The conductor shouted “Thennangur” as the three of us alighted. She also got down with her suitcase. We exchanged looks as I started casually “How long is the temple from here?”, wanting to strike a conversation with her. “Not very distant. But normally a bus will ply till the temple. Seems like it will not today given the road’s condition”. We smiled at each other. Mission accomplished! “I’ve been coming here since 1989, the year when Guruji established the temple. By His grace I’ve attended every ‘utsavam’…”. “What about your accommodation mami?”. (Mami is the Brahmin way of addressing an elderly woman.) “Since I belong to the mandali I won’t have any problems. You guys can also stay with me.” ‘Lakshmi is safe’ – we smiled again. Detailed introductions filled the next five minutes of our walk. Pallavaram to Infosys to Haridos Giri… She then directed us to the Pandurangan temple and said “Have darshan. Come to the cottage. Vishalam mami’nu kelungo. Solluva!”. ‘Vishalam Mami…’
The Lord looked awesome. I was amazed to see Tirupathi sans crowd! Yes the Lord was decorated very much like Venkatachalapathy (or Lord Venky in short) of Tirumala. There was one more difference from Tirumala in the form of Goddess Padmavathy accompanying Him in all her splendour. I learnt that the Lord Pandurangan has a distinct decoration or ‘alangaaram’ everyday. The silver ‘sannidhi’ (sanctum) door and the frescos on the wall and ceiling depicting ‘Rasleela’ and ‘Dashaavatar’ were inviting. The entrance in south Indian style and the vimanam in typical Jagannath style with a flag atop, Srikanth explained, symbolises the confluence of cultures and how the Gurus have persevered for such unification.
In the distance we could hear ‘Guru Vandanam’ already starting to fill Thennangur air thanks to some amplifiers. Lakshmi made acquaintances with ‘Subbulakshmi Mami’, another mandali member, inside the premises of ‘Sodasakshari Amman Koil’. We then followed the sound waves into the ‘Ramar Koil’, the venue for ‘Seetha Kalyanam’. Ladies on one side and the Bhagavathars on the other, music was going on full swing. The mridangist and the ‘dolak’ist (!!) were seated in the centre of the ‘not-so-big’ hall. This was the opening session, Srikanth explained, in which praise is bestowed upon the numerous saints who’ve treaded and spread Bhakthi over the ages - the trinity of Carnatic music, Kabir, Sur, Gnananda Giri, Jayadev, Brahmanand, the trinity of Namasankeerthanam, Purandara Das… - the list was illustrious. One of the bhagavahars present there identified Srikanth and rightly so for the next song… A peppy abhang and 'Srikath Infosys' had already become ‘Srikanth Bhagavathar’ in five minutes of glory. “You are too good da. I’ve never heard you sing like that”, I exclaimed even as the maroon mouthed Bhagavathars (courtesy: some vigorous pan chewing!) complimented this new singer amidst them with a nod of their heads. I smiled at Lakshmi. We were proud.
“Ungala madhiri youngsters dhaan pa engalukku venum”. Balu mama (IOB Balasubramanian) that was. Any painter who wants to create a typical Brahmin in canvas can find his ideal model in Balu mama. ‘Palichnu irundhaar!’… He was our guide to the dining room. The lunch was stupendous – the typical Brahmin way. He then led us to Guruji Namaji’s ashram. The news about the new singer in Srikanth had traveled faster than light. As we were entering the ashram, Guruji’s driver came out asking “Balu mama! I learnt that some new boy sang so well today.” Cool!!! We were introduced to a Sanyasin surrounded by devotees. Namaji he was. After Sri Haridos Giri’s ‘jalsamadhi’, Namaji had taken the reins of GA trust.
Every devotee in Thennangur uttered ‘Radhe Krishna’ to greet fellow devotees. They also displayed a ‘V’ by stretching the index and middle fingers of their right hand in typical MGR style, which I learnt, symbolises the convergence of Radha and Krishna or Jeevatma and Paramatma. The ‘Namasankirthanam’ school of thought stresses on liberation through constant chanting of the various names of God accompanied by music and dance. This, expounds the school, is the easiest way to 'mukthi' or salvation in Kali yuga. There are no restrictions on the genre of music that constitutes this form of worship - Keerthanais to Abhangs to Slokams to folk - you name it…
(previous paragraph – Courtesy: Srikanth Bhagavathar!)
We unlocked room no 104 with the key Subbulakshmi mami had given us. With zero amperes flowing and mercury ever rising, I thought of checking with the people next door and stumbled across ‘Intel mama’ and his ‘barya’ from Bangalore (their son works in Intel). ‘Intel mama’ was curiosity personified attacking me with a questionnaire that included many items that you normally don’t dare ask someone you’ve just met. The manager of accommodations, another chatty mama, joined us as the conversations lit up. The manager, going by my first impressions, can talk non-stop no-nonsense on any topic. After 20 minutes I escaped Intel mama’s room (Room no 106) to reach 104 again. ‘Current pathi kekka poi current affairs ellam kettutu varen’ I exclaimed as Laks and Srikanth giggled.
(to be contd…)