Classes between 4.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. in temples on weekends

: It was a sight to behold at the corridors of Koodal Azhagar Perumal Temple near Periyar bus stand here on Saturday evening when a girl aged around 12 years was reading out a moral story in chaste Tamil and with amazing diction to a group of children under the supervision of an aged man who intervened occasionally to correct mistakes and explain the philosophy behind the story.

Enquiries with the temple authorities revealed that it was part of the classes taken on weekends in around 20 temples in Madurai district under the aegis of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department to impart religious and moral values among schoolchildren. The classes were taken between 4.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to enable the children to utilise the weekend in a fruitful way.

R. Sudarshan, Joint Commissioner, HR and CE Department (Madurai Region), said that his department had come out with a guide titled ‘Manavargalukku Neethibothanai,' which contains religious hymns and moral stories.

It forms the basis of the weekend classes. Apart from this, the children are taught to appreciate the morals in classical scriptures such as Tirukkural, Aathichudi and others.

The classes, taken free of cost, are conducted at the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, Teppakulam Mariamman Temple, Tallakulam Prasanna Venkatachalapathy Temple, Simmakkal Jeyaveera Anjaneyar Temple, Anna Nagar Sarveswarar Temple, Tirumogur Kalamegaperumal Temple, Melur Kalyana Sundareswarar Temple, Tirunagar Siddhi Vinayagar Temple and Natham Mariamman Temple, among others.

“A decent number of children are attending the classes at present. We do not restrict the entry by caste, creed or religion. Anybody who is interested in knowing the value systems developed over the ages is welcome to participate. The classes are taken by Tamil scholars and retired school teachers. The Government pays them Rs.400 per class. The children are also treated with sweets and savouries after every class,” Mr. Sudarshan said.

R. Narasimhan, a Tamil Pundit at the Koodal Azhagar Temple, said that these classes would not in any way curb free thought among children. “One cannot be an atheist without knowing what theism is all about. Even Periyar knew in and out of theology and countered every aspect of it by his own reasoning. So, what we are doing is imparting the religious and moral values. It is for the children to take a stand when they attain the age of making a distinction between right and wrong,” he opined.

A. Sami Ayya, a 78-year-old former Tamil teacher who retired after 36-years of service, is conducting the weekend classes at the Koodal Azhagar Temple. He felt that these classes helped the children appreciate the greatness of Tamil language too because the hymns and moral stories were derived from classical scriptures such as Thevaram, Tiruvasagam, Tiruvisaipa, Tirupallandu, Periyapuranam, Ramayana, Mahabharatha and many others.

“Madurai has the unique distinction of having developed Tamil language by establishing academies known as ‘ Sangam' during the days of monarchy. I feel that now, when we are living in a democracy, conducting these kinds of classes in temples is one way of trying to save Tamil from becoming extinct due to the craze among parents to make their children study in English medium schools.

“I make the children read the Tamil stories by themselves. Every one is given a chance to read a story and others have to listen to it. I correct the errors in pronunciation, explain the meaning of every new word and then tell them the philosophy behind the stories. In order to encourage more number of children to participate in these classes, I buy them pencils, erasers and sharpeners during every month end with my own funds,” he said.

K. Gnanasekar, chairman of the temple's Board of Trustees, said that apart from these classes, they had also begun conducting essay writing, oratorical and Tirukkural recital competitions to mark the Tamil New Year which falls during the first day of the Tamil month Thai. Around 85 students participated last year. The competitions for this year would be held on January 15.

“We would be very happy to accommodate as many people as possible,” he said.