ASI’s assault on Shankaracharya Hill in Srinagar – Sandeep Balakrishna

Shankaracharya Temple in Srinagar

Archaeological Survey of IndiaAccording to this Tribune news report, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has summarily renamed the Shankaracharya Hill to Takht-e-Suleiman overlooking the Dal Lake in Srinagar.  If this was not enough, the ASI has also presented a distorted version of the history of the Shankaracharya Hill on the tourist information plaque, a move which has justifiably outraged the Kashmiri Pandits. From that news report:

‘It is a matter of great concern that ASI has given the name Takht-e-Suleiman (Throne of Solomon) to it, replacing the earlier plaque. How have they come to this conclusion warrants an answer,’ said Predhuman K. Joseph Dhar, an expert on ancient Kashmir history. He said recently a European historian visited the place and expressed surprise over information provided to the people.

Adi Shankara BhagavatpadaOf course, there is no question that this move is politically motivated because it has no basis in history. One wonders what is the connection between Suleiman/Solomon and Adi Shankara.

Even a layman in India knows that Adi Shankara travelled in all four directions in India and established maths in prominent places in each direction. That apart, he consecrated several other major and minor temples and other places of worship like in Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, Kollur in Karnataka, and in Sharada in Pak-occupied Kashmir.

Kashmir indeed has a hoary history as one of the finest centres of learning in the world. In its heydays, it attracted scholars and philosophers from all parts of India. In the annals of the Hindu tradition, Kashmir was almost synonymous with “Sharada Desha” or “Sharada Peetha” or the Pedestal of Goddess Sharada (or Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning). A conclusive evidence of this exalted status of Kashmir can best be gleaned from the famous verse in praise of Saraswati as

Namaste Sharada Devi Kashmirapuravasini
I bow to you, Goddess Sharada,
the One who Resides in the Kashmira country

This verse is so commonplace recited and heard by millions of Hindus daily across the world that hardly anybody gives a second thought at the rich historical heritage that’s embedded in it. And the credit for establishing Kashmir as the Sharada Peetha, to make it part of the nation’s cultural and spiritual DNA goes to Adi Shankara.

And it is this hoary heritage that the ASI has sought to destroy unceremoniously by renaming the Hill after some Suleiman based on a spurious history. Needless, in the process, real history has been made an unfortunate victim. From the same report,

‘While the plaque informs the people that the roof of the temple was constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1644 AD, there is no mention of King Gopadhari, who [repaired] the temple, King Lalitaditya, who renovated it several hundred years before the arrival of Islam in the 13th century, and Dogra rulers, who placed the lingam of Lord Shiva, which was destroyed at the orders of Jehangir’s wife Noor Jehan,’ said Dhar

As for the spurious history,

Talking about the name Takht-e-Suleiman, New York-based historian and author of Jesus in Kashmir: The Lost Tomb, Suzanne Olsson, said at one time Kashmir was controlled by Jews and Suleiman referred to Solomon, King of Israel and one of the greatest Jewish rulers, known for his wisdom and riches. ‘In ancient times, there was a considerable influence of Hebrew people in Kashmir. Several places have names similar to Jewish places. But historically, it is referred to as Shankaracharya Hill,’ Olsson said.

Sue OlssonOne wonders whether Suzanne Olsson even understands how she contradicts her own assertion. If Jews had indeed controlled Kashmir, why don’t we have a single piece of evidence to show for it? And second, she doesn’t quite explain why despite the Jewish control, the Hill was revered and renowned as the Shankaracharya Hill? And why doesn’t Rajatarangini, the most definitive account of Kashmir’s history mention the presence–let alone control–of Jews even once? And why haven’t the galaxy of scholars and litterateurs from Kashmir–Kalhana, Abhinavagupta, Anandavardhana, Kshemendra, et al–mention Jewish influence? The truth is the Suzanne Olsson happens to be the latest purveyor of the phony theory that Jesus visited/lived in Kashmir. Two definitive sources are sufficient to puncture Suzanne Olsson’s motivated claim about Jesus in Kashmir. The first is by the redoubtable Koenraad Elst, and the second by a Buddhist monk and scholar named Shravasti Dhammika who takes a close look into various Suzanne Olssonsesque myths about Jesus’ visit and stay in India.

St. ThomasAll kinds of scholars making all kinds of fantastic assertions have existed since time immemorial. However, it is regrettable that the ASI, a body of the Government of India, chose to put out one such fantastic claim as the official history of a place based purely on political consideration. This does disservice not just to Hindus but to the nation’s precious heritage as a whole. More importantly, it is a dangerous portent. As we’ve seen in the case of the St. Thomas Church of Mylapore how an existing Hindu place of worship was appropriated by Christian missionaries through deceit and declared as one of the sites of Christian piety.

Given this, what is the guarantee that the “Takht-e-Suleiman” will not become a dargah or mosque some time in the near or distant future and thereby erase another living place of Hindu heritage permanently? – India Facts, September 27, 2013

» Sandeep Balakrishna is the administrator of the IndiaFacts website. 

