SrirangamNVintageCinema

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Devi Talkies

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Rangaraja Talkies

Devi Talkies and Rangaraja Talkies were the only two cinemas that existed in Srirangam for a long time, at least I knew of them from my boyhood days. I have quite vivid memories of watching some classic yesteryear films with my parents in these two places during Summer breaks in school, when I visited my grandparents in Srirangam,.

On my last ‘nostalgic’ trip out there though, I went a little beyond my boyhood experience. Having heard the connection between T.A.Madhuram, one of the famous comedy duo, of course the other being N.S.Krishnan (NSK), and Sathara Veedhi(street), I went down that narrow but very popular street in Srirangam, looking for signs. After many tries, a man gave pointer to Rangaraja Talkies.

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sign on his house front

Devi Talkies, which I believe was once owned by the theatre doyen of those days, Nawab Rajamanickam Pillai, was non-operational and under litigation for long, and has recently been converted into a wedding Hall. An old-dust-covered-projector was still lying in the upper projector room when I paid a ‘final’ visit there. I recall in these ‘talkies’, there used to be 3 breaks during one screening because of projector-limitations and during those breaks, the tea/coffee/snack vendors would buzz in, setting a sudden commotion in the otherwise quiet hall a second ago, thus making it look like a disturbed bee-hive.

On to our mission, one afternoon I walked into Rangaraja Talkies, which looked not a block of brick changed since my boyhood visits (again under litigation). It was break during a matinee-show, a few were stretching their muscle while others crowded near a small tea-stall. There were two middle-aged ladies busy serving tea and I was told by a cinema-goer that they were the ones I was looking for. After the show resumed and the scene outside settled, I walked into the stall and was received with suspicious eyes. On making them comfortable, expressing my interest in yesteryear films and personalities, I was offered a seat and even a cup of tea. I learnt the two women were Maduram’s niece. Then our conversation lasted for almost an hour or so.  Here’s a gist of that interaction as far as I could recall –

Madhuram bought this cinema for his brother some 70 years ago and she did support her siblings well – whatever the properties bought in Srirangam were named as “Krishna Bavanam” while the ones in Nagarkoil, the native town of N.S.Krishnan were named as “Madura Bavanam” – NSK’s first wife’s children are more into politics today, while Madhuram did not have any children, her sister’s children (NSK married Madhuram’s sister too) are well-educated and settled – NSK respected scholarly people as he would engage them in discussion and that helped gather material for his scenes, as observed by these ladies themselves –  these ladies had lived in NSK-Maduram’s Venkatraman street house in T.Nagar and while NSK-Madhuram lived on the upper floor, Madhuram’s brother and all NSK’s children lived at the lower level – Drinking played a part in both their lives and their end – It was in Srirangam house NSK vomited blood before taken to hospital in Madras where he passed on while Maduram was taken care by NSK’s brother till her end – NSK’s Srirangam house was sold to offset the legal expenses of the murder case both he and MKT were involved in – MKT had easier time in terms of financing the court case as he was co-accused and since NSK’s party including Maduram spent lot of money in trying to free NSK

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NSK Bavanam

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here’s clip of NSK and T.A.Madhuram –

Comedians in general, be it Hollywood or otherwise, make us laugh but seems they are not free from such tragic spells in their lives. Also, a tragedy of different sort, that the world could not laugh at the antics of such a talented pair of NSK-Madhuram because of language barrier. To me though, they will stay right at the top for ever!!

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look for MKT

A short hop over the river Cauvery and into Trichy, the superstar of yesteryear, M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s  (MKT) bungalow still stands but bereft of that glory days and look. It has been sold by Bhagavathar family and now functions as a hotel. The front yard looks bare and taken over by growth. I could only stand there and let my imagination run – a perfectly manicured garden, his majestic white stallion that starred in the first scene of “Haridoss” leashed to a pillar, his car in the shelter of his portico and him standing in the balcony and waving to his numerous fans waiting out on the street for hours in the sun and the rains just to have a look at their star. The hotel manager told me that his fans from far away countries such as Malaysia still visit, not minding the price they had to pay even for a few hours stay there.

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MKT mansion

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MKT stairs

MKT clips –

My father recalled “Free MKT” poster pasted on the walls of Madras in the 1940s, when he was in prison in connection with the murder case. My uncle recalled a Carnatic music concert MKT gave at a wedding on Aandar Veedhi in Trichy and also seeing MKT’s funeral procession, when he was taken in a seated-posture as was the custom with his family sect.

