I got up as early as possible in the morning and took an auto-rickshaw to avuniyapuram aiyannar temple.I informed velmurugan pujari by phone that I am on the way.It costed me 75 bucks to reach the place since it was around 5 KM from the Madurai Meenatchi temple.I had no idea if the fare was fair enough because auto-rickshaw fares differ district to district within Tamil nadu.
When I reached the temple, priest vel murugan had already started cooking pongal for the puja. He even had few kids as assistants in helping him for preparation of puja materials.Among all the kids who were waiting for the puja rather pongal to be served at the end of puja, Nagraj was the eldest and to me seemed to be a bully.
His roles were the following as an assistant priest included:
- bringing wood for cooking pongal
- maintain silence and peace among the other kids in the temple
- hit the temple bell while the pujari is doing the puja
Once the pongal was done, the priest Vel murugan asked him to cut the banana leaves into small pieces so that it can be used to serve the prasad to everyone.
The kids as usual were restless and never sat in one place hence a constant and never ending task for Nagraj to make them sit at one place.
Because it was not any festival or poornima or amavasya a few visitors would come to the temple just to pray and leave immediately.The priest would say to the rare visitor that “today I am doing a puja, so wait and watch and then go”.Some said they are in a hurry and some decided to wait till the puja is over. Puja material were the following :
- Marigold flowers
- two coconuts
- incense sticks
- betel leaves
The pujari did the puja to the central god amman and then did the same to all the statues in the temple complex in the following order.
- Amman (the central god)
- Aiyannar (on the horse statue)
The pujari seemed to be going in multiple iterations of aarthi to every god in the same order as mentioned above, the logic behind which I didn’t understand.
While the last iteration was going on, I could hear a kid sitting inside the temple complex to another kid on the road (outside the temple complex) that “Puja over da, they will give it(pongal) now ….just two minutes da …come fast”
Once the puja was done the pongal was served to every one in the temple after incense stick ash and the holy water was distributed to people in the following order
- The sponsor (me)
- The eldest member from the people in the temple
- The kids
and I was given half of the puja material (which I sponsored) and the half was kept for the Amman along with a garland of flowers adorning my neck.
While I was shooting the puja an old man (also a priest) came and stood in front of me.He was thin and having a long beard.I backed off a little thinking he might object me from shooting the puja and almost got ready to close the camera but to my pleasant surprise, the old priest started singing almost at the top of his voice. It was evident that he was singing in the praise of lord Ganesha as the saviour of Avuniyapuram. These were the verses “Siva Sakthi Vinayaganey…Intha Avuniye kathavaney”
Once the song was over he started singing another song.He was probably singing all the songs he knew.He sang around 7 songs on Aiyannar and Ganesha and then stopped.I recorded all the songs and finally introduced myself before asking his identity.Before the old priest could answer , Vel murugan priest interrupted and said “he is the another priest to this same temple, like me”.I started asking them questions which I had on Aiyannar and the following are few interesting excepts from the conversation.During the conversation I realised that Vel murugan priest is the kind of interruptive because he interrupted every conversation I was trying to strike with the old priest.Then I made it a point that I am asking the questions to both the priests to have as informative interview as possible.
For the interview click here