Mavoor Kali temple

Sir Ramaswami Srinivasa Sharma, or Sir RS Sharma for short, is an interesting character of the pre-independence days. Born in 1890 or so, he was from the Thiruvaiyyaru region. Being of an ambitious bent of mind, he left the sylvan surroundings of his birthplace and moved to Calcutta where he made a mark as a journalist. He came to be noticed by the British Government for his writing and speaking skills. Thereafter followed a triumphant career in corporate and journalistic circles, with much money being made. He also acted as an agent for princes who fell foul of the Imperial Government. These activities together with the many newspapers and periodicals he routinely represented or owned, made him a powerful figure in Calcutta and Delhi. He was nominated to the Imperial Legislative Council and in 1937, was knighted by King Edward VIII.

Despite his living in the north for long, his heart was in the Thanjavur region and he made plans even in the 1930s to settle there upon retirement. Being a great devotee of Goddess Kali at Dakshineswar, he was attracted by the name of Mavoor, a small village just off Thiruvarur, on the Thiruthuraipoondi road. He interpreted the name to be Ma Oor – the home of the Mother or Ma as Bengalis referred to Kali. There he bought huge tracts of agricultural land and planned his residence alongside. This had all the modcons and luxuries of the time. In addition, it had a library situated in the middle of a pond, accessed by a walkway from his residence. He also built a temple for Kali, in the Bengali style. This was reached by an arched walkway from his library.

The temple was duly constructed and a replica of the Kali idol at Dakshineswar was installed in it. Worship was conducted exactly as it was in Calcutta. According to the music and dance scholar PR Thilagam, Sir RS Sharma had a unique method of personally propitiating the Goddess. Each morning he would prick his thumb on a thorn, smear the blood from it on a flower, which would then be offered to the Goddess.

The consecration ceremony of the temple witnessed Sir RS Sharma’s close friend Harikesanallur L Muthiah Bhagavatar composing seven songs on the Goddess. The first, Vedattinucchiyil, set as a ragamalika in Kedaragaula, Athana, Anandabhairavi and Mohanam is meant to be sung as a free verse. Of the remaining, five are kritis in the pallavi, anupallavi, charanam format. Mavur valam peruga (Sindhubhairavi/Adi) has been featured often by Sanjay Subrahmanyan and has one charanam while the remaining kritis all have four. Mavur valar maharani (Jaunpuri/Adi) was popularised by TN Seshagopalan. Another kriti, also in Jaunpuri/Adi, is Mangalarupiniye. Valai manonmani is in Natabhairavi/Rupakam, while Annai makaliyam is in Kapi/Adi. The seventh song, Mangalam pongidum, is set in Kilikanni format and has five verses, set in Mand/Adi, all sung to the same tune.

The anupallavi of Mavur valar maharani describes the village in all its glory – birds calling, a tank and river brimming with water, rice grains of the highest variety heaped about and bees buzzing amidst flowers. Even today, Mavur retains much of this, and is a sight for sore eyes. But alas, Sir RS Sharma’s beloved tank, the one in the middle of which he built his library, is bone dry. The locals aver that the library building itself collapsed and nobody knows what happened to the books. Across the road from the temple is a pair of massive gates that are locked. These lead to Sir RS Sharma’s residence, which as per the people around still survives as a ruin.

The temple however is in good condition and is in worship. The deity is accessed via a massive door made of ebony. The flooring is of marble while the steps leading to the shrine are of granite. The temple is still painted in the bright colours that Sir RS Sharma had conceptualised – yellow, green and blue, with the domes in chrome. Given all this and the surrounding greenery, you are transported to Bengal in an instant.

In his time, Sir RS Sharma’s Goddess heard much music. The library was the venue for concerts by many leading artistes. He employed a set of choristers on a daily basis, who clad in saffron and wearing pendants bearing the image of the Goddess, sang bhajans to her each morning. All of that vanished when the signeur of this realm died in 1957. He had become somewhat disenchanted with the place when he was defeated by R Venkataraman in the Thanjavur parliamentary constituency in the elections of 1952. This was despite his enjoying the support of the DMK, the Communists and Periyar EV Ramaswami Naciker who shared the platform with him. Politics make for strange bedfellows.

This article appeared in The Hindu dated March 9, 2018