It was around the dining table of Shobhana, christened Annapoorneshwari or the Goddess of Food, that plans for the renaissance of the Thiruvattaar temple happened.
It has been said from ancient times that the genesis of a temple begins when an individual gets dreams or psychic intimations that a place of worship for such and such a Deity has to be made in such and such a place by such and such a date. This flash of intuition is held to answer the “Who, Where, When” with regard to that place of worship.The person who first gets such intuitive revelations is called the“Yajamaanan” or “Ooraalan”, and becomes the chief person in connection to that particular temple.The Yajamaan then goes in search of a priest who has the knowledge to do the elaborate Thanthric (as separate from Tantrik) rituals needed to consecrate the temple. This priest becomes the Thanthri of the temple.
In Kerala, it is prescribed in the traditional texts that if the Yajamaanan has doubts regarding the temple, he has to ask the Thanthri. If the Thanthri cannot satisfactorily give the answers, the AalwancheriThambraakkal, the equivalent of the Pope of Catholicism among the priestly class of the faith that followed since ancient times in India, has to be consulted. If there is still no clarity, the remedy is the Ashtamangalya Deva Prashnam or the Swarna Prashnam.
On 8August 2011, one such ritual was held in the Shri Padmanabha Swamy temple, Thiruvananthapuram, famous now for being one of the richest places of worship in the world. One of the important spinoffs of this was about Shri Aadi Keshava Perumal, at Thiruvattaar, a temple which is now in Tamil Nadu.Before the division of states on the basis of language was done, that entire area was part of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore. It may be remembered that the Shri Aadi Keshava Perumal temple is older than the Shri Padmanabha Swamy temple.
Ancient legend has it that Shri Maha Vishnu, in the guise of a little boy, used to play with His dear devotee, Shri VilvamangalamSwaamiyaar. One day, the boy put the Salagramam, which the Swami used to do pooja to, in his mouth. Enraged at the boy’s antics, the sage pushed him away only to see the boy, enveloped in radiance run away from him, with the cryptic instruction that he would be seen again only in Ananthan Kaadu, or the forest of Anantha Shesha. Distraught, the swami wandered through the entire length of Kerala till he was reunited with his Lord in Thiruvananthapuram. The image of the sleeping Shri Maha Vishnu was so huge that the Deity’s head was in Thiruvattaar, torso in Thiruvananthapuram and feet in Thrippaappur. This colossus is said to have shrunk into the three separate temples that are in existence now in these three locations.
Shri Aadi Keshava is made of 16,008 Salagramams, covered with a complex compound made of 64 elements, called Kadusharkara. He is 22 feet in length. Shri Padmanabha Swamy is made in the same way out of 12,008 Salagramams.He is 18 feet in length. The sanctum sanctorum has many Deities in both the temples.
What was interesting was that in the Ashtamangalya Deva Prashnam of Shri Padmanabha Swamy, there was a great concern for the condition of theKadusharkara Moola (main) Vigraham of Shri Aadi Keshava Perumal.
Shri Padmanabha Swamy was discovered in the Deva Prashnam to be upset at the damages on the Shri Aadi Keshava Perumal Deity due to passage of time.
Matters regarding the Shri Padmanabha Swamy temple got embroiled in a legal case. Thiruvattaar was not a rich temple then. Not many people were there. In fact, the then Nambi used to open the main shrine daily, light a lamp, consecrate a banana as Naivedyam, put a few sprigs of Thulasi leaves and leave, locking up the place behind him. When there was literally no government, no devotees and no “important” people thronging the place, this man was the only human being serving Shri Aadi Keshava. Thereafter, a group of devotees got together. They were headed by the Thanthri Mathur Shankaranaarayanaru, Subramaniaru and Saju and the place they met was one sanctified by love, warmth and delicious food. The unsung heroine of the entire project from its conception in December of 2015 to the proposedKumbhabhishekam on 6 July 2022, is the wife of Shri Mathur Subramaniaru, called Shobhana, but christened Annapoorneshwari or the Goddess of Food. It was around her dining table that plans for the renaissance of the Thiruvattaar temple happened.
Kailasan, the son of lateShri BrahmamangalamSubramoni is the Kadusharkara expert. The father and son duo had made all the Deities in the Shrikovil or main Sanctum Sanctorum of the Ananthapuri temple, in Kumbala, which was in Kasergode, the Northernmost end of Kerala. It is to be noted that Vilwamangalam Swamiyaar set out on his quest for the vanished Shri Maha Vishnu from this place. In fact there is a tunnel called the “Vilwamangalam Guha or cave” still in existence there. It has been boarded up. But the locals say that the passage goes up to Thiruvananthapuram.
Idols are made of wood, earth materials and metals. Kadusharkara is considered to be the best conveyor of spiritual energy. It is also, naturally, the hardest to make as well as maintain.The Vigraham is made exactly like the human body. A wood called “Karungaali” serves as the skeleton. 72,000 nerve endings are created out of coconut fibres. This has to be pulled out using bare hands. The devotees of Ananthapuri had sore hands by the time of the completion of the Deities.
The Vaasthu expert was the brilliant VezhaparambuBrahmadattanTirumeni, who sadly passed away. His brother, the equally brilliant and soft natured Chithrabhanu Tirumeni is now in charge. The young Sateesh Ezhuntholil Bhattathiri lent us his prodigious knowledge bank, in the service of Shri Aadi Keshava Perumal.
