaitley needs to be kicked out of BJP. Will Modi take note.
India’s rank and prestige rose at global level. Economically, Militarily, Socially the nation is on the move and for the better. Rupee is gaining and stock markets are on rebound.
Better deals for India for oil and gas. India negotiates better now under Modi.
Turnaround in North East India. This often neglected part of India started identifying more with rest of India thanks to Modi’s frequent visits there. Great projects rolled out in north east improving local economy. Consolidation of the 7-Sister states with India has never happened before Modi.
Mamta Banerjeewith anti-national and pro-terrorist stand dug her own grave.
Indian masses view Congress as anti-nationaland desh drohi party who will finish off Hindus.
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhiwill NEVER win hearts or be trusted. They are viewed as traitors and thieves. They are most corrupt. The Vadras need a serious investigation.
Modi government’s non corruption streak. So far the best. Must be maintained at all costs.
Modi’s personal character: flawless personal life of Modi is a big influence in the Indian voter’s mind. No material attachment. Selfless service to the nation. DYNAMIC! ASTUTE! SHARP! INTELLIGENT! CUNNING! CHANKYA REBORN IN SHORT! Born for serving Mother India. Born to serve Hindu Dharma. No blood relatives benefited from Modi’s rise. His brothers and sisters are shopkeepers and lower middle class barely making sustenance. No kith or kin in the limelight. Modi uses merely 2 or 3 rooms in his official residence, keeping the rest locked. His mother lives in village and walks everywhere. Modi fasts for Navarathri etc on liquid food. His daily food rations are poha, kichdi nothing more. He works 20 hours a day. Does Yoga and meditation. Has not taken a single day’s leave in his political work life/official capacity. Owns/possesses very little-least valued assets that are absolute necessity only. Extremely rare to come through such a human being especially wielding this kind of power. Shri Narendra Modiji is one in trillion. A star born with a purpose. The blessed son of Mother India who was sent to us with a divine purpose. Whether India or world will see anyone like him in future is doubtful… Rarest of rare breed.
Yogi Adithyanath: Painted as religious fanatic. In truth, great administrator that even the UPs muslims had to concede. Good management skills. Great handling of the Kumbh and cleaning up of the Ganga river and dirtiest holy cities of ours that were left untouched by the Congress govt that held sway over the region for close to 60 years. Plunge in crime rate. Nothing, nothing solid and constructive was done by Congress in Amethi, the consistent and consecutive Congress Prime ministers’ constituency.
Modi’s widely criticized foreign tripsdid India big favours. He signed priceless deals in every foreign mission. Dr Manmohan Singh, our ex PM, expended multiple times on foreign trips as Modi but that was never highlighted by the media.
Lies and more lies fed by Media : Lies spread by media houses run/managed by those like Rajdeep Sardesai, Pranoy Roy, Karan Thapar etc., did not work. Indian voter is no fool. Crypto christians and terror apologists must know this now. Twitter is not the arena to fight or win.
Award Wapsi backfires. You do not return titles because you do not like or cannot respect the PM of this country who won the people’s mandate lawfully. The leftists have lost face now.
Dynasty politics days are over.
Rahul Gandhi as PM of India is a disaster no Indian wants the nation to suffer.
Rahul Gandhi promised free dole out of 72,000/- rupees per annum to each BPL family, that is Rs. 6,000/- credited into each poor family’s account without work/job on Congress party’s election to power. Tax paying Indians know how this can kill India. Even my illiterate maid knows that her son and her husband would in that case turn out into irredeemable alcoholics. Italian Mafia failed miserably.
Rahul Gandhi offered to write off all rural loans – another damaging political gamble. Once more intelligent Indians rejected this poison sop.
The opposition Congress did not belittle Modi or BJP in Balakot. The Congress belittled India and our very Armed forces. Unpardonable offence. How can we trust the nation in Congress hands again.
The Mahaghatbandhan were talking like ‘India ko tukde tukde karen’ and you want to win Indian elections riding high on this blood curdling slogan. What an underestimation of Indian citizens.
No big feat. India merely put full faith and trust in the favourite son of Bharat Matha Narendra Modi that is it. We DO NOT TRUST Gandhis or Congress any longer. Neither is media the voice of the public. Media in India is christian missionary mouthpiece or terror mouthpiece. NO HINDU REPRESENTATION. Imagine not having a single loyal media house. ‘Republic’ owned wholly by Indians is the only nationalist tv news channel in India today. I stopped reading the Hindu, the Times of India etc., long long back. After cutting foreign funds to christian missionaries, Modi should look into foreign funding and ownership of Indian media.
Secularism does not translate to Majority bashing. Minority status does not automatically confer upon the muslims and christians of India the right to get away with their misdoings.
