Posted in Mylapore Musings

New Year From Another Age

Navasakthi Vinayaka temple in Luz is very special to me. Because it seems, my mother conceived me after praying here fervently after losing her first stillborn son in delivery. The temple then was very new. After school, she used to alight from her bus in Luz and go to this temple and then from there would walk the distance home. One of the founders of this temple was also my closest relative who I do not want to name. He is no more of course. He ran a flourishing business in Luz, Mylapore and was locally popular when he was around. Even now some business people in Luz remember him if I bring up his name.

So our relative families always gave the first abhishegam at this temple every new year day by morning 4 am. For years therefore for me, New Year day meant rising by 2 am, getting ready and walking in misty musical Margazhi morning with my family to the early morning darshan in Navasakthi Vinayaka temple. Used to starve, but everything would be over by 7 to 8 am. Then a hearty breakfast in Shanthi Vihar with entire family would follow. Even my grandparents and extended family partook in the puja and festivities on that one occasion.

I think for one particular Indo-Pak cricket match, I even prayed for India win alongwith my childhood friend Rupa. We circumambulated this temple 108 times i guess when India won!!!

We broke with this custom of New year starting with Navasakthi Vinayaka temple after my mother’s demise. My grandfather always also used to get poorna kumbha maryadha at Kandha Kottam in Mint and also at Kandaswami temple in Saidapet where also our abhisheghams would be the first at 4 am concurrently. Because of my mother, he would force himself to attend the Navasakthi Vinayaka temple new year puja not wanting to disappoint his first born daughter.

After my mother, my grandfather refused to go to Navasakthi Vinayaka. My grandma stopped praying to God totally. We switched over to Kandaswamy temple for January 1st giving Navasakthi Vinayaka a pass. By 7 to 8 am I and my sis would be given cane baskets of laddoo to distribute as prasad with our own hands in the temple. Breakfast would be at a distant relative’s place in Saidapet.

Today’s kids including mine associate New Year with fun and frolic, wine and dine. However in our families, we always started even the Gregorian new year on auspicious note only. No need to mention about how we celebrated Tamil New year.

After decades of mental block, I am now revisiting Navasakthi Vinayaka temple. Didn’t set my foot in for years and years except for a few very rare occasions. In our relatives houses, the entrance always had a big framed Navasakthi Vinayaka in black & white hanging over the front door. The temple still invokes very painful memories. I these days force myself to stop at this temple for a few minutes everytime I touch Mylapore. I want to connect back. There is some residual stubborn resistance that holds me back by a minute percentage. I am unable to give my 100% to Navasakthi Pillaiyar. This after decades. This is the power of a mother over a daughter.

Share a similar emotional bonding with Valleeshwara temple in Mylapore Market and also Shirdi Sai Baba shrine in Mylapore. Even the Kesava Perumal temple and Srinivasa Perumal temple in Chitrakulam were my regulars. As also Kola Vizhi Amma temple and Madhava Perumal temple. As for Mundagakanni Amma, I was placed in Her lap the first time my parents carried me out as a newborn I believe. Similarly I placed my son on Her lap the first time I took him out anywhere after hospital discharge on delivery. Even now I make jaggery pongal for my Amma twice an year – waiting for Thai month to go back and see Her.

In my childhood and teens, these temples used to be deserted and very ill-kempt. In Kapali temple, even in Karpagambal sannidhi, sometimes I would be alone by myself or with a friend, with not even the archaka around (about 9 to 11 am during summer hols etc). Then one day a devotee warned me that it was dangerous to be alone even within temple like that in that age. I never imagined this present kind of crowds in these temples back then. Now I feel kind of jealous that so many thousands are claiming stakes to my temples that I thought were only mine!

Sometimes I wish those days to return (wrt prevailing peace of the time only) …. Walking around Karpagamba, reading the Abhirami Andhadhi printed on Her walls loud and alone by myself or with a couple of friends with none hanging around… Those were the times… Such a stillness all around you, the way a temple must truly be…

Remember sitting with my parents and our neighbours in Kapali temple’s tank steps. In those days the tank was open to public to access and not fenced. Water level used to be decent.

In my teens, my friends and me who are very close even today would start with Valleeshwara temple, then go to Kapaleeshwara temple by back door and then walk to Sai Baba temple. One friend was in Santhome, another in RK Nagar. Me in the middle, Mylapore. We did all this on foot. Only during finishing school I and one more friend got ourselves a bicycle. Even then the cycle was mostly used by my sis. For me only Nataraja service everywhere.

The only holidays my parents took us to were Tirupathi (annually), Guruvayur, Rameshwaram, Tiruchendur, Kanyakumari. Of course on temple tour. Kodaikanal and Ooty were possible only because of my husband!

Now I have visited most temples in Chennai many multiple times – at least the most popular ones. Kaligambal was my father’s favourite as he worked in Parrys corner. I will cover the city temples later.

My thatha was also the only sort of person in those days to distribute idli packets to those seeking alms in front of Sai Baba temple as long as he lived. Now we have hundreds of good samaritans doing this service. But when he fed the poor, none else did that besides him. When he passed away, I remember going to Sai Baba temple to distribute idlis for one last time and telling the alms seekers, that the old man was no more. Some 20 of them in rags wailed out in anguish. Now food is in abundance everywhere, prasads are overflowing. I am talking about some 30-40 year back happening.

Another regular haunt was Ramakrishna Mutt in Mylapore where also my thatha was a well known person. He donated a lot for the mutt as well as the Ramakrishna mission orphanage opp Vivekananda college. Biggest chunk went to these two out of his trust. The free library was my favourite place.

Mylaporean days are like a dream now. I can’t think of children today growing up like we did in those days. What keeps some of us going is the way we were raised then. Sometimes I wonder what stopped us from raising our kids the way our parents did with us.

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