Pudukkottai Narasimha Jayanthi – A Journey to the Heart of Namasankeerthanam
– Poornima Srikanth
“I will be on leave on Monday. Going to Pudukkottai” I announced to my colleagues, mentally preparing to face the next set of questions. But it came in sooner than I could prepare for it. `What’s the occasion?’ `Where?’ Before I could try to find an equivalent term for `Narasimha Jayanthi’ or `Bhagavathal Aaraadhana’, another colleague made it easy for me. "Wedding?” Came in much handy. Yes of course, wedding! Just that the bride and the groom are Seetha and Rama.
So I shortened my 30 marks essay answer to a 2 marks one word answer, conveniently borrowed from my colleague. “Wedding” I ascertained, and chuckled off.
Attending the Narasimha Jayanthi Uthsavam in Pudukkotai is like an annual recharge. Just the thought of touching that sacred land, getting blessings from all the bhagavathas, savoring on their soulful music…. Though I have never been able to translate this in an attractive way to the mundane world, it means a lot to me!
After taking an overnight train to Trichy, we took a bus to Pudukkotai. We reached the lodge, checked in and raced to reach the `Nama Sankeerthana Mandapam’ where the ceremonies happen. Overcoming the `missed-it!’ feeling of not able to attend the Bhagavathaal Aaraadhana, we went in to participate in the Seetha Kalyana Mahotsavam that happened on 26th May 2013.
One can find Narasimha moorthy worshipped in the form of a Sthambham (pillar, where the Lord took Avathar) only in Pudukottai, and its quite interesting. This can be seen in the above picture on the right.
The mandapam was ravishing with the priceless jewels that the veteran Bhagavathas are. A five year old boy was rendering the Guru Keerthana, and all the bhagavathas participated, by repeating the lines, just like they would do while following a very senior bhagavatha. From my childhood, I have heard from many bhagavathas, that Sri Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar would unfailingly make every single child sing and he used to enjoy listening. A Mahatma does not hold a difference between a learnt and unlearnt… they only see God in everyone. Sri Subburama Bhagavathar, who led the festival, was still practicing his Guru’s teachings by encouraging everyone to sing in the Sanniddhi.
When veterans from Pudukkotai school of Namasankeerthanam say they are against the `slot culture’ in Bhajanothsavams, one would never understand how Bahajanothsavams will run otherwise.… until they attend Pudukkotai Narasimha Jayanthi.
“The slot system in bhajanotsavams has slaughtered traditional sampradaya bhajan rendering style” says Subbarama Bhagavathar, but still beaming a big smile, reconciling to the present day FAST World’s ways and whims.
The conglomeration of all the bhagavathas lead to a collective energy beyond the expression of words. Agreed, there are slight misunderstandings, abrupt pauses in between, slight disagreements on the next song or paddhathi… but all these last for a moment. The next moment, they acknowledge each other’s sanctity and prema bhakthi supersedes everything else. Thus, one is truly able to experience the meanings of the phrase `bhakthaha sangam cha ananyonyam……….’. We should appreciate that this traditional style had been in vogue for centuries and it is our present day generation that has degenerated this system into slot system bhajans.
The Seetha kalyanam lasted until 3:00 PM and this was followed by the traditional `anga pradakshinam’. This means that the hosts will do shayana pradakshinam over the plantain leaves in which the Bhagavathas had eaten – Thus showing total surrender to the Bhagavathaals, and hence, Bhagavaan. It is believed that Lord Lakshmi Narasimha would be present in person in the festival and would occupy one of the Bhagavathas seat. Anga Pradakshinam is paying homage to Him. Since none can guess which is the Lord’s seat, anga pradakshinam is done on all the Ucchishtam plantain leaves.
It was a sheer ego shattering experience to see great Bhagavathas and their family members as well, participate in the shayana pradakshina over the used plantain leaves. As the tradition is, Sri Narasimha Bhagavathar, the present Sthanikan of the Trust and grand son of Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar, himself would carry these plantain leaves on his head and dispose them respectfully.
