First the wonderful coincidence – I first saw Athi Varadar when I was ten years old with Amma and Appa. Rather, he saw me but I don’t remember seeing him. Then he was immersed in the Anantha Saras (temple pond) for 40 years. This year as I celebrate my 50th birthday, Athi Varadar was once again brought out for 48 days to bless his devotees. I just felt that this coincidence was something magical and wanted to visit him.
The crowds surged and news about waiting in the queue for 6 hours, 12 hours were becoming common place. We were skeptical about getting the online darshan tickets and when I spoke to my cousin Rohini about it, she said it was just a matter of luck and that one must start sharp at 10 am and just keep trying !
We had meetings in Chennai on Aug 5th and 6th, so we decided to stay for two more days and try our luck. While booking the flight tickets I made the mistake of booking the return ticket a day earlier so we returned on the 8th morning instead of the 9th. One less opportunity … The online tickets were available four days in advance. So if one wanted to visit on the 5th, the earliest you could try was Aug 1st. We started trying from the 1st of Aug to see if we could go on the evening of the 5th, the site just didn’t come up. On Aug 2nd, my sis-in-law Kousalya, Krishnan and I sat down on our respective computers just before 10 am and started trying – the TNHRCE website crashed and for almost an hour it remained a blank screen. Then the TNHRCE website opened but I must have tried to enter the “Captcha” code atleast 75 times only to see the following screen –
I became a zombie who had our Aadhar numbers memorised and kept opening new windows to see if I could book the ticket !! Also remember – the website worked only on Chrome not on Safari and I don’t like Chrome :). We gave up finally and said, we will take our chances and see if we find some contacts there who would help us with a donor pass.
We also decided to try just once on the 3rd. On Aug 3rd, I opened the website exactly as the clock turned to 10 am, there were 500 tickets available and I clicked on “book”, filled in the details and paid the money ! By 10.02 am we had two “Sahasranama Archanai” tickets for Aug 7th morning. Kousalya asked me to try for her and Nachi. I did but got error messages and couldn’t book it for the same day. I managed to get them the same tickets for Aug 8th as the process worked for me the next day.
Aug 7, 2019 Chennai
We had booked the taxi with Bala Travels for 3 am so that we could reach Kanchipuram by 5 am. Our tickets were for entering the temple from 6 am to 8.30 am but given the crowds, we decided as always to be early. We woke up by 2 am, took bath and were ready to leave at 3 am. Bala Travels’ driver Rajesh was outside sharp at 3 am and we left for Kanchipuram. We reached the spot beyond which no cars were allowed by 4.15 am and we left our footwear in the car and started walking. Everyone was entering through one particular gate so we also did and then there were two queues – on the left was a queue that had too many people already and on the right there were fewer people. Krishnan asked one of the policewomen as to which queue was for the “Sahasranama Archanai” ticket and she said everyone should join the left queue. Thankfully we asked another policewoman and said we had a “VIP Pass” – she immediately asked us to join the queue on the right. There wasnt a huge crowd for some distance.
We reached the place where the queue narrows by 5.15 am but we were behind some 500 people !! The donor pass holders and the online ticket holders were all put into this queue. It moved every few minutes and we were able to get into the narrow two-people queue by 6 am.
Once we got into the narrow queue, we started the winding route to reach Athi Varadar.
The few people that are exiting the temple are VVIPs who had their own separate queue and they returned the same way. The VVIPs included senior citizens and those having small children with them.
There are several volunteers and policemen and women who keep urging you to move ahead and exit the hall after having a fleeting darshan of Athi Varadar. This whole queue management process is really sad and folks who come in the free queue hardly get a few seconds of darshan. We kept remembering the Kumbh Mela in Feb of this year and the outstanding arrangements that were made – why couldn’t the TNHRCE consult with them on crowd management ? or closer home, why not consult the lord of lords, Tirupati Balaji ? They deal with bigger crowds every single day throughout the year.
