SUBHA J. RAO
On Mahasivaratri, a group of culturally inclined people undertakes yatra of Siva temples.
It all started four years ago during Sivaratri, of all things, over a cup of flavoured milk. That is as far removed from spirituality as it can get. But that triggered a different kind of journey for Rajesh Govindarajulu, Shankar Vanavarayar, `Bharatan' Srinivasan, J. Satish and Suchindran. They decided to undertake a theme-based journey of Siva temples instead of just sitting up through the night.A couple of like-minded people joined them and they visited five temples in Coimbatore, including Perur and Vellalore, the first year. They ended their journey by listening to Vijay Siva during the night-long concert organised by Rajalakshmi Fine Arts, Coimbatore. Year Two saw their numbers grow in strength. An eager 25 people, including senior citizens one of whom was Dr. Markandeyan, former Vice Chancellor of Gandhigram University, started their journey from Pollachi and went to seven temples lying between Pollachi and Coimbatore. Last year, a group of six people travelled 300 km to the seven temples called the Thirumurai Sthalangal Avinasi, Karur, Venjamakudalur, Kodumudi, Tiruchengode, Bhavani and Thirumuruganpoondi. Arul Mani, a support staff for the trip, does a recce a week before to ensure the trip is smooth sailing. This time round, the destination was the seven temples in `K villages' Karavazhi naadu villages built by the Kongu Chola kings. But due to some confusion over dates, only three were open on February 15 the date of the yatra. So two `other' temples were added to the itinerary.
Different experienceAbout ten people, including Babaji Raja Bhonsle Chatrapathy, the senior Prince of Thanjavur, and engineer-turned-cultural educator M. Pramod Kumar, started off from Coimbatore for a truly different experience. Luckily for us, we got invited too.For city slickers who are so used to the restrained devotion in their temples, the trip to the villages was an eye-opener. Every place that fell en route was decorated like it was thiruvizha time and entire villages had congregated at the temples. Blaring mike sets and off-key singers only added to the charm. Our first stop was the rustic Agatheeswarar temple at Karathozhuvu, called so because the place was home to a lot of karaampasu. An old devotional film was playing on the television set outside as people trickled in for the night puja. The lights went out and the entire temple was bathed in moonlight. The temple dates back to at least 800 years and is very close to River Amaravati, with just a sugarcane field in between. The members don't just stop with visiting the temples. They also try to understand the architecture of the temple, read the inscriptions and appreciate the value of congregational worship. "That way, it is a great learning process," says Rajesh.For Shankar, these trips are an outlet to hit the village trail at a time when people are thronging big, city temples. Srinivasan says that instead of struggling to sit up through the night, this outing gives them great satisfaction and energy.The next stops were the Periyanayagi Kailasanathar temple in Palani (boasting a lot of Nayak influence in architecture) the Soleeshwarar temple in Kozhumam (the bronze Nataraja here is bigger than the one at Chidambaram), the Kasi Viswanathar temple in Kumaralingam (home to a sprawling banyan tree with two trunks) and the Shenbagavalli Soleeshwarar temple at Samathur.For the Senior Prince of Thanjavur, who usually spends Sivaratri managing the huge crowds that throng the temples in his home town, this was a very "personal and wonderful experience."