“Wait, wait…!” entreats Rajappan Chettiyar, as devotees offer coconut after coconut at the Pazhavangady Ganapathy Temple at East Fort. As coconuts come thudding from all directions, Rajappan requests devotees to take a break so that he can collect the pieces of coconuts from the stone trough into which they have fallen. However, sometimes, a pious devotee might miss his aim and that is when mishaps occur. “A few days ago, a coconut bounced back and hit my head while I was picking up the pieces and I fell unconscious! Luckily, there was no serious injury,” he says, with a toothless grin.
It is another busy day for the enthusiastic 68-year-old, who is among the seven people employed on contract at the temple to help the devotees to break the coconuts that are an offering to the main deity. They keep the area clean of coconut pieces and shells at regular intervals, and later, they also pack the coconuts into sacks. Rajappan, a native of Manvila, has been doing this job for the last 11 years. “Since I’ve grown old, I’ve been relieved of the duty of breaking the coconuts. I distribute the pieces to the devotees,” he says. Although there is no fixed time for reporting at the temple, he comes in by 4 a.m. on certain days and stays back till the temple closes around 9 p.m. The sanctum sanctorum is closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. “By afternoon, sacks of coconuts pieces are transported by road to Nedumangadu. There they get processed for various purposes,” he says.
Rajappan was working at a copra processing centre near his home when he got this job. “I enjoy this work. It requires immense stamina and it takes a while to get your aim right! After all, be it any job, it takes some time for you to settle down, isn’t it?” he says.
The temple, teeming with devotees, is crowded on the first day of every month on the Malayalam calendar. “Nearly one lakh coconuts are offered on those days. There is a rush on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays as well,” he says. There are devotees who come to break a huge number of coconuts – 101, 501 or even 1001. “In such cases, we all pitch in to help them break the coconuts.”
Rajappan, who lost his wife, Vasantha, a couple of months ago, believes that he is blessed to be spending a long time at the temple. “My three children are well settled. I’m happy with what I do and earn over Rs.10,000 every month. This work is really special. After all, is it not a big thing to be near God always?” he asks with a twinkle in his eyes.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)
Occupation – Helping devotees break coconuts that are offered at the Pazhavangady Ganapathy Temple
I enjoy this work. It requires immense stamina and it takes a while to get your aim right!