Santhanam looks like your average retired person, sitting in front of the TV or playing with his grandchildren and perhaps doing the mandatory temple visit daily. Hear him speak and you are amazed by the extraordinary thing he is doing, at an age when people will be maintaining a calendar for doctor's appointments or complaining about how the present is not as good as the past.
Uzhavaram is a small spade that Tirunavukkarasar is depicted with. The saint was revered for his habit of keeping Siva temples clear of weeds and it is appropriate that his organisation is called Uzhavara Tirupani.
Six years ago, he helped in a small way for a local temple to be renovated and that caused his attention to be turned towards clearing temples of weeds and refreshing some of their divine spirit. Working in Sundram Fasteners allowed him to do this on Sundays and it continues to support in full strength post his retirement.
The logistics are impressive. On the second Sunday of every month, a team of 200-230 volunteers travel in a bus and work on sprucing up a temple.
Simple meals are included and they return the same day. Santhanam lives in Perambur, but he has friends from as far off as Damal. Just a few people doing this will take time but with 200 people, they make a significant change in the few hours they spend in the temple. Weeds are removed, areas that are plastered are painted again, stones with or without inscriptions are cleaned with water, vessels are scrubbed, electrical wiring is repaired and finally a simple puja is sponsored.
Well cooked meals are provided for everyone and the sense of peace as they embark on the journey back is virtually immeasurable. Everyone does something, the older people often helping with the cooking, or even doing the flower garlands. Qualified wood cutters take care of pernicious plants in tall structures. They don't have snake catchers but that is a skill needed sometimes, since many of these temples are completely desolate and on the verge of collapse.
What keeps Santhanam going? “We all do this for our souls and somehow every month, every second Sunday, things fall into place.” Almost 18 temples have benefited so far, Takkolam, Devadanam and Tirisulam being a few. Many of these have immense historical or devotional value but are neglected. Some don't even have a priest coming in and if they do, it's often for as little as 10 minutes every day. When he speaks about things that can change, there is a sense of hope. Local support is surprisingly not always forthcoming. In fact they resist this good deed and occasionally temple authorities would rather see the temple go to seed but do not allow the team to do their bit for that one day. He hopes that more projects completed will spread the good word.
For every temple where locals resist such good work, there are 10 where they are welcomed! He also hopes that better funds would mean he can even go beyond the geographical restrictions since boarding and lodging for overnight stay is expensive.
Those who wish to help contact94449 97343/94456 14716.