» Those who wish to sign a petition objecting to the change of name of Shankaracharya Hill to Takht-e-Suleiman can do so HERE

Freeing Hindu temples from state control – Subramanian Swamy

Dr Subramanian Swamy“Takeover of temples can happen, the Supreme Court held, only on establishing a clear case of mal-administration and that too the takeover can be for a limited period, and the management of the temple will have to be handed back immediately after the ‘evil has been remedied.'” – Dr. Subramanian Swamy

Supreme Court of IndiaThe Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment on January 6, 2013, allowing my Special Leave Petition that sought the quashing of the Tamil Nadu Government’s G.O. of 2006 which had mandated the government takeover of the hallowed Sri Sabhanayagar Temple (popularly known as the Nataraja Temple).

The Madras High Court Single Judge and Division Bench had in 2009 upheld the constitutionality of the G.O. by a tortuous and convoluted logic that new laws can overturn past court judgments that had attained finality earlier. The Supreme Court in 1953 had dismissed the then Madras Government’s SLP seeking the quashing of a Madras High Court Division Bench judgment of 1952 that had upheld the right of Podu Dikshitars to administer the affairs of the Nataraja Temple while dismissing all charges of misappropriation of temple funds against the Dikshitars. The Supreme Court thus made this judgment final and hence that which cannot be re-opened. But in 2009 the Madras High Court did precisely that. In 2014, in my SLP, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde therefore termed this re-opening of the matter as “judicial indiscipline” and set aside the 2009 Madras High Court judgment as null and void on the principle of res judicata.

In their lengthy judgment, the Bench has clearly set the constitutional parameters on the scope of governmental intervention in the management of religious institutions. In particular, the Court has opined that any G.O. that legally mandates a takeover of a temple must be for a fixed limited period, which I had suggested as three years.

The Dravidian Movement intellectuals and politicians in various parties in Tamil Nadu are incensed with the judgement. The recent article “Reforms in the House of God” (A. Srivathsan in The Hindu January 13, 2013) is one such example that laments the Supreme Court judgment.

Chidambaran Nataraj TempleIn this Dravidian movement background, it is not difficult to understand the views of those who believe that Hindu temples ought to be managed by the government, and that any deviation is a social, ethical, moral and legal sacrilege! In Mr. Srivathsan’s article it is stated that: “For almost a century, the Tamil Nadu government has been trying to bring the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple or the Sabanayagar Temple as it is officially known, under state administration”. This is one expression of the outlook that only Hindu religious affairs need to be managed by the government. The obvious question, why should a ‘secular, socialist’ government control only Hindu places of worship, but not Muslim and Christian religious institutions clearly has been avoided.

But the country has moved on after the phase of British imperialist grip on Tamil Nadu during which phase the Dravidian Movement was founded. Prominent leaders of this Movement had declared that “blowing up of the Nataraja Temple by a cannon is the goal of the Dravidian Movement”. Unfortunately for them, in the last two decades, the rising popularity of the Hindu religion among the youth, and the debilitating corruption in financial affairs of the Dravidian movement have made such a violent aim unattainable. But the biggest roadblock is the Constitution of India.

In fact, what is scandalous is the corruption after takeover of temples by the Tamil Nadu officials, MLAs and Ministers by looting the temple wealth, lands, and jewels, and the reckless diversion of donations of devotees to non-religious purposes.

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu.For example, temple properties: Tamil Nadu temples, under Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department (HR & CE), has control over more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban sites of temples. By any reasonable measure, the income from these properties should be in thousand of crores of rupees. The government, however, collects a mere Rs.36 crore in rent against a ‘demand’ of mere Rs. 304 crore — around 12 per cent realisation. How much is under the table only a court-monitored inquiry can reveal. In any corporate or well-managed organisation with accountability, those responsible would have been sacked. Yet, we have people rooting for ‘government administration’.

Temples themselves: The Srirangam Ranganathar Temple paid the government a (yearly) fee of Rs. 18.56 crore (2010-11) for ‘administering the temple’; for employees rendering religious services, like reciting Vedas, pasurams during the deity procession, no salary is paid. There are 36 priests in Srirangam who perform the daily poojas — they are not paid a monthly fixed salary. They are entitled to offerings made by devotees and a share in the sale of archana tickets. Yet the temple pays a monthly salary ranging from Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 20,000 for the temple’s government-appointed employees, like watchman, car drivers etc. who perform no religious duties.

The situation is “significantly” better at the famous Nellaiappar Temple in Tirunelveli. In this temple, priests performing daily pujas are paid monthly salaries, but ranging from Rs. 55 — Rs. 72 (and this is during 2010-11). But did some politician not say you can have a hearty meal for Rs. 5 per day? But it is just Rs. 1.65 per day, going by the standards of the ‘secular’ government.

