Buzzing streets, beaches, shopping arcades, monuments, moving vehicles, Metros and the skyscrapers do not sum up Chennai. Chennai has a different face, quite different from all these diversities. It has another face and that is its real face; the face that reflects its adherence to Dharma. “Dharmammigu Chennai” said Vallalar. Nine is the age when any kid would be playing with his mates, but this kid found pleasure sitting in the precincts of Kanda Kottam Murugan temple. Looking at the shrine of Muthukumara Swami at Kanda Kottam, he felt intensely emotional, and his devotions came out in the form of ‘Deiva Mani Malai’. “Oh Muruga! You are the embodiment of love, who has no equal, who is Yoga Guru and who gives happiness to all. Oh Lord, who has his abode at Chennai, the city where Dharma flourishes, would you come mounted on your beautiful transport of peacock and give me the treasure of your grace? When would the rose petals of thy Lotus Feet extend their gentle grace to me? So went the lines of ‘Deiva Mani Malai’ rendered by the young Ramalingam, who came to be known as Arut Prakasa Vallalar.
Chennai is famous for its adherence to the principles of Dharma, for the spiritual values it upholds, for the traditions it maintains and for the rich culture it has inherited from the ancient past. Great saints came before and after Sri Ramalinga Adigal and hailed the glory of Chennai and foremost among them was Sri Thiru Jnana Sambhandar. Another great saint who visited Chennai and the surrounding temples, was Sri Arunagirinathar, the author of Thiruppugazh. Apart from Thiru Mayilai, he visited Thiruvottiyur, Thirupporur, Kancheepuram and many other temples in the region.
Another supreme saint who conquered Chennai (known as Madras then) was Swamy Vivekananda. After his four years trip abroad and after his historical speech at the Parliament of Religion in 1893, Swamy Vivekananda returned to India. After landing at Rameswaram, he came to Madras by rail. He was brought in a procession from Egmore Railway Station to Castle Kernan, the earlier name of Vivekananda House. He addressed the audience at Victoria Public Hall and later a variety of groups like Triplicane Literary society and Social Reform Association of Black Town (now George Town). After nine days’ stay when he was leaving on February 15, 1897, Sri V. Krishnaswamy requested Swamiji to send his representative to Madras to carry on his mission. Accordingly, Swamiji deputed Swami Ramakrishnananda who established the branch of the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai.
Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswati Swamigal, 68th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, known as the saint among saints and moving God (Natamaatum Deivam), has chosen Kanchi as his abode. He found Chennai congenial to pursue his spiritual mission and held this city very close to his heart. Some of the places he frequented are Madras Sanskrit College, Asthika Samajam, Alwarpet, Sri Sankara Gurukulam at Abhiramapuram. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal (69th Peetam) and Sri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswathi Swamigal (70th Peetam) have also found Chennai an ideal center for highlighting the principles of Sanatana dharma. The revered Acharyas of Sringeri Sarada Peetam have visited Chennai many times. The Sringeri Mutt and Sringeri Sarada temple at Chennai continue to be a great spiritual center.
Chennai is also famous for some of the magnificent temples. Kapaleeswar temple, where Lord Siva resides, surrounded by Karpagambal, Vigneswara, Muruga and Navagrahas, is unique for many reasons. Built by Pallavas in the 7th century it is marvelous for its architecture, stone carvings, decorated pillars and Gopuram at the doorway. Sri Thirujnana Sambhandar came here and rendered Thevaram. The ‘Arupathimoover’ festival that celebrates the extraordinary devotion of 63 saints is an important event. When the month of Margazhi dawns, we find devotees walking through the streets singing Bhajan. Aged people remember the days when Papanasam Sivan used to lead the bhajan through the Madaveethis. At Triplicane we find Parthasarathi temple, the only temple where different Avatars of Lord Vishnu like Krishna, Varaha, Rama and Narasimha are worshiped. We find Muthukumara Swamy at Kandha Kottam, the ancient temple for Lord Muruga, the temple where Vallalar used to spend most of his time during his younger days. Guruji Sri A.S. Raghavan has written a beautiful article on Muthukumara Swami having his abode at Kandha Kottam, under the title “Chennai Nagar Mevum Shanmugha Deivamani”. Another great temple at Chennai for Lord Muruga is at Vadapalani. Built by Annaswami Nayakar, a devotee of Murugan in 1890, this temple was renovated in 1920 by building a huge Rajagopuram at the entrance way. Sri Vadapalani Andavar temple is considered as a sacred platform for marriages and other religious ceremonies, and it is believed that the presiding deity (Moolavar) in standing posture blesses the newly married couple with health and prosperity. There are many other temples of great sanctity in Chennai like Siva Vishnu temple at Mambalam, Thirumala Thirupathi Devasthanam temple, Ashtalakshmi temple, Mahalingapuram Sri Ayyappan temple, to mention a few.
