[Reader-list] June Posting-Roadside Temples

kalpagam - umamaheswaran kalpagam25 at rediffmail.com
Mon Jul 12 10:52:35 IST 2004

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  June Posting- Roadside Temples in Chennai

I have garnered some new insights on the motivations for building temples in an interview I had with S.Chakrapani who had himself constructed a roadside temple, the Sri Sundara Vinayakar Temple on 23 Mandaiveli street, near the Mandaveli market. As Chakrapani's house was facing, what he called as a "three way path", that is the door was facing a street that was perpendicular to the street on which his house was located, he was advised by elders that it was inauspicious for the prosperity and welfare of his family. This may in fact be the reason as to why I see a number of roadside shrines, especially of Ganesha at these three way junctions. Chakrapani told me that he had initially placed an idol on the outer wall of the house. As his house was constructed on a plot of land that belonged to the Sri Kapaleeswar temple in Mylapore, there has been attempts to evict him for the last 40 years. According to him, his next door neighbour on the right side, one Shanmugadurai Nadar, a firewood depot owner, his neighbour on the left side, the owners of Thandu Maiamman Temple and an employee of the Kapaleeswar temple have been acting in concert with the help of a CID official and some rowdies in the area to evict him, so as to appropriate his plot of land. Chakrapani then put up a small temple of Ganesh in the land in front of the house which actually belonged to the Chennai Corporation, perhaps to stall eviction attempts. It is remarkable that he remembered the exact date when he put up the temple in 1968 and claimed to have built the Mantap for the temple in 1971. Being a resident in the area I contested his date saying that I thought the temple was a new structure at which he showed me the engraved plaque on the wall. Either the stone plaque was there in an earlier smaller mantap that got refixed in the new mantap or there must be some advantage in faking the date in his struggle with his evictors. 
	Chakrapani says he built the temple for people's worship and claims that in a day there are on an average 40-50 visitors to the temple. While he himself performs the Abhishek in the morning and acts as the pujari when the doors are kept open, on the day of Shankata Chathurthi, the fourth day during the waning lunar cylce, he calls a Gurukul purohit, a brahmin, to perform the pujas. Chakrapani's involvement with temple work is wholehearted as he was narrating of how the flower seller took money for a week and gave flowers only for four days or the silversmith who took Rs 45,000 to make a silver Kavacham for the idol and used poor quality metal. His struggle with the silversmith still goes on as he showed me a photocopy of a letter he had written with a courtfee stamp of one rupee pasted on it  to the silversmith.
	Now who is Chakrapani? He is about 68-70 years of age and was formerely selling potatoes and onions in the Mandaveli vegetable market. Now he gets a little money by renting out bamboos ladders and rudimentary construction materials like a tin bowl and spade. He also takes the temple hundi collection, using some for the temple purpose and the rest for himself. His home is nothing but a small plot of land on which he has a half done construction of one room in brick and cement with a ceiling. He has managed to fix one tubelight, a fan and his attempt to fix a handpump only cost him money but no water comes out of it. He is othewise absolutely poor with a few utensils and plastic pots and no bed but one plastic chair. Although Chakrapani built the temple to ward off the evil to his family, his detractors according to him, poisoned in his wife's mind, that she nows lives separately in a village Anakaaputhur, on the suburbs of Chennai where her daughter also lives separately. He also claimed that his detractors managed to kill two of his infant children. In spite of all odds he carries himself in a very dignified way. I was amazed at all the letters he has safely kept in a basket written to police commissioners, temple etc and the manner in which he produced them to me as evidence of his struggle.  He only requested me to write to the Police Commissioner highlighting his plight.   

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