The Story of Balasoopramaniar Kovil of Amaury, Belle vue Maurel, Mauritius
by Iven Vyapooree
Strolling around the northeastern village of Amaury will reveal that famous Tamil adage that none ought to live in an area where there is no temple: koyil illa ooril kudiyirukka vendaam; has definitely been inspirational to the village inhabitants. Truth is that Amaury, once an agricultural hamlet, counts no more than five places of worship where devotees fervently practice the various ‘common’ beliefs of the Indian faiths.
Map: The island nation of Mauritius showing the location of the northeastern village of Amaury
Balasoopramaniar Kovil in Amaury, Belle vue Maurel, Mauritius
There, on the outskirt of the village, stands the centenarian Bala Soopramaniar Kovil where ancient Dravidian Saiva rites, resisting the weary of time, are still being performed to date. Historians acknowledge that the kovil counts among the island’s oldest Tamil temples; and having witnessed over hundred winters, the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil has steadily established itself as an ‘iconic’ pilgrimage site within the local Tamil community and its might has extended beyond the waters of the Indian Ocean. People, from various creeds, regions and countries, have been left mesmerised by the splendour of this masterpiece of the local Dravidian architecture.
The story of this peaceful abode in Mauritius began in 1865 with the arrival of the Tarquin, an English barque departing from the then-Madras Port; having on board a bold and sea faring young boy aged only ten, who left his hilly playgrounds of Salem alongside his mother and four siblings, to embark on a long journey across the Indian Ocean.. Shattered by the thought of leaving his father and his native land behind, the little boy brought with him an un-carved stone (see Figure 1 at right) relic depicting Lord Murugan as his Divine Protector across hostile seas, through angry storms and against the doom of epidemics.
One hundred and fifty years later and some three thousand nautical miles down south, will bring us to current times; where, at the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil; the Supreme One continues to be glorified and prayed to, using that same stone remnant of Tamil Nadu. One would reckon that the fortune of this igneous rock, shaping out of volcanic rumbles to a divine Lingam, would have remained insignificant until the realm of time; if its fate line fails to be penned down somewhere. So, here we are today, echoing the fascinating voyage of the un-carved stone (our current Lingam) from Salem, claimed as the birthplace of the Tamil Avvaiyar poets, to the village of Amaury and the unflinching courage of the then-little Vyapooree Mudaliar.
“In every time and culture there are pressures to conform to the prevailing prejudices. But there are also, in every place and epoch those who value the truth, who record the evidence faithfully. Future generations are in their debt.”
Off the Hills of Salem…
Following the years to the abolition of slavery, the British colonialists introduced indentured labour scheme, which came to be known as the ‘Great Experiment’; that attracted more than half a million Indian emigrants from all regions of the sub-continent. This timeline of the Indian diaspora’s history coincided with the massive exodus to Mauritius, Malaysia and the Caribbean Islands. Over the years to come, the British East India Company managed to convince thousands adventurous Tamils, from all corners of the Land, to follow the path of pioneers who left for Mauritius more than a century ago through the Madras outpost; and amongst them was Palaneayee Mudaliar, mother of the little Vyapooree.
The story goes that, back then, in Salem, Tamil Nadu, life connoted with so much hardship that even the nobles faced austerity.
Palaneayee, being married Maurimootoo Mudaliar, was no commoner as the Mudaliars belong to the famous Gatti Mudalis medieval ruling clan of Salem tracing their lineage back to the ancient Chola Velirs, the distinguished Army Generals and Chief Ministers of the Chola Kings; but still nobility alone could no longer satisfy the evermore hunger of her growing family. Palaneayee was compelled to leave both husband and homeland behind in pursue of her children’s subsistence.
So, by late spring of the year 1865, this valiant lady left her hilly inland province of Salem blinded by the promises of indentured labour; and this would prove to be a momentous event in the life of our little Vyapooree. The little boy knew that he was at his Epochal crossroads and rejected the comfort of his cradle against the unknown fate alongside his mother. The small mob of seafarers, leaving Salem, also comprised of Vyapooree’s siblings: Yellapen, his elder brother aged thirteen years old, Goinden the younger one aged four, his sister, Chellayee, aged five and the baby boy Runghen, aged eleven months, among others.