HR&CE Minister M.S.M. Anandan Many large temples maintain a fleet of luxury vehicles, typically the ‘fully loaded Toyota Innova’, for the use of VIPs! And for the use of assorted Joint and Additional Commissioners and, of course, the Commissioner himself. It is very difficult to understand the religious purpose such extravagance serves or even a ‘secular’ purpose! The HR & CE takes away annually around Rs. 89 crore from the temples as administrative fee. The expenditure of the department including salaries is only Rs. 49 crore. Why does the government overcharge the temples – literally scourging the deities – for a sub standard service?

Temple antiquity: The third ‘contribution’ of the government is the mindless destruction of priceless architectural heritage of our temples.

There are several instances of sand blasting of temple walls resulting in loss of historical inscriptions; wholesale demolition of temple structures and their replacement by concrete monstrosities; in a temple in Nasiyanur near Salem, an entire temple mandapam disappeared, leaving behind a deep hole in the ground, literally.

Recently the government started covering the floor of Tiruvotriyur temple with marble, a stone never used in south Indian temples. The original floor was of ancient granite slabs with historical inscriptions. There are several initiatives for ‘renovation’ of temples — the bureaucrats rarely consult archaeologists or heritage experts. Without knowledge, experience, competence or appreciation and with great insensitivity they use inappropriate chemicals on ancient murals, insert concrete/cement structures, use ceramic tiles to ‘embellish’ sanctum sanctorum and construct ‘offices’ within temple premises. Ancient monuments 300 to 1000 plus years old are never ‘renovated’, only ‘restored’, a distinction that escapes the babus.

Counting the donations in a temple hundi. More importantly, the Supreme Court, in the 2014 Chidambaram case has held that the government cannot arbitrarily take over temples, which is what has been happening in Tamil Nadu under the Dravidian movement’s influence.

In the case of Trusts and Societies, takeover of temples can happen, the Supreme Court held, only on establishing a clear case of mal-administration and that too the takeover can be for a limited period, and the management of the temple will have to be handed back immediately after the ‘evil has been remedied’.

There are several large temples in Tamil Nadu under government control for several decades. If the Supreme Court judgment is applied, then the government is in illegal, unethical and unfair control of these temples. apart from being answerable for innumerable acts of dereliction of duty, defiling of temples that has resulted in loss of several thousands of crores of rupees to the temples and to their antiquity. That is my next move — to liberate all Hindu temples presently in government control on expired GOs. In the future we need to bring some mosques and churches to rectify the mismanagement going on in these places. Then the secularism of India’s intellectuals will be truly tested. – The Hindu, 20 January 2014

» Dr Subramanian Swamy  is a former Union Minister and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

See also

The Divine Pot – Devdutt Pattanaik

Cooking rice porridge for the Gods

Surya DevaThe pot is a great invention. Without the pot, we would still be going to water bodies like rivers and ponds to hydrate ourselves as and when we feel thirsty. Thanks to the pot, we can get the water into our homes and store it for future use no crocodiles lurking beneath the water, no fear of a wild animal getting provoked into attack. The pot is a symbol of human civilisation.

Ancient Indians revered the pot. It was the symbol of the womb, the garbha, for it sustained human life. The pot was equated with the mother; it was a symbol of divinity. A pot or kalash filled with water and sprouts and crowned with green leaves and fruits became the symbol of abundance and good fortune. It was worshipped over 3,000 years ago. It is still being worshipped today.

The Gods, the ancients believed, had a pot that overflowed with grain and gold. It was called the akshaya patra. They also had a pot brimming with amrit, the nectar of immortality. Humans had neither. But humans included women who created and nurtured life, ensuring the continuation of the species. Women were therefore a combination of akshya patra and amrit, holding in their bodies the Water pots and veiled Rajastani women.promise of abundance and immortality for the family. Without a woman, a family perished. The family tree withered.

In ancient times women were clearly regarded as being more valuable than men. The survival of a tribe depended not on the number of men it had but on the strength of its women. So in the early days, women were given the choice to choose husbands. The foremost form of wedding was considered to be one where the father gave his daughter to another family. It was a gift of akshaya patra and amrit.

While the forest was equated with the wild Goddess, the field was equated with the domesticated Goddess. Forest was woman, field was wife. Forest was water in the pond, field was water in a pot. Field was the womb that sustained a village. It was worshipped as humanity’s akshaya patra and amrit, bringing forth prosperity year after year. The domestication of the earth, the transformation of the woman into home-maker, the moulding of clay into a pot, is the result of human intervention, an imposition on nature’s freedom, a sacrifice to ensure the birth of civilisation, to ensure perpetuation and survival.

