How often have you seen a priest in a temple and wondered the kind of life he would be leading? Well, I had a chat with P. Kumar Gurukkal who has been a priest at the Amman Koil in K.K. Nagar the past twelve years. He joined the temple, which has Muthu Mariammam as the main deity, in June 1996 after hearing of a vacancy at the temple from another priest, Swaminatha Gurukkal. Kumar Gurukkal has been the Sivan Koil archakar here all along and he is busy during festivals such as the Sankatachaturthi (conducted twice a month), Pournami Pooja (once a month), the Meeenakshisundareswar Thirukalyanam (usually conducted in Chitra masam, Uttara nakshataram), and the Aadi Thiruvizha conducted in a grand manner for three days in August, culminating with the Swami Porapadu.
Born in Poondi Village in Thanjavur District, to Parvathi and Parameswaran, a head clerk in Puthur Village near Ammapet, Kumar is the fourth of five children. Quite a few in his family have been officiating as priests in temples. Brother Kannan, for example, is a gurukkal at the Vinayaka Koil in Jaffarkhanpet, near Indira Theatre. Grandfather A. Peryaswamy was a priest at the Poondi Koil, Sivalayam; Parameswaran’s elder brother Venkatraman was a gurukkal as well. Kumar studied at the Ammapet Village School up to the higher secondary level, passing out in 1988-89. It was Sundaresa Sivachariar, Parameswaran’s uncle, who taught him the granth lipi, slokas and agamas – it was a daily routine every evening.
In 1990, Kumar arrived in Madras seeking employment. His first innings in a temple was as helper to the chief priest at the Vinayakar Koil (now better known as the Meenakshisundareswara Aalayam) in Periyar Nagar. Eighteen months later, he moved to the Vinayakar Koil in Thiruvanmiyur, as chief priest. With the temple revenues not enough to sustain his livelihood, Kumar Gurukkal was forced to look elsewhere. “I was a bachelor then but I wanted my future to be secure,” he says. He later moved to the Kaveri Vinayakar Koil in Saligramam, one of four priests, and worked there for four years. Kumar Gurukkal considers Sridhar Sivachariar, a Sanskrit pandit, his gurunatha. “He is the person who taught me so many things and showed me the way every time. Even how to conduct a kumbabhishekha,” he says.
Kumar Gurukkal married Jayageetha in September 1998. They have two daughters – Priyadarshini and Divyadarshini, school students both.