Dosa, a photograph and an esoteric zen master

Gaundaramma / Lo-fi photography series (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 PUBLIC photo archives

Gaundaramma / Lo-fi photography series (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 PUBLIC photo archives

Two days back Abul Kalam Azad showed me a very short interesting video and photographs of Mookupodi Siddhar he had shot and asked me to find his name, detail of birth place, etc. My birth village is near Rajapalayam and Abul thought I would be in a better position to find. The search on net didn’t reveal much. I recollected a conversation that we had a few months earlier with a local person who had traveled with Mookupodi Siddhar to his birth village. This conversation happened between Abul and a local person at a dosa shop in Girivalam which is our regular breakfast spot. The shop keeper, a Gaunder lady is very welcoming and her home-made chutnies are a delicacy. This is also a hub were Saddhus eat and is one of the reason Abul goes there for breakfast as part of his ongoing project ‘unknown gods’ (Agni Shylam series). Today morning, we decided to go the long stretch along the girivalam path to have breakfast at the dosa shop. I noticed Abul was talking with somebody, but didn’t keep track of the conversation, until he alerted me and said, “This is Mookupodi Siddhar’s son. Get his details”. I was surprised by this unexpected flow of information coming our way for Project 365.

The people of Tiruvannamalai call him ‘Mookupodi siddhar’. This name was given to him as he was snorting tobacco (mookupodi) everytime. The sadhu community and devotees in Tiruvannamalai has this practice of giving a name based on their physical or emotional attributes, outstanding behavior traits, etc. A few people start calling by that name and eventually their real name is forgotten. Niether the sadhus nor the visitors are interested in revealing their real names. Their past is left behind, often without any mention. Occasionally, the sadhus do visit their family. During rare occasions, a member from their family might come to visit them. Some mystics are permanently here, whilst others travel to other pilgrim places. There is a strong community fold and news about each others’ whereabouts and well being is communicated with everybody else. Offlate, there has been one such topic that seems to be the subject of every conversation…. Mookupodi Siddhar and his unfathamable zen master practice and activities. He beats people with his lathi… which is in a way is his blessing as well his teaching. Every morning, several people gather near the Ner Annamalai temple to get beating from the mostly silent Mookupodi siddhar. They wait, some times hours, to get his dharshan and blessings. Alongside, the public will also keep watch. There are times, he would ask a certain visitor to pull out all his money and put in his towel. HE would then wrap this towel with money in his hip. There are certain days when several bundles hang in his body. At a later time, he would give this money to somebody else who is courageful with him. The sadhus think that his actions are strange, esoteric and at the same time shakes the shackles of the people.

Mookupodi SidDhar / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 PUBLIC photo archives
Mookupodi Siddhar / Lo-fi Photography series (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 PUBLIC photo archives

Mookupodi siddhar has been in Tiruvannamalai for almost twenty years now. He has become popular only during the last 8 years. He must be in his early 80s. A few months ago, he asked one of the local devotee to accompany him for a short trip. Soon, they both embarked on a journey to East Rajapalayam, near Salem. Near the lake, at Shivan Kovil street, he asked the taxi to stop in front of a house…. and waited. A man in his fiftees, came out of the house, looked at the old man in the car and recognised him as his father….. he asked Mookupodi Siddhar to to come inside the house… The locals informed that this was the ancestral house of Mookupodi Swamy whose birth name was Mottayan Gaunder. Farming is the usual practice of Gaunder community and they are in general powerful landlords. During his young age, Mottayan Gaunder used to spend most his time at the Veerapathiran temple where he served as the priest. He used to tie garlands for the presiding deity. At the age of 25, his mother forced him to marry Chadachi. The couple had a son, Periyaswamy. A little while after Periyaswamy’s birth, Mottayyan Gaunder left his birth village, only to return after twelve years. It was as if he knew what was going to happen. Within few days of his arrival, his wife Chadachi passed away. He stayed there for three months and whilst leaving, he asked his son to come with him. Mookupodi Swamy’s mother refused. She was quoted to have said, “You took that path. Atleast let me have my grand son with me…”. Last year, the villagers urged Periaswamy to do the last Kriyas for his father, as he had not return for a long time. Periyasamy had gone ahead with the kriyas, and was planning for the second year kriya when mookupodi siddhar appeared in front of his house. Periasamy, now in his fifties, with folded hands, requested him to come inside the house, once again. Saying nothing, the Mookupodi Sidhar had continued with his journey.

Periasamy, son of Mookupodi Siddhar / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 PUBLIC photo archives
Periasamy, son of Mookupodi Siddhar / Lo-fi Photography series (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 PUBLIC photo archives

This story that was briefed by the Sadhu who had accompanied Mookupodi Sidhar was confirmed by his son Periaswamy who is right now in Tiruvannamalai visiting his father. “To my father, I am not any different. He is treating me like the way he does you…”. In the backdrop of the ever growing popularity of mookupodu sidhar, this claim by a farmer from the nearby area was received with a lot of speculation by the Sadhu community. However, a photo of young Mottayan Gaunder wearing a white attire like any shaiva saints, mudhra in both the hands and thiruneer in the forehead, which was carried with Periyasamy helped revealing his identity as his son. “I have come to be with him for few days. I have two chidlren, one boy and one girl waiting for me in my village”, said Periyasamy. For Project 365 / EtP, this is an interesting anecdote, protraying the specialness of photographs. The story of a photograph that stands as the only evidence of a family bond of a zen master is indeed an important dimension to capture and preserve. Since Mookupodi Siddhar’s last visit to his birth home, the villagers have geared up. The house which was once fondly called as ‘Mottayan Gaunder’s house’, is being reverred as ‘Swamy’s home’.

Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi

5th November 2014

Project 365 is a PUBLIC PHOTOGRAPHIC ART PROJECT initiated by EtP to photo-document the fast changing ancient culture and contemporary lifestyle of the ancient Tamilakam territory. During the first phase, forty photographers will be documenting the multi-cultural aspects of #Tiruvannamalai, South Indian heritage town over a year period (Aug 2014 – July 2015). This Project is led by contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. FOR MORE PROJECT 365 IMAGES, see #etpproject365 In the next five years, EtP will document the Sangam period ports Muziris, Tindis, Korkai and the Cauvery basin culture and lifestyle.

Disclaimer: All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of the author and belongs to PROJECT 365 PUBLIC ARCHIVES. Text research Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi / EtP. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and EtP (PROJECT 365 public archives). Prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing. For more information about Project 365, contact EtP at {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405 / FACEBOOK – Project 365

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