Rather like school children, we sat around Annapoorneshwari’s dining table. Shri Kailasan came armed with a huge list of items to be procured. Mud on which a bull had walked, a wild boar as well, sand where an elephant had gored the earth etc were just some of them. Water from the Ganges was required. A hundred litres were needed for Shri Aadi Keshava. 400 litres were taken from Haridwar where the various Bhagirathis and other rivers became the Ganges after flowing over Shri Hari’s feet. This is one more example of the close cooperation between Shiva and Vishnu, whatever be the contentious stand of their acolytes. One hundred litres were for Shri Padmanabha Swamy and one hundred litres of Ganges water for Shri Madayikkav Bhagavathi in Kannur, fairly close to Ananthapuri temple referred to earlier. All of us were responsible for bringing some of the items. Alongside the name of the ingredient, the name of the person, who promised to locate it and bring it, was also written.This way there would be no confusion or accusations of mishearing and misunderstanding later on.
Shri Madhu Pandit Das, the head of Hare Krishna in Bangalore was born in Thiruvattar. Earlier, he had renovated the Thiruvambadi shrine of Shri Krishna in the temple. This was done in an aesthetic and beautiful way. There was no interlocking tiles and plaster here. It was exclusively wood and stone. To him went the exclusive blessings of getting a 70 feet teak wood tree for the flag staff. The beautiful golden coverings for the flag staff are also his contribution.Shri Das is anguished as the Tamil Nadu Devaswom board still insists that they will take a car, put two personnel in it and take the base of the proposed golden flagstaff (now in brass ) to be electroplated and returned.
During the entire process of repair of the Moola Vigraham, ThanthriSubramaniaru used to accompany Shri Kailasan into the Sanctum Sanctorum. He and Shri Kailasan with his team of workers have often staggered out at 3 in the afternoon after starting work at 8 am. They eat nothing in between. According to Shasthras, if they urinate, they have to have a dip in the river surrounding the place before they re-enter. The work was done when they were literally fasting.
The Kadusharkara materials had to be dried in the Sun, powdered, put in a medicinal concoction, dried again and powdered. This was a tedious process. The workers, Kailasan andShri Subramaniaru sometimes came out with red and black tinted hands from the medicines they handled. These hues would take a long time to fade too.
The late Shri BrahmadattanTirumeni had given express instructions that no photography was to be allowed in the Shrikovil. Shri Aadi Keshava was not on exhibition. Rather like a convalescent patient, people going to His shrine were restricted. The idols to whom poojas were offered were removed to a separate, newly built shrine called “Baalaalayam” or little shrine. After the repairs are complete, these idols will be moved back into the main shrine.
As, unfortunately, in the case of all great people, BrahmadattanTirumeni had attracted an unscrupulous person who pretended to be his devoted student. This writer was surprised to note that each written instruction byBrahmadattanTirumeni was immediately copied by this North Keralan student and it was that copy which was being handed out. Rather like a campaign in Chinese Whispers, the student started hinting that his teacher was not too healthy and that this boy was his deputy. BrahmadattanTirumeni’s truly sincere students like ShrishankaranThampuran and Kishore stayed away, possibly disgusted by their co student’s obsequious, sly behaviour.
The North Keralan student entered the Shrikovil and filmed the entire Moola Vigraham and accompanying Deities.
Shri Subramaniaru was informed of this. Typically, Shri Subramaniaru confronted the student and made him delete the whole clipping.The open hearted Shri Subramaniaru had made a deadly enemy. Shri Subramaniaru had not cared to do this in front of Shri BrahmadattanTirumeni or any other witness.
A teak wood tree of more than 70 feet length was brought across the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border for more than 120 kilometres. The tree was then raised over the 30 plus feet of the temple. All this was done without it ever touching the ground.
According to Shasthras, the old flagstaff had to be burned without being chopped up. The TamilNadu Devaswom in its wisdom demanded that the Thanthris agree to the removal of the old flagstaff suddenly.The Mathur Thanthris were there for the process which took nearly 24 hours. Exhausted, they were remiss in letting BrahmadattanTirumeni know this.
The student from the north of Kerala had his chance against Shri Subramaniaru.
“You have been disrespected and not informed of developments in the very temple where you are the Vaastu expert,” he harangued his Guru. The result was an impasse. Work in Thiruvattaar temple stalled. It was only with the abundant Grace of the Lord that things were brought back on track when tempers cooled and the immensity of the task prescribed from ancient days returned to their consciousness.
There are some takeaways from all this.The first is that it is so easy for a simple misunderstanding to escalate to such heights that it poisons an atmosphere of easy camaraderie.Throughout the ups and downs of the process of conducting the rituals leading to the renovation prescribed by the ancients, the greatest Sevika of Shri Aadi Keshava Perumal is undoubtedly Annapoorneshwari. She has cooked barrels of rice, vessels full of curry, curds, vegetables, pickles, sweet dishes so many times to so many people involved in this task. Her menu is as endless as the number of people who eat there. The sustenance needed for even spiritual duties comes from her kitchen. Shri Padmanabha Swamy safely reposes in His temple in Thiruvananthapuram, knowing that a very varied group have been blessedly chosen by Shri Aadi Keshava into letting them believe that they took care of Him, when all along, it was the other way around.
Thiruvathira Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi is XII Princess of the erstwhile State of Travancore.