Gujarati Garba DancersIn autumn, as the rains recede and crops are harvested, three things come together on nine nights: the pot, the woman and the field. In the centre of the field, the pot is placed filled with water and sprouts, and around it women dance in circular formation. They bend down and clap as they thank the earth and cosmos and energise it with their happiness. This is garbo, the dance of the earth-womb. The circular formation of the dance is a reminder of the horizon, the rim of the divine pot, the world we live in. We live in a cosmic womb, just as deities in temples are enshrined in the garba griha or sanctum sanctorum, a detail endorsed by the metal pots placed on top of the temple dome.  – Times of India, Chennai, Oct. 15, 2010

Bypassing Ayodhya – Ravi Shankar Etteth

Babri Masjid Demolition

Ravi Shankar Etteth“Advani was the general of the BJP’s march to power, riding on the chariot of faith. But the new saffron samurai who lays his claim to the seat of Delhi has skipped the road to Ayodhya for now. Narendra Modi, the self-defined “Hindu nationalist”, uses the weapons of development and aggressive rhetoric—sometimes historically incorrect—to attack UPA’s corruption, economic ruin and dynastic politics.” – Ravi Shankar Etteth

Zahir-ud-din Muhammad BaburSomething happened twenty-one years ago, this week, this month, that would forever alter the political geography of India. It was the anniversary of the collapse of the ancient regime of secularism, which had been fattened on political cronyism.

Standing on a crowded terrace overlooking a square, hemmed in by bamboo barricades, I could see the crowd of kar sevaks becoming restless as the sun slowly banished the December mist that had obscured Ayodhya’s temple towers. The huge, time-blackened building menacingly squatted on a rise in front. It was built by a brutal warlord who had come all the way from Uzbekistan to seize India. On his way, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur had torched Lahore, watching it burn for two days. The invader, who Guru Nanak described as “messenger of death”, soon seized the throne of India. He laid the foundations of the Mughal dynasty, born out of a jihad of greed and power. He was no illiterate avatar of Tamurlane, but was a poet and an aesthete. In the tome he wrote, Babur Nama, poetry and ornithology coexist with schizophrenic zeal: “For the sake of Islam I became a wanderer; I battled infidels and Hindus. I was determined to become a martyr, Praise be to god that I became a Ghazi—killer of non-Muslims.” In 1528, Babur “attacked Chanderi and by the grace of Allah captured it in a few hours…. We got the infidels slaughtered”. Mughal rulers, except Akbar, followed Baburology with the same zeal. Shah Jehan ordered the destruction of 76 temples. Aurangzeb was the greatest monster—Mughal court records reveal he ordered the destruction of Kashi Vishwanath Cemple in 1669, followed by the Krishna Temple at Mathura and “a grand mosque was built on its site”.

Sri RamaOn a December evening, 21 years ago, Babur’s “infidels” fought back at the past.

At a press conference at Faizabad the previous day, L.K. Advani answered my question whether the VHP would demolish the mosque. He dismissed the possibility. The next day, after a journalist was attacked by kar sevaks, all media was herded into safety behind heavily protected police barricades. Looking for more journalists, the cops arrived at the terrace where I stood along with a throng, watching the tumult in the square. I didn’t want to be herded to safety. The atmosphere crackled with the electricity of history. I borrowed a saffron ‘gamcha”—a cotton towel that kar sevaks wore around their necks—to make the cops believe I was a pilgrim among many. As the domes fell one by one, people left their positions and rushed towards the mosque, which was by then being attacked with pickaxes, tridents and iron bars. I was swept along in the tide and was perhaps the only journalist to get inside the mosque when it was being demolished. Amid chaos of dust and falling stones, a sadhu with matted tresses and a flaming white beard thrust a gleaming trident into my hands and urged me to strike a blow for Ram. The air was thunderous with the ancient war cry that conquered Ravan’s Lanka.

L.K. Advani: Broken promisesThat Hindu banzai made Advani India’s first Hindu Knights Templar. His first rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya was stopped in Bihar, but the seeds of Hindu political triumph were sown. Advani was the general of the BJP’s march to power, riding on the chariot of faith. But the new saffron samurai who lays his claim to the seat of Delhi has skipped the road to Ayodhya for now. Narendra Modi, the self-defined “Hindu nationalist”, uses the weapons of development and aggressive rhetoric—sometimes historically incorrect—to attack UPA’s corruption, economic ruin and dynastic politics. The difference between Advani and Modi reflects India’s departure from the politics of communalism to the gratification of aspirations. Manmohan Singh showed that Nehru’s “modern temples of India” were not dams and PSUs, but the stock exchange and mega malls. Modi seeks to take it forward by forging a new future for India by departing from the ‘Secular’ versus Hindu debate. God is the passenger, and not the driver, of his chariot. – The New Indian Express, 8 December 2013

» Ravi Shankar Etteth is a columnist for The New Indian Express. He can be contacted at ravi@newindianexpress.com

Video shows Tamil Nadu HR & CE Dept official ‘lifting’ hundi collection – The Hindu

Sathugiri Sundara Mahalingam Temple Entrance

Counting the donations in a temple hundi. IMAGE FOR ILLUSTRATION ONLYIn a shocking incident, a video recorded during the counting of ‘hundi’ collection at a famous temple in the district allegedly revealed that an official pocketed over Rs.1 lakh.

