Kaliyur Iyengars – Part II

Kaliyur has been a great centre of Vedic Astrology. The Brahmins of Kaliyur have been uniformly well versed in astrology and are keepers of the most ancient astrological knowledge in the world. Almost all of them have been treated like the religious leaders and the astrological guides from time immemorial. Many Kaliyur Brahmin families have been practicing astrology for more than seven generations in an unbroken tradition since they first arrived in 1840. However, the knowledge, which they brought to Kaliyur, must date back to many centuries before, perhaps, to the time of Bhaskar Bhat and other great astrological luminaries.

Kaliyur has been very closely linked to Kancheepuram from the very inception. Every year during the month of January, July and December, the idol of Lord Keshava Perumal is taken in a procession to the Iyengar Kulam, a lake at the outskirts of Kancheepuram. About forty people start the procession and many more join them en-route to Kancheepuram. The procession travels on foot for the entire stretch of 18 km. The idol of the Lord is carried only by the Harijans of Kaliyur who have the preferential right to carry the Lord. It is to be remembered that Acharya Ramanujam was one of the earliest religious leaders in the country to integrate the Harijans into the Vaishnavite fold.

After arriving at Iyengar Kulam, the Lord is given a ceremonial bath in the kulam and then taken back to Kaliyur. This ritual was started to create an opportunity to interact with the Iyengar Brahmins of Kancheepuram and other neighbouring villages to get to know them. Most of the marriages and alliances were settled between the Iyengar families during this interaction. This custom has been copied from Lord Varadharaja going to ‘Padai Seevaram’ on the day of Chithirai Poornima at Tirupati. This ritual is also known as ‘Parvettam’ (forest hunting). For small endogamous families, living in isolation, it was necessary to create situations to exchange information about the boys and girls of marriageable age in order to make suitable marriage alliances.

Today out of twenty houses in Kaliyur Agraharam (the Brahmin street), only six or seven houses are occupied and the remaining are kept locked. However, every year during the month of April, on the day of Chittirai Revathi, the birth star of Lord Vishnu, Kaliyur Iyengars from all over the world gather in the village to celebrate the annual festival. They have also created a trust called ‘Kaliyur Thenacharya Trust’ for the maintenance of the temple and its activities.

Till 1960, there were about twenty families of renowned astrologers living in Kalilyur. Today most of them have moved to Tirupathi, Kancheepuram, Nasrathpet, Thiruneermalai and other temple towns. The Kaliyur priests are posted in a system of circulation and rotation to serve in these temples. This system is adopted to break the monotony of the work as well as to show equal treatment to all. The allocation of duties was earlier done by the Jeer of the Kaliyur Mutt. Now the ‘Association of the Priests’ does it. Kaliyur is also linked with Sholinganallur Narasimha Temple which is mainly managed by the Tengalai Iyengars. Sholinganallur is famous for its Girivalam (walk around the holy hill).

Every Sunday during the sacred month of Karthigai, a large number of devotees perform the Girivalam. Sholinganallur is also famous as a centre for psychotherapy for women suffering from mental disorders. The patient after taking an early morning bath in the lake called ‘Takan kulam’, walk to the temple of Anjaneya, ‘the Monkey God’. Around a small pond, they lie on the rocks in wet clothes. This is believed to be the most effective therapy for the victims of mental illness, witchcraft, and for the people possessed by evil spirits.