Descendants of early Indian immigrants in Mauritius in the early 1930s
Despite his tender age, Vyapooree was already blessed with sheer grit and determination by Lord Murugan, the guardian deity of mountaineers and hill people alike. Prior to leaving Salem, Vyapooree wanted to take along his very own relic of the Lord; and thus, he chose an un-carved stone from the two millennia old Bala Soopramaniar Swami Kovil on the slopes of Oothumalai, in Tamil Nadu; where Agastya Muni offered his prayers to Lord Muruga graced as His child avatar. Hence, for our little Vyapooree, this stone silai would be his Bala Soopramaniar Swami, his last piece of home and possibly the sole memory of Maurimootoo, his father (Tantai).
On the 23rd August 1865, Vyapooree and his family were stationed at the Coolie Ghat near Port-Louis harbour, the already famous pit stop to prospective plantation workers awaiting deployment. After staying for four nights at the depot, Palaneayee, Yellapen and Vyapooree were recruited by the Grivot Mallac & Company since, at that time, any healthy immigrant aged ten or above could be hired as indentured labourers. The whole family thus moved to the eastern village of Brisée Verdière to settle in rudimentary huts provided by their employers; whilst they were deployed as plantation workers on the sugar cane fields surrounding the village of Belle Vue to north of Brisée Verdière. Going to work and back implied a daily ten miles stride. Lack of basic amenities and infrastructure coupled with the rigorous routine made life at that time anything but a lovely affair.
Vyapooree continued offering quotidian prayers to the Murugan Silai planted in the shade of a tree and his faith kept his mettle undented. Over the years, he grew into an intrepid young man full of virtues and ethics; both pleasing his employers and peers alike. The owners of Grivot Mallac & Company eventually entrusted him with the duty of recruiting prospective workers. Vyapooree had a flair for hiring labourers and was thus quick to excel in his new job.
Mauritius — sugar plantation near Amaury In the 1870s, he received a plot of slightly more than two acres of land in the village of Amaury, from the Gujadhur family, who owned more than 1400 hectares of land at that time. Both Rajcoomar Gujadhur, the landlord, and Vyapooree, deemed that a given word was sacred and thus no title deed was contracted at that time. This generous donation was instrumental in the founding the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil.
Vyapooree married a young girl named Rangapen and this union bore ﬁve children – two sons namely Chendrayen and Armon; and three daughters – Sirangum, Thayamootoo and Parvadee.
Feeling the need for a new challenge and in an attempt to secure his family future, Vyapooree took the audacious decision to go for self-employment. Many argued that such a decision could have disastrous consequences. But Vyapooree’s quest for Divine bliss mantled the ruggedness and hardships that scarred most and fortunately, fate sided with him as he was bestowed with an opportunity to fulfil his dream and spiritual ambitions.
Vyapooree started cultivating food crops to earn a living; and it was not long before he moved his whole family to Amaury. So in 1970’s, he took his Murugan Silai along and placed it inside a thatched roof hut, to which he devotedly gave the name of “Bala Soopramaniar Kovil’ as a clin d’oeil to the Oothumalai temple in Salem. Many oral accounts documented this trivial act as the founding of the first Murugan Kovil in the northern part of the island. The Bala Soopramaniar Kovil was the first temple in the North to celebrate the Thaipoosam Cavadee festival. Devotees from the northern hamlets and villages (Cap Malheureux, Labourdonnais, Solitude, Triolet, Belle Vue Pilot amongst others) flocked to the Kovil to attend and participate in the celebrations starting with the Kodi Ettram ceremony. Most of them came either on foot or by ox cart and stayed at the Kovil to attend poosai during the ten days’ fest.
Despite being entangled with his marital and fatherly responsibilities, Vyapooree solely managed the Kovil’s errands and remained ardently active in purporting both cultural and spiritual traditions. Mestry, as he, affectionately came to be known, was slowly gaining the respect and admiration of his peers. Folks not only valued his deeds as the official priest and intendant of the Kovil but also as a renowned healer. Mestry was said to be blessed with mystic healing powers and he was an erudite in the science of medicinal herbs. Various accounts narrated his numerous miracles as he was ever ready to offer his help to the needy ones.
