Indian Gods & British Lords

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The British ruled India for around 250 years. If folklore was to be believed, they probably had the complete blessings of our Gods to do so! Here is “evidence”, maano ya na maano!

Yeri Kaatha Ramar

Whenever I pass via Madurantakam, I remember the story my father told me. The town is famous for the Temple of Rama–which is over a 1000 years old — and a “newer” Temple of Goddess Janakavalli Thayar (Rama’s wife Sita).   But the hero of Dad’s story was not Rama or Janakavalli, but Lionel Blaze, a British Collector of the late 18th century.

Madurantakam town (and Temple) is next to a great Lake. During heavy rains one season, Collector Blaze had a serious worry. The Lake was filling up fast and if the embankments were breached, the entire town would drown. He made a quick inspection and ordered that the stone blocks next to the Rama Temple be used to strengthen the embankments. The priests of the Temple pleaded with him to repeal the order: the stones were meant for constructing another Temple for God Rama’s divine wife, Janakavalli. It was only a fund-shortage that was delaying the construction. Blaze was furious. Here he was, trying to protect the citizens from imminent destruction, and all they could think of was a new temple in the unforeseeable future! If your Gods were so great, what are they doing for you now, he asked.

YeriKathaRama

Madurantakam Temple

That night it continued to pour, and the worried Blaze was sleepless. Suddenly he saw a vision in the skies — two handsome warriors with bows & arrows: The Gods Rama and Lakshmana. They seemed to signal that they were here to protect the town and he need not worry about moving the stones. They indicated a weak spot in the bund that they wanted to be fortified. Early next morning Blaze did just that and the town was saved. So, Hindu Gods chose an Anglican Christian to reveal themselves? How politically incorrect! Blaze quickly released funds and the Goddess Janakavalli Temple was completed. The Rama Temple became popularly known as Yeri Kaatha Ramar (God Rama who saved the Lake).

Unbelievable? There is a stone edict at the Temple naming Collector Blaze as the benefactor!

Collector Munro…

The British Government had a problem. The local Indian officials at Mantralaya were reluctant to collect taxes from Raghavendra Mutt (a monastery established by Saint Raghavendra 2 centuries earlier). The collector of Bellary, Thomas Munro, was asked to sort out the matter in person. Although not a believer, he decided to follow the Hindu custom of removing his hat and footwear respectfully before entering. As he entered the sanctum, the Saint appeared in spirit, only for his eyes. He gave his blessing and made a divine request: please could you restore the endowment enjoyed by the Mutt in earlier regimes? The priests of the Mutt were shocked. How could the unbeliever get a Dharshan of the great Saint, not the devotees? That night Saint Raghavendra appeared in the Chief Priest’s dream and explained that Munro alone could solve the problem. The priests were mollified. Indeed, Munro solved the problem. He passed an order favouring the Mutt and the village.

Old wives’ tale? The Gazette order can be seen in the Archives!

MajGenMunro

Maj.Gen. Sir Thomas Munro

There is another story that Munro believed that he was cured of stomach pain by Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati Temple. He gratefully created an endowment for the daily offering of Pongal at the temple. Even today, it is offered in a vessel called Munro Gangalam. Although I have been to Tirupati I have not seen this. Perhaps some informed reader can validate this for me?

… and Governor Munro

Munro’s career peaked when he became the Governor of Madras Presidency. Before retiring to England, he took one last nostalgic trip around his beloved territory. He travelled to Cudappah and approached Gandi Hills (site of the famous Hanuman Temple).

Suddenly, as the neared Gandi, Munro turned to his native subordinates and asked them about the Golden Rope that  was tied to the hill-top like a garland. There was a hushed silence: they could see no golden garland. Finally, an elderly Indian, who knew the legend of the Golden Rope spoke. It was a mythical rope: Hanuman had tied it to the hill to indicate to Rama and Sita, that it was a comfortable place to rest on their return from Srilanka. According to tradition, only a truly spiritual man could sight it, but alas, he would die soon after.

Munro never returned to England. In the neighbouring district, he contracted cholera and died shortly thereafter. How do we know this story? Soon after his death, awe-struck locals put up a framed picture of Thomas Munro next to the pictures of Rama & Sita at the Gandi Temple. People offer their prayers to him even today!

Other amazing incidences

Robert Clive was camping at Kanchipuram, just before his battle with Chanda Sahib’s army in Arcot. At night he developed a severe illness, and the soldiers were worried. One sipahi got Theertam from the Varadaraja Perumal temple and asked Clive Sahib to pray to Him. (Also referred to in my post kanchi diary 1) Clive did so and was completely fit the next day. He attacked the Arcot fort and emerged victorious.

Clive Varadaraja

Young Robert Clive charges…                      … and Varadaraja Perumal blesses

Strange? The grateful Clive presented an expensive necklace known as Clive Maharkandi (some call it Arcot Rani necklace) which adorns the deity even today!

And the verdict is?

Perhaps these events were coincidences which were later “deified” by the Faithful? That is the “rational” explanation, right? Somehow, to my mind, the rational explanation seems incomplete. What do you think?

Notes

Maano, ya na maano = Believe it or not
Dharshan = Holy vision of God
Pongal = a rice dish
Sipahi = a native Indian soldier
Theertam = Holy water from the sanctum
I gratefully acknowledge that the photos are from various temple websites and Wikepedia.
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5 thoughts on “Indian Gods & British Lords

  1. The British had a good measure of the Indian pulse of the times. They certainly knew how to curry favor with the right people and turn it to their advantage. It was definitely an interesting relationship.

  2. Pingback: “There’s nothing to do in YERCAUD” | Kowie's Korner

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