I have been a regular visitor to the Ayyappan Temple in KK Nagar for years now – since 1988, when the temple was so very different. The main deity then was a small idol; there was a photograph of Lord Ayyappa as well. In the sprawling campus, the temple then, if you could call it that, was just a small room towards the left corner at the rear.
Two unique features mark the Ayyappan vigraham here. A wax model of Lord Ayyappa was made in Tiruttani and, later, after its approval by the then thanthri, Kanipayoor Krishnan Namboodiri, the model was brought to the temple premises where it was then cast in panchaloka. In the temple, Lord Ayyappa faces west, according to the ashtamangalam prashnam, which revealed that the vigraham should face only in that direction. This is unusual as most Ayyappan vigrahams normally face east. The Ayyappan vigraham here is said to reflect roudra roobam (anger). And to calm that anger, a shrine dedicated to Vigneshwara was built to Ayyappan’s left, and Bhagawati, to the right, both facing east.
The KK Nagar Sastha Sangam was founded in 1977. It was with a framed picture of Lord Ayyappa, a portable padinettampadi structure and two vilakkus that members of the Sangham began conducting bhajans in Ashok Nagar, KK Nagar and MGR Nagar during weekends. According to R.K. Baratan, founder-president of the Sangham, C. Govindan Nair, former chief town planner, was the inspiration behind the temple. Eventually, eight grounds were purchased on a token payment of Rs 600 and an undertaking was given to pay the balance in installments over a period of six years. Construction of the temple then began, with sthapati Gomati Shankar from Shengottai and architect Kanipayoor Krishnan Namboodiri in charge.
A remarkable feature is that the temple organises annadhanam (poor-feeding) for more than 100 people on a daily basis. And the people who benefit are the poor and needy. I have seen old and infirm men and women eagerly waiting for 9am everyday to troop into the temple premises and get the handful of food. Over the years, I have seen the same faces…. some new but most of them the old and faithful. But there used to be one old woman with white patches on her face and hands who would refuse to enter the temple for food. She would often pick up fights with the others in line and one fine day the temple authorities apparently told her not to come again, and that was last time she ever did. She kept up her dignity till the very end. She would only stand outside, mornings and evenings, and wait until the temple closed for the day, accepting whatever money devotees gave her.
Every time I visited the temple, I would put a coin or two into her hands and she’d bless me, taking the name of Lord Ayyappa. Sometimes, I would see her walking back home (I am sure she had one) carrying her half-torn dirty pack of stuff. The last two or three times I went to the temple I noticed her absence. It was quite obvious because every time I came out after praying I would look out for her and there she’d be, and I’d walk up to her and give her some loose change. When I didn’t see her a few times, I thought she had taken ill and forgot all about it. Last week, it was my mother-in-law who mentioned about her having passed away. My mother-in-law would also, like me, give money to the old woman and noticed her absence. When she asked the flower seller outside the temple, she gave her the news. The poor old woman had died in front of the temple a few days earlier. What a glorious death!
My thoughts then went back and forth over the times she would receive what I gave her and bless me. There were even times she would ask me to drive home carefully. I went to the temple yesterday and today and kept looking at the spot she’d be usually standing. I know that every time I go there I will miss her.
There are some relationships you can never quite describe. She was not a friend, a sister, a mother or just any other old woman. Although she would stretch out her hands to devotees as they came outside, she was no beggar. She had a dignity all her own and was quite proud of it. Like mine, she must have touched many people’s hearts. She may not even have gone to school but she did have lofty thoughts. Perhaps Lord Ayyappa could not bear to see her suffer any longer and took her away. I’m sure her next life, if there is indeed one, will be happy and joyful. A life in which she would not be turned away from a temple, church or mosque but would be always welcomed with open arms. May your soul rest in peace, ma. I miss you.