THE HARSH rays of the mid morning sun were effectively blotted out by the boughs of the Banyan tree as was the bird song by the crows. Sitting on a rather uncomfortable rock under the tree I could glimpse through a pathway in the jungle of thorny shrubs a thin trickle of the River Tamiraparani. The pathway had cracked in the drought and the trickle itself seemed to be unsure as to whether it should go on or just stop and give up in its fight against the overpowering heat. Ananthakrishnapuram village in this snapshot seemed uncannily similar to Chorgadia village in far away Orissa I had visited sometime ago. There is after-all an overriding similarity in India despite her many regional differences.
My thoughts were suspended with the rich sound of the temple bell. The morning rituals were over and I could have a darshan of Lakshminarayana, the presiding deity. I walked back into the village — a single street of 32 houses, each 42 ft. wide. The houses were in various states of prosperity and most had huge locks on their front doors. All of them had variations of the Vaishnavite symbols in stucco on their facades and one of them, even a grim looking warrior. Some had arched verandahs on the first floor and others had no first floors at all. A few had dates engraved on them commemorating a remodelling done 80 or 90 years ago.
Crossing the houses and manoeuvring myself around the goats and cows on the narrow street, I reached the humble and unprepossessing entrance to the temple. The pillared hall led to a low-ceiling mandapam, with a sanctum for the presiding deity. Subsidiary shrines for Thayar, Andal, Nammazhwar, Ramanuja and Vedanta Desikar date from 1944. The main deity is an outstanding Nayak sculpture. The Perumal is seated with Lakshmi on his left lap. He holds the conch and discus on his upper arms and his other arms hold Lakshmi and are in the Varada mudra. The utsavar deity of Venugopalan is of more recent origin.
Narayana archakar did not speak of famous verses sung on this temple or of associated puranic lore. I found no inscriptions either. But he did speak of a great sense of contentment in his simple life in the village and only wished to see more pilgrims especially those who could join with him and recite stanzas from various slokas. The contentment showed in the care he took to prepare the prasadam! Seldom have I tasted better curd rice!
It was time to wind-up for the morning and the managing trustee joined me in the final puja. Krishnan and I then sat on the thinnai of his house and he told me the story of the village. It had no clear historical sources but to me it was more believable than a lot of other stalapuranams.
Three to four hundred years ago a brahmin couple fled from the village of Vadaakku Chezhiyanallur and camped near the river. Ananthappa Nayakar and Krishnappa Nayakar who were the chieftains of these parts spotted them. The couple managed to win their confidence and were rewarded with land and a small simple temple.
This couple had two sons and those of the older one lived in the upper part (mel-aam/upper house) of the street closer to the temple and the others in the lower part (keezh-aam/lower house). All the earlier residents of the village, who are scattered across the globe, are closely related and many gather here with their friends for the Purattasi and Margazhi festivals. Krishnan's listing of the descendants of each of the 32 houses with their pet names (to distinguish among the many Vedantams, Gopalans, Alamelus etc.,), occupations and matrimonial relationships were mind-boggling and all this was only from the last century! A more fascinating part was the Telugu-speaking branch of the family, which probably settled in the village when the lands and temple were given by the Telugu-speaking Nayaks. "Try to visit Jatayu theertham a kilometre upstream," he said as I bade goodbye.
Ananthakrishnapuram is not for the pilgrim searching for grand temples celebrated in song and verse by famous saints. Nor is it for the art and architecture aficionado. It is for the traveller who has the curiosity to look at an insignificant tarmac/mud track that branches off from the main highway and asks where will this take me. The traveller who asks that question is also one who may like to see the `real' India. An India of quiet villages in desolate surroundings where the youth have gone in search of greener pastures to the cities or across the seas, leaving behind older folk eager to cling on to a way of life partly touched by cable TV and telephone but by and large unchanged for centuries. Their time is spent in looking forward to the next temple festival.
Then, the bolted doors of the houses are open once again and the animals on the street are ousted. It lasts for a few days but for them the wait is probably worth it! My visit was a short but significant one. It brought me in touch with a more recent part of history and a glimpse of a social milieu of a village of the last century. My detour had been an interesting experience and I wondered how "different" the next one would be.
How to get there: The village is eight km east of Tirunelveli Junction on the northern bank of the River Tamiraparani. Regular buses ply to the village as also the bus on route 46 that goes to Narayanamalpuram. The rather pot holed road to the village is off the Madurai-Tirunelveli highway. You turn right into Shankarnagar and then pass Chathiram Kudiruppu and Kurichikulam villages to reach Ananthakrishnapuram. Try to call Mr. Krishnan / Ms.Lakshmi @ 0462-300914/ 300330 ahead of visiting the temple to confirm the time when the temple would be kept open.
The residents of the village are trying to restore the temple structure and would appreciate donations sent to "Nigamantha Desika Samvardhani Sabha (Reg.) Ac. No. 7525 IOB Narayanamalpuram Branch @ Shankarnagar.
Wow! Great to find a post with such a clear measgse!