Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thiruvalangadu and Pazhayanur heritage trip!

The heritage trip for the month of July on 29th, Sunday, was conducted for 10 members who had come amidst busy work. Mr. Rajavelu, epigraphist and historian of Archeological Department accompanied us, as his favourite place for mosty of his research work seems to be Thiruvalangadu. We first went to Thirumullaivoil temple in the outskirts of Chennai city. This has Pallave inscriptions even on the wall, and the Chola inscriptions as expected around the Gajabrushta Vimana. This is also a Paadal petra sthalam (sung by the Nayanmars).

Next stop was Thirupaasur, another Paadal Petra Sthalam (sung by the Nayanmars). The sthala vruksha here is Bamboo. New member Pratheep who had visited this temple many a times, used to rue the bad condition of this temple. Surprise, is that some HR&CE guy had woken up, had made proper roads to reach this temple, cleaned a bit and had lit the praharams. With some white wash and name boards, the temple is now approachable and tidy. The Swami's name is Pasupatheeswarar and the amman is PasupatheswariBefore Thiruvalangadu, we had I am rewriting with inputs from a travelogue of one Lakshmi Srinivasan, who had written in her blog some years before.

Thiruvalangadu is a 90-minute drive from Chennai on the Arakkonam route.

Legend tell us about a lingam which was found in the banyan forest, and came to be worshipped by the celestials. They were interrupted by a reign of terror unleashed on them by two demons. They were the insatiable creatures... consuming everything, ever hungry. Shiva came to the help of the celestials. He sent Kali to tackle the fierce creatures. Eight armed, with 16 potent weapons, she descended from Kailash. Blood flowed as she went to war. But, the demons multiplied with each drop of blood that touched the earth. Kali turned to Shiva. He gave her a vessel (kapaalam), to collect the blood. Not quite knowing what to do to prevent even a drop from spilling, she drank the lot. Demonic blood, transformed her, and she went on the rampage attacking everything in sight. The gods appealed again to Shiva. You must come, they said, to humble Kali.

Kali, on seeing Shiva, challenged Him to a dance duel. The celestials built a stage, amidst the thick groves of the forest, by a gleaming pool of water. It is there even today, a beautiful kulam (tank), second in size only to the famous Kamalalyam in Thiruvarur. The two danced like thunder and lightning. Kali matched Shiva, step for step. He then let fall his left ear ring to the ground and in a flourish, picked it up with his toe, tossed it high in the air, and eventually restored it to His ear. With that single breath-taking movement, when the kinetics of dance reached an ultimate crescendo, Kali was humbled, for she could not match it.This dance scene is well immortalized also in the two 20 feet statues in Meenakshi Temple opposite swami Sannidhi Outer prahara.
Tamed thus, Kali restored order in the forest, and for ever afterwards, celestials, saints and ordinary mortals have worshipped Shiva in this sacred spot. But not before making an appeasing visit to Kali's shrine by the sacred waters.
This is the dance that Karaikkal Ammayar saw. She transformed herself into a scary old hag, roamed the forest and was mistaken for a demon. She was left in peace to do her penance. She walked on her head to see the dance of eternity. Other saints who followed her to the same spot were hesitant to set foot on the sacred earth which her head had touched.

Manickavasagar, Sundarar, Thrignanasambandar.... they all sang in full-throated devotion. But none sang with the fierce passion of a woman, shorn of beauty, her toothless smile her adornment. Karaikkal Ammayar eventually saw the dance of Shiva in a forest of banyan trees (Thiru Aalam Kadu - Thiruvalangadu). We see her as an exquisite bronze image, her matted locks crafted as intricately as the Egyptian coiffure of Cleopatra. She sits at the feet of the awesome figure of Shiva in His Urdhva Tandava pose. The Natya Shastra describes this dance where one leg is lifted vertically as if the the toes are stretching to touch theclouds. Camphor lights up the dark recesses of the temple to show us this mysterious couple, the dancer and the devotee.

SIXTY-three saints sang in ecstasy about Shiva, travelling through jungles, over mountains, down rivers, unmindful of personal hazards, until they had a vision of His dance. They then crossed over to another world, another realm, an afterlife, which promised an eternity of seeing the dance of their Ishta Devata (god of their personal desire). Their souls continued to sing and soar in ecstasy. One among them is immortalised in exquisite sculpture adorning temples in Tamil Nadu, Bali, Java, and even Cambodia. Karaikkal Ammayar, the saint - poetess sits at the feet of dancing Shiva, clinking her cymbals to punctuate the rhythm of an endless dance.

Karaikkal Ammayar's story in the Periapuranam - the magnum opus by author Sekkilar, is brief. She is born in Karaikkal, as Punithavathi, who miraculously produces the most delicious mangoes for her merchant husband. He quickly realises that her devotion for Shiva does not allow her to be a dutiful wife, and releases her from the bondage of marriage. She, a free woman, wanders in search of the vision of the Lord's dance. Today, pilgrims to Karaikkal celebrate a unique festival, throwing ripe mangoes in the air as the deity is taken in procession, nearly 1500 years after Punithavathi lived there.