We prayed in 39 temples in Kumbakonam-Mayavaram Yatra of ours for Shri Narendra Modi and BJP/NDA victory exactly on Election date and around it. We asked for archana in our PMs name but were politely refused. Archakas understood and explained to us that they already did that ‘aathamaartham’ every single day . They said, they did not want to politicize temples and create unnecessary issues. We respected that. In my personal opinion, BJP has still penetrated deep into the heart of Tamil Nadu. Their vote bank is steadily building up. One day, they will conquer Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Tamil Nadu can be said to be the cultural gateway to India, because we have been fortunate to preserve our ancient Hindu heritage over millennia. Northern India was not as lucky as our temples and culture were razed to dust by ruthless invaders.
As an ardent Shakthi devotee and a devout Hindu, it was always my dream to visit the heart of Thamizh Hindu Nadu but it simply never materialized. I know, you cannot set your foot into the abode of our Mother and Father, unless you get the call. It took my Mother 50 long years to call me to Her abode. So near, yet soooo farrr…
A gang of us friends who have stuck together from our school days finally chalked out a plan and started on our Kumbakonam – Mayavaram Temple tour this April. We boarded Uzhavan Express at 10.40 pm at Chennai Egmore on 16th evening to begin this epic journey. A friend from Kerala had flown in to join us in the whirlwind trip. It was summer already. The hinterland of Tamil Nadu was bristling at 38 c. We girls just crossed 50 years – rather than disguising our age, we are now mature enough to be grateful to have lived up to this day, to be there for our families. Mylapore unites us all, our school was the bonding gel. It was our life mission to undertake this yatra. Only five of us could finally make it with one opting out last moment. How we beat the odds in this simmering heatwave rising at 4 am and hitting the bed by 11.30 late night walking barefoot the roughly hewn, unpolished granite slabbed temple acres for a continuous stretch of 5 days flabbergasts me even today! Our feet blistered – but not really. How they did not blister is what amazes me! Age is just a number. We proved it to ourselves. By sheer willpower and with the blessings of our Mother Goddess and Shiva, our Father, we accomplished this feat in our golden jubilee year. We are also married for over a quarter century. And we women have our health woes. We proved many theories wrong with this tour.
I wanted to make a page out of our spiritual tour with details because, our pilgrimage became a hit. Friends keep asking for information. I also want to revisit the shrines in future as and when possible. I want to record in here for posterity those five unforgettable, irreplayable days.
Here is a pictorial tour plus some tips about our yatra. ON POPULAR DEMAND. A pretty long post. One which is as descriptive as possible.
EVERY SINGLE ANCIENT HINDU TEMPLE AS WELL AS MEDIEVAL HINDU TEMPLE UP UNTIL 19TH CENTURY, HAS HAD A STHALA VRIKSHAM (HOLY TREE) AND STHALA THEERTHAM (WATER TANK) (ONE OR MORE).In this post, I am not covering details of Sthala Vriksham and Sthala Theertham although we had darshan of same wherever we went. Wherever possible, I have included pictures though. This is how ancient Hindus conserved nature and water. Every street in Hindu society had a temple which would grow the Sthala Vriksha trees and have water for ablution in the form of a rectangular water tank of an acre minimum – Sthala Theertham. Such a beautiful, thoughtful civic society was ransacked by both the Moghuls and the British who wrecked havoc in the land of Dharma.
Our base was at Kumbakonam for 3.5 days and for the rest 1.5 days, we shifted base to Mayavaram (Mayiladuthurai now). We wanted to cover as much territory as possible including in Tanjore (Thanjavur district). It may seem rushed, but not at all. We spent easily around an hour in each temple, and in some vast ones even over a couple of hours as it happened in Tanjore, Darasuram and Thirumeeyachur for instance. We had darshan of ‘abhishegam’ and ‘alangaram’ in almost every single temple we visited. We feasted on temple meals. We even shopped heartily. So although this may seem impossible, i guess the long summer hours gave us ample time to cover everything. Apart from Shiva and Ambal (Shakthi) temples and Balaji temples, we also visited the Navagraha temples for the nine planets of the Universe that were established millennia before. Still some temples are left out that we intend to take care of in our next visit.
The great ancient Hindu temples of Kumbakonam Mayavaram Tanjore belt were built by the Cholas who reigned over this region for over 1000 years. It is a shame that their glorious, vibrant history is brushed under the carpet whereas bloody terrorists like Akbar, Shahjehan and Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan who were our invaders are glorified in Indian history. The Chola period was golden era in Tamil Nadu. The Cholas built the magnificent ancient temples that sing a poetry even today in Dravidian architecture. Most of these are UNESCO World heritage sites. Heartbreaking to note that, many are also in ruins without proper care because Hindu temple funds are routed to Christian and Muslim welfare in India by our government. This is a separate story that I shall cover some other time.
The Cholas nourished art, music and culture scene in the south. This part of India has always been prosperous because the Chera-Chola-Pandyas were also great defenders of their territories. The Cholas went on to conquer culturally what we call Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka etc which all have Hindu roots until today. They relinquished their conquests and returned to India although what they planted in South East Asia stand good until today as in Bali (Hindu temples) and even in Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the world even today. Tanjore is called the Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu.
