Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chennai'yil Oru Shivarathri

The problem with cliches is that despite being cliches, they *do* happen. With unfailing regularity.
One such cliche is - the best of plans are often unplanned ones. 2013 Shivaratri was one such unplanned plan. So that part of my life was basically around travelling, with me coming home to Chennai during weekends. That weekend was no different. Shivarathri was on Sunday night and I was scheduled to travel that Sunday for work.
So there is this good friend of mine I have always wanted to visit temples with. A guy whose temple-knowledge I haven't come across in people twice his age and whose knowledge of temples is only exceeded by his love of the deities (or at least that is what I make of it). You could say - one of the more perfect companions to have on a temple visit. So a perchance conversation with him on Sunday over phone brought up the topic of "plans" for Shivaratri and ended up in me deciding to take the next day off + (more importantly) my manager granting me the leave and so, us making one impromptu (fuelled in no small measure by the fear of impending loss of bachelorhood for either of us [albeit with no existent cause {then or now}]) plan for that night.
So off we went, starting at around 10 PM, in what was to be easily one of my more memorable temple tours. The best part of the whole experience was that this guy took me to temples I'd hitherto not known or even heard of, despite having criss-crossed that area for many many years.
  • Valasaravakkam Agastheeswarar/Velveeswarar temple - We started off with the Agastheeswarar temple in Valasaravakkam. Though I'd not frequented this temple, I'd been here once many years before with my mother, on yet another Shivaratri.
  • Koyambedu Sri Kurungaleeswarar temple - Easily one of the highlights of the night, since I had absolutely no idea that there was such a huge Shivan temple a (few) stone's throw away from the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus. The approach to the temple is quite misleading, since you have to weave in and out of tiny roads, but when you finally enter the temple, you are quite awed.
  • Vadapalani Vengeeswarar temple - Enga area, so I know this temple pretty well. Had been there as recently as January, when best-friend-2.5's engagement took place nearby.
  • Vadapalani Puliyur Sivan Koil - The most mystic of all the temples that night. That I wasn't able to find any link to this temple on google shows you just how mystic this temple is. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this is the temple after which "Sivan Koil Street" is named, near Powerhouse. Since the temple is located bang in the middle of a residential area, there was an eerie silence en route to the temple. When we finally reached the temple, the silence was that much louder, with stillness joining the party. Then out of the blue came a pack of dogs, not exactly howling, but barking to strike moderate fear in even a reasonably brave soul. Main matter was that this temple was under construction, since I believe arrangements for a Kumbabhishekam were taking place. Not a single chappal outside. Just when we were about to turn back, we heard the distant chanting of Mantras. Tentatively, we walked closer and lo, in a small thatched enclosure there was the Vigraham and a small huddle of people (around 10-12 including the Archakars). Reasonably Definite thrilling experience (First time I wrote, I used "reasonably" but while previewing the post, I was partially transported to that day and realized that the thrill was definitely certain).
    Update: Friend tells me this temple is called Bharadwajeeswarar temple.
    From the Kodambakkam area to Nungambakkam came our first major jump.
  • Nungambakkam Agastheeswarar temple - So this was one of the temples that made me go "Chhaaa, idhu kooda theriyaama irundhuttene". Yup, I grew up within a 5 km-radius of this temple and had not been there even once (assuming my parents haven't taken me as a child). For those in the know, this temple is very close the Nungambakkam Police Station on College Road. And though I'd known for most part of my life that there is a temple there (the temple tank is visible from College Road itself), I'd never been there. There is also the Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal temple nearby.
    From Nungambakkam, we took our next major leap, this time across Mount Road.
  • Apparswamy Temple, Luz - Considering I neither grew up in Mylapore nor (considering I grew up a Mambalam'ite) "regarded" it much as a pride-worthy locality (an opinion I have vehemently drastically altered now), I don't have too much guilt at not knowing about this temple. But considering I frequented the Valluvar Selai bus stop almost everyday for a good part of 10 months in 2010-2011, maybe some guilt will have to be admitted. Here, we were almost warmed up by the poshness of the crowd, I guess, in preparation for the Big One.