The Kali temple besides the temple tank, is one which we missed to see. Here, I heard, the goddess is pre-eminent, and devotees from time immemorial, have acknowledged her power. Women particularly, pray for favours at Her shrine which is modest.People cook in the yard outside, and prepare oil lamps made of lemon skins to offer Kali. What I read on this Kali is repeated here..."... Hidden beneath the flowing red skirt adorning the oily black stone image are the feet of Kali, firmly planted on the ground, with the bells of a dancer around Her ankles. This is the sacred spot where she was defeated by Shiva in a dance contest. Her face is turned upwards as if she is seeing a shooting star. She was actually gazing in awe at the feet of Shiva which had touched the clouds. The contest was seen by celestials, demons and creatures of the forest, and the saints who had walked on their heads to be worthy of such a treat.

The most ancient legend has it that, Bharata Muni and his spouse Subhadra prayed in this Thiruvalangadu village for progeny, after taking bath in the Puthrakameshwarar teertham inside the temple, where the main deities are Puthrakameshti Lingam, Vatavaranyeshwarar and Vandarkuzhali Nayaki (Goddess Parvati). Other shrines for which this temple is famous are: Erattai (twin) Vinayakar - one of them very ancient and the one next to it called Puthra Santhana Pillaiyar, believed to be installed by Bharata Munivar. It is said that as an answer to the prayers of Bharata Munivar and his wife, Goddess Parvati took birth as their child. As a human being, she performed pujas to a Lingam in the nearby village of Kutralam to unite with Lord Siva as His consort. To this day, childless couples come to this shrine of Puthrakameshti Lingam and the belief is that they are blessed with progeny. Another note worthy shrine in this village temple is Jwaraharesharar who is prayed for the speedy cure of common ailments like fever.

Banyan is the sacred tree, Sthala Vriksha as it is called, for this pilgrim centre. This village is famous for its annual Panguni Uthiram festival, celebrated in March-April. `Swasti Vachanam' recited by Vedic pandits, initiated by Natesa Dikshitar of those days, used to be one of the highlights during this festival. There is also a shrine for Lord Murugan and his two Consorts - the deft hand of the sculptor who made them is evident from the wonderful workmanship. Lord Murugan is on a peacock frame, adorned and enclosed in an arch like form - a sight worth to see.

Subramania Gurukkal, the present Sivacharya looking after the daily routines of the temple, has the distinction of his immediate predecessors having had the divine grace of the presiding deities of this temple - the grace appears to be passing on from one generation to next without break which explains the steadfast devotion of the family to this temple. Endless saints have sung on the Thiruvalangadu Vadaaranyeswarar.

Other than those mentioned above, Pattinathaar, Arunagirinathar, Kachiappa Sivachariar, Paamban Swamigal have sung hymns of this Lord and his dance on this "Rathna Sabai".Rajavelu took us was a pre-historic megalithic Dolmen cyst burial stone monument in Pazhayanur itself!

What is surprising is that normally such sites are seen in hillocks or near riverbeds, but this is a rare find where the stone is on road level! It seems the Palayaar was the extinct river in this area and so the remanants of an ancient river bed is this Dolmen cyst site. These are burial monuments and a sure sign of ancestoral habitat. This site he said is supposed to be atleast 3,500 years old!

Pazhayanur has another thriller story to be heard!
The famous Pazhayanur Neeli story!
A married merchant while travelling in Kasi city, marries another beautiful girl, loving her at first sight. He along with his new wife and her brother come back to his village near Pazhayanur. On reaching his village, the merchant remembers his earlier wife and fears for showing his new love to her. Without hesitation, he takes his brother in law to a nearby pond and drowns him. When his new wife enquires about her brother, the merchant takes her to the pond acting as if they are out for search, unabashedly kills the new wed wife too in the same pond.

The dead woman comes out as a wandering spirit (Neeli in tamil), and carrying the brother' ghost as her kid, follows the merchant. The merchant nearing his village, crosses Pazhayanur. Night falls and the merchant had to take rest. The Velaazhars (today's merchant community) of Pazhayanur are known for their wisdom and integrity. They welcome the guest of their village, feed him and request him to take rest there and go to his native the next day.

The "Neeli", the ghost appears in the disguise of his true wife along with the kid (ghost too,of course) and requests before the Village heads that the merchant had ignored her and is running away from her. She pleads with them to unite them. The merchant knows very well that there is no chance of his wife appearing at that spot, fearing the worst, refuses to have the woman with him.The guests are intrigued and ask the merchant to have his wife and kid with him that night, in the same room, as it was already late night. Neeli, the ghost is smart and asks the village headmen to make her husband remove the sacred knife he carries along to thwart evils, saying that it is disgusting that a man does not even believe his own wife and carries a sword! She also adds that she fears for her life and that of her kid, that this man may kill them when they are fast asleep! Seeing her sob and narrate a pathetic story, the village head men believe her and order the merchant to have her in his room.

