My feet didn’t suffer much this time, thanks to the newly laid road… the rugged stretch on which I had walked 7 months back, I realised, had depicted almost an entirely different Thennangur villagescape. That was my first visit to this pretty hamlet. But then, the pathway that I treaded was not the only difference between my two visits. There was more… this time there was no Srikanth, no Lakshmi, no Vishalam mami, no Seetha Kalyanam… My memories rewound as I ambled towards my destination.
Earlier, the 2 hour ride along the Chennai – Uthiramerur - Vandavasi highway didn’t offer anything exciting, more so with the chill gusts forcing me to shut down the window for most part of the journey, leaving me with my ipod and a small nap. The last half an hour of the journey, though was interesting, with me making acquaintances with my fellow traveller, a Vandavasi villager. A farmer by profession, he was returning from Madras after having visited his sons, both of whom have been lured by the city and its luxury, thereby leaving their father as the last man in their lineage to spill sweat drops on farmlands. I requested him to alert me when my stop comes. He undertook this job with much dedication, so much so that he started giving me so many details on things like the total time it will take to reach the place, what I should do when I get down, how famous the temple is and why I should’ve come there 2 days back when some festival was underway and lots of other information. He in fact repeated these things so many times thereby confirming my doubts on his impressions about ‘dumb city dwellers’ who can’t help themselves much in these places without assistance. Having spent my entire 25 years in the hustle and bustle of city life where the same situation would have generated not even 10% of this man’s response, I found his behaviour rather amusing and interesting at the same time.
Travelling alone, with due respect to the diverse experiences of group travelling, has its own bunch of advantages. For one, the pleasure of one being entirely with oneself gives that sense of freedom to experiment things. One will have loads of time to explore and spoil oneself that extra bit. And there I stood, all alone, on the pathway, Sodaasakshari Amman Koil to my left, Pandurangan koil to my right and GA trust to my back. GA trust, founded by Swami Haridoss Giri and now run by Guruji Namaji, I learnt has been, to a great extent, instrumental in preserving the temples of this village. It was around 9:00 in the morning and the tourist crowd had not started flowing yet. I had always enjoyed the experience of calm empty temples than crowded festive ones. The lord here is decorated distinctly everyday, ranging from the Dwaraka Krishna make-up to the Tirupathi Venkatachalapathy make-up, symbolising the confluence of the diverse worship cultures in this holy land. During my last trip and also this time, I was treated with the ‘Lord Venky’ adornment. I quickly recognised the paatti clad in sungudi, running her finger tip over the Sanskrit verses in that bulky book, Bhagavatham I guess. She was the one who was regulating the flow and discipline of devotees even during my last visit. “Baniyan’aa avuthuttu pongo.. sonna kaadhula vizhaadha?” – she remarked, briefly pausing her recital. I was curious to talk to her and know more about her association with Thennangur, but was afraid to, lest she refuse to acknowledge me. After the bunch of devotees who had returned fresh from Sabarimala vacated the Sanctum, I entered, carefully making sure I remove my Kurta and baniyan and put it into my bag else the paatti wouldn’t spare me.
The Lord, as usual, was at His exquisite best. The embellishment, replicating Tirupathi to the hilt, amazed me. I’ve to accede to the fact that He is one god who has received the best Alangarams ever, be it the Tirupathi Moolavar or the Brahmotsavam Urchavar or this Thennangur hero – He is posh! Goddess Padmavathy, with silver embellishments shining all over Her, accompanied Him in all splendour. Lakshmi’s friend and well-wisher (J), the Gurukkal, was there but it was his new assistant who performed the archanai and aarthi this time.
‘Iyer theru’, as the locals call it, the lane adjacent to the temple, houses the Meenakshi Sundareswarar koil. This, unlike many other Sivan temples in Tamil Nadu, was not abject and totally neglected but still the attention that Pandurangan received was, I felt, a lot more than what Mr.Sundareswarar got. The desertion was evident in the lone pair of slippers outside the temple walls, even as I added on to the count by leaving mine and entered in. The silence was inviting and the Lord majestic. A quick ‘pradarshanam’ and aarthi and I left the Sivan koil only to meet Mr.Perumal just outside the temple. Perumal, a maistry residing in the same lane, seeing my digicam, requested for a snap, though his friend was not interested. “How will you get the snap? It’ll be with him only. So what is the use.”, he queried. They posed and I adjusted the frame.. click… I promised to deliver the hard copy on my next visit. His friend smiled.
