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Tiruttani N. Swaminathan
CHENNAI: The tradition of Oduvars is over 1,000 years old and the King Raja Raja Chola I set up grants for their services at temples. Rituals in Saivaite temples are considered incomplete without their singing Thirumuraigal: Thevaram and Thiruvachagam. The prospects of Oduvars, however, look bleak at the time when the State has completed the millennium celebrations of the Thanjavur Big temple.
“There are not many of them in the State. Even among them you will find that only some Oduvars are meeting the standards. We are not able to attract the youngsters anymore. I have only seven students across five years in our course, offered at the school in Chidambaram,” says Tiruttani N. Swaminathan, one of the Oduvars and known for his knowledge of music and the Saivaite tradition.
“Students, who hail from extremely poor families, are learning the art as they have no other option,” he says, explaining that the lack of financial rewards and patronage is slowly killing their music.
The experience of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) is a testimony to the state of affairs.
“We need around 1,000 Oduvars for various temples but we are not able to get so many. The salary in first grade temples is around 10,000. I don't know what will happen in the future,” says Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) Commissioner P.R. Shampath.
Efforts to start two schools, one in Mylapore and another in Palani, met with poor response.
“We issued advertisements in newspapers inviting students to join the course. Not a single person responded. We are ready to provide boarding and lodging to candidates besides Rs.500 stipend,” explains Mr. Shampath.
Mr. Swaminathan and B. Sargurunathan, the Oduvar of Mylapore Kapaleeswarar temple, say that besides poor salary, the attitude of temple officials is humiliating.
“They think Oduvars are being paid too much for their inconsequential service. The attitude seems to be that a person who sings during poojas and holidays does not deserve much,” says Mr. Swaminathan.
Mr. Sargurnathan, born into a family of Oduvars serving temples and mutts, says that though he is happy with officials of Kapaleeswarar temple, his friends serving in other temples are facing ill treatment.
“Officials will not grant leave if you want to perform outside, even if you arrange someone else to sing in your absence. You have to do a full-time job but the remuneration is not adequate to offer financial security,” he says, pointing out that children from traditional Oduvar families are opting out, looking for greener pastures.
A few Oduvars who have left the country to serve the temples in Singapore, Canada and London are making a good fortune.
The two oduvars say Chennai's celebrated music season also means nothing to them. Barring the Tamil Isai Sangam, no other Sabha provides them opportunities to sing during the music season. Apart from offering opportunity to perform on daily basis, the Sangam conducts discussions and demonstrations, they say.
They stress the need for giving good training to Oduvar students in classical music so that their range could be broadened.
Is there a way to sustain the art?
“We can see why more and more students learn computer courses. Similarly, more students might be drawn to ‘Oduvar sevai' only when there is scope for financial security,” says Mr. Sargurnathan.
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