According to a reliable source in the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, the hundi collection at Sri Sathuragiri Sundara Mahalingam Temple was counted by the department staff on August 21. As per the department’s directive, the entire counting process has to be video-graphed  An employee engaged in the counting later complained to the higher-ups that an official embezzled the money.

The officials conducted an inquiry and examined the video clipping which allegedly revealed that an official took a bundle of 1,000 rupee notes and another of 500 rupee notes from the hundi collection even as the counting was in progress.

Based on the complaint, an inquiry had been ordered, the source said. When contacted, Joint Commissioner (HR & CE) Muthu Thiagarajan said, “An inquiry ordered by the Commissioner is under way. We will be able to ascertain the facts only on completion of the probe.”

A large number of devotees assemble at the temple, situated near Perayur here, during Amavasya as part of fulfilling their vows. – The Hindu, 3 October 2013

Illegal Islamic university at Tirupati to be partially demolished by order – The Hindu

Islamic College built on temple land at Tirupathi.

Nowhera ShaikDistrict Collector K. Ramgopal has instructed the revenue and police officials to demolish the unapproved floors of the building that houses the Heera International Islamic University in Thondavada village of Chandragiri mandal.

Shaik Nowheera, president of the Madarasa-Niswan Isha-Atul-Islam-Urdu and the Arabic Development Society Trust, had sought permission from the Tirupati Urban Development Authority (TUDA) in 2010 for the construction of a G+1 structure. She, however, ended up constructing up to G+6 floors, in spite of the notices issued by the Panchayat secretary of Thondavada on February 25 and May 28 last year.

Remains of the Venkateswara Temple built by Thiruvenkata Nathudu in 1542 and destroyed by Hyder Ali in 1782.Land row

The institute was in the eye of a storm a couple of months ago, when the BJP raised a hue and cry that the structure was coming up on tank ‘poramboke’ land and in the land belonging to the now-dilapidated Thimmappa (Venkateswara) Temple. Basing on a report submitted by the Tirupati Divisional Panchayat Officer to the effect, Mr. Ramgopal gave the nod to the Panchayat Secretary, who is also the enforcing authority, for demolition of the floors constructed in violation of the norms.

Old Vishnu Temple & Islamic College Main BuildingHe also directed the SP (Tirupati Urban) to arrange police ‘bandobust’ during the demolition.

BJP State spokesperson G. Bhanuprakash Reddy appreciated the order and said that the pertinent issues raised by the party stood vindicated by the Collector’s order. He appealed to the authorities to take the issue to the logical end by ensuring demolition at the earliest. Hindu Janajagruti Samstha spokesperson Akula Krishna Kishore and Adi Hindu Parirakshana Samithi president Kalluri Chengaiah, who held a joint demonstration at the TUDA office in the past, called it their ‘first victory’ and announced to continue their tirade. - The Hindu, 22 November 2013

Tiruvannamalai: Moon, Mountain & Mysticism – B.R. Haran

Arunachala Hill & Arunachaleshwar Temple, Tiruvannamalai, TamilNadu

B.R. Haran“Where there is no Maheswara Seva and Mahajnana Seva, need will increase; when need increases, vision will change; when vision changes, approach will vary; when approach varies, aliens will get into the mind; when aliens get into mind, the mind will get confused and that confusion will lead to change. Thus to fulfil real necessities and avoid artificial needs, seva must increase. When seva increases, Dharma will be established. The established Dharma will save the nation, its people, its religion and civilization.” – B.R. Haran

Priest-King of Indus CivilisationDharma, Seva and the Vedic Civilisation

The Vedic civilization evolved on the banks of Sindhu and Saraswati with Dharma as the basis of evolution. Though it got the name “Hinduism” in later times, it is still denoted as Sanatana Dharma. The Itihasas and Puranas have vividly described the crushing of Adharma by different avatars of almighty Bhagwan, whenever it raises its head and attempts to rule over this world. In the Kaliyuga, though Bhagwan doesn’t Ramana Maharshidescend as an avatar, he establishes the reign of Dharma through His Blessed Avatara Purushas such as Adi Sankara, Ramanuja, Ramana Maharishi and Ragavendra, et al. Such mahatmas bless and guide people through their immortal dharmopadesas.

In the Kaliyuga, as Adharma raises its head quite often, we would be able to protect our land and safeguard ourselves only when we adhere to the dharmopadesas of our Dharmacharyas and act accordingly. It becomes imperative for us to follow the path of Dharma to establish the truth of the age-old maxim, “Adharma will engulf Dharma; ultimately Dharma will prevail”. “If we protect Dharma, Dharma will protect us” is the code of this land.

A huge threat is looming large over this bhumi known for punya and Dharma, surrounded by Adharmic alien forces. It is essential for us to stick to Dharma to destroy the alien forces and safeguard our motherland. Though many Dharmic concepts have been described in our Vedic religion, for us, the two most important are Maheswara Seva and Mahajana Seva.

