[Reader-list] July Posting-Roadside Temples in Chennai

kalpagam - umamaheswaran kalpagam25 at rediffmail.com
Mon Jul 19 11:42:31 IST 2004

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  Hi Friends,
Here is my posting for July. A few more will soon follow.

July Posting-Roadside Temples in Chennai

I have been on the field almost everday and have been visiting many temples and interviewing various people. Here I will give narrative accounts of five temples and it is getting clear that each shrine has its own unique history. If the bigger temples of Tamilnadu have written accounts of what is called "Sthala Puranas", roadside temples have only popular histories that need to be pieced together from often contested and oral accounts. Here is the narrative account of one temple. The other four will follow soon.

Sri Nagakanniamman Temple opposite Mandaveli Bus Terminus

On a Wednesday afternoon I visited the temple, I found the area round the temple freshly cemented with red CITU flags strung together tied round all four sides to prevent people from stepping onto the fresh cement. The temple is a mini comples of three small shrines- one of Nagakanniamman facing east, a shrine for Hanuman and brass idols of Ram and Sita facing west and almost back to back with the Nagakanniamman shrine. In between the two was a fairly midsized Arasam tree. On the north side of the tree, they had put up a stone idol of Ganesha. On the south side and facing the east they had a shrine for Lord Ayyappan. This whole mini complex of small shrines are all put up on the sidewalk of Venkatakrishna Road abutting a residential complex of newly built apartments called Subiksha Housing Private Limited. The temple complex was complete in all respects as it had a Shiva Lingam with Trishul in front of the Amman idol and the Amman idol kept in the sanctum though of stone was well decorated with a smaller brass idol with serpent carved on it, a small copper vessel, a hanging brass lamp, a stainless steel "Kudam" and a bell. The grill door facilated the idol to be kept locked when the temple was closed. The shrine was done like a small ornamental one with frehly painted figurines o gods and goddesses. A lighted plastic name board indicated that it was constructed with the help of one "R. Santhanakrishnan". A little adjacent to it was the small shrine of Ayappan which had its lighted board indicate that it was constructed with the help of one "V.S.Bhaskar", also with a grill door and lock. The Hanuman temple facing west was similarly a well decorated brass idol with a lighted plastic name plate that read " Sri Arasadi Bhakta Aanjaneya Temple" and the name of the person who had constructed it. Now who are these people who helped construct these small shrines. Well, all of them belong to a neighbourhood association called " Mylai Mandaveli Friends Association" that has been in existence for nearly two decades. It has office bearers like President, Vice President and Secretary. The present Secretary (M.G.Shankar) serves as the Dharmagartha of the temple, that is the one who overseers the temple activities. 
	In my brief interview with M.G. Shankar I came to know that earlier he was owning a Wine Shop just close to the temple complex. As his business prospered he became quite rich. He appears to be the son of slumlord of a neighbourhood slum as told to me by one of a former well known slum rowdy and plumber, who is otherwise a long term neighbourhood friend of mine. Shankar was however a person who deeply believed in God and for nearly twenty five years, he and his friends had organized pilgrimage trips to the Ayappa shrine at Sabarimalai in Kerala. Once his business prospered he decided to build this roadside shrine which formerly was a small shrine. A nearby flower seller, one Kanniamma, told me that nearly 30 years ago, she had first put up a grinding stone there when the Arasam tree was small and then subsequently the temple was developed by M.G. Shankar the wine shop owner and others like Periasamy who runs a cool drinks shop just opposite to it. Now M.G.Shankar has given his wine shop on lease and lives off the rental income and engages himself with neighbourhood philanthropic activities.
	On the first Sunday of the Tamil month of Adi, the Nagakanniamman temple celebrated its three day Adi festival. The festival was organized by the "Mylai Mandaveli Friends Association" and the most significant part was the distribution of 2000 sarees to the poor women in the neighbourhood. I participated in the function myself and came to know from the organizers of the function that it was the 19th year that they were celebrating the festival and have on numerous occasions distributed sarees to the poor. The organizers told me that no public collection was made and that the activity was fully funded by the members of the Association, many of whom are traders, shopkeepers and so on living in the neighbourhood. They claimed that they engage in other such activities as on the day of the procession of the 63 Nayanmars of Sri Kapaleeswar temple they organize poor feeding for about 15,000 persons who come for the temple Thiruvizha, also serve cool drinks and butter milk on the occasion and put up a child rescue centre to retrieve lost children on the crowded days of the temple festival. They also distribute textbooks to poor school children and help them fund their education. It is remarkable that they started the saree distribution function first by observing a minute's silence to pay hmage to the lost children of the Kumbhakonam fire tragedy.
	The fact of the Association frequent public and neighbourhood activities was evident to me because they had their own name painted steel barricades to regulate the crowds. I was told that many prosperous roadside temples in Chennai are taken over by the Government under the Hindu Religious Endowments Department. Apparently the government officials comes on surprise checks to see the Hundi collection of the temple and if the money is above a certain limit they take over the temples. Earlier they had a Hundi but now this temple complex does not have a Hundi.The government had apparently issued a notice to this temple but the Mylai Mandaveli Friends Association under the leadership of M.G.Shankar have apparently gone to Court and the matter is now in the court. It is significant that a high ranking Police Official ( IGP-Admin) inaugurated the saree distribution function. 

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