We started our tour with Thanjavur naturally. Except for the first three, rest of the pictures were clicked with my Samsung Note 8.
A gist of 39 temples we covered in 5 days (this handy list was prepared after our return by friend Sumi who works for a foreign bank who doubled up as a very valuable guide) (our banker and bookings manager and organizer for the tour was GV):
This was our agenda that we decided roughly weeks before but altered 50-50 enroute as it suited our convenience.
DAY 1: APRIL 17, 2019 WEDNESDAY
We reached Kumbakonam by train by 5 am. By 7.30, we were showered after checking into our hotel and unpacking. We decided to start our temple tour with paying obeisance to Lord Ganesha after which we halted for our breakfast before heading to Tanjore. Day 1 covered the temples in Tanjore district.
1. GANAPATHY AGRAHARAM IN PAPANASAM TALUK, TANJORE DIST. Started with our worship of Lord Ganesha. This is a small village agraharam temple where sage Aghastiya is believed to have visited.
2. CHANDRAN TEMPLE AKA KAILASANATHAR TEMPLE AT THINGALUR. THINGAL/CHANDRAN PARIHARA STHALAM , NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE for Moon God or Chandran. Shiva goes by the name Kailasanathar. Ambal’s name: Periya Nayaki. Specialty of this temple: Moonlight falls exactly on the presiding deity ONLY during Tamil months of Purattasi (sep-oct) and Panguni (march-april) through a hole in the Vimana (temple tower)
Enroute Brahadeshwara temple aka RAJARAJESHWARAM, had Gopura Darshan of a couple of temples where we did not stop.
3. BRAHADESHWARA AKA BIG TEMPLE AKA RAJARAJESHWARAM AT THANJAVUR (TANJORE)that has seen over a 1000 years easily built by the one and only Raja Raja Chola. CHOLA TEMPLE We spent half a day here. Raja Raja worshiped the fiercer form of Shakthi – Mother Goddess Varahi who now has a separate altar within the temple premises. This temple is now a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. I have been to the Colosseum in Rome, but nothing can come close to our Brahadeshwara temple in Tanjore. Shiva’s name: Bruhadeeshwara Ambal’s name: Bruhannayaki. The Brihadeshwara temple – Raja Rajeshwaram is not easy to describe. Kindly google. The shadow of the Vimana (gopuram/temple tower) never falls on the ground – that’s an architectural wonder among other thousand engineering and architectural wonders about the entire complex. A challenge to today’s structural engineers specializing in earthquake proof structures. A clue to this engineering feat lies in the cleverly designed Thanjavur Thalaiyatti Bommai with circular base (the head nodding mud dolls special to Tanjore) Chola temples have altars for Gaja Lakshmi and Varahi and Bhairava, the Hindu Gods for valour. It so happens that I am already a Varahi worshiper. One of the 275 PADAL PETRA STHALAM . Blessed to have visited the temple with a close quarter darshan of Shiva-Brihadeeshwara and Nandhi on Pradosham day. Darshan of Varahi abhishegam was added bonus.
Reading Chola inscriptions that were over a 1000 years old in Tamil (with the script changed slightly over centuries), I found tears in my eyes. I could feel the presence of Raja Raja as I stood humbled before the giant Shiva Linga. What passed through my mind at that moment does not matter. I bowed down my head to not only Brihadeeshwara – Shiva, but also to Raja Raja, my ancestor. This great king did not want a mausoleum like the Moghuls. He built temples and architectural wonders. He established dance and drama schools. Bharat Natyam, the classical dance of the south flourished from the Chola period. Tanjore ‘Thalaiyatti Bommai’ (the head nodding Tanjore dolls) and Tanjore dancing dolls (of Bharat Natyam dancers) date back to Chola era.
SARASWATHI MAHAL: As temples are closed mostly 1 to 4 pm, we took a break in Tanjore for lunch and followed it up with a visit to the cultural museum that houses historic relics from the Maratha empire’s Shivaji, Saraboji and Sambaji’s reigns. How haphazardly the valuable historic collections lie without a protection in the ruins of the old Maratha palace breaks my heart. The first picture is from a shop inside the temple complex, rest are from the Mahal. See, how Mahal is a Sanskrit/Hindu word that can have nothing to do with the Moghul Taj Mahal – unless ofcourse it was once Tejo Mahalaya. Tanjore Plate is a heritage from Marathas in the Tanjore district.
4. PUNNAI NALLUR MARIAMMAN: MARIAMMAN TEMPLE AT PUNNAI NALLUR : Ambal (Mariamman) holds a Chakra in Her right hand in this sacred shrine.