Maheswara Seva caters to (i) protection of temples and continuation of worship rituals flawlessly, (ii) construction of temples in places where there are none and daily rituals of worship, (iii) renovation of dilapidated temples and resumption of worship, and (iv) organising temple related festivals involving the local populace across castes and communities. Mahajana Seva caters to donating food, clothing, houses, education and medicines for the poor, downtrodden and incapacitated people, apart from social and community services.

The Vedic faith has identified specific auspicious days for specific worship for specific Devas and Devis. It is only during these special days, festivals and utsavams, that the entire place, village or town, comes together to worship and celebrate. So, if at all the people are to remain united and if at all the alien forces causing division among the people are to be defeated, frequent celebrations of festivals and utsavams is essential.

During these common celebrations, the “haves” must take care of the “have-nots”. The well off and capable must help the poor, downtrodden and incapacitated by establishing a system whereby the poor can be helped permanently. This will act as an impediment to the evil designs of alien forces and stop religious conversions as well.

The sacred town of Tiruvannamalai stands testimony to the fact that mahatmas reside permanently in places where Maheswaram Seva and Mahajana Seva are carried out perennially without hindrance. The thought that my recent experience in Tiruvannamalai during Chitra Pournami would be meaningless and become useless if it is not shared with others, has resulted in this column.

Kartigai Deepam on Arunachala Hill at Tiruvannamalai

Arunachaleshwar as Lingabhavad with Brahma and Vishnu paying obeisance.Maheswara as the Mountain

Tiruvannamalai, the Theyu Sthal or Agni Sthal, is one of the Pancha Bhuta Sthals where Shiva shows his Jyoti Swarup as Lingabhava to Brahma and Vishnu, who made futile attempts to find his head and feet respectively. As the bhumi could not withstand the power of His Jyoti Swarup going beyond the universe (prapancha), Maheswara compressed himself and became a mountain, Annamalai. This puranic incident is Shiva & Parvati as Ardhanarishwara observed as Kartigai festival, and people observe the Jyoti Swarup by lighting the huge deepa on the peak of Annamalai in the month of Kartigai on Kartigai nakshatram day (Nov. 27th, 2010 [date of this article]).

Tiruvannamalai has another significance in the Puranas: Bhagwan Shiva gave his left part to Shakti (Devi Parvati) and appeared as Ardhanarishwara. During the Kartigai festival, at the exact time of lighting the Deepam on the mountain peak, the utsavamurthi blesses devotees as Ardhanarishwara inside the temple premises. Apart from being a Pancha Bhuta Sthal, the five peaks of Annamalai denote the pancha bhuta concept, as Shiva himself is a personification of a mountain comprising the pancha bhutas of  earth, water, fire, air and ether.

A Siddha Bhumi known for Sevas

Tiruvannamalai is considered a Siddha Bhumi, that is, a land of Siddhas. Siddhas are considered representatives of God with complete mastery over the powers of nature. They are believed to have conquered death and live anywhere and everywhere without being seen, recognized or identified by ordinary humans, and other living beings. Certain places in general and mountain ranges in particular are considered permanent seats of Siddhas; Tiruvannamalai is one such sacred place.

Gautama Rishi, Arunagiri Yogi, Namachivayar, Namachivayam (author of Annamalai Venba), Viroobatcha Devar, Arunagiri Nathar (author of Thiruppugazh), Kondappa Desikar, Jadini Shanmuga Yogini Ammal, Ammani Ammal, Seshadri Swamigal, Ramana Maharishi, Yogi Ramsuratkumar are some of the great mahaans of later times, who lived and attained siddhi in Tiruvannamalai, apart from the countless Siddhas who are believed to be permanently seated in Annamalai.[1]

Ramana Maharshi Ashram, Seshadri Swamigal Ashram, Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram, the mathams established by the disciples of Namachivayar, are some of the organisations which have been rendering great service to the people. In the recent times, in order to arrest the illegal and immoral evangelical and conversion activities by the Church and Christian missionaries and also to take care of the needs of the Hindu masses, many Hindu organizations have opened branches in Tiruvannamalai. Kanchi Matham opened a branch recently.

Arunachala Temple

Arunachaleshwar + ApeethakuchambalShort History of Tiruvannamalai Temple

Stone temples came into being only during the Pallava Dynasty. Tiruvannamalai Temple is one of the earliest stone temples built by the Pallava kings. Later, the Cholas, Vijayanagar Kings, Thanjavur Nayaks and others built many sanctums, mandapams and towers. The kings of the Tulu dynasty also made some edifices.

The Chola period inscriptions found in this temple start from Vijayalaya Chola’s time (849 CE – 9th century inscriptions) and go for about 400 years of Chola Samrajya up to 13th century CE, giving us a lot of historical information.

