Sunday, August 18, 2013

Reawakening of Maavittapuram

Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai reporting from Maavittapuram

The Sangam period poetess said “Koyil Illa Ooril Kudiyirukka Vendaam” (Don’t live in a place, where there is no temple).  Maavittapuram is a holy village, and famous Kanthaswamy temple is situated in 30 acre red soil in Vali North Pradesha Sabha of Jaffna District.

Current view of the Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple

Maavittapuram” in Tamil means “Ma” (Horse), “Vitta” (Removed), “Puram” (Holy City). The Chola Princess Maaruthapuraveegavalli, daughter of  Thissai Ukkirasinga Cholan, King of Chola regime in South India was cursed by a sage when he was in penance, she along with her friends have laughed and disturbed his penance.  The particular sage with a horse face has cursed the Chola Princess Maaruthapuraveegavalli’s  face to be turned into a horse face, and if she wants her human face back, she had to travel to Sri Lanka’s North, and have a bath at the Keerimalai sacred springs, and worship Lord Murugan. Accordingly, she had traveled from South India to Jaffna, had a holy bath in the Keerimalai sacred springs, and worshipped Lord Murugan. Horse face of the Chola Princess Maaruthapuraveegavalli has changed into a human face. She presented a Lord Murugan statue, and has requested her father to build a temple as a thanks giving. As per his daughter’s request, King Thissai Ukkirasinga Cholan has built a temple in 789 AD. This place was called “Kovil Kadavai” at that time, and was changed to Maavittapuram after the miracle. Maavittapuram and Keerimalai are inseparable” says the Governing Authority and Chief High Priest of Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple Maharajasri D.S.Ratnasabapathy Kurukkal quoting the Thiruchenthur Puranam.

 Divinely decorated deities in a dazzling parade

Penance under the tree

Isolated during the war

The original temple had four temple towers facing at four directions, and five outer routes or paths. Original Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple was destroyed by the Portugese during 1700-1800, and had been rebuilt by the British.

Festive view of Maavittapuram

The temple is situated near the Palaly airport, and Kaankesanthurai harbour and cement factory. It is an agricultural area with red fertile soil where beetle, banana, mango, jak fruit, tobacco, and  etc were cultivated . During the height of the war, Maavittapuram was declared as a High Security Zone in 1990. People got displaced, and from 1990 to 1996, even Hindu priests were not allowed to enter the Maavittapuram to perform poojas and rituals. The temple was completely inaccessible during that period. Hindu priests, Tamil civilians, and Tamil politicians kept highlighting the importance of Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple at various levels including at the Parliament.. As a result, Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has instructed the Military Commanding Officer in Palaly to grant permission for the priest and his helpers to enter the temple to perform poojas, and temple related rituals. Temple was covered with shrubs, and soldiers have helped the priests and others to clean the temple and surroundings. Since the war was on full swing, priests and helpers had to either walk for many miles or on bicycles and on land masters (small tractors) to enter the High Security Zones while carrying divine items to carry out religious rituals, and every men in the group was frisked thoroughly, except the Chief Priest of the Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple. Everyday, this small group of people had to wait at the checkpoints for many hours till the permission was granted by the Military Commanding Office in Palaly. Sometimes, permission was denied due to heavy fighting around that area.

Hands in support

The black granite Sanctum was partially damaged, five wooden chariots, wooden divine vehicles have been completely damaged along with many other belongings due to bombing, shelling and heavy fighting. Scars of the brutal war can be still seen on a lower piece of a wooden chariot in the temple, which was the tallest chariot in the country at that time. The temple is currently surrounded by damaged houses and buildings.

Current status of one time tallest chariot in the country

 Part of the temple

Scene still can be seen

Numerous valuables belonging to the temple have been looted including the Ola-leaf manuscripts during the war and displacement. The Chief High Priest, and the people of Maavittapuram are highly worried about the invaluable Ola-leaf manuscripts, which are irreplaceable!

 Hindu devotee in deep thoughts

Vibrant festivals

The last annual festival of the temple has taken place in 1990 before the displacement. Access was denied to anybody from 1990-1996 by the Government due to war, and declaration of High Security Zone. A small - scale festival has been taking place from 2000 for 25 days. Since the temple is damaged, respective rituals should be conducted in order to celebrate the annual festival for 25 days. Necessary rituals were carried out in order to have the daily poojas. Since May 2011 with the removal of High Security Zone, civilians have slowly began to visit Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple again, and poojas are conducted six times daily.