5. VASISHTESHWARAR TEMPLE AT THENKUDI THITTAI : GURU PARIHARA STHALAM. NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR GURU (JUPITER) What is special about this temple is, every 24 minutes, a drop of water from nowhere falls over the presiding deity Shiva (Vasishteshwara) which is incomprehensible as there is no source of water in the Vimana (gopura). The sanctum sanctorum is designed scientifically in such a way that you can feel the heat generation that is like Shiva’s hot breath. The humidity leads to a single drop of water fall over the deity exactly every 24 minutes. CHOLA TEMPLEfrom 12th century CE. Cannot believe the scientific acumen of ancient Hindu engineers/architects/builders over a thousand years before. What happened to us now. SWAYAMBU LINGAM (hence the name Swayambootheshwarar also). PADAL PETRA STHALAM. Sage Vasishta is believed to have worshiped Lord Shiva here.
Enroute Thirukarugavur, Tanjore, the Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu was still greeny-greeny at the advent of a scorching summer after a failed monsoon last year. The wealth of the Chola for millennia is hardly surprising. This is a bountiful rich countryside watered by Kaveri (the Cauvery river) brimming with culture and mineral wealth every corner. No more dirt poor or thatched hut in Tamil Nadu. Village scene is a big, big surprise. India is on move, slowly but steadily. The gradual urbanization of rural India is the proof although I am not sure whether I like this. The difference between India and China is that, India has a soul. Whereas China is a mechanical programmed robot.
6. GARBA RAKSHAMBIGAI TEMPLE AT THIRUKARUGAVUR :‘Garba’ means ‘pregnant’ – ‘Rakshambika’ means ‘protective Goddess’ so that gives away the temple’s relevance. PADAL PETRA STHALAM . After 25 years, I got to visit Mother Parvathi who protects foetus in pregnant women who also blesses the childless with ‘putra bhagyam.’ I was praying to Mother from Chennai, reciting the shlokas when carrying my son. I had a normal delivery. Every married Hindu woman’s ‘ishta devata’ becomes Garba Rakshambika for a safe pregnancy and delivery. Those who have problems conceiving pray to Her and come back to the temple and lay their newborn babies in Mother’s lap. Shiva goes by name Mullai Vana Nathar. Ambal is Garba Rakshambigai. The village goes by the name ‘Thirukarugavur’ . ‘Karu’ in Tamil means ’embryo’ – ‘karugavur’ means the place that does not dry/shrivel up. A visit to the Mother’s abode will not let the embryo shrivel up. ‘CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 7TH CENTURY CE . We were blessed to be present for Pradosha abhishegam for the presiding deity Mullai Vananadhar (Shiva). ‘Mullaivana’ means the jasmine forest. This area is still so fertile and the forestry from ancient times is imaginable.
7. KALINGA NARTHANA PERUMAL TEMPLE, OOTHUKADU
Lord Krishna is the Utsava Murthy as Kaalinga Narthana. Famous Krishna dance melody songs such as ‘Swagatham Krishna’ were composed here. Utsava Murthy was presiding deity over Moolavar. In quite a few temples we visited, this was the case.
8. DURGA TEMPLE, PATTEESWARAM AKA THENUPUREESWARAR TEMPLE AT PATTEESWARAM : Lord Shiva goes by the name ‘Thenupureeshwar’ in this 7th century CE CHOLA TEMPLE. PADAL PETRA STHALAM . Ambal goes by the name ‘Gnyanambika’ and also ‘Soma Kamalambika’ although there is a separate shrine within the temple for Durga, the fiercer form of Shakthi. Nandhi in this temple is sidelined and not facing Shiva straight.
That brought us to the end of Day One. We drove back to Kumbakonam from Tanjore covering these temples in evening, totally exhausted. By the time we had our dinner and retired to bed, it was over 11 pm. I had to swallow some pills, as well as others. We set alarm for 4 am to start our next day before the sun was out. Temples in Kumbakonam Mayavaram opened by 7 am which suited us.
DAY 2: APRIL 18, 2019 THURSDAY
We started the second day with a bang by 6.30 am. Maximum 6.45 could have been our ‘out’ time. Decided to cover temples in the periphery before turning into Kumbakonam. Have to mention a word about Kumbakonam breakfast, full traditional south Indian meals in Banana leaf and coffee. Ek dum first class! Filter Degree Coffee and Idli and Pongal and Vada like you can find nowhere … bathed in Sambhar and Coconut Chutney… ! But as it was Lok Sabha Election Day in Tamil Nadu, restaurants were mostly closed in the town. We were lucky to find whatever we could. Active polling, voting scenes everywhere. Even if we missed casting our votes in our constituencies as this trip was planned before the dates were announced, we were delighted to watch the systematic voting process in progress in rural Tamil Nadu. Throughout the tour, in every single temple we visited, we prayed for our INDIA and for return of Modi/BJP at the center and for Hindu Dharma to survive in these troubling times.
9. PRANANADESHWARAR TEMPLE AT THIRUMANGALAKUDI . Prananadeshwara is Lord Shiva and Ambal is Mangalaambika. Ambal holds the ‘Maangalya Saradu’ – the sacred yellow thread that signifies marriage (mangalsutra) and therefore this temple is special for Sumanglis (married women). SWAYAMBU LINGAM. PADAL PETRA STHALAM. CHOLA TEMPLE. although inscriptions are from Pallava and Vijayanagara reigns as well. We were blessed with Nirmalya darshanam. No Navagraha in this temple and the banished Navagraha can be found in the nearby Suriyanar Koil, the Sun temple at Aduthurai where the Nava Grahas, the 9 planetary deities, have their own altars.