Then, from 13th century CE to 16th century CE, kings like Kadavarkon Kopperu Singan, Posala king Veera Vallaalan, Vijayanagara kings (Krishnadevaraya &  others), Thanjavur Nayaks (Sevappa Nayak & others) marked their inscriptions with vivid details of their times. The inscriptions found in this temple are in Tamil, Sanskrit and Kannada.

Sage Meikkandaar, who blessed us with the divine treatise Sivagnana Botham donated a lot to this temple on 22 May 1232 CE. Even kings from far off places (Ganges and nearby kingdoms) donated wealth for this temple.

Annamalai in Literature

Annamalai has found place in all kinds of literatures such as Puranas, Anthathis, Venbas, Prabandhams, Pathikams, Vannam, Sathakam, Kovai, Maalai, Viruththam, Keertanas, Sthothras, Kummi and plays.

As far as Sangam literatures is concerned, Tiruvannamalai is mentioned in Akanaanuru and Natrinai. Thirugnana Sambandar (Thevaram), Thirunavukkarasar (Thevaram), Sekkizhar (Periyapuranam) and Ramalinga Swamigal (Thiruvarutpa) sung hymns on Tiruvannamalai. More than 60 Sthal Purans are available in Tamil, and in Sanskrit we have Arunachala Stotras and Arunachala Ashtakam. Tiruvannamalai is mentioned even in Keno Upanishad.

Sanctity of Pournami

Although many festivals are celebrated in Tiruvannamalai every month, Karthikai Deepam and Chithirai Thiruvizha are quite famous and both culminate on or close to Pournami (full moon day). Pournami is a very important day for Hindus, and apart from Karthikai Deepam and Chithra Pournami, we have festivals like Thai Pusam, Vaikasi Visakam, Avani Avittam, Masi Magam (Ganga Snan in Prayag) and Panguni Uthram (Holi in northern and western India) being grandly celebrated on Pournami.

Satyanarayana Puja is commonly performed on Pournami Day by people across the country. Pournami vrat has been observed by Hindus since ancient times. People observe fast right from morning and end their fast only after sighting the moon and performing puja in the evening.

Sadhu feeding

Yogi Ramsuratkumar eating his bhiksha.Dana – The Prime Dharma

Dana and Dharma [2] go together and we normally say “Dana Dharma” whenever we talk about seva. Dana refers only to annadana as denoted by the term dharmashala. Hindu Dharma says one should even sacrifice one’s life to save another life. While helping a person, we should not look into his/her caste or religion and we should not bother whether he/she is good or bad. Talking about annadana, Thirumoolar’s Thirumanthiram says, “Yaarkum idumin; avar ivar ennanmin”, or, “Give to anyone; don’t look into antecedents”. The most significant aspect of annadana is that it is the only service in which the acceptor will say “enough” and “I don’t want anymore”. Such words would not come from the acceptor if any other thing is given.

“Poortha Dharma” – Community Service

In our Vedic civilisation, the essence of Dharma lies in the concept Pancha Maha Yagna comprising, “Brahma Yagna” (reciting & teaching Vedas), “Pitru Yagna” (sradda and tarpana, etc.), “Deva Yagna” (puja & arati for Ishwara), “Bhuta Yagna” (feeding animals and birds) and “Nru Yagna” (serving atithis, guests). This concept of Pancha Maha Yagna caring and protecting all of creation is postulated only in the Vedic Religion.

Apart from this, social services have also been defined under Poortha Dharma in the Dharma Sastras. Various social services undertaken by a community as a whole belong to this category of Dharma – temple cleaning, temple renovation, road laying, constructing wells and tanks, annadana for locals and outsiders during temple festivals.

Pradhakshana Namaskaram

The uniting of Maheswara Seva and Mahajana Seva is Dharma. The most important aspect of Maheswara Seva is Pradhakshana Namaskaram, doing namaskaram after performing circumambulation. Circumambulation can be performed for a particular sannithi, or, for the whole temple, or, for the whole hillock or mountain if the temple is located on top. Circumambulation of a mountain is called “Giri Valam” or “Giri Pradhakshanam”.

Our whole body is engaged in the ritual of Pradhakshana Namaskaram. The mouth recites slokas, namavalis or sings bhajans. Hands play musical instruments; do archanas, ring bells or merely claps to the tune of bhajans. Legs perform the main task of circumambulation; head bows down in reverence and bhakti. When we do namaskaram, the entire body from head to toe worships Bhagwan. Anga pradhakshanam is unique in the sense that it is a combination of both pradhakshanam and namaskaram.

Tiruvannamalai is a place where Bhagwan Shiva himself stands as Annamalai (mountain). That is why it attracts millions of devotees from world over for every Paurnami Day!

Mahamaham Tank at Kumbakonam

Paranjothi SwamigalMahajana Seva and Maheswara Seva

In village Koduvilarpatti in Theni district (Tamil Nadu), the Sri Sachithananda Ashram was established by Sri Paranjothi Swamigal, who had mastered Ashta Maha Siddhis. He attained siddhi four years ago and as long as he was alive, he attached a lot of importance to annadana and did it in an exemplary manner wherever he went. Even today, hundreds of poor and downtrodden are being fed in his ashram.