The village head men 70 of them, the Velaazhars back the Neeli for staying with the merchant. With no other choice, the merchant agrees, but asks guarantee for his life. The village heads (63 of them) promise that if something untoward happens to the merchant, they will also perish themselves, jumping into the fire, before the Shivalinga of Pazhayanur!And as expected, the worse happens! The neeli kills the merchant, throws away the ghost kid on her way backto hell besides, crushes the kid ghost beneath her feet and disappears! The village headmen, on seeing the gory death of their guest, feel they are responsible for his death. plunge into the big fire before the Shivalinga! One head man who is left out, is again called by the Neeli, (taking the form of the wife of the headman himself!), asking him why he is alone here, while the others have jumped to death, to keep up their promise! The headman, was ploughing the field by then. Hearing that his bethren have perished, slays his heda off with the plugh edge and suicides himself to keep up the promise!

The place of their death, the Satchibudeswarar Shivalinga and the temple where the oath was taken, are still seen in this village! The very site which witnessed this story of courageous village headmen, who kept their promise to uphold their promise and village law, also the place where the Neeli crushed the ghost kid, all are seen still today!

A memorial is built in the place where the village head men jumped to death, and was opened for common public by the Chief Justice of Madras High Court! The three kings, Chera, Chola and Pandya have sung in praise of this sacrifice, so had sung the mystic poets Sekhizar, Thirugnana Sambandar and Umapathi Sivam! So much for keeping up promises, those days!!

In Tamil, there is a hymn sung by the Saint Thirugnanasambandar explaining this story as well as Sekhizaar in his Periya Puranam narrates this story elaborately. This shows the temple is of sangam age.

The tamil quote:-பழையனூர் பேயை நினைத்து திருஞானசம்பந்தர் தம் பதிகத்தில் "முனை நட்பாய் வஞ்சப்படுத்தொருத்தி வாணாள் கொள்ளும் வகைகேட்டு அஞ்சும் பழையனூர்" என்று குறிப்பிடுகிறார். சேக்கிழாரடிகள் தம் நூலில் பழையனூர் நீலி கதையை விரிவாகக் கூறியுள்ளார்.

Also, the three saivaite saints who wanted to worship the Shiva of Thiruvalangadu, stop at Pazhayanur, claiming that it is a sin if they tread on the Thiruvalangadu soil on which Karaikkal Ammayar walked on her head to attain Shiva moksha! This Pazhayanur Kailasanathar temple is in ruins, with trees grown on the vimanam and the stone inscription becoming the stepping stone for the nearby well, tells us the gory nature of the temple. The stone inscriptions you see on your right side, is made as a stepping stone to the temple well! What a bad sight!

Few farming families still visit this temple, as they say it is their family practice generations together to come to Kailasanathar temple for any occasion.Contributions, toward renovation, can be in the form of DD, Cheque can be sent to REACH FOUNDATION, payable at Chennai.Thanks to member Karthic who had taken the photos shared in this travelogue.

Friday, August 10, 2007

One day symposium on heritage temples

The one-day symposium conducted by R.E.A.C.H FOUNDATION on 05th August 2007, for the “Heritage Wardens” (Temple Cleaners @ Uzhavarapani Groups in Tamil),at the Tattvãloka Auditorium at Eldams Road, Teynampet, had an overwhelming representation and response, that people from far flung places like Thiruchendur, Thiruvannamalai, Tranquebar @ Tharangambadi, Kumbakonam, had come for this occasion.

First and foremost, a word about the hall. It symbolized more like a sanctum sanctorum of the Holiness. Jagadguru Shringeri Swamigal. This hall is run and maintained by the Shringeri Mutt. The cleanliness, their code of conduct (like removing and keeping foot wear only at the racks provided at the basement of the hall, where car parking also exists, switching of mobiles, not allowing food into the auditorium) was appreciated by many. The hall’s ambience was perfect, clean and compact. The seating, sound system and the provision for projection of PowerPoint presentations, all provided by this auditorium are commendable. No dangling wires, open tapes or bad patches anywhere! Also the interior done is at its best, making the whole atmosphere serene.

We need to mention a special thanks to Shri. T.R.Ramachandran for allowing us to use this auditorium free of cost and his team members who were well harmonized to carry forward the proceedings without any hiccups.

The programme started bit late than usual, as audience came in slowly. First the Kuthuvilakku (Traditional Oil Lamp made of Panchaloga) was lit by our Chief Guest Kalaimamani, Silai Meetta Semmal Shri. Dr. R.Nagaswamy, the pioneer in Archaeology who has many credits to his name, and the former Director of Tamilnadu State Archaeology. This was followed by lighting of the lamp, by T.S.Sridhar IAS, who is the secretary of Tamil Nadu Tourism Department, and then by Shri. Ramachandran the Trustee of Tattvãloka, Dr. T. Satyamurthy, the founder trustee of REACH FOUNDATION.