Great saints and singers have also chosen Chennai as their home. Thiruppugazh songs, originally made in palm leaves were lying scattered at different places, unsung and unheard. It was Sri Chengalvara Pillai who realized the sacred value of Thiruppugazh, collected them from different sources and brought them in printed book form. The credit for bringing Thiruppugazh to limelight goes to Sri Chengalvarayar. It is from 292, Lingi Chetti Street, Madras, his residence, that Sri Chengalvarayar pursued his Thiruppugazh mission. Sri Vallimalai Sachidananda Swamigal who dedicated his life to highlight the importance of Thiruppugazh, used to visit this residence of Chengalvarayar quite often. It is Chennai, Sri Sachidananda Swamigal used as a platform to initiate many programs like Thiruppugazh Recital, Tiruthani Padi Vizha etc. Since this residence became the venue for many devotees to inter-act and render Thiruppugazh, it came to be known as “Thiruppugazh Thai Veedu”, ‘The motherly home of Thiruppugazh’
Another notable personality who has chosen Chennai as his home was Sri T.M. Krishnaswamy Iyer, the erstwhile Judge at Madras. Though he was a legal luminary and held high positions in judiciary, his basic identity was that of a Thiruppugazh devotee. He closely associated himself with Sri Sachidananda Swamigal. He went to see Maha Swamigal who was camping at Palakkad and got an opportunity to render a Thiruppugazh in his presence. In appreciation of his intense devotion, Maha Swamigal honored him with the title “Thiruppugazh Mani” coinciding with his initials, T.M. Sri T.M. Krishnaswamy Iyer, also one of the founders of P.S. Higher Secondary School, used to lead ‘Thiruppugazh, Isai Vazhipadu’, the Satsang which used to be a major event during the 50s. He used to lead the Thiruppugazh Satsang, known as ‘Adiyar Thirukoottam’ at Kandhakottam Murugan temple every Sunday, which turned out to be a major event of those days.
Inspired by the glory of Thiruppugazh, it was Sri Muthuswamy Iyer who established Adiyar Thirukoota Iraippani Manram at Chennai around 1950. This establishment conducted Thiruppugazh Bhajan regularly at Anubhuti Mandapam at Chennamalleeswarar temple in Chennai. Sri Muthuswamy Iyer established ‘the United Concern’ which produced and marketed quality ‘Nanjagudu’ tooth powder. But that was his secondary concern, and his main concern or profession was singing Thiruppugazh (Padum paniye paniyai arulvai). The ‘United Concern’ provided platform for Satsang for all Thiruppugazh Anbargal. With a view to highlight Thiruppugazh, Sri Muthuswamy Iyer brought out “Thiruppugazh Malai” containing 400 songs, including Anubhuti, Alamgaram, Virutham and Vakuppu. It was the first time Thiruppugazh songs were brought out in an easily accessible book form.
He also brought out a monthly magazine in the name of ‘Amrita Vasani’ in which many unique articles on Thiruppugazh and explanation of songs appeared. The magazine became a household name in those days. When the eighth edition of ‘Thiruppugazh Malai’ was under print, Sri Muthuswamy known as ‘Thiruppugazh Muthu’ attained the Lotus Feet of Muruga. Devotees of Thiruppugazh carried forward his work and continued to bring out new editions and the 10th edition of ‘Thiruppugazh Malai’ came in 1990. This small handy book which came in a yellow wrapper became the most sought-after book of that period (see the picture above). Though many books on Thiruppugazh songs came, like ‘Thiruppugazh Madani’ and ‘Thiruppugazh Isai Vazhipadu’ by Thiruppugazh Anbargal, the small ‘Thiruppugazh Malai’ continues to retain its charm for its color, for its contents, for its size and for its age. It is learnt that Giri Trading has taken its copy right and continues to publish it.