Vyapooree Mestry officiated as the sole priest until his peaceful death in 29th November 1931. Mestry Vyapooree will, forever, be remembered as the founder of the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil commonly cited as the first Murugan Temple in the north of the island, for the kind and caring ascetic he was; and also for his feats in shaping the destiny of the regional Tamil diaspora. Vyapooree certainly lived up to the reputation of the mighty Mudaliars of immemorial nobility; and to this date, his blissful presence has, on numerous occasions, been sensed around the Kovil ostensibly bonding him to his Murugan Silai or our Siva Lingam ad-infinitum.
After the demise of Mestry Vyapooree, the subsequent officiating priests have all come from the same bloodline with the exception of two consecutive appointments of Indian priests, who have, all in all, managed to stay for merely two years. History depicts that the fame and fortune of the Kovil has been strongly linked with that of Vyapooree’s lineage. Nevertheless, even though Vyapooree’s descendants had the hereditary custodianship of the Kovil, they always encouraged and fostered democratic involvement of fellow brothers and sisters in the Temple matters; and thus permitting a cultural and spiritual enrichment of the broader community. Tribute and credit should go these fervent Murugan devotees as well for they, in their own, had their fair share of contribution in the subsequent development of Bala Soopramaniar Kovil. They have been guided by the same ardent Faith along the righteous divine path of spirituality.
The humble foundations of the Kovil were laid in the 1870s’ in the dense forest region bordering the sugarcane fields in the hamlet of Amaury. At that time, the Murugan Silai was only sheltered by a straw thatched hut that, on most occasions, could not resist the tremors caused by cyclonic gusts. Oral accounts recalled that the hut structure had to be constantly rebuilt due to the frequent and fury of tropical storms. Due to lack of financial resources, Mestry, his sons and other devotees had to erect the hut like structure recurrently; each time using stronger poles and thatched rafters that they sturdily fixed in the cow-dung smeared floor.
An intense tropical cyclone that hit the island on in January 1945 did little to spare crops, livestock and fragile settlements. Our Kovil was once again wrecked by the wrath of stormy winds. This time, however, Chandrayen Vyapooree, son of Mestry, with the help of several benevolent devotees, built a solider walled structure made of clay, quick lime and sand and used iron sheets fixed to larger wooden rafters as the roofing material. The Kovil now had a roofed area of some hundred square feet and could accommodate larger gathering on festival days. In 1946, Chendrayen passed away, his wife then proposed to handle the Kovil affairs to her eldest son Singaron, her nephews and other in-laws. Since then, Vyapooree family has bestowed the whole land in the name of the Kovil.
Nevertheless, continuous structural changes were brought in to solidify the Kovil’s edifice; and thus, in 1955, Pynivel Vyapooree, the then Leader and intendant, and his long-time friend Appanah, pulled down all wooden rafters to have them replaced with brand new iron rails. The used iron sheets were also removed and new and thicker ones were fixed to better resist the wear and tear. They even managed to have the first Gopuram built to embellish the Kovil’s architecture.
Figure 2: The first ever Gopuram
In January 1960, the island was visited by two of the worst cyclones in its recorded history, namely Alix and the ever famous Carol, within one month’s span. Devastation doomed the whole island and likewise, our Kovil suffered badly from Mother Nature’s vagaries. Hence, on 25th January 1961, the Kovil was registered to the Registrar of Association under the name of BalaSoopramaniar Temple Society, bearing Registration Number 170, the newly constituted Committee had the Temple and its compounds completely whitewashed and repainted to the gorgeous colours of Dravidian art. In 1969, the Committee Members, under the presidency of Pynivel Vyapooree, managed to have the old iron-sheeted roof replaced with a concrete one; and they also built an adjacent hall as an extension to the existing structure. The iron roofed hall was to serve as venue for wedding ceremonies for neighbouring inhabitants but insufficient financing hindered the project feasibility. Instead, the hall hosted evening Tamil classes, the Kovil’s Committee meetings and also sheltered numerous devotees during the ten days’ fest prior to Thaipoosam Cavadee.
