The over 1,000 years old art of Araiyar Sevai, which was once performed across Divya Desams, has seen a decline in recent times (it is now performed only in Srirangam, Srivilliputhur and Azhwar Tirunagari), one Araiyar is not ready to give up. In the eighth decade of his service to the Lord, Srinivasachariyar of Srivilliputhur performs Araiyar Sevai with the same devotion with which he started way back in 1943, when he was just 13 years old.
It would be appropriate to recapture the origin of Araiyar Sevai. Vaishnavite Savant Nadhamuni, who lived in the 9th-10th Century A.D., wished to make sure that Naalayira Divya Prabandham was preserved. What better way than to give them a musical shape and gestures to go with it? Aided by his nephews, Keezhaiyagath Azhwar and Melaiyagath Azhwar, Nadhamuni created special ragas and talas for the paasurams. Araiyar Sevai was born. Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam is believed to have gifted the Araiyars (Kings of Music) the cone-like cap, two cymbals and a sacred garland to be worn around their neck during performance.
Born in Srivilliputhur on Pooram day in Purattasi in 1930, Araiyar Srinivasachariyar, a descendent of Melaiyagath Azhwar, was initiated into this special art of presenting the sacred verses by his father Araiyar Vadapatrasayee at the age of seven.
The learning process that spanned 18 long years included singing the paasuram in a special tune with the relevant raga, practising abhinaya and presenting the Vyakyanam every morning at 4 and again in the evening at 9. The entire process involved not just acquiring knowledge of the 4,000 divine songs of the Azhwars but also the monumental task of capturing the meaning of each of these Paasurams and then reaching out the essence of these verses to the audience. The Vyakyanam for the Thiru Pallandu verses alone runs into 70 pages!
Araiyar Srinivasachariyar has fond memories of his Arangetram in 1943 “I really felt honoured to be led by a music band with ‘melam and thaalam’ and the temple elephant with an umbrella over me and a sacred chamaram (to fan me) around the streets of Srivilliputhur and then into the Andal Sannidhi, Vadabadrasayee Sannidhi and the Peri Azhwar Sannidhi. I was presented with the ‘Kreedam, Parivattam and Peetambaram.’ That was a divine moment.”
In the same year, he presented his first ever Araiyar Sevai in front of Tirukurungudi Nambi, his Kula Deivam, performing the abhinaya for Thirumangai Azhwar’s Periya Thirumozhi verse ‘Akkum Puliyum’ and Nammazhwar’s Tiruvoimozhi paasuram ‘Enganeyo’. Since then, for decades, he has been presenting these two verses at the Thirukurungudi Divya Desam on Kaisika Ekadasi.
His selfless service and devotion assume greater significance as many Araiyars even within these three Divya Desams where Araiyar Sevai is being performed have looked for financially ‘greener’ pastures (corporate world). He has had the unique honour of being invited to present Araiyar Sevai in over 30 Divya Desams in the State, including Sarangapani Koil, Nachiyar Koil, Thiruchcherai, Azhagar Koil and Thiru Nagai. He particularly remembers his first such presentation at the Sri Parthasarathy Swami temple in Triplicane, exactly fifty years ago in 1963, in front of a big audience.
Cherishing those special moments, Araiyar Srinivasachariyar says, ‘It was a privilege to travel to these to renowned Divya Desams and present Araiyar Sevai for long hours. Devotees used to gather in thousands and would watch in pin drop silence the presentation that would sometimes go late into the night.”
All through this 70-year service he has been presenting Araiyar Sevai at Srivilliputhur on all festive occasions such as Aadi Pooram, Panguni Uthiram and the 20-day Adhyayana Utsavam.
Through his story telling, Araiyar Srinivasachariyar transports listeners to a different world peopled by gods, goddesses and demons. Andal grows into a beautiful young girl, Lord Vishnu demolishes the evil forces - Kamsa and Hiranya - Lord Naryana retrieves the nectar and hands it back to the Devas and Lord Rama’s triumphs over Ravana as he sings the verses of Azhwars with appropriate abhinaya.
In the Himalayas
The most memorable experience of his life was his trip in 1978 to the Himalayas, where he presented Araiyar Sevai in front of Lord Badri Narayanan at the Badrinath Divya Desam. His eyes light up as he recounts that trip. “I was sitting outside my house in Srivilliputhur when an astrologer passed that way. I told him I wanted to go North. He suggested that I leave for my trip that same day. I left immediately for Madras and from there I went to Hyderabad and met Sriman Narayana Jeer. From Secunderabad, I went to Badrinath and stayed in the Himalayas for nine days.”
Tears well in his eyes as he continues: “It was God’s grace that I was able to present Araiyar Sevai at 3. 30 a.m. in front of the Lord. Almost everyone was shivering as it was extremely cold. But I was out there presenting Araiyar Sevai. My entire thought centred on Badri Narayana Perumal and I was oblivious of the temperature that must have been several degrees below zero.” Moved by his dedication, Sriman Narayana Jeer honoured him with the title ‘Bhagavad Vishaya Vidwan’.
His two other favourite presentations which he savours are Thirumangai Azhwar’s ‘Thooviriya Malar Uzhakki’ Periya Thirumozhi verse praising the Lord of Thiruvali Divya Desam presented in Deva Mukhari Ragam and the Thiru Nedunthaandagam verses – both during the Pagal Pathu Utsavam in Margazhi.
Araiyar Srinivasachariyar Swami can be contacted at 9443867345
The wish of all those who have been following the service of Srinivasachariyar Swami is that he should be conferred Kalaimamani by the Tamil Nadu Government. Araiyar Sevai, after all, is a unique combination of music, dance and devotion.
The 400-year old house of Araiyar Swami on Periya Perumal West Mada Street in Srivilliputhur is in bad shape. Swami has been presenting Araiyar Sevai for seven decades without financial support of any form. Nor has he been tempted by offers by cinema producers and visitors from abroad to video film his performance.
Tomorrow at Villiputhur
Araiyar Srinivasachariyar Swami will present his special ‘Muthu Kuri’ Araiyar Sevai tomorrow evening (August 10) at Srivilliputhur Divya Desam as part of the tenth day celebrations of the Aadi Pooram Utsavam.
He is set to present Araiyar Sevai at the Nadha Muni Thiruvarasu in Chokka Pallam, east of Gangai Konda Chozha Puram, on September 15 on the occasion of the >Samprokasham of the shrine . The performance, of course is being dedicated to the saint, who introduced Araiyar Sevai.
1943 – Arangetram at the Andal shrine, Srivilliputhur
1943 - First presentation at Thirukurungudi
1963 – Araiyar Sevai at Parthasarathy temple in Thiruvallikeni
1970s - Performs at Tirunaraiyur, Sarangapani temple, Srimushnum and Azhagar Koil
1978 - Araiyar Sevai in the Himalayas in front of Badri Narayana Perumal.
2007 – Presentation at Ashtalakshmi temple, Chennai
2009 - Velukkudi Krishnan confers on him the title, ‘Kainkarya Srimaan.’