Pamban Swamigal, born at Pamban near Rameswaram was deeply influenced by Thiruppugazh. He said though the God resides at temples and hills, His favorite abode is the heart of devotees. That is why Muruga is called Guhan who resides in the cave of heart. Once, he saw a dream where Muruga came and asked him to go to Chennai. On getting up, he wondered where he would go in Chennai and where he would reside. But Muruga’s command has to be obeyed and saying “come what may” he boarded the train. On arriving at Egmore Railway station next morning, he came out wondering what would he do next. Surprisingly then, a cartman came near him and said, “take your seat”. Carrying Swamigal, the cart went ahead and stopped just in front of 41, Vaidyanath Mudali Street, in George Town. As Swamigal got down, he was warmly received by a lady and conducted him to her house. Smt Bangaru Ammal, the housewife told him later that Lord Muruga appeared in her dream the day before and commanded her to receive a saint arriving in Egmore station the next day and ensure his transportation and accommodation needs. Swamigal composed many works like ‘Sadhananda Sagaram’, Karunakara Velan’, Thagaralaya Rahasyam etc. While at Madras, he met with an accident at Thambu Chetty Street and his left ankle was broken. Doctors who examined advised amputation. However, Pamban Swamigal remained calm and composed. He started rendering Shanmuga Kavajam and surprisingly he showed signs of recovery.
Thiru Muruga Krupananda Variyar who took the glory of Thiruppugazh to Himalayan height by way of his discourses and books used Chennai as the base for his Thiruppugazh mission. It became a proud moment when Guruji Sri Raghavan also made Chennai his home. With Chennai as the base, Guruji carried out his mission to reach Thiruppugazh to all corners of the world. Another resident of Chennai, at Venkatachala Mudhali Street at Royapettai, to be precise, was Sri Murugadas, who owned a golden voice, a heart full of devotion and a mind that always thought of Muruga.
Devotees find spiritual fulfilment at Chennai because the city happened to be the venue of many Satsangs. The saints who highlighted the principles of Sanatana Dharma continued coming to Chennai. Nochur Sri Venkataraman used to conduct his discourse at Narada Gana Sabha regularly. Discourses on subjects like Upanishad, Bhagavatam, Bhagavad Gita, Kandhapuranam and Ramayanam etc. would be going on at some place like Venus Colony, West Mambalam and Kapalesswr temple, substantiating what Vallalar said as “Dharma Mihu Chennai”.
Having passed through many glorious eras and having witnessed the rise of many saints, the ‘Thai Veedu of Thiruppugazh’, Chennai, became the venue for another grand event. When the sun dawned on 22nd April 2017, Muruga devotees forgot all about the material world and assembled at SVR Mandap at Royapettai to witness the grand spectacle of Guru Samarpana Thiruppugazh Isai Vizha. Perhaps, never before, so many Thiruppugazh Anbargal, drawn from all parts of the world, congregated at one place to immerse themselves in the shower of Thiruppugazh Amrutam (the nectar of Thiruppugazh); the shower which continued for the next day. The visit made by 70th Acharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Sri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati Swamigal and the blessing he accorded turned out to be the crowning glory for the event. The huge audience, devotion and dedication writ large all over their face could be compared only with a similar grand event, Mahamaham that is held at the sacred abode of Lord Siva, Kumbakonam. For a moment, the devotees kept wondering what a powerful movement a single individual, Guruji Sri Raghavan had created.
The sweet language of Tamil consists of three elements, Iyal (the texts or poetry) Isai (music) and Natakam (drama). Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu has proved to be an ideal ground where the tradition of art, music and culture flourishes. Some of the cultural institutions of Chennai are Madras Music Academy, Kalakshetra and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, to mention a few. Come to Chennai and experience the taste of music and culture preferably now in the month of Margazhi, when Chennai looks very marvelous.