To cite an exemplar for his great service of annadana, this writer wants to share a personal experience. Swamiji organized for round the clock annadana during the last Mahamagam (Mahakumbh of south) at Kumbhakonam. The kitchen stoves burned non-stop all ten days of the festival and the ashramites fed not only the people who visited the makeshift ashram, but also took food and water to various temples and fed millions of devotees who thronged the temple town. This writer personally participated in the great service for two whole days, catering to thousands of police personnel who were on duty in the town, providing security to the pilgrims. The annadana service of Sachithananda Ashram was adjudged the best during the Mahamagam and the ashramites were blessed with the appreciation of His Holiness Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi.

Sri Paranjothi Swamigal gave equal importance to Maheswara Seva and was very particular about performing yagnas as prescribed in the Vedas. He always had a team of efficient and scholarly Vedic pandits who used to perform the yagnas, homams and other Vedic rituals. During his last days, he used to talk about having a permanent ashram in Tiruvannamalai for daily annadana. As a first step, he wanted to do annadana during Chitra Paurnami festival.

Hence a group of disciples (including this writer’s friends) have been doing both Maheswara Seva and Mahajana Seva for the last four years in Tiruvannamalai on Chitra Paurnami. On one side yagnas go on and on the other side cooking of various prasads, and annadanam is round the clock. Once the annam is cooked, it is served after naivedya; this goes on throughout the paurnami period non-stop. This writer had the opportunity of participating this year and what an experience it was!

Rudram Yajna

Giri Pradakshina / Giri ValamYagna, Dana, Pradhakshana, Bhagwat Seva – Divine Experience

A marriage hall situated along the Tiruvannamalai girivalam path was the venue. The hall was used only for the stay of volunteers. Outside the hall a huge shamiana was erected dividing the area into two parts, one for performing yagnas and homams and the other for preparation of food. Close to the girivalam path and in front of the shamiana, wooden barricades were laid to streamline the crowd and serve them properly.

Maheswara Seva started with Ganapati Homam in the morning and went on with Navaratna Homam, Mahalakshmi Homam, Mahas Rudra Yaagam, Chandi Homam and Swarna Akarshana Bhairava Homam, etc. supported by thavil and nadhaswaram troupe. The prasad included a sweet, four varieties of rice, a side-dish, pickle and water packets. As and when the prasad was ready, the naivedya was performed and the food was sent to the service section. At any given time, two varieties of rice were served with other dishes and water.

The seva, which started on April 27 morning at 9 am, ended only at 6 am on 28th. As Paurnami started at 7.30 pm on 27th, millions thronged the girivalam path and throughout the night we were serving non-stop annadanam. Watching the movement of the human sea around the blackish-blue mountain in the yellowish moonlight, reverberating with the chants of “Om Nama Sivaya!” and “Arunachala! Haroharaa!”, was a divine experience! This writer disappeared into the crowd and covered the 14 km circumambulation chanting Om Nama Sivaya! It was exciting and rejuvenating! Sitting through the yagnas, completing the giri-pradhakshanam and then participating in the annadanam was a truly divine experience.

Though without sleep, we never felt tired for the entire nearly 36 hours, from the time we left Chennai and returned, thanks to the blessings of Annamalai. The divine spell, which engulfed the body and mind can only be experienced, not described. Those who have experienced it would not be surprised at lakhs of people invading Tiruvannamalai every Paurnami day.

Annapurna Devi giving alms to Shiva

Bhikshatana Shiva at TiruvannamalaiConclusion

Hindu renaissance will happen where Maheswara Seva and Mahajana Seva take place simultaneously. We at Hindu Dharma Protection Movement experienced this personally during our Dindigal Meet on 18 April 2010. In fact, Tiruvannamalai was a great motivating factor for us to organize the event in Dindigal. What we heard about Tiruvannamalai, this writer experienced personally on 27-28 April [2010] during Chitra Paurnami. If we perform such seva throughout the country, Dharma will prevail and the nation will be safe and secure.

Where there is no seva, need will increase; when need increases, vision will change; when vision changes, approach will vary; when approach varies, aliens will get into the mind; when aliens get into mind, the mind will get confused and that confusion will lead to change and religious conversion.

Thus, to fulfill real necessities and avoid artificial needs, seva must increase. When seva increases, Dharma will be established. The established Dharma will save the nation, its people, its religion and civilization.

Notes

[1] Thiruvannamalai, V. Narayanaswami, Manivasagar Pathippakam, Chennai, 1996.

[2] Deivathin Kural (Voice of God), vols. III and VII, compilation by R. Ganapthi, Vanathi Pathippakam, Chennai.

» B.R. Haran is a senior journalist in Chennai. This article was written in 2010.

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