Monthly Archives: September 2020

It Happened Here At Srirangam!

Srirangam, temple town, a UNESCO Heritage site – Credit: TOI

Was it the end for me vis-à-vis Srirangam? The last of our relations, a dear uncle, sold his huge ancestral house and moved to Chennai. Many in the family always found the house to be a delightfully hospitable base in Srirangam for visiting the huge and holy temple of Lord Ranganatha, besides enjoying the time with my uncle’s affectionate folks.

Strictly speaking, it was not so. A cousin-sister of mine I’m fond of is also living in Srirangam. And, topping it all, very fortuitously our son-in-law happens to hail from Srirangam!

So the connection endures!

Though my cousin would be more than happy to put us up for a few days, during the last couple of visits we chose to stay, with grateful thanks, in our sambandhi’s house, presently unoccupied, equipped with all basic amenities for a comfortable stay, also conveniently located not too far from the temple.

It is a different world out there. No TV, no newspapers or mags, no malls, no traffic snarls, abutting houses, sittng squat, lining the broad streets – trodden by Azhvar’s, Acharya’s and other holy men for over a thousand years – with an occasional vehicle passing by. Can’t remember ever seeing a traffic light in the inner parts of the town. What one sees most are pilgrims – simple folks, their faith unequalled – on the bustling main street rushing towards the temple or leisurely making their way back to their parked buses, happy over their accomplishment, some stopping for coffee and snacks in chotu eateries and some looking to buy mementos from the shops.

Our routine was to set out in the morning by 8-30, have a nice south-indian breakfast at Madappalli served on banana leaf and hasten to join the queue for free or paid darshan at the main sanctum. In about 60 to 90 minutes, we would be (pushed) out after a mere precious minute or two before the Lord.

Achieved big, we would now proceed to have darshan of His consort, at Her own temple located within the same complex.

On the way to and back we would also go to a number of smaller shrines set on the inner perimeter of the huge complex. They are too numerous, some 50+, to be covered all in one visit.

We would return to our place by 12 or 1 noon, thoroughly exhausted, not failing to appreciate the sculptures to be found all around – so much so I was once taken for an antique smuggler looking for a good pick!

Credit: Mickey Stephanie
Credit: Steve Allen

Lunch would be again at Madappalli or it would be prasadams of tamarind or curd rice bought at the temple.

Resting for a couple of hours and finishing some chores, we would set out again by about 5, this time for a shorter visit. On some evenings we made it to any of those other temples outside the complex, of comparable vintage, some well outside Srirangam reached by town bus or on hired transport.

A routine we repeated every day of our stay, not getting bored one bit, not wanting anything else. Who cared what happened to the world outside?

**

The small shrines unfortunately draw only a handful of devotees unlike the bigger ones. Some of them, not readily accessible from the circumambulatory pathway fare even worse – you’ll find them only if you go looking for or you have vowed to visit every shrine in the complex.  

We were told – not verified – the archakars (priests) in charge are paid very meagre salary; nothing at all according to some. They are sent some prasadams from the temple kitchen. Otherwise they are left to survive on the plate collection.

We also heard these shrines were at one time scattered all around Srirangam. During the times of invaders – 15th/16th century – overrunning the town, these were relocated inside the temple complex, but managed by the original owners. Even today some of them are in the hands of their descendants.

Be that may, these archakars remain as poor country cousins of those serving in the larger temples of the complex.

For our part, I took care to carry wads of ten-rupee notes for offering at least a tenner every time we went to a shrine during our stay. Admittedly a mere flea-bite, but that was as far as I could stretch given the numerous places to visit over the days.

In our visits, one particular shrine and its archakar, R, caught our attention. In his forties, I guessed, he came across as a guile-less person who went about with simple sincerity attending to those few devotees who came in from time to time for darshan. His non-hustling ways moved me to break the norms and offer at the least a hundred every time we went to his shrine, making it as often as we could.

One day, he was not at his station. I made inquiries and learnt about his antecedents. He had left his job elsewhere, coming here at someone’s request. Presently he was away attending to a sick wife – they were childless. Felt sorry for him. Luckily, he returned in a couple of days – he was his usual busy self with no hint of his troubles, giving the opportunity I yearned to offer a more substantial sum on the plate. But all I had on my person at the instant, sadly, was not more than a couple of thousands to give.

Don’t know how it is with you folks, paucity of funds and a sense of spending over the budget are never felt more acutely than when I’m travelling.

May be if I had his bank details, I could help him with more on returning to my base, I thought. This did not happen for some reason I’m unable to recall.

We left Srirangam – and R – as always with a heavy heart, returning to the world we knew and lived.

**

Fast forward a couple of years.

A few weeks ago, was chatting with Rag now at peace with life after making far more than a pile in his business in Chennai, philanthropy presently his main preoccupation.

He was sharing with me how, in this time of pandemic, he was helping with funds some staff serving the Lord and His temple at the Srirangam day-in day-out from close.  Why Srirangam? Well, Rag was born and brought up here.

‘Does that mean you visit the place often?’

‘No, it is all done sitting in Chennai thru my contacts. Why, you want anything from there? Tell me, I can arrange.’

With guilt and shame, I must admit, at the mention of Srirangam, instead of Lord Ranganatha, R popped up in my head.

That’s when I told him about R. And I was curious to know how he was doing and if he was clear of his troubles.  

