Splendour of shrines long forgotten
Idikarai, 16 km north of Coimbatore, houses shrines for Lord Villiswara and His consort Vedanayaki. Historical and religious significance notwithstanding, they are currently in a sad state of neglect, writes GOWRI RAMNARAYAN.
The images of Lord Chandrasekara and Consort Umadevi taken round the temple on the nandivahana.
REMEMBER THE story of how saint-poet Sundarar once heard a voice from a laburnum grove that he was carelessly passing by asking, "Have you forgotten me?" He followed the call to find the radiance within a derelict shrine. Similarly, we have heard in his own verse about how Rama drew Tirumangai Azhwar's attention to His abode in a punnai wood.
The gods may have stopped calling out to wayfarers, but there are people who still seek forgotten shrines, to discover the glow undimmed by the cobwebbed centuries. If you are one of them, Idikarai, 16 km north of Coimbatore, will reward you.
There are posters on the road to proclaim ``Long Live Classical Divine Tamil'' (in English of course), but no fragrant woods though the village is tucked away from the highway. The village gets its name from the two streams which once bordered the spot. The poetic twin banks (Irukarai) has changed to Idikarai or thunder-on-shore. (Irukaraiyenum Turaiyurai Perumalae: "Tiruppugazh")
You wade through an old booklet advertising everything from beauty parlours and Balaji Cements to Aiswarya Panipuri and Abubacker Auto Garage, where a lone page briefly describes the Vishnu temple of Pallikonda Aranganathar. Built by the Pandya kings in the 12th century (attested by the Piscean engravings outside the sanctum), with a 17th century shrine for goddess Ranganayaki, this temple is known for its sarva chakram sacred to the planets Rahu and Ketu. It is believed that regular circumambulation of the pillar with the chakram ensures a good marriage for the unwed.
The Siva temple is less known and in a poorer condition. It is small, with a yard to match its size, and surrounded by a few scruffy trees, somewhat glamorised by the lighting effects of the slanting Sun. The main chamber houses Lord Villiswara, who gifted a mighty bow to Rama who came to worship the lingam here before his war with Ravana. The big festival is Arudra Darisanam when Nataraja goes round the courtyard in the frenetic movements of the rudra tandavam.
The kalyana utsavam has an intriguing ritual. Bride Vedanayaki gets angry midway through the proceedings, returns to the temple by a short cut, and locks the Lord out. Sundaramurti Nayanar appears to intercede and placate her.
When we enter her dim sanctum we see no wrath in Vedanayaki. Dressed in black synthetic material bordered with plastic zari, her only adornment is a string of jasmine. The priest tells you that her brass trinkets have become too worn out for use. Her tali has been purloined. But no one has been able to steal the serenity in her smile.
The beautifully carved nandi, adorned with pink and white arali, seated before the sanctum. Pics. by K. Ananthan.
Our visit is at pradosham time, which has drawn a respectable gathering. Old-timer Kannan introduces himself as belonging to a family of nadaswaram artistes serving the temple for generations. Ask him about the inscriptions on the walls (obscured by a coat of lime) and he will tell you that they refer to events in 1535, though the temple is much older. The gopuram is new, but aged enough to have become fertile ground for peepul and erukku saplings. Luckily, lack of funds has kept the colours mellow. A few gods dot the yard including Ganapati and Dakshinamurti (later additions?) Kannan's sensitivity is evident when he points to the beautifully carved Nandi before the sanctum, strung with pink and white arali, ``See, it smiles, and is ready to talk to you.''
Out in the yard the new nandivahana is ready with its fresh coat of paint to bear Chandrasekara and Umadevi. The deities are dressed in their best and decked in flowers. A saucy umbrella flaunts its colours above the regal couple as they saunter round their domain on a rickety cart whose wheel has to be manually ``adjusted'' every now and then. There is even an orchestra of mridangam, harmonium and vocals. When Kannan intones "Sambho Sankara Samba Sivaaaa..." the group takes up the cry with vigour if not in perfect tune. But word and sound cease to matter as you join the throng and amble down the yard, repeating the verse with all the gusto of the Idikarai-dweller.
Sensing your admiration for the bronze figures, Satyaprakash, the young son of priest Gowrishankar says proudly, "We have many beautiful bronzes of gods and saints, but they are in the locker at the Vishnu temple, it is not safe to keep them here." (After the procession, Chandrasekhara and Umadevi will be similarly enclosed). The little boy gave up regular school and opted for the vedapatasala in Pazhani. You see his commitment when, during the procession, he circles the gods with camphor flame marking the four sacred directions.
With a monthly salary of Rs. 100 priest Gowrishankar is dependent on wedding rites and other religious functions for his livelihood. "Too many factions in the village to do anything useful or constructive for temple maintenance. No leadership either. The temple's annual income is Rs. 2,000 in land rent. This is an ancient shrine, one of a sacred cluster built in the Kovai region by Emperor Karikala Chola. But look at its present state!"
Having seen ceramic tiles, marble slabs, blinding coats of paint and other incongruities in the name of renovation, we don't know whether to be glad or sorry to see Villiswara's home untouched.
The real question is whether we can undertake caring restoration of our heritage monuments, the priceless repositories of our culture and values.
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