When shall I get a job? When will I get job? When will I get married? Whether I am inclined to study? Which location will I buy a property? Which one is advisable for me, running a business or job? Which stream should I pursue for a better future? Why I am facing delays in getting children? Will I ever buy a property or a vehicle? Will I ever do surgery for my illness? Will I ever travel abroad? Will I get a job abroad? Will my future car be luxury model or an economy model? The Brahmins living in Kaliyur are one of the oldest, most exclusive and homogenous groups of Iyengar Brahmins of Tamilnadu.
Their origin is lost in antiquity but they might have been around at least from the time of Ramanuja. They believe themselves to be the followers of the Mudaliandavan who is supposed to be the first and the dearest disciples of Sri Ramanujam. After their resettlement in Kaliyur, the village became a cradle of Vedic scholars, purohits and astrologers.
The Brahmin families lived in the Agraharam first row of houses built around the temple and occupied by the temple priests and the families of the dominant community of rich and landed Arcot Mudaliars lived in a nearby locality. In fact, Brahmins first arrived in this village due to the invitation of the Mudaliars. The patronage of the Mudaliar Community has been extremely good and constant through the years and is a classical example of the 'patron client' relationship existing in India from ancient times between different communities.
The Agraharam is located around the temple of 'Sri Adhi Keshava Perumal Swamy', which was also built and maintained with financial support from the Mudaliars. It is believed that the Brahmins, carried the idol of Adhi Keshava all the way from Mannargudi on their head to Kaliyur and reinstalled it in the newly built temple of Adhi Keshava Perumal.
It is not a practice to abandon Gods even in adverse circumstances. The idol, four feet tall, is in a standing position and is made of granite. It is believed that in ancient times there was a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali at that spot. That is why the village is called 'Kaliyur' the home of Goddess Kali. The Kali temple might have been abandoned centuries ago with the decline of the cult of Mother Goddess in Tamil Nadu. This has been the case with the temple of Nataraja in Chidambaram also.
The prime site of Nataraja temple also originally belonged to a Kali temple. After establishing the temple of Nataraja in the important location in the heart of the town the Kali was moved to an insignificant shrine at the outskirts of the Chidambaram town. Kali can still be seen there and is worshipped as the Tillai Kali Kali of Chidambaram.
It is significant that the rising suppression of the female sex has historically been manifested with simultaneous suppression of the female deities. After moving to Kaliyur the Brahmins engaged in agriculture apart from performing the temple related activities.
Due to this reason they are also called the Mannar Mudumbai families. These families are very religious, orthodox and are considered to be an authority on Vaishnavism. Unlike other South Indians who carry the name of village and the name of the father as their initials; the Kaliyur Brahmins use the initials K. It is a definite attempt to retain their Mannargudi identity. The priests from Kaliyur have been much in demand in other Vaishnavite temples. They have been dominating the scene in Tirupati hill since s. In s, they monopolised the Paracharat cooking service to the Lord at Tirupati and have been taking the contracts for making ladoos, vadai and other offerings to the lord.
Kaliyur is also closely connected with the Ramar Sannadhi shrine of Lord Rama and the temple of Shree Govindaraja at the foothills of the Tirupati temple. Only the Brahmins from Kaliyur were chosen to carry the offerings from the Lord of Seven Hills at Tirumalai to the temple of Govindaraja at foothills.
The priests walked bare-footed all the way down the hill carrying the offerings on their head. Manavalan Iyengar, Arvamudhan Iyengar and Chakravartiyar were chosen to start the first temple at Pittsburgh, by the Tirupati Devasthanam. Kaliyur has been a great centre of Vedic Astrology. The Brahmins of Kaliyur have been uniformly well versed in astrology and are keepers of the most ancient astrological knowledge in the world.
Almost all of them have been treated like the religious leaders and the astrological guides from time immemorial. Many Kaliyur Brahmin families have been practicing astrology for more than seven generations in an unbroken tradition since they first arrived in However, the knowledge, which they brought to Kaliyur, must date back to many centuries before, perhaps, to the time of Bhaskar Bhat and other great astrological luminaries.
Kaliyur has been very closely linked to Kancheepuram from the very inception. Every year during the month of January, July and December, the idol of Lord Keshava Perumal is taken in a procession to the Iyengar Kulam, a lake at the outskirts of Kancheepuram. About forty people start the procession and many more join them en-route to Kancheepuram. The procession travels on foot for the entire stretch of 18 km. The idol of the Lord is carried only by the Harijans of Kaliyur who have the preferential right to carry the Lord. It is to be remembered that Acharya Ramanujam was one of the earliest religious leaders in the country to integrate the Harijans into the Vaishnavite fold.
