History & Culture

Breaking barriers

Sri Vittal-Rukmini Mandir, Govindapuram. Photo: M. Srinath  

Govindapuram, the quiet village sandwiched between Kumbakonam and Mayiladuturai is special for the spiritually inclined, especially those who revel in namasankirtanam. This is where the Jeeva Samadi of Bodhendral, 59th pontiff of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, who professed immense faith in chanting Rama Nama and Namasankirtanam is located. Soon Govindapuram will gain fame for one more reason. The construction of the Sri Vittal-Rukmini Mandir is almost complete and consecration is set for July 15.

The force behind the endeavour, Jayakrishna Dikshitar aka Vittaldas Maharaj, is unassuming, refusing to take credit for the temple, where he is overseeing the arrangements. “I’ll describe it as a penance and the Mandir is a blessing from my guru and ancestors,” he says.

At what point did DIkshitar, whose Harikatha sessions always drew houseful audience, listeners crowding the aisles and spilling outside, think of building a temple for Panduranga and on a mammoth scale?

“The seed was sown decades ago, when I expressed my desire to build a temple, to Guruji (Swami Haridas Giri),” says Vittaldas. Haridas Giri instructed that funds be collected only by singing bhajans and cited how he had toiled hard for 25 years to build a temple, again for Panduranga, at Thennangur. “We started planning in 2004 and announcement was made during the December music festival at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. The bhoomi puja took place on a Guru Poornima Day in 2005. It is Divine will that consecration also falls on Guru Poornima day (July 15).”

Actual work started in 2006. “Initially, to buy this piece of land, I sang bhajans at various households for a dakshina of Rs. 500. This went on for three years. Once word spread, funds started flowing during my bhajans and discourses at various places,” says Dikshitar.

Vittaldas’s dream was to build a temple at Sundaraperumal Koil, a village through which four rivers pass, but that did not materialise. Instead, his cousin Tiruvisainallur Ramakrishna Bhagavatar suggested Govindapuram adjacent to Bodhendral’s Samadhi. Dikshitar recalls the words of Krishna Premi, who once told a family in Aduthurai several decades ago that a temple for Pandurangan was sure to come up near their village.

Meticulous planning and design by structural consultant Raj Mohan has been a plus point for this project. Seismic factors, tidal behaviour, wind forces and effects of the monsoon have all been taken into account while finalising the design. The foundation is strong enough to bear the 2000-tonne weight of the main 132-ft gopuram, built in the traditional Maharashtra style. Atop is the 18-ft kalasam. Krishna Premi has named it Govardhana Vimanam.

Selvanatha Sthapati has taken care of the making of the idols according to Agama sastra. He has also designed the Garbha Graham, Ardha Mantapam, Maha Mantapam, Vasanta Mantapam, Maha Dwar and the Pravesh Dwar. Beneath the sanctum is a chamber where crores of Vittal Nama written by devotees in specially designed note books have been placed and its perimeter is meant for meditation.

Dikshitar speaks warmly of Balaji Madhava Rao Baley Rao of Maharashtra, the chief builder. “No scales or no measuring instruments, yet he accomplished the task with aplomb,” he says. The exquisite patterns on the ceiling of the mantapams are breathtaking, akin to the Thennangur temple.

Dikshitar insists that this project has fulfilled some social obligations too. For almost five years, men and women from about 300 families, many of them local, have been engaged in this work, earning their livelihood.

“This will be a bhajan mandir with entry to one and all irrespective of caste, creed, race or religion,” explains Dikshitar. “One can enter the sanctum and touch the deities but not before he/she has chanted Vittal Nama for at least a minute. The prana pradishtai will be done by Anna and nitya Pooja will be according to Premika Nityotsava Padhati. Already, 365 families have endowed funds for conducting puja daily, throughout the year,” he informs.

The six-tier gopuram stands tall waiting for the consecration, after which, the place will come to be known as Dakshina Pandaripuram.

Great lineage

Jayakrishna Dikshitar belongs to a family steeped in tradition. His granduncle Anantharama Dikshitar was a colossus in the field of religious discourses and was a trend setter while his grandfather Narayana Dikshitar was equally adept in the art. Jayakrishna grew up listening to them. He was on stage with his father N. Rama Dikshitar for almost 15 years assisting him in his discourses of Ramayana and Bhagavatam. He took off on his own at the age of 19.

“I imbibed the epics from the elders. It was after listening to Guruji that I was drawn to namasankirtanam. I have no formal training in music yet I can sing ragas with their essence intact and make use of them effectively while rendering bhajans during discourses. I read the pulse of the audience and plan my lecture to suit people of all ages who attend my programmes. It was at Guruji’s suggestion in 1992 that I ventured into Bhaktha Vijayam,” explains Vittaldas.

Dikshitar’s disciples, eight in number, include his sons Srinath and Vittalnath. Srinath is a prodigy, for his raga expositions are on par with any performing musician. Yet he has chosen the bhakti margam and is focussing on it. Vittalnath, the elder of the two is well-versed in playing the harmonium, mridangam and can sing too. In fact all his disciples are multi talented. Krishnadas has already started on his own. JKD’s other disciples are Sreenath, Muralidharan, Vamsidharan, Gopal and Ramkrishnan. Narayanan is proficient in presenting discourses in English.

Shelter for cows

The cow shelter maintained by the temple deserves special mention. The Goh sala on the bank of the Cauvery has about 300 cows. Many of them are from Brindavan and believed to be the descendants of the ones that existed during the Dwapara Yuga. The Gir variety from Gujarat stands tall. Dr. Salai Gunalan with about 40 years of experience behind him is the residential veterinarian.

The cow dung is drained to a gas plant to produce electricity which is used for lighting the cow shed and related activities. The fodder is cultivated in the nearby fields of the ashram.


Consecration on July 15, 9.50-10.05 a.m.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 12:54:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/breaking-barriers/article2147173.ece

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