Figure 3: The Kovil in the early 1980’s In 1983, the Committee headed by Goinsamy Tiroumalechetty, decided that the Kovil required some significant restoration works. Additionally, a 400 metres long stone wall was erected to outline the Kovil’s boundaries; and this colossal task was undertaken by numerous members of Vyapooree family including and other devotees, namely, Bala Saminaden, Moorgesh Ramasawmy, Ruben Vurdapen, Aya Konduvel Chengamah, Mooghen Ramsamy and Savoo Poulook among others. The Committee also proposed to have a new Bala Murugan Silai and the un-carved stone has converted to our present Lingam and thus, started to plan for the Koodamuzhukkoo Tiruvizha sanctification temple ritual. Thus, in 1984, the Kovil celebrated its first Koodamuzhukkoo Tiruvizha and also as a commemoration of its centenary existence – courtesy of Swami Sharma.
Figure 5: Angled view of our Kovil in 2017 However, by the mid-1990s, the extended hall area required major renovation due to rusting of its iron roof. Further degradation of the Temple’s amenities was noted as catering for large in flow of devotees became harder. And it was at that time, the Secretary of the Kovil, Aya Indiren Vyapooree, suggested having a new Kovil built according to Agamic Laws. The amplitude of this titanesque scared some members and they preferred to submit resignation rather than being financially associated with this tantalising endeavour. The Committee team went ahead with the project and with the blessing of Lord Murugan, on 4th April 1997, Vijayen Vyapooree, the presiding Kovil’s member, requested his father Kadrivel Vyapooree, Mardaymootoo Chengamah & Parvadee Venkatachellum (affectionately named as Appaye Avveiyar) to lay the foundation stone of our new Kovil at the ceremony performed by Aya Indiren Vyapooree.
At that time, the trenching and outlining of the Kovil edifice was undertaken by Rajen Thoda, Maunappen and other local bricklayers and it not until 2001, that Saminaden, the skilled Indian craftman, and his team of silpins came to Mauritius to complete the Temple. Prior to their arrival, more than fifty thousand bricks were needed to build the Vimana (Murugan Gopuram) and the Rajagopuram with a height of 53 feets; and credit for accomplishing this feat goes to numerous members of the Vyapooree family and to other devotees and members namely Naden Vurdapen (Treasurer), Manen, Rouben Vurdapen, Harrigasa Savoo, Mamé Bala Saminaden, Naden Coolen, Mooghen Chetty, Kessaven Chinasamy (Coco), Sandiren Poinen, Darma Arnasalon, Aya Konduvel Chengamah, Harikiss Chetty, Manikon Munisami, Sandiren, Naden Moonsamy, Moorooghen Veeramootoo, Vel, Selven, Tarun, Darmen Savoo, Ruben Chinanen, Jagadissen and Arumoogam (Rollo) among others.
After six long years of brick laying and stone carving, the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil had an edificial rebirth and was erected as per the sacred rules of the Agamas. Along the long entrance path, one would find the shrines of Avveiyar, the Saint Poet and Idumban, who, from time immemorial, has been the most ardent devotee of Lord Murugan. The steps of the Rajagopuram are preluded by a small pond (representing our Saravana Poigai) depicting the birth of Lord Shanmukha, the six faced Murugan and inside the Kovil courtyard stood the Kodimaram, the Balibidam and the Mayilvaganam. In Moolasthanam or sanctum sanctorum, stood the Bala Murugan Silai with Lord Vinayagar statue on his left with the Mariammen Silai on the other; whilst the ancient Murugan Silai was now used as a Lingam. The Kovil’s sculptures and carvings were painted with colours that matched the flavours of the ancient Tamilakam kingdom.
The success of this gigantic task depended on the collective efforts of the Committee Members and on 31st August 2003, the Koodamuzhukkoo Tiruvizha ceremony was fervently celebrated. The Bala Soopramaniar Kovil was also credited as the first Tamil temple in the country to perform a Koodamuzhukkoo Tiruvizha with exclusively in Tamil hyms (Tamil Mourei), thanks to Vijayen Vyapooree connection with Perur Adhinam, Coimbatore, who was the president of the Kovil and at the same time president of Mauritius Tamil Temple Federation – courtesy of Swami Shaktivel, Swami Jay Prakash, both from Perur Adhinam, Coimbatore, India and Aya Indiren Vyapooree.
Figure 4: Angled view of our Kovil in 2003 After twelve long years, renovation works has done under by Saminaden and his team of silpins. On the 30th August 2015, the Executive Committee team being led by Manen Mardaymootoo has celebrated the Koodamuzhukkoo Tiruvizha ceremony – again courtesy of Swami Kouzhanthavel, Swami Jay Prakash, both from Perur Adhinam, Coimbatore, India and Aya Indiren Vyapooree.