10. SOORIYANAR KOVIL (SUN TEMPLE) AT ADUTHURAI : The Navagrahas (9 planets) have separate altars in this temple. NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE. The Sun God Surya and Guru (Jupiter) are face to face in this temple. Kulothunga CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 10TH CENTURY CE . Sun is every Hindu’s most important God, because our food crops yield us grains to eat and live because of Surya. Harvest festivals are therefore very special for us. We celebrate LIFE. No wonder, Surya Namaskar – the Sun Salutation is the most important Yoga exercise.
11. VANADURGA TEMPLE AT KADHIRAMANGALAM : We were fortunate to have darshan of abhishegam for Mother Durga in this sacred temple where setting foot is considered equal to paying a visit to your Kula Deivam (family deity) temple. (Every Hindu family has their own family/village deity, the protective God/Goddess from family tree/clan/what we call Kula). ‘Vana’ means forest. Hundreds of years back, it is easy to imagine how much forested this area must have been.
12. SUKRAN TEMPLE AT KANJANUR : NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR SUKRAN (Venus). PADAL PETRA STALAM. MEDIEVAL CHOLA TEMPLE RENOVATED BY VIJAYANAGARA EMPIRE . Shiva is Agnishwara and Ambal is Karpagambal. No separate Prakaram (altar) for Sukaran (Venus) who is supposed to dwell within Shiva’s stomach.
13. RUDRAKSHESHWARAR TEMPLE AT THEPPERUMANALLUR : Shiva/Moolavar here is ‘Vishwanathar’ but the temple is famous for Shiva Lingam wearing a ‘rudraksha angi/kavasam’ (covered in prayer/chanting beads). Ambal is Vedantha Nayaki. The temple is known for frequent ‘sarpa’ (snake) visits as snakes shed their skins exactly on Shiva Linga. There are framed pictures of snake skins with dates. ‘Marupiravi arukkum kovil’ – a visit to this temple is supposed to ensure that there is no Punar Janma (rebirth) for us with our Karma cleansed. A Paramachaarya has attained ‘jeeva samadhi’ within the temple. Beautiful ancient temple. I have to mention a word about the aged archaka (priest) who has had a coronary bypass. An octogenarian. His devotion to Lord Shiva is striking. In most of these temples I witnessed the intense devotion of the priests who did not care for material welfare, who were happy servicing Father and Mother, sweating in humid inner sanctums and sanctorums.
14. UPPILIAPPAN TEMPLE, THIRUNAGESWARAM : This is a Perumal temple, one of the 108 DIVYA DESAMS. CHOLA PERIOD TEMPLE from 6th-8th centuryCE. Perumal is Uppiliappan. Thaayaar is Perundevi. Saltless Naivedyam is the specialty of this temple where the childless return with their newborn to thank the Lord.
15. NAGESWARAR TEMPLE AKA RAHU TEMPLE AT THIRUNAGESWARAM: Built by Aditya Chola of 6th-7th century CE, the CHOLA TEMPLEis a NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE– RAHU PARIHARA STALAM and PADAL PETRAL STHALAM . Shiva is Naganathar and Ambal is Gujambigai.
Rahu- Ketu Dosha is supposedly the main obstacle in an individual’s life delaying his/her marriage. The dosha is also blamed for not having issues/offspring. In Thirunageshwaram Naganatha swamy temple (Shiva is Naganatha), there is a Prakara for Rahu with snake head and human body that invites devotees from around India. We were blessed to feast on temple bhojan (meals) offered free.
16. APATHSAHAYESHWARAR TEMPLE AT ALANGUDI : CHOLA TEMPLE, PADAL PETRA STALAM Lord Shiva goes by the name Apathsahayeshwar. Ambal is Elavarkuzhali. Often mistaken for Navagraha Guru Parihara stalam, Alangudi actually boasts of an altar for Dhakshinamurthy (Guru). The Navagraha Guru parihara stalam is Thenkudi Thittai that I have already posted about (No.5 in this list). When we went here, we learned the chariot festival was over only that morning. For that matter, we were touring in the temple festival season of Chithirai month. So almost all temples were thronged by both locals and pilgrims from other parts of the state and India.
17. PADIKASUNATHAR TEMPLE AT AZHAGAPUTHUR : Beautiful village setting amid green fields and a beautiful temple. Ancient Shiva Lingam. Om Namashivaya! SWAYAMBU LINGAM. CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 7TH CENTURY CE. PADAL PETRA STHALAM. Lord Shiva is Padikasunathar. Ambal is Soundaranayagi. Murugan can be seen with Sangu, Chakra in this temple.