  • The Big One -I have, for many years now, wondered and to some extent, been bothered by whether it was an imagined emotion or a definite one, but if you were to blindfold me, arms outstretched in front of my face, turn me over & over till I finally came to rest on my own, chances are that my hands would end up pointing in the direction of this temple. I have, by now, more or less come to terms with the fact that this is THE temple for me (the reason for which continues to elude me). I'll spare you the emotions that go through me internally, but suffice to say that even externally, the joie de vivre Kapali gives me remains quite unmatched. It was almost 4 AM by the time we reached here and thankfully, the crowd that was in wasn't much. Needless to say, the darshan was fantastic.
    A lovely thing with temple visits during Shivarathri is that you get to hear the Thevarams & Thirumanthirams a lot (something you otherwise dont get the chance to). Inside the Shivan sannidhi, there was this gentleman who sang with such a ghaNeer voice that you were plain awed.
    The usual awesome experience was, however slightly marred (or enhanced, whichever way you see it) by a little distraction inside the Shivan sannidhi. While a majority of us were standing outside the railings, there were a few people inside (remember the "poshness" bit from the Apparswamy temple?) - obviously regular patrons of the temple. There inside among the others was this mother-daughter duo (or maybe more, but it was only these two that appeared obvious) - the mother in a Madusaar (stylishly, richly worn) and the daughter, a brown-coloured saree which seemed a cross between a saree and a dhavani (keep in mind the observations were mostly indirect & guilt-based, hence accuracy will have been affected). But in spite of all the out-of-the-corner-of-the-eye/indirect glances, it was obvious this girl was a stunner. Anywhere between 22-28, there was this irresistible aristocracy in her face - sharp nose (this speaks a lot since I am bad at noticing specific features in a girl's appearance and also the fact that till date, I don't know if/why a sharp nose is associated with good looks) accentuated by a noticeable jawline and a face that didn't sport a smile for even 2 seconds. There might have been a bored look, but I am not sure. But yes, the girl was enough of a head-turner to distract one moderately & one deeply Bhakti-based fellow when both would probably have been in one of their more spirituality-based Paravasa nilais. Yes, a quick discussion on the girl happened once we were outside the temple and I was partially relieved that it wasn't only the lesser mortal in me whose manasu sanchala pattufied. :D
  • Besant Nagar Ratnagireeswarar templeThis is one of the temples whose existence I came to know of pretty recently, i.e. over the past couple of years, courtesy parents. Been there a few times myself, so wasn't a Eureka moment for me like some of the others. Very conveniently located on the way from Kapali to Marundheeswarar.
  • Thiruvanmiyur Marundheeswarar temple - A temple which, to me, is now well-acquainted despite the fact that my first visit here happened barely 2 years ago, owing probably to my frequent visits to the area. Another heavy-crowd temple where we had to jostle around for a fair bit. And we also saw the ghaNeer-voice mama from Kapali demonstrating his awesomeness again here.
  • Velachery Dhandeeswarar temple - Our final stop for the Shivaratri was the Velachery Dhandeeswarar temple. No prizes for guessing that this was another temple whose vicinity I had frequented a lot (in fact the main road near the temple is called Dhandeeswaram Road) but had never been to the temple. It was 5'ish and both of us were very tired, more so me. We had to wait in the queue since the early morning Abhishegam was going on. I was ever so slightly irritated but marvelled at my friend's devotion & dedication - it was obvious he too was barely able to stand but bravely stood on and I, though restless, bore on, taking inspiration from him. Finally, we got a Darshan of Dhandeeswarar and our quite wonderful Shivaratri came to an end.
At the end of what was surely one of my best Shivaratris, I was left stunned by the number of Shivan temples within Chennai city. I will eternally be grateful to my friend for opening my eyes to the lovely temples that adorn the city.
I hope I was able to enrich your knowledge of Chennai's temples by a notch or two as well, credit for which must wholly go to my friend. :-)
Map of our 2013 Shivaratri Expedition.