Vetri Vel Muruganukku!!!
Activities Hosted at the Kovil
Temples in ancient Tamil Nadu have always been associated with the rulers of the time. Most kings patronised temple buildings in their kingdom, and attached water tanks and villages to the shrine to administer. Temples not only acted as the places of worship, but as civic centres for the population, providing local services to the community in the form of hospitals, education institutions, sports and art academies. The local population was fed at the end of each poosai with monetary endowments made to the shrine.
Likewise, the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil has served as multi-purpose venue where practising faith and traditional arts was plausible. The Temple still continue to host folkloric acts like Poykkal Koudirai, Kummi, and Kolattam together with all the main religious festivals mentioned below.
Thai Pongal is the Tamil harvest festival that marks the start of the month of Thai. It is celebrated on either the 14th or 15th of January to convey appreciation to the Sun God for providing the energy for agriculture. The festival is also attributed to have astronomical significance since the day marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards. Thai Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey appreciation to the Sun God for providing the energy for agriculture. Part of the celebration is the boiling of the first rice of the season consecrated to the Sun.
This particular month of the Tamil calendar is considered auspicious as testified by the famous saying – “Thai Piranthal Vali Pirakkum” which translates to: “May there be love, peace, harmony, prosperity, and joy in everyone’s life with the coming of the month of Thai”. The festival has always been fervently celebrated by Tamils worldwide; and similarly, this tradition has been kept alive at the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil.
On this auspicious day, the Kovil’s courtyard is usually decorated with korlam, which are coloured powdered motifs; whilst the women prepare the Pongal, a popular dish of rice mixed with water, milk, sugar, raisins, ghee, cashews and cardamom, in a clay pot placed over burning firewood. The mixture is purposely allowed to spill over – hence, the name of the dish – Pongal. Once, prayers and Padayal are offered to the Sun God, all devotees are fed with the remaining Pongal.
Celebrating Pongal in the 1980s
Cavadee festival is a ceremonial sacrifice and offering practiced by devotees during the worship of Lord Murugan. This era is known as Kaliyugam, we should all implore to the Kaliyugam Varadhan, Who is Lord Muruga, to destroy our sins and sorrows, to lead us a peaceful and happy life. The word Cavadee is derived from 2 words “Kaavu” meaning to carry, while “thadi” means a piece of wood. Thus, doing penance in order to let go our sins in this life is a great offering to Lord Muruga. Every year millions of devotees across the world proceed and dance along a pilgrimage route to Kovils while bearing their Cavadees, to show their gratitude to Muruga Peruman.
Mythological accounts narrate that at Mount Kailas, Lord Shiva entrusted the dwarf saint sage Agastya with two hillocks, the Shivagiri Hill and the Shaktigiri Hill, with instructions to carry and install them in South India. The sage left them in a forest and later asked his disciple, Idumban, to get them. Idumban found the two hillocks but could not initially lift them, until he obtained divine help. Near Palani in South India — where there is a famous shrine of Lord Murugan — Idumban put the hillocks down to rest awhile. When he attempted to continue with his journey, he found that the hillocks were immovable.
Idumban sought the help of a scantily dressed youth, but the youth claimed the hillocks belonged to him. In the ensuing scuffle, Idumban was defeated. Idumban then realised that the youth was Lord Murugan. At this stage, Muruga had been outwitted in a contest for going round the world where his brother Ganapati had won the prized fruit. In anger, the frustrated child left the divine parents and came down to Tiru Avinankudi at the Adivaram (pronounced Adivâram and means foot of the Sivagiri Hill). Siva pacified Him by saying that He (Subrahmanya) Himself was the fruit (pazham nee) of all wisdom and knowledge. Later, Lord Murugan withdrew to the hill and settled there as a recluse in peace and solitude.
Lord Murugan had made it impossible for Idumban to lift the hillocks. In the fierce battle that ensued, Idumban was killed but was later on restored to life. Idumban prayed that whoever carried on his shoulders the Cavadee — signifying the two hills — and visited the temple on a vow should be blessed and that He (Idumban) should be given the privilege of standing sentinel at the entrance to the hill.