18. SRINIVASAPERUMAL TEMPLE AT NACHIAR KOIL : CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 3RD CENTURY CE, AND DIVYA DESAM the Perumal temple is revered for KAL GARUDARdarshan, on climbing a fleet of granite internal stairs. Would like to come back to this temple in daylight. Prasadham in the temple was mouthwatering. Consort of Perumal is Vanjulavalli Nachchiar.
19. SARAPERUMAL TEMPLE AT THIRUCHERAI: DIVYA DESAM and MEDIEVAL CHOLA TEMPLE although finds mention from 7th century CE in scriptures. Perumal is Saranathan and Thaayaar is Saranayaki.
20. SARAPARAMESHWARAR TEMPLE AT THIRUCHERAI : SWAYAMBU LINGAM. CHOLA TEMPLE. PADAL PETRA STHALAM. Lord Shiva goes by name Saranathan. He is also revered as ‘Kadan Nivartheeshwarar‘ – as legend goes that, praying here relieves one of economic debts.
We rounded up Day 2 with that. Long, long day!
DAY 3: APRIL 19, 2019 FRIDAY – CHITRA POURNAMI !
Forenoon and Afternoon:
This was one day we were all waiting for with bated breaths. We all are ardent Shakthi devotees and we recite Lalitha Sahasranama for years or decades perhaps now. For me, my Ishta Devata is Lalithambika/Mookambika. I never prayed for a darshan of Mookambika but was blessed with one with a visit to Her abode in Kollur, Karnataka. A darshan of Lalithambigai meant the world to me. Before we headed to Thirumeeyachur, we decided to step into one Kumbakonam temple at least. We took only a cursory glance of the famous MAHAMAHAM TEMPLE TANK which is closed to visitors. We rounded up the four streets but could not get into the steps leading to the holy water. For this special day, we ladies dressed special too. We had an appointment with our Divine Mother!
21. ADHI KUMBESWARAR TEMPLE AT KUMBAKONAM: CHOLA TEMPLE . PADAL PETRA STALAM. Shiva Linga here is believed to have been incarnated by Lord Shiva Himself who goes by the name Adhi Kumbeshwar. The temple town derives its name from the Kumbh. Ambal is Mangalambigai. We were blessed to have a darshan of abhishegam for both Adi Kumbeswarar and Mangalambigai on the Chitra Pournami morning. Nirmalya darshan of both Adhi Kumbeshwara and Mangalambigai. What a way to begin the day!
22. LALITHAMBIGAI TEMPLE AT THIRUMEEYACHUR: CHOLA TEMPLE BUILT BY RAJENDRA CHOLA. Shiva goes by the name Meganatha. His consort is Lalithambika, my Ishta Deivam. This shrine is where Lord Hayagriva is believed to have imparted to Aghastya Muni, the sacred text of Lalitha Sahasranama. I consider it my janma sabhalyam to have set my foot on the holy abode of My Mother Goddess on the auspicious occasion of Chitra Pournami. Five solid hours in the sanctum sanctorum right in front of Her with Her eyes and breath on me, blessed with a darshan of Her abhisegam, alankaram and Sahasranama archana and then having Her prasad for lunch in the temple … never asked My Mother for so much… Just the mere thought wells up my eyes… We girls got silver anklets for our Mother, we got our Mother and Father ‘vastrams’ and we had arranged for abhishegam for both. I had a darshan of Meganathar and opted to spend maximum time with my Mother so skipped watching abhishegam for Shiva. We broke into 2 groups actually. Two of us attended abhishegam for Meganathar and the rest 3 of us sat tight in front of our Mother all the time! We recited Lalitha Sahasranama at least 3 times, sang bhajans in chorus with other devotees, clapped, wept in unison… The temple was jampacked for Chitra Pournami. Mother’s ghambeeram, Mother’s benevolence, Mother’s blessings… I almost did not bat my eyes for a continuous 5 hours. My friends shared a similar emotion. Every single soul in Her presence that day wept tears of joy. Humbled! Every single face was streaked with dried tears. Such is the aura of My Mother. One place I want to go back to again and again. Mother Lalithambika is installed with Her right leg folded and left leg down in Sukhasana (Yoga) pose as Manonmani Swaroopa. She is all peace, hence known as Santhanayaki. It was after 3 pm that we left the temple. It seemed that She did not want us to leave. It rained the moment we stepped out of the temple and for the next 30 minutes we could not even go as far as our parked car. We spent the next half hour in the temple shops lining the street still awowed by the experience.
Overwhelmed by Thirumeeyachur darshanam, we returned to our lodgings with an unbeatable feeling for the first time that we were on right course. We decided to take a light break justifying that we deserved it! Went shopping at a weaver’s place for Tribhuvanam silks indigenous to Kumbakonamalthough we did not shop impressively. Tanjore Thalaiyatti Bommai shopping topped our tour shopping list. Later in the evening after Chakrapani temple visit, we also stopped for Kumbakonam Coffee as Kumbakonam Degree Coffee tops charts in entire south India as best seller coffee. Added many more kilos to our baggage!