After arriving at Iyengar Kulam, the Lord is given a ceremonial bath in the kulam and then taken back to Kaliyur. This ritual was started to create an opportunity to interact with the Iyengar Brahmins of Kancheepuram and other neighbouring villages to get to know them. Most of the marriages and alliances were settled between the Iyengar families during this interaction.
For small endogamous families, living in isolation, it was necessary to create situations to exchange information about the boys and girls of marriageable age in order to make suitable marriage alliances. Today out of twenty houses in Kaliyur Agraharam the Brahmin street , only six or seven houses are occupied and the remaining are kept locked. However, every year during the month of April, on the day of Chittirai Revathi, the birth star of Lord Vishnu, Kaliyur Iyengars from all over the world gather in the village to celebrate the annual festival.
Till , there were about twenty families of renowned astrologers living in Kalilyur. Today most of them have moved to Tirupathi, Kancheepuram, Nasrathpet, Thiruneermalai and other temple towns. The Kaliyur priests are posted in a system of circulation and rotation to serve in these temples.
This system is adopted to break the monotony of the work as well as to show equal treatment to all. The allocation of duties was earlier done by the Jeer of the Kaliyur Mutt. Kaliyur is also linked with Sholinganallur Narasimha Temple which is mainly managed by the Tengalai Iyengars. Sholinganallur is famous for its Girivalam walk around the holy hill. Every Sunday during the sacred month of Karthigai, a large number of devotees perform the Girivalam. Sholinganallur is also famous as a centre for psychotherapy for women suffering from mental disorders.
Around a small pond, they lie on the rocks in wet clothes. This is believed to be the most effective therapy for the victims of mental illness, witchcraft, and for the people possessed by evil spirits. Today Kaliyur Astrologers are known for their extraordinary and dynamic approach to the subject of astrology, which was initiated by Pandit Kaliyur Srinivasacharya. He was responsible for spreading the fame of Kaliyur far and wide. He came from a family, which had practiced astrology for six generations.
Kaliyur Srinivasachary Iyengar [Contents] Srinivasachary, had his early education at the village school and did not learn any astrology at all. He could not apply his mind to the subject due to adverse family circumstances. His story is full of twists and turns. Originally belonging to a great family of astrologers and landlords the family fell on bad times due to litigating nature of his maternal grandfather with whom they were living. A very egoistic man, he would indulge in litigation, at the spur of the moment.
Eventually, he lost all the family wealth in lawsuits and was declared a pauper. By the time Srinivasachary was sixteen, he had lost his father and the family had hardly anything to eat. Eldest of half a dozen children, he was chased out of the house by his mother, every time he came home, to go and make a living outside. She herself made eating plates out of leaves and sold the day's labour for four annas twenty-five paisa to feed the family.
He was young and raw and did not possess any skills, which would get him employment. At that time, a lawyer, called Kuppuswamy took pity on him. Kuppuswamy, who belonged to the same village, had assisted the Diwan of Jodhpur in the matter of settling some disputed property belonging to the Maharaja of Jodhpur. The Diwan had asked Kuppuswamy to ask for a favour in return from the Maharaja.
As luck would have it Kuppuswamy decided to redeem the favour from the Maharaja by asking him to give a job to the young Srinivasachary. He gave a letter to that effect, along with the train fare to reach Jodhpur, to Srinivasachary. Apart from being astrologers, the Kaliyur Iyengars also worked as cooks in the temples and prepared Prasadam for the Gods. Hence Kuppuswamy decided to recommend the unskilled Srinivasachary for the post of a cook.
However, destiny had planned it otherwise. But in the train Srinivasachary started crying bitterly at the prospect of becoming a cook. His father had been a great theoretical astrologer and had left a manuscript of the original astrological pramanas proof written by him. Srinivasachary had remembered to carry this manuscript in his bag. While leaving home, he had also picked up another book belonging to his paternal grandfather titled 'Jyotish Chandrika' the light of astrology.
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He started reading these books on the train and in this way his astrological learning started during his long journey to Jodhpur in the year After reaching Jodhpur he went to the palace to see the Diwan. As providence would have, the Diwan was in meditation at that time. Without opening his eyes and reading the letter from Kuppuswamy he asked Srinivasachary what he would like to do. Srinivasachary was feeling ashamed to say that he wanted to be a cook, so he quickly said he would like to be a 'Pujari' a temple priest.