As it was the “Sani Peyarchi”, many quoted that as a reason for not attending this function. If only they had come across the hymns in Tamil which starts, as “ naal en seyyum , Kol en seyyum,” (meaning, the days, stars, or planets cannot do anything adverse to one, who holds the feet of Lord Muruga) as well as the one from KolaRu Thirupadigam, “ Gnaayiru, Thingal, Sevvai…(meaning, all these seven days are alike, when we only think of Lord Shiva). With these verses the compere Shri. Chandrasekaran started off the programme.

The first programme of the agenda was singing of the invocation and welcome song written by Kavi Yogi Shuddhanandha Bharti, by Shri. Sargurunadan, the Oduvar of Mylai Temple. His sweet voice rendered the song with such a strong flow and vibration, which set the tempo to the remaining part of the day. The Founder Trustee honoured him with a shawl.
Then came to Welcome Address by the founder Dr.T.Sathyamurthy. He said that after the inauguration of the web site as well as the on-line course for reading inscriptions launched by The Governor on 16th June, 2007, he was almost certain that this programme for the heritage wardens also should be conducted to achieve what REACH aims for. Many Government sanctions were made available for rebuilding heritage sites, but the problem was that, none had the right database which tells us about the number of temples which are in ruins, their location, the estimated funds requirement, etc. So, the main objective of this function was to collect database of temples, which needs attention.

He also stressed the need to have a common knowledge centre, to impart technical know how to all the rural folk who want to rebuild heritage sites/ temples. He lamented the use of cement at least for the vimana, which can be spared. He insisted that vimana made of traditional material like limestone at least doesn’t damage the Shiva lingam if it collapses, whereas the cement domes form a solid mass and falls straight to knock off the Deity itself!

He wanted all the district level pioneers doing temple cleaning to start the branches of REACH in their respective places, to spread the knowledge base.

Then spoke Shri. T.S Sridhar, IAS, who was very lavish in his praising the efforts of REACH. He said that unless the private-public partnership doesn’t happen, the lost temples couldn’t be brought back to glory. He said that not only Kerala is God’s own country, but also whole of India, is really God’s own country. He was inviting proposals from all public to recommend sites of tourist interest. He wanted the sites to be kept clean.

Shri. T.R. Ramachandran who was at the dais as the trustee of Tattvãloka, said that he was really happy to know that their auditorium was put to use for such great causes. He lauded and remembered the work of the Chief Guest, Shri. R.Nagaswamy, as he had contributed articles about temples, temple architecture, stone inscriptions, iconography, murals of Indian temples etc, as articles to their magazine, Tattvãloka, from Mumbai, for almost 7 full years! He said that he was happy to see his friend after a long time in the same dais.

To represent the Uzhavarapani groups, Shri. Komal V.Sekar addressed the gathering. His real life experiences of being an ordinary man to become a man possessed to undertake the daunting task of rebuilding, temples, his narratives and hardships, made the audience experience the journey as he tread in the past. He said that ignorance, being the key; many people depended on Sthapathis who were quacks and did not do justice to their work, nor recommend the right material which should be used for. He said he had seen before his eyes, Vimanams made of cement falling and damaging the deity. He also wanted to bring to attention the plight of the archakas who are living in great hardship, as the Government is turning a blind eye towards them. He suggested a novel model, of having common accounts like Shiva temples, account, Vishnu temple accounts, Amman temple accounts, so that all temple money got pooled to one account, thereby, the salaries and other maintenance expenses can be equally distributed to all temples, any given time.

Trustee H Chandrashekhar lauded the work of the foundation and said that he was happy to get associated with this noble cause.

Trustee Shri. Hariharan recalled his earlier days, when he was asked by the Maha periyava, the senior pontiff of Kanchi, Shri. Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi, to build a small temple for a Shiva Lingam at a roadside at Kanchi. Without uttering a word, he did that. Later when his father was stopped from being admitted to Cancer hospital, and was saved for next six years without a hitch, Hariharan said, he knew what divine power was, and to his surprise the Kanchi Maha Periyava named the Shiva Lingam as “Brahmanya Lingam”, his father name being Subramanian! He also remembered the old days, when he found only divine intervention made him take efforts to rebuild the Madipakkam Shiva temple. So, as a trustee, he said it was the divine call, even though he knew less of history, which got associated with REACH, to rebuild temples.