Hence the Idumban shrine is halfway up the hill where every pilgrim is expected to offer obeisance to Idumban before entering the temple of Dandâyudhapani. Since then, pilgrims to Palani bring their offerings on their shoulders in a Cavadee Attam (Cavadee Dance or Procession). The custom has spread from Palani to all Lord Murugan shrines worldwide. The following Cavadee festivals are celebrated at different Kovils over the island all year long – Sittirai Pownami, Vaigaasi Visaagam, Aadi Kartigai, Aavani Moolam, Kandha Shasthi, Thai Poosam and Panguni Uttiram. Sittirai Pownami, Kandha Shasthi, and Thai Poosam Cavadee festivals have been first celebrated in the northern region of the island at the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil.
Cavadee festivals last for eleven days, starting with the Kodi Ettram, or flag hosting ceremony which also marks the start of the fasting period (Cavadee Viratham); during which devotees will purge themselves of all mental and physical impurities. The devotees prepare themselves by following strict purification austerities that include transcendence of desire, following a vegetarian diet and refraining from alcohol, sexual abstinence, sleeping on the floor and constantly offering prayers to Lord Murugan. During the ten days’ fest, the Kovil is usually crowded with devotees attending the daily poosai and Abhishegam ceremonies dedicated to Lord Murugan. Devotees will usually complete decorating their Cavadees by the eve of the festival. Cavadees are usually made of wooden and bamboo structures of various sizes and designs decorated with flowers and ornamental leaves are the most common Cavadees. Also, on this auspicious day the feminine carried Paal Koordam to seek the LORD blessings.
On the day of the festival, devotees undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while bearing their Cavadees or Paal Koordam with most having their skin, tongue or cheeks pierced with Vel as acts of devotion to the Lord. Many devotees performed the Cavadee Attam and/or Mayil Attam to the tune of ages old bajanaam along the way. Upon reaching the Kovil, all devotees will attend the Abhishegam and Perrolivazhipaadu ceremonies. The fasting period ends the following day with the Kodi Irakkam ceremony.
Figure 6: Thaipoosam Cavadee celebrations – early 1950s’
Karthigai Deepam, the Tamil Festival of Lights, is celebrated in the Tamil month of Karthigai (mid-November to mid-December) when the full moon (Pownami) is in conjunction with the Pleiades or Karthigai constellation.
According to Indian astrology, this stellar constellation depicts the six celestial nymphs who nurtured the six infants that sparked from Lord Siva and on this day Goddess Parvathi conjoined them into the six-faced Lord Arumugam. Thus, Karthigai Deepam is celebrated as Lord Karthikeya, or Lord Murugan’s birthday.
Another account states that it was on this day that Lord Siva was infuriated by a trivial quarrel between Lord Brahma and Lord Tirumal with regards to each other’s supremacy. To settle the matter and to show His Supremacy, Lord Siva knowingly took the form of an endless flame or jothi and requested both of them to locate each His ends. Lord Tirumal took the form of a wild boar and delved deep in the Earth’s abyss while Lord Brahma transformed into a swan to reach the heights of the sky. Lord Vishnu returned first and admitted that he fail in his quest. Unable to see the other end either, Lord Brahma saw a thazhambu flower who claimed to be falling down from the Lord Siva’s crown, the upper end of the jothi. Lord Brahma realised that he will not be able to reach the upper end as there was no limit to the power and might of Lord Siven Perumal, asked the flower to falsely attest his triumph. The thazhambu flower acting as a false witness declared that Lord Brahma had seen the crown. Lord Siva became angry at the deception and cursed Lord Brahma such that the latter would not be having any temple dedicated to his cult on Earth and requested that thazhambu flower should no longer be used for any religious ritual.
On this auspicious day, the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil is decorated with 1008 deepam. Prayers are offered to both Lord Murugan and his father, Lord Siva, as a large main clay lamp is lit at the base of Kodimaram. The main lamp is be replenished with oil, from time to time, by devotees to ensure that it keeps burning overnight whilst celebrations pursue with the flaming of a Karthigai Soothru and fireworks.
Figure 7: Celebrating Kartigai Deepam in the Kovil
The burning lamp with the divine flame is considered an auspicious symbol and believed to fend off evil forces and escort ecstasy and prosperity. The observance of Karthigai Deepam festival is also believed to bring in fresh hope and happiness in one’s life.