The kind Diwan, still under the spell of meditation, gave instructions to post him as a Pujari in one of the many royal shrines. In this way, due to divine intervention, he escaped becoming a cook and instead became a temple priest. This proved a turning point in his life and he started learning astrology in right earnest. Slowly, the people around started seeking his opinion on their horoscopes and asked him to read their palms.
In this manner, by the word of mouth, his fame started spreading. The Maharaja made him the royal astrologer and soon he was invited by the high and mighty from other royal families outside Jodhpur. He was made the palace astrologer by the Maharaja of Indore and the Maharana of Mewar. He proved to be a rare spiritual leader and eminent astrologer by his outstanding personality and the unique approach to the subject.
At this juncture he took leave of the royal family for three months to try his astrological skills with the common man. He toured the whole of North India, sitting under the trees and attracting clients. With the grace of God, wherever he went, his predictions came true and his fame kept growing. In one place, a local Don wanted him to come to his house and read horoscopes of his family members. Srinivasachary refused to go and sent word that the family should come and see him. Eventually, the Don swallowed his pride and landed up where Srinivasachary was sitting under a tree.
He threw roughly a horoscope before him to interpret. Srinivasachary merely glanced at the horoscope and said; " I do not read the horoscopes of the dead". This made the Don very angry, but later he realised his mistake. He had mistakenly brought the horoscope of his dead daughter, and not the one alive, to be shown. This incident made Srinivasachary even more famous with the common men of the area and they thronged to meet him.
After spending three months successfully as a touring astrologer he developed confidence about making a living on the basis of his astrological knowledge without the patronage of the Maharaja. He went back to Jodhpur to take formal leave of the royal family and returned to Kaliyur with the wealth earned so far… After taking leave of the royal family of Jodhpur, Srinivasachary went back to his ancestral village, Kaliyur, where he had undergone a lot of poverty and humiliation. In spite of toiling day and night, for keeping a family of eight members together, his mother had incurred a lot of debts.
As soon as he arrived in the village he paid off all the family debts and built a house for his mother at a cost of seven hundred rupees. After discharging these obligations he went to the city of Madras to set up a tiny astrological practice. He started, humbly, under a staircase in Mint Street, sharing the space with a raw advocate, who eventually became a successful lawyer. Later he moved his office to a better place, as his practice improved. His practice progressed well due to his authority over the subject, his mastery of the Sanskrit language and his exposition of the slokas and pramanas, which impressed everyone.
He gave bewitching talks on the subject of astrology and held his audience spellbound. His clients included film stars like Dilip Kumar and Waheeda Rehman. The writers like Jayakanthan and Kalki Sadashivam also conceded to his superiority in the field of astrology. He never went to the house of a client.
Once when Dilip Kumar wanted him to come to the studio where he was shooting. Srinivasachary sent word to him that the seeker should come to the source, and the source should not go to the seeker. After that day Dilip Kumar always came to consult him at his little office.
Srinivasachary informed His Excellency, the Governor, that he will come to the Raj Bhavan as the subject of His Excellency and pay his respects to him but he could not come there as an astrologer. Hearing this, within minutes, the Governor arrived at this humble abode. At the age of twenty-one, Sinivasachary married Ranganayaki, the daughter of the priest of Thiru Neermalai Temple, an ancient shrine, situated near Pallavaram.
Ranganayaki was a devout Hindu. She was seven when some astrologer had predicted that she will die soon, so she should marry a Brahmachari at the earliest. Due to this rumour she was not able to find a suitable match. Srinivasachary happened to see her horoscope by chance and found it to be very promising. He immediately offered to marry her. He also paid bride price of five hundred rupees to her father, to obtain her hand in marriage, as per the Iyengar custom those days. However, in recent times the custom of dowry has also crept into the Iyengar community in India.
I would like the present generation to know how honourably their ancestors behaved. However, while discarding the custom of dowry it should be ensured that the girls are given full access to their inheritance as provided by the law. Ranganayaki, the wife of Srinivasachary, was very affectionate and a loving woman even though she was unlettered. In fact she learnt to sign her name only at the age of fifty.
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She was a strict disciplinary and very religious and followed all the rules of orthodoxy. She always cooked with firewood and did not agree to switch over to a gas stove. She never accepted the use of the stainless steel utensils in her kitchen and cooked and served in traditional brassware and clay pots.
During the last days of his life Srinivasachary took her daily to the Marina beach. On such occasions she never sat next to her husband in the car. She would sit on the front seat of the car and he in the back seat. She always carried a kuja traditional brass water container from home for drinking water, while on such expeditions. She was very spiritual and all those who came to visit them always took her blessings by touching her feet. In this manner, living with a loyal and devout companion, Srinivasachary continued to practice astrology, gloriously, till he attained Nirvana and reached the lotus feet of his Achraya in His greatest contribution has been passing on the sum total of his knowledge to his sons.