The highlight of the day was the effortless and eloquent address by Shri. Kalaimamani Dr. R.Nagaswamy. A doyen in archaeology, the man who brought out more Stone inscriptions, one who restored the Thirumalai Nayak Place in Madurai, the Thiruvannamalai temple to name a few, and the one who is called as “Silai Meetta Semmal” (the man who brought back our statues). The reason for the last adage is that, it was Dr. R.Nagaswamy, arguing in the London court to get back some stolen idols (Shiva puram if the writer remembers correctly). The judge who heard the argument hailed his deep knowledge in the subject and ordered immediate return of the statues to the Indian Government.

He said that unless the awareness of retaining the culture comes from within, we couldn’t restore heritage. He quoted an example of a rare vimana, he saw in Kumbakonam, where in the renovators were hells bent on finishing the carved brick made one, with cement. He pleaded with them to leave it as it is, as that would be the rarest of vimana where carving was done on bricks. But the damage was done. He quoted that in Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia, and even in far off Greece, Hindu culture prevailed and was nurtured. He quoted seeing a Coin of Greek King Agathocleus which was some 2700 years old, having the Greece king’s name on one side, but also having Lord Krishna’s image on one side and that of Balarama’s on the other side!

He also condemned the use of cement for patching up between stone inscriptions and walls. This was not needed as well as was spoiling the legibility of the inscriptions.

His PowerPoint presentation showed how he restored the Danish Fort in Tharangambadi, and how the new administrators of the fort had built new buildings near by the old ones. Also a water tank for Tsunami victims was built too close to the ancient Fort site. He said, any vibrations or digging in the vicinity of an ancient site, would damage the heritage building and such acts should be condemned and banned. The main focus was the uncared Masilamani Nathar Temple at Tharangambadi (Tranquebar). In spite of this ancient temple, being a rarest Shiva Temple in seashore, Government apathy and negligence had totally shattered this temple. The bund wall built to protect the nearby Fort also funneled the seawater to throw itself on the temple. Tsunami accelerated the problem and now the whole temple made of granite stone lies shattered. Shabby patch up work done by PWD, not withstanding, he called the experts to join hands in restoring this temple. A representative of Tharangambadi had come to the function and he agreed to the point that a joint committee of experts only can solve and rebuild the temple, and not simple civil departments of the Government

The climax of the day was the powerful PowerPoint of Shri. P.S. Sriraman, the ASI man, from Madras Museum. He was one of the key men who digitized and documented the fresco paintings in the Tanjore Brahadeeswara Temple, during the tenure of Dr.T.Sathyamurthy as the Chief in ASI.
He started the presentation by showing few ruined temples like those seen in Brahmadesam, Brahadesswara Temple in Tanjore as well as in Gangai Konda Cholapuram and the after effect of rebuilding, by using slides “Before” and “After”. This got a round of applause. He meticulously explained what one should not do:
Not to throw away the stones and bricks lying around,
Not to remove idols,
Not to allow plant and creepers grow,
Not to use acrylic paint or cement, etc.

He said using brain one could utilize 90% of the ruin material and re-use them to rebuild the temple. This needs careful planning and sorting of the available materials. He said more of public participation is necessary to restore temples as Government is always short of funds and skilled manpower. He quoted the example of Manjunatha Dharamasthala Temple Renovation Trust, which has a well-planned public-private participation. After identifying a temple, the get drawings and estimation made, get the written agreement of the locals allowing the trust to take over the temple site, visit frequently the site to inspect the work-in-progress and thereby see to that the temple is restored in the right manner with a transparent system prevailing throughout. Now the Karnataka Government had started giving their identified heritage sites to the Dharamasthala Trust for restoration!

He said REACH FOUNDATION is ready to give technical expertise to create plans, drawings, estimates, ideas to renovate the right way; what is needed is the public participation in collecting funds, or materials, use them in the righteous manner to enable the restored heritage temple be good for the next 1000 years!

The programme ended with the national anthem followed by a simple but tasty lunch comprising Sugar Pongal, Sambar Rice, Pappad and Curd Rice.

REACH FOUNDATION is planning to conduct such seminars and symposiums in each district, and create an awareness campaign among rural public. If the might of public support and the skill of these archaeologists join together, we are sure most temples will get restored and a renaissance of our Dharma will soon emerge.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Inauguration of AASAI,the academy of REACH foundation

Date: 16th June 2007
Timings:11 AM to 12:00 noon, followed by lunch.

It was indeed a glorious day in the history of REACH FOUNDATION, and for sure a step in the right direction. The Academy Wing, of REACH foundation, the ACADEMY OF ARCHAEOLOGY AND SCIENCES OF ANCIENT INDIA, as well as the web site registered earlier by our member Chandrasekaran, was inaugurated by the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Shri. Surjit Singh Barnala amidst the august presence of our founder, Dr.T.Sathyamurthy, the Academy Chairman, Mr.Ravi Sam, the former Election Commissioner Thiru. T.S.Krishnamurthy and the joint commissioner of HR & CE, Tamilnadu, Shri.P.Dhanapal and the Chief Secretary to the Governor Smt.C.K.Gariali, I.A.S on the Diaz and the foundation’s members, educationists, art lovers, Uzhavarapani (temple cleaning) groups from various walks of life as the audience, at the Durbar Hall, Raj Bhavan on 16th June 2007, 11-12 AM. The web site was hosted by trustee PN Subramaniam in his company's server. A special thanks to him.

