If you have by now heard of Tiruchengode, chances are it’s not for the beautiful temple of Arthanareeshwara – where Lord Shiva gives half his part to Shakthi in an unlikely yet superb depiction of gender equality – nor for the scenic hills that lead to the temple. It couldn’t be for the proximity it had with leaders like EVR Periyar and Rajaji, or for being the place where Kannagi retired in wrath after burning Madurai down and before taking the pushpaka vimanam to heaven.
Chances are that you have heard of Tiruchengode as a town that had vociferously protested against its most well-known writer and drove him away. Chances are that you have heard of Tiruchengode for its temple from where hapless Dalit youth Gokulraj was abducted by members of dominant community only to be recovered as a headless torso on a lonely railway track. Chances are that you have heard of Tiruchengode as the town where it’s DSP Vishnu Priya – again a Dalit – killed herself.
The once peaceful, nondescript town in Western Tamil Nadu has always fascinated me, like many hill towns. But the fascination has never led me to it. The closest I got to Tiruchengode was several years ago when I visited Namakkal for a story. One of the many writers that I had met in Namakkal was aghast that I had never been to Tiruchengode. I still hadn’t. My Tiruchengode moment happened just two months ago. No, it was not to visit the hill temple, but to work on a story on caste equations in the Western belt. But visiting the temple was an essential part of my story. After all, the temple where the Maadhorubagan (One Part Woman) gallantly stands was the epicenter of all the recent controversies.
After all, He has been a witness to a meeting in which it was decided to ‘to teach a lesson’ to Perumal Murugan. After all, He was seeing the abduction of Gokulraj right through.
Driving towards the temple on the hills, we could spot couples in love on either side, oblivious of everything around them. Gokulraj’s murder had not deterred them, I thought. But my writer friend Devi Bharathi quickly put it out. “Oh but they are not Dalits,” he said, “I know it from their body language. I have been seeing it for years”. Devi Bharathi had worked in a government school for several years in Erode before taking to full-time writing.
We reached the same gates of the temple through which Gokulraj was removed by a group of henchmen. They were holding him by his shirt. (We would later see the CCTV footage of Gokulraj being taken away, on a local journalist’s mobile phone.)
We were looking out for the spot where Gokulraj could have been talking to Swathi, even as the person at the Prasadam stall was complaining about the losses he was making. “These days I could not even earn enough to pay the rent for this stall,” he said.
An elderly man pointed to Varadi Kal, a sacred stone another two 2kms away from the temple. Belief has it that circumambulating the Varadi Kal would beget children for couples. Periyar was born so.
I had later learnt about Thevaradiyal Mandapam – one of the many retiring halls on the hill path for pilgrims who reach the temple by walk. Thevaradiyal Mandapam has never been lived in, even by pilgrims. Locals say they choose not to retire in Thevaradiyal Mandapam and take a circuitous route because apparently the woman who constructed the mandapam was upset about the money spent for it. “Our forefathers decided not to use the mandapam after the woman lamented about it,” says one. But Thevaradiyal interestingly means Devadasis (or women forced into sex work under the guise of service to God) and the temple legend says the woman who constructed the mandapam –Guruvamma Manikkam from the community of Kanigaiyars (Devadasis) – was a philanthropist.
Tiruchengode should have awed me. Here was the Lord who gave his one part to woman. Here was a mandapam, the name of which is now a swear word in Tamil. Here was the temple that offered joy even while riding through its verdant hills. Here was the town of historical, political and cultural significance.
But the town filled me with confusion and fear. A fear that only grew bigger with the suicide of Vishnu Priya. From deep fascination to dark fears, Tiruchengode has come a long way.
The glory of Tiruchengode lies befallen and it could be many, many years before the town could regain it. But I am more worried about the men behind its fallen glory. What would be the response of these theists when some day God asks them about snatching the pen from the hands of Murugan and thrusting the noose into the hands of Priya?
- See more at: http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/caste-cauldron-tiruchengode-where-perumal-murugan-cant-write-dsp-vishnupriya-cant-work-34540#sthash.z6GgkUcC.dpuf