As the evening wore off, we found that the temple festivals in Kumbakonam had made it impossible for us to reach into the inner streets at the heart of the town. We decided to wrap up Day 3 with Chakrapani temple and retire to bed early. Which still meant around 10 pm, early only by our tour standards!
23. CHAKRAPANI TEMPLE, KUMBAKONAM : Our last stop for the day. Chakrapani, Perumal, has a third eye like Shiva here. Thaayaar is Seetha Devi. Maratha king Saraboji Maharaj worshiped in the temple.
DAY 4: APRIL 20, 2019 SATURDAY
Fourth day into our trip, we shifted base to Mayavaram by evening.
24. SARANGAPANI TEMPLE AT KUMBAKONAM : MEDIEVALCHOLA TEMPLE. DIVYA DESAM. Perumal here is Sarangapani. Thaayaar is Komalavalli. We fed the cows and calves in Goshala in the temple which was most satisfying.
25. RAMASWAMY TEMPLE AT KUMBAKONAM : NAYAK PERIOD TEMPLE FROM 16TH CENTURY CE still easily 5 centuries old. Beautiful one and extremely well maintained. A refreshing change after seeing neglected temples that are 1,500 years old and crumbling. Perumal here is Sri Rama and Thaayaar is Seetha Devi. Chithra Ramayana depicted on the walls of the temple are the highlight describing entire Ramayana with the seven ‘khaandams.’ The oldest frescoes from centuries before are preserved. Ramaswamy temple is a feast to the eyes and the soul.
26. AIRAWATESWARA TEMPLE AT DARASURAM : This UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE was our next stop. RAJA RAJA CHOLA TEMPLE . Shiva is Airawateshwara. Ambal is Periyanayaki. Only part of the original temple remains. You have to visit to believe this architectural marvel of Cholas over a millennium earlier. Due to the menace by miscreants, many architectural wonders like the Saptaswara tuned/singing pillars etc., are cordoned off from public view.
27. SWAMINATHASWAMY TEMPLE, SWAMI MALAI : Believed to have existed from 2nd Century BCE, this ARUPADAIVEEDU TEMPLE for Subrahmanya is where Lord Muruga, son of Shiva is believed to have imparted to His father the ‘Pranava Mantra.’ Lord Muruga stands alone here (without consorts), over 2 sets of very broad granite steps – 30 each set. But the hill is man-made. We were blessed to recite Kanda Sashti Kavasam in chorus as the abhishegam was performed.
28. KALYANASUNDARESWARAR SWAMY TEMPLE AT THIRUMANANCHERI: Temple looks ancient PADAL PETRA STHALAM so easily 1,500 years old to the minimum, but no note on architecture. We wanted to visit this temple which is believed to ‘facilitate marriages.’ Brides and grooms-to-be or the so-called singles and marriage-hopefuls were there as well as those who had come back as couples to thank the Lord and His Missus. We girls prayed for wedding bells to ring soon for our sons and daughters even in their absence. That’s the best we could do. Lord Shiva (Shiva Lingam) – Moolavar is Uthvahanathar. Ambal is Kokilambal. Blessed to have darshan of abhishegam for both. Shiva is also Kalyanasundareswarar, the happily married man here.
With that, we broke for lunch and later checked into our Mayavaram (Mayiladuthurai homestay) to refresh and change before we started on our evening tour.
Our evening at Sithalapathi aka Thilatharpanapuri was enchanting. Quaintly charming village with Goshalas (cow sheds), barns, Veda patashalas (Vedic schools) where eager and energetic ‘vidyaarthis’ learned the Vedas in pristine surroundings. We struck a conversation with one who at 12 years was ready to forsake worldly pleasures to serve the Lord. Listen: not to fight a bloody war but to serve mankind with profound spiritual knowledge and wisdom. This is why Hindu Dharma has to live. Om Shanthi! Hindu patrons please donate generously to the Veda Patashala, thank you!
29. ADHI VINAYAGAR TEMPLE AT THILATHARPANAPURI (SETHALAPATHY) : This is the rare Ganesha temple in India where Lord Ganesha is with His human head. Felt strange!
30. MUKTEESWARAR TEMPLE AT THILATHARPANAPURI (SETHALAPATHY): Where Rama performed ‘thidhi’ for His father ‘Dasaratha’ after His return from Sri Lanka before returning to Ayodhya. ‘Thil’ is ‘ellu’ in Tamil. ‘Tharpanam’ is giving ‘thidhi’ – hence the name.
31. MAHA SARASWATHI TEMPLE AT KOOTHANUR : Only temple in India for the Goddess of Learning, Knowledge and Wisdom is at Koothanur. Blessed to have had Saraswathi’s darshan. We girls presented our Mother with a white sari. We need Her blessings not only for our own children, but for all Indian children. We prayed for the nation foremost. The process of learning never stops. Saraswathi’s grace is needed forever.