In addition, G.Ramanathan, the great music composer of yesteryear films, belonged to BikshandarKoil, next door to Srirangam and more recently, the gifted lyricist Vaali too has Srirangam roots.

Annabishegam

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Rice is the staple food that keeps us going, at least in Southern Asia. Annabishegam,   (Annam = cooked-rice + Abishegam = ablution) ablution with cooked rice for the Hindu God Shiva, is an act of saying thanks to the cosmic energy for having provided us with this magical grain. Besides thanks-giving, it is believed that this annual ritual in Shiva temples during the month of Sep/Oct will ensure food for all living beings on earth in the coming year. Though Annabishegam is performed in many Shiva temples, nowhere is it done in grandeur as in Gangaikondacholapuram, a small sleepy village in the vicinity of Tanjavur. It takes such a proportion largely due to the massive stone temple, built in 1020 CE by the great Chola king Rajendran, and equally large Shiva deity in place. As a volunteer, I had the opportunity to be part of the event.

The day before Annabishegam is Mahabishegam, when the priest attend to the ‘smaller’ gods in the temple corridor first, washing the deities with water, draping them with new cloths and applying sacred paste/powder, all accompanied by constant chanting of the hymns. As for Shiva, the main deity at the sanctum, the ablution is performed with sandal paste, turmeric water, milk, orange juice, honey, coconut-water and sacred ash, all mixed and stored in separate huge-containers. About 15 vidyarthis, students of Vedas, stand atop scaffolding to reach the top of the massive Shiva-lingam, pour different mix over the head, continually chanting Rudram/Vedas. At the end of the abishegam, the lord is decorated with bulky flower-garlands that carry a price tag of Rs. 10,000 ($200). On the day after, volunteers are given yellow scarf to stand apart from hoards of people pouring in from nearby towns and villages. Police, barricades, medical-emergency pavilion, Thirumurai songs on Lord Shiva on the PA system are all in place from the break of dawn. About 50 bags (each weighing 75-100 kilograms) of top quality rice are cooked in 4 large vessels, powered by a massive stove using firewood. With the help of shovels, the cooked rice is spread out on the floor to cool off, before getting transferred into bamboo baskets. Some 50-60 volunteers are at work, line up from the place of cooking, up the steep stairway, and all the way to the sanctum. Chanting the praise of Shiva, “Om Namah Shivaya, hara hara Shankara” as the backdrop, the baskets of rice get passed on hand-to-hand in a swift and constant motion, while the empty ones return for refilling at the same pace. Again, the Vedic students perform the Annabishegam by chanting Rudram/Vedas and the all day (9am-5pm) event slowly grinds to a halt. A steel mesh set up around the deity holds the grain pretty much intact with minimal spill, giving the dark, black granite shape a pure, white coloration, and thus playing a yin and yang symbolism. An assortment of vegetable are used to decorate atop the rice surface and Deepa-aradhanai, offering of light is performed with the fervour running high among the gathered devotees.

As the Sun fast descend at the horizon, the tall temple tower glow in illumination, a sea of humanity wait in line to take home the prasadam, the blessed-food. All HIS creations, people including poor villagers, plants and animals down to critters are fed with this prasadam, not letting a grain of cooked rice go waste. In addition to the belief that plays in this mega-event, the saint Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram ordained some 26 years ago a festival of such magnitude, more for thanking the nearby villagers whose ancestors and the local chieftain played an important role in protecting the deities during the Islamic destructions. The cost involved for this two day ritual is roughly Rs. 6,00,000 ($12,000) which is raised through donations. Apart from cash, people offer rice and rice-bags too.

On historical note, after five successive rulers of Chola dynasty, their capitol Gangaikonadacholapuram was destroyed by the neighbouring rival Pandiya king in mid-13th century, of course, leaving the temple untouched. But the subsequent raids were not as fortunate in reference to the temple with the Islamic raider Malik Kafur began the loot, destruction and demolition, as was the “tradition” with invading Islamic rulers in rest of the country, followed by French army occupation, another Islamic attack by Arcot Nawab and finally the English dismantled the structure to take away stones, some with inscriptions, to be used in dam constructions. So experts believe, what is left of the temple today is only about half of its original design.

Please click below for pictures –

http://annabishegam.shutterfly.com/

For an article in Hawaiian based publication, please click the link below –

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5563