Rag knew lots of people, not R. No issues, he said. He would find out from the sketchy details I had given him.

I left it at that.

**

A couple of days later, Rag told me he had located R thru his contacts. A sum of Rs 10,000 was personally handed over to him by his contact. And here was a snapshot of him.

I was aghast.  Felt guilty and happy at once.

Guilty for causing, though unwittingly, an expense by no means a trifle, to Rag. ‘No bother,’ he assured me magnanimously.

And happy for R. So what if I was not the one who did the good deed.

To think Rag did it unsolicited on a mere casual inquiry! Bless him – he had not even met R and knew nothing about him…Strange indeed are the ways of the Lord in helping His.

Well, I consider myself no less blessed, for good Rag is my cousin! Not all with money are rich, not all without are poor,as they say!

End

Raya Asked A Question…A Story For The Young And Old

Part 1

One day Emperor Krishna Deva Raya (of Vijayanagar empire, 1509-29), aggrieved by a recent loss of a dear relative, fell into a spell of serious introspection: ‘What is the most important lesson in life to be learned?’

He knew there would be many answers to his question. So he decided to hold a sadas – like today’s conferences, it’s a forum, practiced even today, for enriching discussion and debate, not necessarily competitive – of learned pundits from near and far.

On the appointed day, the Royal Court quickly filled up.

Tenali Raman was also present…

Hey, wait a minute, a mere court jester, he’s no way a pundit qualified to be part of this assembly.

 …bringing along a guest of his, a guru, not widely known outside his circle.

Sadas commenced with a brief introduction from Raya, followed by the Raja Guru (chief guru of the Royal Court) explaining the protocols and rules. The floor was thrown open to the participants.

The learned pundits from the assembly presented a variety of thoughts and theories drawing heavily from the veda’s, upanishad’s, purana’s and epic’s. Probing questions were raised and answered. Theories dissected and interpretations offered. A parade of knowledge and a veritable feast for the intellect.

A couple of hours passed thus and finally it seemed all who came to speak had been heard and the sadas ready for closure.

That’s when the Raja Guru requested Tenali’s guest to also contribute to the proceedings. Tenali too entreated him to share his views on the subject. 

The guru obliged.

Part 2

At the podium, he requested for and got a bunch of samit’s (short sticks of wood usually from peepal tree offered to agni, the fire-god in homam’s and three chords of adequate length.

The audience was intrigued.

A volunteer from the audience was asked to come up. He had to take a bunch of samit’s and tie them tightly up into a bundle at two places near the center, a few inches apart, using the two chords. The free ends of the chords were nipped close to the knots, offering no grip at all and the knots themselves not easy to undo.  Now the bundle was ready.

He invited anyone from the audience to step up. He had to pull a couple of samit’s free from the bundle without tampering the two chords in any manner or breaking any samit. It meant the samit’s had to come out, if at all, through the edges of the bundle.

When one of them tried with all his might, the samit would not slide out. Reasons: the bundle tied tight held the samit in its place, no good grip available on the samit to pull it out and the small protrusions on the samit snagged on one chord or the other preventing its sliding out.

More tried…without success.

Clearly now it was left to the guru to come up and show…

Part 3

He did. He took the third chord and right at the center between the other two chords he wound it around the bundle more than once, making it a wee bit tighter than others. A knot was not even needed. The chord crunched the samit’s together a little more than before, of course without breaking. This had the effect of loosening a little bit the other two chords riding either side on the bundle…allowing them to slipped out free over the edges. With them out of the way the third chord was simply unwound to free up the entire bunch!!

Jaws dropped in the audience.

“It is actually very simple like this bundle of samit’s. For lasting peace of mind and meaningful happiness, there must be, for everyone, a philosophy of life, ideally structured around a single higher purpose or objective worth striving for – could be based on dhaana, (charity), ahimsa (non-violence towards all sentient), bhakti (devotion), community service or anything else one (or the group) chooses, usually dictated by one’s dharma (simply, the ‘done’ thing for one’s group), guru followed, family tradition, law of the land or learned wisdom. Regard this chord tightly wound at the center as representing the same. All activities and sub-goals in one’s life must be touched by, subordinated to, strongly held together by this single objective like the chord does to the samit’s.  Faced with it, all other bonds in life slip off like it happened to the chords on the sides. The entire energy of life is focused on just that one purpose, none wasted. No duvidha (confusion of choice or priorities). That’s all there to it.”

“This, I submit, is the most important lesson in life to be learnt.”

He returned to his seat.

It took a little while for the awe-struck audience to collect their wits and give him the ovation due to him.

They were quite impressed at his cleverness in using very dramatically a mere bundle of samit’s as a model for putting forth, on a complex question, his views which seemed to make good sense at first glance. Also they were at once both unhappy and happy; unhappy because a specific philosophy, school of thought or a higher objective not being prescribed as the solution – it meant they had to exercise their grey cells, find and fashion it all by themselves; and, paradoxically, happy because it was entirely left to an individual’s choice or a collective volition. They agreed the profundity of what was said needed to be followed up with much more serious contemplation.

The sadas was declared closed.

With a lot on his plate to sift, select and digest, Raya sought a follow-up meeting with the guru.

End

Source: Inspired by a post in some aanmeega forum (cannot recall)

Images from Pinterest, amazon.in