Feeding the hungry for 155 years

The oven lit by Vallalar in 1867 continues to burn; it has never been extinguished

September 09, 2022 12:55 am | Updated 04:56 pm IST - CUDDALORE

Food being prepared in the clay oven at Sathya Dharma Salai in Vadalur.

Food being prepared in the clay oven at Sathya Dharma Salai in Vadalur. | Photo Credit: S.S. KUMAR

At the crack of dawn, the kitchen at Sathya Dharma Salai at Vadalur in the Cuddalore district is bustling with activity. Rice is boiling in a huge cauldron as hundreds of the poor wait for the food that reaches them without fail.

At Sathya Dharma Salai, the homeless are fed by volunteers of the Sathya Gnana Sabhai, founded by Tamil saint Ramalinga Adigalar, popularly known as Vallalar, in 1867.

The Dharma Salai feeds over 2,000 persons daily. “No one should go hungry” is the mission of the Dharma Salai which has been feeding the poor for the past 155 years without a break. The Dharma Salai is being managed by the Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments.

The vision with which Vallalar launched the project still holds good. The serving of free meals to the needy and the homeless from the very kitchen lit by Vallalar is a tradition here. The clay oven measures 21 feet in length and 2.5 feet in width.

According to a member of the Sathya Gnana Sabhai, “The saint advocated feeding of poor as the highest form of worship. The clay oven lit by Vallalar in 1867 continues to burn and has never been extinguished even once. Saint Vallalar established the Hall of Wisdom [Sathya Gnana Sabhai] to show people that God is in the form of pure grace and light. He established the Sabha to feed the poor and the hungry.”

The food is cooked thrice a day in the most hygienic manner. In the places surrounding the Sabhai, free meals are distributed to the sick by volunteers of the Sabhai.

Moved by the plight of those who could not satiate their hunger, the saint wanted to establish a kitchen to ensure that no one went hungry. The site was selected at Vadalur and locals also donated land.

The saint himself lit the clay oven on May 23, 1867. Food is cooked thrice a day in the kitchen. This is to ensure that no one who visits the Sabhai goes without food, the member adds.

The Dharma Salai has an adequate stock of rice for the next year and a half, and the contribution made by devotees in the form of pulses, grain and vegetables facilitates the implementation of the free food programme.

“The saint called the Sacred Hall of Wisdom the manifestation of nature. What is to be experienced within oneself has been shown externally in the Hall of Wisdom. He sought to make people realise this truth by showing Jyothi Darshan. On Thai Poosam, all the seven screens of different hues in the Sabhai would be removed one after another to reveal the holy lighted lamp kept in the sanctum sanctorum,” the member says.

The Tamil Nadu government recently set up a committee to celebrate the 200th birth anniversary of Vallalar, who was born in Maruthur near Chidambaram in Cuddalore district on October 5, 1823.

He moved to his mother’s native place, Chinnakavanam near Ponneri, close to Chennai, and penned the bulk of his work there before leaving for Vadalur. His poem Thiruvarutpa is divided into six Thirumuraigal.

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