My parents wanted to pay a visit to our ancestral temple – so that the family flourishes with health and wealth. I suspect that the other two point agenda was to pray for: (1) spectacular results for my brother next year (so that he gets into a good college); and (2) my marriage happening as soon as possible (the good Lord should somehow change my mind and allow me to agree to all their requests). I wondered if the family deity wouldn’t be confused – contradicting petitions from members of the same household? Whose wishes are to be fulfilled? The one with the most faith in the deity, or the one with the most faith in what they wish for? I can’t wait to find out.
On our way to the temple, about 275 kilometres from Chennai (may take anywhere between 5 and 7 hours depending on how many vehicles you choose to overtake), we made an emergency bathroom stop after we crossed Cuddalore. Barren land, with a big board proclaiming that we were in SIPCOT land. The security guard was nice enough to allow us to go in and ask the people residing in the guest-house if we could use their toilet. A Gujarati man answered the door and told us, By all means, please feel free, do you want some tea or coffee, why don’t you rest for some time before you start driving again. How wonderful! Pleasantries were done with, and the bathroom was used by all. GujaratiMan then starts talking to my father.
G.Man: Kya aapko Hindi maaloom hai?
Father: Haan ji!
G.Man (more enthusiastic now): Kahaan jaa rahe ho? (and other such questions)
Father: Mathur. (and proceeds to explain why we are going there, from where we are, etc.)
Looking at our family, it is obvious that we are all Tamizh, and have managed to learn Hindi owing to our stay in different parts of the country.
Father (to be polite): Aap yahaan kaise? SIPCOT mein kaam karte hain aap?
G.Man: (Some technical details involving how the Gujarat state has purchased this particular zone, and how they send their people to work here.) Mujhe ye bilkul pasand nahi. Tamil log ka soch bahut ganda hai. Ejjucated hain, par phir bhi bahut ganda hai soch.
(We are sitting right here!)
Now G.Man is unstoppable. He wants to talk more, and eloquently goes on to describe how he can’t stand the heat, the place, the people, the negligible number of people who speak Hindi, and how we will never see any progress owing to our depraved way of thinking.
(Why is he surprised that there are very few who speak Hindi?)
Father: Bahut dhanyavaad ji. Hum chalte hain.
G.Man is now offering us snacks for the road.
(No, I don’t want to eat anything he gives!)
Suddenly, I feel almost disloyal for having eaten theplas on the way here. Maybe we should have stopped somewhere and had Vennpongal and filter coffee.
The abhishegam was most excellent it seems. Everyone is wearing content looks and satisfied smiles. Our temple is dedicated to Ayyappan, who is seen here with his two wives Poorna and Pushkala. Since the temple is situated at the border of the village, there is Ayyanaar, the fierce guardian deity, with his majestic horse and two dogs. It appears as though there is a belief that stealing the Pillaiyaar from an Ayyanaar temple brings good fortune to the thief. And hence, the Pillaiyaar was stolen last year. The thief has ethics. The money remains, and so do the other idols. A new Pillaiyaar has been installed.
There is a dog which resides in the temple. This dog has kind, brown eyes, and follows you quietly. He does not like thayir sadam, but seems to love chakkarapongal. He dislikes the flavour of asafoetida, I hear. After his banana leaf containing chakkarapongal is licked clean, he settles down for a siesta. I was reminded of myself (thayir sadam and chakkarapongal are both okay, but what I like even more is taking a nap after my lunch).
We also went to a Sivan temple (Sathya Vaasagar) in the village. This temple had been in ruins, nobody has been taking care of it in the past eight decades. My father, along with some others initiated a restoration of this temple a little over a year ago. “Some others” includes a man from Dubai, who announced himself to be an ardent Sivan devotee ever since his childhood and who now sports a tattoo of Ardhanaareeswarar on his bicep. We don’t know how he came to know of the plan to restore the temple, I think he must have read the call for help which appeared in a newspaper. The temple now looks new and spruced up, but most people still use the premises to discard their plastic.
Legend has it that Kanva Maharishi was meditating at this spot, when he came upon a Lingam. He installed the Lingam and continued his prayers. When Markandeyar was in danger of being whisked away by Yama, the God of Death, he prayed to Sivan (his Ishtadeivam) and proceeded to ask Kanva Maharishi for help. Through this Sivalingam, it was divined that Markandeyar should go to Thirukkadaiyur where he will be saved. Markandeyar hugged on to the Sivalingam in the Thirukkadaiyur temple, and thus saved from death; Yama couldn’t take him away. Since the Sivalingam at Mathur had uttered the truth to Markandeyar, this deity was named Sathya Vaasagar (He who uttered the Truth). There is a shrine for Soundarya Nayaki, the consort of the Lord here. In addition, we have the usual smaller shrines dedicated to Vinayagar, Subramanian, Mahalakshmi, Chandikeswarar (one of the Nayanmars), Kanva Maharishi himself, Bhairavar and Suriyan.
When the Kumbabishegam of this temple was performed in 2013, to mark its resurrection, everybody saw a white necked eagle (or maybe a kite) descend on the temple, sit patiently, only to fly away after the ceremony. Birds of prey are a rarity in these parts. Garuda blessed us, they say. We will prosper.
I was introduced to a man, who has given up his urban lifestyle and voluntarily settled down in this village. He cannot tolerate life in a concrete jungle. He has built an ashram of sorts, for he is a devotee of Ramana Maharishi. He lives here with two other women; they all have spouses elsewhere, and children who are married. They live in this space they have created for themselves with some ferocious dogs, cows and goats. They have a well, a land on which they cultivate few crops, and free electricity (a government scheme which provides free electricity to those farmers who do not reside near water bodies). This trio has a refrigerator, a microwave oven, even an LCD television mounted on the wall in their hut. They keep telling us, It is easy to live without electricity, we should not be so dependent on it. Why then are all these appliances present?