Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bliss as Sweet as Appam

Why fiddle in a long queue for hours,   get caught in a hooting horde, get squeezed between sweaty bods, loose your peace of mind to the disrespectful guards and the chiding priests, only to be dissatisfied with the fleeting glimpse of the deity for whom you travelled so much?  By the time you get to reach the sanctum sanctorum, if you think retrospectively, you will realize that there’s not much trace of bhakthi left, that you had reserved for the God.
[Some of my friends might argue why ever go to the temples and get into all this trouble.  And my answer is that I simply love the magic of old temples.]

Or perhaps, I shouldn’t generalize.  But this was the experience of my family when we visited Sri Rangam a few months ago.  I had just visited this temple once when I was in my fourth standard.  The beautiful island, with its majestic temple gopuram rising above the coconut sea, always used to allure me every time I crossed Trichy (Thiruchirappalli).  When a friend of us scheduled her marriage in Trichy, I thought that this is the great opportunity that I had been waiting for to do a temple tour of Trichy, Thanjavur and Kumbakonam.

Holy smoke: The Gopurams of Sri Rangam temple are tall 
and majestic.
No doubt the temple is vast and beautiful.  The layers and layers of wide praharams and the innumerable shrines of beautiful deities are so fascinating.  As much as the age of the temple and the miraculous stories that surround it, the chaste and devoted iyengars who visit the temple inspire a sense of respect for the temple and make the place even more rare and precious – as if the place has a quality that you would revere, and feel shy to touch and feel.

Those who spoiled this fantastic experience were the temple authoritie and the priests.  The authorities had some amazing rules that’ll defy the ones you can find in Catch-22.  And the pujaris were very discourteous to people who looked less affluent, while they chased the better looking ones with donation tickets.  These are worthy of a separate post.  And this state of affairs is not uncommon these  days in any big, established temples.
At the end of the day, all I remember are the broad, brilliant eyes of Ranganathar in the divine lights of the inner shrine.

Just a speck for the time bird: Kollidam as seen in Kallanai.
The very next day, I had a darshan of the God in a different place, in a more peaceful setting, with just mystical soundlessness as the background.

Divinity in simplicity: Koviladi Appakkudathan temple is 
charmingly quaint and calm.
This heart warming experience was at Thirupernagar, also called as Koviladi [the place that's just about an adi-kal distance from Sri Rangam], just about 15 -20 kms from Trichy,  on the way to Thiruvaiyyar.

To give further indications to its location, Koviladi is on the way from Trichy  to Thirukkattupalli [a slightly better known Shaivite town and should be even better known for people who have read Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan].
The route itself is scenic [at least in early summer!] and courses through the rich Thanjavur delta of paddy fields and criss-crosses the great Kollidam, river.  It passes through the Grand Anaicut or Kallani, the great reservoir on Cauvery, built by the early Cholas.  One gets to see how the river is part and parcel of everyday lives of people here.
In Koviladi, Lord Vishnu, reclines in his Adisehsa bed, as he does in Sri Rangam.  He’s known by the name Thiru Appakkudathan or Appala Ranganathan.  The name follows from this story: 

A king once was cursed by the Sage Dhurvasa and to be liberated, was asked to feed a lakh people at this kshetram.  One day, when the king was engaged in such an annadhana, Lord Vishnu came to him, disguised as a Brahmin.  The Brahmin consumed all the food that had been prepared.  When the perplexed king, asked the Brahmin, what could suppress his hunger, the Brahmin said that a pot (kudam) of appam would do the miracle.  So the king did, and lo his curse was removed.  Lord Vishnu showed himself and continued to reside in this temple. To this day, appam is offered to the Lord as neivedhyam.

It is also considered the place where Sage Markandeya was blessed by Lord Vishnu and was relieved of the curse of dying at the age of 16.  The sage can be seen at the feet of the Lord in the shrine.  It is also considered the place where the Lord squashed Indra's pride.
In the shrine, one can partake the Lord, in his full glory, from head to feet, without the disturbance from the chiding priests and the impatient crowd.  The Lord is charming and could be seen resting his right hand on a silver pot, which is meant to be the pot of appams.   The Lord is accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi, known as Kamalvalli.
The fallen God: The temple though was undergoing renovation, 
lacks maintenance
The young bhattar (priest) at the temple, explained the thalapuranam (the story of the place) in clear, detailed manner.  He sang several pasurams on the presiding deity, in his golden voice and charmed us with his sincerity and devotion to the temple.  I forgot his name, but I think it could be Srinivasa Bhattar (as I see in this blog).

The experience was divine and I felt that the temple gave the devotee what he really intends to get from such a place – mind at ease, heart at peace.

Despite such a fantastic experience, it could be seen that the temple doesn’t attract many pilgrims.  Though the temple was getting renovated at the time we visited and was soon about to see its khumbabishekam, it could be seen that it was not well maintained.  Or rather, it couldn’t be well maintained, either due to lack of funds, or manpower, or both.

And this makes me ask all those questions that you see in the first paragraph.  I wonder why we throng over-crowded, ‘popular’ temples, while ignoring such great places.  Looks like, these days (or for that matter, any day), even Gods and temples need advertisements.

Nevertheless, for those who seek a closer, more personal encounter with divinity, I suggest that you visit Koviladi.

Follow this route to Koviladi:

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