The melting pot
I had earlier written about a South Indian Temple patronised by North Indians ( Please see The Temples of George Town -1 ). This is about another interesting community who built a popular temple in George Town.
KANDAKKOTTAM TEMPLE OF EVENING BAZAAR
Mari Chetty and Kandaswami Achari had a common passion: every month they would worship God Muruga at the Tiruporur Temple, which is about 55 Kms from Chennai. During one such pilgrimage they stopped to take a siesta. Both of them simultaneously had a dream directing them to dig an anthill nearby and retrieve Lord Muruga’s icon there. Acting on the divine command , they unearthed a 2-foot idol of Muruga, and brought it back to George Town. According to folklore, the journey was full of challenge, but Lord Muruga made it look easy. The idol became lighter (hence portable) during the journey; when they had to ford a canal in pouring rain, the waters parted way for them. (Much like the Red Sea parting for Moses!)
Indeed, the anthill legend has a factual basis.We now know that the original Muruga idol of Tiruporur Temple was hidden to prevent robbery. There was political turmoil during the reign of the Polygars and Mahrattas and robbery threats were real. The next generation soon forgot about the idol— it was left to Mari & Kandaswami to rediscover it!
…and its Fulfillment
Mari & Kandaswami built a new temple at Rasappa Chetty street near the corner of Nyniappa Naicken street. The idols were installed in 1673. Muthiyalu Naicken, a prosperous merchant of the area, donated about 8 acres of land and Mrs. Mari Chetty made a handsome donation of her jewels for the project. Later a group of Chozhia Brahmins donated the Uthsava Murty— Muthukumaraswamy.
The Beri Chettys
This part of George Town was (and is) dominated by a business community called Beri Chettys. Mari himself was a Beri Chetty. He steered the temple initially; a little before his death, he passed the baton to a council of Beri Chettys called the “Pathinenn Vaguppinar” (council of 18 members). The Community Council established by Mari still runs the Temple. Membership into the Council is an honour, so candidates fight the Council election with the seriousness of a parliamentary candidate!
The temple is always crowded due to the tremendous patronage of local businessmen. The Beri Chetty community and some local merchants have made significant contributions to this temple; so it has significant properties and runs charitable institutions. Early in the morning, one can see local merchants come to the temple with their shop keys, get the blessings of Muruga and only then open the shops. There are religious festivals almost every month .These are funded by public subscription, especially the merchant guilds. (Associations like Betel-merchants, Cashew-merchants, Indigenous-medicine merchants, Iron-mongers, Cane-merchants, Textile-dealers, Grocers etc. have a specific role in the festivities). The Vasanta Brahmotsavam festival runs for 20 days and each day the Lord is brought out in procession to various localities of the sponsoring merchant guilds and Beri Chetty donors. The procession routes are perhaps the most elaborate in the whole country!
The Saint & Social Reformer
One last story. In 1826 a little boy from Chidambaram, named Ramalingam came to live in Seven Wells sector (which is nearby). His father had just died, so elder brother Sabapathy and his wife Paapati took care of him. Sabapathy wanted Ramalingam to excel in studies; all Ramalingam wanted though, was to be in this temple. Sabapathy tried to discipline his brother, but eventually it became clear that a liberated soul needed no disciplining. He was a child-prodigy who composed several brilliant hymns in praise of Muruga and other Gods. He matured to become Vallalar Ramalinga Adigalar, the social reformer, savant and saint.
There is a separate shrine for Vallalar Ramalinga Adigalar, the most ardent devotee of this temple in the prahara.
Driving through the narrow streets of Evening Bazaar, it is easy to miss the temple. Suddenly, at the crossroad of Nyniappa Naicken & Rasappa Chetty streets the temple hits you, bang on the face. The sanctum sanctorum is almost on the road. Once you enter, you realise you have entered a rich merchants’ temple. There are 2 giant paavai-vilakkus cast in the finest detail. The walls and ceiling are lined with silver sheeting with fine bas-reliefs. The external walls have some beautiful sculptures.
I also realised that we had entered at the most auspicious time — the Paal-Abhishekam was being performed. Another devotee kindly offered us Sundal — she was practicing the brotherly love which Saint Ramalinga Adigalar preached here. Just in time too, I was really hungry!
…and the Gods to worship
Apart from the main deity, who is called Kandaswamy (Muthukumaraswamy), there are also significant shrines for his consorts Valli and Devasena (Devyani). There is also a Somaskanda (Shiva-Parvati with an infant Kartikeya seated in between) which is beautiful.
As you come out into the prahara there are shrines for the savants Ramalinga Adigalar (I already mentioned this) Arunagirinathar, Pamban swamy and Mari Chetty himself. The other side of the prahara is lined with the Arupathimoovar (63 savants) and other holy idols. As one finishes the circumambulation, there is a curious device— a panel of angular mirrors. When you face it, you can see 6 images yourself, calling attention to the Shan-Mukha, the 6-faced Muruga within yourself!
Behind the Temple there are a few more deities. Notable is the Kasi Viswanatha with his consort Visalakshi. The Visalakshi idol is placed somewhat inside the sanctum and is not visible at first sight. So they have placed a large mirror at a very precise angle so that one can see Viswantha and Visalakshi (by reflection) together.
Then I went to the Prasadam counter. Sadly, they had run out of Mysore Pak and Jangiri, but the Puliyodare and Milagu Vadai combination was just divine!
To me, the greatest surprise was the temple tank called Saravana Poigai. At the height of summer, it was brimming with water. I’m told that the tank has always been full, even during the worst droughts! A flock of ducks jumped into the pond and gentle ripples floated into the steps …..
Uthsava Murty = The (smaller) idol that is taken in procession during festivities
Prahara= Corridor surrounding the sanctum or prayer chamber
Prasadam = Food that is dedicated to God and then distributed to devotees
Paavai Vilakku= A traditional icon, in which a beautiful maiden holds a lamp that is lit
Paal-abhishekam = A ritual anointing of the Deity with milk
Sundal = A lentil dish, often prepared as an offering to the Gods
I sincerely thank MS Ravi and RS Basker (my Beri Chetty friends) for educating me on their traditions.