One also has to remember that these bhagavathas and their family members who are doing anga pradakshinam are on no food that day, and will have their first food of the day only after they dispose the plantain leaves and take a dip in the pond. After this, the bhajan hall has to be cleaned and they wait until the floor has dried up! All this boils down to the fact that their first food for the day is by dinner time! You may not believe, generally all the family members of Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of conducting the Utsavam, do not have pucca meals for the seven days (Presently the Utsavam is for 7 days, earlier it used to be for 10 days). They mostly have snacks, fruits etc, and generally refrain from rice meals.
A six year old Hamsini (Ravi bhagavathar’s grand daughter) sat with me for lunch. Lunch being really really late, especially for a six year old little girl, she was very hungry. But while the food was served, she told “I am feeling hungry, and want to eat the curd rice (already served). But you know? We should start only after they give Jalam to all bhagavathas and say Hari Om and `Start’. Can you believe they actually say `Start’ in English?” she chuckles. “You are a little girl Hamsini, its ok if you start eating now” I told. But even that 6 year old jewel did abide by the principle. She did control her hunger until they said `Start’to her. 🙂
They have been doing Anga Pradakshina on Bhagavatha Aaradhana day as well! Won’t they be too tired by the end of the day that they will just want to hit the bed, one wonders. Well, no. By Saturday night, Pavvalimbu started and all the bhagavathas assembled again for rendering Pavvalimbu keerthanas.
What started by 9:00PM then went on until 7:30 AM the next day morning… pretty early, according to many present there!
Left – Bhagavathas doing abhinaya for Vasantha Kelikai Pavalimbu
Vasantha Kelikkai and Pavvalimbu are traditionally sung after Kalyana Mahotsavam. Vasantha Kelikai is a set of six songs elaborating the scene of Vasantha Rithu and the conversations between Radha and her sakhi ( the Guru). Pavvalimpu is a set of 24 songs and describes the playful times where Lord Venkatesha and Alamelu Manga enjoy each other’s company. Pavvalimbu culminates with Shayanothsava and then the Prabhodanam when the Lord and Ambal are woken up and when Bhakthas get an opportunity to have darshan of the Celestial couple. At this time, Lord Venkateshwara SEARCHES for his devotees who have been witness to the Utsavam and Bless them all.
It was a wonder to see the dolkist Sri. Venkatesa Bhagavathar single handedly play the dolki the whole night and continue energetically the next day morning.
Pavvalimbu session for the night started with Devatha Dhyanam. Sri Subburama bhagavathar
ensured that all Bhagavathas sung at least one song. “It is my duty that I should deny no one’s wish to sing in this sannidhaanam”. He was, in fact, least bothered about the fact that delaying Devatha Dhyanam would lead to delay in Pavvalimbu, and would eventually bite into the next day’s programs. He would listen in rapt attention to each Bhagavathar, big or small, long or short. A truly amazing role model for us!Singing the Pavvalimbu songs in all its grace were Sri Sundar bhagavathar, Sri Ramanujam bhagavathar Trivandrum Sankar bhagavathar sang along with a host of bhagavathars from all parts of the country and abroad. This year the absence of Chennai Nataraja Bhagavathar due to ill health was conspicuous. Abhinayam was done by Chennai KK Kalyanarama bhagavathar and his accomplice.
The session ended by 7:30 AM on Sunday morning and we thought all of them would just want to take some rest. We were again wrong!
`Hari Narayana Hari Narayana’ started Subburama Bhagavathar, in the same reverence and zest, as if it was the first song of the day! They had Guru Pooja. Sri Narasimha bhagavathar performed Guru Paaduka Pooja of Sri Subburama Bhagavathar and ( ). The activity was conducted outdoors, and in that mud, Sri Narasimha bhagavathar and ( ) performed shayana pradakshina with utmost devotion.