About all the dignitaries:

About His Excellency Shri. Surjit Singh Barnala

A lawyer cum freedom fighter, Shri. Barnala has always been an active member in Indian politics. Tamilnadu has been fortunate to have him as our Governor since November 2004. He has traveled widely and has represented India in the United Nations, F.A.O., S.A.R.C. and other international organizations. A humane and humble person, he is a nature lover and an accomplished artist, and has scores of paintings to his credit. They are mostly 3 Dimensional and have been exhibited in many National Galleries. He has been actively involved with a number of social causes and has sold many of his paintings for various charities. He has also published two books – Story of an Escape and Quest of Freedom, which was released by our beloved President of India.

About Dr. Thyaga. Satyamurthy, the founder of REACH and director of A.A.S.A.I

Having retired from the Archeological Survey of India recently, he has founded the R.E.A.C.H. Foundation to preserve our cultural properties. A passionate Archaeologist par excellence, he has directed many excavations in India and continues his pursuit of reviving old temples and architecture with great zeal. Under his guidance, the Sangam period Muruga Temple near Tiger Caves Mamallapuram was excavated and rediscovered. He has undertaken extensive excavation in Aadhichanallur, near Thirunelveli, after 100 years of preliminary excavation by the British. Scientific research conducted on these findings have opened many new unknown facts like Aadhichanallur existed 4000 years ago and has given materials to revise the date of Tamil Brahmi scripts. His discoveries were turning points in the research of History of Tamil Language and Culture. Under his guidance the Thanjavur Big Temple Chozha paintings were digitally documented and displayed in the Big Temple premises- a real feast to the eyes for Art lovers of Chola period! It further ensured that the common man could relish and feel proud of our Tamil Heritage.

About Mr. Ravi Sam – Chairman of A.A.S.A.I
Mr. Ravi Sam, a leading industrialist and philanthropist from Coimbatore, is the Director of LMW Group of companies. He belongs to the family that was vital in transforming Coimbatore as the Manchester of South India. He is involved in various social causes ranging from children welfare, education, preservation of nature, conservation of temples etc. and is passionate about Indian culture & heritage. His interest in preserving tangible and intangible heritage is boundless. He has personally played an active role in the renovation of the Bangaru Kamatchi Amman temple at Thanjavur, Sri Patteeswarar Temple at Perur, Renugambal Amman Temple at A.K.Padaiveedu, Aathinathar Alwar thirukovil at Alwarthirunagari, Sri Deepaprakasar – Vilakkoli Perumal Temple at Chinna Kanchipuram etc. In all these places he has shown keen interest to renovate the temples without changing their original characteristics. Modesty is his lifestyle and remains as a pure Indian role model for the Corporate.

About T.S. Krishnamurthy

Mr. T S Krishnamurthy is the Former Chief Election Commissioner of India. He hails from Tamilnadu, the very land which established and pioneered the most ancient democratic governance system. This is evident from the inscriptions at Uttaramerur. It is interesting to note that even though the Tamil Rulers were Monarchs, they encouraged Panchayat Raj by democratic process in our villages 1000 years back. Mr. Krishnamurthy, a firm believer in Indian values & culture, has utilized every opportunity to promote any mission that involves the preservation of Indian heritage.

About Thiru. P. Dhanapal

Mr. P. Dhanapal is currently the Joint Commissioner, HR & CE, Chennai. He has two decades of experience in conservation of temples and represents the Department which is the stakeholder of more than 30,000 heritage monuments in Tamilnadu. He is personally interested in conserving ancient monuments without losing its ancient grandeur.

Notable among the special invitees who attended the function:
Rani Sethupati, Smt. R.P.K Rajeswari Nathiya, the legal heir and hereditary trustee of Ramanathapuram Palace.

Smt. Padma Subramaniyam, the well known Bharathanatyam exponent and danseuse.

The start of the happening:

It all started with Mrs. Latha Suresh, a social activist and friend of our trustee Mr. P.N. Subramaniyam mooting the idea of having the inauguration at the Raj Bhavan itself! As Dr. Satyamurthy was also a good friend of the principal secretary to the Governor, Ms. Gariali, they both opted to fix the appointment with the Governor’s office.

So, on the given date, member Sundhar Bharadhwaj accompanied Dr.T.Satyamurthy to seek the appointment of the Governor with a costly flower bouquet as well the articles that appeared in the recent Front Line Magazine about the Thanjavur fresco painting. As the Governor was a patron of art and an artist himself, he immediately agreed and gave us the day 16th of June and timings between 11 AM to 12 PM. Then started the whole action!

