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Article sent from The Hindu on indiaserver.com

b.rangarajan_at_pgrad.unimelb.edu.au
Date: Thu Jun 01 2000 - 17:41:59 PDT

Dear Sir:This article appeared in the Hindu on 2nd June. I hope you can use it for wider ciruculation.
rangarajan
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This article is emailed to you by b.rangarajan ( b.rangarajan@pgrad.unimelb.edu.au )
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Source: The Hindu (http://www.the-hindu.com)

Harmonious blend of ecology and devotion

COME WORLD Environment Day on June 5, and we get busy making 
speeches and writing articles. There has been a global awareness 
regarding the manner in which man is fast destroying his own 
residence, the earth. But the persons who are actually trying to 
roll back the floods of danger that threaten our ecological 
harmony do not get spoken about. Perhaps they do not care to get 
talked about.

The remarkable temple culture that has been nurtured in Tamil 
Nadu has innumerable facets apart from, of course, religious 
ritualism and its vital component, the attached garden, is verily 
the oxygen centre for any temple. Each temple has to have a 
grove, a ``nandavana'', so that the deity could be worshipped 
with fresh flowers daily. Great Alwars and Nayanmars have been 
associated with such wholesome service for enriching the physical 
environment. Thirunavukkarasar, for instance, is always 
represented carrying a hoe for he made it his life's mission to 
clean weeds and thorns that happened to grow in holy places. The 
``pushpa-kainkarya'' of Perialwar and Tondaradippodialwar is 
well-known. The puranas which provide the major mythological 
background for temple culture speak highly of tree planting and 
the Skanda Purana give details of how to nurture a Sacred Grove 
of Bilva, Banyan, Asoka and Amla trees. These gardens and sacred 
groves were also meant for growing herbs to heal the sick, like 
the one that was set up by Garuda Vahana Pandithar at the 
Dhanvanthri temple in the Srirangam complex.

The twentieth century was particularly cruel to temple culture 
and its attempts to inculcate environmental awareness. Today most 
of the gardens attached to temples big and small remain untended, 
full of thorns and weeds.

However, devotees have been delighted in recent years that Lord 
Varadaraja of Kanchipuram is accompanied by the soul-elevating 
scent of ``Marikkozhunthu'' and Tulsi and flowers which are 
fresh, literally dripping with honey. This has been made possible 
because of Uthiyambakkam (a village near Ponvilaintha Kalathur) 
Vedanta Ramanujacharya. Meeting him is a lesson in humility. It 
is also an inspiration. This Village Administrative Officer is 
actively engaged in spreading a message of health and devotion.

Quite a few devotees who have been going to Kanchipuram for the 
``Thottotsavam'', the ``Garuda Sevai'' and other festivals have 
been remarking about the loveliness of the fresh Tulsi and flower 
garlands with which the Lord is being adorned these days. It is 
remarkable that you have been able to offer so much single-
handed. What made you take up this service?

I am not sure about the real moment of awareness, but I was 
unhappy at the careless manner in which Tulsi was grown in all 
sorts of places and plucked carelessly and offered. It seemed to 
be desecrating the image of Lord Varadaraja when Tulsi offerings 
were made in such a way. I wished to go through the entire 
process in very clean and pure surroundings so that the Lord 
could receive the flowers and leaves in a consecrated form. That 
must have been the reason for attaching ``nandavanas'' to our 
temples in ancient days. I began with Tulsi and proceeded to put 
up flowering plants.

You have been able to do it in the temple land, I am told.

Yes, the authorities acceded to my request to give about two 
acres that had remained unused and neglected. But remember, this 
is only a small portion. Actually, the entire ``nandavanam'' of 
Varadaraja is spread over 24 acres.

It must have been quite a task to get even two acres ready for 
planting.

Certainly. But when there is sincere aspiration, I guess help 
comes in automatically. I needed machines for clearing up the 
place. Then we used seventy lorry loads of red soil and had it 
all levelled. There were problems, but then problems are 
everywhere, aren't they? I now have a tractor and I have 
installed pump-sets too, and the garden is glowing.

You have flower-varieties as well.

Tulsi is the main offering and I began with Tulsi. We have two 
thousand Tulsi plants in the garden. What a pleasure it is to 
offer baskets and baskets of the sacred basil leaves (``kudalai 
kudalaiyaaha tiruthuzhaay''), plucked fresh from the garden. I 
have also put in twenty-two varieties of flowering plants, such 
as ``kanakambaram,'' roses and ``nandiyavattai''.

Trees?

Of course. Punnai, Panneer, Champak, Parijatham.

You say that daily several baskets of Tulsi leaves have to be 
plucked carefully and the flowers gathered. You need a lot of 
trained labour for that.

I am lucky. I have twenty volunteers who help me in the 
maintenance as well as gathering of leaves and flowers in the 
evening. Blessed with six sons, one grandson and two nephews who 
are doing Veda Adhyayanam, I am able to receive help from them. 
They are doing it purely as service, ``kainkarya'' as they would 
refer to it in Sri Vaishnava parlance.

How about the finances to nurture the garden?

The garden prepared so far at a cost of around Rs. 80,000 needs 
about Rs. 4,000 a month for maintenance. 

Sri Devadhirajan Nandavana Kainkarya Sabha is trying to get 
together a sumptuous amount that can be deposited and the 
interest used for maintenance.

Have you any plans to extend the services of the garden?

Yes, with the help of Govindan who was able to give more than a 
lakh of rupees, a garden has been set up within the temple 
premises of Madhurantakam Eri Kaatha Ramar Sannidhi. 

This attempt also has proved to be a success. In fact, the Jeeyar 
of Ahobila Math has been pleased with my efforts and has asked me 
to set up a ``nandavanam'' in Ahobilam itself. Accordingly I am 
in the process of creating a garden in the Tirupati Devasthanam 
Complex to offer fresh flowers and Tulsi leaves to Lord 
Prahladavardan. I do hope others will also come forward and 
resurrect this service of ``pushpa kainkaryam'' in our 
innumerable temples. I feel this would also help purify the 
environment.

PREMA NANDAKUMAR

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