32. DHARBARANYESWARAR TEMPLE AKA SANEESWARAN TEMPLE AT THIRUNALLAR : NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR SATURN (SHANI) from 7TH CENTURY CE NURTURED BY PANDYA KINGS, this temple is in Karaikal district. PADAL PETRA STHALAM . By coincidence we were there on saturday when the temple is thronged typically by devotees from all corners of India. We had a good darshan of Sani bhagwan who has a separate altar besides the presiding deity Dharbaranyeswarar (Lord Shiva). Shiva Lingam here is believed to be made of ‘dharbai.’ (a kind of dried grass). Ambal is Bogamartha Poorna. Although we could not take a dip at the holy ‘theertham’ (temple tank), we fed the cows in the Goshala and lit ironware diya with sesame oil for Sani Bhagwan.
DAY 5: APRIL 21, 2019 SUNDAY
With a heavy heart, we woke up to the last day of our whirlwind tour that we feared, initially, might not work out. Where there is will, there is way. We proved it to ourselves.
33. VAIDYANATHAN TEMPLE AT VAITHEESWARAN KOIL : A KULOTHUNGA CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 12TH CENTURY. PADAL PETRA STHALAM. NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR WORSHIP OF ANGARAKAN (SEVVAAI) (MARS)In this Navagraha (Sevvai) parihara sthalam, Shiva goes by the name Vaitheeswaran. Ambal is Thaiyyal Nayaki. Blessed to have a darshan of Angarakan abhishegam as this is Navagraha parihara sthalam for Sevvai Dosham that afflicts our horoscope/kundali. Angarakan has a separate altar here.
34. SWETHARANYESWARAR TEMPLE AT THIRUVENKADU: NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR BUDHAN (MERCURY) . PADAL PETRA STHALAM. CHOLATEMPLE . Lord Shiva in this Nagapattinam temple is Swetharanyeswarar. Navagraha pariharasthalam for Budhan/Mercury. Ambal is Brahma Nayaki. Acre of temple with three holy theerthams (temple tanks) and Brahma Samadhi and 3 sthala vriksham (holy native trees). Blessed to have a darshan of abhishegam for the elusive Spatika Lingam and also Aghora Murthy (Shiva) in His ‘ajanubahu’ human form. Gora = ugly. Aghora is handsome/beautiful. Rare temple to have Shiva in this Human form apart from as Shiva Linga. Like Chidambara Rahasyam, this temple also has ‘Nataraja Rahasyam.’ Understand that all Shiva temples where He dances in Nataraja form have this Rahasyam. Blessed to have darshan of the Rahasyam. Nandhi in this temple is ‘Utsavamurthy’ – portable.
35. KETHU TEMPLE AKA NAGANATHASWAMY TEMPLE AT KEEZHPERUM PALLAM : The last NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE that we visited was Kethu temple at Keezhperumpallam. Kethu is shadow planet with snake body and human head. Kethu dosham like Rahu dosham or what we generally refer to as ‘Naga dosham’ may delay marriage and childbirth. Blessed to have a darshan of Kethu abhishegam. All the time, ‘naga’ (snake) songs were played in ‘Nagaswaram’ by temple music band.
That brought us to a close as far as Navagraha Parihara sthalams were concerned. Not that we performed any pariharam. On our way to lunch, met with a village palm jaggery seller to whom we gave good business in Poompuhar. It was time to bid goodbye to our dear friend KC whose train to Kerala was at 4.15 pm from Karaikal station. We rounded up a couple of more temples before we called it a day on the final 5th and boarded our own mail by 11.40 late evening.
36. RAJAGOPALASWAMY TEMPLE AT ANANDA MANGALAM : The temple were Lord Rama visited became our first stop for the evening – just 4 of us now. Once upon a time, this place must have been a dense jungle, it is easy to imagine. This area is very close to Karaikal-Nagapattinam from where crossing to Sri Lanka could have been easiest, with sea narrowest. Sri Rama is believed to have visited/touched quite a few places on His route back to Ayodhya from Sri Lanka. These ancient, ageless temples retrace His steps. Rajagopalaswamy temple is estimated to be at least 1000 years old. Perumal is Rajagopalaswamy (urchavar). Moolavar is Vasudevaperumal. His consorts are Sridevi, Boodevi.
37. TRINETRA CHATURBUJA ANJANEYA TEMPLE AT ANANDA MANGALAM : Close to Rajagopalaswamy temple is Trinetra Chaturbuja Anjaneya temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman in Deer vahana, on His victorious return from Sri Lanka. Hanuman is believed to have beeen bid on a mission to ‘tie up loose ends’ by Lord Rama and He set out with the Blessings of Lord Shiva who offered Him His ‘Trinetra’ and Lord Vishnu who gave Him His ‘Chaturbuja.’ Here too a ‘Rahasyam’ is revealed, and opposite the temple is still a deer park. Once a thickly forested area, this place is now a quiet semi-urbanised village.