I refused to move immediately and asked the policeman there about the “Sahasranama archanai” .. he said, I should have asked at the entrance and I retorted saying there is not information that says I should show my ticket there. Luckily one of the Vadhyar Swamigal saw me waving my archanai ticket and took it from me. He asked Krishnan and I to wait while he gave us some prasadam, tulasi and flowers. I also managed to get the following picture of Athi Varadar.
All thanks to Rohini’s information that for the Sahasranama Archanai ticket they would give us prasadam, I stood my ground and Krishnan and I were able to spend a few minutes inside the hall with Athi Varadar. He is magnificent … tall, regal and that all-knowing smile.
We walked out into the general rush that was getting out of the temple. I had to ask people not to push several times… again, a very strange behaviour that we Indian devotees have of pushing people as we are exiting the temple. Probably people were hungry. We came out into Sannadhi Street and started looking for my Athai’s house (aunt).
We found a person who gave us directions to my Athai’s house and there again we had to cross several checkpoints. The local residents have been given a pass so that they can move around freely, but visitors like us have to take a huge detour if we are visiting family or friends. We spoke to an inspector and requested that we be allowed inside the street as we had come all the way from Delhi and had to meet my aunt. He relented and let us through. At another checkpoint we found a neighbour of my aunt and he took us along with him.
The whole process of standing in the queue and getting the darshan was done in about 1 hour 45 minutes and we felt truly blessed because many devotees in the free darshan queue were standing for 6 to 12 hours !
We had good food at Athai and Athimber’s place and left from there around 10 am.
We walked to the auto stand that was nearly 2 kms away and got into an auto to reach our taxi. Rajesh, the driver had smartly parked the car near a school so it was easy to find him. We got back to the hotel around 2 pm utterly exhausted but also feeling blessed.
Our feet felt like they were on pin-cushions as we had walked barefoot for almost 6 kms. I wonder why they couldn’t even put a long mat on the way to the temple? Thats not very expensive and definitely not difficult to organise ! I have a list of issues with the TN government and the endowment board but thats for another blog.
Do read about Athi Varadar here.. there are several legends, and I have collected this material from different sources (the link is provided to the original article).
“Athi Varadar is the original idol of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram, made from wood from a Fig Tree (hence the name). The idol was worshipped by the likes of Ramanujacharya, Vedanta Desikan, Manavala Mamunigal. But it had a minor damage, and had to be replaced, as per Agamas. So a new Vigraham was brought from a nearby place, Pazhaya Seevaram, and was kept in place of Athi Varadar. Athi Varadar was then, and even today, kept in the pond of the temple, Anantha Saras, and is raised once in 40 years, so that the devotees can see the Vigraham that was worshipped by the greats.” – This is from Quora and the name of the writer is mentioned below in the picture.
Do read the Times of India article – https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/events/worshipping-lord-athi-varadar-at-kanchipuram/articleshow/70056554.cms
The other legend about Athi Varadar is “Goddess Saraswathi had a misunderstanding with her husband Brahma and in a fit of anger took his divine wand and left. Brahma tried to get the wand back by performing the Aswamedha yagna in the Athi forest (Fig forest), now Kanchipuram. Saraswati tries to interrupt the yagna by becoming the Vegavathi river but Vishnu emerges from the holy fire as Athivaradhar. He goes and immerses himself in the river in a way that Saraswati cannot cross him without stepping over him and that she would not do. Vishnu pacifies her and she returns the wand and also reunites with Brahma. Viswakarma carves out a body for Athivaradar using a fig tree and He then agrees to stay in Kanchipuram atop the Elephant Hill.”
Also read “The Hindu” article on Athi Varadar – History of Athi Varadar.
We were truly lucky to have got the darshan on Aug 7th because Kousalya and Nachi went on the 8th but the queue just didn’t move for four hours, so they returned without the darshan. Since they had seen Athi Varadar in the Sayana Thirukolam a couple of weeks earlier, it was ok. It does seem that the concept of “bulawa” or summons by the God is true.
Feeling blessed !