[Reader-list] July Posting-Roadside Temples-Additional Notes 2

kalpagam - umamaheswaran kalpagam25 at rediffmail.com
Tue Jul 20 12:10:55 IST 2004

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Hi Friends,
Here is some more on the Roadside Temples I interviewed,

July Posting-Roadside Temples-Additional Notes 2

Roadside temples for Mariamman are like the Ganesh temples very numerous. It can be said that each slum locality in the city is likely to have a Maiamman temple. These temples also serve as the focal point for community activities for the slum households especially during the tamil month of Aadi, when every Aadi Sunday many individual households as well as collectively they worship the goddess and offer Kuzhu (a kind of porridge) to all in the neighbourhood. Worship of this diety is probably foremost for slum households, most of whom belong to non-brahmin and lower castes. Worship of mother goddess by all names is supposed to protect them from certain annual epidemic diseases like small pox (now non-existent), chicken pox and measles. In fact when any household is afflicted with these or other illnesses  even today, also in middle class and upper caste households, they believe that they have failed to appease Goddess Mariamman and quickly make amends by arranging a Kuzhu or Pongal offering. These are generally prepared in the outer precints of the temple, and when an upper caste, say a Brahmin household decide to make such an offering, they usually ask a lower caste woman known to them, usually a domestic servant to make the offering and give her all the provisions and bear the puja expenses. The Kuzhu or Pongal thus prepared and offered is usually distributed to the slum members themselves. This being the month of Aadi all the Mariamman temples in the neighbourhood are buzzing with activity especially on Fridays and Sundays. I present below my narrative accounts of two such Mariamman temples where I conducted interviews recently.

Arulmiga Sri Mundakanni Amman Aalayam

This temple on the sidewalk of the road is located just at the entrance of Bharati Nagar slum in Mandaveli. A long time resident of the slum, one Sudha who claims she was born and brought up in that slum, claims that this temple was first started by placing a stone to represent the Amman idol way back in 1956. Later the temple, still with thatched roof but otherwise a stone structure with grill door was put up as the plaque says on 22-10-1971. Significant details of those involved in the construction and inaugural of this temple is given in the stone plaque details. The then Municipal Councillor T. Sarangan and ex-Municipal Councillor T.K.Kapali graced the inaugural function suggesting that the Municipal authorities had themselves approved it. But more importantly, the most renowned bootlegger and slum lord whose regime is still recalled with awe and fear in popular memory nearly a decade after his death, one M. Sundaram, also graced the inaugural function and the plaque says it was done under his leadership. Subsequently, the youth of the slum brought a Ganesha idol from somewhere, according to Sudha they stole it from somewhere, and installed that in the temple as well. Today all the teenaged youth of the slum are doing various tasks related to the temple. Most significantly every house owner in Bharati nagar slum as also some of the neighbouring bungalow owners give Rs 100 per month for temple upkeep, and all renters who live in rented houses in Bharati nagar slum have to give Rs 50 per month for temple upkeep. There exists a committee of five members from the slum itself who collect the money and maintain accounts paying for the temple expenses like flowers, oil for the lamp, sweeper charges and so on. They are apparently also saving a good chunk of the monthly collection to build a more pucca temple. But in return for their monthly contribuion, they celebrate the Aadi festival with gusto and apart from the Kuzhu that is distributed mid afternoon, all slum members are given a very big dinner once a year that comprises of all non-vegetarian dishes like chicken, meat and fish. According to Sudha all slum households whether Christian or Muslim have to compulsorily make the monthly temple contribution, and that if they don't they are denied water supply from the public hand pump.
	The pujas at the temple are done twice daily in the mornings and evenings as also on other festival days by a man of the slum named Raji. Raji has apparently been entrusted with the task because for the last two or three years during the Aadi  festival he was the one who was possessed by the goddess. The one so possessed  wears at the time of the festival a yellow sarees, bangles and bindi even if he were a man, and during the state of possession, he would  answer questions that the members of the public ask him and these are believed by the people to be the answers of the goddess herself. Only the member of the slum who is possesssed by the goddess does the daily puja until the next festival when the goddess may possess somebody else as well.
	Recently, they have even installed an idol of Durgai Amman as late as 4-11-1999. As I was standing there and interviewing the people I observed three young mothers not residents of the slum on their way back from a school with their children stop by briefly at the temple and take the Vibhuti prasad kept there for themselve and the five school children althoug the temple doors at that time were locked. Such is the belief among the local people.  

Sri Nagakanni Amman Aalayam, Sri Muthumari, Karumari, Angaala Parameswari Amman Aalayam.

This roadside temple at the intersection of Trust Link Road and Lazarus Church Road houses a number of Amman idols as its name indicates under a huge Arasam tree surrounding which a small kaccha type temple has been constructed. Just a few yards away on the street are three high rise very plush office buildings, one of which is occupied by Touchtel and another yet to be occupied. It is quite surprising that this temple ha survived demolition attempts that must have surely been there when these office buildings came up. The temple is looked after by a old man with the help of his 35 year old daughter who also functions as the priestess. In my interview with her, she called herself both as Nandini and Padmavathi, and told me that the temple has been there for 25 years and was put up by her  devout mother Rajammal. Rajammal first obtained the stone idol of Nagakanni from the ground beneath in Mangkollai area near the Kapali temple. She kept the idol and worshipped it there putting up a small temple. But apparently too many jealous neighbours began to bother her mother and create trouble for her mother. Then one night the goddess appeared in her mother's dream and asked her to relocate the shrine at the present spot. Padmavathi's mother died in 1996 and for the last nine years she has been assisting her father in te tempe. As soon as I met Padmavathi, I knew I had met her before and as she told me her mother's story, it was clear to me that she strongly resembled her mother who used to come round homes collecting rice and money for Amman worship when I was a child.  She used to visit my mother's house regularly for the collection. It is quite possible that during her daily rounds, she found this a good spot with an Arasam tree to relocate her idol. Padmavathi has a flair for metaphorical speech and when I asked her why the temple has so many Amman names she first gave me an account that was incomprehensible to me. The story as narrated went as follows. Angaala Parameswari Amman was already there in the vicinity and the goddess became angry when her younger sister came here. But her mother appealed and said the younger sister will be here. Then within a year, Angaala Parameswari herself moved to this spot, was relocated presumably by her mother in the present spot.  Her mother got the Durga idol from the sea near Marina beach and the Bhavani Amman idol was retrieved from a well.  There werenumerous other stone idols as well such as the seven Kannigal, Idumbar, Yogamuni, Swayambhu Lingeswar (also obtained from the ground).
	Padmavathi was married when she was young and has two children-a son 19 years old       and a daughter 15 years old studying Plus Two. But 15 years ago she separated from her husband and now is fully devoted to the temple as priestess. She has also garnered the intution to say "kuri"-folk astrology. On Fridays and New Moon day she has about 30 to 40 customers who come to her. According to her, they are so poor that not even 10 of them are in a position to give her Rs 10 as Dakshinai. Many of her customers come to her with problems relating to husbands in the case of women, health related problems or problems related to children. 
	Although Padmavathi and her father would like to celebrate th Adi festival for their temple they have been unable to do so because of many problems. First te temple is falling apart especially the cieling and Padmavathi has too many problems with her siblings. Thieves have also ransacked the temple on a few occasions. While the father lives in the temple, Padmavathi lives with her children elsewhere.

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