Innovative, out-of-the-box temple management. Perhaps that’s the best way to describe how the authorities at the Jayadurga Peeth Ashram in Padappai, Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, manage to draw the crowds to pay obeisance to the deity. And it’s raining the choicest of prasad here. Badam milk, cold coffee, ice tea, multi-flavored ice cream and fresh juices aplenty make up the list of drinkable offerings.
How about the chewables? You name it and you get it. Burger, mattar (pea) samosa, spring roll, mango cake, cookies, potli, chappathi, puri, tomato rice and what not! Padappai is a small-time town with big-time activities going on and contributing to its growth is the peeth with its unusual prasads.
The ashram has moved with the times. The usual prasad devotees take back like the humble rice flakes, plantain, payasam, sugar candy and unniyappam are no more on the list. Instead, sophisticated goodies have started strutting their stuff much to the delight of kids, who are ever so eager to pay homage to the divine ascetic, Durgai Siddhar, in whose honor and memory the temple stands.
Doesn't cost a penny
And it all comes for free! The new-gen management doles out the high-end stuff at no cost at all. Things are hi-tech here. Once devotees touch base, they get a registration number on their mobile phones. They get ID tags and half a bottle of mineral water before they are allowed entry into the temple. There’s more to come.
Just before the devotees step in, volunteers give everybody a towel dipped in cool rose water to wipe their faces. And it all comes with a benign smile from the volunteers. Nothing could be more refreshing to a devotee wilting under Tamil Nadu’s dry heat for a darshan of the Siddhar. What next? It’s a welcome drink which awaits all. There’s a long list to choose from. Cold coffee, badam milk, ice cream and fresh fruit juices. Once the prayers and bhajans are over, it’s time for the tastiest of prasads. There are seating facilities outside the peeth where devotees can relax with the prasad of their choice.
On ordinary days, you get puris, tomato rice, chappathi and veg korma. But on special days like Pournami and Amavasi and on other auspicious occasions, the prasads turn hep. It’s burgers and the like then.
To all skeptics, cynics and unbelievers, this is what Dr Sri Sreedhar, chief Acharya of the peeth has to say. Whatever is made with devotion and hygiene and offered to God can be given to devotees as prasad. This is exactly why he chose to overrule age-old traditional concepts of prasad and go in for a brave new world of offerings.
A homeopath by profession, Dr Sreedhar is the chief temple priest. A man of many parts, his medical skills in treating cancer cases has come in for a great deal of praise. The prasad is cooked under strict hygienic conditions in the temple’s well-equipped, hi-tech kitchen, which has won clearance from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. Jayadurga Peeth swears by the golden rule: cleanliness is next to godliness.
Once the devotees accept the prasad, they find their way to the Sree Durgai deity and chant hymns and bhajans in his praise. Chantings done, they sit together and enjoy the prasad, the tradition followed here.
It’s therefore no wonder that kids love to come to the peeth. The authorities have come up with some apt mod-management moves to lure the younger blood. Those who are stoic enough to sit by the Siddhar’s samadhi, write down the guru mantra 21 times and “show” it to the temple office, get to eat their favorite cookie biscuits, which land right in front of them through the vending machine. Chocolates and ice creams are not far behind. A visit to the ashram is fun-time for kids. They have avenues for amusement.
Read more: The lord who loves to 'munch' on chocolates
The food prepared here is from whatever is brought by followers of the Siddhar and it’s they who ready the goodies. Only the chocolates and ice cream come from sources outside. But even these items come to the temple in the form of offerings from devotees.
The ascetic saint was born in Tirunelveli. He left for the Himalayas when he was just 10 years old. He spent many years in meditation and lived a life of asceticism there. He later left the mountains and lived in several places before finally settling down in Padappai. It is said that the Siddhar set up the ashram and the peeth in the wake of a divine revelation he had. He spent several years in meditation here. But devotees started flocking here only several years after the temple was set up.
Durgai Siddhar played a vital role in popularizing and conducting “rahu-kaal” pujas all over Tamil Nadu. He had predicted the exact time of his samadhi and had told his disciples about it. Hence, it’s from them that we know the Siddhar died on Feb 21, 2007. He was laid to rest inside the Sree Durga Peeth. Durgai Siddhar’s Kerala connection lies in the fact that his grandfather hailed from Alappuzha. It was the Siddhar’s father Srinivasan who, along with his family, settled down in Tirunelveli.