The gods of small things

Chennai is dotted with towering temples steeped in history and culture. But it also houses smaller ones in alleys that have created a distinct identity for themselves. We visit a few.


Try rushing to Chennai Central to catch a train, and you’re bound to be held up near the bridge that leads to it.

There’s a reason for the traffic jam. A lot of vehicles, all of them brand new, are parked outside the small Bodyguard Muneeswaran temple there. Swanky cars, the latest bikes and share autos jostle for space outside this place of worship. Many believe that Muneeswaran, apart from ensuring well-being, specifically protects against road accidents.

Marudhu R., who has bought a red Hyundai Eon, is here to perform a pooja for his vehicle. Once he parks his car, an employee of the temple (there are about 20) approaches him and helps collect a relevant ‘pooja pass’ (about Rs. 300). “The last time I bought a bike, I came here. I have had a smooth ride, and did not encounter any mishaps,” he says, showing off his brand new car.

Some patrons believe the deity guards you — they feel that is how it got the name ‘bodyguard’. But, it might have derived its name from what the place was earlier called — the Bodyguard Lines Road.

Right next to the temple is a bus depot, from which vehicles regularly exit. Just as the buses make their way atop the bridge, they stop for a brief moment in front of Muneeswaran and you can spot the drivers and passengers whisper a quiet prayer — for a smooth journey.


Like many cricket fans, K.R. Ramakrishnan cannot forget the epic India-Australia clash in 2001 at Eden Gardens. It was during those five days that he had installed a Ganesha in his Anna Nagar apartment and was hunting for a name. “If this god is so powerful, why can’t he make India win?” wondered Ramakrishnan.

Slowly, the game started to change in Kolkata; Harbhajan Singh managed a hat-trick and V.V.S Laxman played the innings of a lifetime. India won, and ‘Cricket Ganesha’ was born.

“We’d won from a hopeless situation and I was quite sure the idol in my apartment had something to do with it,” he recalls. Over time, the temple grew — Ramakrishnan installed a wicketkeeper Ganesha (modelled on Dhoni), and a fielder Ganesha (modelled on Suresh Raina) to ensure that India excelled in all aspects of the game.

He even developed cricket mantras to appease the gods and conducted special prayers during vital matches. “He {Ganesha} is a big draw during the World Cup,” he says, “Cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin’s grandparents visited it often to pray for him.”

A couple of years ago, in 2014, the idols were moved inside the sanctum sanctorum of another shrine located on New Avadi Road. A board — Palayatthaman Cricket Ganesha — has also been erected for the benefit of fans.

VISA GANAPATHI, Pazhavanthangal

R. Jagannathan refers to his family as among “the first settlers in Pazhavanthangal”. It must have been like a jungle back then, when his father, Radhakrishnan, decided to settle there.

Today, Pazhavanthangal (and Nanganallur) is a bustling neighbourhood dotted with several famous temples, that it is sometimes called ‘little Kumbakonam’ or ‘little Kancheepuram’.

Back then, they installed a small Ganesha just outside their house. Over time, people in the neighbourhood worshipped it every day. Once, a few locals — preparing for an overseas official trip — placed their papers in front of the deity and prayed… their visa came through. Since then, the temple has been named ‘Visa Ganapathi’, a sobriquet it proudly wears now.

As news of this spread, people started coming in from afar. “We have visitors from states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra. They usually come to the U.S. Consulate for their visa interview and head here to pray,” adds Jagannathan, who maintains the temple along with his son J. Mohan Babu.

They regularly receive calls and e-mails from the U.S. and other countries; the requests range from performing pujas to couriering prasad. “Software engineers from the IT corridor, who seek overseas projects, are regular patrons,” he adds.

‘Visa Ganapathi’ has a ‘priest on call’ — you can land there, and call V.V. Swaminathan, who stays close by and will arrive immediately to perform pooja. This arrangement has been on for the past few years since the earlier priest, Sri Ramanatha Sivachariar, got himself a visa to work in a temple overseas!

‘C.A.’ ANJANEYAR, Alwarpet

A line of students makes its way past stalls selling thulasi malais and flowers to get inside the Alwarpet Anjanayar temple, located on the premises of the Tamil Nadu Cooperative State Agriculture and Rural Development Bank.

The smell of vadai (the Hanumar vadai) wafts through the air as they stand before the deity, patiently waiting for the priest to complete the mantras. They are pursuing chartered accountancy and a trip to the ‘bank temple’ is as important as their everyday accountancy classes.

“The number of students increases just before the CA exams,” says Seshadri Varadaraja Prabhu, also known as ‘Prabhu Bhattar’. “They fervently believe that Hanumar will help them clear the papers.” The temple, believed to be over 50 years old, also has celebrity visitors from the film industry, the small screen and the theatre circuit.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 2:58:21 PM |

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