Another noteworthy aspect was the devotion and the elaborate manner in which Pooja was performed for each session, along with Veda ghosham and dhoop-deepa-niveddya upachaaras.
Sri Ramdas Bhagavathar from Thiruvananthapuram had been suggesting that we visit a place called `Swarna Kaadu’, situated 15 km away from Pudukottai. “This was the birthplace of Sri Gopalakrishna Swamigal, and He had spent his initial years there. They still have a small shrine, and the same Narasimha Jayanthi is celebrated there as well”, he said. Seizing the opportunity, we rented a vehicle and left for Swarnakaadu in the morning, after refreshing ourselves.
The serene roads, less populated country sides, the rickety roads and countryside farms makes one wonder if we were traveling down the time machine. No wonder, time factor always takes a backseat in Pudukkotai Bhanajotsavams!
The road to Swarna Kaadu, Sri Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar’s birth place
We reached Bhagavathar’s place for residence in Swarna Kaadu. The old house, with its legacy and heritage has been retained as such, as much as Swami’ Sampradhaya.
We were amazed by the humble attitude and the way they receive guests. They led us to the shrine area, where the vigrahams were kept. They had a small shrine comprising of Srirama, Lakshmana, Seetha and Hanuman, and Narasimha Moorthy. May be this is the only place on earth where you can find Lord Narasimha in between Rama and Lakshmana.The shrine was also home to around 50 saligramams.
Sri Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar’s place of upbringing
Ramdas mama quickly started a small bhajan session, and my appa Sri Ramachandra Bhagavathar continued. Such was the divine vibration of the place that this bhajan, with just the seven of us, one jaalara and no instruments at all… would remain as one of the most enchanting and enthralling bhajan sessions of my life! We sang for just 15 minutes, but I simply cannot find a simile to explain how the happiness feels like. God Bless Ramadas mama who was instrumental to give us darshan of Swarnakadu and its deity.
We returned to Pudukkotai, with our hearts filled with a feeling of a divine content! On our way back, Ramdas mama and Ramakrishnan mama (Thiruvananthapuram) narrated their childhood experiences with Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar. “He would always keep with him some vibhoothi and give it to people who come to him with any sorts of sorrow. And I have known cases where it has cured!” he recollected, in a trance of Bhakthi. “But my personal experience is the biggest testimony” he recollected, with moist eyes. “We were a very middle class family, and we did not even have a decent roof top. Water used to leak in and we used to keep big pots here and there inside the house when it rained. All my father wished was to have a decently concreted hall, so that we could host bhagavathas at home. When Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar came to our house once, he said that things will be alright by the time he came the next time. And it became true!”
Ramakrishnan mama explained that no words of a true Bhagavathar can go as a lie, because Bhagavan is indebted to fulfill his bhaktha’s words.
We reached Pudukkotai by noon, to find that Unchavrithi was still going (not surprised, this time) :)All the bhagavathas were sitting around Sri Narasimha Bhagavathar, who was in Unchavrithi kolam. His stoic figure, frugal life style, tranquil face and beard… everything reminded one of Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar. For a person like me, who has not had the fortune of seeing that Mahatma, it did look like Sri Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar himself!
After a simple yet sumptuous lunch, we packed our bags to hit Trichy station. Of course, we did not forget to bottle in the famous `panneer soda’, so characteristic of Pudukottai.
We went back, fully charged and thrilled. We walked into the same home, same offices and to lead the same way we used to lead our lives. .. But life felt a lot lighter, and if there was still one more wish laying heavy upon us, it was the desire to do nitya nama sankeerthanam!
True to the core, it is this strength of Nama sankeerthanam which keeps us agile in all walks of our life , be it personal, official, public or private. We are nearing the centenary year of Narasimha Jayanthi Utsavam in Pudukottai. There was only one year gap when Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar lost his wife.
"So how did the wedding go?" asked my colleague on my return. "Celestial", I replied, winking at the statue of Hanuman on my table top.