A small-scale festival gets underway

The temple garden had six varieties of fruit trees (Banana (six varieties of banana were available), Mango, Jak fruit, woodapple, orange and pomegranate). Apart from this, a galaxy of flowers has added colour to the garden including jasmine, lotus and roses. Fruit and flowers were consumed for temple use, and the temple has never bought fruit and flowers from outside. But due to war and displacement all the fruit trees, and flower plants have been destroyed.

Tray of fruits for offerings

Tamil politician late S.J.V.Chelvanayagam said “History of Maavittapuram is History of the Ceylon Tamils!”. The first Federal Party meeting was held in the outer route or path of the temple in 1950. S.J.V.Chelvanayagam used to start his political campaign from the outer router of the Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple. And, another Tamil politician late Appapillai Amirthalingam used to begin his political campaign from Kaankesanthurai, which is near Maavittapuram in Jaffna.

 Statue of S.J.V. Chelvanayagam in Jaffna

It’s a blessing that we have got the temple back. But, it will take many years for us to repair and replace the temple items which have been damaged, destroyed, looted and lost. People who have decided not to leave the country during the war, and stayed on in North are currently helping us to rebuild the damaged temple in whatever possible way” notes R.Perinpanayakam, Former Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, and Former Adviser, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Hindu devotees walk past a destroyed house

Although the temple is currently accessible, people feel the vacuum of not having the proper annual festival with five beautifully carved chariots parade through the streets of Maavittapuram. A small “Manchcham” carried Aarumugaswamy (six faced Lord Murugan) with his wives, and paraded the outer route or path of the temple. Military sentrypoints are still visible, and Kaankesanthurai cement factory can be seen from the temple vicinity, but inaccessible to the civilians. Scenes of soldiers on bicycles, and trucks can be still seen in and around Maavittapuram.

 Scene around the temple area

Time for Devotion

Artisans used to live in the surroundings of the temple before the displacement. There were nearly 150 houses in the temple vicinity occupied by the Hindu priests, carpenters, masons, artists, garland maker and so on. But now, the surroundings look empty and are deserted with destroyed houses and building with closely pinned bullet holes, and covered with shrubs.

 Scene in the temple surroundings

Visitors, old and new

I was born, bread, married and lived in the Tellipalai Divisional Secretariat area close to Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple until 1985.  I can still recollect the divine rings of the temple bell. I used to walk to the temple quite often, and sometimes used to go on bicycle with friends to Maavittapuram and Keerimalai, while wearing only a white Dhoti. The annual temple festival used to be colourful, and small shops had sugar cane, boiled chickpeas while the steam was still spreading in the air. Vibrant festival went on till midnight. However, as the war was intensified, the temple became out of bounds for the civilians. People got displaced, and moved to various parts of the Island, and migrated to other countries. My memories of Maavittapuram before the war and displacement are enchanting, and remain a fresh in my heart and mind” shares S.Santhirasegaran, who currently lives in Canada.

 Attractive handmade thread spritual chains

Festive nibbles

A handful of Tamil Diaspora families have visited the Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple during the recently held small scale festival.

I am a devotee of Lord Murugan, and have come to fulfill my vows after two decades” emotionally shares Thampu Manivannan while hanging on metal hooks, who currently resides in Germany, and is originally from Ilavaalai. His mother cried, and pleaded to Maavai Kanthan to invoke blessings.

 Mother's tears as she witnesses her beloved son hangs on metal hooks

Thampu Manivannan fulfilling his vows

Hindu devotees have gathered in large numbers to celebrate the small scale festival at Maavittapuram Kanthaswamy temple. A woman devotee, Saraswathy Shankar has walked on a pair of nailed footwear to fulfill her vows for her beloved son. Women devotees carried burning camphor pots, while some male devotees rolled themselves on the ground.

 Hours of walk on nails

Time for Trance

Parade with flames of fire

Rituals by women

Devotional singing by children

 Cover story on Ceylon Today

Cover story on Ceylon Today

COURTESY: Ceylon Today