Late night oil burning, by members Chandra and Ashok for designing of brochures, invitations, press releases, banners, letter heads and cards, by members P.S. Sriraman, Madan and Karthik for the designing of the web site contents went in a dizzy.

Dr.T.Satyamurthy was busy on getting the invitees list pruned to 200 (the limit set by the Raj Bhavan) as well fixing up the appointments of the dignitaries to decorate the Diaz. He over ran his new car to the maximum extent!

Other trustees broke their busy work schedules to conduct frequent meetings at each other’s houses to iron out the modalities, while Latha and Ashok were meeting the Governor’s office for all approvals. (Approvals? Yes, what font to print, what size should be the Governor’s name be printed in the card, dress code, what to bring and what not to bring, who should be invited, what should not high lighted, and so on). The dos and don’ts list they gave was longer than the list of invitees we had planned to call! (200)

Shilpa Madan got drilled and trained by Latha Suresh, who had conducted many functions for similar organizations in the Governor’s bungalow.

Madan’s mother, Lakshmi Srinivasan tuned her fine voice for the invocation. Mr. Suresh chipped in with his advice for the display modalities of the web site on the D-Day, while Hariharan, PNS and Sundhar Bharadhwaj the trustees tuned the write ups and speech details which would suit all the audience. Finally the D-Day came!

The entrance was decorated with the fine vinyl printed banners, both in Tamil and English, with a very appropriate backdrop as the picture in the banner! Krishna reaching for the curd (the essence of what is churned out from our minds, the mukthi state or perfection in life is symbolized by the purest white curd. This is distributed for the ones who leap high and attain the reach of the Lord who gives us that pure white curd. His friends, leaping ahead with their hands stretched out, wanting more portray the bakthas reaching out). This is a fine sculpture from Thirukarungudi Perumal temple, near Thirunelveli. Member Ashok who had designed the brochure took this backdrop for the banner as well as the brochure to give a multi dimensional meaning to the word, REACH!

Chandrasekaran, Rajan Ganesh and Sivaraman Kannan took charge of inviting the guests and the press personnel. Mr.T.K.V.Rajan, a friend of Dr.T.Satyamurthy, the editor of Indian Science Monitor, helped the press people to be seated and gave them the press kit, kept ready by Chandrasekaran.

The little kids of the trustees and members gave away the Tamil and English brochures to all the guests.

It was dreams come true for many who had only seen the Raj Bhavan walls, but not entered the premises. People from all walks, academicians, historians, press journalists, other heritage conservation groups’ representative and Uzhavarapani (temple cleaning and reconstructing) organizations’ volunteers turned in their best of cloths to attend the function. Few with their trademark forehead marks (naamam and vibhoothi pattai) were attracting the crowd!

All the trustees were present at the entrance through which the Governor came inside the Durbar Hall to welcome him. Mr.Ravi Sam gave a beautiful Bouquet and welcomed the Governor to the function.
The function started with the lighting of the Kuthuvilakku (lamp) by the Governor, followed by the chief guest, T.S.Krishnamurthy, former election commissioner, then S.Dhanapal, the joint commissioner HR&CE, Mrs. Gariali, the Principal Secretary to the Governor and then Shri. Ravi Sam, the Chairman of A.A.S.A.I.

This was followed by the invocation of the Almighty with a universal song authored by Kavi Yogi Maharshi Shuddhanandha Bharti. The song seeks the Almighty’s blessings for a warless, struggle less world, blossomed with peace and harmony, for a world filled with people having fearless heart like a lion, but having minds like siddha purusha! Mrs. Lakshmi Srinivasan sung the song with utmost emotion and effect which enthralled the listeners.

During his welcome address, Dr. T. Satyamurthy stressed the need to revive interest among the rural mass on heritage values. He said that the ancient builders had made a very strong foundation and only the super structures collapsed due to onslaught of wars and weather at different times. Primarily negligence of the people living around also created further havoc. Now, as we see that we would loose the forms of heritage values like temples and mural paintings permanently from the present scenario, it is heartening that youth from I.T industry are also joining hands with REACH to get into cleaning and preservation activities, which they see as the best form of ‘stress busters’! Dr. T. Satyamurthy also quoted that in states like Rajasthan, there was one temple for four or five villages, where as in Tamil Nadu, we have 3 temples in each village! The stone inscriptions which not only tells us about the king and his donations to the temple, but also tells us the type of living the people lived those days, their life style, their clothes, ornaments, as well as the inscriptions on medicine, etc

Mr. Ravi Sam spoke soft and clear with his baritone voice on how murals are losing their glory by vandalism and graffiti writers. Being a corporate man himself (the M.D. of LMW group of companies, Coimbatore) he also said that it was due to certain visits to the temples nearby, he got involved into the restoration process. He compared the value the other heritage sites in Spain, Rome and Ankorvat has, than the ones in South India. He stressed the need of common man getting into act without blaming Government machinery and that’s the reason he himself undertook this mission of starting the Academy with Dr. T. Satyamurthy. He requested the common public and other heritage temple restorers to understand that the modern techniques like sand blasting and painting with acrylic only worsened the heritage monument and sped the process of detoriation due to their chemical nature. He said the Academy was ready to impart knowledge to wanting persons on how to use conventional but long lasting materials to rebuild a heritage site and also the process of preserving ancient mural paintings. (He has initiated with his own fund the restoration work of mural paintings at the Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple.)

