“…. the first stanza according to the Thengalai cult begins with the words “Sri Sailesa Dayapathram” and invokes the Thengalai guru Manavala Mahamuni, whereas, according to the Vadagalai cult, the first stanza begins with the words “Ramanuja Dayapathram” and invokes the Vadagalai guru Vedanta Desikar. At the conclusion of the recitation of the Prabandhams benedictory verses called Vazhi Tirunamam are recited consisting of 9 stanzas of which the first four are common to both sects, while the last five differ. While both the Vadagalais and Thengalais share a common religious origin and faith and also adhere to their own school of thought, neither of them condemns or rejects the sacred character of the other cult. While so, the divergence between the two rituals outlined above has given rise to the most bitter, unreasonable and vicious fight between the two groups for nearly 200 years.
In this litigation, the dispute centres on the question as to the namam which should adorn the temple elephant. The namams of Vadagalai and Thengalai differ from each other. It is unnecessary to go into the origin or the difference between the two namams. It is sufficient to state that the namam is considered as a very important religious symbol and any violation of the practice of using a particular namam is looked upon as a serious inroad into the religious practice of the other. The dispute as regards the namam in this temple started as early as 1792. The nature of the dispute is revealed in the several decisions of this Court and certain documents relied on by the plaintiffs” By no stretch of imagination the historicity lends credibility to the divisiveness, for lack of profundity in it.
Or more recently, in Oct, 2014, a procession came visiting the portals of the High Court, Madras. Intervening in a dispute between two sects of Vaishnavites, Madras High Court asked the Vadakalai (Northerners) sect not to shut the doors of Thiruvendipuram temple in Cuddalore District during a procession by Thenkalai (Southerners) sect.Justice V Ramasubramanian said doors of Devanatha Swamy Temple managed by Vadakalai sect, should not be closed when their Thenkalai counterparts take out the utsav idol of nearby Manavala Mamunigal temple in a procession on Sunday. He also asked police to ensure that the procession passes off peacefully. “One who is a Vaishnava knows the pain of others, does good to others, does not let pride enter his mind, tolerates and praises the entire world, and does not say bad things about any one”, he said, quoting from Nasinh Mehta’s rendition ‘Vaishnava Janato’. It appears that this advice may not apply to Vaishnavites among themselves.
It is utterly ununderstandable that the religious heads are watching from the sidelines, yielding their remit and space, willingly or otherwise, to a secular court. Surely, the Court is not aspiring to take over the reins of religious practices. Courts do not claim to be the Repository of All knowledge and Theology for one. It is these characters who have taken their ‘honest differences of opinion’ to be settled on the streets, as it were, who are wholly responsible for demeaning the majesty of their Masters. The Masters were Masters.
They had high thinking, noble values and ageless philosophies to leave behind, Saint Ramanuja for one. Those who came after him, were no less masterly, be it Manavala Mammunigal or Vedantha Desigar (in alphabetical order please). Those that followed these Masters seemed to have revelled in the ‘honest differences of opinion,’ to make out two separate sects and lineage and so on, for themselves. Be that as it may, why is it their Acharyas are watching, all these street fights with violence, and Court battles with visceral hatred. No wonder the Courts are compelled to counsel them like little children fighting over marbles.
The Masters, surely had Marbles. Not these so called followers or devotees. Otherwise, the Court would not have been constrained to say “Those who create ruckus in front of god do not have a place inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple,” Justice R Mahadevan of the Madras High Court observed on 24th Jan, 2020, while hearing a petition filed by the Tenkalai Sect of Kancheepuram seeking to stay the proceedings initiated against them by the District sub-collector.The issue was connected to the ongoing tussle between the Vadakalai and Thenkalai sects for the last two years. The issue reached the court when petitioners claimed that priests belonging to the Vadakalai sect had obstructed the regular services being rendered by Thenkalai priests. The sub-collector had asked both groups to furnish bonds for Rs 25,000 each recently in connection with the dispute. “The sub-collector directed both parties to execute the bond to maintain peace and tranquillity among devotees. The rights of parties herein are not being affected for worship and recital of Vedas and Prabandams by the said order,” the court said.
As if this was enough, we now have the orders of the High Court laying down a Scheme for the reciting of the Sanskrit and Tamil prabandham, in a court mandated order, to be enforced by the Executive Officer.Observing that the dispute between ‘Vadagalais’ and ‘Thengalais’ should not lead to the chanting of Prabandhams being stopped, the Madras High Court has held that mutual respect towards both Sri Srisaila Dayapathram and Sri Ramanuja Dayapathram are of paramount importance and there cannot be any place for personal animosity or ego as the Temple is a public institution.Justice Subramaniam offered a string of directions which included inviting Thengalai Sect firstly during Pooja festivals and on such invitation the Thengalai Sect shall be permitted to recite the first two lines of Srisaila Dayapathram (initial recital).
On completion of the said initial recital by Thengalai Sect, the Executive Trustee, Sri Devaraja Swamy Devasthanam, shall permit Vadagalai Sect to commence the first two lines of Sri Ramanuja Dayapathram (initial recital) and on their completion of initial recital, then both Vadagalai and Thengalai Sectors shall be permitted to recite Prabandhams jointly.
On completion of Prabandhams, the Thengalai Sect shall be permitted to recite the concluding Mantram “Manavalamamunigal Vaazhithirunamam” and thereafter, Vadagalai Sect shall be allowed to recite their concluding Matram “Desikan Vazhi Thirunamam” and accordingly the process of recitals shall be concluded.If any one of the sects are unwilling to recite their Mantrams and Prabandhams, as per the directions issued by this Court, then the Executive Trustee shall permit anyone of the willing sect to recite the Mantrams and Prabandhams during Pooja festivals. The approved scheme shall be followed with effect from 1st March 2020, Justice Subramaniam said.
What is going on? The internecine tussle between the two sects has meant that a secular court has mandated the Scheme for religious practices. It is no longer amusing or innocuous entertainment. The Pontiffs and the religious leaders of the concerned sects appear to have abdicated their responsibilities or possibly expressed their inability to intervene and broker peace. The limit to remit to their writs is showing and it is not a healthy one. The fissures, fights and streetfights are insulting to the memories of the Masters. It may be time for the Pontiffs to wield their Thiruthanda? Will they Bell the Cat? Sorry, the Monkey too?
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)