Welcome to Tamil Nadu’s Hampi
Looks like there is an eternal curse on the Vijayanagar Empire, especially on its magnificent edifices. If not, how could you explain the new Hempi that this temple in Tamil Nadu is developing into?
Baburayan Pettai, located 100 KMs south of Chennai, houses yet another ruin of the Vijayanagar Empire. This time, it is a temple of Varadaraja Perumal, a form of Vishnu worshipped in Tamil Nadu.
Varadaraja means the one that genuinely gives away boons to those who ask for – the devotees. But, looks like, it is the Lord who needs a multitude of boons to continue living on the site of the temple.
Built by a Vijayanagara nobleman, Babu Raya, the temple is spread over 16 acres. It has two gopurams, one of which is overgrown with weeds and trees while the other appears to be either broken midway or is half-built.
While the ‘madhil suvar’ – the outer periphery wall – is seen in certain pockets, the inner walls make their presence felt, taking us back by at least five hundred years.
While the entire complex smells of ruin, the sanctum sanctorum of Varadaraja Perumal is the only structure that appears to be able to stand for a couple of more years.
The Ardhamandap, Mahamandap, Moolasthana vimanam et al are dilapidated and could collapse any time. While two mud and brick mounds stand for the Thayar and Aandal Sannidhis, the other two grand mandaps have been reduced to sand over which have grown trees and shrubs. Now Thayar and Aandal are housed near the sanctum sanctorum, in two hastily constructed sannidhis. It is a different matter that these two are dilapidated too.
As the Mahamandap also boasts of lush overgrowth, the roof has given away, thus exposing the sanctum sanctorum to the elements. During rains, it is a natural thirumanjanam ( holy bath) to the Thayar.
Astonishingly, the sixteen acre complex boasts of two pushkarnis. Needless to say, while one is completely dilapidated, the other one is embedded inside an inaccessible Praharam that has a strong growth of decades old trees.
The size of the trees on the gopurams, the depths to which the roots have penetrated the structure, the extent of the damage to the temples, the precariously hanging granite roof, et al show that the Hindu Religious and Endowments Board of the Tamil Nadu Government that boasts administrative control of the temple, has not done anything tangible to maintain the structure, leave alone restore it.
The last known samprokshanam, with physical repairs to the temple, has happened in 1906, as per the part time priest. Later on there happened mantra based ‘laghu-samprokshanam’ to consecrate the deity alone with no repair done to the structure. No annual festival (uthsavam) is conducted now. A village elder seems to have witnessed an uthsavam when the uthsavar murti was taken in procession outside the temple.
It is a clear case of dereliction of duty by the Executive Officers and their bosses. And the authorities deserve exemplary punishment so that no other officer in future would dare to even think of abandoning such historic monuments. The punishment should be meted to past officers too, who had been incharge of the temple.
The officers, their political bosses et al should be called out by the courts, as and when a case is filed, and reprimanded for their lackadaisical attitude towards work that has resulted in such a colossal loss of heritage to the current and future generations.
Babu Raya had apparently set up three agraharams – smartha, sri vaishnava and madhva – on the three sides of the temple for its upkeep and had also bestowed hundreds of acres of agricultural land in favour of the deity. Now there is no sign of any of the above.
Amidst all these ruins and nonchalance by the governments, stand Vijaya Varadaraja and Vijayavalli Thayar, looking at us smilingly with a five hundred year old patience, waiting for their abode to be rebuilt. The Lord and His consort, along with the twelve Alwars, Ramanuja and Desikan, partake of a paltry meal once a day, sponsored by the Kanchi Mutt. That is, when the bhattacharyar visits them from a nearby village for an hour a day.
A Venugopala idol had recently been stolen and is yet to be traced. Murtis from yet another dilapidated Shiva temple lie strewn in the Varadaraja temple premises uncared for and unattended. Reason: The custodian of the temple, the government, continues with its legendary lethargy and characteristic disinterest so much so that it had chosen to ignore a 2020 Madras High Court order to renovate the temple within a period of twelve weeks. Twelve months have passed and the govt has not replaced even a brick.