As I walked further, I passed the hut that made me envious of Thennangur during my last visit. I curiously looked into it to find the old man lying on his cot, as usual. This old man, I noticed during both the days of my first visit, was lying in his cot forever gazing at the sky. He was, according to me, the embodiment of defiance to the very concept of running and catching that I and so many of us are doing – study, work, earn… how much of a difference does all this actually make? Maybe this old man has also done all this but then this picture of he lying in the cot, enjoying the stars and the moon forever, unmindful of the organisms and things around him... this is where everyone ends up doing – nothing. “Radhe Krishna! Where are you from?” - a mami in sungudi broke my philosophical shell.. “Radhe Krishna! Chennai.”, I replied. I learnt that she was based from Mumbai but had come here with her husband to stay for sometime until her son returns from ‘foreign’. She lauded the place, the food and the care Thennangurvaasis show on them. I was impressed.
‘Lakshmi Narayanar koil’ – a memory that will be etched in my mind for a long time… the hall where ‘Santh padaachi Saadhu padaachi..’ (if I remember those words right..) resonated, much to the amazement of the devotees, bestowing Bhagavatharship on Srikanth within minutes... Last time around… Srikanth, Lakshmi and I had joined the ‘Seetha Kalyanam’ festival just then and Srikanth volunteered to sing this song and that moment made us famous all over the village. The two days of Naamasankeerthanam, studded with divine performances, is something for which I’ll thank my good friend forever.
Flashback - the Bhagavathars were singing the 12th Ashtapadi when I left the temple for a brief period, just to stretch myself a bit. I took a stroll and found myself gazing at the enormous expanse of paddy fields in front. The very sight of such vast greenery wow’ed me and I vowed that day to return to this place sometime in the future. This second visit of mine had that hidden agenda as well of fulfilling this very vow and I quickly left for the fields. This time the sight was even more pleasant, thanks to the impending harvesting season. I sighted some toiling farmers in the distance. Most of the paddy was grown and ready for harvest and so were the sugarcanes. I walked into the fields to find two small girls with their cow. Aruna and Pramila are in the 8th and 5th grade respectively and today being a Saturday, they’ve been entrusted with the task of feeding their cow with some high quality farm grass. After chatting with them for a while, I captured them into a jpeg and promised them of a delivery the next time around.
The sun had sunk into the cumulus for quite some time, giving me the prefect setting to find a place in the tranquil fields and recline. The paddy blades hustled every now and then, orchestrating with the vibration of the hovering bee and the song of the distant cuckoo turning the place into a mini music studio. The smell of ploughed land combined with the paddy and cane filled my nostrils. “Oxygen can’t get purer!”, my lungs exclaimed. I plugged in my ipod and pampered myself with a playlist dedicated to the ‘O.S.’es - O.S. Sundar and O.S.Arun. ‘Momujupara’ in Behag, my latest crush, wouldn’t have found a more appropriate ambience to enter my auditory canal. ‘Sumiran Karle…’, ‘Hari Hari…’, ‘Kamala nayana…’, ‘Krishnanaama…’ – Oh Yes! I felt as though I was lost forever!
11:15 AM and I headed towards the Mutt for some annadhaanam. I stumbled across a familiar face and greeted “Radhe Krishna”. It was the mama who takes care of the ‘Veda Paatasaalai’ run by GA Trust. He too faintly remembered my face and when I revealed that I had been there during Seetha Kalyaanam, he asked instantly “Paatellaam paadiniye.. needhaana adhu?”.. “Adhu naan illa maama. En friend Srikanth. He’s now in the US.”, I replied with my head high. After exchanging few words, he enquired “Annadhaana hall enga irukkunu theriyumono? Po po.. seekaram po.. Radhe Krishna.”
A sumptuous annadhaanam forced me back to the fields for some more time pulling me back from my thought of a return journey. This time I ventured further into the fields and found a place in front of high canes that protected my slumber from the sun. 2:30 – I started reading ‘The sages of India’, Swami Vivekananda’s Madras discourse when some farmers passed by discussing about snakes. I asked casually “Inga kooda paambu ellaam irukkuma?” A young girl replied quickly with a smile “Irukkum.. neenga paduthirukkingale.. adhukku pinnaadi kooda irukkum.. odi poidhunga seekramaa..”
The 6-7 hours that I spent at Thennangur increased the already countless unanswered whats, whys and hows in my mind. The experience, nevertheless, was blissful filling my mind with a mix of divinity, delight and nostalgia… a weekend that neither Satyam Cinemas, Marina beach nor Citi Centre can ever think of providing!
(When I wrote my first essay on Thennangur I mentioned in the footer ‘to be contd...’ I somehow was not able to write the concluding part. Pandurangan made me do it this time. Radhe Krishna!)
some captured memories here...