Three of them took to the practice of astrology after him. One of them, Kaliyur Narayanan has become an internationally renowned astrologer for his extraordinary knowledge and treatment of the subject. He was also a preacher of astrological knowledge. He was also known as the medical astrologer. He moved to Mylapore, in Madras, where he became very well known and still lives there at the age of hundred and one.
He was a powerful social personality of Chengalpet, where he was practicing till he passed away in He practiced astrology in Madras till He carried astrology to Hydrabad and other parts of India. Instead he became a successful marketing executive who traveled widely. A born wanderer he once ventured on a world tour on a motorcycle. He travelled around the globe, on a shoe-string budget, hitch-hiking most of the time.
Ram who was underground those days. Being their associate he also became a socialist and an atheist. Those days Arthur Pais wrote regularly against churches and was very critical of Arch Bishop Arullappa.
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The whole group in Loyola was atheist. They really felt that astrology, religion, occult were stupid and did not believe in any of these. However, destiny had some other plans for Narayanan. As Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the former philosopher, president of India once wrote that fate chooses and not we. Most of the things around us happen due to forces beyond our control. It was the same with Narayanan who says it in his own words: "I did not want to disturb and spoil the image created by my father who was an exceptionally powerful and dynamic exponent of astrology and had a great stature.
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I wanted to be far from it. I was in awe of him and never felt equal to the task. Moreover, I did not believe in astrology and thought it was a humbug.
In fact, I assisted my father in his office work for four years and many times I tried to send away his clients by telling them that astrology was rubbish and a hoax. But more I told them not to come to consult my father, more they wanted to see him. Whatever Narayanan thought about himself, others felt differently. One day while he was watching a performance in Krishna Gana Sabha he found himself seated next to the leading writer, Shri Subramanium of All India Radio, who was greatly interested in astrology.
He started a dialogue on astrology with Narayanan. Like - what is astrology? How does it work? Is it a solacing science? Narayanan seemed to have told him that it was not a solacing science. Using it in that manner will be misusing it. It will neither make the astrologer nor his client happy.
It should be instead used as a guiding science. Tamilvannan thus became the first person to predict the future of Narayanan. At that time Narayanan was a successful business executive and a journalist. His father, the great Srinivasachary had also predicted that Narayanan will become an astrologer. At that time Narayanan was a successful business executive and had no intentions of doing anything else.
He had been forewarned by his father saying, wherever you run to - you will be back here. Literary circles in which Narayanan moved as a journalist also brought a lot of pressure on him to take to astrology, but still he was unable to come out of his inhibitions. According to Narayanan eventually the transformation did occur as was fated: My friend Arthur Pais, now in New York Times, was writing very well.
I was not interviewing people and I was not writing well. However, I did well as a marketing executive. But then suddenly my father died and that changed everything. It happened in when I was posted in Bangalore. In grief, I resigned from my job. My boss did not want me to leave, so he posted me in Madras. In spite of that I felt restless and resigned within six months and started my life as an astrologer. Two of my brothers did practice astrology but did not possess good communication skills, so a lot of emotional pressure was brought on me by numerous people to start from where my father had left.
Interestingly, when I started I did not even know how to cast a horoscope. I was totally ignorant. However, there are regional and local flavours. Kashmiri Pandit marriages are very elaborate and used to last a month with a lot of singing and rejoicing. Shorter versions of Vedic rites are used in marriages conducted for other communities by the Brahmin priests. One of the most interesting marriages observed by me was the marriage of my niece Gauri Parimoo a half Kashmiri and Half Gujrati girl to Krishnan, an Iyengar young man.
The marriage took place in Delhi as per the Iyengar rites. During the marriage ceremony normally the girl wears a nine-yard, arakku red silk saree with zari border and the groom wears only a silk upper and lower cloth a dhoti and an angvastram and is bare bodied but adorned with a gold sacred thread.
However, Gauri to begin with wore a red bandini Gujrati saree and later changed into a nine-yard Iyengar Madisar. Among Iyengas the first ritual in the process of marriage is celebration of the Nischayartham settling the marriage. There are basically two types of Nischayarthams. The first one is a legal contract to conduct the marriage between the two individuals, entered into by the elders of the family. It is a written document, which specifies all the terms and conditions of marriage including the dowry and the tentative date, time and place of marriage.