Maha Sivaratri, the Great Night of Lord Siva, is celebrated on the 14th moonless night during month of Māsi – usually between mid-February and mid-March.
Stories from various Puranam(s) trace the significance of the festival back to the Samudra Manthan episode. Following a curse received from Sage Durvasa, all Devas lost their cosmic powers and were left defeated in the several subsequent battles they fought against the Asuras. To prevent the whole Earth from being at the mercy of the demon King Bali; Lord Tirumal advised the Devas to pacify the Asuras and to form an alliance with Asuras to jointly churn the Ocean of Milk to squeeze out Amritam, the nectar of immortality, that would help them regain their divine powers. The Asuras were eager to offer their as they reckon that an equal share of their Amritam would further strengthen their powers and thus, their dominance over the now weaker Devas. However, Lord Tirumal secretly reassured the Devas that they will be sole recipients of the divine nectar.
During this elaborate process, Mount Mandara was used as the churning rod, and Vasuki, the King of Serpents, who forever coils around on Lord Siva’s neck, became the churning rope. The Demons demanded to hold the head of the Snake, while the Devas, taking advice from Lord Tirumal, agreed to hold its tail. After rigorous efforts and assistance from Kurma, the second Avatar of Lord Tirumal, fourteen germs were released from the abyss of the Ocean of Milk and amongst them – the most poisonous fumes in the whole Universe. This terrified Devas and Asuras alike as the lethality of this poison was powerful enough to destroy cosmic creations. They immediately sought the help of the Supreme Lord Siven Perumal for protection and who, unselfishly and promptly, consumed all of the poisonous fumes. Lord Siva’s throat turned bluish as He gulped the fumes; and since then, He has been referred to as Neelakanthan – an epithet meaning the “The Blue-throated One”. From time immemorial, the Maha Sivaratri festival has been celebrated to glorify our Saviour.
Locally, Maha Sivaratri is celebrated on a national scale in all Kovils, Shivalas, Mandirs and Mandirams across the country. Truth is that this festival unifies the various ‘common’ ethnicities in devotion and adoration of Lord Siva. During the week preceding the Maha Sivaratri festival, some hundred thousand devotees, from all over the island, proceed to the volcanic crater lake of Grand Bassin (Ganga Talao) to collect the scared water that will be offered to The Lord in His aniconic Lingam form. Many undertake this holy pilgrimage on foot carrying Kanwaar(s), the north Indian variant of Cavadees, along the way.
This festival is celebrated with great fervency at the Bala Soopramaniar as prayers and offerings are made to Lord Siva for three consecutive days. On the day of Maha Sivaratri, hundreds of devotees flock to the Kovil to attend to the Naal Vellai Poosai, which totalises four distinct Abhishegam rituals performed specific horary accuracy. Many devotees also perform 108 Kovil Vhalum to the Glory of Lord Siven Perumal.
Appendix – List of Priests that have officiated at the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil over the last 130 years
|In 1870’s – 1931
|Tiru Mestry Mudaliar Vyapooree
|1931 – 1946
|Tiru Chendrayen Modeliar Vyapooree
|1946 – 1978
|Tiru Poonga Modeliar Vyapooree (also known as Singaron)
|1979 – 1982
|Tiru Nadess Modeliar Vyapooree
|1983 – 1995
|Tiru Mayen Modeliar Vyapooree (also known as Kadrivel)
|1995 – 2003
|Thava Tiru Sivenperumal Modeliar Vyapooree (also known as Ayya Indiren)
|2004 – 2005
|Thava Tiru Ramalingum Ramoo, from Perur Adhinam, Coimbatore, India
|2005 – 2006
|Thava Tiru Kouzhanthavel, from Perur Adhinam, Coimbatore, India
|2006 – 2015
|Thava Tiru Sivenperumal Modeliar Vyapooree (also known as Ayya Indiren)
|2016 – Present
|Thava Tiru Manikandan, from Perur Adhinam, Coimbatore, India
Appendix 1 lists all the officiating Priests of the Bala Soopramaniar Kovil
Sivanaden, Sooga, Vijayen, and Aya Indiren
Vijayen, Sivanaden, Swaren, Sarvessen, Amalen, Kamben, Azaghen, Karounen, Amben, Aya Indiren and Iven