Declining Ariyar Sevai at Srivilliputhur Andal temple, TN and damaged 400 year old house of Ariyars

 The Tamil month of Margazhi  (also called  Dhanur) is an auspicious one for the Hindus  and for  Sri Vishnu temples across south India in particular. Divinity is  imparted to this month. as  God Krishna himself said,   ''I m Margazhi among 12 months''. There is no dearth of temple festivities in this month at Vishnu temples. Of particular  interest is the age old tradition of performing  devotional art form  Ariyar Sevai  - 21 day event for which Srirangam Ranganathar temple,  Azhwar Thirunagari temple  and  Srivilliputhur  Andal temple  are quite well known. 

 The worship of Kothai Nachiyar or Sri Andal, adopted daughter of Periazhwar (Vishnu Chitta)  in Margazhi   becomes foremost with special festivities  at Srivilliputhur in Virudhunagar district of Tamil Nadu,  her birthplace. Here, the temple is dedicated to poetess Sri Andal and God Vishnu  who is known  as Rangamaner or Vadabadrasayee. This year a unique special Deepavali puja was performed to various deities Sri Andal, Rengamannar, Garuda, Sri Devi, Bhoomi Devi and Periazhwar  at a time in the same place. This event takes place once in three years -  Kaushik Amavasya, Telugu Varushaperappu (Ukadi) and Deepawali.    

Seva to all deities, Andal temple TN  Nov. 2021

The unique  part of the temple festival protocol in Margazhi is the presentation  of Araiyar Sevai, the  trained and devoted Araiyars enacting the ‘Story of  poetess Andal’ her childhood playful exploits while being brought up by her foster father Periazhwar, growing into a young beautiful girl, her overwhelming devotion to  the lord  through singing with  matching abinaya.  Pagal Pathu utsavam at Sri Andal Rangamannar Temple, normally is held in the Pagal Pathu Mandapam. Thiruvaradhanam will also  place in this Mandapam.  Late Shri Srinivasa Rangachariar (1930 - 2014) was a leading exponent of Araiyar Sevai at the temple of Andal for several years and made it an important and interesting temple ritual here.  In recognition of his services to this dance form of bhakti, in 2014  Rangachariar  got a posthumous Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.   His descendants are following  his long cherished tradition and  services to God with same dedication.

late Srinivasa, Rengachariar S.V.Puthur

Included in the Arayar Sevai are Thiru Pallandu during the first day of Pagal pathu and  soul-stirring Thiruppavai  rendition a couple of days later   and subsequently  Nammazhwar devotional hymns on Thiru Venkatam  and on the Lord of Azhwar Tirunagari. The latter will be in the early part of January.   Nammazhwar moksham is the final event of the 21- day long Ekadasi festival comprising Pagal pathu (10 days)  and rapathu (10 nights). Rendition of  the Nalayira Divya Prabandham through a blend of  music and dance by  hereditary  Ariyars, is part of  Vaikunta ekadasi  festival and this art form is about 1000 years old first introduced by saint Nathamuni.  On specific days,  Ariyars sing  specific verses followed by an enactment of   matching scenes from Hindu mythology; the themes may include  the churning of the ocean, the birth of Andal, the slaying of Kamsa by Narasimha (Vishnu), et

Srivilliputhur Andal temple,

Thrumanchanam (abhishekam) is done to Goddess  Andal and God Sri Vatapatra Sai (Sri Vishnu) in  Margazhi. The  day one of this month -  Pagal Pathu is considered  holy and propitious when Andal and Vatapatra Shayee  are taken in a special religious procession  to  the Thiru Maligai of Veda Piran Bhattar, the descendant of Periyazhwar. Here, the divine couple are given special gifts from father.    

Yet another event  celebrated with religious fervor is  in the night, there will be a religious procession around the four Car  streets  with the  lord   on a Garuda Vahanam/mount  and Periyazhwar on an elephant Vahanam in the midst of chanting of  Pallandu’ verses. 


In the  Araiyar Sevai, the popular depiction of Pasurams - the art of enacting the Divya Prabandham- is a tough job and needs years of training, commitments and dedication. One has to become proficient in the understanding of pasurams, their oral presentation, abinayam with proper singing.  Way back centuries ago the rulers of ancient Tamil Nadu provided patronage to the Araiyars and treated them with  respect  for their proficiency in  this dance form and their scholarship.  Obviously, they  enjoyed a respectful  status in the temple hierarchy and administration.  What has saddened me is this age old bhakti tradition has been on the decline in the past decade for many reasons at Srirangam and  more so at Srivilliputhur. A stage may come when  it be lost to the world forever; redemption will be a tough one to keep this dance form alive for the future generation.

Quite deplorable is the news that the  400-year old house of Araiyar Swami on Periya Perumal West Mada Street in Srivilliputhur where the scholars reside /stay  is not in good condition  on account of lack of periodic repairs, upkeep, etc.  Details about the house are not available, however, I understand that because of lack of patronage and interest,  Ariyars who are instrumental in spreading  bhakti among the people in the form of songs, dance  and abinayam  are not doing well financially. Risking their life during old age, they are living in  a damaged residence that may cave in at any time. 

Will the Tamil Nadu government or the Mutts  come forward and restore the residence back to old charm and glory  and help the  Ariyars out of their financial woes?    Already,  we have almost lost the art  of katha kalashebham  or Upanyasam rendered by stalwarts like Sri  Anantharama Dekshitar,  Sri Embar,  Vijayaraghavacharyar,Thanjavur Subramanya Bhagavathar(His Seetha and Radha kalyanam presentations were famous) and others. Ariyar sevai has to be preserved for the posterity. 

 Because of COVID -19 situation, all Hindu temples are facing restrictions. In the past two years Hindu temple events are limited to the minimum, thus reducing the crowds thronging the temples.