The second Nischayartham, which is indeed religious, may take place on the day of the marriage, prior to the Muhurtham. It is in the form of a promise made by both the parents concerned, to conduct the marriage, under the will of God, with their entire mind and spirit. After this the parent who is going to carry out the Kanika Dhaanam giving away his daughter undertakes the Sankalapa mantras. He vouches religiously with prayers and slokas that he will be willing to give his daughter as Kanika Dhaanam.
It is said that this custom has been prevalent even from the time of the legendary marriage of Lord Ventatesha to Goddess Padmavathy. The Lord of Tirupati had to borrow money from Kubera, the god of wealth, to pay the monetary compensation to the father of Goddess Padmavathy. Incidentally, Lord Venkatesha is yet to pay-off his debt to Kubera. Hence the custom of dowry, as understood today, did not find place in the Iyengar customs. After Poorvanga Shuba the Muhurtham, which is the main ritual, takes place. The time within which the chief ritual has to be completed is called one Muhurath Kala, which is about three and three fourth Nazahigai one and a half-hour.
This time factor is very important for Mantra Shastra and for the principles of Yaga. The full effect of the Vedas and Mantras shall be valid only for this Muhurtha period. Initially, the groom is in a state of renouncing the world. He is taking Vanaprastha and proceeding to Kashi Varanasi as no one has offered him a girl in marriage. He also gives him some gifts and then escorts him with fanfare to the celebrations. At the venue of the celebrations, he is ceremonially welcomed and this is known as the Mapillai Azhaippu the bridegroom reception.
The bridegroom is taken around the streets of the town in an open luxury car in a procession.
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In the olden days he was taken around in a chariot. The procession is preceded by the musicians playing sacred music and followed by women wearing splendid silk sarees, decked with flowers and jewelry, carrying trays full of the gifts. They carry clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, fruits, nuts and sugar candy in large trays for the bride. The Mangalaya Dhaanam takes place only after the bride and groom recite several mantras assuring each other of sustained loyalty to one another, mentally, physically and spiritually, throughout their lives. While other dhaanams are given by hand and accompanied with water, the Kanika dhaanam is made by placing the girl on the lap of the father.
The marriage with the maternal uncle is not only common, but is very much in vogue even today in South India in many communities. Hence, it is necessary to ensure that the man who has a preferential right to marry the girl has forsaken it willingly. In small coherent communities this type of endogamous exogamy became quite essential to find the grooms within the community, who at the same time, do not belong to the same gotra.
In fact, nowadays marriages with close relatives are becoming quite rare due to medical and genetic reasons. The maternal uncle had apparently some disadvantages. Sometimes there could be a great deal of age difference between the bride and her maternal uncle. The pair may not always be emotionally and educationally compatible.
On the other hand these marriages had many advantages especially from the point of view of the girl. The biggest advantage was that the maternal grandmother became the mother-in-law. In which circumstances the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship would be much better than it used to be in other Indian communities. The trauma of transition, which an Indian bride faces, was largely avoided. The adjustment to the new joint family was easier. The question of ill-treating the girl by her own maternal grandmother would be almost out of question.
The future of the girl would be safer and secure. The family wealth could stay within the family. The marriages would still take place even if the two families were not economically equal, since they were deemed socially equal. This custom has also been absorbed by the other Tamil communities. It is interesting that amongst my own community of Kashmir Pundits, where marriages with maternal uncle or for that matter any relative is unheard of. It is the maternal uncle who carries the bride and brings her to the marriage pandal. To my mind it is a vestige of an ancient custom when perhaps such marriages would have taken place among Kashmiri Pandits also.
The reason why the maternal uncle carries the girl to the mandapam is to show the entire gathering that she is like a child to him. He publicly displays that she is too young for him to marry her and brings her voluntarily to be given away to another suitable groom.
Maangalya Dharanam After the maternal uncle gives his public approval to the union, the Mangalaya Dharanam takes place. The thread of marriage is tied around the neck of the girl after it is blessed by the Acharya, the priests, elders and the assembled guests. The Mangalyam is a piece of turmeric tied to a yellow thread, which is tied around the neck of the bride by the groom to signify that the ritual of marriage is complete. Thirumangalyam is tied with three knots. The first knot is tied by the bridegroom.
The second knot is tied by his sister and the third knot is tied by the mother of the bride. It is also to ensure that there are at least two witnesses to the marriage. A bowl of rice is put in the madi lap of the bride as a blessing to say 'let her be fertile and her household be plentiful'. It is followed by blessings by the maternal uncle and other relatives. Each one of them gives a gift of money along with a betel leaf to the bride. Part3 [Iyengar Marriage Rituals] There are many interesting rituals, which take place during the Iyengar weddings.
I have mentioned some of them here: Metti Metti is the silver toe ring worn traditionally by married women.