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Article from The Hindu on 'pushpa kainkaryam'

From: Cadambi Sriram (
Date: Fri Jun 02 2000 - 12:24:19 PDT

Here is an article from The Hindu on pushpa kainkaryam.


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

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

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

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


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

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. 


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