An eventful day at Suttur Mutt. It began with a flag-raising ceremony, a lot like what we do for new ritaus, except for the twenty nadaswara players, the five acrobats doing bicycle stunts, the five actors dressed up as warriors with play swords, the eight female drummers, the countless male drummers, the security officers mounted on horses, the ocean of people attending and, of course, the elephant. Other than those details, it was just like ours. From that we went to an intimate mass wedding with some 230 couples and their extended families.
Just before sunset, we were taken on a tour of the smaller temples near Suttur Mutt. (Photos are above) The big temple is the samadhi shrine for their Adi Guruji, whose 1052nd mahasamadhi anniversary this festival celebrates. But these other, charming little temples were built a long time ago, by the Chola kings, who were impressed by the spiritual stature of the founder of Suttur Mutt. We were told they were in a dilapidated state until the current leader of the Math renovated them, with the expertise of Ganapati Sthapati. The main mandapam, or hall, in these temples looks almost entirely new, contrasting with the ancient inner sanctums and the glorious Chola pillars eroded by time and weather, but still standing strong.
At the top of a hill, as the sun set, we visited a temple for a Deity called Giribhairav, a warrior son of Siva who likes his temples at hilltops (sounds familiar?). The main murti was sculpted in black sandstone, allowing for some details that granite cannot take, but also making us wonder if that was the original murti, since it is a more fragile material than granite. The other temples were quite similar, one to Siva and another to Vishnu, colorfully lit, clean, and always with a few locals and padasala students of even very young ages. The priests seemed content to be working in this area, under Suttur Mutt's umbrella.
While we had our adventures, Sri Shivarathri Desikendra Swamiji mostly stayed in front of the main temple, having waves people touching his feet for blessings, for hours and hours and hours on end. Quite a different way to serve humanity than ours, to be sure.
We met again today the young man who is the assigned successor to Swamiji. At age 16, Rajendra is still a student. It surprised us to learn this is a hereditary lineage. The swamis are celibate, but the successors are always chosen from among their close relatives. The current leader is the great-nephew of the previous guru. Rajendra, the heir apparent, is Swamiji's nephew.
One boon we are seeing here is that all the leading swamis invited to the event come to take their seat of honor at the specific function assigned to them and quickly leave. We are the only guests of honor staying for the whole event, which means a lot of interaction with our host Sri Shivarathri Desika Swami, who is all too happy to have his Hawaiian friends around.
Interesting and fruitful interactions with swamis and gurus from other lineages.
We have a full-time photographer and Choodie Shivaram is here working on her article for HT. It's priceless for us, as editors, to be at the site: we really get to know what this place is all about and can coordinate the article-making process in a whole new way. People share so much information with us that we would not otherwise acquire.