Mr. T. S. Krishnamurthy wondered what connection he had with heritage except for the fact that few of his family elders were archaeologists themselves and the coincidence of stressing the world that he also laid rules for the election process while in his post, like that of the Chola king who gave the world the only stone inscription where a monarch lays rules for democratic process of voting and selection of administrators etc. See Uttaramerur Blog. He had come well prepared for his address, by searching the internet the meaning for the word “archaeology”. (He referred the meaning from wikipedia:The goals of archaeology are to document and explain the origins and development of human culture, understand culture history, chronicle cultural evolution, and study human behavior and ecology, for both prehistoric and historic societies.) So he said that it was appropriate that REACH foundation starting this academy for reaching out to the common man, to understand our culture and its heritage value. He quoted the Tamil saying by Avvayar, “Katradhu Kaimman azhavu, kallaadhadhu Kadalazhavu (what we have learnt is just the size of the sand we hold within our palm, but what we need to learn is the size of an ocean!), which he twisted jocularly as , “… Kallaadhadhu internet azhavu” (meaning “... What we are yet to learn is the size of the internet!)

Mr. S.Dhanapal ensured that his department would consult REACH foundation on all restoration activities of temples.

After launching the web site and starting the Tamil inscription course, Shri. Surjit Singh Barnala, the Governor of Tamil Nadu, gave a warm speech. He quoted that India is the only country which has diverse and rich heritage. He said that he was happy that educationists and informative archeologists are bridging the gap and reaching the common man to enthuse interest in heritage preservation. He also remembered his olden days, in 1969, when he was the conservator at a place called Sanghrol in Punjab. He said, after digging a huge mudden bund, he was amazed to see lots of icons, sculptures, coins and other artefacts of ancient importance and immediately muted the idea of developing a museum at that site. With his efforts, he could bring out a beautiful museum today which stands as a estimony to ones dedication. he said that Indian heritage is older than any other civilzation in India and said that the period ranging from 2500 BCto 1500 BC (Kushan dynasty) was a bed of rich artefacts, seen in India.

The Rani of Ramanathapuram Samasthanam, presented shawls to all present on the Diaz. The daughters of each trustees had the privilege of handing over the bouquet to the Governor and the other dignitaries through Mr. Ravi Sam and Dr. T. Satyamurthy.

The Thanjavur Fresco Painting reproduction photo was presented with a well decorated frame to the Governor as well as to the other dignitaries presented on the Diaz.

The team that worked behind the screen for this function was busy collecting names and addresses from audience who wanted to be a part of REACH or AASAI.

The Uzhavarapani group people were the happy most. Yes, REACH had made the unthinkable possible! The commoner, the people from the Uzhavarapani groups who were only cleaning the temple sites, but were groping in dark without the knowledge of reading the inscriptions or knowing how to build the temples, met the mighty that day! They also were finding difficult to get appointments of the higher ups, like the commissioner of HR& CE or for that reason meeting Dr. T. Satyamurthy who is a busy man. That day, they met everyone and discussed their problems freely. It is this Uzhavarapani groups who are getting the names and addresses of heritage sites, mandap and temples to add to the data base REACH is creating. The details would be updated in the web page regularly, so that any philanthropist or NRI belonging to a particular village may get interested in restoring his native temple through REACH!

The function ended with the singing of the National Anthem and a sumptuous lunch having only South Indian traditional items as the menu. Puzhiyodharai (Tamarind rice), Thengai Sadham (Coconut rice), Akkaravadisal (Sugar rice with ghee, a special dish made only during the Marghazi month at Vishnu temples), sambar rice, Curd rice, Dhal rice with ghee, Pappad, Ennai Kathirikkai (Oil soaked fried Brinjal), Adhirasam (sweet pan cake made of rice flour and jaggery, fried in ghee). The members were gifted a sleek looking Tamil Calendar and a small sloka booklet by Shri. Agri. Kannan, a book by Shri. Madhukar titled “Your journey through light – a personal guide to stress management, life enrichment and enlightment and a pamphlet containing the prayer song of the day, penned by Kavi Yogi. It was overall a memorable start. Many from the audience have already given us data of dilapidated temples as well as mural paintings in many temples. We have taken note of the same and would be surely following up to seek the avenues and revenues for restoring the same.Pictures, videos - courtesy: member Ashok Krishnaswamy and his team - Thanks to him!