For five generations S. Renganathan’s family has been decorating Goddess Meenakshi’s palanquin with flowers on the day of the celestial wedding.
Whether you are a regular or a first timer on any of the four Masi Streets on the 10th day of the Chithirai festival – when Goddess Meenakshi weds Lord Sundareswarar -- there is something that cannot escape your eyes. The poo-pallakku (flower decorated palanquin) of the Goddess.
It did not escape attention this Tuesday either.
The beautifully decked up utsav murti of the deity taken out in a procession in the evening is the cynosure of all eyes. And the gorgeously decorated palanquin in which she sits elegant and divine is equally attractive.
Resplendent in its floral decoration, the six feet long, four feet wide and 10 feet high palki gets embellished with the freshness, fragrance and the hues of a variety of flowers. It is a visual feast for all those who throng the streets to witness the spectacle and seek divine blessings.
Once the procession along the 10 km stretch comes to an end, the floral arrangements are immediately dismantled, the garlands cut into pieces and distributed among the worshippers and the people residing in the neighbourhood as a divine offering. In no time, more than 100 kilos of different types of flowers go off.
Though the aesthetically adorned palanquin is a highlight of the occasion, few know about the man behind it who works 48 hours non-stop to create the beautiful floral covering.
S.Renganathan and his team of a dozen labourers work round-the-clock before the Thirukalyanam to paste, stitch, weave and put fresh flowers together in colourful combinations and patterns on the palanquin. He has been doing it for 15 years now.
Renganathan is the fifth generation rendering this service after his great great grand father A.Chockalingam set up the Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Wedding Flower Chariot Decoration Trust 125 years ago.
The family apparently donated five acres of agricultural land near Alankulam to the Temple Trust on the condition that the revenue earned from it would meet the expenses of decorating the palanquin during the Chithrai festival.
However, the Temple Trust gave the land to the Government where an Adi Dravidar hostel has come up. The palanquin decorator is paid a nominal amount every year by the Trust.
When Renganathan took over from his father in 1994, he got Rs.5,560. His father also received the same amount for 20 years. In 2010, the Trust raised the amount to Rs.10,000. But the retired UCO Bank clerk spends Rs.50,000 from his pocket each year for buying the flowers and hiring labour to decorate the palki.
Yet he never complains. “It is an honour”, he says, “a rare opportunity to serve the God.” Till a decade ago, Renganathan’s expenses came to Rs.20,000. But now with malli poo selling at Rs.400 per kg, he spends more than Rs.25,000 on flowers, Rs.20,000 on labourers and another couple of thousands more on miscellaneous things.
Says Renganathan, “You do not need a reason for doing this kind of work.” It is a matter of pride and family prestige. “I feel lucky and blessed for getting this opportunity every year,” he adds.
This year Renganathan started work on Monday with the first round of purchase of flowers. It is the malligai which takes the largest share in the decoration. About 50 kilos of jasmine, 20 kilos of kozhi kondai(Cock’s red) 10 kilos of kanagambaram (orange) are used along with other flowers in different quantities including sammangi (white), sevandhi (yellow), marikozhundhu, maruvu and pachai (green).
Though Renganathan is allowed creative freedom he doesn’t venture into new designs. The Temple Trust each year issues an order listing the do’s and don’t’s.
“It is better to stick to the old and the traditional,” says Renganathan, who is honoured by the Temple authorities every year after the festival. “It is a motivation to return the next year despite all odds,” he says.
The palanquin made of pure teak wood weighs 60 kilos after the floral decoration. Earlier it used to be pulled by men on their shoulders. Now it is driven on well lit bullock carts.
Once the palanquin gets its final touches and leaves the temple with the deity seated inside, Renganathan blends with the crowd with a silent prayer on his lips.
“I feel blessed when I am able to complete the task as desired, on time and without any glitches,” he says.
At 70 now, he rarely goes along with the procession. “Sometimes when I go, I get to hear some nice comments and compliments about our work from the crowd,” he says, “and it feels like bliss.”
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