History & Culture

Consecration of Kasi Viswanath temple: Where North and South merged

For a supplement, which catches up with the consecration of temples, the prominent ones definitely, the news of the Mahakumbabishekam of Sri Vishwanath Temple at Varanasi came as a surprise. And it was happening after two centuries, 238 years to be precise. History has it that Rani Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore built the present temple and dedicated it without much fanfare in 1780. Ever since no consecration has been done. Even more surprising was the fact that a person from the South was at the helm, supported by the Pandas, including Sri Srikanth and Sri Raman — both scholars. The story, as narrated by Chennai couple Subbusundaram and Annapoorani makes for a fairytale, only this one is divine.

Its location between the river Varna and the stream Asi gives the haloed city its name. The Ganges with the 84 ghats on her banks has spawned thousands of stories and songs, being the Muse for poets, artists and composers. The dirt, pollution and traffic have not deterred tourists and the spiritually inclined from heading to Kasi, renowned as Mukti Sthal.

“I’m not a religious kind of person,” begins Subbusundaram. His track record, however, belies his words. Belonging to Nattukottai, Subbusundaram is the patron of several temples, including those in the Nagarathar belt. As secretary of the Nagarathar Chatiram in Varanasi, Subbusundaram is a frequent visitor to the place and does not fail to worship at the Vishwanath Temple. He would offer suggestions to the authorities regarding improvements, often referring to the way temples are maintained down South. “In this context, I mentioned kumbabhishekam and they wanted to know more about it. As I described what it was and why it was done, they asked whether I could help them conduct one at the temple. I was taken aback but didn’t say ‘no’ and returned to Chennai,” explains Subbusundaram.

Consecration of Kasi Viswanath temple: Where North and South merged
 

High command

“Frankly, I thought it was a wild idea,” confesses his wife. “Perform kumbabishekam for a temple as illustrious and distant as Kasi! It was overwhelming,” she adds. The couple forgot about it until a friend from Varanasi called to tell Subbu that the local dailies had carried the news that he was the convenor for the consecration. “It came as a bolt from the blue and the official letter from Sri Vishal Singh, CEO, Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust, soon arrived. It simply had gone out of our hands. What could it be but the command of the Lord Himself!” Subbusundaram is yet to come out of the spell.

“It was indeed magical,” he asserts. Between the day he got the official letter — February 22 — and the date of the consecration — July 5 — it was a race against the clock. But the arrangements, which included getting official permission for every little thing because of high security, fell in place neatly. As many as 50 priests, led by Pichai Gurukkal of Pillaiyarpatti, arrived at Varanasi. None of them accepted money for their service.

“Remember, neither the Pandas (priests) nor the authorities had a clue about Yagasala or the rituals connected. But they rallied round us in a way, which was absolutely incredible,” says Subbu. A team had landed to take care of the food for the priests.

Subbusundaram considers the way the scaffold materialised around the golden tower a miracle. The structure became an issue of security. Besides, nobody knew how to build one. “Spray water with a hose. You can’t build steps leading to the shikhar. And no pole should touch it,” declared the person in charge categorically, a day before the event.

“Spray water! I’d rather drown myself in the Ganga. It has to be done our way,” vehemently pleaded Subbu. “I just didn’t know how to convince him and time was running out. Suddenly a man emerged from the group of workers. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll do it. I know what you want,’ he said. I almost wept. And within a few hours most of it was done. By evening the scaffolding stood firm with the platform and steps, big and broad, leading to it.” Next morning, joined by Sri Srikanth and Sri Raman, Pichai Gurukkal poured the waters of the Ganges on the gold kalash.

The Ganga water was collected in several pots to be placed in the Yagasala puja. “Amidst chanting of the mantras the priests had gone in a boat to fill the pots with Ganga water. As we walked all the way to the temple carrying them, people, who had lined up on terraces, showered flowers,” says Subbu reliving the moment.

(Click the arraow to view the slideshow)

Coconut is strictly prohibited inside the temple for security reasons. Pichai Gurukkal asked for 150 of them. “Never in the history of the temple has a coconut been allowed inside,” officials told him. However, Subbusundaram convinced them that it was indispensable in a puja like this and the sack of coconuts was allowed after each piece was scanned.

Total support

Consecration of Kasi Viswanath temple: Where North and South merged

“The wholehearted support of the CEO, Vishal Singh, cannot be overstated,” says Subbusundaram. “By giving permission for the consecration and appointing me convenor he gave us a rare opportunity. Both the CEO and the Commissioner Deepak Agarwal kept their promise — that the Trust would lend all support but I couldn’t expect any payment,” he adds. The team from the South was moved when the CEO thanked them on behalf of the Trust for organising the kumbabishekam. “We had earned their confidence by giving them the respect they richly deserved. The Pandas were given the privilege of starting the Yagasala pujas with their mantras and then our priests took over. Seeing the seamless way in which both blended, all those who visited the temple unanimously said it was a North-South Sangam,” recalls Subbusundaram. Priests from several temples and heads of Maths were present. Priests from temples abroad flew in at their own expense to participate. Icing on the cake was the offer of ace lensman Manish Khattry, to photograph the historic event.

When Subbu left after a stay of 23 days, the officials said, “If you stay for six months, you can bring about all the changes you want to.” They wanted to retain the Yagasala and the images of Parvati-Parameswar. “ Subbusundaram considers himself blessed to have been chosen to bridge two distinct cultures. What united them was devotion — to the Power, which makes Varanasi the dream destination of everyone meditating on Siva.

Silver gateway

Consecration of Kasi Viswanath temple: Where North and South merged
 

A successful businessman, S. Subbusundaram heads Annam Associates, which exports and imports garments. Hailing from Valayappatti, Subbu is on the committee of several temples. Social service and charity are two other faces of this multi-dimensional personality. He traces the consecration to the work he did at the temple earlier this year.

Frequent visits to the Kasi Vishwanath temple made him suggest steps towards better upkeep. The dilapidated condition and lack of facilities for the devotees bothered him. This prompted the temple officials to approach him with a request — can he renovate the northern entrance, making it all silver? Subbu obliged. That was in February. Then came the proposal for the consecration and Pichai Gurukkal was the choice.

Subbusundaram has been contributing to the development of many temples, including the nine, belonging to the Nagarathar community. To him goes the credit of installing Sarabeswarar — a replica of the Dharasuram image — and Gnanasaraswati, similar to the Koothanur deity, at the Ainootriswarar temple in Mathur. He describes his wife Annapoorani as the more religious of the two. “She has backed me in all my efforts. Once it was decided that we had to perform the consecration of the Kasi Vishwanath temple, she threw herself into it wholeheartedly,” he says.

“On several days, he worked round-the-clock without sleep. I was concerned about his health but we both knew that this was something special. It was incredible — the way the people from both sides joined to make this a reality. We were humbled when everyone thanked us, some even tried to touch our feet,” says Annapoorani.

Subbu mentions four persons, as key to the project — M.V. Subbiah Chettiar of Murugappa Group (Yagasala), the family of Erode Sivakumar (marble floor for the entire temple), V. Muthukumaran (repair and painting of the three gopurams) and Indra Dutt of KCP Group, who took care of the polishing of the golden shikhar, provision of drinking water, etc. Subbu is happy that together they have made the premises cleaner and more friendly to the devotees. “This is only the beginning. There are plans for the future,” he says.

 

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 1:11:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/consecration-at-kasi-after-two-centuries/article24529478.ece

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