Probably the only act of solace for devotees is that the HR&CE has chosen to deposit the uthsavar murtis of the Lord and His consort with the safe vault at the Agastheeswarar Temple in a nearby village.
As Varadan and Vijayavalli continue to languish at the very neighbourhood of Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, forgotten by the very people whom they protect, the state appears to feign ignorance about the very existence of this piece of history.
Pranam to the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam for helping the temple have one pooja per day.
Action Items for Govt:
- HR&CE and Tamil Nadu police to get their acts together to bring back the stolen Venugopalan murti.
- HR&CE to clear off bush and other weeds that further destroy the structures.
- HR&CE to initiate emergency repairs to the temple so that the main sanctum doesn’t wither away.
- HR&CE to prepare a master plan for the overall reconstruction of the temple in accordance with its earlier architectural pattern to restore the temple to its past glory.
- Once reconstructed, this temple could be added to the Mamallapuram Tour Circuit so that tourists could have a chance to visit this Vijayanagara – Nayak architecture before proceeding to Mamallapuram via Chingalpet.
- Action against officials, present and past, that had not done their job of maintaining the temple. Consider booking them under ’The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904’. If possible, under Goondas Act for wanton defacement of history.
- HR&CE to initiate fresh efforts to recover lands that belong to the temple.
Action Items for Archaeological Survey of India
- Visit this temple, document the heritage there and help restore the temple to its original glory.
- Frame suitable guidelines for HR&CE to maintain the temple without destroying heritage.
Action Items for the Hon’ble High Court of Madras
- Tamil Nadu govt has not acted on your order WP No 9692 of 2020. Could you suo moto initiate contempt proceedings against the HR&CE, Collectors of Kancheepuram and Vellore ? Or at least ask for status of implementation of your order?
Action Items for Mutts:
- This is a Vadakalai Vaikanasa Aagama temple. Swami Desikan is seen beside Srimad Ramanuja. The Vaishnavite Mutts should take ownership of at least some sections / rituals of the temple and ensure their maintenance.
- When Babu Rayan broke ground to build the temple, an ancient Hanuman Murti was unearthed. Taking that as a good omen, Raya built the temple at the site. Hence Madhwa mutts could take interest in this temple as well. The older Hanuman murti is still present in the temple.
Action Items for Devotees:
- Visit the temple at least once a month. If not, at least during the holy festival days like Deepavali, Sankaranti, Vaikunta Ekadasi etc.
- When at least 50 devotees visit the temple per day, HR&CE would notice the flow and begin to improve the situation.
- Instead of visiting temples in exotic locales, at great cost, visit Baburayan Pettai almost free of cost. Results are the same.
- Get committed for at least one time pooja per day. Bear the expenses.
- Initiate Temple Cleaning activities.
- When you donate to a new temple, stop. Allocate some money for this 500 year old one that genuinely needs repair.
Action Item for Media:
- Visit this temple, document and expose the decay and rot.
- Once in a while, report fact.
What did I do after my visit to the temple ?
- Initiated talks with a temple cleaning group based out of Chennai. Would be undertaking உழவாரப் பணி – Temple Cleaning – in a couple of weeks.
- Reached out to HR & CE officials for a copy of the FIR for Venugopalan murti.
- Reached out to several retired officials of ASI for guidance on how to proceed further.
- Trying to locate a local person from Baburayan Pettai to initiate a petition to the government for renovation.
- Reaching out to media outlets to publicise the plight of this temple. So far, limited response.
Dear Readers – Please let know any other means to get this temple in order.
Dear Lawyers – If there are other draconian sections under which such dereliction of duty to national treasures can be dealt with, please state. If you want to pursue this case in court, let me know and I will share what ever data I have on this temple.
Baburayan Pettai Temple as of 05-Nov-2021
More of Baburayan Pettai as of 05-Nov-2021
Some more of Baburayan Pettai Temple as of 05-Nov-2021